This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
Voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) calling is easy and inexpensive, and most providers include unified communications (UC) features that make business communications even more efficient. When you’re ready to make the shift to VoIP, identify your business’ needs, ensure your network is reliable, and set a budget. Next, choose a provider based on your must-have features and tools, port your numbers, and install and configure your system to complete the VoIP setup process.
To help supplement your overall transition to VoIP, read our step-by-step guide below on how to set up a VoIP system so you’ll know what to do from start to finish:
1. Determine Your Team’s Needs
First, determine exactly what your business and team need from a VoIP System. Each system is different, so the features you want most may be included in the base or lower-priced plan of a particular provider vs others. For example, do you only need a bare-bones system that provides calling and texting options, or do you need a service that provides more collaboration tools like video conferencing, team messaging, and file sharing?
Are you looking for an option that allows you to use hardware that you already own? If so, providers like RingCentral, Nextiva, or even Skype for Business may have a plan that allows you to use existing hardware that is a good fit for your business. This makes VoIP setup much more straightforward, and you will even be able to skip a few steps because you already have things in place.
Another thing to consider is the number of users who need to use your VoIP system. Will each person on the team need a line, or will lines be shared by a few employees who each have their own extension? Since VoIP providers charge per user, this is something to consider, especially if you are looking for a lower price point option.
2. Make Sure Your Network Is Reliable
As you might expect, internet speeds are essential to VoIP setup since the technology breaks voice data into packets, which are then sent over your connection. For this reason, you need a connection that can handle both inbound and outbound calling, as well as any internet traffic generated by UC features like video conferencing and team messaging.
Not only is it critical that you have a speedy internet connection to ensure there’s no loss in quality when there are multiple calls, but you need one that is stable as well. For example, internet providers that deliver spotty service increase the chance of interrupted calls, which leads to poor caller experiences, negatively impacts prospecting efforts, and results in lost customers.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to determine if your internet service will support VoIP. There are multiple speed tests out there to measure the strength, reliability, and speed of your connection. Try ours below:
3. Decide Between Cloud PBX & On-premise PBX
Before choosing a VoIP system to set up, decide whether to go with cloud-hosted PBX or an on-premise system. Modern VoIP is built on private branch exchange technology (PBX). A traditional PBX system uses the internet to allow you to make calls, check voicemails, and transfer calls to your colleagues using a dedicated on-premise server, which manages calls using IP routing technology.
With a PBX, you can even video conference. These systems aren’t hosted, so for on-premise PBX, you’ll have to have a dedicated server somewhere within the confines of your office, and you’ll need an information technology (IT) team with VoIP certifications to manage this hardware.
With an in-house IT team taking care of your PBX system, it’s easy to scale up your dialing capabilities and add-on features to enhance your business communications. This also means you won’t have to pay someone else a subscription fee to maintain and operate your on-site PBX server. As a result, this can be a very budget-friendly option if you have an existing team of IT professionals.
Alternatively, cloud PBX, also called hosted PBX, is often considered the better VoIP solution for companies without dedicated IT teams. Rather than having an on-premise server, you simply subscribe to a service like RingCentral or Grasshopper. The provider manages your service using numerous remote (cloud) PBX servers located in various global locations.
With cloud PBX, the provider manages maintenance and upkeep, and all you have to do is pay the monthly subscription fee. This also makes it easy for you to scale up to another plan level if your business is ready for additional features and functionality.
For example, while your business is small, pay for a basic cloud-hosted plan that provides standard calling throughout the U.S. and Canada. As your business grows, you can add features like international calling, unified communications tools, or contact center as a service (CCaaS) software to your communications block by upgrading via the same provider, or even moving to a new one.
If your on-site PBX goes down, your business won’t be able to use any of the system’s calling features. However, cloud PBX providers tend to have multiple server groupings located worldwide, so if one server or an entire server building goes down, backups are positioned globally to pick up the slack. This is called geo-redundancy.
4. Determine the Available Budget for VoIP
How much can your business spend on a new VoIP system? With any business, price is an essential consideration, so before you start selecting VoIP providers and plans, take your budget into account. Remember, most providers charge per user, per month, and add-ons cost extra. Once you know what you can spend, you can decide which plan and provider works best without stretching your budget too far.
Annual payment can help you get more value out of the budget that you have available. For example, an annual payment for a RingCentral Essentials Plan equates to $19.99 per user, per month, while paying monthly is $29.99 per user. With only two users, you would be able to save $240 a year by paying annually. These savings can also offset the cost of a higher-tiered plan where you will be paying less for more features.
5. Select Hardware & Features
VoIP is all about options since different business types require different features and hardware. For example, a business with multiple agents who are on the phone most of the day might need a variety of VoIP headsets and call monitoring features to keep up a certain level of quality. The list of options is massive—which is why one of the most important tasks for you to perform is to get an idea of your need-to-have and nice-to-have features and hardware.
This foundation will help you find the system that will most benefit your business. For example, do you have a pre-existing collection of IP phones your agents use to communicate? If this is the case, a virtual phone system like Grasshopper might not be best for your business since it focuses on computer-based softphone and smartphone apps. Instead, you might want a provider that supports these, like a dedicated VoIP service, a la 8×8 or Dialpad.
Similarly, dedicated features are critical. Some small businesses might want an auto-attendant to manage calls while others will choose an interactive voice response (IVR) system. An IVR is a more complex call routing solution that gives customers self-service options and has wider-branching phone trees.
Identifying your VoIP system must-have vs wishlist features may require some research and due diligence. However, it’s absolutely essential that you take these steps to ensure that your system has all of the communications tools you need for business.
6. Choose a VoIP Provider
When it comes to hosted VoIP providers, there are numerous options, and making the best decision can seem daunting. Fortunately, we have a listing of some of the best business VoIP systems for small businesses to make your decision easier.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, contact your favored provider’s sales team and review your company’s identified needs and must-have feature lists to make 100% sure the provider is a good fit. Fortunately, many modern providers, like Grasshopper, RingCentral, and Nextiva, also provide free trial periods or money-back guarantees that enable you to test drive their respective calling systems risk-free.
7. Port Your Numbers
Your customers shouldn’t be inconvenienced because you changed from a traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) analog line to a VoIP phone system. You need to keep your existing numbers so there’s always an easy way to reach you.
This is where number porting comes in. When you port your numbers, you maintain a means of easy communication with your customers, and just about every VoIP provider has a system designed to easily facilitate porting of your existing phone numbers.
It’s critical that you don’t cancel your existing phone service before the porting process is complete, since having an existing account with a previous carrier makes the process easier. The process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a week or so to complete. How long it takes typically depends on the VoIP provider’s process, but you’ll find that most can quickly port numbers if the landline carrier is expeditious.
The number porting process typically starts with a transfer request. It’s important for you to ensure the information you provide matches the information kept by your current carrier. Once the request is completed, your new VoIP provider will send it to your existing carrier to begin the process. In most cases, the provider will send you an email to notify you when the process is complete.
8. Install & Configure Your New VoIP System
Installing a new VoIP solution can be a daunting task if you don’t have a tech team to manage on-premise installation. These types of installations require project managers, system designers, and even electricians to install the IP PBX server in your office.
Fortunately, several providers have cloud-hosted PBX options that eliminate the need for installation, such as Vonage and Grasshopper. If you don’t have an existing on-premise server room, consider cloud PBX before opting for on-premise PBX to reduce the cost of setting up your VoIP system. This helps eliminate the need for additional space or technical personnel.
In many cases, all you need to do is download the app from the provider and hook up any VoIP-enabled desk phones that will be used on your system. For an app-enabled system like Google Voice, you have the option of using your personal devices, like smartphones, computers, or tablets, to receive business calls. Read more about this type of process in our guide on how to use Google Voice.
Once installation is complete, you will need to configure your system’s features to complete the VoIP setup for your business. Create calling schedules, assign extensions if you use them, and create a voicemail that works for your business. With many providers, you will be able to use a setup wizard to ensure you properly configure all aspects of your VoIP system.
The advantages to switching to VoIP are compelling. Most providers make it easy to transition, but some companies are still reluctant because they think the VoIP setup process will be daunting. This guide shows how simple the process of setting up a VoIP system can be. In fact, the most difficult part may be narrowing down your options since so many providers have very attractive plans.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, we recommend RingCentral. It combines the simplicity of a hosted VoIP provider with some great UC features. You’ll have an easy way to communicate with customers in local and international markets, and you’ll also get key features businesses need to manage calls and facilitate team collaboration. Click the button below to start your free trial.