Q: I run a small home business, and though I don't get a lot of business calls, I worry that having my family (and often my kids!) pick up sounds unprofessional. Is VoIP a good way to get my business its own phone line? Or is there some way to have a different ring or different phone for business calls? 

A: Well, that really depends on how many calls you get in an average month and how you want your phone system to sound to callers. You have two real options here, VoIP or a Virtual Phone system.

With VoIP, you could set up a phone, say, in your home office, that has its own phone number and rings separately from your house phone, just for your business. One popular provider that allows small business use is VOIPo. With VOIPo, you could get two years of service for $6.21/mo plus taxes and fees ($1.50/mo). This includes unlimited calling in the US and Canada as well as 60 international minutes per month to select countries. This way, you'd always know a call was for the business if it rang on the business phone. However, you wouldn't have an enterprise-style answering system or attendant–it would just be a low-cost, separate phone line with some advanced VoIP features.

With a virtual phone system, you could have a separate phone number that would be forwarded to your regular home phone or your mobile phone by a virtual attendant. This means you could set up the attendant to pick up the phone and then offer a business caller a number of options, creating the appearance of a much larger company. When the attendant puts calls through to your phone, the attendant is on the line first, and waits for you to press a key on your phone to transfer in the caller. This means that kids who picked up the phone would be able to hand the phone off to you so the first person the caller speaks to is an adult. You'll also be able to pick up with a professional greeting, since you'll know it's a business call. In general, virtual phone systems offer fewer minutes per month for the money than VoIP systems do. Our favorite option, Phone.com, charges $9.88/mo for 300 minutes and unlimited extensions. After you use your monthly minutes, you'll pay 4.9 cents/min for extra time or you can upgrade to a larger (and more expensive) plan.

Overall, if you're looking to create a professional impression and you receive fewer than 300 minutes of business calls per month, a virtual  phone system is probably the most effective solution for you. If you use more minutes each month or you're just looking for a basic phone service that could have its own number and ring to its own phone, then VoIP may be a better way to go. You can check out more information about VoIP here and virtual phone here. If you'd like to compare VoIP or virtual phone providers, check out our VoIP comparison chart and our virtual phone comparison chart.

Reader Questions, Small Business, Virtual Phones, VoIP, voip questions