Smart Start Communications Guide

Smart Start Communications Guide: A Concise Business Owner’s Handbook for Phone and Internet Services

This guide aims to assist businesses in making informed choices about their phone and internet services. With numerous providers and technology options available, communication doesn’t have to be an expensive ongoing expense. Instead of simply placing an order with "the phone company," it is important to know your options and have a long-term plan for your telecommunications and internet solution.

Starting a business often requires entrepreneurs to quickly become knowledgeable about telecommunications and internet technology. Retail businesses, such as beauty salons and restaurants, need phone lines, fax lines, data connections for credit card processing, and internet access. While your BBQ Sauce may be the best in the market, your clients need to be able to reach you, making a good communications package vital to your success. Consider how you want your company to be listed in the phone directory and determine the number of phone lines and internet bandwidth required.

To understand the importance of communication and technology for your business, ask yourself one question: "How long could I be in business without phone and internet service?" While price is important, a low-cost provider may not be cost-effective if your phone service goes down for a week and you lose all your clients.

In the past, AT&T or "Ma Bell" was usually the go-to phone company. However, after the 1982 antitrust issues, AT&T was broken up into 7 regional companies, commonly known as the "Baby Bells." The Telecommunications Act of 1996 further opened up the market for phone and internet services, giving businesses the freedom to choose their phone company.

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To start your search for phone service providers, check for a list of carriers regulated by the utility agency in your state. The internet can also be a valuable tool in finding phone and data providers. Seeking guidance from business consultants, the chamber of commerce, or other local businesses can provide insight into the service quality of different providers.

For home-based businesses, using a "Residential" phone line may offer cost savings. However, if it is important to have the phone listed under your business name, expect to pay higher business rates. Consider the number of phone lines required and opt for a single visit installation for multiple lines, which can be more cost-effective.

When budgeting for your new business phone and internet, consider initial expenses, monthly costs, NRC (Non-Reoccurring Charges), and MRC (Monthly Reoccurring Charges). Bear in mind that you are responsible for the inside wiring of your business unless you have inside wire maintenance insurance from your phone carrier. If you require more than 5 phone lines, it is advisable to establish a relationship with a local technician or telecom installer.

While some charges, such as local 911 taxes and FCC mandated fees, cannot be negotiated, others can be waived or spread over several months. It may be worth exploring special offers or incentives provided by phone companies.

For most businesses, having as much bandwidth as possible is essential. Review DSL and cable options and consider if bundling internet with phone services is the best solution. The price of a typical T1 line has significantly decreased in recent years. If you plan to host a server or grow an e-commerce business, consult an expert to ensure scalability and accurately estimate equipment costs.

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When it comes to equipment, buying or leasing depends on various factors, including advice from your tax consultant. High-end phone systems with advanced features often promise eventual savings, but these are rarely achieved. Refurbished or used equipment can be viable options for budget-strapped startups. Internet hardware prices have been decreasing since 2006, and smaller businesses can explore alternatives to Cisco Systems.

Despite Voice over IP (VoIP) being the future of telecommunications, it is not currently recommended for most new businesses. While there are cost savings for overseas calls, the instability and trade-offs for local or national calling make it impractical at this time.

Overall, this guide aims to provide businesses with essential information for making informed decisions about phone and internet services. By understanding the available options, costs, and considerations, business owners can ensure efficient and effective communication solutions.

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