One of the earliest and most fundamental decisions a business owner makes is choosing a phone system. “Bottom line, the type of telephone system you choose should support the type of business you’re in,” says Holly Hinze, director of commercial products at Charter Communications. “It’s smart to start by thinking about your phone needs at a high level.”

 

____Holding the phone

Different employee roles call for different types of handsets—the hand-held device that has both a transmitter for talking and a receiver for listening. The handset may be attached to the phone by a wire, or be cordless or wireless (meaning it is portable and communicates with the base by radio).

Let your phone system’s form follow employee functions. For example, if you have a small retail establishment with a lot of in-person interaction and few inbound calls, one wired line in the front and one in the back may be enough. If you have warehouse workers, they may need cordless handsets so they can roam the premises while talking. A lobby receptionist or customer service employee may require a headset (which has the same basic components as a handset) so he or she can type or transfer calls while talking.

For group calls, you may want to include a conference speakerphone, which offers enhanced microphone capabilities that are ideal for meetings.

 

____Keeping lines open

A single-line system, with one line that anyone can pick up and use if it’s available, can work for solopreneurs or certain micro-businesses.

Many small businesses will opt for a multi-line or key system, such as one with four separate lines on which up to four simultaneous conversations can take place. Key system telephones have multiple buttons that represent different lines and light up when a line is in use. This is a common choice for medical offices and professional services businesses, Hinze says. “Some businesses choose a four-line phone system, but only use Line 1 and 2 in the early stages,” Hinze explains. “Others may choose a four-line system but get eight handsets so their employees have maximum flexibility.”

 

____Check for fit

Before you purchase phones, double-check to be sure they are compatible with your service. An analog (traditional landline) service won’t work with digital IP-based (Internet Protocol) equipment.

 

____Think ahead

Any phone system you purchase should be “expandable,” Hinze says. “Consider the anticipated growth of your business, and make sure what you buy now can scale up to last you for the next three to five years.”

 

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