Something as simple as a phone number isn’t often on the minds of entrepreneurs starting a business for the first time. With most business tools found in the cloud or on your computer, you probably won’t need to worry about your phones until you have at least a few customers. As your company grows and evolves, the number of phone calls you have to handle will increase, and having a professional phone number will prove to be invaluable.
This leaves you with an important choice to make; should you go with a local or toll-free phone number?
These different types of phone numbers provide a similar user experience, but offer a diverse range of opportunities along the way, making it critical that you consider them carefully. Before diving into the differences between these number options, it’s a good idea to take a look at what they are.
What Are They?
Toll-Free: As the name suggests, this type of phone number doesn’t cost your customer anything to dial. Along with this, they are also formatted differently compared to local numbers, usually starting with a toll free area code such as 1-888 or 1-877. You can get custom numbers which reflect your business, with letters representing the numbers which customers have to punch in. Even the highly sought after “800” toll free area code is still available as an option with services like Talkroute.
Local Numbers: Like toll-free numbers, local options work as their name implies, and are associated to a physical location. They will often come with your landline service when you open an office, warehouse, or physical store, with a lot of businesses sticking with the first number they are given. You can also choose to have multiple local numbers, enabling your company to establish a presence in a variety of localities. It’s harder to customize something like this, with numbers being allocated on a random basis, and most phone companies are unwilling to offer customization. The good news is that Talkroute does offer their unique local vanity number services upon request.
The Pros & Cons
Toll-Free: Like any business service, there are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to toll-free numbers. This will be the deciding factor for a lot of entrepreneurs, as the type of company you’re operating will dictate how your phone service should work. You can find some examples of these benefits and potential issues below.
Free To The Customer: Your customers won’t have to pay anything when they call you, making it far easier to convince them to get in contact in the first place.
Easy To Remember: With custom options available, it is straightforward to find a toll free number which customers will recognize.
They Look Professional: First impressions count in modern business, and a professional phone number can do wonders when you’re trying to make a small business look more established.
They Garner More Trust: People are more likely to trust a toll-free number, especially if they haven’t heard of your company before.
Can Be Expensive: If you want a number which truly reflects your business, traditionally you have to pay for it. Luckily Talkroute doesn’t charge extra for toll free numbers unlike most phone companies.
Are Very Exclusive: There is a lot of competition for the best numbers, driving up prices and making it harder to get what you want.
Make You Look Cold: Customers may assume that they will be talking to an automated system if they call a toll free number. This can discourage them from calling, and even cause them to hang up prematurely.
Local: Having a number which is tied to your location isn’t without its flaws, either. Your business will benefit from having something which makes customers feel comfortable, but it needs to reflect the level of professionalism they will experience when they make an effort to get in touch.
Cheap Or Free: You often only have to pay to make calls with a local number, making it free when customers are calling you.
Know You’re Local: Customers won’t have any doubt that they’re calling someone nearby when they dial a local number with an area code that they recognize.
Expansion: A lot of companies with more than one base of operations will have more than one local number to go with it. This makes it easy to keep their departments and locations separate.
Small Town Service: Customers like the idea of supporting and working with local businesses. By presenting yourself as something warm, friendly, and just down the road, traditional shoppers will find you very appealing.
No Customizability: What you make up for in local appeal, you certainly lose in flexibility with a local phone number. Even with a company like Talkroute that offers local vanity options, you will often be limited to customizing the last 4 digits of the number.
Harder To Remember: Often being a random sequence of numbers, a lot of customers will find it more difficult to remember or quickly write down you local business number. If you do go with a local number, try and choose the one that is memorable.
Can Cost Them Money: Some mobile service providers charge their customers to call local numbers, making it impossible for those without airtime to get in contact.
It’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of toll-free and local phone numbers when deciding what will best work for your business. Fortunately the process of securing your new phone number is fairly straight forward whether you choose to go with a local or toll free option.
Securing Your Number
Toll-Free Phone Number: You don’t have to spend too much in order to get a great number, and with the recent additional of the 833 toll free area code, there is a good chance that you may get precisely what you want. The process starts by choosing a company, like Talkroute, to get your number from. In most cases, the first thing you’ll be asked to select will be the toll free area code which goes at the beginning of your number, with options like 800, 888, and 877 being the most popular.
Once you’ve decided on a toll free area code, you will be offered the choice between a great but randomized memorable option or a vanity number which you will be able to customize. Vanity numbers are more difficult to obtain but can be more recognizable, making them more desirable to larger companies. The good news is that any toll-free number you choose will look professional. Once you’ve settled on a number, it will be time to choose from the pricing plan [pricing url here] that fits your business’ specific needs.
Local Phone Number: Choosing a local number isn’t too different from picking a toll free one. In this case, though, you will begin the process by choosing a specific area code or location. It’s best to choose somewhere which relates to some aspect of your company, even if it is merely where your target market resides, as this makes it worth having a local number. These numbers begin with digits which represent the area they cover, such as 1-310 for Los Angeles and 1-404 for Atlanta, with the numbers which come afterward localizing it even further.
Unlike toll-free phone numbers, you won’t be able to do too much in the way of customizing your local number. In most cases, you will receive a list of options to choose from but you can also request a custom option if desired. Normally, you would be at the mercy of what number options a provider has available but Talkroute has excellent memorable local numbers ready for registration in most area codes. Most local numbers will also be able to send and receive SMS messages, though not every business will want to utilize this feature. The plans and pricing for local phone numbers will be very similar to those found with a toll-free number.
Of course you will have the option to get a local phone number directly from a traditional telephone provider. However, this is often more expensive than using a virtual phone service, and you will lose the benefit of all of the great phone system feature and the ability to use your cell phone to talk to your customers.
Use Case Examples
Choosing the way that you communicate with your customers isn’t a simple task, and not everyone will be able to do it by merely looking at the pros and cons. To give you one final push, you can find some example use cases below. While they don’t represent real businesses, they can give you an idea of when it would be best to use these phone numbers.
Name: William’s Farm Store
Sales Channels: Local Store Only
This local farm store doesn’t have many employees, which means that they probably aren’t too busy. Their only sales channel is a local store, making it crucial that they appeal to customers who are nearby, without making them feel like a huge company. A local phone number would be best for them, especially if they want to continue without expanding their trade. If they were ever to make the move online or into large scale wholesale, having a toll free number would make a little bit more sense.
Name: Big Town Finance
Sales Channels: Online, Telephone Sales
Big Town Finance is a medium-sized company, with a large number of employees. This means that they are getting a lot of customers, and, given that their sales channels will both involve calls for proper communications, having a professional number will be crucial. Online businesses don’t often need to give away their location. For these reasons, a toll-free number would be best. Companies like this often rely on custom phone numbers as a critical component of their advertising.
Name: Binkies eEmporium
Sales Channels: Online Only
This online store could get loads of business, despite only having a couple of people working for it. Along with this, online stores which don’t represent a physical store often do not need to give away their location, as they will only have a warehouse or maybe even a garage for their operations. Customers buying things from e-commerce websites don’t tend to be happy paying to call customer service. This makes a toll free phone number perfect for Binkies eEmporium, even though they only have two employees.
A Final Tip
Making key decisions for a growing business is never easy. It can feel like you’re dictating your future with the choices that you make very early on, but rest assured that this is rarely the case. When it comes to your phone number, you can always change your mind, and need only talk to your provider for assistance. Their support will extend further than this, though, and they will also be happy to help you to choose your phone number, exploring all of the benefits it can offer to your business to make sure that you are getting the most out of your phone service.
Hopefully you are now feeling a bit more confident about choosing the right phone number for your business. Just remember that whether you choose a local or toll free number today, you can always add additional phone numbers in the future should you expand your operations nationally or wish to focus on a specific local area.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.