Your phone number can say a lot about your business before a first time caller even dials it. It's the original link that connects you with your leads, prospects, and customers in a tangible way.
Some people think they have no control over their business phone numbers. But the process of selecting a phone number is designed to give you choices about the location, pattern, and presentation of your organization's primary line.
And there are no shortage of options. According to a Wall Street Journal article, there are perhaps 7.7 million possible phone numbers in your area code alone. This puts the nationwide tally in the billions.
How Are Phone Numbers Provisioned?
Phone numbers are equally available to all providers; no carrier gets special access to the FCC's pool of available numbers. If a phone service doesn't offer certain available numbers, such as those with toll free area codes, it's usually because of financial or logistical reasons. Some providers provide phone number availability lists to see if your desired phone number combination is available with that service.
VoIP providers allow you to purchase, register, and provision phone numbers for your organization. In some cases, you can complete the entire provisioning process online, without any help from customer support. When choosing a new phone number, you can choose the area code and the next three digits of the phone number (e.g. 302-434-3958), but the last four digits are typically generated by the phone company from the pool of available numbers.
Once the phone number is registered to your business, nobody else can use it. But you can relinquish the number by manually deleting it from your account. Once you have a phone number, you can assign it to a phone, or multiple phones via extensions.
You can also port your current phone number over to your new phone system if you are switching providers. Local Number Portability (LNP) is when you take a phone number registered to your current service provider and transfer it over to your new service provider. While you're waiting for the port to complete, calls to your old number can be rerouted to a new or temporary number provided by your new service provider.
Toll Free and Vanity Numbers
You can also register toll free and vanity numbers with a business VoIP phone system. Toll free numbers allow a caller to contact a business without incurring charges. Toll free phone numbers are popular with businesses, because they remove the cost impediment of calling. However, your business will be responsible for picking up the associated costs.
There are six toll free codes in the United States: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855 and 844. Toll free numbers can be linked with your business or personal phone lines. "Vanity" numbers are toll free numbers that spell words, acronyms, names, or other spellings (e.g. 1-800-NEW-BEDS). Some providers do not offer the ubiquitous 800 code. If you're set on a 1-800 number, you should contact your provider to see if this range is available.
Registering a toll free/vanity number varies by provider. You can usually register toll free numbers without any interaction from the phone company. But vanity numbers typically require paper work and additional authorization before you can use them. Consult with your VoIP provider for more detailed instructions on how to acquire toll free and vanity numbers.
Phone Number Pricing
There are a few pricing considerations when it comes to phone numbers. First, there's the upfront fee that providers normally charge just to register and activate the phone number. Second, there's likely a recurring fee, usually charged on a monthly basis, to keep the phone number active and registered to your business.
Finally, there's the per minute charge you incur for each call that happens via that specific phone number. If you're transferring a phone number from an old service provider, you may also incur porting charges.
Some providers waive the upfront fee for new customers, or do not charge fees at all for local phone numbers. Others charge somewhere in the ballpark of $10 per local phone number. Toll free numbers range in cost from $10 - $30. Vanity numbers usually cost around $30 upfront.
The continuing monthly charge is typically much less than the upfront fee. You should expect to pay about $2 - $5 a month to keep your phone number active and registered. The charge is essentially nominal.
Porting numbers over to a new phone system is sometimes done free of charge, on a limited basis, for new customers. But generally, porting requires a fee, somewhere near $25 - $40 per phone number. After the number has been ported over, the service will subject the number to the pertinent per month costs.
As far as per minute charges go, local phone numbers are subject to the standard going rates of your provider. The pricing discrepancies are too numerous to list here, but you can get an idea of per minute costs in our VoIP Comparison blog series. Toll free numbers and some vanity numbers are sometimes subject to lower per minute costs and free minutes.