Advancements in telephony technology make it quick and easy for businesses to set up a business voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) system. As VoIP technology continues to evolve, more and more businesses and consumers are swapping out their copper-wired landlines for more affordable internet-based communications.
From the outside looking in, setting up any business phone system can seem daunting. However, the process is relatively straightforward, and the benefits are more than worth the initial investment. Every VoIP provider will have its own unique setup process, but there are a few general guidelines you can follow. Below, we’ll walk you step by step through setting up your business’ VoIP system, or you can download our guide for additional support.
1. Consider Your Team’s VoIP Needs
Not all VoIP systems are created equal. Some are tailor-made for small teams, while others are designed to support enterprises with larger call traffic. Different VoIP systems provide varying pros and cons, so you’ll need to identify your wants and needs from the get-go before you go too deep into the VoIP rabbit hole.
- Features: Some VoIP providers will offer bare-bones calling and texting solutions, while others will empower your business with video conferencing, file sharing, team messaging, and more. A service like Nextiva or 8×8 will enable you to consolidate all your business communications under a unified platform, while a more simple solution like Ooma or Phone.com will be an add-on tool to your existing tech stack.
- Headphones vs softphones: If you currently have landline technology installed in your business, then you’ll likely want a VoIP service that can utilize your existing hardware, like Nextiva or RingCentral. If you don’t want to worry about a PBX system or headphones, you’ll want to choose a virtual phone system, like Google Voice or Grasshopper.
- Call handling: Call handling functionality varies depending on the provider. If you want to control the entire call experience from dial to hang-up, you’ll need a more advanced VoIP system with features like barge, whisper, monitor, and more. Simpler systems will provide basic call handling features to forward, route, and record calls.
There’s no one-size-fits-all VoIP solution, so you’ll need to shop around to find the perfect system for your business. There are also virtual phone systems that allow you to use your personal smartphone as a business phone in a few simple steps. You can see an example of this process in our article on how to use Google Voice.
2. Determine How Many Users You’ll Need
Estimated users play a big part in narrowing down your options, so take stock of your current employee base and your projected growth. Think about how many employees will be using your VoIP service. Not every team member will need a line, while others may require two or more—and some employees may only need an extension.
Do the math and crunch the numbers. If you want to cut costs, consider pooling resources with shared conference rooms and lines. Most VoIP providers charge on a per-user basis, so you can save money by being strategic with your licensing.
3. Double-check Your Network Compatibility
Remember, your VoIP calls are over the internet, so you must make sure you have the bandwidth to handle inbound and outbound call traffic. If you have too many users and a poor connection, then your call quality will suffer.
Ensure your internet connection is fast and reliable. The strength and speed of your network will ultimately determine how many VoIP lines you can support.
Try our free, quick-and-easy VoIP speed test to measure your network’s health and estimate how many lines it can support.
On average, a 500 Kbps upload speed will support about five lines, while a 10 Mbps upload speed will support at least 100 lines. You can learn more about how to determine how many lines your network can support by visiting our more comprehensive VoIP speed test guide.
4. Decide on Your VoIP Budget
Before you start comparing features, providers, and prices, set a VoIP budget. An extra $10 per user, per month can add up quickly, so it’s best to set boundaries before you start evaluating platforms.
Most VoIP platforms provide discounts when you sign up on an annual contract or reach certain thresholds of users. This can help offset the costs if you need to upgrade to a more expensive plan in order to access advanced features or higher usage caps.
It’s easy to start chasing shiny features, but a plan will keep you from stretching your budget too thin. To keep yourself grounded, it’s best to determine a budget first—once you have the budget, determine your need-to-have and nice-to-have features.
5. Choose Your Need-to-Have & Nice-to-Have Features & Hardware
Looking through a list of VoIP features can be overwhelming. There are a lot of options to consider:
- Participant maximums
- Call handling functionality
- Multilevel interactive voice response (IVR)
- Team messaging
- Video conferencing
- Mobile apps
- Document sharing
And that’s just a tiny sample of what’s available. Before you start looking at different VoIP providers and what they have to offer, make a list of need-to-have and nice-to-have features. This list is a good foundation for establishing why you’re investing in a VoIP system in the first place.
Now that you have your feature list, start looking at providers and what they have to offer. Most platforms don’t provide a la carte pricing (except for tools like Vonage and OnSIP), so you’re going to end up paying for a plan prebundled with features—and there’s a chance you’ll pay a premium for a plan full of features you’ll never use.
Also, consider the hardware you may need. The right VoIP provider for your business will depend on whether you’re planning to use traditional desk phones, desktop and mobile apps, or a combination of the two.
Curious to know what features you should be looking for? Check out our guide to VoIP phone features to see what standard features are available.
6. Sign Up With a VoIP Provider
Making a final decision and choosing a VoIP provider can seem overwhelming. We recommend looking at our 2021 buyer’s guide to see our top small business VoIP systems. This guide will help narrow down your options to the best-of-the-best platforms available.
Next, look at the plans these tools offer and reach out to their sales teams to ensure the pricing and features are a good fit for your business. Some platforms offer free trials to let you get your hands dirty with the software and functionality.
If you are worried that your customers won’t be able to reach you if you change phone services, don’t be. Most VoIP system providers will allow you to port your number at no charge provided your business isn’t moving to a new geographic location.
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7. Install & Configure Your VoIP Solution
Once you’ve signed up with a VoIP platform, it’s time to install your system, plug in the phones, and configure your settings. Most small business VoIP systems host a private branch exchange (PBX) on their own services, which means you won’t need to hook up a physical PBX box in your office. Instead, you’ll just need to download the platform’s desktop and mobile apps to get started.
If your VoIP solution does require an on-site PBX system, you’ll need to install this hardware and connect it to your internet service provider (ISP). Next, you’ll need to connect your VoIP-enabled desk phones to your PBX box with an Ethernet cable. Each VoIP provider’s setup process will vary, so read through their onboarding resources for more detailed instructions.
Once you have your system installed, it’s time to configure your settings. This is where you’ll set up your phone tree, assign extensions, prepare your voicemail, create calling schedules, establish call forwarding, and more.
Most VoIP providers have a step-by-step setup wizard to make sure you configure all aspects of your system. Other systems, like Vonage and Nextiva, provide human setup and installation services. Check with your provider before signing up to see what onboarding services they include.
VoIP System Common Terminology
Comparing VoIP providers can be mind-boggling, especially with all the industry jargon. Here’s a quick breakdown of common acronyms you’re likely to encounter:
- VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): VoIP is a technology that transmits calls as data over the internet.
- PBX (Private Branch Exchange): PBX phone systems are hardware and software that handle incoming calls and automatically routes them to the correct departments and extensions.
- ISP (Internet Service Provider): An ISP is a company that provides you with internet access.
- PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network): The PSTN is the old-fashioned, circuit-switched telephone network that transmits calls via copper wires.
- IVR (Interactive Voice Response): An IVR system is software that uses automated voice menus to route callers to the appropriate extension without human assistance.
- UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service): A UCaaS tool combines voice, SMS, video conferencing, email, team messaging, file sharing, and more into one platform.
VoIP systems unlock the best telephony features businesses need to keep their teams and clients connected. They’re easy to use, affordable, and simple to set up. However, narrowing down your options to a single VoIP service is the tricky part.
There are plenty of great tools on the market, but we recommend RingCentral for teams looking for an all-in-one VoIP solution that’ll scale with your business from start to finish. It’s feature-rich, affordable, and downright simple to use. Click the button below to start your free trial.