Best small business phone systems
Think you can do without an office phone? Think again. Business phone systems are a must for any startup. Read our top picks to find the right one for you
We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.This article was co-authored by:
Business telephone providers have a range of products and services that can significantly improve the operation and agility of your small business.
In this guide, we’ve rounded up a range of phone systems that are best for small businesses. So whether you’re looking for the best budget phone for your business, or a phone system with smart features for your startup, we'll help you make the right choice.
We've profiled the top phone systems for small businesses to highlight its top features and the types of startup it would suit best. We conclude by answering some of the top FAQs that many small business owners tend to have when choosing a telephone system.
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You can go straight to the section that you want to learn about the most by clicking on the relevant links above. Or, read the whole article for a comprehensive guide to business telephone systems.
Business phone system providers: At-a-glance comparison
Choosing a phone system is a major decision, as it connects your company and offers a way for customers, staff and suppliers to communicate. And with the providers as different as the businesses that use them, it can be difficult to know what to look for.
Here, we profile three of the best phone system providers to help you streamline your search.
|Provider||Best for||Price range|
|Cisco||Internationally recognised brand||£70-£300|
|BT||Household name in the UK||£60|
|Gradwell||Range of hardware and products||£40-£200+|
Tips for choosing the best provider for you
While every business’ needs are different, and so what you’ll look for in a phone systems provider will change, here are some questions to consider to help you navigate the decision-making process.
- Specialism – Do you want a provider that specialises in phones for businesses or would a more generalist supplier be more suitable?
- Customer support – Where and how can you access assistance? Think about the time zone that support agents are located in, and the ways in which you can contact them e.g. phone, email, live chat
- Services – Is it only the actual devices that your business requires, or are you looking for a provider that can offer additional services, like hosting, as well?
- Purpose – If you need phones that can offer specific functions, then seek out a provider that offers these in their devices, such as connectivity or compatibility with other systems
- Budget – the amount of funds that you can allocate for the phone system is likely to affect which providers you can choose from, as they all have a different price points
The best business phone system providers: A deep dive
In this section, we examine three providers (Cisco, BT and Gradwell) in more detail.
With a history going back to 1984, Cisco is an established provider in the industry. It offers a range of products and services, including security and networking, as well as collaborative solutions, like IP phones.
|Well-known industry provider||Phones are available through partners
|Varied offering||Tech knowledge often required for the products|
Cisco offers a range of business phones with different features. In general, you can expect:
- IP functions
- Multiple connectivity options
- Extensive features
With Cisco products available internationally, it’s ideal for small business owners looking for devices from a recognisable brand.
Cisco products are available across the price spectrum, in the region of £70-£300.
BT has a dedicated offering for small to medium businesses in search of phone systems. Plus, it has Local Business experts, both of which can be helpful for you to find a system that meets your business’ specific needs.
|Dedicated small business offering and business experts||Some businesses may prefer a company that specialises in only business phone systems|
|A leading provider of phone systems in the UK|
|On-site visits at your premises may be possible|
Some of the main features of BT and its products include:
- Products with accessible features
- Solutions to suit a range of budgets
- Offers cloud, on-premises and mobile-based phone systems
As BT is a household name in the UK, its products offer familiarity for entrepreneurs, especially for those who may be new to sourcing business phone systems.
You can expect BT products to be charged from £60.
Gradwell Communications has been in existence since 1998, operating throughout the UK. Its products and services are award-winning.
|ITSPA 2018 award winners||Customer support phone line is only available during business hours on weekdays|
|Offers both hardware and products|
|Range of prices|
When choosing a Gradwell phone, its features and functions are likely to depend on its complexity and price point. Generally, Gradwell offers:
- Sleek, easy-to-use design
- Clear labelling
- Variety of phones and features
Offering phones and other hardware, as well as related products like VoIP and SIP services, Gradwell is a good match for businesses wanting multiple solutions from one provider.
With prices between £40 and £200+, Gradwell products are suitable for a range of budgets.
Business phones: At-a-glance comparison
|BT Converse 2300||Audio features||£60|
|Cisco Small Business SPA504G VoIP phone||Multi-purpose use||£70|
To learn more about business phones, fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for telephone systems.
Tips for choosing the best business phone for you
There’s a lot to consider when deciding which business telephone system is best for your startup. We outline some of the key questions below:
- What features will work for you? – Most small businesses don’t have the luxury of IT departments to help with their technological woes. Maybe your business has complicated needs, or perhaps it makes sense to keep things simple.
- What is your current setup? – Because VoIP requires less equipment and installation, it often helps businesses cut costs. But of course, this can depend on the current infrastructure of where you work. You could already be set up with PBX.
- Are you growing? – Traditionally, PBX systems come with specific telephones. This could mean that to change the phone system, you would need to buy all new equipment too. But not always – be sure to check with the provider.
- How is your internet quality? – Since VoIP systems run over the internet, even distance calls can be crystal clear. But if you live in an area where the signal is poor or unreliable, PBX may offer the most peace of mind.
- How mobile are you? – If you or your staff spend a lot of time working remotely, hosted (or cloud) phone providers will help to keep you connected.
- What type of calls does your business make? For example, consider if your business makes predominantly local, national or international calls. Similarly, assess if they’re mainly inbound or outbound calls, as well as other types.
- Where will your phones be located? For example, reception phones that handle multiple calls and desk phones for a single staff member will have different requirements because of their location.
- What type of phone system will your business use? This could be a landline, a multi-line system or business mobiles. It may be a combination of these types, or all three.
The best business phones: A deep dive
Here we round up of some of the best business phone available, profiling the pros and cons, as well as features and costs, of each device.
BT Converse 2300
The BT Converse 2300 comes in black or white. It has a crystal clear LCD display which can double up as your clock, along with user-friendly navigation buttons just under the display. The BT Converse 2300 is compatible with headsets and hearing aids.
Companies looking to save on energy bills will be pleased with the phone’s energy-saving mains adaptor. Overall, this is a great option for small businesses looking for a cost-effective phone system, without compromising on quality.
This phone has all the features most small businesses need (like a directory and one-touch memory), without overcomplicating things with options you may never use (like Bluetooth), at an affordable price.
The main ones are:
- One-touch memory – Quickly dial your favourite numbers (up to 10)
- Hands-free – Complete other tasks while you talk, with the option of connecting a headset
- Number directory – Store up to 100 numbers
- Call log – Retrace the last 50 numbers who called you
- Redial – Easily call back the last 10 numbers who tried to reach you
- Mountable – Create space by mounting the device on your wall or desk
- Energy efficient – Has an energy-saving mains power adaptor
- Inductive Coupler – Compatible for those with hearing aids
- Amplify feature – Directly boost the volume to maximum
This phone is best for small business owners wanting maximum audio features (like hearing aid compatibility and amplify), and for those that work in noisy environments.
The BT Converse 2300 costs around £60.
This phone offers wifi and Bluetooth IP phone features, so you can use it like a hands-free device linked to your mobile. It also has Power over Ethernet (PoE), offering another type of connectivity.
The 3.2-inch colour LCD screen offers a user experience that is hard to beat, and you can opt for a PBX or VoIP service.
For any business owners who work from multiple locations, you’ll be able to use the phone with a single number (extension), or a shared number across multiple phones. It offers wifi security, including protection for both access and setup.
The Cisco SPA525G2 supports both SIP and leading third-party control platforms, and uses industry-leading VoIP technology from Cisco.
As well as the main office phone features (like voicemail, caller ID and wifi), this office telephone system stands out for its:
- Colour display – Images are shown in colour on the display
- Bluetooth – Pair with your personal mobile phone
- 5-line IP – Get enhanced connectivity
- Wideband audio – Have calls with HD clarity
- Dedicated buttons – Make shortcuts for your most commonly used features
- Network compatibility – Make connecting easier with multiple options including PoE, wifi and Bluetooth
The Cisco SPA525G2 is best for startups needing a business phone system with enhanced connectivity options.
It can be purchased for £300 approximately.
Cisco Small Business SPA504G VoIP Phone
For startups that are looking for a more advanced business phone system at an affordable price, the Cisco Small Business SPA504G VoIP phone is an ideal choice.
Plus, if you run a home-based business, this phone is suitable for home or business use.
This IP phone offers the following features, all of which my contribute to your compatibility – or lack thereof – for the product:
- Multiple phone lines – it offers four lines
- Suitable for home or office use – can be used at your premises or your home office
- Power over Ethernet (PoE) power supply – no additional power lines are required
- Dual switched ethernet ports – connect a computer directly behind the phone
- Display – monochrome display screen with backlight
- Multiple connection options – connect directly to either an internet telephone service provider or to an IP PBX
- Wideband audio – provides high-quality sound
Both the PoE supply and dual ethernet ports help to reduce the amount and cost of cabling your phone system.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose phone system, the Cisco Small Business SPA504G VoIP phone is best for businesses that need a device that can be used in home or business environments.
The Cisco Small Business SPA504G VoIP phone costs around £70.
Benefits of telephone systems for small businesses
Here are the main areas where you’ll see results with a small business phone system:
- Provide top customer service – Be there when your customers need you. Did you know calls are also the most effective method for closing sales? And for unique queries or complaints, nothing works wonders more than speaking to a real person.
- Have HD calls that feel like you’re there – If your calls feel like you’re talking face-to-face, could you save time and money on travelling to your clients? It might be worth taking a look at our guides to the best video conferencing equipment and video conference software for 2020 if you think this could help you close more sales!
- Get more things done now – Getting hold of people in the present will help you cross more off your list. And with headsets or Bluetooth functions that connect to your mobile, you can get better at multi-tasking.
- Host more conference meetings, more easily – you no longer have to wait for a date where everyone can be in the same room; you set up conference meetings remotely using the right conference phone. Take a look at our top picks of conference phones for small businesses on a budget in 2020.
Small business telephone systems: The FAQs
We’ve profiled some of the best phone systems and providers to help you choose the right ones for your startup. But what if you still have some questions? Here we highlight some of the main queries.
What is the difference between VoIP and SIP?
SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol and is the line type for connecting Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to a phone system, allowing video as well as voice calls to be made over the internet.
- Although VoIP and SIP both support IP (or internet-based) calls, they aren’t the same thing.
- VoIP simply means making calls over the internet.
- SIP, on the other hand, has a much larger scope. It’s a specific protocol that’s used to enable a range of multimedia sessions, which include VoIP calls.
What is PBX?
PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. This means:
- You can use outside lines for making external calls
- Your internal telephone numbers can also be connected to a public telephone network or VoIP provider.
- PBX phone systems are increasingly similar to VoIP phones. They often have IP points added, so you can host the phone system for your business within the cloud.
Which features do business telephone systems need?
Think about what your budget is and what your small business requires from a phone system. Some features to consider include:
- Automated call forwarding – Automatically transfer calls to your business phone to a different number at any location. This can be very useful if you’re expecting an important call to your business, but are out of the office or even on holiday.
- Dashboard – This allows you to manage your office telephone system from one central resource or programme, with access for all team members, dependant on what their needs are. Some dashboards also allow you to integrate all your communication channels, so you have control over your voicemails, emails, SMS and fax messages, at one touch point.
- Speed-dialling – Store the numbers your team members call the most frequently and easily call them with a one-button dial.
- Answering machine – This may be a standard answer machine system. Or your business might require the ability to convert voicemails into a readable email that gets sent straight to your inbox. It allows you to sort and scan through missed calls and voicemails at a quicker rate than simply listening to each message individually.
- Conference calling – This feature enables your team to speak to people off-site easily. Conference calls can be popular for team meetings with off-site staff members or for calls between your sales team and relevant clients, for example.
- Video calls – If you work remotely, or want to speak to suppliers and providers without the expense of arranging an in-person meeting, a business phone system with a video calling feature is ideal.
The most basic telephone systems will tend to focus on the most common needs (like speed-dialling and an easy-to-use dashboard), whilst more sophisticated models may be able to do everything on the list above.
Compare business phone providers and phones
From reading this article, you’ve learned more about different small business telephone systems, as well as tips on how to make your decision. We've offered insight into what the potential benefits are of a dedicated small business phone system.
To compare quotes for virtual, VoiP, conferencing, and other business phone systems that are tailored to your business's needs, use our phone systems selection tool, which will match you with the best suppliers to meet your needs – the service is quick, easy, and free of charge.