By Alyssa Gregory

Hello, Can I Help You? Alternatives to a Landline for Business

By Alyssa Gregory

telephoneMany households have been replacing their traditional landline phone lines with cell phones or other alternatives for several years. A study by the National Center for Health Statistics in the U.S. last year showed that nearly one out of every six American homes (15.8%) had only wireless telephones during the second half of 2007.

But what about phone use for business? If your household is one that ditched your personal landline, you probably don’t have a separate dedicated landline for your business. If you are just starting your business, adding a landline may not be practical or cost efficient. Or, if you’re a seasoned freelancer who has found that you spend very little time on the phone, a dedicated business landline may not make much sense.

So what are your options? Here are a few alternatives to a landline that you can consider for your business, and a brief look at the pros and cons of each.


Cell Phone

As mentioned above, many professionals opt to use a cell phone as their business line. The benefits of doing this include reduced expenses, the ability to be accessible even when you’re away from work, and not having to maintain a separate line for business.

The biggest drawback is reception and the lack of professionalism in dropped calls and other common cell phone issues. Plus, some of the benefits can be considered drawbacks as well – being accessible all the time and mixing personal and business phone use.


VoIP is a very popular alternative to a landline, with a number of providers to choose from. You can use VoIP through your computer, such as Skype. Or you can get VoIP service from your broadband provider or other VoIP providers, such as Vonage, that includes a modem to allow you to use a regular phone.

The benefits of VoIP typically include reduced cost for monthly service, a full set of typical telephone line features (such as caller ID and voicemail), faxing capabilities, and the ability to take your phone line with you when you travel.

One of the biggest drawbacks of VoIP is reliability. If you lose your Internet connection or have a spotty connection, your phone service will be impacted. You may also experience poor call quality, which can be a major negative for a business line.

Virtual Phone Line

A virtual phone line is another alternative to a landline for business. Through services such as RingCentral, you can choose a toll-free number or a vanity number, and your calls are either routed to a private voicemail box or forwarded to another phone line (like your cell phone). You can make calls from your primary phone line and mask them as if you are calling from your virtual line. Another benefit is the ability to setup voicemail boxes using a greeting and extension system which can add to your professionalism.

One of the drawbacks is the management and rule setting that is required to get your line to function as you want it to. For example, unless you set up the virtual line to forward to your primary phone line, all of your calls will be routed to voicemail. Another drawback is that it can be an expensive way to get a business phone number unless you use all of the features it offers.

There are other alternatives like telephone answering services and dedicated business cell phones, but with any option you will need to consider your needs and the pros and cons of each option to determine the best fit for you. Some areas to think about include:

  • Call quality
  • Professionalism
  • Cost
  • Security
  • Accessibility of emergency services
  • Reliability
  • Convenience

What type of phone service do you use for your business?

Image credit: zvon

  • Ed

    I am waiting for my Google Voice invite to be able to run my business calls through that rather than direct to my cell which is where I have been taking my business calls. I work as a freelancer and don’t want the added expense of a dedicated business line, but I also want to be able to not purposefully give out my cell number which is the only number I maintain.

  • Linda Dessau

    Hi Alyssa,

    I’ve been experimenting with Google Voice and it’s a very cool way to give clients and prospects the option to call me toll-free by clicking a link on my website contact page (http://www.youtalk-iwrite.com/contact.html). I can customize it to ring anywhere, send it to voicemail, etc.

    Great article – thanks!

    You Talk, I’ll Write
    Imagine the Relief!

  • mikebrady

    In the virtual phone line category, Google Voice is a free option. Currently, it is not open for everyone, but you can request an invite. I got mine last week, and it seems like it will be very useful. That being said, I think they are planning on having a free version and a paid version with more features. If this is true, it might mean some of the features I am enjoying now for free could cost me in the future. But, for now, it is worth requesting an invite.

  • I’ve been using VOIP since the late 90’s when it wasn’t even know. You can just use it with free programs downloaded from the internet. Or you can just use Yahoo Voice for a penny per minute. I learned that trick from this guy at http://www.plastikka.com

  • Roffo

    Hi Alyssa,

    Funny you do an article about Business communications!

    We’re like 2 weeks away** from launching a hosted VOIP PBX service call VoNEX :)

    At risk of sounding like the Demtel sales guy checkout some of the cool stuff VoNEX does:

    SIMULTANEOUS RING that lets your customers call you on every phone you have (including your mobile) using just a single number. (A bit like Google forwarding phones but better).

    UNLIMITED PHONE EXTENSIONS so when you get a new team member you can just a plug another line in and their set to go.

    GLOBAL PHONE EXTENSIONS that let you plug a phone in anywhere around the world with a internet connection and transfer calls, have phone confernces and dial other team members extension as if they where in the office cubical down the hall from you.

    VOICE MAIL with a click to callback link in the email.

    An AUTO ATTENDANT to direct incoming calls like secretary without the cost.

    And finally a CLICK TO DIAL THINGIE for your website so customers can free call you.

    Pretty cool huh!

    **Our website still isn’t a hundred percent yet but we’re getting there… PM me your thoughts if you like :)

  • fthead9

    I’ve been using Toktumi Hosted PBX for the last 4 months and highly recommend it. I looked at Ringcentral but Toktumi’s unlimited calling in the US and Canada and toll free 800 made it the clear winner for me.

    I’m testing their new iPhone app right now and it rocks. Now I have my business calls and voicemail on my iPhone and my personal number isn’t shown to anyone. I’ve heard from others that Google Voice shows your cell phone number on calls you place out from GV, which pretty much defeats the purpose of having two numbers on your cell. I’m still on their beta list so hopefully I can test it soon and let you know first hand which is better.

  • I have an 800 number through Kall8.com. $2 per month, can’t beat that price.

  • kcarrillo

    Make sure you do your research before signing any contracts. We spent about two weeks looking over alot of VoIP companies before finally settling on RingCentral.com. I shudder to think what might have happened if we had signed with one of the companies that had bad reviews.

  • topout

    No one has mentioned the Magic Jack. It’s a lot cheaper than skype. Here’s a magic jack review.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.