Once you’ve decided to use VoIP for your Small Office Home Office, it’s time to get set up. You’re probably keen to get going, find a VoIP provider, and start saving money on phone calls. It’s a good idea, though, to take a little time to consider some of the points on this check list. That way, you can be sure you’ve chosen the VoIP provider that’s best for you, and best for your business. Who are the best established VoIP providers? VoIP isn’t new technology, as such, and though broadband telephony is likely to become the way we all make telephone calls, you want to be sure that your provider is reliable and experienced. What’s your existing broadband infrastructure? Make sure you know how your existing broadband works. Is it cable (eg Virgin)? If so, you could cancel your cable telephone line entirely without affecting your broadband connection. If it is ADSL (eg BT), however, you can’t cancel your phone line because you’ll lose your broadband, too. You can, though use a VoIP phone line as your second phone line which you could use to make your business calls. Do you need just one line, or two? If you work from home, either all the time or part of the time, you may want to separate business from private telephone calls, so a second, cheap VoIP phone line might make more sense, especially if your business is growing or likely to grow. What features will help? Will your customers be able to get hold of you whenever they need to? Check that the VoIP provider offers inclusive features such as call-forwarding, three-way calling, ringback, do not disturb, call waiting or voicemail sent to your email address. Call plans. Think about what you need in terms of the business calls you make. Do you call mostly UK numbers? Or do you need to call other European countries, or mostly the US? Look at the call plans the VoIP offers. Is there a good choice? Is there one that suits you? Are calls to mobiles included? What exactly does ‘unlimited’ mean? Make sure you understand exactly what the VoIP provider is offering. If it says ‘unlimited’, does this mean that the calls really are unlimited to the countries listed in your call plan? Most VoIP providers will have a ‘fair usage’ policy. That is, they will give you have a generous allowance of free minutes, say 2000 (about 33 hours a month). What is the VoIP’s allowance? Is your SOHO likely to use more minutes than that? What will you pay if that happens? What will you pay if you call countries outside your plan? Check what you’ll be charged if you call countries outside the call plan you’ve signed up to. VoIP usually offer very competitive rates, but it’s a good idea to check. If you think you may make regular calls to a country outside one call plan, it may be a good idea to see if there’s another call plan that includes that country. What do its customers say? Try and find some of the customer feedback about the VoIP provider. Reviews from customers, either satisfied or disgruntled, will often tell you a lot about what you need to know about a company in terms of reliability, customer service, technical support, customer satisfaction etc. What are the extra costs? As well as the advertised monthly call plan, make sure you know exactly what else you might have to pay for. The VoIP provider may, for example, charge a set-up or administration fee, a line activation fee, a cancellation fee. There may be charges for equipment, too, though some of it may be free. Is the VoIP’s website clear? You don’t want to have to root through a website to discover hidden charges and the small print. A well written, professional, clear website, with all the charges clearly set out, is a sign that the VoIP provider is committed to professional transparency. What’s the support like? A phone line is one of the most crucial elements of any SOHO. So it’s a good idea to make sure that the VoIP provider offers technical support and customer service 24/7. Can you always get hold of someone if you need to? Do you have to pay for this? What add-ons do they offer? If or when your business starts to grow, can you adapt your VoIP phone system accordingly? Find out whether the VoIP provider offers add-ons such as a second phone line, a fax line, or the ability to make calls from your laptop. Can you keep your number? If you’re starting up in business, it may make sense to get a whole new business number. But if customers already use your landline number, you may want to keep that. Check that the VoIP provider offers the option of ‘porting’ your existing number to your new VoIP phone provider. Can you choose a dialling code? You may want a VoIP telephone number that’s local to you. Or you may want one that’s local to your customers. Either way, find out what the VoIP offers in terms of choosing dialling codes, and check that the code you want is available. What about emergencies? A final important consideration is to think about how your business would cope if your broadband connection went down. If that happens, and your VoIP telephone is temporarily out of action, you need to make sure you have a back-up plan (such as a mobile), particularly in case of critical business calls or even calls to the emergency services. Once you’ve been through this check list, you should be ready to choose your VoIP provider. It shouldn’t take long to get your VoIP phone line set up, and then you’ll be ready to start saving money by using your broadband to make and receive business calls.

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