Communications regulator Ofcom says the average mobile user spends £20/month. Many farm businesses running several handsets vastly exceed that figure.
A dazzling selection of offers all claim to represent great value for money. However, navigating the waffle to find the most cost-effective solution is rarely straightforward.
Here’s Farmers Weekly’s guide to saving money on your mobile.
See also: 16 essential farming apps for 2014
Before you start looking, know what you want.
Mobile phone tariff options boil down to three key offerings. Each can be attractive, but all have pitfalls.
- Benefits: Pay up front for usage, only pay for what you use.
- Drawbacks: Handsets can be expensive, requires topping up. Calls, texts and data can be more expensive than on a contract.
A typical business tariff
- Handsets – 5
- Provider – O2
- Usage – Unlimited
- Monthly cost – £120
- Benefits: Cheaper monthly payments than a full contract, large allowances for calls, text and data can be secured, rolling 30-day format allows easy cancellation.
- Drawbacks: Requires separate handset purchase, users can exceed allowances and incur additional costs.
- Benefits: Cost includes “free”, discounted or leased handsets; agreed monthly fee; large call, text and data bundles available.
- Drawbacks: Requires 12-, 18- or 24-month commitment, expensive to cancel before the end of the contracted term.
‘Do the sums first and then demand the best price’
Lincolnshire farmer Nigel Canon shopped around for the most competitive deal for his business.
Mr Canon, who grows sugar beet, potatoes, wheat, barley and vining peas across 750 acres near Sutton Bridge with his father in law, opted for a leasing deal with O2.
“We pay £70/month for two handsets, insurance, unlimited calls and text messages and 2GB of data,” he said.
Mr Canon’s lease is a 12-month contract, after which he sends the handsets back and, if he wants to start a new 12-month contract, is issued with two brand new phones.
“It means that I’m not locked into a price for two or three years and we get the latest technology every year,” he added.
“At renewal they give you the opportunity to negotiate again and if the offer’s not competitive then we can give the phone back and walk away with our numbers.”
To save money he got the best quote he could find by searching the internet and phoning a buying group before asking O2’s business department to beat the quote.
“You have to get your pencil out and do the sums first and then demand the best price. They advised us that leasing would save us a few pounds every month, which all adds up so we went for that.”
It is important not to buy or lease a phone that has functionality that you do not use but still pay for.
Business versus personal contracts
On paper there are few differences between a business and personal mobile phone contract. However, with a business contract you are more likely to be offered a free or leased handset and cheaper calls because the expectation is that you will have a higher usage, which means a larger monthly tariff being paid to your provider. Business contracts also often offer a larger pool of minutes, texts and data that can be allocated to each handset.
Before you start looking – checklist
- How many handsets? How many staff and family members need to be included in the tariff? Supplying a phone to employees may be expensive, but could cost less than their expenses claim for using their own phones. If you have an existing contract you may have too many or too few people included to get the maximum benefit.
- Smart or functional? If your staff need to email, access the internet or use social media in work then they need a suitable handset. If it’s just for calling and texting, a cheaper, basic phone will do the job.
- Look out for blackspots Some networks will offer good coverage in your area, others won’t. Think about where you and your team will be working and find a provider that can give you good coverage. Don’t pay for a service you can’t use – check providers’ websites for coverage but also check the reliability of coverage with other local users.
- How far do you need to roam? International calls can be expensive. If you are going to be using your phone abroad or calling other countries, build that into your plan.
- What about insurance? Handsets, particularly smartphones, cost several hundred pounds to replace. If your business insurance doesn’t cover mobile phones, shop around for the best deals. Your mobile phone provider may not be the cheapest form of insurance for your handset.
Top tips before you switch
- Check the mobile usage for your business – how many minutes, texts and megabytes of data do you need? Check whether you can set up alerts for when you’re nearing your usage limit.
- How much notice must you give to cancel an existing contract – time this right and you will avoid having to pay for two contracts at once.
- “Free” handsets aren’t necessarily free – the cost is absorbed within the monthly tariff.
- Start off small – you may be offered a big package including minutes, texts and all-you-can-use data, but signing up could be a mistake. Start small and increase it if required – it’s easy to grow your contract but not always easy to reduce a monthly tariff.
- Review after three months – if your business is using more minutes than texts, or vice versa, many providers will let you change your allowances so you don’t get stung with charges for going over your allocations.
Think about switching your contract
Those approaching the end of their mobile phone contract hold all the power.
Providers are keen to keep hold of customers and will often offer new contract terms, and usually a new handset, at a better price than the existing contract.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can offer the best price.
Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com, said: “The first thing to do is check when your contract ends and how much you’ll have to pay if you want to get out early.
“Most networks offer an early upgrade scheme, allowing you to get your hands on a shiny new handset before your contract is up, but anyone looking to leave early is likely to have to fork out for the rest of their contract upfront.”
Monitor and review before renewing your contract
Emily Evans, a business research consultant at Andersons, said it is common for farmers to sign up to a contract and let it roll on after expiry.
“It can be quite daunting to wade through all the offers but it’s important to know when your contract is up so you can look for a better deal.
“Another common problem is signing up to an apparently cheap deal and then going over the usage limit.”
She advises whoever is responsible for paying the bill marks the contract renewal date in the diary and checks bills regularly.
“If a farmer is paying for their staff to have a phone they should tell them what’s included each month so they’re not using it too much,” she added.
“It may only be a few pounds a month but ultimately it’s saving the business money.”
Mass buying power
Many buying groups handle mobile phone contracts for members, using collective buying power to secure discounted rates. An initial joining fee may apply.
Anglia Farmers looks after more than 14,000 mobile phone contracts, offering an initial free bill check to identify if savings can be made before comparing contract options.
Most farmers could save money on their mobile set-up, if not immediately then at contract renewal, says Anglia Farmers’ telecoms business manager Sharon Smith.
“If you’re paying more than £30/month per phone for ‘unlimited’ use, it’s pretty certain that you could save money on your phone contract or arrangement,” she says.
“There is a perception of a ‘free phone’ in the market. Very often we find farm businesses are tied up in an expensive tariff or a bundled allowance that over 24 months far exceeds the value of the phone.
“Once locked into these deals, they cannot change and the costs become exorbitant.”
Another common problem is reception, she adds, also warning that “unlimited” tariffs were a misnomer – all packages are subject to a fair-use policy.
Contract deals through a buying group would always work out cheaper than pay-as-you-go and that short-term SIM-only contracts were useful for those with seasonal labour staff.
Have you made a saving?