Offices and Operations mentor Mie-Yun Lee responds to the following question from an inc.com user: I have a small (5-person) but hopefully growing staff. How should I go about shopping for a phone and voice mail system?
Mie-Yun Lee's response:
Even the least expensive phone system option is pretty pricey. So before you invest in any phone equipment, you should try to determine as best you can how large your firm is likely to grow over the next few years. Making this determination now could potentially save you thousands of dollars.
If you're fairly certain that you're going to remain under 10 employees for the next two years, I'd recommend outfitting your office with a beefy-style phone that's commonly referred to as a KSU-less phone. (The name comes from the fact that the set up lacks the central Key System Unit of a full-blown system.) With KSU-less phones, you can typically support up to four lines with eight to 12 phones in one office.
A KSU-less phone system is relatively cheap (about $85 to $225 for each phone station) and very easy to install because you do not permanently wire the phones into your office. Therefore, the phones can be easily unplugged and moved to a new location. You'll be able to put calls on hold, transfer calls, and have a 3-way conference.
A disadvantage of using KSU-less phones, however, is that they do not allow you to integrate a separate voice-mail system. You'll have to use a service from your phone company instead. Voice-mail service costs will vary across the country, but fees average around $7 per month per phone station.
If you'd really like your own integrated voice mail system or can realistically predict that your firm will be expanding rapidly over the next few years, you may want to consider a traditional KSU phone system. The KSU system can support up to 40 phone extensions. If you want a full-featured package with voicemail and new cabling, you'll probably pay upwards of $200 per phone station. For a business with less than 100 workers, vendors will probably recommend something called a Hybrid Key system. It offers any features a small- to mid-size business could want. It can also save you money with your phone service by being able to work with a T1 line and bundle your voice and data traffic. System prices can be as much as $500 per phone station.
There's also a newer but quickly growing option for small businesses -- the PC-based (also known as server-based) phone system. It consists of a standard PC that's been equipped with telephony software and a special card to receive and route calls just like a traditional phone system.
A PC-based system with software, PC, and boards will run around $4,000 for 10 to 25 people. But all the things that would cost thousands extra to integrate with a regular phone system, such as voice mail, automated attendants, unified messaging, and call forwarding, are standard on a PC-based phone system.