What do you think is the most important thing to your business? Some people may believe that it is their computer system. Others may say it’s the product they provide. It is not your equipment, your team, your client list, it is much more basic. Something perhaps that you take for granted. I’d argue something else is the most important to your business: your phone number. Without it, you wouldn’t have any business. How would potential customers come in contact with you? If you had no phone number, you’d just have a surplus of the product you sell without a means to get it out to other people.
Do you own your phone number?
Believe it or not, many small business do not own their telephone number. Instead, they lease it. It is important you own your telephone number, though. We’ve had the same number for over 30 years now. I have never really given the idea much thought. It’s mine.
This issue was brought to my attention by a new client. They were leasing their business telephone number from their previous answering service. The client was with their previous answering service for over 10 years and they had always been satisfied. However, hat local answering service was purchased by a large out of town company. This new acquisition altered the level and type of service my client was accustomed to receiving. It became less personalized and the agents were no longer familiar with his specific business.
What happened when he decided to switch?
He needed a change, so he contacted me. During our discussions, he realized that his customers call the number provided to him by his answering service. The answering service would not release the number, so he couldn’t take it with him! He felt stuck. He had to make a hard choice: stay with the current answering service that provided the business telephone number all his clients knew and called or switch answering services. Switching answering services means he will lose his business number. However, he will be able to receive the personalized answering service he and his business needs, and demands.
A tough choice, what would you choose? In the end he chose to have better service. Can you imagine loosing your main point of contact with all your clients? It’s frightening. Now, he has purchased an actual phone line through a telephone service provider and is working diligently to update his clients on his change in telephone number. I imagine this is a hard task. Updating change of address is hard enough, let alone a change of telephone number. What about his advertising? If he placed a print ad in a directory listing such as the yellow pages he will be stuck paying for the ad, and not generating new business. What if he has a website, social media, and online ads? Updating all of that information is possible but still very difficult for a small business.
Do not let yourself fall into this trap!
How can someone lease me a phone number?
All telephone answering services, and other companies that rely heavily on telephone services, utilize Direct Inward Dialing, or D.I.D. numbers. These are virtual phone numbers you can point anywhere they do not belong to a specific phone line. A common example of these numbers would be 1800 numbers, they are all D.I.D.s. They point to a local telephone line, but cost the caller nothing to dial. The long distance fee is paid by the owner of the local telephone line. However the 1800 number itself is a virtual number, it can be assigned to any telephone line. In fact, today, almost all telephone numbers can be considered virtual numbers.
Think about it. When you move, you can take your home phone number to the new address. Just like if you change cell phone service providers, you can transfer your number. Are you still wondering if you own your own telephone number? Here are a few tips to help you figure it out. It is not always cut and dry.
1. Who provides you with this number?
If your number is not from a traditional telephone service provider, you are likely leasing it. A traditional telephone service provider would be some of the original Bells. Here in Houston, it was Southwestern Bell, which is now owned by AT&T. Other areas are controlled by Verizon.
2. Do you have the ability to answer the number your self?
If you do not have the ability to answer your own phone number, it is certainly a leased number. However, just because you can answer it yourself does not mean it is not leased. There are many ways you can lease a number, but answer it yourself.
3. Did you sign an contract?
When you originally got your number, did you sign a contract or agree to a terms of service? If you did, read it. If you’re leasing the number, it will state that if you leave their service, your number will stay with that company. In general, a company leases you a number that they purchase or own from a traditional telephone service provider. This is why you’e unable to keep the number as your own.
Telephone Answering Services are Notorious Telephone Number Leasers
We own about 900 virtual D.ID. numbers, and provide them to all of our clients to call forward their business number to us. However, an answering service can lease you these D.I.Ds numbers to use in your advertising. Therefore, there is no need for you to call forward your business number. Because your clients and prospective clients can just call the answering service directly.
If everyone is calling the answering service directly then why even bother getting a business telephone number?
It sounds great when you are thinking about things with a short term mindset. Sometimes there is no additional fee added for this service, or only a minimal fee compared to having a business telephone line. So why not just lease the number? It sounds like a win-win, but as you can tell from my example above it is not. This is a lose-win situation. You will never be able to control your business communications. This isn’t good! You’ll always lose and the telephone answering service will always win. You loose because telephone number leasing is not adjustable. You can never change answering services, and keep your business telephone number.
Plus, when your business grows you will most likely need an in office secretary. Even if you are happy with your answering service, you could not transfer your leased number to your secretary during office hours. Many years ag,o we provided telephone number leasing services, but we learned our lesson. Even if we wanted we could not release the number to a client, because D.I.D.s come in groups of 100 usually. So If we wanted to release that number we would have to release all other 99 numbers in the group.
So only telephone answering services are this deceitful, and I should avoid them at all costs?
No! By all means, no. Many companys other than telephone answering services provide leased telephone numbers.
Google Voice uses D.I.D. numbers when you choose to use their service. These are numbers Google has purchased from a telephone service provider such as AT&T. Google owns these numbers, so when you leave their service you can’t take them. They belong to Google and they are not a telephone service provider. The service offers very low cost benefits and features for a small business. Just don’t use their number.
Instead, get your own number and call forward it to the Google Voice number. You can also use Google voice in conjunction with a telephone answering service. We have several clients who do this, it helps them reduce their monthly investment with us. They call forward their business number to Google Voice and configure it to ring their cell phone and our call forwarding number simultaneously. So if our client is available they can pick up, and if they are not we pick up. The call is given to whoever picks up the phone first. So this way we do not answer all their calls, which reduces their bill, but still provides them with a live person any time 24/7.
Another example is Skype. What they call their online numbers are really just D.I.D. numbers. Again, these are telephone numbers they buy from a telephone service provider. I am not an expert on Skype services, so I am not sure if you can utilize call forwarding of your number to a Skype number. However, I do suggest you look into that more before you decide to use that service. I do not believe you can take your Skype number with you when you leave, but don’t quote me on that.
Grasshopper is another service that utilizes D.I.D numbers. They claim you can take your number with you! So if you are considering some sort of cloud based telephone system I suggest something like this. That way, you can keep your number. You can also use Grasshopper in conjunction with a telephone answering service. The set up would work similar to what i previously described as a Google Voice Set up.
How do I know if I own my number or not?
When considering non traditional telephone service and phone numbers, ask if you will be able to keep the number they provide if you leave their service. Carefully read all terms of service. If you are signing a contract, read all the fine print. If the contract does not specifically outline the number is leased, ask if you can get a stipulation added that allows you to keep your telephone number even if you leave the service. Most answering services and non-traditional telephone services will offer you a way to call forward your own number over to them. They sometimes also allow you to port over your existing number. Be aware that if you do port it over, in some cases you may not be able to leave with it, so always ask!
What do you suggest I do?
If you are a small business owner you need to get a telephone line and telephone number from a local telephone service provider. In the Houston area, AT&T owns all the underground lines. We suggest you go directly to the source. However, there are many other telephone service providers such as Logix. Logix is a local company, they are only in Houston. You can also look into service over coax cable (cable television lines) using Comcast. Another thing you could look into is getting a cell phone with a telephone number and using that for your business number. There are many options out there for you. Choose what best fits your needs and budget. Just make sure you own your number! Don’t allow yourself to become stuck with any company or service. Stay in control of your business.
If you are trying to decide what to do, call our team. Apollo Answering service can provide you with several custom solutions. We can also help guide you through this important decision. No obligation required, just call us to chat. We can give you expert advice. We truly want to help you weigh the pros and cons of all the choice. We’ll help you work through the many options you have. We have professional telephone secretaries on stand by waiting for you because When Houston Rings, Apollo Answers!