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Ask the Experts: Technology for small businesses

Businessman Making A Card Payment On The InternetBy Jeff Lorenz

Q I am setting up a new home-based franchise business. What are my options for a phone system?

Jeff says:
As a new home-based franchisee, the ability to communicate effectively with clients and partners whenever and wherever business takes you is critical to your success. Whether you choose a hosted (VoIP) phone system, a traditional ‘premise-based’ set-up (in which the technology is physically present in your office) or an alternative phone solution, your business communication system should meet all of your needs now and be able to grow with your company in the future.

Before investing in a phone system or locking into a long-term contract, there are several things you should consider, including:

  • if there are any startup costs that extend beyond initial setup and equipment fees;
  • what, if any, usage-based costs are not included in your monthly plan;
  • whether you have the ability to connect to other office locations or employees on the road; and
  • whether you have the capacity to scale the phone system up or down to meet shifting operational needs.

A very popular option for small businesses is a hosted voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) PBX (private branch exchange), which can help you get started immediately with advanced call management features with little to no capital investment. In addition, VoIP services are scalable, allowing you to quickly increase your number of phones as your company grows. Many entrepreneurs are also switching to a cloud-based hosted environment (using virtual servers) as opposed to a premise-based system, without any trade-offs in quality.

Q I need a fast, reliable, and secure connection to the Internet. What are my options for Internet access?

Jeff says:
Today, no business can successfully operate without high-speed Internet access. Look for a service that offers fast upload and download speeds, as well as sufficient bandwidth to send and receive large files, host mail, web and file transfer protocol (FTP) servers and connect from remote sites via a virtual private network (VPN).

In addition to a fast, reliable, secure Internet connection, a solid web presence is also important. A well-thought-out, engaging and interactive website is a key business tool as it is often the first line of contact with customers, so be sure you or your franchisor can use the web to make a good first impression.

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