How to get a telephone number for your business

Posted by Voipfone on September 1, 2010

When you start a business you don’t always start off renting a nice new office or shop complete with a telephone line and fax machine – lots of people start from home sitting at their kitchen table and trade from a website.

But your new web site needs something behind the ‘Contact Us’ tab. Customers expect to see a real address and telephone number not just an email address. They want to contact you and you quite often you do too. Without proper contact details people can’t really trust you – it makes you look amateur.

Using your home telephone number is not really feasible; your kids may keep it engaged all day, you don’t want just anyone in your house answering calls from customers and anyway you should keep your private number private.

A mobile number is expensive for a customer to call and just shouts “Arthur Dailey” at would be customers – if your company can’t even afford a phone number why should anybody trust you with their credit card number?

The solutions

You can, of course just ask BT for another telephone line but that’s expensive, requires a new contract and quite often feels like a commitment you’re not yet ready to make. It is however the only way to get a completely independent line for both incoming and outgoing calls. Unless you use VoIP – see below.

BT’s Call Sign service

BT’s Call Sign product provides you with a second number which rings your existing home telephone and costs £1.75 per month. It’s not a great solution because it still ties up your home telephone line but as a stop gap solution it works – and it’s cheap.

Number divert services (Switchboard services)

These services go by a variety of names but are often called switchboard services. They normally give you a ‘free’ 0870 number then forward the calls to your home landline number. This is usually marketed as a free service to you but of course the calling party is paying a premium to call the number – about 8p per minute – which is about twice as much as a national call.

Unfortunately 0870 numbers have developed a tarnished reputation – people resent calling them and because of widespread abuse, Ofcom is forcing the price of 0870 numbers down to a normal national call rate in January 2008. This will make them uneconomic for the number provider and they will be forced to charge a rental or cease the service.

Some call divert companies also offer 0800, 0845 and geographic numbers for a monthly rental charge. These are genuinely useful services and well worth considering. The better ones offer voicemail, the ability to set open and closing times, call queuing, and allow you to redirect calls to other landline numbers and mobiles whenever you wish. (You will be charged for the calls diverted to your mobile or landline on a per minute basis.)

These services are fine but all they can do is intercept an incoming call and then send it to your normal BT telephone or mobile. When it comes to making outbound calls you are still using your normal BT service. So your call costs will reflect this and, perhaps more importantly, the Caller ID (CLI) you send will be your normal home line – so people calling you back will miss your ‘switchboard’ altogether and you will be giving people your private number.

Use VoIP

Unless you purchase another telephone line from BT, VoIP is the only method that gives you more outgoing and incoming capacity ie the ability to both make and receive more calls.

VoIP can also do everything that standard telephony can do plus a lot more and do it cheaper, so you may not be too surprised to learn that I think you should at least consider it before choosing your number provider.

Next Generation Telephone Services – VoIP

The whole telecoms world is moving to VoIP. BT will convert its entire network to it by 2010 and the residents of Cardiff have it already – whether they know it or not. Like those people in Cardiff, you don’t need to know anything about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) if you don’t want to – after all you probably don’t know anything about TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) but your normal phone still works J.

VoIP provides both very simple and extremely sophisticated telephone services cheaply and efficiently.. There are thousands of things you can do with it – which causes a problem when trying to explain what VoIP is and does, but for the moment we’re only concerned with finding the best way of getting you an independent telephone number that is reasonably future proof.

voip – the darkside

Although VoIP is the future it would be wrong not to talk about VoIP’s downsides – so what are they?


Old fashioned circuit switched telecommunications have been around for over 100 years and are now very reliable. VoIP on the other hand is a new technology and the industry is equally immature. When you take the plunge with VoIP you have to accept that the more advanced services are offered by pioneering young companies and the occasional glitch is going to happen. Neither is there any comfort to be found picking a big name brand like BT – they are all on the same learning curve.

(Note however, that call divert/switchboard services companies are not providing standard telephony services either and are themselves only as reliable as their equipment, software and procedures allow them to be).

Not all VoIP companies are the same, look for companies that provide business products, their services need to be more robust than simple consumer brands. Pick one that has been around for at least a couple of years so that it has gone through the start-up pains. And check that they provide failover services so that if the worst happens, calls are routed to you via the PSTN.


VoIP is a data network which relies on your domestic power supply to work, so it will fail if your power supply fails. But then so will your DECT phones and old fashioned PBX so that appears to be a risk we’ve learned to live with. Note: this does not apply to the VoIP switchboard type services discussed below.

Emergency services

Due to a strange quirk of UK regulations (which may change in 2007), few VoIP companies provide 999 access at the moment. If this is important to you, look for one that does. However, BT does not yet allow you to abandon your telephone line if you use VoIP so your normal telephone, or your mobile phone, is your emergency phone; as it is now.

VoIP myths

VoIP does not do provide uniquely cheap phone calls nor are all telephone calls free.

VoIP companies tend to offer some of the cheapest calls around but not necessarily the cheapest; if all you need are cheap calls look at CPS (Carrier Pre-Select services) too.

Only calls to another VoIP customer on the same network are free, not calls to mobiles or PSTN numbers. (However, there are tricks that allow you to call other VoIP networks for free too)

Getting a telephone number – Using VoIP for simple call divert

This is the easiest way to get a new number and technically doesn’t even use VoIP at all so you don’t even need a broadband connection.

It works like the call divert/switchboard services above. You are issued with a number of your choice and you then set a divert to either your home telephone number or your mobile. Diverts work with any number, including free 0870 although I do not recommend you choose this option for the reasons already explained.

This means you can give people a new, proper, number but don’t need any new phones, equipment or contracts.

Not many VoIP companies do this yet but a quick google will find them. We at Voipfone do, of course and you can find at how at the bottom of this article.

VoIP telephone numbers are the same as any other number; they are issued by Ofcom from standard number ranges and work in exactly the same way. The only difference is what is possible with the call once VoIP gets hold of it.

why use voip?

The very big reason is that you won’t always be working from your kitchen table.

You will want your number to stay with you as you grow and you’ll want to be making outbound calls on an independent line – not your home phone. You invest in your telephone number; you give it out to your friends and relatives, print it on your stationary and business cards and use it on your advertising and promotional materials. It often becomes part of your brand. It’s not a disposable item.

Diverting a call to your home landline or mobile is ok as a beginning but it is only the start. With VoIP you are also able to accept an incoming call via your internet connection onto your PC (which uses a free software telephone, like Skype) or into a telephone adapter that a normal phone can then plug into or directly into a VoIP telephone which then does not need your computer to be on to work.

Once you start using VoIP like this you can do almost anything you like with a call such as transfer it to an  extension – which can be anywhere – for free; handle several incoming calls simultaneously (you don’t need extra lines to do this), add telephone numbers to the same line so that you can run multiple ad campaigns, run several businesses, use music on hold and voice response systems (press 1 for sales etc). The system is very flexible and grows as you grow – as always without contracts or commitments you don’t want or need.

But all that’s another story!

Things to be (very) WARY of

Telephone companies can be very slippery; particularly the small ones. Charges are not always terribly visible or transparent and customer service is sometimes non-existent. So here are a few things to look out for:

Don’t buy the cheapest

Don’t trust ‘free’ offers and don’t chase the very cheapest telephone call you can get; for four reasons:

  1. Only BT, NTL and mobile companies have their own networks. The rest of us have to interconnect with them and they have to interconnect with each other. By and large, the rates we pay each other to send calls between us are either regulated or pretty standard so there is no real margin available for anyone to heavily discount. If we all have roughly the same variable call costs the only way calls can be offered much cheaper than anyone is ….well, you tell me 😉
  2. The interconnect routes that the calls are sent to may be poor quality and/or illegal. This normally only applies to mobile or international calls but problems you might experience are calls failing to connect, noisy calls, calls breaking up, dropped calls and no CLI.
  3. Telephone calls are cheap, even when bought from the most expensive provider. Unless you are operating a high density call centre, there’s really no point trying to save 5% of not very much.
  4. With VoIP, telephone calls between other VoIP users are really free – they really do not cost the provider anything to provide because you, as a broadband customer, have already paid for the bandwidth – just like you don’t pay to send an email, you don’t pay to make a true VoIP call.

If it seems too cheap it probably is – if you make a lot of mobile or international calls, look for a provider who says he uses Tier 1 connectivity.

Expect to pay a small rental for services and features that have real added value.

safeguard your number – Number portability

Your number may become important to you as a marketing brand or it may just be expensive and difficult to change.  So wherever you get your number from, it makes sense that it is secure. What happens if you provider ceases to trade or gives you a poor service?

Only BT is forced by regulation to transfer numbers to other telephone providers – it’s called porting – and as a general principle most other companies will not do it. So do check that your number provider has number porting agreements and will allow you to take your number to a competitor if you wish to.

If you use a VoIP company make sure they are a member of ITSPA, their trade body. They have a code of practice that allows free and open porting of numbers between its members and, as one of its members is BT, you have a good level of comfort that, should the worst happen, your number is safe.

hidden costs

It’s a poor tradition in the old telecommunication’s world to make it difficult to find out exactly how much their services cost. Some business web sites don’t contain any prices at all – try looking for PBX pricing  for example – they want you to call their commission based sales people; probably on an 0870 number.

However if they do provide pricing information do check for these tricks:

  1. Is VAT included?

Normally it isn’t – but it won’t always be obvious.

  1. Set-up charges

They don’t make much from telephone calls so they often want you to pay up front for something that actually costs them nothing and you get no value from. You can bet that they won’t tell you about set-up charges on the home page, so go look for it.

  1. Contract length

Most are pay as you go, no contract services but, if they are not, do check how long you are committing yourself for.

  1. Cancellation charges

If you want to get out of your contract before it ends how much is it going to cost you? If the company you have signed up to also gave you equipment you may have to return it or pay for it in full.

  1. Minimum charges

If they charge by the call they usually have a minimum call charge – it’s not usually more that 1p these days but BT’s is nearer 5p. If a lot of your calls hit answering machines you will suffer from this but it’s much worse if they use a minimum duration charge.

  1. Minimum Call Duration

This is insidious because it seems such a small number – say 1 minute. But if you call mobiles or exotic destinations it can be nothing but a huge rip-off. If you see call prices to UK mobiles that look very good value (ie are cheap) they may well be using this trick. It means that every time your call goes to voicemail you will pay them 20p – or whatever.

  1. Charging increments

Almost everybody charges by the second these days and it’s normal to round up to a whole second – but you never know, someone out there may still be using 5p unit fees!

  1. Minimum call volume

‘Free’ switchboard companies often require you to have a minimum number of calls per month per number. What happens if you have a slow month?

  1. Locked Equipment

Some VoIP companies provide you with hardware – adapters, routers or telephones. This has advantages for you as the equipment is then pretty much guaranteed to work out of the box on their network.

However, you need to know that it will be worthless if you move suppliers. If you buy VoIP equipment from ebay make sure it is unlocked.

Packages, Unlimited Calling Plans, call minutes and other scams

Before signing up to a calling plan or inclusive call minutes package check what they actually mean.

There is no such thing as an unlimited calling plan. They all have an ‘abuse of service clause’ in their T&Cs so that if you regularly exceed a given number of call minutes which makes you uneconomic as a customer – a number they may not even define – you will be warned, bumped up to a ‘business use’ package or chucked off the service.

They will also always exclude calls to mobiles and expensive destinations so they are in no way ‘unlimited’

Some companies protect themselves by selling packages of say 500, 1000 call minutes (this includes Voipfone). These can be good deals if you are a heavy user as they normally offer a decent discount over non-package prices. But to get the benefit you have to use them all up in the month – they do not roll-over. If you regularly underuse these packages it is usually better to use normal pay as you go calling credit.

Packages like these do allow you to budget easily as you have some certainty about your call cost but they may work out to be not particularly good value. To understand what value you are actually getting, divide the monthly charge by the normal call cost of 1p (ex VAT). So to benefit from a £10 a month call package you would need to make more than 16.6 hours of calls to landline in a month.

information about numbers

You want a number that suits your business – numbers are important, they say different things about you to your customers.

0800 says –“please call me, it’s free”. A geographic number (0207, 01273, 0161 etc) says “I’m local” or “I’m proper and established and you know what it costs to call me”.  0870 says “I’m cheap, it’s going to cost you a lot to call me” or “I’m providing a valuable service that costs a little to get”. You can see what all the numbers are about here:

You may be putting your number on your stationary, business cards, advertising material and flyers. It may become part of your brand. So it’s important that, whatever number you use, it is fit for purpose and can grow and move with you as your business develops.

One interesting thing about VoIP is that their numbers can be taken anywhere. You can have a London number but be in Japan or Scunthorpe. So if you need to move out of the geographic area of the number (maybe you do finally get that office) you can take the number with you – even if the somewhere is the Bahamas.

How to get just a telephone number from voipfone

You do this by simply going to our web site, signing up, choosing a number and setting a divert.

You can set the divert to go anywhere you like and change it as often as you like. There is a standard charge for diverting your calls – 1p per minute for a landline and 12p for a UK mobile. Specifically what you do is this:
Go to our website at and ‘sign up’, then go to ‘services’, choose the type of number you want and buy it.

Geographic and 0845 numbers costs £1.99 per month (ex VAT). There is no contract or set-up costs, cancel any time – the number is active immediately. We also automatically give you a free 056 number so you could just use that if you want to – calls to 056 numbers are at normal national call rates.

Now go to ‘your account’ then click on the ‘call divert’ icon and In the box that says ‘divert all calls to’ enter whatever number you’d like your calls to divert to; then save it.

In order for the divert to work, you now need to put some credit on your call account because we charge you for the call we make to your mobile or landline. (Normally calls to your number are free of course but the divert is actually a new call from us to the PSTN or mobile network). It costs 12p per minute to your mobile or 1p per minute to a landline (ex VAT).

You add credit to your account in £5, £10, £20, £50, £75 or £100 chunks by going the ‘purchase credit’ icon and selecting the amount you wish. There’s an automatic top up feature, which if you allow it, will automatically debit your card when your balance drops below £1 so you don’t get cut off in mid conversation!

Now all callers dialing your new number will call your mobile phone (or whatever). You can change the divert anytime you like as often as you like. You can even switch it off then your calls will go directly to your free Voicemail. You will also be emailed a WAV file of every Voicemail you receive. If you have an answering service you can divert your calls to them so that they get a real person when you’re not available.

Later, if you wish, you can add a telephone to your service so you can make outbound calls too and really start to use VoIP.

Getting Cleverer

If you want to do more than just divert a call to a single phone but still don’t want to use a VoIP telephone, you just add PBX (switchboard) functionality in front of the divert.

So you can, for instance send calls simultaneously to more than one telephone – say your home phone and mobile; add a call queue – so that if your phone is busy you don’t lose the call; add an Interactive Voice Response menu – press 1 for Sales, 2 for Accounts etc – so even if you’re a one man band sat at your kitchen table, it  looks like you’re as big as BT.


Voipfone provides no contract, pay-as-you go services and pre-configured but unlocked hardware. We have redundant and direct connections to two Tier 1 UK and international carriers. We charge calls by the fraction of a second with a minimum charge of 1p (inc VAT). We have no minimum volumes or set-up charges. The prices for all our services are here:

Voipfone is a founder member of ITSPA

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