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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Best Business Phone Systems 2017

Ooma Office is designed specifically for very small businesses. The system, which works for businesses with up to 20 employees, can be set up in minutes and requires no special wiring or phones. The system includes a variety of features that allow small offices to present themselves in a professional manner, such as an autoreceptionist, ring groups and a voicemail-to-email feature. In addition, the system is available as a virtual-only phone system for businesses that only want to use mobile phones.

RingCentral Professional is specifically designed for businesses with on-the-go employees. The service connects business phone lines to remote workers on their mobile and home phones. While other providers also offer this service, few do so with such a wide range of features — including a mobile app and the use of a “softphone” on the employee’s computer — for such a low cost.

ShoreTel’s phone system has all of the tools and features a business needs to run a professional call center. The system is available as an on-premise or cloud-based solution. The call center services, which are tacked on to ShoreTel’s regular business phone system, include a variety of call queue options, integrations with numerous CRM solutions and call recording. It also offers several valuable supervisor tools, including the ability to listen in on agent calls.

To determine the best business phone systems, we started by listing all of the vendors that have good reputations online (i.e., services that other websites favorably and consistently reviewed). Then, we interviewed small business owners to discover new systems to add to our list.

We ultimately settled on the following 19 phone systems to consider as best picks: 8×8, AT&T, Avaya, Booth, Cisco, Dialpad, ESI, Fonality, FreedomVoice, Grasshopper, Jive, Mitel, Nextiva, Ooma Office, Phone.com, RingCentral, ShoreTel, Toshiba and Vonage. (See full list of business phone systems and their websites below.)

Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, and reading user comments. We also contacted each company’s customer service department and posed as business owners to gauge the type of support each provider offered its users. Finally, we considered the pricing that was available on these services’ websites or what was quoted to us during customer service calls.

Our process involves putting ourselves in the mindset of a small business owner and gathering the data that would be readily available to such an individual. We perform all of our research by visiting company websites, making calls to customer service departments and interviewing real users.

We analyzed each system based on the following factors:

  • Deployment options
  • Level of service
  • Reliability
  • Customer service
  • Calling features
  • Collaboration tools
  • Mobility options
  • Cost

Here is a full list of business phone-system providers and a summary of what each company claims to offer. This alphabetical list also includes our picks for best services.

1-VoIp – This VoIP service provider offers different plans based on the number of users a business has. The smallest plan accommodates up to five employees, while the largest one supports up to 100 users. Plans include digital call forwarding, cellphone redirecting, extension monitoring, call parking, intercom service, call waiting, autoattendants, digital queues, custom on-hold music, voicemail, call recording and other features. 1-VoIP also offers SIP trunking services.

3CX – 3CX is the developer of a software-based and open-standards IP PBX, which replaces proprietary PBXs. With integrated WebRTC web conferencing, softphones for Mac and Windows, and smartphone clients for Android, iOS and Windows phones, 3CX offers companies a complete unified communications package.

*8×8 – 8×8 is a hosted VoIP-based phone system that includes personalized voicemail, three-way calling, caller ID, call waiting, transfers, call forwarding and chat. The system offers an online dashboard to manage communications, with call history, voicemail notification and calling from a PC. 8×8 also provides autoattendants, corporate directories, on-hold music, conference bridges and ring groups. In addition, the service’s mobile app allows staff members to manage their business communications from anywhere. Besides its traditional business phone systems, 8×8 also provides contact center services.

All Call Technologies – All Call Technologies is a virtual phone system. There is no equipment installed in your office and no changing of your current phone carrier. All Call Technologies’ virtual receptionist answers your calls with a professional greeting and gives callers the options they want. Outgoing greetings are professionally recorded and programmed to your specifications. The Backup Attendant service takes calls only when your office lines are busy or not answered, while the Auto Attendant service plays a menu greeting immediately when someone calls. In addition, an Entrepreneur and Partner plan provides one, central phone number with extensions to reach you, your partners and staff via cellphones.

Allworx – Allworx provides a complete portfolio of VoIP systems, IP phones, network switches and advanced software options. Allworx is available to small and medium-size businesses through a network of more than 1,000 independent resellers in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. The company also offers Windstream IP Simple, a managed monthly subscription service that combines Allworx with VoIP and data services from Windstream.

AT&T – AT&T Business in a Box is a VoIP solution for small businesses and satellite locations that provide the benefits of advanced voice and data technology, without the complexity of having to manage it. This solution enables voice and data services to work over a single network connection and device. The company also offers AT&T Unified Communications Voice, a cloud-based IP telephony solution that offers a range of voice features, as well as contact-center solutions.

Avaya – Avaya’s contact center and unified communications technologies and services are available in a variety of flexible on-premise and cloud-hosted options. Avaya’s Communicator lets employees access instant-messaging tools, voicemail, conferencing and video. The Avaya systems, which support up to 250,000 users, also offer mobile options that allow employees to access voice and video communications from mobile devices.

Axvoice – Axvoice is a cloud-based system for independent entrepreneurs, and single-office and home-office professionals. The service has more than 30 inbound and outbound calling features, including caller ID, caller ID blocking, music on hold, simultaneous ringing, do-not-disturb options, call filtering and anonymous call rejection. In addition, the system allows employees to manage their voicemails via the web.

Birch – Birch’s TotalCloud PBX is a cloud-hosted phone system that supports your entire workforce. With this system, you can transfer callers, put them on hold with music, set up conference calls or have the phone answered by an automated attendant who can direct callers to different departments. TotalCloud PBX allows you to route callers around the way you do business.

Booth – Booth is a virtual phone system that allows you to run your business through your cell phone. Booth works by creating call rules that allow you to route calls based around time of day, who’s calling, or through an integrations platform. Through the integrations platform, you can connect with software that you already use, such as Google Calendar, and have calls sent to a voicemail, or a colleague, when you are in a meeting, or to your cell phone when you’re available. Booth’s other features include autoattendants and business hour rules, among others.

BroadConnect – BroadConnect is a business VoIP service provider that has many advanced features, such as video and audio conferencing, mobility, custom IVRs, voice broadcasting and call analytics. The company offers a variety of types of phone systems for businesses of all sizes, including hosted PBX, SIP trunking and call center solutions.

Everything You Need to Know About Pinterese for Business

Pinterest is a platform that allows users to share and save content to virtual collections called pinboards (also referred to as simply “boards”). The social network has both a website and a mobile app, and was launched in 2010 by co-founders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra. Initially, the website was available only in a closed beta model, and users could join only by invitation until August 2012, when Pinterest opened to the public.

The platform has a unique demographic in that the vast majority of its more than 100 million active users (according to Venture Beat) are female. A comScore study found that approximately 71 percent of Pinterest users in December 2014 were women, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Creating your account

To use Pinterest, you first have to sign up for an account. For businesses, it’s really important that you make sure you specifically sign up for a business account. Using the main sign-up page creates personal accounts — to create a business account, go here.

It’s important to make this distinction because business accounts, while free like personal Pinterest accounts, give you access to features to help your business thrive on the platform, like analytics tools.

To sign up for a business account, you need to enter your email address, a password, the name of your business and your website (though including your website is optional). You also need to select what type of business you run from a drop-down menu. From there, you can set up your profile.

When you log in to your Pinterest account, you’re taken to your home feed. Your home feed shows you all of the most recent pins from the other Pinterest accounts you follow and features endless scrolling for seamless browsing.

Across the top of each page you visit on Pinterest, there is a large search bar. To the left, you’ll see the Pinterest logo (which takes you back to the home page when clicked), as well as menu options for Analytics and Ads. To the right, there is a drop-down menu, which displays links to all of the categories you can browse through on the platform.

The + allows you to quick-add a new pin or create a new ad, and the chat button pulls up a drop-down menu with three options: News, You and Messages. News displays trending pins and other site updates; You shows your notifications from when other users interact with your pins, and Messages pulls up your messages with other Pinterest users.

Clicking your profile picture pulls up a drop-down menu with options to go to your profile to see all your boards and pins, as well as to access your settings, billing, ads support and the platform’s Help page, and to log out of your account.

So what exactly are pins and boards? Well, in simple terms, pins are the content you share on Pinterest, and boards are how you organize that content — sort of like visual bookmarks. Before you can start pinning anything, you need to create your boards.

Creating your boards

To create your first Pinterest board, go to your profile and you’ll see a red Create Board button.

Once you click, a box will pop up with the information you need to fill in. You can enter a name for your board and a description of what your board is about (these are optional, but should be filled out as they can help people discover your boards more often), and select a category for it (also optional, but very important for the same reasons). In addition, you can choose to keep your board secret, so that only you have access to it.

At the bottom of the box, you’ll also see an option entitled “Collaborators,” with a text box where you can invite other Pinterest users by username or email. Adding other users to your board creates a group board, which will show up on both your profile and the other users’ profiles; everyone added to the board can contribute pins.

Once you’re done filling out your board’s information, just click Create, and you’re done. From there, you can start adding pins.

To create subsequent boards, simply go to your profile page and in the space to the left of your existing boards, you’ll see a rectangular gray space with a Create a Board button. From there, you’ll follow the same steps.

Adding pins

You can add pins to your Pinterest boards in a few different ways. To add your own content to Pinterest, go to the board you want to pin to (or use the + button from the top of the page) and click the Add a Pin button. A box will pop up with the options to add a pin from the Web or from your computer.

If you decide to add a pin from the Web, Pinterest will prompt you to enter a link to the page you’re pinning from.

Once you enter the link, you’ll be taken to a page that shows all of the images from that website, as well as existing pins that were created by others from that website’s domain. You can then select the picture you want to pin by hovering over the image and clicking the Pin it button.

This will open a box that allows you to enter a description for your pin. It also allows you to choose a board for your pin, so if you started by selecting the wrong board, you can change it without going back. You can also create a new board to pin to, and choosing this option will let you name your new board, and select whether or not you’d like to add collaborators or keep the board secret. You’ll have to go back into this board later to edit it if you’d like to add a description and choose a category. When you’re done perfecting your pin, click the Create button. Pinning content from the Web will ensure that your pin links back to the website it came from.

If you choose to add a pin from your computer, Pinterest will prompt you to select and upload an image file.

From there, the process of adding a pin is the same as above. Regardless of the way you choose to add your pins, you can always go back to specific pins to edit their descriptions, move them to different boards or delete them altogether.

Choosing the Right Email Marketing Software

  • Email marketing is essentially the online version of direct mail. Instead of sending fliers and coupons to a customer’s home, email marketing sends those same items digitally to a customer’s inbox.
  • Whereas the impact of direct mail can be difficult to track, email marketing lets businesses see exactly who is opening their mail and which emails are leading to sales.
  • Businesses can use email marketing in a variety of ways, from building brand loyalty and finding new customers to encouraging loyalty and repeat business.
  • With email marketing, you have a choice of do-it-yourself software or full service agencies that do all of the work for you. You can read more about the differences between the two below.
  • Email marketing offers businesses several advantages over other types of marketing strategies. Cost is a key differentiator, as email marketing doesn’t require any printing or postage fees. Using email marketing software, it typically only costs businesses several pennies to send out an email, as opposed to at least 15 cents per piece of direct mail.
  • With email marketing, businesses can see which emails were received, which ones went to addresses that were no longer active, which ones were opened, which ones were deleted before they were read and which ones enticed clients to click through to the website and make a purchase.
  • The main drawback to email marketing is that some consumers may consider the emails to be spam and hold it against a brand’s reputation. If customers feel they are being bombarded by unwanted emails from a business, they will be less likely to become new or repeat customers.

Businesses can go in a variety of different directions when using email marketing. The various types of messages businesses can send out via email marketing include:

  • Newsletters: A quick way to regularly keep customers informed on any business news or upcoming promotions. Newsletters are typically sent on a recurring basis, such as every week or month.
  • Promotional campaigns: These emails let customers know about upcoming sales. These emails can be sent in the days leading up to the sale, as well during the sale, as a reminder for customers.
  • Invitation emails: This kind of message keeps clients up to date on upcoming special events. Invitation emails can be sent weeks or days before an event occurs as a way to encourage a customer to attend.
  • Catalog emails: Sent as a way to highlight products or services.
  • Lead-nurturing emails: Designed to keep brands at the top of mind for prospective clients. These emails are sent out regularly until a potential customer is converted into a paying customer.
  • Survey emails: Sent as a way to find out more about customers’ needs and wants.
  • Transactional emails: Sent after a purchase is made, as a way to confirm the transaction, say thank you and encourage the customer to shop with you again.

Now that you have a better idea of what email marketing entails and how it might benefit your business, the next question you need to answer is if you want to handle the process on your own, or hire a dedicated agency to do all of the work for you.

  • Email marketing is offered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) from a variety of vendors.
  • Email-marketing software provides businesses with all of the tools needed to create and execute email-marketing campaigns. This includes templates to get started, design tools to develop eye-catching messages and contact-management solutions to collect and store customer email addresses.
  • Once you create the message and decide whom you want it sent to, the software provider then sends out the emails for you from its own servers.
  • The software features a variety of analytics that monitor what happens with your emails to help determine the success of each campaign and how you can improve your campaigns in the future.

Cost: While some providers have a pay-as-you-go option, the majority offer monthly plans that are typically based on the number of contacts you are sending emails to and how many campaigns you plan to run each month. Costs can range anywhere from $10 to $15 to send emails to 500 contacts a couple times a month, to $4,000 to send out 4 million emails a month.

Pros and cons: The largest advantages of email-marketing software are that you can do it all on your own for a relatively low cost. The tools make it easy for those without any type of HTML or design experience to create and execute a variety of email-marketing campaigns. You are also provided with an assortment of data to determine if the campaign was a success. The downside of email marketing software is that you are, for the most part, on your own with it. While most vendors provide support options, getting it designed and sent out in a timely manner ends up falling on your shoulders.

3 Reasons Angel Investors Will Fund Your Company

Exceptional management is vital for any business. Three-quarters of survey respondents said the management team of a startup was their biggest consideration for investing.

“Startups are not only about the technology or business idea but also very much about the people behind them,” said Swati Chaturvedi, CEO and co-founder of Propel(x). “A compelling, experienced team that can sell the vision and the potential impact is key to success, and something savvy angels look at closely.”

Some exceptional qualities to have as part of a management team are integrity, clarity of strategy and approach, professionalism and determination, Chaturvedi said.

Angel investors want to understand exactly what they are financing, especially for startups in the tech field. More than 50 percent of respondents claimed this as one of their top reasons for investing, and 94 percent find it helpful to have subject-matter experts explain the technologies within their company before investing. In fact, many choose not to invest in specific businesses due to their inability to grasp their technology efficiently.

“The easier we make it for angel investors to discover, evaluate and participate in science and technology startups, the more we’ll see money going into these worthy companies and the benefits to humanity accrue,” Chaturvedi said.

Naturally, angels look for opportunities that will benefit them as well. Forty-nine percent ranked potential ROI as their top motivator for making an investment decision.

While some investors are indeed looking for financial compensation, not all are primarily interested in just the money. Some want a different kind of return: The ability to solve the world’s biggest challenges through the businesses they fund. Nearly one-third of angels will choose to invest in a company based on its connection to important social issues.

“Having an impact matters, especially when it comes to investing in things like curing diseases, feeding a growing global population, fueling the planet with clean energy and even taking us into space,” Lisheng Wang, Propel(x)’s co-founder and head of investor development, said in a statement. “Science and technology startups especially should take note that when raising capital, they should emphasize the impact of their solution besides potential returns to investors. It’s not only about the ‘what,’ it’s also about the ‘so what?'”