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I work from home on the west coast. The other morning, a well-meaning source on the east coast returned my call as soon as he got into the office. Which meant I got woken up at 6am.

That groan-inducing occasion, along with my not wanting to keep handing out my home and cell numbers to everyone, had me hunting around for a good Voice-over-IP business phone solution. And I think I've found one -

The service offers features that go far beyond adding a second line for business with your current phone company, as well as advanced business-specific abilities you won't generally find with home VoIP offerings.

For starters, I can create rules on the RingCentral Web site that govern how to handle incoming calls (to a new number I received in my area code, though I could have chosen a toll-free number) based on who's calling or the time of day. Now, anyone who calls my business number outside of business hours goes straight to voice mail.  During business hours, RingCentral rings my home and cell phones at the same time, and transfers the call to whichever handset I pick up.

Software on my computer (picture below), normally tucked away in my system tray, pops up and tells me who's calling without my having to check a phone. If I'm busy I can click a button on the software and send the caller straight to voice mail. I can use that same software or the Web site to check my call log or listen to voice mail, and I also get an e-mail with my voice mail as a .wav attachment.

I've only used it for a few days, but as you can likely tell from the tone of this post, I'm happy with it so far. There are also other features, such as virtual extensions, that are meant for a company with employees that I haven't yet tried.

I chose an annual payment option that will run me $10 a month for 100 inbound minutes (the month-by-month option is $15/month). If I go over that it's 6.7 cents per minute.  Since my calls out still come from my cell or regular home phone and don't use the RingCentral minutes, I think 100 minutes a month should suffice. The next step up affords 500 montly inbound minutes and runs $25 a month paid annually, or $30 if you pay monthly.

If you're a small business or sole proprietor looking for a service like this, check out this recent story from Kathryn Vercillo that compares RingCentral with similar offerings from Packet8, Vocalocity, GotVMail and VoiceNation.

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