Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Grants for PA farmers and small businesses still available through DEP - NorthcentralPa.com

Grants for PA farmers and small businesses still available through DEP - NorthcentralPa.com


Grants for PA farmers and small businesses still available through DEP - NorthcentralPa.com

Posted: 22 Oct 2019 04:00 AM PDT

Harrisburg, Pa. – Grant funding for energy efficiency and pollution prevention projects for small business owners and farmers is still available from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) through the Small Business Advantage Grant program.

"This grant program was created with small businesses and farmers in mind. There are tremendous monetary savings available to Pennsylvania's small business entrepreneurs by installing energy-efficient equipment, such as LED lighting, and Energy Star rated HVAC and boilers," said Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "Pennsylvania farmers can also benefit from these grants by receiving support for undertaking projects to help them divert sediment and nutrient runoff from our waterways."

Pennsylvania farmers and other small business owners with 100 or fewer full-time employees are eligible for the grants. Projects must save the business a minimum of $500 and 25 percent annually in energy consumption, or pollution-related expenses. Natural resource protection projects are exempt from the minimums; however, the projects must be able to quantify sediment and nutrient reductions into nearby waterways.

"Clean water and healthy soil are the keys to sustaining our farms and feeding our communities," Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. "These grants are an investment in our future, and I encourage Pennsylvania farmers to take advantage of this opportunity."

Businesses can apply for 50 percent matching funds for equipment or materials, up to $7,000, when adopting energy-efficient or pollution prevention equipment or processes. Applications are considered on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be accepted until fiscal year 2019-20 funds are exhausted, or April 12, 2020, whichever occurs first.

The complete grant application package, which includes step-by-step instructions for completing the online application as well as all related forms, is available by visiting the DEP Small Business Ombudsman's Office site.

To contact the Small Business Ombudsman's Office, call 717-772-5160 or email epadvantagegrant@pa.gov.

 

Grant funding available for small businesses looking to export - The Sentinel-Echo

Posted: 21 Oct 2019 04:00 PM PDT

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Small businesses in Kentucky looking to begin or increase their export opportunities are encouraged to apply for State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) funding as soon as possible, as grants are awarded to eligible companies on a first come, first served basis.

Qualifying companies can use STEP grants to cover or lower the cost of international trade missions, sales trips and subscription services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Additionally, the funds can assist companies with export trade show exhibit costs, training workshops, travel expenses, translation services and product compliance testing.

Thus far, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development has received 60 applications for the current round of STEP funding. Approximately $170,000 remains available from the FY2019 funding pool. The Cabinet also was recently approved for an allocation of $300,000 in funding for the upcoming FY2020 funding cycle.

Since its 2011 inception, STEP has provided funding for hundreds of small businesses in the commonwealth, creating millions of dollars in new trade revenues. In 2018 alone, Kentucky awarded nearly $240,000 in STEP grant funding to 68 businesses. Capital from the program has assisted with a range of expenses, from industry trade shows to trade missions in Canada, the United Kingdom and China, just to name a few.

Announced earlier this year, eligible companies can now each receive up to $10,000 in grant funding for the FY2019 cycle and beyond, up from the previous amount of $5,000.

"STEP has been an absolutely essential tool in our ability to help Kentucky small businesses take the major step of developing or growing their global presence," said Erran Persley, commissioner of business development at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. "We have seen companies expand into markets that would have otherwise never been possible without the assistance of STEP funding. It has been a great success here in Kentucky and we highly recommend that interested eligible businesses apply for a grant as soon as possible."

Since STEP was established in 2011, Kentucky has served as a leading example of how a state can work with companies to expand their footprint and move into new markets. During that period, the commonwealth also has established itself as a major player on the global stage. In 2018, Kentucky companies set the state's all-time record by exporting more than $31.7 billion in products around the world.

One of the many Kentucky companies to capitalize on export opportunities through STEP has been Somerset Wood Products. STEP funding has allowed representatives from the company to take part in trade shows annually, as well as expand in emerging markets, such as Vietnam. The funds also have helped the company expand its efforts in regions where it has an existing presence including China and Europe. STEP has played a significant role in Somerset Wood Products' ability to grow its exports business from virtually nonexistent eight years ago to several million dollars annually today.

"SBA is proud to partner with the STEP grant winners and provide much-needed resources that help small businesses increase their sales by exporting," said Chris Pilkerton, acting administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration. "The SBA's STEP partners not only help entrepreneurs increase and diversify their customer base, but also help to create and retain local jobs."

The commonwealth is home to more than 340,000 small businesses that employ nearly 700,000 people. That is approximately 96.5 percent of all companies in the state. Small business has been a significant contributor to Kentucky's economic success, and STEP has taken that success to the next level.

The continued success of the program is reflected in the most recent rounds of funding. Over the past two years, Kentucky has been approved for allocations of $530,000 and $400,000, respectively. Those resources have helped companies gain exposure on a global scale, while also raising awareness of Kentucky-made products. Though many companies have already taken advantage of the program, funding remains for eligible small businesses with international aspirations.

STEP is an SBA program administered in the commonwealth by the Cabinet. Companies that meet the federally defined criteria of a small business and will export products that are at least 51 percent US content could be eligible for a grant.

STEP also aligns with the Kentucky Export Initiative (KEI). Through KEI, the Cabinet partners with a coalition of agencies and organizations. KEI streamlines and promotes the state's efforts to help Kentucky businesses reach global markets.

Learn more about the STEP program and apply here. Email completed applications to STEP Program Director Carol Stringer at carol.stringer@ky.gov. Find out more about Kentucky's exporting efforts at www.KyExports.com.

Brezik: A successful small business start-up - Casper Star-Tribune Online

Brezik: A successful small business start-up - Casper Star-Tribune Online


Brezik: A successful small business start-up - Casper Star-Tribune Online

Posted: 05 Oct 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Small businesses are the backbone of this country. People with great talent and ideas form businesses they believe in to provide others with products and services and to make a living for themselves and their families. As any small business owner knows, there is a lot to running a company, and you end up wearing many hats.

While you may be wonderful at flower arranging, you may know much less about how to form a business entity, keep proper books and records, or go about finding the best location for a shopfront. Some key elements are necessary for any business to be successful. You want to learn what you need to know before you open your doors.

Starting with a business plan, even if it originally is written on a napkin, can move you in the right direction. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a wealth of resources to get you started. Taking a class, reading books and talking to other business owners can help you learn the basics. Ask these other business owners what they did right and what they would have done differently, now that they have obtained some valuable experience. Learning from others' mistakes can prevent you from making the same ones.

A small business plan will have several parts, mini-plans devoted to different areas. Such mini plans may cover matters like marketing and advertising, finding the right location, hiring personnel, estimated financial projections and lining up an advisory team to include legal, accounting and financial resources. Note that if you are asking someone to loan you money or to invest in the company, a more formal business plan will be required.

You will want to do some research before you get too far along. First, is there a market for your product or idea? What consumer problem are you trying to solve? Is the market only local or much broader? Second, who are your competitors? Do you have a better product or service that people will buy? Third, what type of organizational structure will you have? Do you need a management team? Are you going to be a one-man show? How long can that be sustainable? Fourth, what could derail your business? What is your game plan for various scenarios? For example, what if three more flower shops open up within 10 miles of you?

A financial analysis is really important as well. Figure out your start-up costs and how long it will take before your business is up and running. You will have ongoing basic expenses to cover before you will be able to pay yourself. These ongoing expenses include rent, utilities, supplies, phone and internet, advertising/marketing, payroll for other employees, and licenses and taxes. Plan to have your own living expenses covered for six months to a year, as it may take this long before you can pay yourself.

Starting a business can be exciting, and writing a business plan, besides being encouraging, can help you prevent problems before they occur. A successful start can turn into a successful business that ultimately may support you and your family for many years. You may even pass the business along to your children or grandchildren one day.

Best Small Business Phone Systems for 2020 - Small Business Trends

Posted: 21 Oct 2019 12:02 PM PDT

There's never been a better time to upgrade your business phone system. People can't remember their landline number anymore.

That's why it's important to pick the best alternative for your business.

The only downside? It can be overwhelming since there are dozens of providers to choose from.

It comes down to finding the best fit for your budget, tech scope, and customer service requirements.

We've taken a look at ratings, prices, and popularity of the top small business phone systems. Here's a look at what each one offers.



Best Small Business Phone Systems

1. Nextiva

Nextiva is an option for businesses of any size looking to improve their customer service. Plus, their phone solutions help to strengthen communication within the office and switch to a unified platform.

Not only that, but Nextiva's free app allows employees to use business numbers on their devices. This is superb for remote users, and allows them to communicate effectively with their co-workers.

Why Nextiva?

Nextiva helps businesses of all sizes to strengthen their customer service departments. They have access to a top-rated CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that's easy-to-use and affordable. Plus, Nextiva can also install live chat on their websites, and create feedback surveys so that your company stays focused on what matters… All of which is explained by paying customers.

Still not convinced? Nextiva has a range of pre-packaged and custom options, such as small business VOIP and integrations with the tools you're already using. (Plus, you can ditch landlines to make Wi-Fi calls using this technology.)

And if you ever run into a problem, you're connected with a representative that manages your account. This person lends a helping hand with installation and upgrades. Combine that with the  24-hour line you can contact for help, and it's a great option for your small business.

To summarize: Nextiva simplifies the way any team communicates by keeping all conversations on one screen. This creates seamless communication and collaboration between team members—and prevents important things from getting lost in translation.

Best Small Business Phone Systems for 2020

image: Nextiva

Pricing and Features

Pricing starts at around $20 and varies by plan. The company's most popular option is the Office Pro Plus, which includes:

  • An automated greeting
  • Conference bridge
  • Text messagingAccess to the app
  • All of Nextiva's basic Office Pro features

Service Highlights:

  •   Easy installation
  •   Seamless cloud service
  •   One screen for communication all in one place
  •   Professionally recorded greeting
  •   Live chat software
  •   Online surveys
  •   Conference bridge
  •   Case management software
  •   Calendars and scheduling
  •   Mobile App to take calls on mobile devices
  •   Text messaging
  •   Free number porting
  •   Advanced call management
  •   Unlimited calling
  •   Local numbers are shown on your Caller ID
  •   Toll-Free numbers
  •   Website chats
  •   Call queueing

Reviews and Ratings

Nextiva has a 4.7 star rating on GetVoIP, with 94% of customers saying they'd recommend Nextiva to a friend.  They rate especially well when it comes to service outages, customer service, and plan variety.

Nextiva provides services for thousands of local restaurants and businesses across the country. Plus, they've got big names like Allstate, Burger King, Target, APG, and Suzuki on their customer list.

2. Mitel

Mitel offers a combination of cloud and on-site services. Both of these options give businesses a  way to organize call centers and customer service departments. Mitel also integrates cloud and  VoIP phone systems with traditional telephone service.

Why Mitel?

Mitel is a good solution for companies that need heavy-duty call center services. Why? Because they offer traditional phone system equipment for in-person customer service staff. That equipment is feature-rich and offers web chat integration, universal queuing, and customer call back. Additionally, Mitel works well with many third-party apps.

Pricing and Plans

Mitel offers customizable plans, with prices ranging from about $30 to $55 per user per month. However, there are additional charges for call center agents and supervisors. But installation is free when you buy the equipment.

Highlights and Features:

  •   Audio conferencing
  •   Web/Video Conferencing
  •   Desktop Sharing
  •   Online Faxing
  •   Voicemail to text
  •   Call recording
  •   Automated greeting
  •   24/7 Customer service
  •   Cloud storage services
  •   Technicians

Ratings and Reviews

Mitel maintains a rating of 3.7 stars on GetVoIP. Customers appreciate the company's reliability. However, they aren't impressed with unresolved technical support issues and limited professional services.

They serve businesses of all sizes, such as the Liverpool Football Club, Hyatt, Carlsberg, and the Make-a-Wish foundation.

3. MegaPath

MegaPath offers internet and phone bundles for companies that want everything from a single provider. They're leaders in on-premises business phone system solutions. In fact, Megapath gives offices high-tech devices, while also giving employees access to their cloud phone systems.

Why MegaPath?

MegaPath provides business phone services along with internet and network security options. The company personalizes plans for specific industries, including:

  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Real estate
  • Retail
  • Food service
  • Non-profits

MegaPath also offers innovative features like HD Voice, video, and touch screen technology.

Pricing and Plans

Plans start at about $20 per month, with no contract required. They offer a variety of options for businesses of various sizes and industries. There's also a free trial available.

Service Highlights:

  •   Hosted PBX
  •   Data bundles
  •   Voice/video calls
  •   Conference calls from any device
  •   Advanced call analytics
  •   Integration with popular software like Skype and Outlook
  •   Call center technology, with call distributing, queuing, and transfer functions
  •   On-site or remote capabilities
  •   Internet Faxing
  •   SIP Trunking
  •   PRI & analog lines
  •   Desktop sharing
  •   Unified communications for teams and departments
  •   Collaboration and conference tools

Ratings and Reviews

MegaPath has an A+ rating from the BBB and a rating of 4 stars from GetVOIP. They received high marks in customer service, technology, and reliability… Yet just 64% of customers would recommend.

4. OnSIP

OnSIP is a cloud-hosted VoIP system. Its system can be configured and customized without the need for new equipment. It integrates with many third-party apps and provides a straightforward call center experience.

Why OnSIP?

OnSIP works with existing communication systems, so you may not need to upgrade to new equipment. Plus, OnSIP's customer service team is available to answer questions 24/7.

Prices and Plans

OnSIP's plans can be priced two ways: By the minute, or by the user. You can even choose an unlimited plan if that fits with your business's needs. Pricing starts at around $50 per month, but additional per-minute or per-user fees can be added on top. You can also customize plans by adding or subtracting features. A free trial is available.

Highlight features:

  •   Auto attendants
  •   Great customer service
  •   Music on hold channels
  •   Call recording
  •   Announcements
  •   Voicemail to email
  •   Online call directory
  •   Mobile VoIP
  •   Paging
  •   International dialing (for an extra fee)
  •   Conference suites
  •   HD calling
  •   Call management

Ratings and Reviews

OnSIP has a 98 percent customer service satisfaction rating. It seems like their success is on the rise, achieving a 5 star rating last year (compared to 3 stars in 2017.)

Customers rated them highly for technology, reliability, efficiency, and plan versatility. Users include Mozilla, Tumblr, Disqus, and Cloudera.

5. Ooma

Ooma is an affordable and reliable option for small businesses because they provide a range of products. Rather than paying into tiers of services, companies purchase a hardware adapter, and then spend a low monthly fee for all other services.

As you upgrade features, your Ooma Telo business smartphone kit will be updated automatically. This means you can access new features without switching your technology.

Why Ooma?

Ooma installation is easy because users can keep their original phone numbers. All they need to do is upload files to a cloud system.

They offer essential features, along with reliable service, for businesses that don't want to pay for an extensive service list. Not only that, but there's no limit to how many phone lines you can add to your Ooma service.

If that wasn't enough, Ooma also as a simple web platform. Admins can use this platform to track employees, talk between departments, or answer phone calls and emails from anywhere.  The company is also known for:

  • Crystal clear calls
  • A virtual assistant that organizes phone calls and messages
  • An app that allows you to access (almost) every feature you can get on your computer

Prices and Plans

Ooma's Telo technology starts at around $200 and includes two extensions. Then monthly plans start at about $20 per user.

Highlights and Features:

Unlimited calling in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada

Low international rates

Free number transfer

One toll-free number

Main company line number

Business modes for open and closed hours

Mobile app

Virtual extensions

Works on multiple devices

Call logs

Extension-to-extension dialing

No hidden costs

Ratings and Reviews

Customers report an easy-to-use interface and enjoy using their auto-attendant features. However, the company has received low marks for its customer service. Some users have also said their options are limited.

6. 8×8

8×8 is a VoIP system known for its reliability and international calling options. The company offers plans for unlimited calling, texting, and faxing. 8×8 also offer international calling to 40 different countries. For that reason, it's popular with companies that need overseas communication.

Why 8×8?

8×8 are known for their efficiency and 24-hour client support. The configuration manager is known for its ease of use for administrators and employees. And the cloud system allows for global communication and collaboration. Plus, the app is supported by Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, so you can freely switch between devices.

8×8 will work with your company to connect other apps, programs, and tools and unify them under one platform… So long as you have a complete integration. But what about on-site systems? 8×8 has reasonable prices for their phones and technologies… All of which are capable of supporting full call-centers or office buildings with several departments.

Some of 8×8's features include:

Highlight Features:

  •   Unlimited calling
  •   Mobile app access from any device
  •   Online call management
  •   Music on hold
  •   Business SMS plans
  •   Instant messaging/chat
  •   Online contacts and click-to-dial
  •   Web conferencing
  •   Internet Faxing
  •   Call recording
  •   Inbound call center with call waiting, hold options
  •   Contact center
  •   Recording storage
  •   Analytics and graphical reporting

Ratings and Reviews

8×8 has excellent scores across the board. TechRadar recently gave them a 4.5 star rating.

They serve more than a million businesses worldwide, including McDonald's, Aon, Shimano, and Mobi.

7. Phone.com

Phone.com offers more than 40 features and competitive pricing. They also have little to no new equipment and simple installation. It's a great solution for businesses that want a professional appearance but aren't ready to invest in equipment. Phone.com allows you to customize your automated greeting, and give customers a big company feel… Even if they're on a small business budget.

Why Phone.com?

Phone.com's cloud-based system is compatible with most phone systems, so you can use what you already have (or lease IP phones from the company.) Plus, you can choose from an unlimited plan or a per-minute plan to suit the needs of your business.

Pricing and Packages

Phone.com offers basic packages starting at around $15 per month. Its most popular plan is about $20 per month. Customers can also customize plans to save money or gain extra features. And there's a discount for customers that pay annually.

Highlight Features:

  •   Bulk number porting
  •   Call handling rules
  •   Account management
  •   Fax from phone or internet
  •   Automated greetings
  •   HIPAA compliance
  •   Instant setup
  •   Business SMS
  •   U.S. based customer support
  •   HD audio and video
  •   Hold music
  •   International calling
  •   Android and iOS apps
  •   Local numbers
  •   In-call features
  •   Toll-free numbers
  •   Voice tagging

Ratings and Reviews

Phone.com is rated highly for their management options, reliability, call center capabilities, and responsive customer service. They have an A+ rating from the BBB and have successfully resolved most public complaints. However, they don't rate well when it comes to collaboration and productivity features.

8. BroadVoice

BroadVoice is a cloud-based subscription service that caters to inter-company collaboration as well as client communications. Their technology auto-updates, so you don't have to purchase a new phone system to keep up.

BroadVoice is one of the most reliable and security-focused companies. That makes it a great option for businesses that handle online transactions; client information stays protected.

BroadVoice

image: Broadvoice
Why BroadVoice?

BroadVoice has extensive inter-office features that boost productivity and collaboration among team members. The range of services available makes it a good choice for companies with high inbound call rates or several departments. They also have few outages and service interruptions.

Pricing and Plans

BroadVoice starts at around $10 per user per month. The most popular plan starts at around $25 per user per month. BroadVoice also offers moderately priced equipment for on-site services.

Highlight Features:

  •   Call catch
  •   Call forwarding
  •   Call hold
  •   Automated communicator
  •   Hot desking or hoteling
  •   Intercom systems
  •   Multiple device extensions
  •   One number
  •   Paging
  •   Call recording
  •   SMS
  •   Unlimited domestic calling
  •   Virtual Fax
  •   Local numbers

Ratings and Reviews

Broadvoice has a rating between 4 and 4.5 stars across several platforms. They have a B- rating from the BBB. Concerns include upfront costs and inefficient customer service. But users tend to appreciate their high tech cloud services and productivity features.

9. Avaya

Small and large businesses alike benefit from the functions and features offered by Avaya. They have more than 700 services, making them one of the most sophisticated options.

Why Avaya?

Avaya is well suited for mid-sized companies that need sophisticated VoIP systems. Why? Because they have more than 700 communication services.

For example: You can talk to a representative that can help create a personalized system that allows you to manage your business better.

Avaya offers 24/7 customer service and setup support. The interface is a little more complicated than most companies on this list, but this is mostly because of the variety of services offered. To make up for that, Avaya trains all employees to use their system once it's installed. Adapting to their system isn't entirely painless, but once your company is set up, you can expect reliable service at a flat rate.

Pricing and Plans

Avaya is very customizable, so pricing depends on your company's needs. There's also the initial hardware installation, which requires a one-time purchase of the phones and headsets Avaya works with. There is standard pricing for Avaya's cloud unification services, with three plans to choose from. Those range from about $20 to $35 per month.

Feature Highlights:

  •   Intuitive admin portal
  •   Streamlined mobile and desktop apps with a softphone
  •   Contact center apps
  •   Analytics and reporting
  •   Advanced routing
  •   Workforce optimization
  •   Self-service options
  •   Cloud services
  •   Consulting
  •   Solution design and integration
  •   Conferencing
  •   HD voice and video

Ratings and Reviews

Users rate Avaya between 4.5 and 5 stars across multiple platforms. Gartner rates them 4.2 stars.

But despite their advanced features, some users had technical queries when figuring out the platform. Others have also suggested that some elements were difficult to use. Avaya's customers said they had excellent customer relations, reliability, and useful features.

Methodology 

We compiled information from:

  • Reliable tech service websites
  • The Better Business Bureau
  • Consumer Affairs
  • Business website

To figure out which companies topped the list, we looked at:

  • Pricing and Total Costs — It's important to look at all the details. Some companies have hidden fees, or charge more for services than they advertise. Plus, some providers charge extra for new phones and equipment. These costs should be factored into the total cost of a system.
  • Types of Business Phone Plans — Unlimited, monthly, per-minute, per-user, or custom-made plans are available. Not all types of programs are compatible with every kind of business. Small businesses don't want to pay for extra features that they don't use. Large enterprises need more than just the standard packaging. We've outlined the types of plans each top company offers.
  • Ratings and Reviews — The fun doesn't stop once products are installed and your VoIP technology gets updated. It's vital that service stays stable, problems are addressed, and rates stay the same. It's important to read through positive and negative reviews to see what the potential problems are — and determine whether your business can handle them.
  • Ease-of-Use — To run efficiently, most enterprises need an easy-to-use system. We looked at how long installation and integration take, as well as the simplicity of each platform. Reviews from the App Store give details for each company's mobile app capabilities. This helps you to find a provider that supplies technology you can use.
  • Technological Capabilities — Technology is growing fast. You might not even be sure exactly what services your business needs. That's why we've broken down each company by the types of services and capabilities they provide.
  • Customer Service History — We looked at ratings with the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs to determine any outstanding red flags. We picked the companies that have the best scores across the board–even from official agencies.

Finding the Best Services

Nextiva, Mitel, MegaPath, OnSip, Ooma, 8×8, Phone.com, BroadVoice, and Avaya are the top choices to explore. It's not just their popularity; ratings and combination of capabilities and services are all taken into consideration.

We also looked at their reputations, as well as their integration into the small business world. Both of these make them worthwhile choices in the industry.

Regardless of which you choose, all companies have more than four stars from real-life users. Minor differences aside, they're all top contenders for all small businesses nationwide.

We used trustworthy websites, such as:

  • GetVoip.com
  • SoftwareAdvice.com
  • PCMag.com
  • Business.com

… to find the business phone systems that customers are sticking to.

Choosing the Best Service

We figured out the ins and outs of each provider so that your business can find the option best-suited to your employees and customers.

We took the highest rated companies and figured out what they're best (and worst) at. You can use the answers to judge which is most compatible with what you're looking for.

Researching Each Business Phone Service

We also looked at official reports from the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Affairs department. This made sure we were working with accurate information. We considered:

  • Ratings
  • Complaints
  • Average reported response times
  • Fees and costs

The conclusions we've drawn are an accurate reflection of their services. The goal? To help small business owners sift through the technical details of business phone systems.

Choosing Between Different Phone Systems for Small Businesses

The technology you choose can have a massive impact on the way you do business. The options we've shared work whether you want to update outdated communication methods, or simply look more professional.

The right service can do wonders for your business. Why? Because you could increase your customer service output and employee productivity… All while reducing your overall costs.

Growing companies need systems that will grow with them as they hire more employees, open more locations, and expand internationally. Before settling on a company, figure out the type of phone system your workplace needs.

Landlines are Dying

Businesses have depended on the copper wires of landlines for centuries. The last two decades have entirely revolutionized these systems. Few companies are sticking with landline solutions in 2019. Sure, landline phone systems are known for their reliability. But business is increasingly done online. You can save time, money, and provide better features for your customers by switching to a digital system.

Landlines are still used across some office buildings for their security and conference features. But today's cloud and VoIP equipment make it easier to communicate between offices.  And if that wasn't impressive enough, you can record automated greetings. This makes your central call service centers cost-effective as you save on salaries and other overhead costs.

Plus, it's more and more difficult to find technicians that work with analog systems. Finding an IT professional can be difficult and pricey. (This is why telephone companies are shifting their focus from analog to cloud.) As a result, technicians are more capable of solving problems for advanced systems.

VoIP Services for Businesses

VoIP technology works with existing phone lines and high-speed internet connection. You can:

  • Use video and phone conferencing services
  • Connect to other departments
  • Store documents
  • Keep track of incoming and outgoing phone calls

You can also get services like voicemail to text or email, internet faxing, and chat options for your website, Each of these optimize customer service features.

A VoIP provider allows you to choose your phone number or a toll-free number. This is the same way an old telephone company would. The only difference? The extra internet services. Small businesses rely on VoIP services for automated greetings and a call service center. Both of these organizes phone calls without the need for extra staff members. A professional calling system gives your business a new edge… And customers will take notice.

As your business grows, you can still add VoIP services to your plan. A digital process makes it easy to connect with new employees. And most providers allow admins to set up new lines within the system's portal, so scalability is a significant benefit of VoIP services. Advances in technology make VoIP arrangements easy and fast to set up. So much so, that most interfaces are created with employee usability in mind.

On-Premises Phone Systems

Most companies offer a mixture of cloud and on-premises services. But some companies only offer one or the other. It's important to know which type of service is best for your industry and call volume.

You need an on-premises system if you're working in an office or workplace with a team of people. The same applies if you have a large company that makes lots of calls every day. Hybrid options mean you can communicate through an online platform… Rather than relying on out-of-date technology.  Plus, phone and call center systems are updated to tie in with VoIP and cloud services. This means you can expect easy-to-use technology with an on-premises VoIP system.

But what if you're used to analog phone systems? Interestingly, it's the most comfortable switch to make. You can use online services like chat, voicemail to email, and internet faxing… And still get the inter-office conference phone system you're used to. These systems do need regular maintenance and a storage place (usually your office's server closet.) Plus, you might need IT experts to maintain the system. This depends on how extensive it is.

The bottom line? An on-premise VoIP system is still as secure as a regular analog. All your business's information is always stored within your physical wall space.

And, unlike cloud systems, your VoIP system is almost impossible to hack. Most companies need to have security certifications to function. But with VOIP, you can rest assured that your company's information is safe.

Cloud Features for Small Businesses

Businesses are using cloud-hosted phone systems to boost their productivity and efficiency. That's because cloud systems bring together employees and don't need much physical equipment (most of the time.)

It's perfect for businesses that do a lot of outsourcing or work remotely. But cloud systems are taking over traditional offices, too.  By connecting the entire company to one easy-to-use platform, employees can:

  • Easily access the files they need
  • Communicate with each other
  • Organize their phone calls and messages

… All of which means they can provide a service to their clients more effectively.

Your business only needs phones and a reliable internet connection. Your business cloud provider will take care of everything else. Plus, you don't need a server closet to get started with cloud technology. The provider maintains all the actual equipment. The key is choosing a provider that offers the right amount of bandwidth. It's also wise to check they've got excellent service ratings from other customers.

Service interruptions have always been a worry. But with upgrades in technology, these are becoming less of a nuisance.

This option is great for small businesses because of the low overhead costs. They give businesses the professional organization they need, with consistent monthly fees. The best part? Any company can afford one of the basic packages, at least to get them started on their way to a profitable cloud-based endeavor.

How to Choose the Best Business Phone System for Your Business

Struggling to decide which phone system is best for your business?

The best way is to consider your own needs and make sure your chosen provider offers those services. Sure, there are basic packages and plans. But you'll have to speak directly to an advisor to get information about customized plans. Knowing what you're looking for before you call a sales agent at a company will help you choose an ideal service.

Before settling, think about:

Employees — How many employees does your business have? Are they working in a shared space, different offices, or remotely? Do you need the ability to add new workers to the system quickly? Take a look at the company's app and interface, make sure it's simple enough for your employees to use. The number of employees and the type of system they can connect to will make a big difference in which service provider to turn to.

Budget — Think about whether you're ready to buy an entirely new phone system for your office. Some companies only work with specific pieces of equipment, so you'll have to factor that into your budget. The top 10 companies offer different price points and services. Before you make a final decision, make sure there are no hidden fees or extra services that you'll need to pay for.

Extras and features — Do you want to keep your office as simple as possible? Or take advantage of the incredible technological advances that VoIP companies offer? You can switch to internet faxing, video-conferencing, or use business SMS to contact your clients. Think about what you'd like your company to have other than the standard attendants and calling capabilities. Many companies allow you to customize plans or add in other features for a certain cost. Knowing these requirements helps in the long run. Why? Because you can make sure your new business phone system can adhere to your needs.

Fine print — Ask questions, and carefully look over any contracts before you sign them. Find out if you're required to have a yearly contract and when it's up for renewal so that you avoid extra charges. Ask about termination fees and refund policies. Companies that happily answer those questions and have nothing to hide are going to be your best bet.

Most companies offer friendly service. I if you're not entirely sure how VoIP works or what features you need, they can explain how their service can benefit you. You should also talk to your IT department and see what they recommend. (These will be the people doing the bulk of the maintenance on your end.)

Ask which IT services each company can offer you in case your service goes down. (You want as much uptime as possible.) Then, talk to your employees and see what services they'd like to increase their efficiency.  Most people have experience with smart technology and know exactly what services are needed to upgrade for a better experience. So, rely on the people around you to help you choose the best possible service.

Most Important Features for SMBs

This list lays out the highlight features of each company. However, they all offer more services than they can list on their websites. The features you'll need depends on various factors, such as the size of your company, what industry you're in, and how many customers you have. Make sure that the plan you choose has these essential features as you scan the price list.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems — This is an automated greeting that your customers will hear as soon as they dial your number. This service can transfer phone calls to the right department, take messages, or put clients on hold. It's essential to have a professional greeting for all companies, large or small. That's because they cut the need to hire extra staff to handle the switching. That's what makes it affordable for start-ups.

Call Queuing — A digitized call queue helps your company provide exceptional customer service. (For that reason, it's great if you have a call center, or your business is growing and getting more phone calls.)

Some services have features that allow you to track features such as:

  • The rate of phone calls
  • What departments clients are contacting
  • Dropped calls

Don't leave your customers behind. You can put customers on hold until they can reach an agent. This makes all the difference in the world when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Number Porting — With this, you can take your old number or numbers with you when you switch providers. (The last thing you want to do is disrupt their ability to reach you… Especially if you have lots of customers.) It's best to pick a provider that has this service. With it,  you can ensure you won't miss any customer interactions as you make a technological change.

Call Recording — Listening to calls helps several departments. For example, you can improve your services, boost your marketing campaigns, and generate new sales.

Most large companies record phone calls as a way to keep track of their customer service agents. In turn, this makes sure that clients are hanging up happy.

Voicemail to Email — Your employees will love this feature. Granted, it sounds like a small change. But turning voicemail to email increases your company's efficiency and reduces the risk of missing out on instant business. Most people read emails on their desktop or smartphone. This way, they can see right away when something urgent happens… Rather than waiting to get into the office the next day and listen to their voicemails.

Integration with Third-Party Apps — Most businesses use programs to do the bulk of their work. (Think Outlook, Slack, and Skype.)  This helps you incorporate the applications you already use to streamline your work… Rather than forcing you to switch over to a new system. Most of these companies upload your files to one single system. This means that any employee can easily access the documents they need.

Mobile and Cross-Platform Technology — All of these companies offer a mobile app, which is vital for modern business. Pay attention to the quality of the app and read reviews before settling on a company. But despite those mobile experiences, not every app has the same features as the desktop version. So, make a list of the mobile features you need.   Check it works with Microsoft, iOS, Android, and Apple devices. This makes sure your employees can use it from anywhere.

Business SMS and Internet Faxing — Incorporating text messages into business communications is relatively new. But the best companies are jumping on the opportunity. More people look at their text messages than they do their email. Sso, it's a lot more likely that your customers will see your text and respond, giving you a new marketing method. Most people also prefer to text their coworkers. A business SMS plan allows you to do that from one business number. Internet faxing is also a must. As you phase out old technology, internet faxing saves your business time and money.

Conference Calling — This is already a standard feature in most office buildings, but VoIP and cloud services makes it much easier. Each employee has access to a virtual conference room where they can invite their own participants. High-tech platforms allow you to click and dial to add users, making it easier than ever to connect teams. If your provider doesn't have a conference service, there are outside services you can pay for. Most VoIP packages make it so simple to host a conference call that there's no need to use an external app.

Analytics Tools — For a business with a high call volume, analytics tools break down information. This makes it easier to streamline your company. These reports give you key information, such as:

  • Which departments are getting the most calls
  • The length of the call
  • Other general statistics about phone usage

Management and Admin Features — This allows the right employees to access analytics tools. Plus, they can manage employees, add new lines, integrate employees, create ring groups, and set call forwarding routes. These tools give you control over your business' communication. Nothing will slip past you!

Earlier, we mentioned how companies offer customizable options. This helps you take advantage of the best tools. Not only that but staying on top of technological developments can push your business forward… And reach your full potential.

These tools improve customer service, streamline tedious tasks, and drop time-wasting technologies… All of which can help your company become the best in its industry.

But the best place to start? By understanding the developments and features that companies are now offering for businesses. Companies that don't evolve with technology are missing out on amazing features that could expand their business. And, as these companies grow, they're always adding new features and support systems. You can continue to count on VoIP and cloud services to mature along with you. Why wouldn't your business want to take advantage of that?

Basic FAQ for Business Phone Systems

What is VoIP?

VoIP is an acronym for Voice Over Internet Protocol, also known as Voice over IP, or IP telephony. It refers to the group of technologies that transfer voice communications (and other multimedia) via the internet.

VoIP is a phone service over the internet. Instead of copper-wire phone calls, VoIP converts analog calls into packets of data. This data then travels over the IP network.

Using VoIP services means you can call cell phones and landlines… Without having to work with a traditional phone company.

Most analog phone companies are on their way out. As a result, more businesses than ever are getting their phone service from a VoIP provider. Why? Because it's cheaper, and the quality of sound and service is better. Plus, VoIP stores vast systems of data online. This makes it easy to communicate with customers and clients. Switching to VoIP allows your employees to place phone calls from a variety of devices, such as their desktops, laptops, and mobile phones. Most companies have an app available for download. This gives users the opportunity to sync their work across different channels.

VoIP companies have lower rates than traditional phone companies. That's why many small businesses go for a VoIP connection than anything else. VoIP technologies are affordable. Plus, they give small companies the technology they need to compete against bigger corporations.

VoIP lines can improve the customer service experience for your clients. Not only that, but your employees will appreciate the technology-driven change in the workplace. (Most people use smartphones and computers to do just about anything.) VoIP capabilities give workers a way to deal with formerly time-consuming situations. It's easier to arrange conference calls, answer voicemails and send faxes.

Some big companies use VoIP services in addition to analog telephone service. But most businesses don't need both. Plus, most VoIP providers can work with traditional office phones. Some VoIP companies supply you with telephone and internet services.

What is a PBX?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. It's a private telephone network that's used by a company to communicate internally and externally, on different channels. (This includes VoIP, analog phones, or online.)A PBX connects different phone numbers under one company line. Most businesses have this system in place.

A PBX unites offices with one phone number, regardless of how many phones are plugging in. This saves money for businesses with dozens of phone lines.

This system has been around for a long time. An analog PBX system has limits, constraining a business to a number of devices or extensions. Offices that need more than what an analog PBX can offer them are turning to VoIP solutions. VoIP providers now can carry limitless lines or allow clients to pay-in per line. These systems make it simple to add a new phone number so that employees can connect right away. A PBX system encompasses modems and fax machines that are related to your business's phone number.

Besides, more sophisticated PBX systems can give you a variety of features. You can create ring groups, queues, digital receptionists, voicemail services, and analytics tools. But when choosing a phone provider, pay particular attention to PBX security. Most companies have methods of defense, like firewalls like that come installed with the service.

Why is SIP Trunking Important?

Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, is the process by which voice travels over a VoIP service. It's the technology that makes your phone calls, text messages and voicemails happen in real-time. (To put simply: It's the digital version of the way analog telephones worked.) This technology takes care of interoffice communications as well as outside calls.

Companies have used for companies that required several lines. A SIP trunk is the virtual version of a switchboard. A SIP trunk is what connects new phone numbers to your service. This allows all your other lines to make local and long-distance calls from multiple offices at the same time. This helps when an employee picks up the office phone to make a call. That call information goes to an on-site PBX (off-site if you're using strictly cloud-based services). The PBX system uses SIP trunking to make phone calls via the internet.

Most VoIP business phone systems offer SIP trunking as a part of the package. This system has a setup fee and a monthly cost. But if you use a provider that includes SIP services, you won't have to pay extra. Some places charge by the meter – every minute counts. This is fine if your small business rarely uses their phone lines. However, companies that have several lines should think about using a service that maintains their SIP trunks.

Using CTI for Small Business

Computer Telephony Integration is any technology that mixes computer and telephone devices. It's designed to be used in call centers. But most businesses rely on CTI to increase employee productivity.

In a call center, CTI technology gives an agent many different opportunities. For example, they can:

  • Look up information on the person they're speaking to
  • Use phone controls
  • Transfer phone calls to another department with the click of a button

CTI technology allows office workers to use similar features. They can use click to dial, automated dialing, set up conferences, track IVR, and more.

Does your business had an automated greeting or a central digital call center? You can use CTI tools to:

  • Use call routine to route calls to the right agent
  • Log and record calls
  • Display pending live calls from a queue
  • Create directories of clients and customers

Any feature that telephoning saves companies time. Plus, they can cut overhead costs, and create a  better internal structure.

Best Business Phone System Summary

For All Businesses: Nextiva

Nextiva gives companies with internal VoIP and cloud-based services. That helps boost business phone capabilities, and strengthen relationships… Purely because they have a new way to organize and reach out to their customers.

The easy-to-use platform gives workplaces a straightforward interface for all their communications. This means your employees can:

  • Use click-to-dial features
  • Collaborate efficiently
  • Use organizational tools (like calendars and appointment scheduling)

The website chat feature gives clients a new way to reach out to their favorite companies. It's no wonder why customers love it!

For Call Centers and Office Phones: Mitel

Mitel has a combination of cloud and on-premises VoIP systems. That makes them great for a call center or large business that needs:

Reliable technology variety of call center options

Excellent hardware

They integrate with programs most large companies are already using. (Salesforce, for example.) This means your employees can continue to work with the same systems they're used to.

Companies with lots of calls can rely on Mitel to:

  • Make sure that customers stay on hold
  • Get transferred to the right department
  • Use webchat to solve technical issues

For Big Businesses: MegaPath

Large companies rely on MegaPath to be their sole provider for internet and business phone system features. Why? Because when companies are overwhelmed with options, it's easier to use MegaPath. That way, you're billed all at once.

MegaPath has affordable technology that helps companies to go from an analog system to a VoIP system… Without the disruption. They can also use a combination of on-premises and cloud features to do their work. Plus, MegaPath has well-trained technicians to help solve any problems that arise. There's also a 24-hour help desk that companies can contact if their system goes down.

For Easy Customization: OnSIP

OnSIP is great for small businesses and SMBs, as well as companies that plan on expanding. They have a variety of features that you can turn into a customized plan that suits your needs. You won't overpay for things you don't use. OnSIP also has a customer service agent that helps you put together a package. This is a group of functional features that make daily communication tasks easier for employees and customers alike.

To summarize: OnSIP is a superb option for companies that don't want to buy new technology. It's also perfect for those who prefer a more modern, cloud-based take on communication.

For Small Offices: Ooma

Ooma's technology is perfect for small offices that need call centers on-site.

Granted, you will have to pay extra for their base equipment. But it's still cheaper than most companies. That's why it serves the needs of small businesses that are ready to expand their communication features.

Best Small Business Phone Systems for 2020

image: Ooma
Ooma combines digital voice reception technology with important office features. It gives small businesses the chance to create a better customer service experience for their clients. Plus, they're known for providing exceptional service. Only a few dropped calls sneak in, and there are no interruptions.

For SMBs: 8×8

Their cloud-based network requires no IT department. That makes it a perfect system for small and mid-sized businesses.

Plus, 8×8 are one of the few business phone systems that provide free international calling. And, companies that do business overseas love 8×8's capabilities and price points.

They have an easy-to-use interface and a customer service team that is available 24-hours a day. It's no wonder why 8×8 is one of the most popular business phone companies.

For Easy Installation: Phone.com

Phone.com has affordable cloud and VoIP options for businesses of all sizes. However, the best feature of Phone.com is a quick and easy installation. You can start using your services as soon as your company is signed up and the technology is installed. You won't lose any time as you make a digital switch.

For Comprehensive Service: BroadVoice

Are you tired of service interruptions? Count on BroadVoice to provide a stable network. With global centers, there's almost no chance your internet will go down. Plus, BroadVoice has some of the most affordable rates for offices with dozens of employees. Plans start at just $10 per line.

BroadVoice has a combination of on-premises, VoIP, and cloud-based systems. That helps keep large enterprises running smoothly.

For Extensive Features: Avaya

Avaya is an excellent solution for SMBs and larger businesses that need a range of services. They offer more than 700 features. This allows Avaya to put together customized plans that combine VoIP and cloud systems… All of which are designed to boost interoffice communications and improve customer service.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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Can A Small Business Market Itself For Free? Here Are 13 Creative Tactics To Consider - Forbes

Posted: 21 Oct 2019 05:15 AM PDT

Small businesses are usually at a severe disadvantage when it comes to marketing budgets. Larger companies can spend many times over in a single campaign what small companies have to stretch for an entire year.

However, that doesn't mean that small businesses can't be competitive. On the contrary, the newest innovations in technology and marketing show that some very effective methods of marketing won't cost a small business a cent to capitalize on.

To help small businesses get creative with their marketing and successfully compete with larger companies while spending little to no money, 13 members of Forbes Agency Council share their best creative tactics.

Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. Create Content That Adds Value

The most critical and effective way is to create and publish value-added content. Give people a reason to follow your journey that does not include you attempting to sell your products. If you add value consistently over time, you will gain an audience that inherently comes to you when your service is needed. Add value first, and the revenue will follow. - Ryan Sprance, Kaihatsu Media

2. Share Your Expertise

Social media is the obvious free marketing solution for many small businesses, but you can up your game by offering more than goodwill or self-promotion. Webinars, how-to videos, infographics and white papers are all great ways to offer value to potential customers and display your knowledge. Focus on educating your customers to deliver a soft sell that positions you as the expert. - Hannah Trivette, NUVEW Web Solutions

3. Leverage Free Social Media Opportunities

Instagram, TikTok and even Facebook is free. Yes, there are paid options to "boost" things, but there is still open space in organic content. If you are too small to swing big on billboards or your medium of choice, start a TikTok or podcast and get people to like you, for you. - Kirk Westwood, Glass River Media

4. Work With Influencers With Small Reaches

If you are on a small/nonexistent budget, these best way to generate buzz is to work with influencers with small reaches, who are just starting to get traction and want to be associated with brands. They can help with forming a strong community around your brand and build your brand awareness at the same time. - Emilie Tabor, IMA - Influencer Marketing Agency

5. Fill Out Your Google My Business Profile

Who said nothing in life is free? It may take a bit of elbow grease, but correctly and completely filling out your Google My Business profile is one of the first big steps in local marketing. Filling this profile out thoroughly, combined with other major local listings, can definitely get you on the local search radar. Sprinkle in some five-star reviews from clients and you are well on your way! - Andrew Oziemblo, Chicago SEO Geeks

6. Join Facebook Groups

The easiest and best way to market a small business on a low to no budget is to use Facebook Groups to provide value talk about the amazing things you are doing in your field. Answer questions with value and you'll be able to see traction from people wanting your help. - Sam Founda, Social Connection

7. Use Instagram To Gain Exposure

Having built my entire business, reputation and following by using Instagram creatively -- and helping tons of businesses do the same -- it's important to remember that social media is your most powerful weapon when you need to get the word out but don't have the dollars to do so. Bonus points if you collaborate with other local businesses as a means to gain exposure through Instagram! - Michelle Dempsey, Very Well-Written Marketing

8. Get Involved In Your Community

Getting involved in your community, lending branded products for use in local productions and events, and volunteering your time can make a huge impact on your business. Also, make sure to tag people you work with -- they're likely to share your posts and tag you as well. - JC Hite, Hite Digital

9. Start Locally And Expand From There

Small business owners should work with local PR firms to begin generating buzz. From there, they can put local coverage on social media to amplify their messages. This doubles as a test run -- if an idea is not cool locally, it won't be cool regionally or nationally. Starting locally establishes credibility, which can be expanded upon. There's a lot to be said about the power of earned media. - Scott Harkey, OH Partners

10. Partner With A Nonprofit

Connecting with your ideal client and competing for market share can be expensive. Sometimes the best use of your budget is to partner with a cause that is close to your brand in the form of donating funds as an incentive for organic engagement on your social media profiles. This provides you an opportunity to spend your budget on a tax deductible organization and provide relevant, shareable content. - Amanda Ellis Stein, Logical Position

11. Get Listed In Directories

No matter what industry your small business is in, there are online directories that will let you list your business and a short description of what you do. These directories often do well in search results, and the placement can improve your search traffic, too. Many of these directories have paid options for additional visibility, but the basic listing is often free. - Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

12. Pitch A Story Idea To The Media

Media outlets have reporters who are looking for something newsworthy to do stories about. If you or your company are doing something that could be considered newsworthy, create a pitch and send it. An easy way to identify the right journalist is to find and follow journalists in your space on Twitter, then follow their tweets. When you're ready to make your pitch, send a direct message. - Nancy Marshall, Marshall Communications

13. Offer A Sample Or "Test Drive"

Sampling is tried-and-true and incredibly cost-effective. A direct route to discovery is still the best way to win a customer. If you sell a product that can be sampled, offer samples. If your product has a high unit cost (e.g., a car) or you offer a service, then a trial or "test drive" serves the same purpose. - Lon Otremba, Bidtellect

Ready To Start Your Own Business? Follow These 13 Steps Before Making The Leap - Forbes

Posted: 21 Oct 2019 10:15 AM PDT

When you're thinking about turning your passion into your own business, the pull can often feel too strong to ignore. You may have even considered leaving the comfort and security of your current job to pursue that passion. But before you do, you want to make sure you're prepared for anything and everything to happen.

As highly successful business and career coaches, Forbes Coaches Council members can recommend the smartest way to successfully make the leap from a 9-to-5 job to entrepreneurship. If you're thinking about leaving the daily grind to start your own business venture, read on for their words of wisdom.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Build A Financial Cushion

Our higher purpose, passion or meaning can be disrupted by a call toward basic survival. How can I live my dream but also put food on the table? These two parts of our psyche can become conflicting. Chronic worry is detrimental to a purpose-driven life. Have at least some financial cushion in the bank. You need to feel safe in order to reach for the stars. - Cheryl Leong, Leading with Consciousness

2. Understand Your True Motivations

First, hire a coach to help you get clear about your real motivations and do an accurate assessment of your temperament for entrepreneurship. If you answer those questions in the affirmative, put the critical pieces (strategic plan, marketing plan and brand) into place before you jump. When your business is ready for you, leaving your job will feel like a step rather than a leap of faith. - Kimberly Errigo, Genius Life Group

3. Be Sure Your Passion Is Profitable

You might be passionate about underwater basket weaving, but if there's no viable market for it, you're setting yourself up for failure. My advice? Figure out how you can complement your passion with your skill set. Maybe your passion is diversity and inclusion, but that hasn't been in this space. Think of how can you use your transferable leadership skills and connections to get your foot in the door. - Lizette Ojeda, Dr. Lizette LLC

4. Learn From Other Entrepreneurs

It's easy to romanticize something you're passionate about, especially if you're unhappy in a current role. Before making any career leap, do your due diligence. Talk to entrepreneurs as much as possible to understand the pitfalls and possible worst-case scenarios so that you can plan for the worst and position yourself for success. Learning from other's experiences will help you cover your downside. - Molly Walsh, Standout Consulting

5. Identify And Own Your Purpose

I work with many clients that ignite their purpose and, once they get clear on it, it's so powerful. One of the best things you can do is to own that purpose and connect it to a transition strategy. This means finding mentors to help you set up a timeline for living your passion, resources that will help you build your strengths to succeed and strategies for fiscally transitioning to your passion. - Dr. Denise Trudeau-Poskas, Blue Egg Leadership

6. Uncover Your 'Why'

It matters not how clear you are on what you want to do or who you want to serve. Your success—personal and professional—depends upon your clarity around your why. Why this business? Why this audience? When it gets hard, when challenges arise and when the 3 a.m. sweats come, your why keeps you going. When success comes, when the money flows, your why keeps you focused! - David Taylor-Klaus, PCC, CPCC, CTPC, DTK Coaching, LLC

7. Practice By Bringing Your Passion To Your Current Role

Tough decision: Leave my current role, with more safety, or leave to pursue my great passion. What would it take to incorporate your current passion into your current role? If you could do that, you would get to "practice" with a safety net and begin to try on your passion. Work in a volunteer position. Bring your passion to work. Then, when you're sure, make the full leap to your own gig! - John Hittler, Evoking Genius

8. Launch Your Business As A Side Hustle First

The top piece of advice I would give to professionals thinking about leaving their current jobs and starting their own businesses is to do it, first, as a side hustle. Just think of it as a proof of concept of something you might be doing for the rest of your life. Often, kids in college or graduate school intern in the industry in which they plan to work. This is a brilliant way to test things out. - Heather R. Younger, J.D., Customer Fanatix, LLC

9. Be Patient While You Build

Successful entrepreneurs don't achieve that success overnight. In fact, many are paranoid on a regular basis of failing! You'll need a "stick-to-it" attitude to weather the slow times. You'll need to focus on working on your business as much as working in your business. Finally, are you ready to move from the security of a regular paycheck to chase your dreams? - Ed Krow, Ed Krow, LLC

10. Find A Small Step You Can Take To Move Forward Right Now

I would encourage you to ask yourself, "What are some steps I can take right now that would lower the overall risk and increase the forward motion toward the business that supports my passion?" We often have a mentality that it is an either/or decision. Instead, consider both for a little while until it is wise to make the full jump. While you are taking those steps, utilize resources like the Small Business Development Center. - Sheeba Varghese, Coach Sheeba

11. Confront Everything That Could Go Wrong

Create a list of all the things that could go wrong. Yes, it is a downer, but also helpful. This list identifies the brutal realities, so you can build a plan that addresses the known hurdles. If you don't know what the likely pitfalls are, enlist the help of someone who does. Finding the holes now is better than after you leave. Passion and planning are required to build a business. - Leann Wolff, Great Outcomes Consulting

12. Pick A Date To Start

The fantasy of starting a business can feel simultaneously alluring and impossible. Pick a date in the distance by which you'd like to be gainfully self-employed. Slowly build your plan, letting it take shape as you have the time and inspiration. How much money would your business need to net monthly? Collect data, brainstorm and build lists about possible offers, pricing and target audiences. - Stephanie Hartman, Catalyst Consulting

13. Get To Know Your Strengths And Weaknesses

Over 15 years ago, I started thinking about starting my own business. Before I left my job, I spent significant time with mentors who helped me consider areas I knew well and areas I needed help and support with. This feedback and advice helped me get a number of issues in place before I cut the cord and became an entrepreneur. Many of these conversations are valuable if you consider a change. - Dan Ryan, Ryan Search & Consulting