Avoiding the relentless advertising from numerous comparison websites is difficult. These websites exist to help us compare utilities, holidays, hotels, flights, insurance, and even our weekly shop. Many of us might even have found some favourable deals on these websites. As consumers, these websites save us a significant amount of time, and often save us money – what is there not to like?
How does this apply to telecoms services for small businesses though? A recent piece of research from small business owners showed many small businesses often find themselves in the middle, between consumer packages and large enterprise offerings. Surely small businesses should have the opportunity to use straightforward comparison websites to find the best telecoms packages for them.
Ofcom is actively promoting the use of these services. They are stating: “Price comparison services help people to make informed choices about communications services, and therefore play a crucial role for consumers”. Ofcom even goes as far as accrediting certain price comparison sites for telecoms providers.
Apples for Apples?
First looking at business broadband services. One popular comparison website, accredited by Ofcom, offers business broadband services from £18 per month through to £65 per month. Taking a closer look at these offerings, it soon becomes clear it is really not possible to compare these services based on price alone.
Working past several spelling mistakes, and a few advertised features from some providers that are actually no longer available, the listings provided on many of these comparison sites only tell you what the providers are willing to let you know. This may not be the information you are looking for, in order to make the right decision for you.
What to look out for
• Do you need a static IP address?
If you are a business running a system that monitors stock, or a business security system, you might have a need for a static IP address. Many VoIP solutions also work more effectively with a static IP.
• Do you need 100% uptime?
You might also need to ensure you have a continuous internet connection, if you are running essential business equipment, for example. So, making sure your provider offers the right type of guaranteed “up-time” could be a key buying consideration.
• How many businesses are you sharing the connection with?
Knowing how many other businesses/people are sharing your connection with you is important. Not often referenced, or buried deep down on providers websites, is the contention ratio. This is how many other lines are sharing the same broadband connection with you. This could be particularly important to keep a consistent connection speed, especially if your business is heavily reliant on high-bandwidth activity, such as video conferencing or an office with lots of team members connecting at the same time.
Which provider comes out on top?
This is actually a difficult question to answer, and one that cannot really be answered here. As you have seen, every business has their own needs. Your needs will differ from those of other businesses around you. Adding to this, your choice of providers can be vastly different, depending on where are operating from. From our test location, one broadband comparison site lists business broadband plans for seven providers, whereas ISP Review lists over 200 providers. Some were national, and some were regional providers.
Small providers are appearing all the time, a new network, B4RK, taking a similar co-operative owned approach is being introduced in Kent. It is important to remember you may be seeing less than 10% of the options available to you on many comparison websites.
For example, if you live in Lancashire, you might be able to pay just £30 per month for full fibre broadband with B4RN, a community run broadband provider. These are not the offers you are likely to find on price comparison websites.
What about my phone system?
The story is quite different when it comes to comparing business phone packages though. There are very few websites that offer straightforward, like for like comparisons of VoIP providers.
Most websites tend to promote “Top 10” or “The Best 20” VoIP providers. A handful of providers consistently appear these rankings, but the credibility of the sources remains somewhat mysterious:
Larger marketing budgets?
Scale of business making it more prominent?
Advertising on the comparison sites?
Who really knows?
Consider the ITSPA instead
Looking back at the insight gained from small business owners however, many of these businesses are simply looking for a relatively straight-forward phone system without the gimmicks. The Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association (ITSPA) is a body of registered telecoms providers, including VoIP providers. Searching on review websites and comparison websites only shows a small proportion of these providers. If you are looking to research and find the best VoIP provider for you, the list of ITSPA providers might be a better starting place than review websites with unknown reference points.
Discovering the ‘true’ cost
Are you considering the cost of losing your internet connection, or phone lines, for a day when looking at service providers? If you rely on the internet (who doesn’t) or if your business is solely reliant on phone enquiries, what is the potential business loss if customers cannot reach for you for a day, or worse, several days?
Digging a little deeper into some providers, you can find information on guaranteed fix times should you experience a fault. This applies to both VoIP providers and broadband providers. This is often not considered by many small businesses; after all, we expect these services to just ‘work’.
What would the cost to your small business be if you had no internet connectivity for a whole day?
Finding the perfect fit
Looking for the right provider is a little like looking for the perfect house. Somebody’s perfect house might be another’s nightmare. It is vital to understand the features that are important for you and your business and decipher those from irrelevant add-ons that really are not necessary. Selecting a provider on price alone is likely to be the wrong approach. Maybe for some the budget provider will be a perfect fit, but you might find you are missing business critical features.
While price comparison sites have their merit in providing some value to consumers, it is important not to base such an important business decision solely based on price alone. These websites could serve a good starting point for research, but there are plenty of other avenues to explore in addition. Unlike other comparison websites they only have a small fraction of the choice that is available.
If you would like some independent advice on this, we are happy to talk. Give us a call on 020 8634 7318