Toll-free vs. local is the dividing line for small businesses adding a new phone line.

How do you make up your mind? Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario. Jack and Jill are fraternal twins in their late 20s. Jack has his dad’s warm, outgoing personality, while Jill has her mom’s keen intellect and sharp business sense.

Jack and Jill have been fierce competitors for as long as anybody can remember. So, nobody in their circle was surprised when they joined millions of Americans in starting new businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each one launched their businesses based on their experience and talents. Their business communication choices reflect the merits of local numbers vs. toll-free alternatives.

Local phone number: Jack’s Bar and Grill

Jack was the kid who started cooking family meals at age 12. He could do magic with turkey burgers and T-bone steaks. But he did the sensible thing and got his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in logistics. After college, he took a management trainee job with a regional restaurant supply company.

The job had decent prospects, but Jack couldn’t give up the urge to open his own restaurant. He knew the nuts and bolts of supplying food and equipment to restaurants, so he figured he had a competitive edge.

When the pandemic lockdowns forced a longtime restaurant to close, Jack gave his bosses two weeks’ notice and took the leap into restaurant ownership. Signing the lease on his new eatery required a business phone number, so he had to make up his mind: toll-free or local?

He thought about going toll-free, but he realized that local diners would be making almost all the calls to his establishment. Moreover, he could add a local number to print ads and business directories.

Thus, Jack went with a local business phone number. He figured he could always get a toll-free number later if the need arose.

Jack knew a local number would remind customers that he’s one of them: a neighbor — not some out-of-state operator. That would help seal his credibility with people joining the buy-local movement.

Toll-free number: Jill’s Custom Web Development

Jill was the techie in the family. She started coding when she was 12 and created a mobile app before she had a driver’s license.

A bachelor’s degree in computer science helped Jill land a web-development job with a popular online brand. It paid well and she liked her co-workers, but nothing gave her the joy she got from building websites for small-business owners. She did web development on weekends for a decade to make extra money, and it was worth every minute.

The COVID-19 lockdowns gave her plenty of time alone to think about what she wanted to do next. Jill decided to start her own web-development agency, hiring freelancers and professional contacts to create new websites or update old ones.

At first, she wasn’t sure she even needed a business phone. Most of her commercial communications happened online and did not require a specific phone number. But after she had been in business for about a year, prospects started contacting her from across the United States. Before long, she had clients in the UK and Australia.

As a global entrepreneur, Jill needed a global communications presence, which starts with a toll-free number. Moreover, the rise of voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) telephony made it easy and inexpensive to acquire a toll-free number. She also had the option of getting a vanity number that was easy to remember.

VoIP gives small businesses access to calling features like videoconferencing and interactive voice response (IVR) that can give their company a more polished brand. Jill, for instance, could market her agency to a global audience while partnering with freelancers to complete projects. Without hiring a single full-time employee, she can build a web presence that makes her competitive with much larger rivals.

The big question: Do you even need a business phone?

Not all businesspeople have the same communication needs as Jack and Jill. If you’re a carpenter or sales pro striking out on your own, you might feel comfortable sticking with your personal phone number. That might be okay if you’re getting a few business-related calls a week.

But there are times when a separate business phone number, whether local or toll-free, is mandatory. Questions to ask:

Your customers, friends and family will thank you for answering wisely — no matter where you come down on the local vs. toll-free divide. --- If you’re ready for an economical business phone for your small business, it’s time to Get Grasshopper.