Primary needs: saving money, basic features. Every dollar counts in a small business. Unless your business model focuses on the telephone, you probably don't need to invest in a system with the most robust telephone features.
Best bet: KSU-less or key system. If most of your interactions with customers are in-person, a KSU-less system can offer basic business telephone features for the lowest cost. If you expect your business to grow beyond 10 employees, or if the phone is your primary connection to your clients, a key system is probably a better choice.
Look for 1-2 essential features. Instead of creating a laundry list of everything you might want your phones to do, just pick the most important features. Do you need an auto-attendant to forward calls to the right extension? Or an extensive voicemail system? Whichever phone system feature is most critical, make it the focus of your decision.
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Do you have multiple locations, in the US or internationally?
Small businesses with multiple locations should consider a VoIP phone system, instead of a traditional set up. VoIP (Voice over IP) lets you use data networks instead of regular phone lines to connect your calls.
There are two primary advantages of VoIP phone systems. First, they provide the full features of your phone system to every phone on the system - even remote offices or home workers. Second, they completely eliminate calling costs between your locations.
Don't confuse these systems with VoIP service, like Vonage or Skype. Those companies replace your business phone service, your connection to the outside world. A VoIP system in your office simply connects your internal phone network.
If you have some employees who are often on the road, mobile connectivity is an important consideration. In addition to carefully comparing cell phone services, ask the phone system vendors you're evaluating what features they offer to support mobile workers.
One helpful feature is the ability to forward calls from a phone extension to a cell phone after a certain number of rings. This "automatic call forwarding" or "follow me anywhere" feature lets callers contact the people they need to reach without worrying about where they are.
Some phone system vendors install a system that requires their services to make changes. A small business should be able to make changes on the fly - so look for a system that makes the MAC (move, add, change) process understandable to a non-technician.
This will let you be more responsive and reduce the number of expensive service calls you have to make to the phone system provider.