Which telephone setup is right for you at startup?
Nothing makes a start up or small business look like an amateur more than having phone availability and systems that are out of whack. I have met countless business owners who start their business by using their cell phone number. This is a total no-no, and the effects of it are very hard to reverse. Once your number is out there in the public domain it’s very hard to pull it out of the stratosphere.
So what does the cash-strapped business owner do to get things going… without missing calls… and without going broke? Well I’ve given my clients a few suggestions on this one. They are listed in my order of preference and professionalism:
1) Purchase a dedicated telephone number that you can manage virtually. You can buy a local or toll-free number and own it outright, and simply port it to a company that can manage or “route” the call to the final destination number. This plan works better than renting a number month by month. Most telephone services, like Ring Central, **Rent** you the number, so you have to stick with their service if you want to keep the number. I feel trapped by a policy like that. I bought my toll free number at tollfreenumbers.com and my local New York number at 212AreaCode.com. Most people are in complete shock when I tell them they can buy a number outright… and New Yorkers are a tad bit jealous when they find out the coveted *212* prefix is available for purchase!
2) Buy a dedicated cell phone for your business. Next to a dedicated number this option makes the most sense to me. I used to use Verizon’s all-inclusive plan, for about $110 a month, until I woke up and realized I could switch to Virgin Mobile’s all inclusive plan at half the price. I live in a metropolitan area, so reception is fine. It wasn’t fancy when I made the switch, but now they have iphones, androids, and all the other top technology that the other carriers do. It’s pay-as-you-go, so you just pay month-to-month until you can set yourself up in a stronger way. With a dedicated phone, you know that every time it rings it’s a business call, so you know how to answer the phone, you don’t have to answer it after hours, and you know NOT to answer it when you’re in a crowded area.
3) Purchase a telephone number from Skype. Buying from Skype is a lot like renting a number, you have to continue to pay the monthly fee (less than $6 from what I remember) and if you lapse, you lose the number. Skype lets you choose from a block of numbers, so you can refresh the screen until you see a number that’s somewhat easy to remember. Then, you can have that number forward to your phone, or if you have a fancy phone with the skype application, you can take the call direct from the Skype smart phone app to your phone. Groovy. You’ll see that it’s your skype number that’s ringing and know how to handle your calls. You can set the number to ring direct to voicemail when you’re not available or after hours.
4) Get a Google Voice Number. Google’s my last choice because they brand everything they do, so as the caller is waiting to be connected they’ll hear “please wait while Google Voice tries to connect you” – UGH. But it could be worse, and you can even get a vanity number from Google voice if you’re lucky. They only give local numbers (you don’t have to choose a number in your region though) and they let you play around with that that number will be. I have a client, a makeup artist, who lucked up on the local version of her business name through Google and she’s been using the number for years. It works. Serves her purposes!
So if you’ve been operating your business with a weak phone plan change it now! It’s amazing how quickly you’ll see results when you start to be considered as a truly professional business and not simply a start up trying to make it. You can have a new number active and in place in a matter of minutes using one of the suggestions above. Make it count.
Do you have any tips you’ve used to get a professional number on a bootstrappers budget? Share them below.