Business owners need to connect
As a business owner, it's fair to say that the internet and phone are the lifeblood of my operation, especially in these days of email, digital marketing and search engine optimisation.
But there are dozens of products and bundles to sift through, which can be a time-consuming challenge. Greg Bader, iiNet's chief business officer, says that "because you don't want to spend all your time worrying about it, the best advice is to go with something that is simple to understand and use".
Internet comes first
For a small business it is internet first, mobile second, with a landline a distant third. "These days it's debatable whether you need a landline at all if you're a small business," says Bader. "The internet just gives you so much, with email the most popular method for communicating with customers and suppliers."
Joseph Hanlon, from telco rating service WhistleOut, says it's possible to ditch a fixed line entirely if you choose a VoIP service. "If you have the right sort of broadband plan, you can be bundling your data and voice calls all in the same package. These days VoIP services are very good."
Bader says the days of spending $2000 to wire an office for ADSL with cables and phone lines are long gone. Ugh! My business spent at least this amount cabling up our new workplace 18 months ago and we still need to pay Telstra a monthly fee for a landline to run our broadband and VoIP-based communications.
Hanlon says that most offices are wired up. "What's more, we won't be talking about these issues in 12 to 18 months as the NBN will replace the need for copper wire into premises."
After concluding that the internet is a must, the next step is to work out whether you'll be operating from shared or your own premises, and for how long. "If it's a pop-up shop, for example, then you are probably going to run on a mobile broadband solution," says Bader.
Mobile broadband plans are typically delivered by 4G mobile networks mostly via a wireless modem. "A mobile broadband solution will be expensive if you use a lot of data in your business," says Hanlon. However, if you're just doing some light browsing and sending and receiving emails, a mobile broadband connection through one of the big players might be more cost-effective. For example, with a Telstra small business broadband plan, you will pay $65 for 8GB of data. "This might be enough depending on the type of business you're running and it means you're not locked into a contract," says Hanlon.
In contrast, it's possible to get almost 10 times more data with a fixed-line broadband ADSL service - and it won't cost a lot more. "Fixed-line broadband is the cheapest way to deliver internet volume to someone," says Bader. "Starting from about $80 a month, with a basic fixed-line ADSL plan you should be able to get a phone line, broadband and some calls." Often with a business fixed-line ADSL package, some local and national calls will be thrown in, along with discounted calls to 1300 and 13 numbers, and international and mobile phone calls.
"Packaging up the internet with phone calls also makes sense from a cash flow perspective and removes any unexpected billing dramas," says Bader.
When it comes to mobile plans, you shouldn't pay more than $50 or $60 a month, which will give you around 3GB of data. Hanlon says it's possible to shave these costs by going with smaller resellers, which charge closer to $40 for 3GB. (See whistleout.com.au to compare mobile plans.)
Either way, this should be more than enough data, according to Bader. "The majority of data that is downloaded to a mobile phone is over a wifi rather than 4G network," he says. "If you have wifi at home and in the office, you really don't need a lot of data on the phone."
Finally, is it best to bundle mobile phones in with your internet? "The average telco will say yes," says Bader. "However, it will depend on your circumstances. Telstra does have the best network coverage in the country. But there is a premium for this."
Anthony O'Brien is a small business and personal finance writer with 20-plus years' experience in the communication industry.
Connect with customers by Liz Fotiouu, iiNet
Every small business should have a customer retention strategy to maximise their existing database and grow their bottom line. Client loyalty isn't built in a day, so it's important to connect with your customers regularly, whether it's through email engagement or enticing them in store with free wifi. In today's digital age, customers want to be connected all the time. For businesses with a physical shopfront, free wifi can increase customer spend and enjoyment, giving them another reason to choose you over competitors. Other retention strategies include regular emails or phone calls to promote new products or offers. By making the effort to engage with customers, you're well on your way to taking customer service to the next level.