When you start a business you don't always start off renting a nice new office or shop complete with a telephone line and fax machine - lots of people start from home sitting at their kitchen table and trade from a website.
Your new web site needs something behind the 'Contact Us' tab. Customers expect to see a real address and telephone number not just an email address. They want to know how to contact you and, often, you want them to call you too. Without proper contact details how can you expect people to really trust you - it makes you look amateur.
Using your home telephone number is not really feasible; your kids may keep it engaged all day, you don't want just anyone in your house answering calls from customers and anyway you should keep your private number private.
A mobile number is expensive for a customer to call and, unless you operate a trade where you are expected to be on site most of the time, just shouts 'Arthur Dailey' at would be customers - if your company can't even afford a phone number why should anybody trust you with their credit card number?
The short video below shows you how simple using Voipfone really is.
You can, of course just ask BT for another telephone line but that's expensive, requires a new contract and quite often feels like a commitment you're not yet ready to make. It is however the only way to get a completely independent line for both incoming and outgoing calls. Unless you use VoIP - see below.
BT's Call Sign product provides you with a second number which rings your existing home telephone and costs £3.15 per month. It's not a great solution because it still ties up your home telephone line but as a stop-gap solution it works.
These services go by a variety of names but are often called switchboard services. They normally give you a 'free' 08xx or 07xx number then forward the calls to your home landline number.
This is usually marketed as a free service to you but of course the calling party is paying a premium to call the number - between 5 and 50p per minute. Because these numbers are off-putting to callers, you will always receive fewer calls than you would on an ordinary 01 or 02 number.
Some call divert companies also offer 0800 and geographic numbers for a monthly rental charge. These are genuinely useful services and well worth considering. The better ones offer voicemail, the ability to set open and closing times, call queuing, and allow you to redirect calls to other landline numbers and mobiles whenever you wish. (You will be charged for the calls diverted to your mobile or landline on a per minute basis).
These services are fine but all they can do is intercept an incoming call and then send it to your normal BT telephone or mobile. When it comes to making outbound calls you are still using your normal BT service. So your call costs will reflect this and, perhaps more importantly, the Caller ID (CLI) you send will be your normal home line - so people calling you back will miss your 'switchboard' altogether and you will be giving people your private number.
An even bigger problem is more long term. As your business grows, you will receive more calls but you can only receive one call at a time - the system, in other words, it isn't future proof, it can't grow with you.
Unless you purchase another telephone line, VoIP is the only method that gives you more outgoing and incoming capacity ie the ability to both make and receive more calls.
VoIP can also do everything that standard telephony can do plus a lot more and do it cheaper, so you may not be too surprised to learn that I think you should at least consider it before choosing your number provider.
All our VoIP telephones and adapters are pre-configured with UK ring and dial tones, our own optimum network settings and your user account details - so you should be able to just plug them into your home or office network and and start making calls straight away.
Once installed, all our equipment is auto-provisioned; this means that we can remotely adjust its setting to keep it up to date or perform remote diagnosis and maintenance if required; this ensures that your hardware is running at its best all the time.
Unlike some service providers who lock their telephones and adapters, you can change our configuration if you wish and it will work with other providers.
The whole telecoms world is moving to VoIP. BT is converting its entire network to it and the residents of Cardiff have it already - whether they know it or not. Like those people in Cardiff, you don't need to know anything about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) if you don't want to - after all you probably don't know anything about TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) but your normal phone still works J.
VoIP provides both very simple and extremely sophisticated telephone services cheaply and efficiently. There are thousands of things you can do with it - which causes a problem when trying to explain what VoIP is and does, but for the moment we're only concerned with finding the best way of getting you an independent telephone number that is reasonably future proof.
Although VoIP is the future it would be wrong not to talk about VoIP's downsides - so what are they?
Old fashioned circuit switched telecommunications have been around for over 100 years and are now very reliable. VoIP is a new technology and the industry is still new so not all VoIP companies are the same.
So to be absolutely safe, look for companies that provide business products, their services need to be more robust than simple consumer brands. Pick one that has been around for at least a 5 years so that it has gone through the start-up pains. And check that they provide failover services so that if the worst happens, calls are routed to you via the PSTN.
You should also check that the provider is a member of Comms Council UK, the VoIP industry trade association, so that they conform to industry best practice and your number is safe.
VoIP is a data network which relies on your domestic power supply to work, so it will fail if your power supply fails. But then so will your DECT phones and old fashioned PBX so that appears to be a risk we've learned to live with. Note: this does not apply to the VoIP switchboard type services discussed below.
VoIP does not do provide uniquely cheap phone calls nor are all telephone calls free.
VoIP companies tend to offer some of the cheapest calls around but not necessarily the cheapest; if all you need are cheap calls look at CPS (Carrier Pre-Select services) too.
Only calls to another VoIP customer on the same network are free, not calls to mobiles or PSTN numbers. (However, there are tricks that allow you to call other VoIP networks for free too).
This is the easiest way to get a new number and technically doesn't really use VoIP at all, so you don't even need a broadband connection.
It works like the call divert/switchboard services above. You are issued with a number of your choice and you then set a divert to either your home telephone number or your mobile. Diverts work with any number.
This means you can give people a new, proper, number but don't need any new phones, equipment or contracts.
Not many VoIP companies do this yet but a quick google will find them. We at Voipfone do, of course, and you can find out how at the bottom of this article.
VoIP telephone numbers are the same as any other number; they are issued by Ofcom from standard number ranges and work in exactly the same way. The only difference is what is possible with the call once VoIP gets hold of it.
The very big reason is that you won't always be working from your kitchen table.
You will want your number to stay with you as you grow and you'll want to be making outbound calls on an independent line - not your home phone. You invest in your telephone number; you give it out to your friends and relatives, print it on your stationery and business cards and use it on your advertising and promotional materials. It often becomes part of your brand. It's not a disposable item.
Diverting a call to your home landline or mobile is ok as a beginning but it is only the start. With VoIP you are also able to accept an incoming call via your internet connection onto your PC (which uses a free software telephone, like Skype) or into a telephone adapter that a normal phone can then plug into or directly into a VoIP telephone which then does not need your computer to be on to work.
Once you start using VoIP like this you can do almost anything you like with a call such as transfer it to an extension - which can be anywhere - for free; handle several incoming calls simultaneously (you don't need extra lines to do this), add telephone numbers to the same line so that you can run multiple ad campaigns, run several businesses, use music on hold and voice response systems (press 1 for sales etc). The system is very flexible and grows as you grow - as always without contracts or commitments you don't want or need.
But all that's another story!
Telephone companies can be very slippery; particularly the small ones.
Charges are not always terribly visible or transparent, contracts can be long and automatically renewing and customer service is sometimes non-existent. So here are a few things to look out for:
Don't trust 'free' offers and don't chase the very cheapest telephone call you can get; for four reasons:
Only BT, Virgin and mobile companies have their own networks. The rest of us have to interconnect with them and they have to interconnect with each other.
By and large, the rates we pay each other to send calls between us are either regulated or pretty standard so there is no real margin available for anyone to heavily discount.
If we all have roughly the same variable call costs the only way calls can be offered much cheaper than anyone is... well, you tell me ;-).
The interconnect routes that the calls are sent to may be poor quality and/or illegal. This normally only applies to mobile or international calls but problems you might experience are calls failing to connect, noisy calls, calls breaking up, dropped calls and no CLI.
Telephone calls are cheap, even when bought from the most expensive provider. Unless you are operating a high density call centre, there's really no point trying to save 5% of not very much.
With VoIP, telephone calls between other VoIP users are really free - they really do not cost the provider anything to provide because you, as a broadband customer, have already paid for the bandwidth - just like you don't pay to send an email, you don't pay to make a true VoIP call.
If it seems too cheap it probably is - if you make a lot of mobile or international calls, look for a provider who says he uses Tier 1 connectivity.
Expect to pay a small rental for services and features that have real added value.
Your number may become important to you as a marketing brand or it may just be expensive and difficult to change. So wherever you get your number from, it makes sense that it is secure. What happens if you provider ceases to trade or gives you a poor service?
Only BT is forced by regulation to transfer numbers to other telephone providers - it's called porting - and as a general principle most other companies will not do it. So do check that your number provider has number porting agreements and will allow you to take your number to a competitor if you wish to.
If you use a VoIP company make sure they are a member of Comms Council UK, the trade body. They have a code of practice that allows free and open porting of numbers between its members and, as one of its members is BT, you have a good level of comfort that, should the worst happen, your number is safe.
It's a poor tradition in the old telecommunication's world to make it difficult to find out exactly how much their services cost. Some business web sites don't contain any prices at all - try looking for PBX pricing for example - they want you to call their commission based sales people for a hard sell.
However if they do provide pricing information do check for these tricks:
For a business service, normally it isn't - but it won't always be obvious.
They don't make much from telephone calls so they often want you to pay upfront for something that actually costs them nothing and you get no value from. You can bet that they won't tell you about set-up charges on the home page, so go look for it. At the time of writing BT had a call set-up fee of 13.1p!
Most are pay as you go, no contract services but, if they are not, do check how long you are committing yourself for. Beware the auto-renewing contract - this can trip you into another 6 years!
If you want to get out of your contract before it ends how much is it going to cost you? If the company you have signed up to also gave you equipment you may have to return it or pay for it in full.
If they charge by the call they usually have a minimum call charge - it's not usually more than 1p these days but you need to check - it can be quite high. If a lot of your calls hit answering machines you will suffer from this but it's much worse if they use a minimum duration charge.
This is insidious because it seems such a small number - say 1 minute. But if you call mobiles or exotic destinations it can be nothing but a huge rip-off. If you see call prices to UK mobiles that look very good value (ie are cheap) they may well be using this trick. It means that every time your call goes to voicemail you will pay them 20p - or whatever.
Almost everybody charges by the second these days and it's normal to round up to a whole second - but you never know, someone out there may still be using 5p unit fees!
'Free' switchboard companies often require you to have a minimum number of calls per month per number. What happens if you have a slow month?
Some VoIP companies provide you with hardware - adapters, routers or telephones. This has advantages for you as the equipment is then pretty much guaranteed to work out of the box on their network.
However, you need to know that it will be worthless if you move suppliers. If you buy VoIP equipment from ebay make sure it is unlocked.
Before signing up to a calling plan or inclusive call minutes package check what they actually mean.
There is no such thing as an unlimited calling plan. They all have a 'fair use clause' in their T&Cs so that if you regularly exceed a given number of call minutes which makes you uneconomic as a customer - a number they may not even define - you will be warned, bumped up to a 'business use' package or chucked off the service.
They may also exclude calls to mobiles and expensive destinations so they are in no way 'unlimited'.
Some companies protect themselves by selling packages of say 500, 1000 call minutes (this includes Voipfone). These can be good deals if you are a heavy user as they normally offer a decent discount over non-package prices. But to get the benefit you have to use them all up in the month - they do not roll-over. If you regularly underuse these packages it is usually better to use normal pay as you go calling credit.
Packages like these do allow you to budget easily as you have some certainty about your call cost but they may work out to be not particularly good value. To understand what value you are actually getting, divide the monthly charge by the normal call cost of 1p (ex VAT). So to benefit from a £10 a month call package you would need to make more than 16.6 hours of calls to landline in a month.
You want a number that suits your business - numbers are important, they say different things about you to your customers.
0800 says -'please call me, it's free'. A geographic number (020, 01273, 0161 etc) says 'I'm local' or 'I'm proper and established and you know what it costs to call me'. 0871 says ' don't want your calls, it's going to cost you a lot to call me' or 'I'm providing a valuable service that costs a little to get'. Click here to see what all the numbers are about.
You may be putting your number on your stationery, business cards, advertising material and flyers. It may become part of your brand. So it's important that, whatever number you use, it is fit for purpose and can grow and move with you as your business develops.
One interesting thing about VoIP is that their numbers can be taken anywhere. You can have a London number but be in Japan or Scunthorpe. So if you need to move out of the geographic area of the number (maybe you do finally get that office) you can take the number with you - even if the somewhere is the Bahamas.
If you want to do more than just divert a call to a single phone but still don't want to use a VoIP telephone, you just add PBX (switchboard) functionality in front of the divert.
So you can, for instance send calls simultaneously to more than one telephone - say your home phone and mobile; add a call queue - so that if your phone is busy you don't lose the call; add an Interactive Voice Response menu - press 1 for Sales, 2 for Accounts etc - so even if you're a one man band sat at your kitchen table, it looks like you're as big as BT.
Voipfone provides no contract, pay-as-you go services and pre-configured but unlocked hardware. We have redundant and direct connections to two Tier 1 UK and international carriers. We charge calls by the fraction of a second with a minimum charge of 1p (ex VAT). We have no minimum volumes or set-up charges.
Voipfone is a founder member of Comms Council UK.
You do this by simply going to our web site, signing up, choosing a number and setting a divert.
You can set the divert to go anywhere you like and change it as often as you like. There is a standard charge for diverting your calls - 1p per minute for a landline and 7p for a UK mobile.
Most numbers cost £3 per month (ex VAT). There are no contracts or set-up costs and you can cancel at any time. The number is active immediately. We automatically give you a free 056 number on sign-up so you could just use that if you want to.
Once you've set your divert, all callers dialing your new number will be directed to your mobile phone (or whatever number you set). You can change the divert anytime you like, as often as you like. You can even switch it off and your calls will go directly to your free Voicemail. You will also be emailed a sound file of every Voicemail you receive. If you have an answering service you can divert your calls to them so that they get a real person when you're not available.
Because you are diverting calls from your new number to a telephone you possibly use for domestic or social purposes it is often useful to see the number that your caller called instead of the number he is calling from on your phone's display. Then you can answer it professionally with the name of your company when you need to.
This is particularly useful if you have several businesses with calls all coming into the same telephone.
You can manage all this easily by using a feature called 'line and number presentation' which comes with our virtual PBX.
If you rent a telephone extension for each unique telephone number you need, we can send you the telephone number that is being called.
(If you also put the name of the company into your mobile along with your new number, your phone will display it so you can answer 'good morning, xyz company').
Later, if you wish, you can add a telephone to your service so you can make outbound calls too and really start to use VoIP.
Log in to your online control panel to configure your services. With Voipfone's online control panel you can manage your account in real time, from your PC anywhere in the world.