About 5 years ago, I expanded our business into an office location and brought on 4 staff. Being a life insurance brokerage working nationally, all 5 of us were on the phones all day long. Our phone bill had the potential to be a significant portion of the expenses of a growing business. My best estimate was about $2000+ per month in phone bills. By switching to Voip our monthly costs were frequently in the $250 range. Toll free number, ten lines with rollover, voice messaging and lots of Canada-wide calling, all included in that cost.
Are the saving starting to look worth it to you? I hope so, I believe you can realize almost 90% savings in your phone costs by switching your small business to Voip. The savings are realized in three ways:
- You’ll pay $50-$75 per line for traditional phone systems. Plus an additional fee for rollovers between those lines, toll-free, voice mail, and call forwarding. This can easily add up to hundreds or thousands per month before you even pick up the phone. Compare to Voip where there are no real line fees and most of the features such as voice mail, call forwarding and conferencing are software driven and thus free. I currently pay $5 per month base cost for 5 lines with rollover and more features than I can use.
- Long distance fees are reduced. I am currently paying 1 cent per minute for inbound toll-free calls and all my outbound calls. If I’m on the phone with someone in California for an hour, it costs me two quarters and a dime.
- Equipment costs. While you will likely need new Voip telephones when you switch (figure $100-$150 per phone), the base system that runs all of this is normally done on some cheap computer you have lying around. And the software that controls all of this – again, free.
And because Voip phone systems are software driven, anything you can imagine can happen. Want to have an extension phone ring at your home or at an associate’s office across country? Voip phone systems will do this. Have unlimited local calling on your cell phone but expensive long distance? Call your office and route your cell phone back out through your voip system and now you’re getting long distance from your office, on your cell phone calls.
If the savings seem interesting but the technology seems overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. You will need a tech to set up the initial system, but it’s not that complicated – a local linux tech person can easily set up a small office Voip system in a few hours. And future control and maintenance you can do yourself, right through your browser. Allow me to show you an overview of the steps required to set this up and hopefully it’ll be a lot less intimidating.
What you’ll need:
- an account with a Voip provider. I use unlimitel.ca and get 1 cent per minute phone calling, but there are other companies out there that are just as good.
- A voip server. This is the computer that will plug into your network and connect your phones to the voip provider. The server consists of two things – a computer, and the Voip control software. For the computer, pretty much anything will work – an old PC gathering dust, an old laptop, whatever. You do not need fast or powerful for this at all, so a castoff computer is fine. I’ve used an old laptop in the past, I’m now using this: zotac computer. For the Voip control software there are a variety of options but the two most common are AsteriskNow and FreePBX. Both are similar, both are entirely free, just download, burn to a DVD and install on your cheap computer.
- Voip phones. Unfortunately your old phones won’t work without modification. It’ll be easier to just buy new Voip phone handsets. For this there are two options. The first are to purchase actual Voip phone handsets. These are physical business phones with extensions, lines, hold buttons, all the standard business handset features. The second, less expensive option is a ‘soft phone’. A soft phone consists of a USB headset you can get at Staples for about $50, and some free soft phone software you run on your PC. The free software plus the USB headset plugged into your desktop PC effectively turn your PC into an extension. Put your headset on and dial using your mouse on your screen. Either way works, it’s up to you what type of system you prefer.
I’m going to provide only broad setup steps as I do recommend you bring in a tech to do the setup, so broad steps are all you’ll need. Here’s the basic steps:
- Get an account with a Voip provider (again, I use unlimitel.ca). They’ll give you your userid and password for your account.
- Download AsteriskNow or FreePBX.
- Plug your Voip phone into your network, or install ‘softphone’ software on your PC and add in a USB headset.
- Your tech will install AsteriskNow or FreePBX on your Voip server. During the setup they’ll also connect in your extensions/Voip phones, secure the your router/firewall, and use the userid and password from your provider to connect to them. The Voip server gets plugged into your computer network and connects your new Voip phones to your Voip provider.
That’s it – you should now be able to pick up your phone and start making calls! And saving huge amounts of money. Going forward, with a quick tutorial from your tech, you should be able to change music on hold, do call forwarding, call conferencing, and everything else you want to do all through your browser on your PC.
One more cool thing with Voip. Because your phone system is now terminated at that voip server you built, your phones will ring anywhere you have that plugged into an internet connection. That means that if you want to move locations there are no phone techs involved, no cost, and no downtime. You simply power down the Voip computer at your old location, drive to the new location and plug it in – voila! Your phones are ringing at your new location. If you have high-speed internet at your cottage, there’s nothing stopping you from taking your business phones with you on vacation and then back home with you again when you return.
Glenn Cooke is president of Life Insurance Canada.com and has been using Voip in his office for 5 years.