Down to the wire: Understanding business phone lines

Jun 12 | By Lauren Chapman

Communication is a key part of running a successful business. That’s why it’s important for small business owners to approach the task of finding and tailoring their phone systems carefully. It may initially prove difficult to know with certainty what kind of phone line is best for your particular business, and how many you’ll need to function as effectively as possible. But Verizon Business can help shed some light on this complicated subject—after all, with top quality business phone and digital voice services, Verizon has expertise to spare. 

First, pinpoint your pain points.

It’s hard to get the most out of your small business phone service when it’s not tailored to your needs. Determining what you want out of your system helps your operations run more smoothly. How many lines will you need? How many different phone numbers? What kind of devices will you be taking calls on? On average, how many calls will you be taking a day? Narrow your phone line search with these three steps:  

  1. Consider how many employees you have right now and try to predict how many you will have in two years’ time. As your business grows, the need for lines will increase; it’s always a good practice to build a few extra lines into your service plan to prepare for that growth. 
  2. Take your industry into account. The number and type of phone lines you’ll need depends largely on what type of business you’re in. For example, restaurants usually need only two lines, while doctor’s offices and medical clinics require five or more to field and make hundreds of calls per day.  
  3. Take your budget into account. Look at financial forecasts and cash flow reports. Carefully analyze what kind of funds you can realistically invest in your phone service, and always keep in mind that the basic line option isn’t always the cheapest—sometimes upgrading to IP or virtual phone services is the more practical way to go. 

It also never hurts to ask service providers about activation fees, upgrade possibilities, service level agreements, and price breaks. 

business guy on a phone

Keep your business setup in mind.

Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to setting up an ideal telephone system. Below are some examples of what works for other small businesses. 

Professional office: Professional offices house anywhere between 10 and 150 employees in industries such as accounting, advertising and marketing, staffing, and legal. A minimum of 10 business phone lines is necessary to accommodate sales calls, faxes, online collaboration, teleconferences, client management, and administration. 

Small office: For microbusinesses and solopreneurs that operate out of small or home offices, there’s rarely a flood of calls coming in. Even with two to three employees, those small businesses are likely only engaging in basic communication with clients or vendors, and only require one line (in very rare instances, two).  

Retail: A small retail shop typically has five or more employees; larger chains can boast dozens working at one time. These employees are likely fielding calls from customers about store hours, orders, return policies, or inventory checks. They’ll also place calls to other stores, vendors, or corporate headquarters. A two-line system is best for retail businesses, though depending on demand could do with three. 

Healthcare: Regardless of size, medical offices require a lot of communication. Patients call for appointment details and ask questions about medications, insurance, and billing. In turn, healthcare practitioners place outgoing calls to patients, pharmacies, and vendors regarding appointment reminders, prescriptions, and test results. The minimum number of lines a medical office would require is five. 

Hospitality: This industry includes hotels, restaurants, bars, and assisted living centers. Businesses in the hospitality sector would benefit from a four-line phone system to manage reservations, orders, and customer service calls.

business phone lines

Which type of phone line is best? 

Today, three types of business phone lines exist: analog, PBX, digital, and fiber. Analog, or the landline, is becoming less common mainly due to consumer demand. The Federal Communications Commission tracks telephone usage on both residential and business levels, and in its latest report discloses that digital and fiber business phone services “increased at a compound annual growth rate of 10%” between 2013 and 2016.

Analog phone lines: Analog phone systems run on copper lines that thread throughout the country. Business owners today prefer not to use analog phones to avoid dreaded busy signals, dropped calls, and high phone bills—they simply can’t keep up with the global nature of business today. Analog lines cannot provide measures such as call routing or on-the-go access. And the cost is less than appealing: you’ll end up paying for each line individually, and that adds up.  

PBX phone lines: Short for “private branch exchange,” a PBX line is suited for businesses that need to handle more calls. This business phone system allows companies to install several shared outside lines in order to make outgoing phone calls and connects all of the lines within your business to a public switched telephone network. The conventional PBX phone system requires a switch, a host PBX computer, software to manage transfers, and lines running from desk phones to an enclosed space (typically the tech closet). There is also an IP (internet protocol) PBX option, which converts phone calls into small data packages and transmits them over a computer network rather than a physical phone line. An IP phone supports basic features such as voicemail, forwarding, conference calling, and screening incoming calls. Since you’re not paying a separate fee per line, it’s much more cost effective than an analog line and affords your system more advanced features.

Digital phone lines: As tech advances, digital voice is fast becoming the phone line of choice for businesses large and small. A voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, phone system connects your phone line directly to the internet and allows you to add or remove lines as needed. Your phone system can work with standard equipment, or you can buy special phones with added features that can even connect to your cell phone so you can take office calls on the go. Business owners prefer VoIP for its better connectivity and scalability. Calls made on digital business phone lines are cloud-based, so you can make calls as long as you have a network connection and a connected device.

Fiber phone lines: The best way to think of the service is as an upgrade from standard VoIP. Fiber runs faster and is more reliable than a regular internet connection, so you experience better call quality and enhanced productivity. Fiber-optic networks also require less maintenance, saving you money on labor and repairs.

Business owners need a communications solution with the highest call capacity, and fiber business phone lines provide it. Verizon Fios is the leading fiber to the premises (FTTP) network in the nation, and can easily be bundled with your business phone line. 

business people video conferencing

Consider the cost.

As a small business, your budget isn’t exactly bottomless. One of the most important considerations when shopping around for a phone system is the cost per line. Monthly costs vary quite a bit depending on the type of phone line you choose and the number of lines you need. The number of providers in your area affects that cost as well—competition between local phone companies and national service providers drives the price down significantly. 

If you decide that an analog landline phone system would suit your communications the most effectively, you’ll pay about $85 a month per phone number in an average, midsize city. That’s most likely manageable if you only need one number, but it can definitely start adding up to a hefty monthly bill the more lines you add. A VoIP solution is about half the cost, ringing in around $39 a month for a similar area, and you’ll typically get an even lower price when you sign a year-long contract.

Still unsure what your phone system should look like? A Verizon business specialist would be happy to help you out. Call 855-258-2167 or click here to learn more about Verizon Business Digital Voice services. 

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