I see a lot of small businesses being run on 3 or 4 line telephone sets. These are sets like you might purchase from an office discount store or a website like Hello Direct. They might be 3 or 4 line sets with no connectivity features coupled with a phone company voice mail box or they may be "KSUless" systems that offer some business telephone system features without the need to purchase additional equipment. They may offer some level of intercom, call transfer, and possibly very basic voice mail. These types of simple set-ups can be a low upfront cost alternative to purchasing a telephone system and can be an adequate option for certain types [RCA phone] of small businesses. For instance, small retail locations where the bulk of customer interaction is face to face walk in traffic. However, for companies where the telephones may be the "front door" many customers come through, I would caution that these types of of phone sets may not project the professional image you are looking for. Be wary of potential issues like voicemail that a customer cannot zeroed out of, lack of ability for individual voice mail boxes, poor voice mail and/or handset sound quality, voice mail that is not easily retrieved, lack of on hold music or messages, ineffective answering options to handle multiple callls at once, ineffective call transfer methods All of these can affect a callers perception of your business and can cut into the productivity of your staff.
So, if you need to keep costs down, but would like your business to project a professional image and have access to true telephone system productivity features, what do you do? If you have a reliable hardwired computer network and good Internet connection, I recommend you explore hosted IP telephone system options. In many cases a hosted PBX telephone system will allow you to keep upfront cost down, may actually be cheaper than paying for "phone company" or "cable company" phone lines, and will give you access to high level features, high quality sound, and a trully scalable solution.
Richard Hill has worked in the telecommunications field for over 20 years, 15 of those as the President and owner of SafeCall, a Charlotte, NC based company offering business telephone systems, VoIP telephone service, carrier consulting, and voice/data cabling.