Your business phone number is often the first solid impression a customer has of you. After all, it's the only part of your ad they'll go out of their way to remember. What it says about your business is important. A regular 10-digit number is hard to remember but a vanity phone number creates a lasting impression. These numbers create a clever or memorable association with the business, and provide a higher level of competition. At other levels, they are nice but unnecessary or not valuable at all.

Vanity numbers first hit the scene in the 1970s, as an adjunct feature to AT&Ts toll-free number service. They didn't get much traction until a 1984 law mandated that all toll-free numbers must be portable between long-distance providers. This portability suddenly made vanity numbers an attractive proposition, since a memorable number you can't move with you can be as much a liability as a benefit.

Why Get One

As cell phones, with their inherent free long-distance and portability, grew in popularity some expected vanity numbers and other toll-free services to fade. What they didn't count on was that vanity numbers would become a matter of prestige among businesses and their customers. Since vanity numbers were once the hallmark of established national corporations, any company with a vanity number appears more established and professional. A brand-new company can take on an air of experience and importance simply by having a vanity number.

Who Needs Them

Vanity numbers are most important for companies that do business at the national level. A clever vanity number makes your business easier to remember and the first number potential customers think of. It's a bit like having a receptionist in some industries: few people notice that you have one, but everybody will notice if you don't.

Another group that needs a vanity number is home-based workers. A vanity number hooked up to a service like Grasshopper, allows you to forward your calls to your cell phone and gives you the appearance of a large corporation, even though you have the overhead of a self-employed contractor.

Who Doesn't Need Them

If your business operates purely at the local level, and does most of its promotions through word-of-mouth or other community efforts, a vanity number is probably an unnecessary expense. Business-to-business companies can also get by without one. That market is more about substance than appearance. However, an easy-to-remember vanity number can also set a business-to-business company apart from its competitors.