The telephone is a home office's lifeline to the rest of the business world, but it is often the last thing homebased business owners think about. They tend to just extend their residential service by adding a call-waiting feature--until they realize this lacks professionalism. At that point, it's time to consider all your options and decide what services will benefit your homebased business the most.
First, analyze your needs: Do you use the Internet? Do you want to upgrade your access to Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines? Is wireless communication (pagers and cellular phones, for example) important to you? Do you call other countries? How much are you spending on local and long-distance calls? Do you use a calling card frequently?
A good place to start your research is the Web site for Washington, DC-based Telecommunications Research & Action Center (TRAC), http://www.trac.org . Here you'll find a checklist to help you pin down your needs. You can also use TRAC's WebPricer, an online service that helps users determine which long-distance company is the least expensive. Some carriers even offer better rates to homebased businesses. You can also order the Long Distance Comparison Chart for Small Business for $7 from TRAC. This chart offers an unbiased look at all the top long-distance companies and the services they offer.
Ron McDonald, homebased owner of international trading company Richardson International in Valencia, California, did some analyzing of his own and ended up switching to Telegroup, a second-tier long-distance service with international rates more than 35 percent lower than what he'd been paying. "Before, I had to schedule my calls to get the best rate--slowing down productivity while I waited for rates to drop," says McDonald. "Telegroup's rates are the same at any time of the day. Plus, they do six-second billing vs. full-minute billing."
Another big consideration for McDonald was calling-card rates. He'd been paying 75 cents every time he used his card plus higher per-minute rates. His new service doesn't charge a card usage fee, and the rates are comparable to calling from his home.
Still, McDonald notes there are a few disadvantages to using a smaller long-distance carrier, including difficulty reaching operators and busy circuits. Nonetheless, McDonald believes the pluses outweigh the drawbacks, especially when it comes to Telegroup's innovative International Call Back system. McDonald, who frequently travels to Asian countries, discovered that Telegroup will let him use a U.S. access number to get great international rates when calling home from other countries. "Before, if I called the United States from Vietnam using a local carrier, it would cost at least $2.50 per minute," says McDonald. "Now, I call an access number in the United States and let it ring once. I then get a call back with a U.S. dial tone and am charged at $1.39 per minute."