Startup Resources
February 7, 2014 by Guest Blogger

By Elli Bishop, writer for BusinessBee

The success of your business is dependent on seamless communication with your customers and among your team members. If you're having issues with expensive hardware, dropped calls or a lack of mobile and Internet features, it may be time for you to invest in a virtual phone system.

What is a virtual phone system? 

A virtual phone system, or virtual private branch exchange (VPBX), is a communication platform designed specifically for businesses that need a variety of calling and messaging services, such as call routing, voicemail, fax and extensions.

The major difference between VPBX systems and traditional phone systems is you don't need to install clunky hardware or buy new phones for your team; a VPBX system is entirely virtual and can work with your existing phones, including hard line and mobile phones.

If your startup relies on personal phones or Skype, a VPBX system can be an affordable and convenient way to optimize your business communication. Many VPBX systems are designed specifically for small business to reduce telephone costs.

VoIP or VPBX?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a popular alternative to traditional phone systems, led by apps like Skype. VoIP provides calling over the Internet, rather than over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)—the system most traditional phones use.

While VoIP may be less expensive, it does require broadband Internet connectivity—unlike VPBX systems, which use the PSTN.  Some companies provide both services if you would like to have internet and PSTN functionality.

What to consider when choosing a VPBX system

Choosing the right provider can be difficult. There are many companies that offer VPBX systems and other phone platforms. Each company has different specialties and strengths that you should take into account.

Some major brands—like FiOS, EarthLink and CenturyLink—offer business plans, but most involve installing hardware and are more oriented toward providing Internet services.

Here are seven points to consider when choosing a VPBX system that's right for you.

1. Business Type/Size

Your business is unique and your phone system should cater to your style. Luckily, there are packages and programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

For instance, Nextiva is known for working well with small businesses or startups. Large business would prefer Virtual PBX or RingCentral. If you and your employees work on the road, consider a company called Phone.com; they specialize in mobile phones.

2. Extensions

If your business is multifaceted or has specialized divisions within the organization, you may want to use extensions. By adding a short number after your main phone number, you can route calls to specific departments or employees.

No matter how complex your business becomes, the flexibility of extensions will keep your customers calling the right people. Consider companies like Grasshopper or Virtual PBX, which both offer unlimited extensions as part of their package deals.

3. Simplicity

Nobody wants to deal with complicated interfaces and disorienting technical details. You need a simple, streamlined phone system so you can make calls and keep your business running smoothly without getting frustrated.

Grasshopper may be the best choice for beginners who only want a handful of features and a minimalist interface. RingCentral also has an easy-to-learn design for those who want an array of useful features.

4. Customer Service

Make sure you choose a company that has your back when you need support. How easy is it to reach them for help?

If you would categorize yourself as inexperienced, Nextiva might be a good choice. They pride themselves on maintaining strong relationships with their customers and quickly having representatives at your disposal.

5. Disaster Recovery

An invaluable attribute of a VPBX system is it allows your business to continue to operate—even if your office experiences a disaster, like a flood or fire. A routing plan can be set up in advance so, if the worst happens, you can reroute your VPBX system to use home or mobile numbers with one call to your provider.

This recovery plan, combined with a reliable data backup system, can keep your business open after a disaster strikes. Virtual PBX has an extensive parachute system that is prepared to keep your business running in case of an emergency.

6. Price

Don’t let your phone bill run your business dry; investigate providers to see which can offer you an affordable package for what you need.

If your company tends to use fewer minutes, you may consider a specialized, pay-per-minute plan, such as those offered by Grasshopper. Businesses with heavy phone usage may want to get an unlimited service plan, like the one offered by Phone.

7. Automated Call Distribution (ACD)

Many service-oriented companies require telephone support capability. We all know how frustrating it is to call a company and sit on hold for hours: your call gets tossed from one person to the next, and you eventually hang up in frustration.

A quality automated call distribution (ACD) provides a streamlined service for your customers to call in and talk to the right people quickly. Virtual PBX is known for its feature-rich and reliable ACD system.

Pros and cons of a few leading VPBX providers

Here are some pros and cons of some of the leading VPBX providers to help you decide which one is right for you.

Choosing a virtual phone system: a chart that notes pros and cons of Nextiva, Virtual PBX, Grasshopper, Phone, and Ring Central.

What other features do you look for in a phone service? Tell us in the comments section below!

Elli Bishop

Writer for BusinessBee

Elli Bishop is a writer for BusinessBee, a great place to find solutions to all of your small business needs. In her free time, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and playing tennis.