A business phone number keeps your professional life separate from your personal. It only takes minutes to set up, and can often be obtained for free. This is true whether you’re setting up a virtual number via Google Voice or a professional phone system via Nextiva.
In this guide, we’re going to show you how to set up a business phone number. In particular, we’ll be explaining where to get local, toll-free (800), and vanity phone numbers, as well as discussing the pros and cons to each type of phone number.
If you’re looking to set up a full small business phone system, many providers will include local or toll-free phone numbers at no additional cost. We recommend Nextiva phone service, but you can read our full comparison of small business phone providers here.
Business Phone Number Options
|Local Phone Number||Simple, often provided free with phone service||Ties you down to a single geographic area. Not always memorable.||$0 - $10/month|
|Toll Free / 800 Number||Indicates a more professional and/or nationwide business||You have to pay for all calls. Not always memorable.||$10/month|
|Vanity Phone Number||Extremely memorable: Great for advertising.||Can be expensive.||$10 - $50/month or higher|
The table above shows the 3 main types of business phone numbers: local, toll-free, and vanity. Each of these have their pros and cons and are ideal for different scenarios.
There’s also virtual phone numbers, which are local, toll-free, or vanity numbers that forward to an existing phone line. While these aren’t exactly a category of their own, virtual phone numbers are another important option for new businesses.
Next, we’ll discuss each type of phone number in more detail, including where to get one:
1. Local Business Phone Number
- Example: 201-555-2047
- Cost: $0 – $10/month
- Where to get a local phone number: Your business phone service provider or Google Voice (learn more here)
The simplest option, a local business phone number is typically assigned when you purchase phone service. The 3-digit area code corresponds to your city or region. This makes it ideal for brick and mortar businesses who have mostly local callers and/or want their phone number to establish a connection with the neighborhood.
A local phone number is usually provided for free when you sign up with a small business phone provider. You can learn about some of the best options here on our phone service buyer’s guide.
Alternatively, you can get a free local phone number from Google Voice. With this, you can make and receive calls for free from your desktop or mobile phone. The main downside to Google Voice is that only certain area codes are available. During my test run, for example, there wasn’t anything available in Chicago’s primary area code of 312, although there were numbers available with suburban area codes 630 and 779.
2. Toll Free Phone Number
- Example: 800-555-2047
- Cost: $10/month
- Where to get a toll free number: From a business phone service provider (learn more here)
If your business operates nationwide, a toll free or 800 phone number is a way to separate yourself from any local area code. Traditionally, these numbers allowed customers to call your business without incurring long distance charges. Today, they’re generally sought-after to give your business a larger and more professional brand image.
Toll free numbers can begin with 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844. Most professional phone system providers like Nextiva or RingCentral include a toll free number at no additional cost with your purchase. If you aren’t looking to replace your phone system, you can also buy a virtual toll free number that forwards to your existing line starting at $10/month from Phone.com (learn more here).
3. Vanity Phone Number
- Example: 1-800-MYBUSINESS
- Cost: $10 – $50/month or higher
- Where to get a vanity phone number: Phone.com or Ringboost (learn more here)
Consumers are 2x as likely to remember a vanity number vs. a numeric phone number on billboards or print ad. For radio ads, the results are even higher with vanity numbers a whopping 9x more memorable (Source: 800Boost).
A vanity phone number is communicated using easy-to-remember words. For example, 1-800-TELEPHONE is a vanity number that corresponds to 1-800-835-3746 on the phone’s keypad.
The price of vanity numbers vary widely depending on demand. For example, most business phone providers, like Nextiva, will let you pick a vanity number for free (or small extra monthly charge), but you’ll likely need to use some numbers in combination with words, such as 1-800-824-TAXI. To get a full phrase like 1-800-TAXICAB you’ll likely need to use a more specialized service like Ringboost and pay a larger sum of anywhere from $30 – $400+ per month.
A vanity number can be either a local or toll-free number, although typically toll-free numbers are used. Google Voice will let you pick a local vanity number for free, so it may be worth checking there first.
4. Virtual Phone Number
- Example: Any number that forwards to your existing phone number
- Cost: $0 – $10/month
- Where to get a virtual phone number: Phone.com or Google Voice (learn more here)
A virtual phone number is any number that forwards to an existing line. It can be a local, toll-free, or vanity number.
A virtual number is useful for entrepreneurs who aren’t planning to setup a professional phone system, but don’t want to give out their personal cell or home phone number either. Using Google Voice, you can get a completely free virtual number that forwards to your cell phone.
You can set up a separate voicemail greeting for your business line, and even turn your number on and off. So, for example, if you don’t want to take business calls over the weekend, you can set your business line to automatically hit voicemail. At the same time, you’ll continue receiving calls to your personal number.
A virtual phone number is great for solo entrepreneurs who want a quick and painless solution. Once your team grows, however, consider a professional phone system with a phone tree, multiple extensions, and forwarding rules.
Which Type of Number is Best For Business?
Now onto the important question: Which phone number will bring in the most sales calls?
The answer is tricky because it ultimately depends on how you’ll be using it (i.e. for a billboard ad, posted on your website, etc.) and on the type of business you run.
Vanity Phone Numbers Work Best for Advertising
A vanity phone number will work best for most types of advertising since it’s the most memorable, including billboards, print ads, radio and TV. For online ads, memorability isn’t always as important since web and mobile users can simply click a button to dial your business (this is true for Facebook, Google, and Yelp).
Toll Free vs. Local Phone Number
If you aren’t looking to advertise your phone number specifically, but rather post it on your business website or in directories (like the Yellow Pages or Angie’s List), you’ll have to decide between a toll free or local phone number.
Generally speaking, consumers prefer local phone numbers when they’re calling a local small business. Ads with local phone numbers in print yellow pages received 2x as many calls as those with 800 numbers, according to study from CRM Associate.
This is because local phone numbers leave the impression of a more personable and attentive business. A toll-free number, on the other hand, calls to mind frustrating experiences with call centers, automated menus, and long on-hold times.
So why use a toll free 800 number?
If your business isn’t local in-nature – for example, if you sell custom fishing gear or run a PR consulting firm – you don’t want a phone number that ties you down to a specific region. This may lead customers to believe you don’t operate outside your area.
A local number can also harm your business by making it seem like a smaller operation. For a pet-care or shoe repair service, this might not matter. But for a consulting firm, you want a phone number that says “I’m large, reputable, and well-connected.” An 800 number leaves that impression.
Virtual Numbers Best For New Businesses
Traditionally, getting a new phone number meant installing a new phone line in your home or business. Today, virtual numbers make it possible to add a new phone numbers to your existing line or device.
This makes virtual numbers ideal for new businesses who want to use a new phone number (as opposed to your personal number), but don’t have the funds yet to set up a full-scale phone system. You can set one up in a matter of minutes, and often for free if you’re only making calls in the US/Canada.
A virtual phone system can scale with you. Using Phone.com, you can set up an auto-attendant and phone tree that connects callers to employees via their cell phones (without giving away personal numbers). Nevertheless, most businesses will eventually switch to a professional phone system so they aren’t depending on employees to use their own smartphones.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing a professional business phone number, most small businesses can get by with a local phone number. Especially if you have a physical location or serve a local area, a local number often leaves the best impression on potential customers.
The exception is if you’re advertising, or sell nationwide. In these scenarios, consider a vanity or toll-free number instead. Most professional phone systems, including Nextiva and RingCentral, can include toll-free numbers at no additional cost and vanity numbers for a small additional fee.