Over 600,000 business were started in the UK in 2016, and that number is expected to be exceeded in 2017.
There are many challenges for every one of these business start-ups, but some new businesses make it harder for themselves by making basic mistakes with their telecoms.
In some cases it is because unsuspecting new business owners can be easy prey for the less scrupulous telecom suppliers in the industry. In others, it is about failing to take the time to work out what your startup actually needs from your telecommunications.
5 Common phone and broadband mistakes start-ups make
To help make sure you avoid making any expensive errors with your telecoms, we asked telecoms expert, Dave Millett, to reveal 5 of the most common mistakes start-ups make when choosing phone and broadband for their business;
1. Only having a mobile phone number
They say that you tell a lot about a business from spending 10 seconds in their reception. Similarly you can tell a lot about a business by their phone number.
Do they just use a mobile number on their business card? Research shows 30% of people do not trust it and therefore will not contact them. This is even higher if the business is offering professional services such as accountancy, financial advice or consultancy.
If you feel that having only a mobile number is acceptable for your industry, but you would like to keep your personal and business calls and contacts separate, a dual sim phone could be a solution.
If you do go down this route, make sure you record separate voicemail messages for personal and business calls. It is all about creating the right first impression. It is similar to using a gmail or Hotmail email address.
So what are the other options. Some companies use 0800 numbers to get round this issue which add to your costs as then you are paying for the incoming calls. Others try to offset this by using 0843 or 0844 numbers but that just creates the impression that you want to profit every time someone calls you.
Anything other than 0800, or numbers beginning 01/02/03, for post sales service is illegal. If you still wish to use them then you must also publish the cost of call them in close proximity to where the number is publicised in all places – websites, business cards and vans.
2. Using your home phone number for business
Some businesses are tempted to use their home phone number but this has the disadvantage you don’t know if your aunt is calling or is it that important new customer.
It also means you can’t turn your business off if you want in the evening or at weekends. There is limited functionality as well for handling a second call and personalising voicemails. Also if you move house you may move to another telephone exchange and not be able to take the phone number you have been marketing for years.
For this reason many small businesses wonder if they should use a telephone answering or virtual PA service for when they are not available.
The key question is what do you want them to do. If it is to just take a message you need to ask yourself what value is that adding. If they can handle certain queries then that can enhance your offering.
3. Signing up to very long contracts
There is also great pressure for all new businesses to manage their costs at the outset whilst revenues are low. Offers of free installation if you sign 3 or 5 year contracts can on the surface appear very tempting , but there are downsides.
Firstly your business may expand and / or you may move the business and you could find yourself facing penalties for cancelling the contract. Secondly you are locking yourself into prices for a long term in an environment where prices usually go down. The cost of calling mobiles has fallen by 50% in the past 4 years.
At the same time many business owners forget to read the small print in the contracts and forget to check the basics such as length, notice periods and penalty clauses. They then get caught when they want to make changes.
It is especially important to check your potential supplier is signed up to the Telecoms Ombudsman. This gives companies of less than 10 employees free binding arbitration in the event of an unresolvable dispute. A list of participating companies can be found from the Telecoms Ombudsman here.
4. Serviced offices
Many start-ups consider using serviced offices when starting out which can make sense as it avoids long term commitment that usually comes renting your own space.
But if considering this route ensure you check if they will expect you to use their telecoms services. This can create two issues.
Firstly, the costs can be very expensive compared to organising yourself, and secondly, they may not release the number to you should you move out at some point in the future.
If you have invested in promoting that phone number it could damage your business if you have to get a new number.
5. Failing to buy business grade telecoms
Some start-ups also try and save money by buying residential services instead of business grade telecoms solutions, most notably mobile phones and broadband.
Whilst they may be cheaper service levels are also lower and you should factor in “what is the cost to my business of not being contactable”. It may well be more than the few pounds a month you are saving.
Good telecom choices for startups in 2017
So what are some good options for new businesses in 2017? At the lowest end for micro businesses a simple inbound geographic number, that will re-direct to an available mobile phone or landline number, can be set up for around £7 a month.
For a little extra you can have a voicemail on it, and a whisper facility to tell you that it is a business call. That can help you use the same mobile for both business and leisure.
For those businesses worried about presenting a mobile number when dialing out then it is possible to have a landline on your mobile as an app. Above that, businesses wanting a little more sophistication or larger start ups are faced with the choice of VOIP or traditional solutions.
There is no right answer as there are pros and cons of each solution. Generally, as a guide the more sites and greater the likelihood of growth in numbers of users then the flexibility and scalability of VOIP are advantageous.
If you are looking for more sophisticated features and are communications intensive then a PBX may be a better solution.
Overall the key for any business owner is to be wary. Before you sign anything, ask yourself will my telecoms support the business in the way I expect it to develop and will I be making it easy for customers to get in touch.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Dave Millett. Dave has over 35 years’ experience in the Telecoms Industry and now runs Equinox, a leading independent brokerage and consultancy firm. He works with many companies, charities and other organisations and has helped them achieve savings of up to 80%.
More resources for start-ups
ByteStart is packed with lots of help and great advice on all aspects of running your own business. Try some of our most popular guides and articles for starters;
- Getting your IT right as your startup grows
- How to master your inbox in five simple steps
- 5 Top small business tools that will save you time, hassle and money
- A Beginner’s guide to cloud computing for small and start-up businesses
Funding your business
- How to maximise your chances of securing a small business loan
- A Guide to ‘Alternative Finance’ – the new funding options for startups and small businesses
- Finding finance for your new business – funding advice for start-ups
- What to do when the bank says “NO”!