Advice for Young Man Getting Into the Communication Business

I am a lawyer who has been using FreePBX since the Trixbox days (2006). I only know enough about Asterisk and FreePBX to be REAL dangerous.

One of my sons was just laid off from his sale job in Ohio. He happened to be here with me in town while I was helping a buddy of mine install FreeBPX in his business, and my son was very interested in the FreePBX. He would like to learn about FreePBX in order to market it to people he knows. He says he knows small business who are paying gobs of money for their phones and that if he can become proficient in FreePBX, he thinks he can sell a lot of people on it.

So…

How does a young man (who knows a lot about sales and business, but almost nothing about Linux or programming) get into the FreePBX (or other PBX) business with the greatest chance of success?

Looking for suggestions on classes, training, certifications, books, apprenticeships, etc.

Your thoughts are and time are greatly appreciated.

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Personally I believe he is a little too late to this game, he can successfully make PBI for friends and family after investing many hours into learning more than the basics of linux and voip, but unless he is both a lawyer and an accountant he will need to pay both professions to ensure his tax and legal liabilities are covered and robust. After doing all that he should only expect a razor thin profit if buying origination and termination retail because his competition has been doing all that for many years and wholesale needs ‘a real lot of calls’

Jm2cwae

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@Crosstalk has a great youtube course on setting up freepbx https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l30WKTYf9ZY&list=PL1fn6oC5ndU_umAhL9A_1zkC90hMPDPNO
He will need to learn networking, routers, vlans, and linux. His best bet would be to find a local voip company he can work for. I’ve been working with freepbx for 6 years and still don’t know nearly everything. You will invest a ton of time in just learning the system. Also, the future of freepbx seems to be a bit uncertain, development has been slow. They did just release version 17 which is now debian based but I don’t believe there’s been a lot of changes or features added.

There’s been changes in the sense of updating things to work on modern PHP, moving to Debian, and having a new installation script. That’s been the focus to get a more up to date foundation, alongside the non-code side of getting over to Github which has also increased involvement by people. Fundamentally there comes a point where you can’t just keep doing features and not paying down at least a bit of debt. You have to just do it. It happened with Asterisk and now has happened some for FreePBX. There’s always more to pay down, but every bit helps. End of my thoughts. :smiley:

Pessimistic, but sage, advice. Thanks for the honest reply.

I can’t imagine the effort (and money) it takes to keep FreePBX alive. You will never hear me complaining about it. It has been a FREE core component of our office for nearly 20 years. Thanks to everyone involved.

Here is my advice on this. This is based on being an IT consultant from 2013 to 2023. I’m now working in the mid-cap Enterprise realm as an IT Director.

For starters your son is probably interested in how to get a self-employed gig going. Whether he’s an IT consultant like I was or telephony consultant, if he is not interested in setting up a shop and growing it, but just wants to do a self-employed gig, his customers are ALL going to be small. As in, no more than 10-20 employees and/or nodes.

Years ago it was much more possible for self-employed consultants to be pulled into larger projects for mid-cap corporate IT. That is, IT Directors like myself were fine hiring a “hired gun” to come in and do a point project then move the management of that project in-house. But today the existance of cloud has wrecked that.

With corporate IT you have roughly 3 groups, small medium and large. The small ones 50 users and under don’t have in-house IT talent and use whatever consultants they can get. The mid-cap ones are like my org, and (to be perfectly frank) that is really where the flexibility truly exists in IT. I have the power and ability for example to act like a small org, outsource everything to the cloud, fire just about all my IT staff (or allow my department to disintegrate via attrition) and pretty much use what are “small corporation” solutions - it: outsourcing. Or I have the power and flexibility to act like a larger org, and keep everything in house and hire IT talent to run it. With the first way of doing it, the headache is the costs and being jacked around by support people in the cloud, with the second way of doing it the costs are vastly cheaper but you have to take the money savings and hire the talent and the headache is finding people that are good or that you can grow to be good, to run your infrastructure. I do a sort of hybrid model in that I allow our EPR to be outsourced to the cloud, and keep everything else in house. I have 9 9’s on the in-house and the cloud EPR most definitely DOES NOT have 9 9’s and I regularly get complaints from the medical managers about it whereupon I tell them in a polite way if they want me to take control of the EPR then I will pull it out of the cloud and they will get their 9 9’s but at the cost of their department losing control of it. Otherwise, if they want their department (a bunch of non-tech types) to keep control of it, then they can battle it out with the support people in the cloud. In other words I put them in between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to give up control to me, so they tolerate the less-than-9 9’s from the crappy cloud vendor but then complain about it at every opportunity. LOL Mid-cap like my org DO use consultants - but we use IT consulting HOUSES not individuals. That is because if a tech we are working with jumps ship it’s not our problem to replace them, it’s the consulting house’s problem to replace them.

I have in fact “fired” consulting houses where they had all their good techs jump ship. I don’t know what their problem was nor do I care, whether they wern’t paying the talent enough, or maybe the owners were jerks to their people. But that isn’t common. Mostly the consulting houses do understand where the geese that lay their golden eggs come from and treat their talent right and pay them well. But you see, I couldn’t depend on a single self-employed phone consultant like your son, my org is just too large. And all the other orgs my size are in the same boat. We might like to hire him for a job - but we can’t risk he will get hit by a bus or something.

With the large Fortune 1000 and 500, they have similar political battles but mostly, they have the money to insource and NOT hire consultants (like your son) Today the Fortune 1000 are doing a LOT of what is called “Cloud Repatriation” projects because the promise of “the cloud” has shown to not be there - 4 years ago when “cloud” was all the rage the promise was 9 9’s and a lot of really good support people behind an 800 number who would respond immediately. Today what they found is the cloud providers have just as much trouble as anyone else hiring tech talent, and so SOP for most cloud providers is if you have a work-stoppage problem, they might get around to fixing it in a day, but if it’s less-then-stoppage then it goes to support-hell and maybe they might get around to fixing it in a month or so whenever they feel like it. And the 800 numbers mostly now go to people in Asia who merely transcribe what you are complaining about into the trouble ticket system.

IF your son is charismatic and can make friends with the tech talent, and has some money and is willing to sell sell sell, he COULD sew together a telephony consulting house that mid-cap business like my org would write contracts with. I just signed a 1 year retainer with a consulting house like that 4 months ago. Nice sales guys but everyone has nice sales guys. What made me sign was the talent knew their ass from a hole in the ground. Before signing when I started snapping tech questions to the salesguys they sort of gave up and let me talk to the talent but many mid-cap IT Directors are not as good with the tech as they should be - but they WILL have their staff vet the talent in the consulting house. Mostly, good tech talent is NOT interested in the sales process nor in pressing the flesh, they are just happy to have a sales guy who can feed them a steady stream of interesting work - so the reality is your son DOESEN’T NEED to know the tech all that well if he can sell AND if he can make friends with the techies. But that DOES mean he will have to spend time building up a consulting house.

The rare tech talent that is conversant in both worlds often ends up self-employed but like I said, that market is almost exclusively small orgs as customers. And the small orgs are giving up on-prem stuff right and left and increasingly they want basically pay the IT consultants to sit on the 800 number with the cloud support people trying to get their trouble ticket prioritized. That’s actually the biggest reason I left IT consulting. I had a few customers tell me they really wanted to outsource some things to the cloud and I let them - and then I could feel my brain melting away on hold with tech support people who’s IT knowledge couldn’t fill a thimble and had ME, their “customer” diagnosing and troubleshooting their problem for them. When I left I told those customers “You know, you really don’t need to hire an IT consultant to replace me since all your stuff is in the cloud now, you can just call the 800 support numbers when stuff goes wrong” Yes, I am evil, I know. Blind leading the blind on that one.

For a 30 user org, your son IS correct in that they are often being bent over the hedge and “serviced” to death by companies in the cloud they are paying gobs of money to. For example around here one of the major photocopy/printer leasing suppliers - the people who charge you a lease with a total cost over 5 years of $3,000 in exchange for a $400 printer - has gotten into reselling cloud phone systems with Yealink crummy model phones. They resell Ring Central near as I can tell and have maybe 1 tech that knows what he’s doing and is swamped, the rest of them are idiots or salesguys who don’t know what they are doing, and their customers are indeed paying gobs of money for phones and would be easy marks for a self-employed IT consultant who knew FreePBX like the back of their hand to walk in an repatriate them from their cloud phone systems that the photocopier company has sold them. However, the photocopy company wasn’t born stupid so they have signed multiyear contracts with the suckers who fell for their sales pitches so it would be long, slow work for a self-employed IT consultant to take them back on-site. It’s not impossible it would just take years.

In summary, your son has 2 roads if he wants to be a self-employed telco tech. First is a ton of study for him to build talent, he can do it but it’s going to take a lot of study of the tech on his part. All his customers will be small but he will eventually be able to find his niche there. Second is acting as an intermediary and having customers pay him to setup a cloud phone system with a cloud provider that is cheaper than whoever they are paying. For that he just needs a nose for the deal - and he can resell everything from Ring Central to Sangoma’s cloud system. Stir in some knowledgeable and clever selection of the desktop instruments themselves - willingness to deal with the used phone market (there’s a ton of VoIP phones on the used market cheap) - and he can do pretty well also.

There also comes a time when a product is “fully baked” and adding features is in the diminishing returns area. The textbook example of that is Microsoft Word. All of the “new features” that have been added into Word in the last 20 years are absolutely unnecessary to the fundamental business of just writing a typical business document.

This is a myth. For a sole proprietorship telephony consulting house, as long as he files as an LLC then if he royally screws something up and a customer gets angry enough at him for doing that, he merely closes the LLC and any lawsuit the customer might win is basically judgement proof because there’s no assets to attach to. In any case, his father is a lawyer so he has that covered, LOL. But if he is diligent at BACKING UP and documenting what is there when he first gets there, then even if he completely scotches something, someone else can come in and put it all back together from his documentation and backups.

Years ago I remember working with a firewall that had about 200 rules in it that the people running it had put into it’s configuration. Only problem - they didn’t know you had to do a “write mem” and literally had never done that, ever in 3 years. I discovered that when reloading the firewall at the command line before making changes, to insure the memory config matched the saved config. Only the fact that suspicious me had done a “show run” and repeatedly spacebarred through the listing, and had logging in my teminal turned on with a 5000 line log buffer configured, saved my ass. That taught me to never assume that a functioning and running system at the customer was properly backed up and configs saved, so I always did that 1st thing (and charged the customer for doing it) I’ve had some surprises - a bitlockered system that the customer didn’t have the key saved, start demanding the PIN after an update, and similar tricks, but the “backup first” has always protected me from any customer getting mad enough to sue.

You do need an accountant but bookkeeping services are pretty cheap and you only need to pay the bigger bucks to a CPA once a year. Bookkeeping services see your books and are experts at not killing the goose that lays the golen egs. They want you to servive long term and they won’t bleed you too much.

The key in this is if you can’t sell at retail MSRP what you can buy for wholesale pricing, then make your customers pay the trunk provider directly and charge the customer for your time setting it up and keeping it maintained.

As for being too late to this game, not the case. Never assume your competition is better than you. Yes some of them will be but there’s always a competitor out there who is lazier, or more irresponsible than you are.

Not a myth, if you eff up your fed, state, county, city or fcc taxes or fees, or are in non compliance with current FCC regs, you will likely be in a world of trouble where no amount of buzzwords will help.

Tinkerbell is a myth, Ray Baum and Kari’s law are not

There is some pretty decent advice here but what is missing for this advice is actual context. Mainly, what type of business is this son interested in? Depending on that answer, the advice can be more fine tuned.

Is the goal to be a PBX installer and maintain PBX systems for the customer, which includes setting up trunks to which every provider the customer chooses? If so then outside of learning how FreePBX and SIP works the only real concern is always making sure the PBX is complying with Kari’s Law/Ray Baum’s Act because the PBX installer/admin is 100% responsible for the compliance of the federal law. Being a PBX installer/admin may require the need for an accountant. The taxes involved would only matter if they file with the state to charge state taxes. There is no really need to register with the FCC or working about FCC taxes or fees.

Is the goal to be a PBX installer/admin and sell voice services directly to the customers, where the relationship directly between you and the customer? Then that is a completely different ballgame. The FCC will consider you a VoIP Provider and you will be required to do all the steps required for such thing. You will need to register with the FCC, you will need to get an OCN (Operating Carrier Number), be STIR/SHAKEN compliant and various other things. You will need an accountant. You will need a compliance company/officer for taxes and fees and other compliances you need to meet.

Again, depending on what avenue is going to be taken the steps needed are going to be different. So @paulv what avenue would your son be looking at?

That’s if he is attempting to resell line services, and as I and someone else already said in anther post there’s no money in doing that. But he can make good money acting as a consultant that sells and installs phone systems, and the customer then contracts directly with the line provider. Unless he’s buying and selling thousands of trunks, he’s going to be paying the same amount for his lines that his customers would be charged.

This is a complete fallacy. We do not sell thousands of trunks and we still pay wholesale rates and I’m definitely not paying the same rate as a consumer would be charged. Then again, we also don’t pay taxes since we’re registered properly with state PUCs and the FCC.

Are you 100% sure about that? It seems without actually comparing what the customer does versus what they are getting, that’s a broad statement that might not be accurate. If you just look at “OMG you’re paying $20/user, I can totally make it cheaper with a PBX” you’re already doing it wrong. “How is that?”, you may ask well it’s simple. You’re ignoring all the baked-in/included services that you have to account for.

What kind of features are they getting from said provider, like RingCentral, that they are using? Are they using Toll Free? If so, how much? Because RingCentral includes a toll free number and a bucket of minutes for said toll free. What does their origination look like? Because with RingCentral (and others) that’s included. Termination? Same thing, buckets of minutes are included per line. Fax? Messaging?

What about Kari’s Law/Ray Baum’s? The 911 fees and registration are included in said pricing as well. Let’s also hope they aren’t using the other integration services like Dropbox or M365 or a CRM interface or all the various other extras they offer for a business.

Then there is the support and well maintenance of the actual voice system. You know who takes care of that at no charge to the customer? RingCentral or the hosting provider, it’s part of the cost per line they charge you. It also means if something goes wrong, the customer isn’t shelling out money to replace it, the provider is because it’s part of the contract.

So this is not a straight up thing. For some customers it might save them money because it was already too much of a service for them to begin with and they aren’t really using much. For the rest, they could be facing a feature loss or feature changes and it really might not save them money because of the usage/feature fees and well the paying the PBX admin to do what they need for them each and every time they need support or updates on the system or their phones or anything.

Oh yeah, then there is that small thing that plenty of companies want. They want to know what they are paying month to month so there are no surprises or sliding scale. Not a single hotel I provide SIP trunks for wants per minute usage they want a flat rate so they can budget. So none of them take metered, they take channelized which then comes with a block of minutes.

So be careful of taking a customer from a luxury loft (hosted cloud) and putting them in the one bed room over the Chinese take out place. Because the moment the customer sees they are being charged for things they used to get for “free” they tend to complain.

20 years ago one could make huge amounts by replacing VoiceMail on PBI, and replacing MaBell trunks with SIP with Asterisk

10 years ago you could make serious money using Asterisk/Freeswitch and replacing Toshiba key systems with PBI and charging by the month

5 years ago everything ticked along nicely.

4 years ago everyone went home and wondered how to communicate, Zoom and WhatsApp soon filled that gap.

In our case, many returned to work no longer needing our desk phones, soft phones and Jitsi just don’t cut the mustard in 2024 for media sharing, SMS and conferencing.

So yes you can still glean a little in this voip world, it is however no longer the open range it once was, now everyone has internet in their pocket.

Cobol programming is still a big money maker though

Wow!.. I seem to stirred up a lot of trouble, but I do appreciate the inside baseball knowledge.

I have used FreePBX in my office forever. I installed it and figured it out (with all the help here) only enough to make it work for us. Because it is so reliable and stable, I have never been forced to dive deep into it. We have a small office and we only use about 5% of FreePBX’s features.

So… A colleague is setting up his own law office in town and he was using some Google phone thing with a paid answering service at great expense. He saw our system and asked me to help him install FreePBX in his office, which I did.

My son happened to be in town and came over to help with the installation and he was (as I was) amazed at all the features of FreePBX. He lives in Columbus, OH and works for a nationwide construction estimating company under contract with insurance companies (mostly roofing jobs after storms) and the travels all over OH, IN, MI, KY an PA, hiring and negotiating with suppliers and subcontractors. He deals with hundreds of these small businesses.

He thinks he could sell many of them on FreePBX. His idea was to make a demonstrator system that he can take with him to let the secretaries play with the phones while he meets with the construction guys. He thinks that once the administrative staff sees the capabilities, they will buy in a heartbeat. I don’t think he is interested in selling VOIP, but he recognizes that he will need to be able to provide (or subcontract) tech service after the sale.

He is a smart business guy who recognizes his limitations. I read these posts and I realize just how hard the business is. You have to know a LOT of highly technical stuff to make it work. I don’t know that it is a good choice for him.

Back in the schmooze days they offered a demo kit which you could probably still assemble now. It was a pelican case with a couple phones and a server and switch that with a hotspot could quickly be pulled out to show all the features to a potential client.

Yes, I am 100% sure of my ORIGINAL statement which was:

“For a 30 user org…they are often being bent over the hedge and “serviced” to death by companies in the cloud they are paying gobs”

You scissored out that “often” which makes it look like I made an absolutist statement - which I did not. You also scissored out the “30 user”

A hotel is much more than 30 users so don’t make it seem like I said something I didn’t.

As a small business gets larger and individual budget items for IT products get larger - they tend to become more discerning on comparative shopping.

“So be careful of taking a customer from a luxury loft (hosted cloud) and putting them in the one bed room over the Chinese take out place.”

Oh absolutely agreed. This is why my original statement attempted to clarify that there’s a big difference between a self employed telephony consultant and a consulting firm.

My experience is that the larger a customer gets and the more extensions they need, the less they are able to do it with a single self-employed person and the more they need a consulting group. Of course this is variable since a really skilled self employed consultant can take on much larger and more complicated projects than a beginner.

But the problem I see is that there’s a LOT of smaller 30 extension or below customers out there who are being serviced by consulting groups, and cloud providers, who are being stuffed into the luxury loft with all of the trimmings, when they only need the Chinese take out. This happens because the margin on the luxury loft is much higher so a consulting group is always going to push that solution no matter whether the customer coming to them needs a small sparse system or not. If the OP’s son wants to get into this, and he aims small, he can successfully sell the Chinese take out solutions to customers that were oversold and save those customers money.

It’s the nature of consulting that the most successful consultants tend to attract more and more customers and ultimately the consultant has to either turn customers away or start hiring more people. Then they grow and get bigger and take on larger clients and sell more expensive solutions and take their original smaller customers with the to the de-lux apartment in the sky.

Then fast forward and the next new kid on the block who is starting out with small customers can start stealing the small fry away who don’t need the luxury loft.

This is only the case in industries that truly cater to the customer.

Wanna be a retailer? You better be conversant in the Internet-in-the-pocket because there is always a competitive retailer who is happy to be conversant in Internet-in-the-pocket and take your customers away. Sears Roebuck found that out the hard way.

But, if you are a vendor that has something that customers need and can’t get elsewhere - you can do what you want.

The vendors today like that are, medical, finance, trades - and a few others. If you want a new roof on your house, you want new gutters, you want whatever you want - don’t even waste your time sending them an email. Call them and they will answer on the cell phone in your pocket. Or better yet, text.

You have an ache or pain - forget it. Your doctor won’t even take an email or any of that Internet garbage for communication. Only a phone call will do it.

The Fortune 500 today are trying to figure out this VoIP thing. There was a story just today where Dell has failed miserably trying to get people back into the office. They told all their staff that they had to either declare remote work and not get raises or promotions or declare hybrid and get raises and promotions but then they had to go into the office part of the time. (where you need the desk phones, etc.) By and large most of their workforce declared remote. The Dell CEO is refusing to answer questions about it and probably is being considered by most other CEO’s as one of the stupidest CEO’s alive.

I don’t think it’s the open range anymore for VoIP but I do think that VoIP is like a LOT of tech initiatives in IT.

It came, and everyone figured it was the next thing and dived on to it. But like most IT initiatives, it does not meet everyone’s needs perfectly. Some it does, some it does not. So you are now seeing some repatriation from it to cellular and Zoom. But not everyone will go to that tech. The ones where the VoIP meets their needs will stay with it.

I just can tell you in my org which is medical, that they don’t want patients communicating with them any other way than the plain old audio only telephone. So we have hybrid workers who go home, VPN in, fire up the soft phone and that more than cuts the mustard for them.

This is one of the constant tug-of-wars in IT. IT vendors all want customers to all use the same cookie-cutter solutions. Customers all want custom solutions optimized for them. They meet somewhere in the middle. But what this does mean is that ALL IT solutions will ultimately become niche market products.

People prepared to operate in a niche market who don’t have delusions of grandeur will get along just fine. Just like the COBOL programmers you mentioned.

I think you’re still missing the point. It’s not about “often” or “30 users”, my point was unless you actually sit down and do the comparison to make sure that even an office of ten users isn’t using features or services from the cloud based provider that will need to be moved over to the new PBX system they just got sold. They could even up losing things they are actually using that can’t be quickly replaced with FreePBX.

Actually, it’s not. It’s more than 30 devices (depending on the size, I got a couple small ones that have under 30 rooms) because there are no users associated or attached to those devices. The phone in the pool doesn’t have a user, the phone in room 100 doesn’t have a user.

There are a small number of cloud providers, myself included, that have services catered to hospitality/hotels. The house phones and guest room phones range from $1.00 to $2.99 depending on if they have voicemail or not. So a hotel with 100 rooms and no voicemail could be paying $1.00/room for the phone service. The real accounts with users are your Front Desk, GM, Staff phones in the front office. Those have physical users that are attached to those phones. Those are the ones using the user features. Guests are barely making calls off the room phones outside of wake up calls and calling the front desk. I got a 150 room hotel and I see maybe 3-5 rooms at most, a month, making calls to the PSTN.

A hotel’s hosted services is never treated like an office’s hosted services because they are different types of the service.

I understood that but the reality is that businesses must make money and you can’t do that unless you can cost justify what you are buying.

This is a point that is constantly missed and ignored in large companies. Users will always demand the org buy them things (software, tech) that makes their job easier but often isn’t justifiable. Mostly the way large orgs handle it is as long as they are making money they do nothing but when they start losing money they resort to broad based layoffs. Of course, the employees they are laying off don’t see the big picture - that it’s their own demands for the software and tech toys that make their job easier that have sometimes forced the company into the red and thus caused them to be laid off. That’s why they aren’t in the C-suite, BTW.

Small orgs work differently. It’s not a situation where you sit down and do the comparison feature-for-feature. It’s a situation where you sit down and do the comparison feature-for-feature then you meet privately with the owner of the business and say “does this feature that the cloud provider gives you actually make you money? Or is it just a “nice-to-have” feature and you can tell the 2 employees that are addicted to it, that they will have to figure it out some other way?”

Cloud providers, and indeed all product providers, (including on-premise) when they sell a tech product they tend to “toss in” a whole lot of “nice to have” features. The idea is to addict the customer to that feature which then puts the golden handcuffs on them.

As the owner of the business, it’s their responsibility to hold the line on costs. If they are lucky enough to be running a small 10 user business that’s rolling in the dough - then great, sell them the luxury loft and turn a deaf ear to their carping about how expensive it is.

But most smaller businesses the owner has to make the hard choices on whether we are going to spend a lot of money on some new glittery tech that washes and dries the dishes, or are we going to spend less money on the cheaper tech that just washes the dishes and you let them air-dry.

You used the sentence “need to be moved over” So every last feature in the cloud is a “need” then? You see, you are already not thinking like the responsible small business owner that you are selling the solution to thinks. That was my point. I’ve serviced large and small businesses as a consultant and worked for large and small businesses as an employee and owned a small business. There are huge differences in how they work. Yes they can often use the same tech - both large and small will use Microsoft Word for example - but never make the mistake of assuming that just because they use the same tech (cloud for example) that they have the same needs and think the same.

I’ve been in that “decision between products” situation multiple times where I have pointed out that the more expensive product did indeed have a feature that someone considered “critical” yet wasn’t actually that critical and was very costly and possibly they could change workflow procedures, so they didn’t need it. And it’s sometimes not even the product it’s the usage. Whenever I sit down with a user and show them how to print-to-pdf then email the resultant file to their correspondent instead of just printing the paper document and handing it or interofficing it to their correspondent, I’m engaging in changing workflows from the more expensive more feature workflow (the printing) to the less feature, cheaper workflow (emailing) It does not need to work any differently with the phone system.

Perhaps some would consider that way beyond the bounds of a phone system consultant’s purview but it’s definitely worked for me.