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Smart Connections

Extension, Please?
“Thank you for calling the offices of TJ Haygood and Associates,” the friendly automated greeting on the line states. “If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. If you need the operator, please press 0 and have a wonderful day.” It’s a familiar automated greeting you would likely have to navigate through at any mid size or large company. But this isn’t a large company. In fact, TJ Haygood is one-woman employment and career-consulting firm operated by Therral J. Haygood in Rocklin, Calif. After pressing 0 to speak to the operator, TJ is likely to pick up the line and answer your call.

“My cell phone is my business line,” Haywood says. “So I use this service to put a professional front on the business, and forward the calls to my cell phone.”

The service she refers to is provided by GotVMail Communications (www.gotvmail.com). The company’s services can turn a simple cell phone into a communications system on steroids-with toll-free numbers, custom greetings, voicemail, extension numbers and live call forwarding.

The costs vary. GotVMail offers a package, which includes a toll-free number, starting at $10 a month. Additional charges of 4.9 cents a minute are levied for calls routed from the toll-free number. Other providers offer flat rates of about $60 to $70 a month, but many experts believe that the per-minute charge works better for small business.

Traveling Toll-free
It used to be that you knew you were dealing with a big company when it had its own
1-800 number. These days, even the kid down the street can be selling comic books across the country through a toll-free line.

Call the toll-free number for BMD Travel and Tours and you’ll hear an automated greeting that gives you choices aimed at serving you faster and better. When you press a button, you’ll probably be patched through to the cell phone of Michelle Dalco of Hurst, Texas. Dalco is the part-time owner and operator of BMD Travel (she has another full-time job). Through the wonders of wireless, she’s able to operate her company as if it were five times its size. Dalco employs seven other agents nationwide; they also have similar work arrangements.

When a customer phones, Dalco’s system is programmed to route the call to an agent-depending on his or her availability and the time of day. Which means that this phone wizard can operate her agency from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) without a real office.

“It’s the perfect scenario for my agents and me,” Dalco says. “I need to show my customers a single, professional face, but what happens after they call that toll-free line is amazing. Of course, there is a price to be paid. Dalco says phone bills are the single largest cost she bears-about 60 percent of total expenses. In her home office, she keeps three land lines, including one for a fax machine, which cost about $150 a month. Her hard-working cell phone racks up another $150 a month in charges.

Still, she doesn’t regret the costs. “When you consider what it’s allowed me to do with this business, it really is minimal,” she says.

Mel Duvall has been a writer and editor at Interactive Week and Financial Post.