Archive for

Hosted VoIP – Changing the Business Communications Landscape

Every day, companies all across America are trying to accomplish the same thing to improve their businesses. Whether you’re a typical “Mom and Pop” SMB, a mid-size business with 250 employees or a Fortune 100 enterprise, you all share the same four basic goals. 1) Reduce costs. 2) Increase revenue. 3) Become more flexible to changing market conditions and 4) Reduce any risk of disruptions to your business model. In a nutshell, every business wants a better way to accomplish their “Business Continuity” strategies.

So, how are these various businesses accomplishing these lofty goals? One of the quickest and easiest ways to tackle all four items at once is to understand that technology has again changed the way we do business… for the better, and now is the time to embrace the change.

Businesses of today (and tomorrow) are changing how they communicate with one another. Gone the way of the dinosaur are the old, expensive models of communicating. For those of us who are willing to show our age, you can think back to the days of expensive long distance. Remember when you would ask to use someone’s home or business phone and the person paying the bill would always ask the same question, “Are you calling long distance?” Thankfully, with the breakup of Ma-Bell in the ’90′s, competition drove the costs down to a manageable $0.03 per minute from the norm of the era, where it was about $0.40 per minute.

Transition came again with the advent of the internet, and then email, and again with conference calling and mobile services. Each new technology certainly experienced its own bumps in the road, and each took time for the masses to adopt them, but ultimately, each new step brought us closer to the four goals noted above. Reduced cost, increased revenue, market flexibility and reduced risk of downtime.

Today, technology has blessed us with yet another advancement. Over the last decade or so, we have seen the advent of Cloud and Hosted technologies. What began as a slow paced crawl has sped up to an Usain Bolt paced sprint in technological advancements, thanks to cloud computing. As is the norm, it always takes a few years for the masses to understand and in turn, adopt these new technologies, but once it happens there is no turning back. That’s where we are today and thankfully, for businesses looking to ramp up their technology or capitalize on the very impressive catalog of feature sets (now standard in most offerings), your business continuity goals are finally within reach.

If you haven’t already begun the transition of replacing your old dilapidated PRI based phone system, then you are doing your business a huge disservice, and that is a delicately phrased understatement. Sure, you see your old phone system as an asset, something you own, that is tangible and yours, but if you think about it beyond the obvious, what has your phone system done for you lately? I’m sure it rings and can place a call for you, but what if you could have your extension ring at any location you are visiting for the day, or even ring simultaneously with your mobile device? Never missing a prospective customer’s call will drastically help you increase your revenue. Or, consider the amount of time it takes you each month to understand and rectify your paper billing. Are your rates all billing correctly for each type of call you place? Doubtful, but imagine having an online portal tracking each and every call, to and from (down to the extension level), so you not only know where your clients are calling from and who they are speaking to, but also ensuring that each outbound call is actually included, FREE of charge, with the system? That’s both cost reduction and flexibility.

Did you ever have to close during inclement weather? Your competitor who already uses Hosted VoIP services didn’t, because when they awoke to find 6 feet of snow on the ground, they simply opened up their smart phone, logged into the portal and with one click of a button, re-routed all of their calls to their predesignated emergency overrides, in real time! Guess what, they never lost a dollar in existing revenue and better yet, they even gained your lost revenue, because they were open for business while your company was closed for business.

The most common misconception when considering a Hosted VoIP PBX is the price. Most fear that such an advanced Unified Communications system (and that’s what it really is; this ‘aint your Granddaddy’s phone system) is priced the way the old phone systems were, with a huge capital outlay, strapping your business for cash until you got some sort of ROI. That is patently incorrect. Todays Hosted VoIP PBX’s cost little to nothing in upfront costs, and are simply charged monthly just like your phone bill of old.

Included in the monthly costs are your brand new phone system and handsets, all of the usage (domestic calls are usually FREE or UNLIMITED), dozens of features and voice mail options, auto attendants, software upgrades, break fix, installation, training, intuitive administration and user portals (to manage the service, pay your bill, chat, monitor extensions and even view trouble tickets in real time!) and a variety of other bells and whistles. Best of all, these systems, typically priced by the number of handsets ordered, are usually within 15% of your total current spend!

So, the next time that you have a staff or budget meeting and you are trying to determine how to hit your four main goals (again) – Increasing Revenue, Decreasing Costs, Becoming More Flexible and Reducing Downtime Risk – I would recommend that you take a good hard look at Hosted VoIP PBX as an option. The only downside is that you haven’t done it sooner.

About the author:

Jeff Keane, 38, is an expert in business telecommunications services, with over 15 years of industry experience. Jeff is frequently the highest producing sales rep in his company and over the course of his career has helped thousands of clients save millions of dollars annually by implementing his recommendations for various voice, data, VoIP, IT and Cloud services. Jeff lives in Southern New Jersey with his wife Brandy, 36, and two children, Ryan Christopher, 14, and Emma Grace, 10. Jeff is an avid sports fan and also enjoys a variety of music, art, food and technologies.

7 Things to Consider When Engaging Small Business Consultants

Many small businesses are experts in their field and know their own business inside and out. However lots of small business owners lack the time or expertise required to implement certain projects. That’s where a small business consultant can step in and help.

In order to achieve a successful project it’s important to be clear about what you want your consultant to be able to do for you. Just as important is selecting a consultant with the right skills for the job, but how do you make sure you don’t get off on the wrong foot?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Are you looking for a research/diagnostic approach or do you need help with implementation?

Firstly are you looking for someone to take a diagnostic approach to a business problem you are facing? For instance, which market segment should you enter? Or what product line should you sell? Or is your business need about implementation? For instance, you’ve identified that you need to be on Social Media and need a marketing consultant with the expertise to make this happen.

The two needs are different and some consultants are better in one area than the other. To find out whether your prospective consultant prefers to work on implementation projects or research projects ask them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for specific examples of projects they have worked on and how they have tackled projects similar to yours in the past.

2. Ask prospective consultants how their clients are better off after they leave.

What sort of outcomes were they able to achieve for their clients? Look out for wishy-washy answers. Look for specific examples and outcomes. Does this fit with the sorts of outcomes that you would like for your business? Where they able to increase website traffic by a certain percentage, reduce staff turnover by a certain amount or generate more business for the client?

Picking the wrong person for the job might end up feeling like you are pushing water up a hill with a rake. Not only will the results be less than optimal but it may end up being a costly and stressful experience also.

3. Be careful of wanting champagne on a beer budget.

Do you want fast, cheap or talented? You must pick two out of the three. There is a triangle trade off here. You can get premium talent, faster results or a cheaper cost but Taylor Swift won’t teach your team how to sing tomorrow for free if you see what I mean.

Often a small business owner will set a budget and then begin the search for the best talent and/or fastest result within that budget. From my experience a budget-driven approach can often compromise results. Your best approach is to establish your desired outcome, then judge each potential candidate by how likely they are to be able to achieve that outcome.

4. Look for a solid “About Us” page.

Ask consultants about their qualifications and their approach. With so many so-called ‘experts’ out there it’s really important to identify who is qualified and able to do the job for you. Ask prospective consultants questions about their skills and experience to determine whether they are fit for the job. Are they methodical in their approach? Do have a history of achieving quality results for clients? This will help you to avoid being mislead by organisations with few processes, a glossy website and no real qualifications or experience.

5. Ask yourself whether you think you will be comfortable working with the consultant.

Do you think they are going to be the right fit for your business? Can you see yourself and your team working well with them? Sometimes it’s less about the exact industry experience they have had and more about their ability to get results.

6. Think about goals and outcomes first.

Don’t pick a technical specialist to do a job when you really need someone who can deliver a sales outcome. Think about your goal first, what are you trying to achieve? For instance, if it’s conversions and leads from your website then perhaps what you really need is a marketing consultant to advise on the layout of the website rather than just a technical person to do the build. A technical person can definitely build the website for you, it will function beautifully, but will it achieve your goal of converting traffic to sales?

7. Be wary of small business consultants who are all things to all people.

A good consultant will be honest about what their speciality is and will not simply be a ‘yes’ man or woman. They will push back on projects, ideas and suggestions that they don’t think are right for your business or are beyond their area of expertise. Look for a consultant with backbone not someone who lets you steer the project without alerting you to the danger that lies ahead because they are too afraid to question your judgement or afraid they will upset you. I’d rather have an expert question me and make suggestions than sit back and watch me sink the ship!

So whether it is a marketing consultant or a small business consultant you are looking for, many of the same rules apply. Identify what you need and look at it from an outcomes perspective, work out who has the expertise to help you achieve your goals and whether or not you are comfortable working with them. Look for someone who is genuinely interested in working with you and passionate about what they do.