Why Big Businesses And Startups Should Still Use Toll Free Numbers
I just finished reading the Effortless Entrepreneur by Nick Friedman and Omar Solomon. It’s a great book about two guys just out of college, who started their own junk hauling business, and turn that business into a multimillion dollar enterprise. A fascinating journey of turning loads of trash into loads of cash.
One of the first things that Nick and Omar did to give their startup credibility, and to help market their business, was get a custom 800 number. They attributed a large part of their success to their number. And it reminded me why toll free phone numbers are still important to both big businesses and small businesses alike, even today in the world of iPhones and iPads.
Aren’t Toll Free Numbers Dead?
Every once in a while people ask: Are toll free numbers dead? And the answer is: definitely not. Everyday thousands of large and small businesses buy vanity toll free numbers. In fact, demand for custom toll free numbers is at an all-time high. There’s such a large demand that last year the FCC had to release the newest toll free area code 844 early because there was a national shortage of toll free numbers. But before we jump into that, let’s first answer some basic questions about vanity 800 numbers.
What Is A Custom Toll Free Number?
A custom toll free number, also known as a vanity toll free number, is a toll free number that spells a specific word or uses a specific numerical sequence. The word “custom” simply means that you get to choose the numbers of your toll free number. Companies large and small, use custom toll free numbers for marketing purposes. Oftentimes companies will use a toll free number that spells a word related to their brand or industry. This makes a company’s toll free number a very powerful marketing tool by simply making the phone number easy to remember. Think about how useful that would be in advertising, especially when advertising on the radio, TV, on a billboard, on the side of a taxicab, or any other medium where there is a limited amount of time to digest your advertising message.
Some companies have built their brand around their custom toll free number. For example, the most famous toll free number of all, 1-800-FLOWERS. You may also have heard of 1-800-CONTACTS or 1-800-DENTIST for example. Custom toll free numbers such as these are said to be valued in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
How Are Toll Free Numbers Different Than Local Numbers?
Toll free numbers are different than local numbers for a few reasons. First of all, toll free numbers are toll free for people calling them. This basically means, someone can call an 800 number and the long distance charges are charged to the person who owns the toll free number, not the person calling it. This used to be a major selling point for getting a toll free number. But today, in the era of cell phones, unlimited long distance and voice over IP services, it’s not as important for a business to have a toll free number in order to encourage people to call in and not feel burdened by a hefty bill.
So Why Are Toll Free Numbers Still Relevant For Small Businesses?
- Custom toll free 800 numbers give large businesses and small businesses alike, credibility. Since the 1960s, companies have been using toll free numbers as business numbers. And people recognize toll free numbers as being the phone numbers that businesses use. If you saw a company advertise their phone number on TV and it was a local number, it would look suspicious to you. Additionally, if your business sells products and services nationwide, a toll free number (with a toll free area code) gives your business a national presence.
- Another reason why custom toll free 800 numbers are still relevant, is that a business owner can find a toll free number that spells the word related to their brand, services, or industry, that’s easy for customers to remember. It’s hard to do this with local numbers, also known as DIDs. Only toll free numbers, are housed in a national database that works as a central location for all available toll free numbers in North America. This allows phone companies, like UniTel Voice and AT&T for example, to build search engines that scour the national toll free number database for available toll free numbers that spell a specific word or that use a specific numeric combination.
- Finally, the number one reason a business would want to use a custom toll free number today, is toll free number portability. In the early 90s, the FCC implemented special toll free number portability rules that protected businesses. These rules ensured that businesses owned their toll free numbers and could easily port them from one phone company to another phone company. Businesses could port their toll free number, or transfer their toll free number to another carrier of their choice that perhaps offered better rates, better customer service, or better features. And they could port their toll free number without their toll free number going down or their current phone company holding them hostage.
Think about how important number that is. If you spend time and money advertising your business’s number, you’d certainly want to keep that number. That number would be a valuable and even critical asset to your business. What if out of the blue, your phone company raise your rates to some astronomical price? What if out of the blue, your phone company went out of business? What if your phone company started offering poor customer service or didn’t offer the phone system features your business needed to scale? If you could not port your business number to another phone company and seamlessly transfer it without any downtime, you’d be in a pretty tight spot. That is why Fortune 500 companies almost exclusively use toll free numbers in their advertising today.
This logic does not extend only to big businesses. It makes sense for small businesses and even startup companies. Let’s take Google voice for example. Time and time again we see bootstrapped entrepreneurs using Google voice numbers to run their business. Google voice is a great service and it’s free. But at this time Google voices features are very limiting, and they don’t provide a true business phone system experience where you can set up greetings and extensions etc. Further, Google voice does not offer toll free numbers only local DIDs. What happens to entrepreneurs who have been running their startup advertising a Google voice number and get to the point where they need a true business phone system, so they can sound more professional? Porting the number could be a challenge. Have you read Google voices terms and conditions? It’s a free service, so do you own the number outright? Can you call Google voices customer service team and speak to a person or do you need to sift through hundreds of forum posts to try to get the answers you need?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is: If you’re going to invest time and money into your business phone number, it’s a smart move to choose a toll free number. Even if the toll free number you choose is not a custom vanity 800 number, it still lends credibility to your enterprise. But most importantly, it gives you, the business owner, the flexibility of truly owning your number, and truly controlling your number. If you use your business number to make sales or support customers, then it is a critical piece of your business model. And if your number is a critical piece of your business model, then it’s worth getting a professional business phone system and a toll free number that will allow your business to scale and operate with the security of owning your business phone number.