A business phone system used to involve a switch that routed the calls, software to manage numbers, and a telecom professional to keep everything working. Now we live in an age of virtualization, and phone systems are just one more element of infrastructure that’s moving into the cloud.

SEE: Mobile Device Research: 2016 security trends, attack rates, and vendor ratings for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and wearables (Tech Pro Research)

You don’t need to make a huge investment

The success of a new business doesn’t always hinge on a quality product or exceptional service: sometimes all it takes to kill an entrepreneurial endeavor is bad infrastructure. Calling a business that gets picked up on someone’s personal phone, for example, looks startlingly unprofessional.

If you’re using your smartphone for business you may pick up a call without identifying yourself, your voicemail message might not mention work, or someone might call you needing to speak to someone else at your company. All of these problems are solved by a business phone system, but it’s hard to justify the cost if you only have a few employees or a lack of physical office space.

Thankfully the cloud is here, and it’s a major boon for small businesses. Servers disappear into the cloud, costs shrink, tech employees are abstracted away, and business phone systems no longer need to physically exist.

Virtual business phone systems: your options

Providers include companies like Grasshopper, eVoice, Phone.com, and FreedomVoice. All four providers and their competitors offer completely virtualized phone systems and apps that can ring directly to your smartphone, so you’ll always know whether a call is business or personal. You’ll be able to set up a greeting message, phone tree, voicemail boxes (often with text transcription), and they all offer texting as well.

SEE: 10 mobile security myths that need debunking (TechRepublic)

Plans and features from different companies are mostly identical, though they do vary in number of users, minutes per month, and cost. Make sure you fully investigate providers so you get exactly what you want. Most offer a 30-day free trial as well, but don’t plan on keeping your number afterward unless you want to pay to port it (this varies by provider).

How much money could you save?

For small budget-conscious businesses every penny counts, and virtual business systems can save you a lot of them.

Let’s consider a landline business VoIP phone plan like Comcast Business, for example: one business line will cost you $29.95 per line per month for the middle tier that includes basic features essential to business.

That price is also a promotion based on signing up for two years of Comcast Business internet, which is a minimum of $69.95. You can also buy the two as a bundle for a total of $89.90 a month, so you’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 for a single business line that’s tethered to a physical location.

Now let’s take Grashopper as a completely virtualized example. For $49 you’ll get two business lines and more features than Comcast offers, all without having to bundle internet, buy devices, or install any physical equipment. The other providers mentioned above offer similar deals, making it hard to justify all that money spent on a standard VoIP or telephone service.

Success in business means being agile, adapting to change, and, increasingly, being mobile. Why modernize your business without thinking of your phone system?

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Physical phone systems aren’t necessary anymore, especially if your work frequently takes you away from the desk.
  2. There are a lot of virtual business phone products available, which vary widely in price.
  3. A professional image can be key to business success, so don’t take a chance on poor infrastructure. At the very least you need a Google Voice number to use for business.

Also see