The telephone was invented in 1876, and the world hasn’t been the same since. While telephone calls have been partially eclipsed by internet contact as the primary mode of communication for most business owners, the phone is still a vital business tool. Think about it- how long could your business survive without phone service? Many business owners put about as much thought into a phone system as they do the paint color on the office walls- a big mistake!
At a time when many business owners are figuring out where to cut costs, renegotiating your phone service costs or switching to a cheaper system, such as VoIP or a hosted service, is one of the easiest ways to save money without sacrificing on services. Switching to a less expensive phone system or negotiating better prices with your current vendor is actually a lot easier than you might think. Here are a few tested tips to get you started…
Figure out what you need
Voicemail? Conference calling? Hold music? If your list looks pretty simple, chances are you’ll be able to take advantage of some great deals. Identify a few main things: call volume, number of extensions, and types of calls. Certain types of systems are better for different offices, so nailing down these basics can narrow down your options.
A hosted system is a good choice for offices of all sizes. Hosted phone systems route the calls to your business using an internet connection, so you can use features like auto attendant and “hold” information without incurring heavy service or maintenance costs. Since all routing is “hosted” at another location, you won’t have to deal with setup hassles or costs, or tangles of wires winding their way around your office.
VoIP systems are also a cost-effective choice. VoIP routes calls using an internet connection, so you’ll save big on long distance. You can also use computer telephony features like video conferencing, one-click dialing, and “follow” features, where one phone number rings to your office phone, your cell, or even your computer in a specified order- a great tool for someone who’s on the go or travels frequently.
Traditional landline systems such as PBX (private branch exchange), KSU (key system unit) systems are popular choices for medium to large offices. These systems require a “cabinet” or central router that takes up space and needs to be installed. If you have under 10 employees, a KSU-less system is a landline alternative to VoIP and hosted options. With a KSU-less system, you basically plug in the phones and start using them- no fuss, no setup, and very little cost.
VoIP and hosted systems are good for businesses with big call volumes or that make frequent long distance calls. Our service often matches small (1 employee) and large (50 or more) with both of these options because they are so cost effective- setup costs are minimal or in some cases free, monthly phone bills stay low, and you can get the same services as with a landline.
How to get the best deal
Too many business owners-especially women– skip negotiating and just pick a system quickly without trying to get a better deal. You should know that you can negotiate on both equipment and service costs- just make sure you know a few of the basics first:
- Equipment can be purchased, financed, or leased. If you’re a large business, ask for a volume discount. You can also ask for equipment “bonuses” or upgrades in exchange for a longer service agreement or a more extensive service contract.
- In many cases, you’ll be able to get leased equipment for a substantially cheaper monthly cost. Ask about “buy back” provisions that allow you to keep the equipment at the end of the lease period, and lock in this amount when you sign the contract. You’ll save on installation costs and often get a lower purchase price because the vendor doesn’t usually want the equipment back.
- Maintenance contracts usually cover a certain period of time. If you lease equipment, a maintenance contract might be required, or it might be bundled in with a service agreement. You can save on maintenance by ensuring you’ll get quick, efficient service. Have the contract specify the time frame for repairs, specifying how quickly service issues will be addressed. This is especially important with a VoIP or hosted service.
- Only negotiate for the services you need. Be realistic- if you’ve never had a need for video conferencing and only see yourself using it some of the time, don’t ask for it. Getting a “freebie” that you’ll never use is just a waste of your effort.
- Don’t assume that basics like voicemail and call waiting are automatically included. Get services itemized and make sure you have the capability to support new programs- you might need a faster internet connection or additional hardware.
The biggest savings you can negotiate are on upgrades and setup costs. Ask about free upgrades and discounted setup costs before you sign a service agreement. These are the “low hanging fruit” for many companies and an easy way to cut total costs.
Negotiating (or renegotiating) a phone system contract is one of the easiest ways to save without compromising on the service you receive. Make sure you compare several different companies to get an idea of the “going rate” for services. Almost every businesswoman relies on telephone services for communication- get the most for your money by taking control and negotiating a better deal.