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Hosted VoIP Delivers Entrepreneur to Enterprise Scalability

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 17, 2015 3:00:15 PM

Simply put, Hosted VoIP is the most flexible of phone system and service options businesses have today.  Businesses can literally never worry about their phone system constraints again.  Consider business applications or purchases that can be deployed for companies at the Entrepreneurial stage through the established Enterprise stage.  The list is few.

How is it possible that a phone system can work for a small entrepreneur and take that same VoIP-FromEntrepreneurtoEnterpriseentrepreneur's business throughout its life cycle?  First, the very nature of a hosted phone system is that it provides the infrastructure to the business over the internet.  The only equipment deployed by the business are the phones themselves.  Therefore, the business never needs to worry about "sizing" the system to meet current and future demands.  Second, because the features of the hosted phone service are vast enough to meet enterprise level requirements, the entrepreneur and small business gets to take advantage of these higher level features throughout their business life cycle.  They do not need to scrimp on system requirements or overbuild for their level of needs.

Such a platform leads to many advantages to these entrepreneurs and all growing businesses:

  • Low Capital Outlay - Because you do not need to purchase a phone system or switch, the only capital outlay for a hosted phone service is the exact number of IP phones you need today.  Keep in mind that whether you have just a single phone or a handful to start, you still have the full feature set of a robust, enterprise-level phone system.
  • Grow as You Grow - As the business grows, you only need to add phones/users as you have the employees on board.  Again, the system will expand as large as you need it to be.  Hosted providers typically charge for the monthly phone service by phone or user, so your monthly costs will only increase as your business increases.  Many providers offer a declining rate per user depending upon how many phones are deployed.  Thus, your phone system and service always is in an exact match to your company's size.
  • Freedom of Location - As businesses grow, they find themselves moving to larger locations or adding additional locations.  All businesses need to have in place is a high speed internet connection, and the phones can move from one location to another.  You don't have to be concerned with moving a switch or even buying a new system.  Nor is downtime a concern.  All of this can be well coordinated with your hosted provider.  Adding locations, whether in the same city or outside of the area, is not an issue at all with Hosted VoIP service.  All phones have direct dial numbers consistent with their location and you can extension dial between phones.  Phones in all locations can be tied into call flows or ring groups from a primary main line for the business.  There's simply a tremendous amount of flexibility Hosted VoIP provides a growing business.
  • No Obsolescence - Business do not need to worry about their phone switch becoming obsolete.  It is incumbent upon the provider to maintain the system with a progressing set of features to meet future requirements and capabilities.  The phones themselves can be upgraded down the road, but the original models can still be in service for as long as they operate or remain compliant with the host system.  Thus, telecom obsolescence is off the table from an entrepreneur's perspective.

Every entrepreneur or leader of a growing business loves flexibility, especially when it comes to infrastructure decisions.  Choosing a Hosted VoIP system and service will be one decision that will provide such flexibility and deliver advantages throughout the lifecycle of the business.

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Benefits of VoIP, start up business phone service

sipVine Blog | Talking Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Growth

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 25, 2014 9:30:00 AM

sipVine, a North Kansas City-based provider of affordable, yet feature-rich VoIP phone solutions, has been providing business customers hosted digital phone solutions at affordable prices for nearly a decade. The state-of-the-art digital phone solutions sipVine provides are flexible and expandable, with all the features, options, and configurations of a traditional business phone system—but without the system administrative costs and service contracts common to relationships with many telecom service providers. In short, sipVine delivers state-of-the-art equipment and hosted digital phone service to businesses around the region and from coast to coast. In a recent sit-down interview, sipVine's Chief Executive Officer Robert "Bob" Conner, along with Chief Technology Officer Colin Wells, and Mark Greim, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, discussed how they faced technology and marketplace challenges and built a company that serves customers throughout the country. Their mission: make business phone service simple, reliable, and affordable.

sipVine Mgmt

From Left:  Mark Greim, Bob Conner, and Colin Wells

Q: When starting up sipVine in 2005, what was the first order of business?

Colin Wells: Our first step was to develop the product. Selecting the operating platform and VoIP phone line-up was critical, then developing the code to handle multiple customers, scripts for bulk provisioning, and securing space in a data center were several of the activities that consumed our early days.

Bob Conner: We also had to find some businesses that were willing to take a chance on us. Looking back, we owe so much to those businesses, as they put their faith in us on such an important part of their business. Thank goodness for visionary, early adapters, or our early days would have been more of a struggle. We simply had to have confidence in our vision, which was to develop an enterprise-class phone system and service that drove economic and operational benefits to small and mid-sized businesses.

Q: What was another early challenge you faced?

Conner: After securing those initial clients, we obviously needed to get more on board quickly to fund our operations. In 2005, the VoIP was still conceptual or unknown to the business marketplace, certainly within the small to mid-sized business community. There was enough fear of the technology that we even avoided using the term VoIP, instead marketing as digital phone service.

Wells: Well, some of those fears were legitimate, as general internet stability and capacity were not as they are today. We tackled those fears head on with our approach to voice quality.

Q: What were your early learnings in starting up sipVine?

Conner: There were many for sure. Perhaps the biggest lesson learned was to hire great people and ones that would bring skills and capabilities to the company that add to our skill set, not duplicate those that exist. Such an approach allows you to be more well-rounded as a company and reliant upon the many, not the few, to achieve your goals.

Q: Some say voice quality over VoIP is still a concern. What has been your approach to addressing this?

Wells: True, most hosted VoIP providers address it differently, as they suggest to their customers that they simply add bandwidth. Not only do we believe that approach is financially inefficient, but isn't always effective. sipVine deploys a router or a transparent bridge device on our customer's network, which has our QoS software [Quality of Service] built in. This approach prioritizes voice packets over data, ensuring your voice calls are crisp and clear. If there are other factors impacting voice quality, we always work with our clients to help diagnose and solve them. We believe this is a huge differentiator for us in the market.

Q: How else do you differentiate your business in the marketplace?

Mark Greim: We do not require contracts, which definitely is a different approach than the traditional phone service providers. Where that is a very tangible difference, the root of our differentiation is our approach to customer service. We want to earn our customers' business every day. Our investment in resources is such that everyone strives to really know each and every one of our customers. How different is that? Try calling a large telecom or national VoIP provider and see if their call center approach stands up against our attitude of being our customer's personal phone department. As we grow, we are challenged to build tools, systems, and processes to maintain this approach.

Conner: As Mark indicated, this approach to our customer service has led to a loyal customer base. Those first clients we had in 2005 are still on board, and we have very little customer churn, despite the fact that we do not hold customers to term contracts!

Wells: I'll add that our knowledge of our customers comes from the fact that we are willing to build their phone system and call flow in a customized manner. We are also there to take over all administration, so we do act as their phone department. Our sales team captures the particulars on how the system should be built to match their unique needs, and my team builds the system and "gets to know" the customer from that standpoint. Therefore, when the customer calls in for service, we have been exposed to how their business operates from the communication standpoint.

Q: Who are your competitors?

Greim: This has definitely changed over time. In our early days, our competition was more of the technology than a provider. Getting people to embrace VoIP over analog systems was a competitive hurdle for sure. Soon thereafter, we were in daily competition with the incumbent providers, which were your typical large telecom providers such as AT&T and CenturyLink. Other regional providers came into play as well. Today, we are seeing more and more national VoIP providers out there who display the same approach to customer service as the traditional carriers, which provide us an angle to differentiate ourselves.

Q: What is your biggest marketing challenge?

Greim: We invest our available funding into human resources to maintain and grow our business and not into marketing. We are not going to fund traditional marketing efforts, as it is difficult to compete against the budgets of the major telecom and well-funded national VoIP providers. Thus, we are challenged to market over the internet using social media, search engine optimization, and paid search. The challenge is high as any search term involving VoIP is very expensive and dominated by the nationals. Every day, everyone at sipVine works hard to be company evangelists, as getting the word out about us and our approach to service is definitely resonating in the business community.

Q: Businesses go through several stages. What stage do you see sipVine in today?

Conner: It is hard to believe we are already nine years into our business. I would like to think we were still entrepreneurial in spirit, but the reality is that we've moved into more of an operational stage. Early on, everyone wore many hats and they were charged to get it done regardless of title or role. Today, we have processes, operational structures, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities, so it feels a little less entrepreneurial. We are still growing each and every month and endeavor to maintain the spirit of innovation and development.

Q: Speaking of development, what's next for sipVine?

Wells: There's always something going on from an operational efficiency and network development standpoint. Those efforts are not always visible to the customer, however. We do have several items on our product roadmap, including some new phones and on-line resources.

Q: What message do you have for entrepreneurs?

Conner: I'm glad you asked that question, as I have a strong affinity toward the business start-up community. In fact, we have supported many start-ups over the years. There are so many lessons to share, but I'll boil it down to a couple of key points. Grow within your means and avoid debt. It is difficult to do, but if you are able to reinvest your profits into resources for service and growth, you'll avoid the traps that huge amounts of venture capital can bring and maintain control of your destiny. I would add that even though your product and service may be very cool, build your business around offering exceptional customer service and make it a strong part of your culture. Such an approach will lead to the most effective marketing avenue: referrals!

sipVine is a hosted digital phone solutions provider to businesses of all sizes.  You can reach sipVine by calling their toll-free number, (855) 747-8463, or by visiting their website at www.sipvine.com.

This interview was condensed and edited.

Steven James Scearce is an independent journalist and blogger who specializes in technology, business, and marketing. View his LinkedIn profile.

Tags: start up business phone service, sipVine

Why Hosted VoIP is Right for Start-up Businesses

Posted by Mark Greim on Dec 17, 2013 10:17:00 AM

Many entrepreneurs are exiting their business incubators with a number of operational decisions to make for their start up organization.  Selecting a Hosted VoIP system for their phone services carries a number of advantages and provides one less worry as they stand-up their company.Entrepreneur Decisions

Low Cost of Entry and Scalable – Purchasing a phone system at a business start up phase is a guessing game.  Do you go big to match your five year plan or go small and risk being underserved from a feature perspective and having to replace the system as soon as it is stressed with growth?  The beauty of a hosted VoIP system is that you are not buying a phone system at all!  You buy the VoIP phones as you need them, and the programming of the system is completely flexible and scalable as you grow.  You receive the same features as large companies enjoy but you don’t have to buy an expensive on-site platform to enjoy those benefits.

No Contracts – Most hosted VoIP providers offer a no contract based service.  If you are talking with one that has term contracts for “the best rate”, then keep looking.  Certainly, traditional phone services and cable providers require contracts to receive their best rates.  Finding a hosted VoIP provider that offers a no contract service will give you peace of mind if the business doesn’t take off as planned.

Features Are a Good Fit – Some of the features inherent in a hosted VoIP platform are very applicable to organizations in their infancy. 

  • High Touch Requirements - Business owners and initial sales people need to be in high touch with the burgeoning client and prospect base.  Thus, being able to forward extensions to cell phones or quickly transfer calls both internally and externally helps provide a strong feeling of reachability to your callers.  Receiving voicemail to email provides you the ability to listen to callers needs, and quickly forwarding along the message or calling them back with answers.
  • Effective Use of an Auto Attendant – Whether an auto attendant is engaged at the start of a call flow or after a series of rings, it can be an effective way to quickly route callers to their desired destination.  There are several good tips for setting up an effective auto attendant, but clear options can be very beneficial to new companies.  Additionally, it can disguise your size.  Never set it up with “press one for Joe, press two for Jane, etc.”  Always use departments, such as “Sales” or “Service” even if those calls are routed to one or the same individual!
  • Virtual Staff – Hey, the garage businesses are real for many start-ups!  Even if your business has an office presence, you don’t have to over commit on square footage at the outset.  As your business grows, you can deploy staff from their homes or other environments and still have them on your phone system!  The handsets connect to the hosted platform wherever they are located via a high-speed internet connection, but callers (internal or external) would never know they are not located at the office!  

Market Reach – Another advantage of going with a hosted VoIP provider is that you can grow into other markets and have each location on the same phone system.  Most hosted providers have a national footprint, therefore they can secure local phone numbers wherever you set up shop.  They can also provide local numbers in an area you are marketing to, but have the number ring back at your central location.  There are a myriad of ways to effectively expand your business through the utilization of this technology.  Additionally, you can recruit staff based upon affordability or ability, but have them work in a location outside of your headquarters.  You can choose whether they have a direct dial number that is local to them or your headquarters, or both!

Because sipVine’s headquarters is in Kansas City, a recognized hotbed for entrepreneurialism, we have helped quite a number of start-ups with the establishment of their communication platform.  Robert Conner, sipVine’s CEO, states:  “With services stemming from such incubation organizations as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and with the entry of Google Fiber into our local marketplace, we have been in great position to understand the unique needs of start-up organizations.  We strive to provide guidance to their voice communication processes at start-up and nimbly address changes as they evolve.  It has been a pleasure serving such organizations.”

If you are starting up a new business and would like to discuss how a hosted voip option will work well for your specific need, we would be happy to consult with you. 

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: start up business phone service

Support Your Business Growth with Hosted Phone Service

Posted by Mark Greim on Aug 7, 2013 9:20:00 AM

A Hosted Phone System and Service grows with your business with its inherent flexibility and affordability.  Cloud telephony has changed the model for telecom investment to the benefit of business start-ups and growth companies.  Traditional approaches to phone system investment made it necessary for companies to accurately predict their system needs in the face of over investment in systems when capital can be best used elsewhere or under building their system and dealing with replacement as growth occurs.  Hosted phone service has essentially made this approach a relic!Hosted Phone Service

Because the physical phone system is no longer a requirement on-site and is managed by the hosted phone service provider, companies only purchase the desk phones or soft phones required for their business as it stands at that current time.  As employees requiring a phone are hired, additional handsets are purchased and deployed at that time.  The monthly service cost are typically built on a per user basis, as there are no more phone lines required or restrictions in terms of incoming or outgoing calls.  Therefore, companies are only investing in the capital and service as they need it.

The hosted service is basically a software program that can be re-configured as your company’s needs change.  Good hosted providers consult with you and build the configuration of the system to match your needs.  As you grow, your desire to change call flow, create departmental ring groups or queues, and institute other programmatic changes can be administered by your hosted provider.  Finding a provider that can serve as your phone department also helps keep your costs of maintaining and growing a system to a minimum.

Company growth also puts pressure on infrastructure costs from a facility perspective, whether you’ve outgrown your current location or need to explore additional branches.  A hosted phone system can help in many ways:

  • Deferring Facility Relocation – Moving a business is extremely expensive.  A hosted phone service can help defer the timing of facility expansion through the facilitation of a work at home model or a temporary office set up.  Because the phone system is not dedicated to a physical site, you can deploy employees at their homes or temporary office merely by purchasing the handsets and programming the call flow accordingly. 
  • Facilitating Branch Models – Whether the branch is located in the same town as your headquarters or in other towns across the country, a hosted phone system can make this economical in several ways.  First, phone numbers for the particular locality can be provided, but calls between locations can be extension dials.  Administrative personnel do not have to be duplicated branch by branch.  Callers to the branch looking for billing or customer service support, as examples, can be directed to where those personnel are located and retain the perception that they are being served locally.  Finally, many hosted providers offer a reduced price per user as you grow.
  • Supporting Targeted Employee Recruitment – If your headquarters is located where certain employee skill sets are difficult to find or expensive to secure, you can establish an office in a town where such skills are plentiful and affordable.  Your hosted service can direct calls for such employee groups to that location and callers will be unaware that they are being supported outside of the area.

The economy is improving and there are many jobs being added every month.  If your business is so fortunate to be addressing the “pains” of growth, help ease the pain by investigating a hosted phone service today!  The investment will have benefits for years to come and free you to grow without the restriction of traditional phone systems.

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of digital phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Phone Service for Multiple Locations, hosted digital phone service, VoIP Trends in Business, start up business phone service

5 Cautions for Start-ups When Establishing Phone Service

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 30, 2010 12:02:00 PM

 

You've wrapped up your business plan and you’re now ready to make your start-up operational.  One of your many decisions you’ll need to make is to establish your phone service for your business.  Clearly, it is not the most important decision you’ll make, but one where many start-ups have had an expensive “education”.  

Start-up small businesses enter this decision with a common point of reference – scalability.  Whether they are starting with a large number of employees out of the shoot or just a few, the common need is that their phone solution needs to be scalable as they grow.  Here are some areas for caution: 

Phone Service Cautions

Caution #1 - Purchasing a phone system.  Someday, making a decision on a phone system will be appropriate, but there are good alternatives available at the point of start-up.  You can oversize your system and spend needless capital that can be better placed in fueling your business.  You can undersize your system and create a need for a fork-lift replacement down the road, again burning capital. 

Caution #2 - Implementing analog lines.  You are a new company, why use old technology?  Using a provider of digital solutions will bring to you a number of great features and unify your communications over a single connection. If you’re not buying a phone system and simply bringing in analog lines, you could oversize or undersize the number of lines you need to handle your call volume.  Both are expensive.  If you need voice mail, that’s an add-on! 

Caution #3 - Signing a term contract.  There’s nothing like being dissatisfied with service or if you need to adjust your number of lines down just to find that you’re tied to the provider and the volume of business for 9 more months!  There are providers out there willing to earn your business every day and not require contracts. 

Caution #4 - Adapting your business to the phone system.  Wouldn’t it be great if your phone solution actually was customized to how you do business?  How wonderful would it be if your phone system actually improved your accessibility to your customers and enhanced your communications?  Make sure your decision achieves those goals. 

Caution #5 – Going Digital, but not considering voice quality.  Some VoIP providers do not provide quality of service in their technology which can impact the clarity and quality of the voice call.  Make sure that your digital provider doesn’t solve this merely by over-sizing your bandwidth, as this doesn’t cover all the bases. 

A great alternative for start-up companies is to choose a digital phone solution.  You simply need to purchase the phones required for your business at the start, and add them as you grow.  There’s also typically a need for some minor network equipment, but all start-up costs are a far cry from purchasing a system.  Additionally, digital solutions typically are highly customizable to how you do business, and there are a variety of features that will enhance your business.  Finally, the service is very affordable.  There are a number of business applications that are delivered over the web from a host site, and a hosted phone service is another great way to drive economies of scale down to the end user. 

I hope this information helps as you think about one of the many decisions you face as you start your business.

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of digital phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments.     

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Tags: small business phone service, start up business phone service

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