What’s in a Phone Number?

by Kevin Baker

Choosing the right name for your small business can have a huge impact on its success. But what about your business phone number? Does it really matter what number you have, as long as it’s printed correctly on your business cards, product literature, Web site, emails and other materials? Actually, it does. The phone number you use can have a direct impact on your business, good or bad.

That’s something you need to keep in mind as you consider which phone service to use for your business, since it could impact the type of phone number you can obtain. Here’s a guide to help you select the best option.

Toll-free Number
This term is used synonymously with “800” number because when they were first introduced, 800 was the only area code you could get. Today, their popularity exceeds the possible combinations available with 800, so 866, 877 and 888 have been added.

The original function was to offer a way for customers, prospects and anyone else to call your business without paying long distance charges. While the economic benefit may no longer be the top reason to acquire this type of number, having a toll-free phone number does have another benefit: it can make your small business appear to be larger than it actually is.

Depending on how you go about it, a toll-free number can be an expensive upgrade over a local phone number. If you purchase the toll-free number from the phone company there is likely an add-on charge for the option, and you have to pay the toll on every call that comes into it.

The smart buyer will find that there are ways to obtain a toll-free number without added cost. There are virtual phone services for small business that include the number at no additional charge. The nice thing about this type of service is that you also get features like a virtual receptionist, unlimited extensions, voicemail to email, smart call forwarding, call screening and more. With a bit of research you can find all the features included in one low monthly fee, a far better choice for a small business on a budget.

Local Phone Number
There are some good reasons to keep a phone number local rather than toll-free. Should your business depend on the goodwill of the people in your area, having a local number says “we are part of the community.” If you are a small service business (e.g. a lawyer, accountant or plumber), a local number may help you win business when compared to a faceless national corporation. It can also help reinforce the community presence of local franchises of national chains, such as real estate agents and insurance brokers.

Also, when using a virtual phone service, the local number you choose doesn’t have to be the one where your office is actually located. For example, if you are a company located in a small town looking for a presence in Manhattan or Los Angeles, having a phone number in one of those cities will make it appear as though your business is located there. The caller doesn’t need to know where you really are.

Vanity Phone Number
Another option, especially if much of your business relies on referrals, is to select a vanity number such as 1-866-RINGING. A vanity number is easy to remember, especially if heard on a radio or TV commercial, and thus more likely to be called if customers go off the top of their heads.

The only downside is vanity numbers can be difficult to dial since you have to think about which number corresponds to that letter.

Porting Over an Existing Phone Number
If you have a strong customer base that already knows your number and has it programmed into their speed dial, you may not want to change your phone number at all. That doesn’t mean you can’t switch to a different phone technology like a virtual phone service because it offers features that are more cost-effective and efficient.

While it’s not available with all services, there are some that allow you to port over your existing number to the service as easily as you would your cell phone number from one carrier to another. That option makes a lot of sense if you’ve invested a lot of time and money branding your existing number.

The bottom line is your phone number is more than just a way for customers, prospects and business partners to reach you. It is a part of your small business’ identity. Take care in selecting your business number and you won’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of lost business or missed opportunities.

Kevin Baker is my1voice Product Marketing Manager for Protus, provider of the highest quality Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) communication tools for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and enterprise organizations, including my1voice (www.my1voice.com), the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual phone service that travels with the user from phone to web, award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service and Campaigner (www.campaigner.com), the email marketing service that is easy-to-use, affordable and provides step-by-step coaching tips and tools. Kevin can be reached at kbaker@protus.com.

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