VoIP for start-ups

Start-ups are in a good place when it comes to choosing telephony systems. They are not tied into long-term contracts and are able to choose a system with scalability and growth in mind, reducing both initial and on-going costs to the business. With Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies providing cost-effective services that offer significant functionality, start-ups might want to consider using VoIP from the beginning.

Telephony issues for start-ups

Start-up businesses often face the following telecoms-related issues when moving into commercial property for the first time:

  • Residential phone numbers: residential telephone numbers often get associated with a business if a start-up works from their home. When it’s time to move the business to new premises, many find that the residential number cannot be transferred to a business line, and in many cases, a business or residential number cannot be transferred at all – even when the new line is supported by the same exchange. It is extremely rare to be able to transfer a phone number from one line to another.
  • Lock-in contracts: Start-ups do not know that there are many more options available to them than offered by BT. BT offer very good deals for install of new lines etc, but do so because their contract periods are long (three to five years). While this helps cost-wise, it may lock the start-up into options that will be restrictive when they want to adapt their telecoms systems to changing business needs.
  • Scalability issues: as numbers of staff increase start-ups usually have more than one home office associated with the business, so this can mean that there are multiple contact numbers that become associated with the business and communications between staff are not cost-free. Call transfer and diversion are also relatively expensive, as all outgoing calls of any nature are charged to the subscriber.
  • Expensive call diversions: Many businesses also set up call diversions from their business numbers to mobiles. This means that the business ends up paying for calls to them, by their customers. A call diversion from a landline to a mobile can cost between 10 and 20 pence a minute.

How do VoIP technologies benefit start-ups?

VoIP technology will allow a start-up company to generate phone numbers that will stay with them forever, no matter how many times and to where the company relocates.

Numbers for any UK geographic area code can be applied to a VoIP system and therefore, a start-up can advertise phone numbers that indicate their presence in the area(s) that they wish to work in.

Direct Dial Inward (DDI) numbers can be allocated to VoIP systems that allow a call to be directed to one or a group of telephone extensions. This also makes it possible to have more phone numbers than lines – which is useful if you want to direct certain types of calls, and certain types of customers, to particular staff in the company.

A VoIP system can make the start-up appear bigger than it is, due to the ease that its customers find in accessing the different parts of that business. Even if the same staff are handling calls, it will make a big difference if a call to e.g. customer support is greeted differently to a call to the sales line.

A single analogue line with broadband can act as the communications path for the start-up company, providing up to 12 virtual lines within that one physical line. This means that as the company expands, the per-head costs to add telecoms services actually decrease.

VoIP systems can be deployed extremely quickly onto existing broadband services. Therefore, set up and changes are done as the business requires them without delay.

What are the cost savings that can be made for start-ups?

Initial cost savings are not so apparent, as a single phone on the end of a BT line will be cheaper than the line, broadband and a VoIP phone. Also, setting up a VoIP class local network is a bit more expensive than throwing a cheap router and network switch together.

However, as soon as that business starts to grow to two, three or more people, the cost savings are immediately apparent, as additional lines or extensions can be added to a VoIP system at much lower cost than installing further analogue lines. Situations occur where start-ups have taken the cheap option for telecoms, but found themselves contractually tied even three years later - to the extent that they cannot change their telecoms equipment and lines without large penalty payments.

A traditional analogue phone line will take around two to four weeks to install, with an installation cost of around £120, and cost roughly £14 per month. A typical SIP trunk line (a bonded line that can transmit multiple voice calls) can be installed in 24 hours, with zero install cost, and rental of just £2 per month.

Decisions have to be made at an early stage, regarding the nature of the business over the next few years, such as staff numbers, staff location, and markets that the business want to appear in. These will all affect the start-up’s telecoms strategy.

VoIP pushes a start-up down the direction of setting ICT systems up correctly from the beginning, rather than buying a lot of low-cost IT that will have to be replaced in a year.

It is possible to start off with hosted VoIP extensions, and later migrate those to an IP-PBX (see our guide to VoIP for more information on the difference between hosted VoIP and IP-PBX). So choice of one technology does not block the use of the other.

What kind of installation process is there and how long does it take?

Installation differs between hosted VoIP and an IP-PBX install – but timescales are still similar. Hosted VoIP extensions can be installed in in around three days. A simple IP-PBX system could be generated and installed in around five working days for a start-up company.

The latter would involve installation of a server PC and a voice-aware network switch, and the configuration of a single router to prioritise voice on the Internet connection. During install, incoming call plans would be generated to ensure that calls are routed and answered as the company needs them to be both inside and outside of business hours. Additional services such as voice-mail and auto-attendant can be configured during install, or later as the company develops its communications strategy.