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Mar 26 14

Change of Focus for Phonebooth Community

by mpirozzi

The Phonebooth Community is shifting focus. The mission of the site, now called the Help Center, will emphasize providing Phonebooth customers with a core library of support documentation. The interactive components of the current Community—discussion boards and suggestion box—will be retired while we concentrate on the support experience.

With this shift, support information will be easier to find, more intuitively organized, and more user friendly. This format change also sets the foundation for an integrated online ticketing system, a top request from our Phonebooth customers.

Please visit the new Help Center to explore the support library. Once you’re there, you can search the entire site, or browse through categories and sections to find your area of interest. All documentation from the old Community site has been moved over, plus documentation about Beta Features has been added. Note that the web address has changed, but the old Community site will automatically forward you to the new Help Center. Please remember to bookmark the new site.

In the coming months, we’ll expand on this new foundation with online ticketing, comments, and ratings. Once the support experience meets our (and your) expectations, we’ll bring back Community features such as discussion forums and suggestions as appropriate.

Thanks for being a Phonebooth customer!

 

Jun 13 13

Switching to Hosted VoIP from a Traditional PBX

by Steve Rehnborg
FAQ Switching to Hosted VoIP from a Traditional PBX

Time to say goodbye to your grandmother’s phone company.  Phonebooth makes your office phone system more cost-effective, easier to manage, and provides more robust features than the old analog PBX systems. Today, I’ll share some common questions I get from prospective customers to give you a better understanding of the differences between a traditional PBX and a hosted VoIP phone system.

Q. How are the VoIP phones hooked up?

A. The hosted VoIP phones plug directly into an Ethernet cable at each desk, just like your computer does.

Q. Do I have to run two Ethernet cables to each desk? One for the computer, one for the phone?

A. No, each VoIP phone has a built in two-port switch in the back.  Both the phone and the computer can run off of the same cable without interrupting the connectivity on either device.

Q. How do the VoIP phones communicate with each other?

A. When the phone gets plugged into the Ethernet cable it communicates out to our servers. The servers are stored in redundant data centers and provide everything the phones need. It allows the VoIP phones to make calls with each other and the outside world.

Q. What other equipment do I need, besides the VoIP phones?

A. You just need the phones.  Phonebooth requires no additional devices.

Q. How many people can be on the phone at the same time?

A. With Phonebooth VoIP, there is no concept of lines in the traditional sense.  Each employee can be on the phone at the same time without having to purchase anything additional. This is possible because everything is running over the Internet connection rather than an actual phone line for each call.  If 50 people all called your number at the same time, it would still ring through.  Nobody would get busy signals!

Q. How do the lines on the phone work then?

A. Let’s take the Yealink T-22 for example. That phone is a 3-line phone.  If I’m talking with someone on that phone, line 1 is lit up.  If a second call comes in, line 2 lights up. I have the option to put my call on hold and pick up the new call. Let’s say I do that. I have line 1 on hold, and now I’m talking with line 2.  I have the ability to toggle back and forth between the two calls.  If a third call comes in, I can put both of my other lines on hold and pick up that third call.  So all of my lines are full.  Even though my lines are full, the other co-worker’s line buttons are capable of being used.  This is because each phone is completely independent from each other in the sense that each phone is able to use all the lines.

Q. Is Phonebooth really this simple?

A. Yes, Phonebooth’s hosted VoIP system is very easy to use.  You don’t need a degree in IT to figure it out.  The initial setup and day-to-day usage can be done by anyone.  If you have additional questions or want to learn more, give us a call – 855-692-6684, opt 1.

May 31 13

What are the Top 5 Challenges Facing Small Business Owners Today?

by Linda Doell
Top 5 Challenges Facing Small Business Owners Today

From getting new clients, keeping the current ones happy and making sure the business can thrive and grow, small business owners face many challenges each day.

Running the day-to-day operations of a small business is challenging in its own right without the added pressure of growing the business. Here’s a look at the top five challenges facing small business owners in today’s economy, presented in no particular order.

Funding

Securing working capital — it’s a challenge faced by every business and would-be entrepreneur.

In these tight economic times, banks are stricter with their lending, putting added pressure on small businesses seeking funding to grow.

Adding pressure to start-up or very small businesses, the Small Business Administration has plans to move funding away from some programs for new and small businesses to pay for training for more established companies, the Washington Post reported.

Small businesses may have to turn to nontraditional ways of getting funding — including crowd-sourcing — to get working capital.

Marketing

How does the community learn about your business and its products or services? If you answered through Sunday circulars and coupon mailers, you’re not alone.

In a survey of 550 small businesses owners, The Boston Consulting Group found just 3 percent of their advertising dollars went to online, digital campaigns. The rest was spent on traditional fliers, circulars and coupon mailers.

Considering that online marketing can be done for little or no cost via social media like Facebook and Twitter, the question then becomes, why not market online?

“The survey found that many small-business executives are not fully aware of all the digital-advertising options available to them,” the company said of the survey. “And to the extent that they are aware of those options, they are often not sure what to do with them.”

Health Care

With a mandate looming in 2014 to offer health insurance, small businesses have this year to decide what to do if they don’t offer insurance already.

Starting in 2014, businesses with 50 or more workers will have to offer affordable health care coverage or face fines of $2,000 per worker.

There’s tax credit help to offset the cost of health insurance for those businesses with 25 or fewer workers — if they meet certain criteria including paying average yearly wages below $50,000 and pay at least 50% of the health coverage cost for their employees.

In addition, small businesses of up to 100 workers can pool their resources through state and federal exchanges to get better deals on health coverage.

However as of mid-December 2012, only 17 states and the District of Columbia had declared their intention to set up a state-based exchange, according to the nonprofit think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Managing the Back Office

In this age of doing more with less, how does a small-business owner keep the back office running smoothly while keeping a handle on overall business operations with little or no administrative help?

Small businesses can use Phonebooth’s VoIP phone systems to seamlessly route calls to their intended destinations.

The auto-attendant menus can also help manage call flow. Remote workers can stay connected to the main office via cloud database technology.

Finding work-life balance

While smartphones and tablets enable small-business owners to be connected to their businesses like never before, being in touch with the business all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing.

While technology allows everyone to be always connected, that also means the demands of running a business and getting pulled in a dozen different directions is always there — and when that happens, you don’t get the chance to rest and recharge your internal battery.

“We feel overwhelmed, overworked and never free of interruption,” Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow wrote on FastCompany.com. She is the author of the book, “Sleeping with Your Smartphone” and conducts research exploring what she calls “predictable time off.

What she has found is that workers who have set time when they are unplugged are happy and feel more productive at their jobs than those who are always connected.

What are other challenges that small-business owners face? Share your thoughts with us.

 

 

May 14 13

Field Guide to Corporate Structure for the Entrepreneur

by Jason Brick
monopoly car

If you’re thinking about starting your own business, you have to think about your corporate structure. Defining how your company is structured will affect your business in ways you can’t easily anticipate. Corporate structure is a complex proposition for today’s entrepreneur, and carries some serious penalties for making a mistake. This is a primer — a way for you to learn what questions to ask when you talk with a lawyer about setting up whatever structure works best for you.

Proprietorships

Proprietorships are company structures that don’t establish a corporation as a separate entity. This has the advantage of simplicity since you’re not filing taxes twice, but doesn’t provide the protections of corporate structure. There are three basic types of proprietorship.

Sole Proprietorship is where you own the business yourself and take on all benefits and responsibilities personally. A freelance writer operating out of a home office often has this kind of structure.

Partnerships are like a sole proprietorship, split up between a small number of owners in the business. A moving company run by three people who share the van and split the work might use this.

LLCs, or Limited Liability Companies, split the difference between a Partnership and a Corporation by maintaining a partnership structure, but adding some of the liability protection afforded by creating a second entity. It’s more complex than other proprietorships, but offers more protection. Either the freelance writer or the moving company described above might opt for an LLC.

Corporations

A corporation is a separate legal entity from the people who own or work inside of it. This creates a variety of complexities and legal requirements, but also protects you from liability and some other responsibilities if things go wrong with your business. There are two types of corporation.

C Corporations are what most people think of when they hear the word “corporation.” A C Corporation is a separate legal entity that pays its own taxes and is treated as legally separate from the stockholders, officers and board members. Examples of C Corporations include manufacturers, individual restaurants and grocery store chains.

S Corporations create a separate legal entity that is not separately taxed. The company instead reports its profits, and the owners are taxed on those profits according to what percentage of the stock they own. It simplifies some of the finances at the expense of greater risk and responsibility for the owners. S Corps usually work best for smaller businesses with a limited number of stockholders.

Special Cases

Cooperatives and Not-For-Profit organizations are two other kinds of corporations. Each has some unique advantages, but both carry far more responsibilities and complexities than a different type of corporation of similar size. Talk with your lawyer if you think one of these structures is best for your goals.

Jason Brick has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at his website.

May 7 13

Phonebooth Cloud Based Phone System Keeps Remote Employees Connected

by Steve Rehnborg
cloud based phone system

In today’s business climate, the concept of an office is becoming blurred.  The Internet is allowing employees to work from anywhere.  Employees can stay productive from home or remote offices with email, important documents, resources, and even the phone system all stored in the cloud.

When we built the Phonebooth cloud based phone system, we saw this writing on the wall.  Typical phone systems couldn’t handle remote workers or secondary offices.  They were only capable of handling the needs for that particular office.  So we built a simple way to enable communications between offices without having to purchase anything extra.

Phonebooth works great for small businesses that have employees working in several different locations.  The only equipment you need is the VoIP telephones.  The phones plug into the Internet connection and the Phonebooth system handles it from there.

When you want to call a co-worker in another office, simply dial the extension for that person and it will ring their phone.  You can even have ring groups set up to ring phones in different offices at the same time.  If a sales team is spread out across the country, but you still want to have them share the calls from the sales line, you just need to add all the users to the group and it will ring every phone at the same time when someone calls.

In addition to the great advantages Phonebooth provides on the inbound side, it also has great advantages on the outbound side.  When an employee from another office calls outbound from the Phonebooth system, they can display whatever caller ID they’d like.  For instance, they can display the main office number, so when someone calls back, it goes back to the main number.  The other option is to have it display their direct dial number.  This allows customers to hit redial and it will ring the employee’s phone directly.  These options really empower you to customize your phone system to fit your business needs.

Recently the power was out in our office and we had to work remotely.  It was business as usual.  Each person took their Phonebooth IP phone home with them, plugged it into their internet connection, and without doing anything else the phone was operational like they were sitting at their desk.  Productivity didn’t take a hit because of the power outage.

There are many advantages to having a cloud based phone system.  Having remote workers under the same phone system is a time and money saver.  It allows everyone to be connected without any hassle or extra equipment.  Everything else is moving to the cloud—why not your phone system?

For more info on moving your small business to the cloud, check out our eBook: Cloud Computing for the Small Business.

 

 

 

Apr 26 13

Digital vs. Old School Note Taking. Which do you prefer?

by Chandler Huselton
scribble

Next time you’re in a meeting with your workmates, take a look around the table and take notice of the diverse approach to note taking. Did the fresh leather bound journal with the silky bookmark catch your eye, or was it the tappity tap-tap on the screen of your neighbor’s tablet?  Better yet, did you spot the digital tablet WITH the smart looking leather bound folio?  What’s up with the guy who arrived with nothing?  Is he going to swoop in at the end of the meeting with his smartphone and snap a picture of the white board for Evernote?….do you lean over and politely whisper for a copy?  What about the purposeful planner opened, complete with mini calculator, pencil pouch and crisp yellow legal pad standing at attention.  If someone plunked down a mini tape recorder in the middle of the table, would the room go silent?

There is ongoing research around efficiency, effectiveness, and retention using both approaches (I am sure copious amounts of notes were taken) and as you would imagine, both sides have strong arguments.  More general conversations and writing on the topic wrap up with a “use what works best for you.”

We will continue to see new technologies and tools for taking notes come into our lives, but safe to say good old pen to paper will continue to persist as preferred method for many.

I have personally tried using a tablet, laptop and apps to take notes.  I find myself quickly retreating back to my trusty pen and unlined index cards.

I think the reason I gravitate back to my paper place, clicking the pen and merrily doodling along, is the open and unrestricted canvas paper provides.  Most of my notes are mini drawings interspersed among key words circled with arrows shooting off to another area of my card as I further unpack thoughts.  I always have multiple cards on hand in case I need to grab a fresh one and stow away a thought or idea for later.

Additionally, for me, the tactile feel of putting pen to paper just feels so much more convincing and gratifying than typing, swyping or clicking.  You can’t do a triple underline with a circle around an idea that pops into your head using a keyboard.

I keep completed cards in a shoebox.  From time to time people in my office will poke fun at me.  I smile, hold up the shoebox, give it a shake and say, “lots of good ideas in here…and a few really bad ones also…”

Let us know what note taking methods and tools work for you?

Apr 19 13

5 Ways VoIP Phone Systems are Changing Small Business Operations

by Lori Philbin
5 Ways VoIP is Changing Small Business

VoIP phone systems make it easy for small business owners to do a lot of things that were huge time and resource drainers just 10 years ago. A VoIP phone system can function as a true extension of your workforce, creating efficiencies and benefits that help many entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. Not convinced? Here are 5 ways VoIP phone systems are changing small business operations.

You can be small, but look big.

Cloud-based VoIP phone systems can do all the things an enterprise-class system can do at a fraction of the price.  So for a very small monthly spend, you can have sophisticated phone trees with professional-sounding auto-attendants. You can set up the system for group calling (like in a big call center) and make sure that every call is picked up.  You can broadcast on-hold music and create custom on-hold messaging, all with the push of  few buttons.  So when a big prospect calls, they’ll never know whether you have two employees or 1,000.

No admin required.

When they use a VoIP phone system like Phonebooth, small business owners often find that they can cut back (and save money) on other resources, such as a receptionist and an onsite IT professional.

With an auto-attendant, you can create sophisticated menus and a calling structure that allows you to maintain a professional image without hiring someone to answer the phones. You’ll also save on either onsite or outsourced IT support because the system is so simple to set up and manage. You do it all through an online portal, where changes can be made with the click of a mouse.

More flexible work environments.

Employees love VoIP phone systems because they have features to help them stay connected—no matter where they go.  A VoIP phone system, such as Phonebooth, allows you to forward calls from your office line to your mobile number, home number or both. That way, you never miss a call. It’s a great way to give your team members more flexibility in their work schedules and it allows important customers to reach them during whatever work hours are appropriate for your business.

Less telecom investment.

VoIP phone systems are much less expensive in terms of upfront costs than using a traditional landline phone with advanced features (such as group calling and auto-attendants). In fact, VoIP can save you thousands of dollars a year in monthly service costs alone. Add onto that the savings of being able to do everything yourself (no IT consultant required), and you’re already big into the black on office phone costs.

With a VoIP system like Phonebooth, there is also very little hardware to purchase. You just need a VoIP phone and high-speed Internet—and you’re ready to go!

Speedier Customer Service

With a VoIP phone system, your customers don’t have to wait on hold or spend time courting a receptionist to get to the person they need.  They can simply call your main number and follow a series of prompts (that you set up ) to get to where they need to go. For example: press 1 for service, 2 for billing, 3 for a sales representative…you can direct calls to wherever they need to go for the quickest possible resolution. No more time wasted with your sales guy trying to resolve service issues or the President of the company being bombarded with calls from pushy sales people.

To learn more about VoIP phone systems for small business, download the FREE eBook: What is VoIP? Understanding the Basics of VoIP Technology.

 

Jan 30 13

Make a Small Company Look Bigger with a Small Business Phone Service

by Lori Philbin

Small businesses can offer customers lots of value that is sometimes hard to achieve with larger businesses… like more personalized attention, handmade products, the use of local resources and fewer overhead costs. Oftentimes, consumers prefer working with small business establishments for these very reasons. But sometimes, small businesses get overlooked in the selection process because of factors such as a sub-par website, minimal years in business or the perception that operations are too small-scale to support the prospect’s needs.

Implementing a small business phone service can go a long way in helping a small business stand up against its larger competitors. In fact, by implementing a business VoIP system such as Phonebooth, small business owners can create a stronger professional identity for their operations—just by setting up a clearly defined phone tree and auto-attendant structure.

Not convinced? Think about how a typical small business would handle customer and prospect calls without the use of a dedicated phone system. Depending on the size of the business, there might be a single receptionist or office manager answering the main phone line. In the most basic setup, that receptionist would do one of the following: take the calls herself, take a message, or ask the person to hold so that she (or he) can locate the proper person to take the call.

Now imagine that same office with a very different structure for answering and trafficking calls. By implementing the Phonebooth VoIP small business phone service, the same small business can make use of an auto-attendant and set up a sophisticated phone tree to route incoming calls. Here’s how the phone tree might look:

Phonebooth Auto-attendant Example

As you can see, creating an auto-attendant can lend a lot more flexibility to the way you manage your office’s incoming calls. It can also help you create the perception that your small business is much larger than it is. For instance, you can still have one receptionist that answers all the lines–but the very notion of being about to press “1″ for service creates the sense, in the customer’s mind, that dedicated service is just one touch away.

If it sounds like smoke and mirrors—rest assured, it’s not. Using an auto-attendant to help manage your calls and, by extension, your professional identity makes good marketing and customer relationship sense. It’s a great way to tie a ribbon on a well-established, high-functioning small business operation and really make it shine in the eyes of customers, prospects, investors and more.

Jan 23 13

Phonebooth VoIP for Business Helps Nonprofits Thrive

by Lori Philbin
Phonebooth for Nonprofit Tree

Despite having limited resources, nonprofit organizations recognize the importance of creating a strong organizational identity. Marketing the organization—its goals, core activities, and results—is critically important to experiencing long term success. Nonprofit professionals have become experts at doing more with less and rely on cost effective tools to help them communicate their missions. One of the most important, yet often complicated, parts of this process is utilizing a professional VoIP for business phone system. Phonebooth provides a business phone solution that offers nonprofit organizations all the benefits they need at a cost they can afford.

Why do nonprofit organizations use Phonebooth?

Phonebooth’s hosted VoIP phone system is a simple way for nonprofit organizations to cost-effectively manage complex telephony needs with features that are far superior to standard telephone service. With Phonebooth, nonprofits can:

  • Create a professional identity with features like an auto-attendant (virtual receptionist), group call routing and the ability to create customized greetings.
  • Save money on IT support staff, since the system is quick and easy to administer through a web-based Internet portal.
  • Save time spent managing the phone system and call routing requirements and focus more staff resources on mission-critical tasks.
  • Operate more efficiently because employees, volunteers and temporary staff can use the system from anywhere.

How does Phonebooth work?

Setting up and managing Phonebooth is easy, with no tech experience required. Since Phonebooth VoIP for business is a cloud based phone system, virtually all the system hardware is located offsite. The only equipment you need is a high-speed Internet connection (the one you probably already have) and some IP telephones.The feature-rich system is administered via a user-friendly online portal, where staff members can quickly and easily make changes to call routing, create or modify call groups, add or remove users, set up auto-attendants and more. The best part is that every Phonebooth feature is included in your monthly fee of $20/user—with no contracts to sign and no unexpected add-on costs.

For more information about how the Phonebooth VoIP for business phone system works, check out the tour.

 

 

Jan 18 13

Tax Considerations for Setting Up Your Small Business

by Julie Bawden-Davis
small business tax considerations

The type of business structure you use when setting up your small business has far-reaching tax consequences. How much you pay Uncle Sam and what sort of tax forms you file is directly related to which of the five types of company entities you choose.

Making the right choice in the first place is important, because though you can sometimes change your corporate structure later, it’s not easy to do and may require the assistance of an accountant or tax lawyer.

Sole Proprietorship

The most common business structure is a sole proprietorship. As its name suggests, this type of business is designed for single-owner companies. It is the easiest of all the corporate structures to set up and works for any kind of business. As a sole proprietor, you have complete control of the company. You own all of the profits and assets and are responsible for all debts and financial obligations you incur while doing business.

The net income or loss from the sole proprietorship is combined with all of your other income and deductions and you are taxed on your personal income tax return using individual rates. If you expect to make a profit on the business, you need to make quarterly estimated tax payments.

Partnership

A partnership consists of two or more people who join to form a business. Each member contributes assets like money, property and skill, and they share the profits, losses, debts and liabilities. The partnership entity pays no income tax, but instead files an information form with the IRS. All members of the partnership report their share of the income or loss on their personal tax return and pay tax. Partnerships that expect to make a profit must make quarterly estimated tax payments.

Three main types of partnerships exist. With a general partnership, partners equally share liabilities and assets, unless otherwise noted in a written agreement. A joint venture refers to a general partnership that only lasts for a specified period of time. And a limited partnership puts restrictions on each partner’s liability and ability to make management decisions.

C Corporation

A corporation is the most complex of all the business structures and is the most regulated and closely monitored. Such entities are formed according to the laws of the state in which they exist.

A corporation is a separate entity that can be taxed and held liable for debts, which means you generally aren’t personally liable for the company’s financial obligations or actions. Income earned by the corporation is subject to state and federal tax and is taxed using corporate tax rates, which are often higher than individual rates.

Any earnings paid in the form of dividends to shareholders (company owners) are taxed at individual tax rates on personal tax returns. If you are an employee of the corporation, you pay one-half of the required Social security and Medicare tax and the corporation can deduct its half.

S Corporation

An S Corporation is a variation of the C Corporation that helps corporations avoid double taxation. This type of business entity is formed under state law and is considered separate from its shareholders and officers. The C Corporation is exempt from most federal income tax and is treated like a partnership—taxes are not paid at the corporate level but are passed through to individual tax returns.

Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company (LLC) is allowed in most states. This business structure features the limited liability, for owners, of the debts and actions of the LLC and provides management flexibility and pass-through taxation. Owners of LLCs are known as members, and most states permit single member LLCs. There are restrictions on what can be considered an LLC.

Taking the time to determine which corporate structure is best before setting up your business makes for a smoother, less taxing tax season.

By Julie Bawden-Davis

A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.

 

Jan 16 13

6 Business Podcasts You Shouldn’t Miss

by Jason Brick
6 business podcasts you shouldn't miss

Business podcasts are a great source of continuing education for small business owners. They provide current news, actionable ideas and even companionship without the time demands of a class or seminar. Whether you’re new to the media or a full-blown podcast addict, it’s worthwhile to give some attention to these thought leaders in the business podosphere.

1. Smart Passive Income Podcast

Smart Passive Income aims at people who own, or want to start, passive income generating websites, but focuses on web marketing concepts any business can apply. Interviews, inspiration and recommended reading add more helpful info to what the podcast offers.

2. The Livelihood Show

From basic skills to advanced ideas to resume grooming, this podcast is designed for professionals who want to keep their careers advancing at record speed. Most of the concepts are equally important for small business owners, and can — with a little spin — be applied to growing any company or department.

3. The Challenge

Not an ongoing podcast, this material is a multi-session tutorial on keyword research, search engine optimization and dominating the web in your areas of expertise. Download material free either as an audio podcast or a video series showing step-by-step instructions and examples.

4. Quick-and-Dirty Tips

The QnD network offers short-form podcasts from a variety of experts, with each episode focusing on a specific trick, technique or skill. Businesspeople can choose between advice on public speaking, time management, budgeting, law, etiquette and more. The shorter lengths as compared to other ‘casts makes these great for short errands and similar tasks.

5. Project Management War Stories

Just what it sounds like. War Stories offers anecdotes and appropriate advice from the trenches of day-to-day project and business management. Experienced managers will laugh as often as they learn, and come away feeling like they’ve visited with colleagues. As of late, this podcast appears to be “podfading” but still has 52 episodes up for your consideration.

6. Harvard Business Review IdeaCast

You can’t discuss comedy classics without mentioning National Lampoon, nor law without the Harvard Law Review. IdeaCast has the same thought-leading, up-to-date insight as those publications. The program has changed formats over its run, with its most recent face being a series of interviews with the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The trouble with recommending podcasts is how quickly things change. What podcast news or other recommendations do you have? Share them with us in the comments below.

 

Jason Brick has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at his website.