Home business phone line: do I need one?

Some home-based businesses use the same phone line for business and personal calls. Personally, I wouldn’t be happy with this and here’s why:

  • You need to be able to ignore your business phone (OK, switch on your voicemail…) after office hours or you’ll be on duty 24 hours a day.
  • You need to answer the business line in a professional manner, which is far easier to control on a dedicated phone line than on one that’s shared by the whole family.
  • Your business phone number will be spread far and wide on your marketing materials, including your website. The chances are you don’t want your home phone number to be so widely available.

The last time I started out as a freelancer in 2000, business phone line options for people who worked from home were limited to say the least. Most got a second home phone number from BT and didn’t tell BT it was for business use, so avoiding paying the full business fee. This is still an option (shh, don’t say I mentioned it!), but technology has moved on and there is more choice now, including:

Mobile phone. I asked some mums in business if they felt that having a mobile number as your only business phone number would be seen as unprofessional. Most said that these days their clients couldn’t care less whether they were given a mobile number or a landline, but some said they felt it might give a bad impression. It depends on the kind of business you’re in and the only sure way to find out is to do some market research.

Telephone redirection service. You can ‘rent’ a phone number so that when clients phone it, it looks like an ordinary landline number  but the call is received at the phone of your choice. You could direct the call to your landline or mobile. A free option if you’re just starting out and have only a few calls is a service like YAC. This gives you a number for free and you can direct calls to your mobile, landline or email (you get a voice message as an attachment). The only snag is that the call charges are rather high for anyone phoning you, so not great for customer service in the long run. Still, it’s preferable to putting your home phone number up on your website for the world to see, plus you can use it for voicemail only and then call back.

Or you can pay a small fee and use a service like www.voipfone.co.uk which charges your callers the cost of a local call.

Internet phone (VOIP). Instead of having a phone line coming into your home, make your calls over the internet. With Vonage, for example, you plug a normal phone into your computer’s modem or router using the adapter provided. Alternatively, you could use Skype’s Online Number service so that people dial a number on their phone and you receive the call on your computer.

Try: www.vonage.co.uk, Skype Online Number www.voipfone.co.uk

Virtual receptionist service. If a client phones and you’re busy, a  receptionist (i.e. a real human being) takes a message and passes it on to you. And it’s not as expensive as you might think. It could make a big difference if there are big chunks of the day that you don’t want to be answering the phone with screaming children in the background.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lars Plougmann

(Updated 2 June 2011)

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