Years and years ago, when I was in high school and my mom was setting up my very first cell phone for my birthday, the phone company clerk asked her who the phone would be for. She answered “my son.”
The clerk either had a sense of humor or was wickedly mean, and entered “Your Son” as the name that the phone was under.
Years later, when returning business calls with the same phone the name that would show up on Caller ID when I called was…you guessed it, “Your Son.”
You can imagine how mortifying it was to return a call to a customer one day and have her answer “Hello, son!”
“Uh, I am returning your call to Picnic Table Rental…”
Thus, I suggest you put a little thought into the phone line that you use for your side business.
Land Line or Cell Phone
If you have a physical location for your rental business, one that customers visit to pick up their rentals, it makes sense to have a land line.
In most other cases, it probably does not.
Landlines are restrictive, especially if you work a separate day job and are making deliveries for your side business. It becomes difficult to answer a land line regularly or return calls to customers more than a couple times a day.
Personal Cell Phone
To run a side rental business from your home, which is a great way to start, it is feasible to have the business calls go to your personal cell phone (if you are comfortable with advertising that number). This saves you the cost of an extra phone just for the business.
It also gives you the freedom of being able to answer while making deliveries, or perhaps on your lunch break at work, or maybe even while you are at your day job if conditions permit.
You might think that it is necessary to answer the moment every customer calls, but most people are actually very understanding if you can not.
It will be fine if you ask them to leave a message with the pertinent information and then you actually return their call in a timely manner (which I would suggest means, at the very least, the same day).
For Picnic Table Rental we did it this way the entire time that we operated the company. All of the calls went to one of our cell phones.
My dad’s phone number was the one we advertised. When he was not going to be able to answer calls or respond to them quickly he had all of his calls forwarded to my cell phone.
This was an easy and flexible system. Even if I was out of town during the week I could answer the business calls and help customers.
Separate Company Phone
If you decide to get a separate cell phone for the business you may be able to do so for relatively cheap.
You will have to weigh what you need – does it have to be a smart phone or can you get by with just get a basic phone? You can get either type of phone on a pay-as-you go monthly plan with unlimited calling for pretty low prices (between $30 and $50 a month).
If you need access to an online inventory system, calendar or scheduling system, or quick access to email then a smartphone is worth the extra cost. If you will only need the phone for calls, a smartphone is not necessary.
A fantastic option for business owners on a tight budget is a web phone number.
For this type of service the number one option is Google Voice. It is a free service that allows you to make and receive domestic calls and texts for free from your computer.
Google Voice assigns you a unique phone number. The best part is that any calls to your Google Voice number can be forwarded straight to your cell phone or any other phone number of your choosing, allowing you to advertise the Google Voice number as your business phone number that you can answer on your normal cell phone.
It is even more useful in that it allows you to set up a schedule. You can have calls forwarded from Google Voice to a specified phone for only specific hours of the day, and it can be forwarded to another phone at other hours of the day. For example, you can have the calls to your Google number forwarded to your cell phone during the work day and to your home phone in the evening.
You can even set up the system to call multiple phones consecutively. If Googe forwards a call to your cell phone and you don’t answer, it can keep ringing but switch to calling your work phone and then home phone (or whatever phones you list) until you answer one of them. The system even allows you to essentially put the caller on hold while you switch phones, say from your cell to your home phone, without hanging up the call.
Finally, Google Voice will use voice recognition software to transcribe your voicemail into text form. If you miss some calls from customers you will have a written list of their messages, hopefully including important information such as their name and phone number, in an easy-to-use written format. You can also listen to the audio of the voicemail if needed.
Choose and Begin
With the variety of options that have been made available over the past two decades there is very little barrier to entry when starting a side business. You no longer need an extra landline for your business. It is so easy to set up an inexpensive business cell phone or web phone that there is no excuse for not getting started now!
What type of business phone solutions have you tried? Has anything worked particularly well (or not well) for you? Share your story in the comments below.