A virtual phone number is a unique phone number that automatically routes calls to specific mobile phones, landlines, or desktop devices. While not as feature-rich, virtual phone number services are affordable alternatives to standalone voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) systems. This makes them perfect for businesses that need to separate their professional calls from their personal line, but don’t want to maintain a lot of extra equipment.
If you are in the market for a new virtual phone system, we recommend looking at Grasshopper. The platform comes at a low monthly cost and comes standard with features like unlimited calling, texting, and voicemail. Additionally, each version of the system comes with an automated attendant that can greet all of your incoming callers without human intervention. Click the button below for more details.
How Virtual Numbers Work
Virtual phone numbers are a call forwarding service, but otherwise act in an almost identical fashion to the way the phone number associated with hardware, such as your landline or cell phone, works. They can be used to send and receive calls or send and receive SMS messages, just like a standard phone number. The difference is they are not attached to a specific piece of hardware and can be set up to work on cellphones, landline sets, and even desktop computers.
Virtual phone numbers offer more flexibility in how they are used compared to traditional business phone systems, but you will need an existing phone line to use a virtual phone service. This can be your personal phone line, like the one on your smartphone. It could also be a landline in your home office. Virtual numbers can also be used by larger businesses looking for more cost-effective ways to offer their customers additional ways to reach them.
This is because virtual numbers support all business phone number types. Most services offer local phone numbers with the prefix of almost any area code in the United States. However, many service providers also offer a toll-free, 1-800 number for your company. This can be useful if your business is trying to command a more established business presence. Businesses can also use virtual numbers to offer customers memorable vanity numbers, like 1-800-FLOWERS.
If your team needs a virtual phone system, but doesn’t know which one to choose, we recommend taking our quiz to help you decide.
Which Virtual Phone Number Provider Is Right for You?
Answer a few questions about your business and we'll give you personalized product match
Who Virtual Numbers Are Right For
The best virtual phone services are highly affordable and come with a wide range of features, such as mobile apps and automated attendants. Therefore, they are suitable for just about any small business that is looking for a dedicated professional line. With that said, there are a few environments in which virtual number services are especially useful.
Virtual phone numbers are especially beneficial to the following:
- Freelancers: If you are a one-person operation, you have no need for a complex VoIP phone system designed for large organizations. However, you can still benefit from the professional image of having a dedicated business line. Virtual phone numbers give you that ability at an ideal price.
- Young companies: If your company is just starting out, you may lack the capital to invest in RingCentral, Nextiva, or any other mainstream phone service. While you grow, staff can download a mobile virtual phone system app to their smartphone and effectively have a virtual work phone that they can use at a fraction of the cost.
- Small teams: If you have an established business that’s only comprised of five or so people, there really isn’t a need to shell out money for enterprise-level features offered by VoIP phone systems.
In addition, as virtual phone number services do not require any specialized hardware, they are also a great option for professionals who are always in the field, teams with remote staff, or businesses that are still settling on a location. This is because they make it easy for your customers to reach you or your growing team no matter where your workspace is located.
Virtual Number Costs
The overall cost of a virtual phone number will depend on what system you choose. On the cheapest end of the spectrum, you can get a local phone number along with basic functionality like unlimited calling and texting with Google Voice at no cost. On the other end of the spectrum is the most expensive version of Grasshopper, which costs $80 per month for five numbers, unlimited extensions, and an automated attendant.
You can really choose how much or how little you want to spend when it comes to virtual phone systems. It’s also worth noting that virtual phone systems require no special hardware in order to work. This means that you can save hundreds, or potentially thousands, from not having to buy headsets, public branch exchange boxes (PBX), or anything else that large companies need to buy for their VoIP systems. Setup is also quick and easy.
Virtual Number Features
Virtual phones work in a similar fashion to any other business phone system that you’ve been using for years. These systems come with a virtual interface, otherwise known as a softphone, for calls and texts. Many virtual number providers come with extra features to help you truly master your call traffic. For example, Grasshopper offers an automated attendant, online faxing, and the ability to connect call data with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
However, the primary features of a virtual phone service are as follows:
Calling & Texting
Virtual phone systems allow you to make calls and send text messages in the same way you would on your smartphone. In most cases, the interface on your virtual phone app will look almost identical to the default apps found on iPhones and Android devices. When you make a call with a virtual number, the call will be forwarded to the main line, where you will pick up and get connected.
Most virtual phone number systems offer a voicemail module for missed calls. Additionally, they also offer a visual voicemail interface so that you can see all of your missed call information on one screen without having to listen to each message. Many services even offer voicemail-to-email transcription so that you can read your voicemail messages as on-screen text.
Phone Number Options
Every mainstream virtual phone number system comes standard with the ability to adopt a local phone number with a three-digit area code prefix. Additionally, many paid systems offer toll-free, 1-800 numbers or even customizable vanity numbers, like 1-888-FLOWERS, that can be highly memorable. Some solutions, like VirtualPhone.com, can even provide international numbers, which is especially nice for teams that do business in other countries.
Pros & Cons of Virtual Numbers
Virtual phone systems are extremely useful because they provide smaller teams with a dedicated business line that does not require any additional hardware. With that in mind, they do need an existing line to forward calls from, and that could make then not viable for teams that are looking for a standalone service.
Pros of Virtual Numbers
Cons of Virtual Numbers
Affordability: Google Voice offers unlimited calling and texting at no cost to the user. Even paid systems like VirtualPhone.com offer plans as cheap as $9 per month. Therefore, virtual numbers are affordable enough for small businesses.
Existing phone line requirements: Unlike a VoIP system, a virtual phone number requires an existing line, as it needs a line to forward calls from. If you need a standalone system, you may want to consider RingCentral or another leading small business VoIP system.
Flexibility: Calls made with virtual numbers can be redirected to mobile phones and landline handsets. You can take your virtual number wherever you go, which makes these systems especially useful for remote workers.
Basic features: RingCentral and other, more expensive VoIP systems offer advanced capabilities like video chat and team messaging. If you want your phone system to serve as a complete business communications suite, you may want to use them instead.
Usability: The process of using a virtual phone system is almost identical to making calls and sending texts on a smartphone. If you adopt a virtual phone system, you probably won’t have to train any of your employees in order for them to use the service.
Internet required: A virtual phone service requires an internet connection in order to operate. If you are in a rural area or otherwise lack a fast network connection, a landline or business cell phone plan might be the better choice for you.
Alternatives to Virtual Numbers
If you decide that a virtual phone system isn’t the right fit for your company, there are still plenty of other options available to you. You could subscribe to an internet-based VoIP service that does not require an existing line. You could also use a landline, which offers basic features but does not rely on a quality internet connection. Additionally, every major carrier in the United States offers business-centric cell phone plans.
Virtual number alternatives include:
Systems like RingCentral and Nextiva are more expensive than the majority of virtual phone systems on the market. However, they work without an existing line. They also come standard with advanced features including video chat, team messaging, and integrations with outside business software.
An internet-based phone system isn’t for everyone. Millions of people around the world live in rural areas where fast internet packages simply aren’t available. Landlines have time tested reliability and can work just fine even when your network is running slow. Check out our guide to landlines for more details.
Business Cell Phone Plan
If you do not feel comfortable making your employees download a virtual telephony app on their personal smartphones, you could pay up and get each employee their own cellphone and service plan. Every major U.S. carrier offers business-focused bundles for teams of all size. Prices can range anywhere from $17 per line or go all the way up to $120 per line or more depending on what your monthly data and call volume needs are. For more information, check out our guide to business cell phone plans.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I forward multiple virtual numbers to one line?
Yes. You can have as many virtual numbers as you want forwarded to your main line. In fact, doing this is a popular and effective way of call tracking if you are looking to collect data on where your callers are coming from.
Can I still use my main number after connecting a virtual number?
Yes. Connecting a virtual line to your existing number will have no effect on your ability to make and receive calls with the original line.
Will my virtual phone service screen incoming calls?
Yes. Even the most basic options, such as Google Voice, will tell you the incoming caller’s name, location, and number. This is especially helpful for avoiding spam calls.
Virtual phone number systems are great for small teams that need a dedicated professional line. They come at price points most companies can afford, and on top of that, they offer unlimited calling and features like automated attendants. It’s the perfect choice for any organization that wants to command a more established business presence by upgrading from a personal phone number.
If you are looking for a new virtual phone solution, we recommend Grasshopper, our top overall pick for a virtual phone solution. The system comes standard with virtual fax, toll-free numbers, and an automated attendant for your incoming call traffic. Click the button below to get started today.