Cutting the (phone) cord – modern options for your small business

6 minute read

Your business – even if your office is a pickup truck and
your lone employee is canine – needs a phone number people can use to find
you. A landline is out. It’s a relic from another age that can’t keep up with
you. But you don’t want to give your personal cell phone number to every
potential client you meet at the dog park. So what to do?

It was once expensive to get a business line, receptionist,
after-hours messages, and a menu tree directing customers to the right voice
mail box or outgoing message. Not anymore. For what you spent detailing the
pickup, you can buy service that will make your business look like it’s staffed
with an army of minions, keep business and personal away from each other, and make
your life – at least that part that involves communicating – big-business
efficient. In fact, there are so many affordable business phone solutions the
hardest part is deciding which one to use. You probably already know you can
call your cable provider to have phone service installed. But you may not know
you have even more choices than that.

So we rounded up some of the best modern phone services,
tried them out, and summed up the differences. And since we know your bottom
line better than we do, we put them in order of price from cheapest to most
expensive. So next time you get ten free minutes, figure out which one suits
you, order a new phone number, and get back to work.

Skype

Thought is it known mostly for the video calling, Skype is also
a capable phone service. You won’t get a virtual receptionist, menu tree, or
fancy business services. But you will get a second line for almost nothing. Just
go to Skype.com and buy a phone number ($60 a year / $30 if you also buy a
calling plan) and an unlimited calling plan ($3 a month for US and Canada) and
you can call any phone and receive calls from any phone. No one will know you
are using Skype. You just install the app on any device you have – computer,
tablet, smart phone – and your business phone will ring there. It’s a super
inexpensive way to get a second line that goes wherever you go. And once you
have the app installed, you might find you also like the video calling,
conference calling, and instant message functions as well. It works best where
you have a good Wi-Fi signal.  But
callers will get voice mail if you go offline. You can use it to send texts (at
11 cents per text) but it won’t receive texts. It’s a basic – though better
than a plain old telephone (POTS) line – but completely usable as a business
line.

Line2

There comes a time in the life of every entrepreneur when
you realize running your business from your personal cell phone was not your
best decision. That two a.m. call from a client in another time zone? That sexy
text meant for your personal life that somehow – in the wee hours – went to a
business associate? You don’t need another phone. Just another phone number –
and a little on-screen separation. That’s Line2.
For $10 a month, it puts another phone number into an app on your smart phone.
When someone calls your business line, it rings in the app. When you dial out
from the app, your caller ID shows your business line. You can send and receive
texts from the app. And you can make calls over Wi-Fi (or 4G) so you never have
to pay for overseas data when you travel and no one will even know are basking
in Barcelona when you call. There is a softphone that will run on your computer
(and it lets you record calls with the touch of a button) for those days when
you are deskbound. For $15 a month, you get all of that plus a toll-free
number, auto attendant, and other sweet business services. Plans start at $10 a
month.

Grasshopper

Who has 800 numbers? Businesses, that’s who. It’s a nice
perk for your customers to not have to pay long distance fees. But the main
reason to have one is that it assures people you are a going concern, not some
teenager with a Web site and cell phone. (Even if that’s exactly what you are.)
Grasshopper is a virtual phone service,
rather than an actual phone line. And toll-free numbers are easy, though you
can get a local or vanity number if you prefer. You manage it online. Set up a
phone menu that routes sales calls to your partner’s cell phone in Boulder. Route
marketing calls to your cell in Boston. Have common questions ring to an auto
attendant with canned messages that can take a stab at answering them. Customers
call one toll-free number. You control where those calls ring, once customers
choose an option in the menu structure you set up. This also gives you a backup
plan if things with your partner don’t work out. If she skedaddles to another
startup, reroute her calls to someone who’s sticking around. Plans start at $12
a month.

Ooma Business

Maybe you hanker for the feel of an actual phone handset?
Remember a time when dropped calls weren’t a daily occurrence? Want to hear the
phone ring in your office? You don’t have to pay a lot to get this. Ooma Office starts with a special
purpose router that plugs in between your modem and regular router, juicing the
phone signal to optimize sound quality while you talk, and ringing to a phone
on your desk. Just about any phone works. So go ahead and get those retro desk
phones out of the garage. Just like days of yore, you pick up the phone to
answer, put it down to hang up. Ah, simplicity. But you get modern too. You run
this system online. Log on to record your virtual receptionist greeting and
tell the system where to route calls. It sends calls to extensions within the
system, just like the big fat corporation you once worked at did. Add
extensions by simply plugging  an
extension unit into an outlet and pairing it with the base unit. (It can also automatically
transfer a call to someone who works remotely or your cell phone for after-hour
emergencies.) You can set business hours. Have it handle calls differently when
your business is closed. You can send and receive faxes. It comes with online
conferencing. And as your business grows, you can add users for $10 each. Plans
start at $20 a month.

RingCentral

Do these sound good? A mobile app on your
smart phone that lets you call and text from your business line? A desk phone
with speaker phone and handset? A soft phone on your computer? A virtual
receptionist? A phone tree that that routes calls wherever you like, sends
callers to voice mail, or plays a canned message? Being able to send faxes from
your soft phone? Online conference rooms? Sure thing. Welcome to RingCentral. How about let’s add the ability to record calls so you can
listen in on how employees handle customers? Or maybe you just want to record the
occasional call to your lawyer or an important source from your desk,
softphone, or mobile phone? RingCentral has you covered on all counts. It also
integrates nicely with Outlook, Google, Box, and DropBox and – in pricier plans
– Zendesk, Desk.com, and SaleForce.com. Better still? It just acquired Glip so you can chat and
collaborate with teams – RingCentral customer or not – online. Oh, and video
conferencing is also built in.  If your
company grows, you might someday even – someday – want to figure out and use some
of those high-end call routing and queuing features. This sounds too expensive
for your small business, right? Probably not. Plans start at $25 a month.  

Vonage Business

If you are sure your small business is eventually going to
be a big business, take a look at Vonage Business. It’s got big-muscle features
like an administrator portal that lets you see where calls are going, decide
what calls go where, and set up employee phone systems. But you don’t have to
be an IT pro to get this up and running. Call Vonage, order your service, and
your fancy VOIP desk phones will show up configured for your system and ready
to go. You just plug them in at the right desk and off you go. As you add
people, you can add phones and extensions. Since these phones are hard wired to
your router, you are not at the mercy of your Wi-Fi signal for call quality so you
don’t have to worry that your teenager’s addiction to streaming HD movies means
your calls will get sketchy the minute he gets home from school. Slick,
business desk phones are part and parcel here but you can also run this phone
line from a soft phone or the mobile app. Conference bridge? Yep. Faxing? Sure.
And a host of other features, too many to list, that will serve your small
business even as it grows to hundreds of employees all over the world. You will
still have control of all of those calls and lines – and the ability to record
them all – form the online portal. Plans start at $40 a month.