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All things phones related. Learn how we think.

Welcome to the Phoneworx blog, where you are guaranteed to learn more about how telecom services can add value and other tips to grow your business.

Unified communications can benefit your business

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about “unified communications” – what it can do for me, how great it is, how it saves me money, and so on and so forth… And I realized that this is yet another term that many technology savvy people assume is widely known. In turn, they take this for granted when speaking with your every-day, main street consumer or business person. That being the case, I decided to do some detective work and explain it more thoroughly to the non-geeks, like myself!

Basically, unified communications (UC) is the integration of various services we use to communicate with one another. By combining real-time and non-real-time services into one sleek user interface – individuals are able to keep better connected and up-to-date with clients, friends, employers, and more. In case you were wondering, real-time services include: telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing, webcasts, and data sharing; while non-real-time services are things like voicemail, email, text-messaging and fax (many times integrated into unified messaging).  Unified communications allows individuals to utilize multiple media types and devices to monitor, update, and communicate.

Are you still with me?  I hope so! I know that last paragraph got a little technical towards the end.  At this point, I’m hoping that you’ve begun to get a clearer picture of what unified communication is. That being said, maybe you’re wondering why it is important to you. Well, the main reason that it’s becoming increasingly important is that UC provides you – a business person – the ability to stay on top of numerous projects and client concerns in a more streamlined manner.

Here are a couple quick examples:

1.  If you need to step out of the office and cannot answer calls, you can set up your voicemail to automatically be converted into text and sent to you in an email (voicemail-to-email).  If you’re like me – you are able to read that voicemail directly from your SmartPhone. How cool is that?!

2.  Another example is utilizing instant messaging or text messaging, rather than a telephone, to speak to individuals within your office, across town or even across the ocean. This manner of communication is quick and to the point – saving time, money, and even the possibility of disrupting workflow.

Overall, unified communication is actually pretty simple and very useful. It is the evolution of how different, changing technologies are increasingly coming together to form the most streamlined and efficient methods of communication. Furthermore, by utilizing new technology – like a VoIP Business Phone System – you are able to more easily integrate your telephone, computer, cellular phone, fax machine, and more – keeping you better connected to your clients in today’s fast-paced society. Read more about the importance of “being connected” in our blog: Attention Small Businesses! Are you connected to your customers?

To put it simply: unified communications can save you time, money, and even help to retain customers by empowering you to act more quickly when necessary. It can make your life easier! And who doesn’t want that? My point exactly :-)

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Change is inevitable. Make sure you’re ready!

Change is one of those words that can induce many different emotions within a company ranging including, but not limited to, excitement, apathy or even fear.  During my years in business and also in my studies, it’s become apparent that, inherently, most people tend to avoid change. People and businesses get comfortable in their routines, their level of knowledge, and even their level of success. So, why break from the status quo? Well… because you must.

One of the most important things leading to personal and business success is the ability to adapt quickly to change. Innovation and agility are what have made companies like Google, Groupon, and Apple so successful. These companies never allow themselves the chance to get too comfortable – and because of this, they’ve been able to remain a few steps ahead of the competition. For other companies who may not be in such “innovation-focused” fields, the ability to deal with change can be a make-or-break situation.

As a business owner, just as in any personal endeavor, you must be able to accept the need for change and be able to adapt to things that change beyond your control. Am I saying you need to have an exit strategy? No, nothing that drastic… But – you should have the ability to act quickly and move in a positive direction. Why? Because, in general, business owners and managers have a great deal of influence over setting the tone for employee and customer reactions.  If you are confident in your ability to handle changes, and in the necessity of making positive changes, those connected with your business will be much more at ease.

Overall, as I said at the start, change is inevitable.  We live in a world where a new innovation, technologies, gadgets, etc. seem to change daily – and it’s important for us as small business individuals to utilize these to our full advantage. Whether it be adapting to and embracing VoIP technology and its many benefits (as we promote here at Phoneworx), dealing with a staffing change, or upgrading to the newest technology, those who do it well are sure to succeed for years to come.

Above all, don’t fear change – embrace it.

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Financing & Credit: Things Every Business Should Know

With the ongoing discussions in Washington D.C. on the debt ceiling, it got me thinking about my past life as a banker. I thought I’d share some really important information that is crucial for business owners to know as they embark on a journey to launch or grow their businesses.

Over the past few years, banks have really tightened up their lending guidelines to be more conservative or “risk averse.” Does this mean they aren’t lending? No. It just means they are taking a deeper look into businesses before extending unsecured lines of credit – or any loans for that matter – which proved to put many banks (and businesses) in a bad position during the turbulence in 2008.

As a business, you have the option to purchase items up front or, many times, to finance them.  At Phoneworx, we work with a third party to provide financing options to our clients if they choose to go that direction.  Other options available through banks are secured term loans, lines of credit – often times secured by your company building and/or your home, business credit cards, etc. So what do financing companies look for? Below are the 5 C’s of Credit (which I learned while at PNC):

  1. Character – Dependability based on credentials, references, and past performance in terms of meeting obligations – to creditors, customers, your bank, employees, utility companies, etc.
  2. Capacity – How much debt you can handle as a business. Based on borrowing history, debt capacity, and liquidity ratios. Cash flow is a big factor here.
  3. Capital – How much money is invested in your business – your financial commitment.
  4. Conditions – Current economic conditions of your industry and market.
  5. Collateral – Sources of repayment beyond cash flow – hard assets. Many times this is real estate – personal and/or business, equipment, inventory, etc.

In today’s business world, a personal guarantee is often requested of the business owner. Banks want to know the level of commitment and belief you have towards your company’s success. If you are not willing to bet on it, it is difficult for a bank to justify doing so.

As it relates to the telecommunications business, if you’re in the market for a new business phone system, Phoneworx does provide financing options. But more importantly, this blog is intended to share essential items you must know when contemplating whether or not to finance a business purchase or apply for a line of credit.

If you’re ready to grow your business, a phone system just might be a step in the right direction! How? Read our blog: How to use your phone system to grow your business.

At Phoneworx, we’re committed to helping you and your business succeed on all levels.

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Can you hear me now?! Call clarity and its impact on your business

The words above have become somewhat famous from their prevalence in Verizon Wireless’ advertisements – they might even make you chuckle as you recall a particular ad. Still, in business, the idea behind them shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Have you ever called a business for the first time and had difficulty hearing the individual on the other line? Has the main business contact number ended up to be a mobile phone, with poor call quality and an even more miserable connection? Even worse, during that first low-quality call, did your call get dropped?  If any of these have happened to you – did you call back?  I know that I didn’t…

If there is any other company in town that does the same things as one with a terrible business phone system, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to call them before calling back to deal with the headache of a spotty connection.

Like it or not, customers continually expect exceptional service quality – and your phone system is a big part of any sales or service interaction. A low-quality connection can impair your ability to hear a customer and vice versa – and having to ask that individual to repeat themselves can cause frustration and loss of trust in your abilities to adequately meet his or her needs. Trust me; customers are judging a great deal more than your phone system during that first telephone interaction.

Start thinking of your business telephone system as your company’s “other front door.” If you covered the door to your office in barbed wire, it wouldn’t be very welcoming, now would it? By ignoring poor call quality, you’re essentially doing the same thing, but it’s even worse as most clients call before coming to your office location. But don’t fret! There are ways to improve call quality – even if you’re in a somewhat rural area. Phoneworx offers new VoIP phone systems known for exceptional, reliable call quality. Utilizing a high-speed Internet (broadband) connection, these systems are much less likely to be affected by weather, construction, animal interference, coverage areas, or other factors that can impair mobile or analog phones.  

So, if you find yourself frequently asking clients “Can you hear me now?” or if your relying solely on mobile phones, take a second look from a customer perspective. Would you call you back? Not sure? Give us a call – we’ll talk options!

Until next time – Megan

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Differentiation matters – personally and in business

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to walk in the 97th Commencement Ceremony at Walsh College in Michigan – receiving my Masters of Business Administration. And it got me thinking… why exactly did I decide to pursue my MBA degree in the first place? As with most things, the answer if a little bit complicated, but I realized an important connection can be made between working towards enhancing one’s own skills and strategic moves in business.

During the ceremony, the recently retired CFO of 3M Corporation and a student both gave riveting speeches on determination and achieving set goals. The 47-year old student MBA speaker did a phenomenal job in his assessment of how Walsh MBA program has made an impact on his life. He discussed how, after having to lay off hundreds of employees (including himself) of a failing corporation, he needed to get “back in touch” with the business world and educational teachings of the 21st century. He saw an MBA as a way to gain greater knowledge of the business world and differentiate himself from the other numerous, out-of-work employees in Southeast Michigan. Through his speech, I realized that his reasoning for undertaking 16 courses (48 credit hrs) was very similar to mine.

With an undergraduate degree in theatre from the University of Notre Dame, my background often became the topic of discussion, and sometimes scrutiny, from my peers and even clients. Unlike the student speaker, I couldn’t “test out” of any classes, and would have to take all 19 courses (57 credit hours) while continuing to work full-time, about 50 hours/week. Before joining Phoneworx, I spent six years in the banking industry. After three years, I became a branch manager and quickly realized that I needed to make a move to differentiate myself from my peers, instill confidence in my clients’ assessment of my abilities, and improve my overall skillset. After a little over a year, I became the manager of one of the most profitable and busiest branches in my region.

So you see, the investment of time and money paid off! Working hard towards my MBA was a way to differentiate myself from the “competition.” It also improved my image in the eyes of my clients and peers, helped me to grow in knowledge and capabilities, and even aided in boosting my salary. It was a way to “upgrade” my experience. Over the past 1.5 years, I’ve had to relocate twice, and I’m confident that pursuing my MBA was integral to finding gainful employment (quickly) in both new locations. In many ways, looking for a job is like trying to sell yourself to a potential company – just as in business, you try to sell a product or service to consumers.

Now, here is where the “aha!” moment comes in. Just like I was able to gain so much from achieving my MBA, small business owners have the power to gain similar benefits by taking a look at the overall impression their businesses are making in the market and assess ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. A simple upgrade – let’s say purchasing a new VoIP business phone system – can enhance your business by providing differentiation, helping to save or make more money, improving your image, and facilitating growth. Of course, there are other ways to achieve this differentiation, but Phoneworx is in the telephone business after all… :-)

In closing, the next time you are wondering why the phone isn’t ringing, take a good hard look at your company’s opportunities for improvement – whether it is an old business phone system, an outdated website, or even the wrong employees, a simple upgrade can make a big difference! Making the investment of time and money 100% worth it.

Until next time –
Megan

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Thinking of buying a business phone system? Read this first!

Obviously you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog or on our website if you weren’t – so let’s begin by addressing why you might be debating making this purchase.

  1. You don’t have a phone system
  2. You’re unhappy with your current system, vendor or carrier
  3. You’re trying to cut costs

Whatever the reason – don’t be short sighted. Phone systems can be expensive and many company owners may feel that if a phone system rings, it shouldn’t cost a lot of money – and they’re right. If you have a small business where all you want is a phone that rings, you can go to Office Depot or Staples and purchase a 2-line phone. Business phone systems are not for everybody, and that’s ok.

On the other hand, if your company has four or more employees a quality business phone system is a must. Every employee must be able to make and receive calls, put calls on hold, transfer between offices and have an individual voicemail box – standard features on all new VoIP systems. Short sightedness comes into play if you choose to purchase technology because it “works for me now.” You buy this first system because the equipment is a little bit cheaper and with the hope that it will last 10+ years.

Unfortunately, you could be setting yourself up for a BIG letdown – both in terms of functionality and long term costs. Technology today is not digital but VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Digital is 1990s technology and it’s over 20 years old! If you choose a low-cost digital phone system, it is going to be 30+ years old when you replace it. In the meantime the cost of your phone services – i.e. expensive phone lines – will cost you thousands of dollars, money you will never get back. 

Consider the following scenario
Traditional phone lines cost about $80/line including long distance, fees and taxes. Multiply that times five lines = $400/month or $4,800/year. In 10 years you will have paid $48,000 dollars, not including the initial cost of the equipment or office internet service.

On the contrary, VoIP would cost around $37/month including long distance, fees and taxes. With five phone lines at $185 total/month, in 10 years you’ll have paid just $22,200, saving $25,800. More than 50%!!  It’s even more expensive for traditional lines if you have a T-1 (pardon the techie term), which just like traditional analog lines, are 1990s technology. 

So before purchasing a new business phone system take a thorough look at what you are actually getting – or being sold by the telecommunications sales guy. You wouldn’t purchase a work vehicle or desktop computer from 1990… so why would you buy a phone system – a key to your business image and customer service delivery – with such clearly outdated technology?

Do you have more questions? Great! Leave them here or give us a call.  We’ll gladly take a look at any other offers to ensure your comparing apples to apples instead of prunes to mangos.

  – Bill, Operations Manager & Technician

Posted in Business Phone System, VoIP | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Your company website is essential in building customer relationships

Since we launched Phoneworx in January of this year, we have been made increasingly aware at how the world is shifting in terms of getting to know local businesses. We’ve run a really dynamic postcard campaign to introduce ourselves to the market. In the past, if someone had received our postcard in the mail and were interested, he might call us to inquire and find out a little bit more. Not today.

As we review our web traffic, we are finding that the World Wide Web is the first place people go to find out more information about a business. Even if they were referred to you, they still want to know your company’s story – where you’re from, who your people are, and how you’re different before ever picking up a telephone. Beyond this, even with our direct mail campaign, approximately 30-40% of our jobs come from someone finding us through Google (or other search engines) on the web – and we wanted to be darn sure once they found us, we didn’t lose them.

Based on this, we took a hard look at our original company website.  It was functional, but not as customer-focused and user-friendly as we knew it needed to be.  Customers need to get to know you, like you and even begin to trust you through your website – we knew we needed to “refresh” our message, content and look in order to get over that hump.

Overall, we’ve learned that 70% of Americans use the internet to find and research products and this number is growing every day. Having a website, and even better a quality-built website, can really be a driving factor in why someone chooses your business over the competition. If your small business still doesn’t have a website, or it isn’t delivering how it should, maybe it’s time to do something new.

Just as your business phone system can impact your image, ability to grow, and bottom line – so can your website.  Both are platforms to stay connected to and build relationships with your clients, and both are integral to success in today’s information age.

Can your prospective customers find you online?

If the answer is yes – will what they find entice them to call you? Would it entice you as a customer?

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How VoIP will grow your business

In some of our early blog posts, we explored the inner workings of VoIP and SIP – both of which are functions of IP or “Internet Protocol.” Of course, it is great to learn something new and understand how these technical things work, but when it comes down to it, what we all want to know is: What can it do for me? How can it help my business?

 Today, I’m going to do my best to answer this for you. There are many benefits to VoIP and SIP and when their capabilities are combined with certain hardware and software, they become powerful cost-saving, money-making tools! How do you ask? 

  1. IP Phones have built-in features, meaning no additional charge for things like voicemail, call-forwarding, caller-id, etc. These items are things that the phone company can, and does charge you for when using traditional analog phones. 
  2. IP Phones have auto-attendant built in – meaning your customers are always greeted in a consistent, friendly manner and are able to get to the right person without having to be transferred repeatedly. Happy customers have higher lifetime value.  
  3. IP Phones can easily integrate features like Music-on-hold or On-hold messaging. Since 60% of customers put on silent hold NEVER call back – avoid losing customers who are calling you!  
  4. Built-in IP phone call forwarding features like Find-Me, Follow-Me and Remote Office provide 24/7 connectivity to your business. If you cannot make it into the office or are out on another call, you can make sure you never miss another potential sales opportunity again! 
  5. Utilizing high-speed Internet is a great way to unify your business communications. Your phone and computer are working on the same network – meaning these devices can “talk to each other” and work together for the benefit of you, your business, and your customers!  
  6. Many times, broadband Internet service can be less expensive than traditional analog telephone service from the phone company. By using broadband for telephone service and Internet, you are eliminating a redundant utility cost and saving money.
  7.  Overall, these state-of-the art phones save you time and money – giving you MORE OF BOTH which means you can use these extra resources to grow your business and your bottom line!

 What are some other tools you are using to make your business more efficient?

Posted in Business Phone System, Business Topics, VoIP | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

How can you boost sales? Ask your customers!

Recently, I listened to a great webinar by John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing. He conducted this for free during the celebration of Small Business Week and I wanted to pass along one of his particularly good pointers.

As small businesses, we are always looking for ways to improve our processes and procedures in order to grow our business.

The burning question: How?

The answer: Ask your customers.

After each customer experience you have the opportunity to not only ensure client satisfaction, but to also gather high-quality marketing insights. A bonus, you’ll gain stories you can use as testimonials to your prospective clients. The best way to do this is to ask every customer the following questions:

  1. What made you decide to hire us?
  2. What’s one thing that we do better? What did you like most about the experience?
  3. What could we do better? How can we improve?
  4. Would you be willing to refer us?
  5. If you were looking for our company, what would you “Google”?

Reaching out during a follow-up call or in a final client meeting provides that added-level of client devotion that can lead to engaged customers, i.e. customers that refer others to your business. Customers, just like everyone else, appreciate the extra attention and the value that you place on their opinion. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Even if you’ve been in business for 20 years and have yet to conduct this type of customer survey, it’s never too late! Set a plan in place and start enhancing both your client experience and your business.

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Stop Burning your Company’s Hard Earned Cash!

Recently, Phoneworx’ technicians met with a client, we’ll call him Joe, who had stumbled upon a very disconcerting discovery. Joe had been leasing a business phone system for at least seven years, maybe longer. It included eight phones in the office and seven remote. He never had reason to review the bills; until the leasing company told him he either needed to sign an extended 3-year contract or forfeit his equipment. It was at this point Joe made the following realization:

“In reviewing my lease documents and phone bills, I realized I was burning cash!”

Over the last seven years, he’d spent close to $100,000 between telephone bills and lease payments. I know, this sounds crazy, but with a monthly phone bill over $600 and a monthly lease payment over $300 the costs added up quickly.

Floored by this discovery, Joe contacted Phoneworx looking for an alternative. Our technicians discovered that he had not only been leasing very old phone technology (circa. 1990), his phone bills were high due to the necessity of using traditional analog phone lines. We also found additional line item fees on the bill for everything from Caller ID to Call Waiting.

So, what now? Well, first we shared a couple of important facts with Joe:

  1. Phone technology is advancing at a tremendous rate. With any business phone system 5-years-old (or older), you are not taking advantage of new technology – which not only saves money, but also saves time and allows businesses to provide a better customer experience.
  2. Old telephone technology often utilizes traditional analog phone lines, rather than Internet-based lines (VoIP). By switching to a VoIP business phone system, Joe could significantly reduce his monthly telephone bill by removing charges for additional lines and long distance calls.
  3. The phone company charges additional fees for items like Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voicemail. Conversely, VoIP phone systems have these features built-in, meaning no additional costs.

Overall, by replacing Joe’s current leased phone system with a new, state-of-the-art VoIP business phone system we were able to help put out the flames! In less than two years, he will be able to recover the cost of the new phone system. What’s more? Going forward he will see substantial cost savings. Joe will be able to use this savings to grow his business, rather than kindling.

So… if your system is five-years old or more – don’t you think it’s time to stop fanning the flames??

Posted in Business Phone System, Business Topics, VoIP | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments