How important is it to choose the right type of phone system for your small business?

"When people see your company for the first time, that first impression is made," says Will Lombard, vice president of marketing and sales at Seventhman, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based Web development company. "When they call you, there's a first impression that's made through your phone systems."

Trying to find a phone system that matches business needs, is user-friendly and easy enough for the office assistant to master in a day, is always a tall order. Here are some off-the-shelf phone systems that don't require rewiring the office:

- AT&T 5840 $119

The 5840 has the superior 5.8GHz frequency for a larger office; supports five additional handsets (not included); has an integrated digital answering machine; a speakerphone in both base and headset; and decent audio. Not suited for shoulder chatting, but sports a decent speakerphone.

  • What's cool: It's Wi-Fi-friendly. Blue lights in the base tell whether it's in use or charging, or that messages are waiting. Capable of storing 50 names and numbers storage.

- Polycom SoundStation2 EX $119

It has a flying wedge design and is expandable; extra desktop microphones can be added if needed. Each of the console's three legs contains a built-in microphone, giving it extra wide sound coverage for up to 10 feet.

  • What's cool: The mic closest to the person talking reduces noise from the other mics. The phone book holds 25 searchable entries, and has an adjustable ringer.

- Uniden TRU-8885-2 $119

Wi-Fi friendly. Also, with 5.8GHz reception, it supports 10 handsets. This Uniden includes two handsets and a separate charging cradle for the second. The base speakerphone serves as a third phone.

  • What's cool: Handsets can be used as walkie-talkies in Uniden's DirectLink mode or for baby monitoring. Also has four-way conferencing.

- Panasonic KX TG6502B - $269

Cordless phone with call waiting, caller ID and an answering system Supports four handsets, has conference call capability, intercom, hold, mute, flash and redial buttons.

  • What's cool: There's also a waiting caller ID, so you know who's calling in next.

- Polycom SoundStation Premier $399

The flying triangle design has been successful enough to become ubiquitous in conference rooms everywhere, and its sleek design and sound quality are top grade. Not being wireless, however, means fumbling with wires in order to move it from its station.

  • What's cool: The remote control can come in handy, as long as you remember to use a mute button properly, so that the mute is actually muted. .

- ClearOne Max Wireless Conference Phone $419

Wireless 2.4GHz conferencing phone, the base has a built-in power supply, making it portable for conferences.

  • What's cool: It's got the six-sided wedge design, the speakerphone is rechargeable and features an LCD and a keypad.

- Olympia OL6010 $499

Although the price is relatively steep, this wireless unit is good for the mid-sized office. 2.4GHz, has a two-line monochrome screen which displays talk time and battery life, mute, and signal strength. Typical battery life for cordless phones is six hours.

  • What's cool: The oval-shaped base station is battery powered, so it moves with the phone.

If you're starting a small business, and don't want to make the commitment to a stand- alone telephone system, it makes sense to use an off-the-shelf system until the time comes to expand.