1. Sales & Marketing
  2. Finances
  3. Your Team
  4. Technology
  5. Social Media
  6. Security
Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
Grow Your Business Technology

What Is a Virtual Phone Line?

image for fizkes/Shutterstock
fizkes/Shutterstock
  • A virtual phone number offers cost savings and flexibility for small businesses.
  • You can get a virtual number alone or as a part of a virtual phone system package.
  • Having a virtual phone number can make you accessible by phone anywhere, anytime while maintaining your personal number's privacy.

If you're looking to expand your business beyond the confines of a traditional phone line, a virtual phone number might be the solution for you. A virtual phone line offers low, flexible costs that can be customized to fit your business.  

A virtual phone number, or direct inward dialing (DID), is a telephone number that is not tied to a specific phone device or line and allows the user to redirect and route calls from one number to another number, IP address or device. Virtual phone lines can also be referred to as online numbers.

Traditionally, phone numbers were designed to work over a single phone line that was physically connected from the phone company to your home or business, and any calls made to that number could only be sent to that specific physical location. Cell phones, while more mobile than landlines, are still dependent on cell towers to provide coverage.

Having a virtual number allows a business to have greater control and flexibility with how it receives calls by removing physical limitations.

 

Virtual phone numbers rely on the internet instead of a phone company or cell tower to provide coverage, which allows users to be reached by phone or computer. It also allows you to change the device you use in real time. For example, if you only want to be reached on your mobile phone at certain times, you can route all calls during work hours to a virtual phone line.

Virtual phone numbers can be purchased several ways. If your business already has a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system, you can add virtual numbers to your current package via your provider. This generally costs $5 to $10 per number, per month.

If you want to purchase a virtual phone system, you can get a package that includes one virtual number and a certain number of extensions and minutes. Minutes are incurred depending on how long you talk on the "business line." A virtual phone system plan costs anywhere from $10 to $12 per month for one or two virtual numbers with 300 to 500 minutes up to $25 to $50 for up to two virtual numbers with 2,000 to 3,000 minutes.

If you don't have an existing virtual phone system, you can go through a provider that only sells virtual numbers.

Some of the most popular virtual phone line providers include

  • Google Voice, which provides individual users with a free virtual phone number that can be used for calls, text messages and voicemail. It provides the option of an easy-to-use app for smartphones or computers, and the virtual number can be linked to a mobile or landline number. Business plans start at $10 per user, per month.
  • MightyCall, a cloud-based virtual phone system, that offers phone calls, text messaging, and voicemail as well as smart call forwarding and call recording. Multiple subscription plans are available, starting at $19.99 per month.
  • Grasshopper, which supports calls, texts and voicemail. Grasshopper offers three different service plans at different price points, starting at $26 per month, allowing you to choose the one that works best for your business.
  • 8x8, a cloud-based VoIP unified communications system, boasts highly reliable service and three-way calling, online voicemail, call forwarding and ring groups among its many features. It's also able to integrate with office programs like Salesforce and Slack. Plans start at $12 per user, per month.

Without the limitation of being physically tied to a location, with a virtual phone line, you can receive calls anywhere, anytime and on your preferred device. For example, if someone in your company is going to be away and needs to be reachable by phone but doesn't want to give out their cell phone number, a virtual phone number can be assigned to their cell phone.

Virtual phone numbers are also beneficial for companies with multiple office locations. Instead of having a phone ring in one office, incoming calls can be sent to every phone in each office. This can be done by making your virtual phone line's destination a call queue or ring group, which will ring the phones of any employee who is designated as part of the queue or group either simultaneously or sequentially, depending on your preferences.

If your office is located in a different area than your customer base, you can assign a local area code to your phone line. This helps you establish a presence in a key area and lowers costs on incoming calls.

Furthermore, customers are more likely to call and answer calls from a local number than they are with an area code they don't recognize. "[A virtual phone number] can give the impression that you have office space [anywhere]," said Charles Floate, owner of DFY Links. "This can attract or encourage business from that area."

You can also track key customer metrics through your virtual phone line – many systems have the capability where you can assign a unique number to a specific campaign, for example, allowing you to know if someone is calling for that campaign based on the number alone. This data can be helpful when evaluating the effectiveness of a campaign.

Virtual phone lines can save your business thousands of dollars in telephony and equipment charges. Because they are 100% digital, virtual phone lines require no hardware, equipment, installation or maintenance.

When searching for a virtual phone number provider, besides phone service, check with the provider to see if it offers text and voicemail features. More expensive and complex plans typically offer features like three-way calling, ring groups, caller ID, call waiting and forwarding, the ability to record calls and call transferring.

You should also look for reliable service and see if customer support is included in your plan.

With virtual phone lines, the benefits vastly outweigh the cons, but there are a few drawbacks you should be aware of. The foremost drawback concerns work-life balance, said Matt Schmidt, CEO of Diabetes365.

"The downside, in my opinion, is that you are accessible almost anytime you are awake," said Schmidt. "Most people are workaholics to begin with, and having the ability to make another call from your home or wherever may lead burnout."

The second drawback is call reliability. Because a virtual phone number is purely internet-based, call quality will only be as strong as your internet connection. Make sure you have a strong, reliable signal that does not drop often and has a good customer service program.

If you are on a plan that uses minutes, you must be conscious of how you are using those minutes and that they are not being wasted on spam calls or calls that are not business-related. Otherwise, you run the risk of driving your costs up above your budget.

 

Kiely Kuligowski

Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.