This is the first article in the Can You Hear Me Now? Series of blog posts in which I embark on a journey to find the most cost effective home office VoIP plan for my computer repair business.
The next milestone in getting my computer support business up and running is setting up a separate phone number and line. This is one of the original milestones I set for my business last year, and is the last thing standing in the way of me unleashing my business on the world in the form of business cards and advertisements. I currently have no land-line phone, and I have no desire to use my personal cell phone exclusively for business purposes. I decided to spend some time evaluating different VoIP plans to see which one was right for my work-from-home business.
I made the decision very early on to keep my private and phone separate. It’s tempting for me to just use the cell phone I already have, but in order to retain my sanity I believe in as much separation as possible between work and “real life”.
That’s where VoIP comes in. If you don’t know, VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that allows one to place telephone calls over the same high-speed Internet connection that your computer uses. After doing some research and weighing my options, I decided to go with VoIP over a traditional phone service because, 1) it’s cheaper than regular phone service, 2) most plans allow you to make calls anywhere in the world from your computer, and 3) it’s usually easy to add low-cost professional touches to your service like hold music, voicemail with auto attendant, and call forwarding.
Once I have my VoIP line installed, I’ll use it as my primary business number and use my cell phone only when out in the field. This is still a bit risky to me, as I’ll be calling clients form my cell phone on occasion, but once I start making enough money to afford a separate business cell phone, I’ll pick one up. There are also options to make VoIP calls from your existing cell phones, so I may look into that in the future as well.
Now that I’ve decided that I want to go with a VoIP phone service, my next step is to choose a vendor. There are VoIP companies popping up like weeds all the time, and the same amount are going out of business just as fast. It’s important that I go with a carrier with some name recognition and longevity. I also have to make a list of features that are important to me in my business. This will ensure that I have a set of criteria to measure the different VoIP plans against. Here are the considerations that are important to me:
Unlimited Minutes – As a remote computer repair tech I will rely on my phone almost exclusively as a means to communicate with my customers. Sure, I may use email in some situations, but most customers will contact me via phone and I will communicate with them using the same. I don’t want to worry about overtime charges.
Call Forward – This feature allows calls coming into my VoIP phone to be forwarded to another phone, like my cell. It is important that I have this feature in order to keep the lines of communication with my customers open when I am not at home.
Voicemail – This is a no brainer. I’m not going to be around to answer the phone all the time and therefore need a way for customers to leave me a message. Not all voicemail is created equal however. Some plans require you to pay an extra fee for voicemail. Some allow you to check voicemail from any phone, even over the web, and some even allow you to receive voicemails in your email. All of these factors will need to be taken into consideration.
Softphone – A softphone is the computer interface for your phone. It allows you to place calls directly from your computer. The biggest benefit I will gain from a softphone is the convenience of interfacing directly with my online contact list. It’s cool, but not absolutely necessary.
Hardware – Some VoIP providers require that you purchase their phone adapter to use with a regular phone of your choosing. Some providers offer internet-only phone, while others don’t require any special hardware at all, just a regular computer microphone and speakers.
Price – And finally there’s the price. I’m not going to be making a ton of money the first couple years I’m in business, so I want to make sure my monthly bill is kept as low as possible.
After doing some digging on the Internet, polling my followers on twitter, and talking to some friends, I’ve narrowed down my selection list to the following VoIP providers and plans, all of which include the features I’m looking for.
Vonage – Small Business Premium Unlimited
ITP – Home Office Unlimited
Skype for business
Stay tuned for my next article later in the week where I dissect each plan and try to find the best one for my business.
Yes, that’s me in the picture at the top. Halloween 2007 as Your Friendly Neighborhood Verizon Guy.