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What is the best phone system for a small business?

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Small business owners are often caught between the need to project a professional and established image, and the need to be prudent with spending. A new business phone system can seem like a big leap for a small company, but it may not be the budget-buster you think it is.

Modern phone services are changing the face of business communications, offering much more than traditional telephony. The best systems enable you to stay connected, collaborate more successfully, maximize productivity—and even save money.

There are tons of service providers out there, so we’ll show you how to choose the best business phone system to help your company grow.

Do I need a business phone system?

The short answer is: yes, you do.

Although small businesses may be tempted to rely on personal cell phones for work purposes, it doesn’t exactly give a professional vibe. A business phone system makes you seem like a more trustworthy and established firm. It also means your workers won’t need to sacrifice privacy by using their personal numbers, and you can avoid the inherent security risks.

Modern business phone services are extremely flexible. You could go for a complete phone system or use virtual technology to route phone calls between devices and locations. Unified communications systems such as RingCentral enable you to communicate successfully with customers and employees via multiple channels.

A small business phone system is generally easy to set up and use, and should be fully scalable for growing businesses. Advanced features and tools will help you save money, maximize productivity, and keep your customers happy.

Now let’s check out the different types of phone systems.

Interface of RingCentral’s phone features

Types of business phone system

Before choosing a system, think about your specific business needs. Do you want to continue using mobile devices, or analog or internet desk phones? Do you need multi-line capability? Do you have staff who can maintain an office phone system? Do you have a high-speed internet connection?

There are two main types of business phone system:

  • Traditional landlines
  • VoIP systems
    • Cloud-hosted VoIP
    • On-premise VoIP    

Traditional landlines

Older businesses will most likely have a legacy landline system in place. Traditional phone systems are based on-premises, using connections and wiring provided by local and regional phone companies. Your business houses all the PBX (private branch exchange) hardware, and you have the responsibility for maintaining it.

This option requires large upfront expenditure for the PBX system, although you won’t have to pay ongoing monthly fees beyond landline rental—and you’ll remain in total control. However, most phone system providers are now moving away from landline phones, and no new technology is being developed, so it’s harder to upgrade or repair them.

VoIP systems

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, which basically means that the system uses your internet connection instead of traditional copper wires. Thanks to greater connectivity, this is now a viable option for many small businesses. The only ones that can’t use a VoIP service are those without reliable high-speed internet access.

VoIP systems like RingCentral are easy to set up and use, and they cost a lot less than landlines as you don’t need so much hardware. It’s also cheaper for local, long-distance and international calling. Remote teams can access the system from mobile devices, and computers can be used as “softphones”.

There are two different types of VoIP phone systems:

Cloud-hosted VoIP

This is housed and maintained entirely in your service provider’s data centers. You have no installation or hardware costs, other than suitable phones. With a cloud phone system, all you have to do is plug an IP phone (or an adapted analog phone) into your local area network (LAN). Alternatively, you can access it via software (a softphone) on a laptop or mobile device.

Businesses typically pay a monthly fee per user, and the VoIP provider is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the system. You receive automatic upgrades and updates, and it’s super-easy to add extra business lines if required.

On-premises VoIP

These systems also facilitate calls via the internet rather than landlines, but the PBX equipment is housed inside your business and you handle the maintenance. You’ll have more control over processes and security, which is good for companies with rigorous compliance requirements.

However, it still requires an upfront investment for installation—plus monthly fees for the SIP trunking (the virtual connection which allows you to make and receive calls via the internet).

An example of VoIP phone system hardware

Advantages of a modern business phone system

  • Affordable
  • Professional
  • Feature-rich
  • Efficient
  • Flexible
  • Scalable
  • Secure

Sounds pretty good, right? In the past, many small businesses just wouldn’t have been able to afford a phone system with full functionality­—but thanks to cloud-hosted and unified communication systems, a whole range of features are accessible at affordable monthly prices.

We’ve already mentioned that a cloud solution reduces the need for expensive hardware and maintenance, but the subscription-based model also means you only pay for what you need, when you need it. You can add or delete users at the click of a button, and software is generally included.

Business phone systems come with a ton of handy calling features, such as call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting, and inbound call routing. You can also offer your customers self-service options such as IVR (interactive voice response) to save them waiting in a long call queue.

Many phone systems offer analytics, so call center managers can keep track of call duration, hold times, and overall usage. All-in-one providers like RingCentral help you unify communications with all tools in one platform, improving collaboration, productivity, and customer experiences.

The flexibility means that even small businesses can move to a remote or hybrid working model. You can make and receive business calls wherever you are, and share one business phone number among several users simultaneously. An advanced phone system will ensure you’re always reachable, and you’ll never miss out on a potential customer.

Using RingCentral’s phone features to make calls to coworkers

Must-have features for your phone system

As we’ve seen already, modern business phone systems offer all sorts of call features to assist small businesses. But the functions you require will depend on the nature of your business. Very small firms may only need standard features like caller ID and voicemail, while others may want advanced capability such as auto attendants and hold music.

Whatever type of company you’re running, we reckon there are some must-haves for any business considering a phone system. Check that your chosen system provides the following:

  1. Clear pricing
  2. Ease of use
  3. Essential features
  4. Unified communications
  5. Integrations
  6. Security and reliability.

Clear pricing

The budget is a crucial consideration for small companies—you want to look established, but you don’t want to have to take out business loans just to afford a new phone system. Luckily, most online phone services offer tiered price plans ranging from basic to enterprise-level.

You can start off with the cheapest one and easily upgrade when your business grows, adding features like video conferences, extra integrations, or advanced analytics. Look out for providers offering a free trial, and make sure you check auto-renewal and warranty terms.

Ease of use

For small businesses, phone systems need to be simple. The more intuitive it is, the quicker employees will learn how to use it—leading to better productivity and a happier workforce. Modern business phone systems are fast to implement and simple to configure, including dealing with any updates and upgrades.

It’s also helpful if you can keep your familiar business number while giving team members the flexibility to handle calls on their mobile devices. Managers will appreciate the ease of onboarding new users, setting up call routing, and integrating business applications.

Essential features

What counts as “essential” will depend on the individual business, but it’s a good idea to start with the basics and look for providers who give you plenty of opportunities to upgrade or even customize your system.

One of the most valuable functions is unlimited calling, and many cloud-hosted business VoIP phone services do include unlimited domestic calling for no additional charge. You’ll pay a fixed cost for the monthly service, no matter how many calls your business makes and receives.

Remote team using RingCentral to chat and manage tasks

Voicemail-to-email functionality is another useful feature, especially for remote teams or those on the road. It allows audio recordings or voicemail transcriptions to be sent to an email inbox, so employees can read or listen to messages even when they are away from the office.

Call recording is handy for training purposes and for managing customer disputes, with recordings stored in the cloud and accessible to all team members for playback at any time.

Unified communications

If you find a provider offering unified communications, you’re onto a winner. Not only will you have basic and advanced telephony functions, you’ll also have all every tool you could possibly need for communication within the workforce and with your customers.

These tools include audio and video conferencing, text messaging, file sharing, task management, and mobile apps. Not so long ago, businesses had to use a different service provider for each communication tool, but providers like RingCentral give you all these features in one platform. It’s far more efficient, as well as offering significant cost savings.

Integrations

Of course, your business is probably already using a variety of apps and tools, such as Microsoft Office, Salesforce, or CRM software. Look for a business phone system that lets you integrate these familiar tools for maximum convenience and productivity.

For example, RingCentral offers hundreds of popular integrations, and you can even build your own using open APIs.

Security and reliability

No matter how small your business is, security and reliability need to be top-notch­—otherwise you risk losing customers during downtime, and leaving yourself vulnerable to data breaches such as stolen credit card details. While landline systems were traditionally considered the most reliable, many VoIP and virtual phone systems are hot on security and guarantee maximum uptime.

Accessible customer support is also important in the event of a problem. RingCentral, for instance, offers 24/7 customer assistance including technical support, consultations, and online resources.

Manager using RingCentral analytics to monitor her agents

What’s the best phone system for your business?

You’d have trouble beating RingCentral MVP, which gives you enterprise-level features at affordable prices—plus all the tools to help your business communicate successfully.

The cloud-based phone system is simple to install and use, especially as RingCentral provides an implementation specialist to take you through the process step by step. It works with your existing telephone system when compatible, or you can adopt a virtual phone system via the mobile and desktop app.

The online administration dashboard lets you buy, activate, and assign business phone numbers and virtual extensions to new users or departments. And you can upgrade to a memorable vanity number to make your business stand out.

With tiered pricing plans starting at $19.99 per month per user, it’s easy for small businesses to upgrade when required. All plans include unlimited calling in the US and Canada, local or toll-free numbers, unlimited SMS, voicemail-to-email, and HD voice quality.

RingCentral’s advanced call management features include:

  • Auto attendant
  • Music on hold
  • Call forwarding
  • Call recording
  • Call screening
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Answering rules

Since RingCentral offers unified communications as a service, you also get video conferencing services and screen sharing, document sharing, online faxing, team messaging, task management and calendar tools.

Mobile and desktop apps let employees use their own smartphones (iOS and Android) and computers (Mac and PC) to make a call, send a text message from the business phone number, or host conference calls. Users can switch quickly between instant message, video and phone solutions.

Alongside this huge range of tools and features, you can also integrate hundreds of other apps for things like real-time analytics, contact center software, CRM integration, and social media platforms.

Here are the two most affordable plans for small businesses:

Essentials Plan

  • Up to 20 users
  • Business phone or toll-free numbers
  • Unlimited calls within the US/Canada
  • Unlimited business SMS
  • Voicemail-to-text
  • Team messaging
  • Document sharing

Standard Plan

  • Everything in Essentials, plus:
  • No limit on number of users
  • Business phone numbers in over 100 countries
  • Unlimited internet fax
  • Unlimited audio conferencing
  • Video meetings with up to 100 participants
  • Up to 24-hour meeting duration
  • Quality-of-service reports
  • Popular integrations
  • 24/7 support
Coworkers using RingCentral to have online meetings
FAQs

How much does a phone system cost?

It depends on the type of system you choose and the number of users you want to include. To host your phone system on-premises, you’d need to pay an upfront cost for equipment and installation, likely to be several thousand dollars—plus recurring monthly payments for your calling services.
Cloud-based phone systems like RingCentral offer the best value for money, because you don’t need to buy expensive hardware such as new phone lines or handsets and you just pay a monthly fee. You get one itemized bill for all your business communications, from conference calling to virtual faxing.

How do I set up a business phone system?

It’s surprisingly easy to move from a traditional system to a modern one. Once the service has been activated and IP phones are plugged into Ethernet ports, you can start making and receiving calls. With RingCentral, you can start using your phone service within 24 hours.
VoIP systems are also simple to manage from an online portal, where administrators can assign phone numbers and extensions, delete users, configure the auto attendant, and set up answering rules. You can access this portal from anywhere with an internet connection.

Do I need to buy specialist VoIP phones?

Most VoIP phone systems use IP phones, which plug directly into your internet router to start making and receiving calls. However, if your business already has analog phones and you want to use those, it’s possible to buy an adapter to connect them to your network.
In addition, the software you get from your VoIP provider should enable you to turn any computer or smartphone into a “softphone”, which basically gives you the same functions as a desk phone.

Is a VoIP system as reliable as a landline?

The technology is now so advanced that internet-based calls sound as good (if not better) as landline calls—especially if you use a trusted provider like RingCentral, with guaranteed HD call quality for voice (and video), as well as 99.999% uptime SLA.
VoIP phone systems do need a strong internet connection to work properly, so you should ensure you have enough bandwidth to handle your call volume and that your network is set up to prioritize voice calls over other types of internet traffic.

What about security?

Some people have concerns about their data being in the cloud. But as long as you choose a trusted service provider, you should have no worries about security with a cloud-based business phone system. It’s likely to be safer than keeping the data on-premises.
Secure networks, encryption, and modern internet protocols are now the industry standard for business phone providers, and RingCentral goes above and beyond with seven layers of security­—including Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol (SRTP) encryption between all endpoints.

Get the best phone system for your small business

Whether you’re looking to replace landline phones in a physical workspace, or migrating to a virtual office, RingCentral is the ideal solution.

Visit site resources like our product demos and case studies for more details, or book a live chat with the friendly team.
Important details and disclaimers
Get Connected Promotion:
20% Office + Phone Rental discount for SMB’s
*Void where prohibited. The Offer is valid between March 1, 2021 and August 31, 2021. To qualify for SMB Get Connected promotional offer (“Offer”) you must: purchase a two-year RingCentral MVP plan of any tier; (2) between two and three hundred ninety-nine digital lines; (3) be located in the US and Canada only ; and (4) be 18 years of age or older; when purchasing the RingCentral MVP plan (the “Qualifying Conditions”). The Offer includes: (1) a 20% discount off the standard list price of qualifying any RingCentral MVP plans for remainder of two-year plan; and (2) the option of phone rentals “Qualifying Phone Models” (defined below) for a 40% off the standard list prices offered by RingCentral. Qualifying Phone Models are limited to the following: Poly 150 or 250 or Yealink T42S orT48S, subject to availability and RingCentral’s sole discretion. Promotional price discount applies to base monthly rate only and excludes fees, taxes, additional or premium services and other charges. These terms are subject to change at any time without prior notice. You agree that the final discount Offer price is determined by RingCentral’s sole discretion, in compliance with these terms and any applicable laws. RingCentral reserves right to terminate this offer at any time. RingCentral Terms of Service apply. Early termination or other changes to the customer’s RingCentral MVP plan, may be subject to additional fees, subject to the Qualifying Conditions.
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