Monday, September 17, 2007

How to Get Your Own Toll-Free Number

Like direct mail, a toll-free number is a simple, tried-and-true business essential that gets a bad rap nowadays. In the land of wireless phone networks and voice-over-internet-phone services, some futurists declare a toll-free phone number to be archaic.

Despite the proclamations, however, a toll-free phone number on your business stationery still imparts instant credibility.

Whether you want to increase your sales, look bigger than you are, add substance to your company's claims of superior customer service, or just think your business has the perfect name for a vanity phone number, here are the three main things for you know in order to get your own toll-free number.

1. Select Your Carrier

With telecommunications deregulation, there are now dozens, if not hundreds, of companies you could choose for toll-free service. While AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are the giants, there are numerous small companies competing for your business.

I found through a Google search for toll-free service providers and I was drawn in by their pay-per-click ad that offered a free trial and $10 free credit. While I had some issues at first with the service (see below), I've been happy ever since.

As a small business person, I appreciate vendors who can make my life easier. earned my trust with the free trial, has lower rates than the big guys, and has an online command center that enables me to easily see my bills, track my calls, and set up call forwarding rules whenever I'm away from the office.

2. Select Your Number

Getting any, old toll-free number isn't a problem. Getting one that matches your business phone number or one that spells something particular is a bit of a trick. Not only are you going to find that most 800- prefix numbers are already taken, so are the 877-, 866-, and 888- versions.

The big dog in all things phone, AT&T, has a useful toll-free search tool that lets you plug in one or more digits and find the phone numbers with the digits you want. As a personal note, I admit to spending WAY too much time with that search tool.

3. Test Your Number

Once you pick your number, take it back to the carrier you've chosen (or stay with AT&T if you prefer) and sign up. It will take a few days to activate the new phone number.

Despite your excitement to tell the world about your 800-number, don't rush out and do that. Before you publish your new toll-free number, make sure it works to your satisfaction! Check sound quality, crispness, stability in length of calls, and make sure it works from calls coming from all areas.

My first week with wasn't looking good. My friends, family and vendors in Canada weren't able to use the number and my first two emails to Customer Service didn't elicit any response. My third email connected me with a Customer Service rep who worked for several days to solve the problem. He was professional, personal, and saw the job through to completion. Problem solved, phone number works well, and I'm happy to tell others, namely you, about my experience.

Other Resources

Business Week: "Toll-Free Service Buyer's Guide"
eZine Articles: "Selecting a Toll Free Number?" Enter up to 16 digits to see what words can be made from them.

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