Most small business owners are loath to use their personal phone numbers to field calls. But sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, especially if getting a second mobile account or installing a business landline is too expensive. Fortunately, there are shoestring solutions that can help you keep costs down while maintaining boundaries between your business and personal life. Google Voice represents one such solution – a cheap way to get a business phone number. In fact, it’s so cheap that it’s free.
Google Voice works by assigning you a Google number. Its purpose is to enable incoming calls to route to all of your operational devices simultaneously (home phone, business number, mobile phone) so that you can be reached more easily. This way when someone calls your Google number, Google Voice rings all of your configured phones at the same time until you pick up, or it transfers to voicemail. You can also adjust settings to route calls to voicemail during certain times of day, or block specific callers from reaching you.
With Google Voice, you also get unique features like the ability to listen in on voicemails as they’re being recorded, and pick up the call if you determine you need to take it. You can receive speech-to-text transcripts of your voicemail messages, send text messages straight from your computer, check voicemail and SMS messages via the web, make calls from your smartphone or computer, and create personalized voicemail greetings for specific callers. With the app installed on your smartphone, you can set Google Voice to act as the default voicemail service for your handset. If you decide against this, you can continue to use your carrier voicemail but you won’t be able to create personalized greetings for individual callers.
A Google phone number can be obtained free of charge. All you need to get one is a Google account, and you probably already have one of those. When you set up a Google number, you have the option of choosing your desired area code. If it’s not available, you’ll be given the choice of an alternative nearby area code. You can even choose an area code in another part of the country, which might be helpful if the majority of your client base is located on the other side of the country. Also, you can search the database of available Google numbers to find one that’ll be more easily memorized by your callers (for example, 801-555-WORK).
Once you have a Google number, you can set up all (or just some) of your devices to ring when someone calls it. You can also identify who’s calling so you’ll know how to answer the phone (“Thank you for calling Acme Landscaping” versus “Hi, honey”). Additionally, you can use your Google number to place calls from your computer, or from your iOS or Android smartphone. When you do that, your call recipient will see your assigned Google phone number on their caller ID.
Google Voice gives you the option to port your existing mobile number for a one-time fee of $20 – but if you do this, you’ll be passing up the opportunity to get a free number for business purposes. There are other unpleasant complexities involved with porting, such as the fact it doesn’t work with corporate landlines and VoIP numbers. For the purposes of using Google Voice to get a second number for business purposes, we suggest not taking this route.
Additional perks of Google Voice include being able to hold conference calls with multiple participants, or move between phones right in the middle of a call. Needless to say, this only works if the device you’re switching to has already been configured to operate with Google Voice.
In testing, we found that the interfaces differ if you’re using an Android or iOS device. To place a call on an Android smartphone, this is done by accessing your standard dialer. During setup, you can choose to have all outbound calls take place via Google Voice, or you can require the app to ask if you want to use Google Voice for individual calls. iOS devices are required to place Google Voice calls from within the app itself. The iOS app is also integrated to enable Click2Call functionality.
As of this moment, Google Voice is only available to U.S. Google account holders. All calls placed to the U.S. and Canada are free, with the exception of “a few U.S. and Canadian destinations” that could cost you a penny per minute. To place calls to these areas, or to make international calls, you’ll have to add credits to your Google account using a credit card. Placing calls from your smartphone on Google Voice uses minutes on your carrier plan.
If you’re looking for a cost-effective means of adding a second line to your repertoire for business purposes, using Google Voice could save you serious money you might otherwise spend installing a business landline or signing up for a second number through your mobile carrier. Even if you never take advantage of the included free SMS messaging and only use it to make and receive calls, it’s a powerful tool that you can use to great professional advantage.
There are some inherent drawbacks, not the least of which include having to reprint business cards and stationery to include your new Google number. But if you’re shopping around for the cheapest method of adding a professional phone line to better separate business from leisure, Google Voice could be a viable solution.
Google Voice is available for Android devices running 2.0 and up, and iOS devices running 6.0 or later. Bear in mind that you cannot use Google Voice to place 911 calls, so you should always keep an open line of communication for emergencies.
Looking for something similar? Try Skype for Business, but first read our full Skype for Business review.