When I first began my career as a freelance editor, I realized that I needed a business telephone line. In those days, email and the Internet were still barely taking their first steps in publishing. Most of my client contact was done via postal service mail and telephone.
In addition, I had two young children who wanted to remain in contact with their friends and who had little concept of “no, you can’t use the telephone during business hours.” Thus, the need for a dedicated business line.
So, I had a second line installed at my home, a line dedicated to business.
Not long after I had that business line installed, I recognized that clients wanted to fax material to me. Sometimes the faxes would run dozens of pages. So I decided to install a second business line. This line was for both voice and faxing. I also arranged for “rollover”; if someone called one of the two business numbers and I was on the telephone, the call would rollover to the other number. It was something like an early call waiting system.
Over the years, I found that rollover to be indispensable because by ringing the alternative number, my wife could answer the phone, giving the business greeting. I began to look like a real company — multiple telephone lines and a “receptionist” to answer with “Good morning. Freelance Editorial Services. How may I help you?”
Also in those days a key to a successful business was having toll-free telephone numbers. So I indulged and got a toll-free telephone number for each of the business lines. That actually was one of the least expensive investments I had made in my quest for “perfect” telephony services. The numbers cost me $5 a month plus 3¢ a minute. A typical bill, surprisingly, was less than $10.
This served me well for a long time. Ultimately, the kids moved out and there really wasn’t a need for a “personal” telephone line. So that line got converted to a third business line, but this time dedicated to my wife’s business. A third toll-free number was added.
The combination of multiple telephone numbers and the toll-free numbers emphasized to clients that I was truly a business, a company. The image I was projecting was reinforced with every business card I handed out that displayed four of the six numbers plus a business e-mail address and website.
Right up to the early 2000s, a client could reach me by telephone using any one of six available numbers. I didn’t make any changes because the monthly cost was relatively low and although the balance had tipped — work proposals came more frequently via e-mail than by telephone — the telephone was still producing a goodly amount of business.
A change I did notice, however, was that no one was using the toll-free numbers. If they called, they used a standard phone number. I think this came about because the telephone companies had moved away from charging separately for long distance calls. Plus, increasing numbers of people were using their cell phones to make calls. So I began the first pruning and eliminated the toll-free numbers. If they weren’t being used, I saw no sense in paying for them.
So life continued on with three landline business numbers. To that two cell phone numbers were added. We didn’t give out the cell phone numbers because we rarely had the cell phones on, except when we were traveling and wanted certain clients to be able to reach us.
The next change came with the arrival of FiOS (fiber optic digital service from Verizon). When it first became available in my neighborhood, I switched my Internet service from Time Warner Cable to Verizon FiOS, hoping that FiOS would be more reliable than cable had been (and that the customer service folk would be less surly and more caring). It turned out that FiOS was a major improvement in virtually every way. I’ve had FiOS Internet service for at least 5 years now and it has nearly always been on and available, unlike the experience I had with cable.
The Internet service plus the chance to lower my monthly costs convinced me to switch our landline telephones from the copper-line service we had to FiOS digital telephone service. We made the switch and the experience was mixed. On the one hand, the telephone service was fine; on the other hand, we lost our rollover capability because it couldn’t be done with the digital service, at least not without great expense. Our monthly telephone bill decreased significantly, which was a plus, but increasingly any business inquiries were coming via e-mail, not telephone.
Unfortunately, my wife’s cell phone was dying. We were still using the cell phones we had bought nearly 10 years ago, so we had gotten our money’s worth out of them. The impetus to do something about the cell phones came with my wife’s participation in a plein air paint show in Pennsylvania. She would be gone for a week and during that week would be required to paint outdoors in an area that we had only visited once before. The thought of her traveling with a dying cell phone made me think about our telephone system yet again.
The decision was made to cancel our landline service and port two of our landline telephone numbers to new cell phones. We would take the plunge and go wireless.
It has only been a month since we went wireless, but for the most part we like our current situation. The biggest negative is that we are always tethered to business and to the Internet. The phones travel everywhere with us, which means we are accessible to clients (and to family and friends) wherever we are. A positive is that unlike the landlines, we can turn off the phones and not be bothered. (I’ve noted that we are getting fewer unwanted solicitations, which is a bonus.)
My daughter was delighted when I went wireless because I got my first smartphone. She thought she could text me to keep in touch. I put a stop to that thought immediately. My wife is happy to communicate with our children via texting — better than no communication, she says — but not me. I’m still living in the 1960s when voice-to-voice and face-to-face were the preferred communication methods. I told my daughter to call, not to text. So far, she is listening, but I know that won’t last forever.
My business has changed over the past 30 years and just as it has had to move, through fits and starts, into the 21st century, so has my telephony needs. At least for now, I’m wireless. Tomorrow may make other demands on me.
Have you gone wireless? What has been your experience?