Phone service basics
Before talking to any providers, consider the types of calls your business handles: local or long-distance, outgoing or incoming, domestic or international. A good understanding of your current call volumes and breakdowns will make comparison shopping much easier.
For local calls, there are three main options.
- Measured-rate service charges you based on the duration and distance of each call. It carries a lower monthly fee, but unless your call volumes are very low or mostly incoming, it's not a great option for your business.
- Message-rate service charges a flat rate for each completed local call, regardless of duration. It may include a set number of calls per month under the monthly fee, then a per-call rate. Message-rate service is a good choice if your average call length is high.
- Flat-rate service gives you unlimited monthly calling for a higher monthly fee. If you have consistently high local call volumes, this is the option for you.
Long distance plans are somewhat more fluid. If your long-distance needs are limited to a handful of calls a month, a plan with the lowest monthly fee is the best bet. However, if you call clients across the country or around the world on a regular basis, look for a plan that gives steeper per-minute discounts in exchange for guaranteed monthly minimums. At the highest levels of long-distance usage — over $2,500 per month — you should ask providers about dedicated access plans that can save even more money in the long run.
A toll-free number lets your customers and prospects call you at no cost. Standard toll-free service connects to your existing phone number and supports calls from anywhere in the US. International toll-free service lets you keep the same phone number for both domestic and international callers, allowing anyone to reach you at a single number from anywhere in the world.
Note that "toll-free" and "800 numbers" used to be synonymous, but no longer. Now, toll-free numbers use 800, 888, 877, 866 and 855 area codes. If you want a toll-free number that spells out your company name or another phrase, you'll have better luck with one of the lesser-used prefixes than the coveted 800 numbers.
What about VoIP?
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service uses the Internet to provide drastic cost savings on your long-distance phone calls. Unlike VoIP systems that are installed at your business to handle internal calls, a VoIP service carries external calls. Also known as Internet telephony, it allows for extremely cheap long-distance and international calls. Generally, one reasonable fee covers all of your calls.
VoIP service typically requires a regular phone, an adapter, broadband Internet service, and a subscription to a VoIP provider. When you place a call, it is sent over the Internet as data until it nears the recipient's destination. Then the call is translated back into a more traditional format and completes the trip over standard phone lines.
Similar to residential VoIP, a business VoIP solution uses the Internet, but also offers more progressive features like conference calling, music on hold, desk to desk calling, managing extensions, automated attendant, find me-follow me, landline to mobile, and more. Many business VoIP services feature an Internet connection that routes calls over a private network, helping to ensure the quality of each call.