About a year ago I started a new business offering interactive "escape room" challenges in the Detroit area. Although I'd hoped to keep it strictly an online affair, with an informative website and simple ticketing system, it quickly became clear I'd need a phone line. Customers needed a way to reach me with questions, booking issues and so on.
Just one problem: I wasn't about to start carrying around a second phone. I see that all the time — not just with business owners, but corporate workers as well. They have their company-issued phone in one pocket and personal handset in the other. Talk about a hassle! There has to be a better way, to say nothing of a more affordable one.
There is! Thanks to various apps and services, one smartphone can have two separate and distinct phone lines. You keep your current number, then add a second one (new or ported, your choice) that's strictly for business. When you want to place an outgoing call, you use an app similar to your phone's native dialer. Incoming calls typically have a distinctive ring (and often caller ID as well) so you can tell they're business-related.
You can also send and receive text messages via that number, and in some cases add extras like auto-attendants and voicemail transcription.
This is great stuff, not just for small-business owners, but also for individuals. For example, many employers are willing to cover the cost of a smartphone and monthly plan, but only as long as you work there. That means if you leave or get fired, you lose your mobile number. If you're using an app-powered second line as your personal number, though, that number can stay with you as you move from one phone to another.
So, what does a second line cost? Considerably less than a second phone. I tested half a dozen services — BusinessCall, eVoice, Google Voice, Grasshopper, Line2 and Sideline — with prices ranging from free to a whopping $199 per month. The latter is a rarity; most individual and small-business users can expect to pay $10 to $15 a month, though the two freebie options — Google Voice and Sideline — can get the job done if you're willing to accept a few compromises.
That said, the playing field proved pretty level among all six services. Save for a few setup hiccups here or minor operational hassles there, all of them delivered on their promise of a reliable second line. The variances lie in pricing, features and target customer: Some second-line apps cater specifically to business users, some to personal users, and one — Line2 — to both.
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