You’ve set up your food truck or your doggie daycare, and you’re ready to win at this small-business game. But how do you go about finding customers? While there are a lot of notable ways, such as social media, a website, ads in local publications, innovative PR that gets you featured on local (or national) media, and, of course, good old-fashioned word of mouth, there’s one thing a reputable business can’t forget: The old-school method of having your business phone number—and putting it everywhere.
Here’s how to get that business phone number you need to grow, and why it’s still incredibly important in today’s digital age.
Why Business Numbers Matter
Back in the day, businesses found customers by having their company numbers listed in the phone book (both the white and yellow pages). It was easy, and it worked. Before the internet was a thing, people got their needs met by letting their fingers do the walking (to use an old Yellow Pages ad jingle).
Today, the telecommunications industry is decentralized and sprawling. Multiple carriers mean multiple directory assistance services. To further complicate matters, those who use smartphones, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, or their home landlines as business numbers risk not being listed correctly – or at all.
Additionally, some small businesses aren’t associated with a particular city. Suppose you’re a location-independent content provider who meets (and clicks with) a potential client at a conference. What happens if that person loses your business card? They can’t call directory assistance to get in touch because they don’t know where you live.
It’s impossible to serve customers unless they know how to find you. Position your business to its best advantage by making your phone number available to would-be clients in multiple venues. Fortunately, this is fairly simple and usually free –at least in the most basic forms.
Kickin’ It Old School
Believe it or not, some people still do use phonebooks. So, it’s definitely worthwhile to get your business listed there. You should be included automatically when you sign up for a landline. Before you consider using your home phone number for your business, be aware of these two potential problems:
- You might be awakened by 3 a.m. calls from people expecting to reach an answering machine, not a sleepy business owner.
- Someone looking for a bookkeeper or a housepainter won’t be able to find you in the white pages unless they already know your business name.
- Spam calls and spoofed numbers are a major headache for landline owners. They can be made worse if your personal landline number was once owned by someone else with a spotty history.
That’s why it’s smart to ask for a business phone line, which likely includes a basic listing in the local yellow pages. Since these are organized by category, it’s simple to look up “bookkeeping” or “painting services.” You can contact your local phone provider and order this line—with any available features—by phone or online. You may even get a business line rep to help walk you through pricing and all the options.
While it’s still a good idea to be in the phone book, you shouldn’t rely on it as a guaranteed source of clients. In our always-connected, culture potential customers are a lot more likely to look for you online, and that’s actually an advantage for small business owners. After all, paper phone books come out annually; if your business starts one week after the deadline to get listed this year, you’d have to wait another 12 months to be included in the book.
Online business listings work better for customers, too, because they’re a lot more specific. Someone who wants to get away from it all can search for “day spas near me” plus their zip code. With a paper phone book, they’d have to wade through pages of listings in order to recognize the addresses of day spas in their immediate area. Being listed online is essential – and luckily, it’s absolutely free.
Start by going to Google My Business (formerly known as “Google Places”) and create a listing for your company. Your company phone number, address and other information will be included in the Google My Business listing. Since so many people use the Google search engine, it’s vital to get your small business listed this way.
Google may be the biggest, but it’s not the only place to get your small business listed. A few other places to get free basic info made available online:
The Virtual Yellow Pages
Online versions of yellow and/or white pages exist, too. You can get a free listing for your small business at YP.com (aka “the real Yellow Pages”) and SuperPages.com. A site called 411.com doesn’t have a way for business owners to add information. It gets all its listings from other sources, including third-party data suppliers. Fortunately, one of those data suppliers is Express Update, which lets business owners add their information for free. Be sure to do this, because a site named “411.com” is certain to be heavily visited.
What About Cell and VoIP Numbers?
As previously noted, a small business landline will get listed automatically – and if it’s listed locally, it’s likely to be found in the databases used by national directory assistance (1 + area code + 555-1212).
But suppose your small business number is through a cellular provider? That’s where things get complicated. Those who use smartphones as their business phones, or who use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), often find that their service providers don’t make the numbers available to directory assistance.
One way around this is to use Express Update, as mentioned above, or List Yourself, another site that lets you add your business information for free. List Yourself says it works with 90% of directory assistance providers and publishers in the country, so go ahead and list yourself, already.
A savvy small business owner will use every available advantage to make their products and services known to the public. Get yourself a professional, separate business line as soon as possible and then work hard to have that company phone number listed through the options noted above. Soon, you’ll be ready to welcome new customers to build your business.
This article was originally written on February 18, 2019 and updated on February 8, 2023.