Now that Google Voice is open to everybody in the U.S., small business owners, particularly those with less than 25 employees, should take a close look at Google's free phone management service. Here are ten good reasons why:
1) Be local, even when you're not: When setting up Google Voice, you have the option of selecting a phone number with the area code of your choice. So what's the small business benefit? Let's say you run a catering service that's based in San Jose, CA (408 area code), and you'd like to attract customers in nearby San Francisco (415 area code). By choosing a 415 number and making it the public contact number for your business--at least in your San Francisco-based ads, anyway--you may lure more customers from SF. (I'm assuming you'd also have a 408 number for your San Jose clientele.) Some industries benefit from a local presence.
2) Phone number for life: If your business moves (perhaps to cheaper digs outside the city), your Google Voice number stays with you. And if you switch to a new office phone provider or wireless carrier, your customers won't lose your number. Since you can configure your Google Voice number to ring one of more other phones, such as a work, home, or cell number, it's less likely that you'll miss important business calls too.
3) Easy voice conferencing: Nobody likes to enter a lengthy pass code and other digit strings to enter a conference call. Google Voice has a simpler approach: Participants ring your Google Voice number; as each call comes in, you follow the prompts to connect them to the conference.
4) Cheap international calls: Have a lot of overseas customers? Google Voice rates are dirt cheap--2 cents per minute to China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the UK, and a bunch of other places. International calling is easiest on Android phones with the Google Voice app installed: Simply use your phone's native dialer to call abroad. Otherwise, the process is a bit clunky. Example: From the Google Voice inbox in your browser, click the "Call" button in the top left corner, enter a contact's name or phone number, and press "connect." Google Voice then rings your phone to initiate the call. When you answer, Google Voice connects you to the number you're calling. Another option is to call your Google Voice number and enter the international number you'd like to call.
5) Send free texts: Does your wireless plan make you pay per text message? Those nickel and dime costs add up fast. With Google Voice, you can send free SMS text messages from your Google number. You also can configure your account to route copies of texts to e-mail.
6) Different customers, different voicemail greetings: Want a special greeting for your best customers? Google Voice lets you set up personalized greetings for individual contacts. Perhaps a friendly hello for Mr. Spacely of Spacely Space Sprockets. Or a curt "Where's my check?" for Deadbeat Dave from NeverPayMyBills.com.
7) Never miss an order: You can set up your account to ring certain phones based on who's calling, or on the time of day. Let's say it's dinnertime and you're expecting a big purchase order from an international customer. Google Voice will automatically route the call to the number of your choice.
8) Call screening: Remember how you used to be able to screen incoming calls with answer machines? With Google Voice, you can listen to a voicemail message as it's being recorded. An automated voice prompt gives you the option of taking the call or letting it roll to voicemail. Call screening is a good way to avoid, well, people you'd rather not talk to at the moment (e.g., bill collectors or irate customers).
9) Mobile app: Have an Android or BlackBerry mobile phone? You'll want to install the free Google Voice app, which nicely integrates the service with your phone's OS. The app lets you navigate visually between voicemails, and also read automatic transcriptions provided by Google Voice. (Don't expect perfect voice-to-text translations, however.)
10) It's free. You've got nothing to lose by giving Google Voice a try. To sign up, start here.