Small Business Marketing & Ecommerce Strategy(412) 228.0504


Best Small Business Phone Systems 2018


best small business phone systems 2018

Updated April 25, 2018

Best Small Business Phone Systems

Looking for an affordable small business phone system? We’ve researched the best options for 2018 based on price, features, customer service, reliability, innovation, and overall value. 

1. Best Virtual Phone System: Grasshopper

Grasshopper was one of the first companies to put VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone systems on the map, and their focus on small businesses and startups continues to makes them a popular choice--boasting more than 300,000 customers.

Plan $24.00 per month with unlimited minutes. 30-Day Money Back Guarantee. 

What to watch in 2018:

  • Expanded productivity and collaborative tools thanks to Grasshopper’s acquisition by LogMeIn
  • New features such as WiFi calling and Grasshopper’s Desktop app which were launched in 2017
  • Continued focus on entrepreneurs and small business owners

One of the new features they added in 2017 that we’re really excited about is WiFi calling. Users are now able to make and receive calls and send text messages using WiFi instead of their cellular network. This can be huge when you’re in an area where your cellphone reception is spotty or not available at all.

Grasshopper’s desktop app also makes it super easy to make calls without being tied to your mobile device. You can seamlessly work from your laptop—answering calls, sending and receiving texts, etc. They also offer spam detection so you can identify unwanted calls.

Their acquisition by LogMeIn—one of the largest providers of web and video conferencing on a global basis—also creates some really interesting opportunities over the coming year. As more and more small business phone solutions look to add productivity and collaboration functionality, this could give LogMeIn and Grasshopper a real competitive advantage.

2. Best Business Phone System: RingCentral

RingCentral continues to be one of the industry leaders in cloud-based VoIP phone systems for small businesses. Winners of multiple “Product of the Year” awards in 2017, their RingCentral Office product offers small businesses a complete cloud phone system that’s incredibly easy to set up and manage.

Plan $24.99 per month with unlimited phone calls. 15-Day Free Trial

What to watch in 2018:

  • New collaboration apps and tools to power one-on-one and team messaging
  • Expanded reporting and analytics to monitor call quality and user data
  • Continued integration with voice services such as Amazon Alexa

With RingCentral Meetings for Alexa, users will be able to ask Amazon Alexa to launch and end meetings, play back messages, and place outbound calls. With the growing popularity of voice assistant platforms such as Alexa and Google Home, this functionality will only become more and more useful for small business owners.

Additional integrations also make using RingCentral Office incredibly seamless. RingCentral for Google allows you to make and receive enterprise-quality calls on the same screen as you work, easily fax documents from Google Docs, and listen to voicemails with the RingCentral Chrome extension. RingCentral for Zendesk seamlessly matches incoming callers to existing client records and automatically creates a customer support ticket when a call arrives—improving efficiency and streamlining workflow.

3. Best Virtual Office Phone System: 8x8

With more than 50,000 businesses operating in over 150 countries, 8x8 is a trusted provider of reliable VoIP-based phone systems.

Plan $25.00 per month

What to watch in 2018:

  • More patents focusing on technology to help companies quickly, seamlessly and effectively manage their communications and customer experience
  • Global expansion. 8x8 recently opened a new support center in Singapore bring their total number of support centers located around the world to seven
  • New features such as Call Flip which allows users to seamlessly move a call from one device to another without having to call the other party back

One of the things that really makes 8x8 stand out is their relentless commitment to innovation. They currently possess 150 patents in the U.S.—a number that continues to grow. Why does that matter for your small business? Greater scalability, rapid deployment, and faster innovative services to power your business.

Integrations with Salesforce, Zendesk, and Netsuite are included with all three of their current 8x8 Virtual Office Editions as are audio and video conferencing and instant messaging. New features such as Call Flip are also going to go a long way to creating a better call experience.  

Choosing the Best Phone Solution for Small Businesses

If you want to boost productivity, improve collaboration, and provide world-class customer service, it all starts with choosing the right phone system. Thanks to virtual business phone systems like Grasshopper, RingCentral, and 8x8, you can have amazing call quality, reporting, and reliability for less than $30 per month.  

In addition to the options highlighted above, we also considered other business phone systems which are listed below.

Fonality. One of the very first options we included in our post on affordable small business phone solutions, Fonality merged with NetFortis in early 2017—creating a more complete cloud communications offering. They offer a number of integrated call management and collaboration features including hold music, personalized call routing features, conference calling, and real-time reporting.

Mitel. Offering business IP phone systems and desktop devices for small, mid-size, and enterprise-level businesses, secure chat, web and video conferencing, and a flexible call attendant console. If you’re looking for mobile collaboration tools, Mitel is definitely an option worth considering.

Ooma. Started to provide a better home phone service option, Ooma’s since expanded their focus to include small business VoIP phone systems. They offer toll-free numbers, unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada, and virtual receptionist functionality.  

As affordable small business phone solutions continue to evolve, we expect 2018 will be another exciting year for the industry. Stay tuned.

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As a disclaimer, I use affiliate links for some of the products listed. They are all products I absolutely love and trust and would recommend regardless of whether they have an affiliate program.

Quick & Easy Ways to Optimize Your New Ecommerce Website for Conversions


optimize new ecommerce website for conversions

Congratulations! You’re getting ready to launch your new ecommerce website.  But before you do, you’ll want to make sure you’re positioned for success and able to capture the most online sales right out of the gate. The good news is you don’t have to be a web designer or html expert to capitalize on quick wins.

Simplify Your Shopping Cart

The last thing anyone wants to do is create another new online account and keep track of another password just so they can place an order. Distill your ordering process down as much as possible. 

ecommerce shopping cart example new website

Your goal is to make it incredibly quick and easy for shoppers to add an item into their cart and checkout. That’s all. Any unnecessary and potentially annoying steps should be eliminated. That's one of the biggest benefits of using small business ecommerce plaforms like Shopify or BigCommerce.

Simplify Your Website Navigation

What are the most important pages you want people to visit the moment they land on your website? In what order? Those two questions should drive your decision making around what to include in your website navigation. You’re never going to be able to include every possible link or page (nor should you) so it’s up to you to prioritize what makes the cut.  

Overly generic options such as “products” or “services” generally fall short when it comes to reinforcing the core focus areas/offerings of your business. Including too many items can make it difficult website visitors to quickly find what they’re looking for, causing them to leave before they have a chance to make a purchase. This is often the case when your website navigation rolls over onto a second line.

simple ecommerce website navigation example

Generally your top-level website navigation will contain 3-7 broad buckets with 5 typically being the sweet spot. 

“Home” is Where the Outdated Website Navigation Is

One last tip on simplify9ing your website navigation—consider removing “Home” as an option. Although it was common on older websites, today it’s usually totally unnecessary. Most new website designs/templates include a linkable logo area in the header that sends visitors back to the homepage and that’s all you really need. 

Review Your Desired Path to Purchase 

This is where it can be really easy to miss the big picture. Because you’ve spent weeks and often months on granular details, it’s hard to take a step back and look at your website through the eyes of a customer. Start with your homepage and make note of where you find yourself being drawn based on visuals, content, and overall design and then compare that to where you actually want new visitors to go. 

Every page should have a clear visual hierarchy that helps guide people one step closer to making a purchase. This includes your images, content, calls-to-action (ex. “Shop Now”), and internal links to relevant pages. For example, if you mention a product or service on an “about” page, it might make sense to link directly to that area of the website. Or if you include product thumbnails or sliders on your homepage, make sure they’re linked to relevant pages that can provide helpful information and/or answer their questions.

ecommerce website call-to-action example

Revisit your website on desktop and mobile views. Just because everything looks great on your laptop doesn’t mean that the same page won’t look overly text heavy on a smartphone. Once you go live, you’ll also want to periodically check Google Analytics to see if there are any differences between mobile traffic and desktop traffic—insights you can use to identify specific areas of improvement going forward.

Craft Unique Ecommerce Product Descriptions

If your product descriptions sound like everyone else, there’s no way you’re going to beat out your competition—especially if shoppers can find similar products on Amazon. Although writing ecommerce product descriptions can take some time to create, when it comes to ecommerce websites the effort is almost always more than worth it. 

The content you include can help improve your online visibility and SEO. As a result, you want to think strategically about your product titles, keywords, and overall content. 

ecommerce product description example

Beyond the potential to drive more website traffic, product descriptions also can pull shoppers in and get them excited about your products. Leverage your unique brand voice (what and how you would describe your products to a customer when you’re face-to-face) as you create each product description. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it.

After Your Website Launch

Review sales figures and website traffic over a 30 day period to see if anything jumps out. Once you establish a few baselines, you can start to experiment with your navigation, calls-to-action, and product descriptions to see if you can squeeze even more conversions out of your website by making a few quick and simple tweaks. 

As a disclaimer, I use affiliate links for some of the products listed. They are all products I absolutely love and trust and would recommend regardless of whether they have an affiliate program.

[Image: Matthew Henry and Burst]

5 Biggest Mistakes New Ecommerce Websites Make


Creating an ecommerce website is easier than ever. With Shopify, BigCommerce, or Volusion you can go from idea to online store in a few short hours. However, that also means it’s also easier for competitors to crowd your space.

How can you make sure your website and your business are positioned for success? Here are 5 of the biggest mistakes made by new ecommerce websites.

  1. Lack of quality product descriptions. We can’t stress this enough. With ecommerce, your product descriptions help form the core of your online business. They are “your product.” If you want your online business to be succesful, you need product descriptions that sell. Spend time developing interesting and relevant content for your target audience. When done right, this will also help generate organic traffic over time. Think about your customers. How would they search for your products? If you sell a sweater, you want to be descriptive with your product titles and descriptions. It’s much easier to be found for a “Grey Cable Knit Men’s Sweater” than it is for a “Grey Sweater.”
  2. Ineffective product images. Along with the right content, product images help to create the perfect one-two punch. They give website visitors a chance to see themselves using your products and aspire to whatever lifestyle or brand image that helps make your brand and your business unique. When you’re just starting out, look for opportunities to capture your own images vs. hiring a professional photographer. The money you save can be used to experiment with social media advertising.
  3. Generic “About” page content. There’s a reason why shoppers would rather by from a small business instead of finding something similar on Amazon. They want to know the story behind the business. Why it is you do what you do. What makes you different? Picture yourself having a face-to-face conversation with a potential customer. What would you say? What would you want them to know? If you need help getting started with your "about Us" page, check out this post
  4. Cluttered navigation. Even if you have the greatest content and product photography, if your website is impossible to navigate people are going to leave before they can make a purchase. Err on the side of “less is more” while also making sure your products don’t get buried in a drop down menu.  
  5. Slow page speeds. Having a mobile-responsive website is great but you also need to keep an eye on how fast your pages load on desktop and mobile devices. Once your ecommerce website is live, be sure to see how well your site works across mobile and desktop devices with this free page speed tool from Google. Just plug in your url and your website will be graded across three dimensions--mobile friendliness, mobile and desktop speed.

Creating an ecommerce website is the easy part. Building a customer base and a sustainable business takes time. From your product descriptions to your page speed, Make sure you’re positioned for success by focusing on the touch points that are going to shape the customer experience. 

As a disclaimer, I use affiliate links for some of the products listed. They are all products I absolutely love and trust and would recommend regardless of whether they have an affiliate program.

[Image: Flickr user andrew prickett]

How to Avoid the Biggest Email Marketing Mistake


delete key, email marketing mistakes

“Our newsletter didn’t get any clicks.”  When the company first approached us, they weren’t sure why their first campaign fell completely flat. 

Reviewing the email, we quickly found the problem—they forgot to include any links to create a clear path to purchase and lead subscribers from the email back to their website.  Instead of using an existing template from their email marketing platform, they inserted a flyer as the main body of content and didn’t incorporate any links or clear calls-to-action that would have encouraged readers to engage with their content. As simple as it may sound, unfortunately it’s something we see all too often. How do you keep it from happening?

Identify Your Email Marketing Goals

When you’re mapping out your email marketing strategy, ALWAYS start with your overarching goal which in most cases is getting readers from the email back to your website. That way, they can more easily navigate your content including your products and services which increases the likelihood that they’ll make a purchase. Here are some of our favorite email newsletter examples.

If you want to highlight an article from your small business blog and include all of the content in the email newsletter, there’s no reason for readers to do anything else unless they wanted to share it with their social networks. Instead, try teasing the article with an image, opening paragraph, and call-to-action that points them back to your blog.

Use Design and Content to Engage Your Readers

Once you have a clear idea of what you want them to do when they open your email, you can then start to map out the right content and design. This is usually a case where less is more. You don’t need to include 12 articles and 24 calls-to-action or else you’ll wind up confusing your readers and burning through content way too fast. Focus on the 1 to 2 things you hope readers will do once they read your email and use your layout and copy to guide them in that direction.

With platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, it’s really easy to create an email with a professional look and feel that also matches your small business brand. Like these.  

Track Your Performance

After each campaign, review analytics to see opens, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes so you can start to identify opportunities for improvement for your next email marketing campaign. For example, if your open rate is really low that is likely a good indicator that either 1) your list isn’t great or 2) your subject line isn’t resonating.

Avoiding Common Email Marketing Mistakes

It’s easy to make silly mistakes like forgetting to include a link when you’re too close to the content. Before hitting “send” make sure you read over the email and can clearly identify the primary call-to-action (and most importantly the corresponding link).

[Image: Flickr user Pedro Serapio]

Meet Deep Varnish – A Strategic Marketing Consulting Firm


I’m really excited to share what we’ve been working on for the past few months.  Since I launched in 2010, our goal has been to help businesses dramatically improve their marketing effectiveness and grow their bottom lines. With the launch of Deep Varnish, we’re going push that goal even further.

Why the Rebrand?

I started as a solopreneur. As my business continued to grow, I soon realized I needed a brand that was bigger than just me—something aspirational, something that could develop in tune with my evolving professional dreams. That’s what Deep Varnish is.

In the coming years I want to grow the company to do what I’ve always loved doing—but on a much larger scale, with a bigger team, to tackle grander challenges. This requires changes that are fundamental to my business. And that’s why the rebrand was warranted: to provide a fresh new structure to jump into the future with.

My dream for Deep Varnish is to continue to help businesses create marketing that goes below the surface—impactful and results-driven marketing that captures the essence of your brand, resonates with your target audience, and turns curiosity into conversions.

What’s next?

We’re working hard behind the scenes on the launch of our new website which is targeted to go live in early 2016. There you’ll find case studies that highlight a small sampling of our client successes, our blog which will be chock-full of advice, insights, and our thoughts on the latest trends in offline and online marketing, along with a few surprises.

For a sneak peek at our new logo and brand identity, hop on over to Deep Varnish. While you’re there, you can also sign up to be one of the first to know about our official launch.

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