If you’re looking for the best VoIP phone service, you might already feel in over your head. There are dozens of companies that each claim to be better than the rest. Although most VoIP providers offer the same basic services, their offerings vary considerably when you start looking at advanced features. Prices are likewise wildly different from one service to the next. But don’t throw in the towel just yet!
We’ll show you how to find the best VoIP phone service for you. After all, your needs are unique. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper, we need to find the right fit. Of course, we’ll also give you a few of our favorite VoIP providers.
3 Keys to Finding the Best VoIP Phone Service
1. Know Your Needs
Before you even start comparing prices and testing out VoIP calls, take a moment to pause and consider what you really need. What problems do you have? How can a VoIP service solve your problems? Maybe all you need is a cheap way to make phone calls. Perhaps you want to connect your staff better. Your answer dictates what VoIP provider is best for you.
It helps to have an idea of what features are out there, so let’s take a quick look at what you can get from a VoIP provider.
Basic Features to Get
Virtually every service offers several basic features with their lowest-level VoIP plan. Unlimited calling and SMS are standard, unless you’re on a very tight budget and want to try a pay-as-you-go plan. Call forwarding and Caller ID are to be expected. Voicemail should also be included, although some companies go one step further and provide voicemail to email features.
One very important thing to look for is application availability. Does the VoIP service have desktop and mobile apps? Do they have an app for your operating system? Most providers have both mobile and desktop versions, but some only have one or the other. Not every provider has an app for Linux or even iOS. Make sure you check this carefully before going any further. Those apps let you make and receive calls on other devices.
Bells and Whistles
If you’re looking for a more professional approach, look for toll-free and vanity numbers. Even if a VoIP service doesn’t sell these directly, you can buy one and port it over in most cases. Another business-class feature is the cloud PBX. With a cloud PBX, or hosted PBX as it’s also known, you can have calls routed to specific devices including internet-connected phones. You also get more control over call routing and can use extensions on your lines.
Another useful cloud feature is call recording. This lets you review calls later on for customer service purposes or for legal needs. Finally, look for auto attendant features that let you create your own automated menu system for the most professional presentation.
Generally, features in this category are considered enterprise-grade and wouldn’t be as useful to smaller business owners. However, as prices continue to fall for VoIP service, they’re no longer beyond your budget. Artificial intelligence allows you to get reports and summaries of all of your phone call activity, which some providers like Nextiva have been using for several years.
Some providers include analytics packages that track your call data and analyze it for you. You’ll get a dashboard showing all the activity in your organization, which can help you to optimize processes and improve efficiency. Make a list of the features you absolutely have to have. Then you can start comparing prices.
2. Set a Budget
Before you start searching for the best VoIP phone service and clicking through every provider, we need to take one more pause. You should establish a budget for your VoIP service. Are you willing to pay for a long-term deal up front? Do you know exactly how many paid users you should have? Will you need extra phone numbers? Can you live without 1-800-CALL-BOB?
You need to have these numbers handy because each VoIP provider has their own style of pricing, and doing the math can be a bit of a headache. We recommend cracking open an Excel sheet and keeping track of the details as you go.
Look for Annual Discounts
Most VoIP services offer monthly rates ranging anywhere from $10 to $50 a month per user. However, they often have a discount if you pay for the whole year up front. These annual prices can be as much as 30% less than paying month-to-month. While that sounds great, bear in mind you’re going to be stuck with the service, so choose wisely.
Be wary of the fine print. Some providers show really cheap rates, but when you take a closer look they actually want you to sign a three-year contract! We wouldn’t generally recommend doing that unless you’re already using the service and you love it. It’s better to try a month and then save big once you’re sure.
How Many Users?
Notice that we said these providers charge per month and per user. In most cases, a “user” is actually a phone number, and some providers will use the term “per line” instead. Each phone number or phone line can be assigned to one individual. However, that doesn’t mean that only one person can use the line. See why it’s confusing?
You could have a single line with five extensions, but they won’t be able to call simultaneously. Conversely, one person could manage five distinct lines if needed. So you really need to figure out how many people you need to be able to make calls at once. Just buy as many phone numbers as you need; not everyone in the office needs their own right away.
Now that you have your numbers and needs all figured out, you’re ready to go shopping. Filter out any providers that don’t have the features you’re looking for. Then sort the remainders by price and see which one is the best deal for you.
We’d recommend asking for a free trial. A lot of providers will give you one upon request, and others advertise it boldly. You should test out the service and see if it works well for your needs. Bear in mind that each app has its own interface and some run better than others. It’s always best to test.
Fortunately, we’ve already tested a ton of VoIP providers. Here are a couple of providers you might want to take a look at.
RingCentral Is the Best VoIP Phone Service
Honestly, RingCentral is our favorite and we’re not shy about it. We use it to run our office. It’s flexible and scalable, with four plan levels and the freedom to add as many phone lines as you need. It’s also relatively affordable and has loads of features. We think it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.
Google Voice for Free VoIP Calls
If you don’t want to spend a dime, and you have a cell phone in the US, you can download Google Voice and get a free VoIP number! Great if all you want is some free calling, especially when you’re traveling.
8×8 Express: A Solid Middle Ground
Check out 8×8 Express too. They’re one of the most affordable providers out there, and they’ve got all the features. They’ve started to target small businesses after mostly focusing on enterprise customers, so there’s something for everyone.