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Hosted Voice Systems: Efficient, Inexpensive

A hot prospect calls to gather more information about your business, but you’re away from the office and the potential customer gets bounced from one answering machine to the next, unable to reach a live person. Eventually, the caller hangs up, never to be heard from again. A potential sale is lost.

The lesson? The way a customer perceives you and your business starts on the first ring, particularly if you are a small business, a home-based business or a mobile professional.

Unfortunately, many small companies often lack the capital for a professional communications solution to effectively compete with larger competitors that own expensive, well-maintained telecommunications equipment. Until recently, the only option for a small business was the basic voicemail system offered by the local phone company. Unfortunately, these often are limited services that can just as easily create an unprofessional image and hinder a small business’ ability to attract new customers as an outdated answering machine.

Seeing this small business service void, a number of companies have developed affordable virtual, or “hosted,” voice communications solutions. Such systems typically offer advanced voicemail, auto-attendants and call forwarding functions that delivers the image, productivity, and professionalism of a large corporate telecommunications system. With no hardware or software to purchase, a hosted telecommunications service—also known as a “virtual PBX”—allows small businesses to focus on their core competencies, while keeping their communications costs to a minimum.

Is A Hosted System Right For You?

But is outsourcing the right choice for your small- or home-based business? Here are a few things to consider.

A small business should first examine the image it wants to portray. Do you differentiate yourself by highlighting the personal service you can give as a “small fish in a big pond,” or are you struggling to look like a national or global player in the market? For most small businesses, the answer to these questions lies somewhere in the middle.

In order to effectively compete, winning customer confidence is key, and a professional-sounding, hosted voice communications system can offer a competitive edge. Whether you are a one-person shop or have a geographically dispersed sales team, the ability to link employees and customers on a 24-by-7 basis promotes the professional image that can close deals and drive revenue.

Another important factor to consider is the business plan. Are you planning to expand into new markets, hire additional personnel and/or open new locations? If so, it’s important to deploy a system that can support growth and maintain availability.

Most of today’s hosted voice messaging solutions require little more than a few clicks of the mouse to set up. The leading virtual PBX communications systems offer intuitive Web-based interfaces that allow customers instant online access to an entire suite of hosted voice and fax communications services. Such access empowers small businesses to better manage their incoming call volumes; better market their companies, products and services and allow these companies to more fully integrate the hosted communications system into their business. This increases productivity, creates a closer relationship with to customers and leads to higher profits.

Picking the Right System

Once the decision is made to go with a virtual PBX, planners must decide which features and functions best meet the company’s needs and can best create the desired image. There are some basics: Be sure the system offers toll free numbers accessible from anywhere in North America and local numbers accessible worldwide; the ability to accept unlimited incoming calls so callers never hear a busy signal; mailboxes for all business needs (for example, separate mailboxes for each employee as well as departmental mailboxes); call forwarding for each mailbox so calls can be forwarded to any phone or communications device; music-on-hold for callers waiting to be transferred; the ability to check for messages via phone or online and, finally, the capability to forward voice messages and faxes to an email address as audio or picture attachments.

Selecting telecommunications systems often comes down to cost. A traditional phone system/onsite PBX with full functionality for dispersed employees can run from $5,000 to $12,000 in hardware and software equipment. Monthly maintenance fees and additional local phone lines to prevent busy signals must be added to that total. The upfront capital expenditure alone can make purchasing a PBX cost prohibitive for a small business.

Here’s the good news: A hosted voice communications system can be start at under $24 a month plus usage charges. For example, a small business with three employees likely will pay between $30 and $40 a month in total hosted communications services. From our vantage point—and that of many startup businesses—this is an efficient alternative to onsite communications systems.