December 19, 2014

3 Inexpensive Options for Online Calling

Michelle Rafter’s recent post about cutting costs from your freelance business got me thinking about the whole landline vs. cell phone vs. voice over IP debate. I’ve been freelancing full-time since 2008 and in that time, I’ve never used a landline for business. I suspect that in the near future, except in areas with really spotty internet and cell service, landlines could go the way of the 8track and the dodo bird.

It’s crazy how fast things change nowadays because I grew up in a house with a rotary dial phone, and my mother didn’t even think to update it until one of my classmates said, “umm … Mrs. Johnston, how does this thing work?” when she tried to dial out. That’s my thoroughly modern mother for you. (She has a cordless phone and a cell phone now.)

If, like Michelle, you’re thinking about cutting the cord on your landline phone, I say go for it as long as you have a reliable internet connection and decent cell phone reception in the place(s) that you usually work. That’s the beauty of dropping the landline: you’re much more mobile because you can take calls almost anywhere (and with headsets or speakers, you don’t have to awkwardly cradle the phone against your neck).

I rarely make outgoing calls on my iPhone, because all those interviews and client chats would eat up about a zillion cell phone minutes. Instead, I use a combination of these three services:

  1. Skype
    When I first went full-time freelance, Skype was my preferred method of calling sources and clients. It’s free to skype other users or you can get an inexpensive monthly subscription ($2.99 per month for unlimited calls to the US and Canada, for instance) to call any cell or landline. You can also get an online number to accept incoming calls, but that’s a little pricier. I found that the sound quality can be spotty and without a designated online number, sources are sometimes weirded out by the seemingly random assortment of numbers that shows up on their caller ID (more than one source thought I was a telemarketer and screened my call – oops!). I still use skype for video chatting with certain clients or communicating with sources in other parts of the world, but I’ve mostly transitioned to Google Voice.
  2. Google Voice
    Discovering Google Voice was like a revelation. The sound is usually clearer than skype, I can call the US and Canada for free, and I even snagged a phone number with my local area code (no more mistaking me for a telemarketer!). Google Voice also transcribes voice messages, and while the accuracy isn’t quite there yet, but I can usually get the gist of what the caller wants without listening to the message. Other cool features include the ability to send and receive text messages via Google Voice and forward to a landline or cell phone so you can answer even if you aren’t at your computer. The one downside is that there are a few numbers that just don’t seem to work on Google Voice; usually it’s those webinar call-in numbers, so in those rare cases, I use my iPhone. Occasionally Google Voice drops calls but that’s only happened to me once or twice, and it’s never been a big deal. (Most of my sources are talking on cell phones, so it’s not unheard of for their call to drop.)
  3. FreeConferenceCall.com
    When I interview multiple sources at once (for instance, cofounders of a startup or when a publicist asks to listen in on an interview) and they aren’t in the same physical space, I give them my FCC # so we can all jump on a call together. There’s an easy recording feature if you need to record interviews, but be sure to ask your sources first. As it turns out, my FCC does work on Google Voice, so I can call in that way.
Freelancers, do you use any of these services? Or do you still use a landline? Leave a comment and let us know!