1. What are my business goals?
    Unless you have a clear business goal—cutting long-distance costs between branch offices, building a mobile call center—VoIP is usually not worth the investment, especially if your existing phone contract doesn’t run out for another two years. Factor your goals into the return on investment and total cost of ownership for your VoIP system. Ask potential vendors for five-year ROI and TCO estimates.

  2. Is my network VoIP-ready?
    Just because you have a T1 line doesn’t mean you’re ready for VoIP. You may need to upgrade your switches and routers to get the quality of service you require. Get an assessment of your local area network from a systems integrator or potential VoIP provider. They’ll be able to evaluate your capacity to transmit both voice and data.

  3. Who is going to manage the implementation?
    Good planning is critical for project success—and an area where implementation often fails. “It’s not like installing a phone system,” says Patrick Monaghan, of the Yankee Group. “It’s more like installing a customer relationship management system.” The implementation should involve a manager both in your company and on the vendor side.

  4. Should I buy or lease?
    The more sophisticated your needs, the more it makes sense to buy your equipment. If you’re planning on integrating enterprise applications with the phone software, like a CRM application for your call center, buying may be your only choice. If you plan on using standard features, leasing the hardware and paying a monthly fee for equipment and software maintenance may be more cost-effective.

  5. Should I manage the voice network in-house or hire a third party?
    Most small businesses opt for a third party to manage their leased or purchased equipment and voice lines, says William A. Stofega, of research firm IDC (NYSE:IDC). In some cases, outsourcing the management may mean you don’t have to invest much in upfront capital costs. Plus, voice applications are finicky, says Stofega, and require expertise that you may not have or want in-house.