When does Shared Use Cross the Line?

Putting your business at someone else's mercy can be scarey!

Someone asked me this question and we wound up talking about the industry and shared use, what the FCC might do to clean it up and the right way to do it. I wanted to share this because I think this is important. This isn’t written to attack or defend anyone nor is it meant to be legal advice. It’s just my personal opinion about how to tell whether a shared use business is legitimate or not.

This is similar to my post on the 3 problems with Shared Use. But it’s written from a common sense perspective of how real shared use should be defined. Shared use companies are by definition the end user of the numbers and can’t also be phone companies and they have to actually share their numbers.

Shared use requires sharing and can only be done by an end user, not a phone company

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    3 problems with the Dark Side of Shared Use

    Someone recently asked me why I was so against “Shared Use.” I’m really not personally against “REAL” shared use. I do compete in some ways with shared use so naturally some of my material positions me as the alternative to shared use. But I’m actually all for real shared use, which is taking a good number, building it into a real promotional tool and allowing it to be used by multiple businesses in their local area. When I first got into the toll free business I was doing shared use. But unfortunately shared use has a dark side, with some very serious downsides too.
    Unfortunately shared use also has a DARK SIDE with 3 big problems

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        Nationwide coverage?

        Vanity number squatters usually want to rent out numbers by area codes because they make a lot more money that way and maintain control. But when you don’t own the number, the more you advertise the number, the more you wind up at their mercy. Your ability to change carriers is also your ultimate guarantee that you’ll always have decent service and a competitive rate too. It’s much more important than most new customers realize.

        That’s why every number we get for anyone is always nationwide. Actually you can also add Canada and a few territories too if you want. You can block calls outside your area if you want or need to. But I usually don’t recommend that unless you’re getting a lot of wrong numbers from other areas. You don’t want someone local that uses a cell phone, skype or a voip service with a number outside your area code to be blocked. The ability to be sure where someone is calling from by their number is fading with new services and local number portability.

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          Vanity # Squatters vs. a Vanity # Service

          There are a number of people in the vanity number business. At first glance our service may seem similar in some ways. The best way to explain the differences is to use an internet analogy. GoDaddy is to domain name squatters what TollFreeNumbers.com is to pretty much everyone else in the “vanity number” business.

          Domain name squatters look for good names becoming avaiable and try to grab them, hoping someone will come along and offer them a lot of money for them. They are trying to sell (or rent) them for as much as they can get for them. I guess that’s natural in some ways. We are the exception though because we don’t go and get numbers we think people will like and we don’t charge based on what they may be worth to the buyer. We charge a flat fee that’s not based on the size of the customer, the amount of advertising they do or the value of the number.

          To my knowledge we are the only ones that do this. We charge a flat fee (a tiny fraction of the price of anyone else in the vanity number business) that’s based on the time and effort required to provide the service. We also probably get more toll free numbers for customers in a month than anyone else in the vanity number business does all year. Granted they make a LOT more per number, so they only need to get a couple customers per month. (We are aiming for 1000/month)

          GoDaddy does charge a fee, but that doesn’t make them a domain name squatter because they’re getting them out of the spare pool which is exactly what we do. Squatters hold them and hope to sell them for big bucks eventually. The worst ones are the ones that take a number you inquire about out of the spare pool and then want to rent the same number we would have given you for a one time fee of $49 for hundreds of dollars PER MONTH forever. That’s why I recommend that you be very careful telling other people or websites what you’re looking for.

          A real life example is 1-800 US-MORTGAGE. A customer had backordered this number and we were trying to get it. Unfortunately someone else in the vanity number business got it from a backroom deal with the phone company before it came out of the four month aging process. He’ll sit on it and hope that someone contacts hm about it, and then he’ll probably charge $20,000 to $40,000 or so. That’s just my guess but it’s seeing and hearing some other deals he’s done. If you really want that number, look him up. He’s not a bad guy, but that’s a far cry from the $795 one time fee we would have charged our customer if we had been able to get any ’800′ number from backorder. Most of our numbers are $49, but you obviously wouldn’t get a number that good out of the spare pool.

          Anyway, there isn’t much awareness of this industry, let alone oversight, so many small guys can get away with a lot and many of them hide their identity and have no problem doing almost anything. Feel free to look around on the web, but keep your cards a little close to your vest until you really know who you’re talking too. Oh, and we’re also not trying to sell any ongoing service like regular phone companies which in the internet analogy are more like web hosting companies too, but that’s another topic / post. I just answered an email asking something related to this and thought that was worth rewriting and sharing here.

            Renting 800 numbers?

            Someone asked me today, if I can help them deal with someone that wanted to rent them a number. I explained that I can’t do that for several reasons. First of all most people in the “shared use” business hate me because I get people good numbers, generally for a one time fee that’s a small fraction of their monthly fee. I also give customers a much easier alternative and expose their practices, among other things. I’ve probably said most of that in places on my website, but at the end of the conversation I said something that I thought summed up the situation with anyone wanting to rent you a “shared number”.

            Don’t rent a number or a part of a number from anyone that you wouldn’t trust with your entire business. Because that is exactly what you’re doing when you put their number in all of your advertising. Some of the people in shared use are decent, good people trying to make a living marketing a good number. But this industry isn’t very well lit if you know what I mean. And there are definitely a significant number of people that know this gives them tremendous power over you and your business and no matter how good they sound at the beginning will eventually use this power over you and your business.

            So the bottom line for shared numbers is always “Buyer be ware”. And that’s why, even though I have found some good numbers that other people use in shared use, and I have a few numbers that with probably be useful too, I don’t market them or that type of service. I could probably make a lot of money in that, especially given the amount of traffic we receive. But there’s a lot of temptation in that segment to wind up hoarding numbers which is against the FCC regulations and to take advantage of customers once they are unable to change their number.

              Comments3 comments

              The different types of phone companies

              To simplify things a little, there are basically two types of services in the toll free business. There are vanity number owners (which I sometimes call “Squatters”) and there are regular phone companies.  Regular phone companies also break down into two types too, Traditional carriers and Enhanced voicemail service. 

              Shared Use/Squatters

              Vanity number squatters own specific numbers and want to sell or even worse, rent a small part of their number for as much as possible.  This is usually called “Shared Use” and can provide access to better vanity numbers but they’re also significantly more expensive both with their monthly fee and their per minute rates. They also limit your territory and they retain the ultimate ownership rights and control which can ultimately leave you at their mercy the more you advertise the number.  Shared use companies also tend to come across a little like used car dealers sometimes.

              Traditional Carriers

              The major phone companies from AT&T or MCI down to hundreds of smaller competitive long distance companies mainly sell long distance service but also provide the toll free service directly to end users. They are portable so the number owner can change them from carrier to carrier and so are much more competitive in price but they don’t come with voicemail, they simply route the calls to your toll free number to your local number, period.

              Enhanced Voicemail Services

              The other type of phone company generally offers more services such as voicemail, menu options, recorded greetings and follow me features to try you at multiple different numbers. These “enhanced service providers” sometimes called Virtual Office Services or Enhanced Voicemail Services don’t just deliver the calls straight to a local number. The call goes into their platform, switch or even a simple computer, where they can play an initial greeting and then give the caller options to hear recorded messages, leave messages or be routed to selected departments or people. The computer then routes the call based on the programmed menu and the caller’s input to one or multiple different people usually while the caller is on hold.

              Enhanced services can oftan announce the call, give the recipient the option of accepting or rejecting the call, try additional numbers and even take messages. These services can provide a lot of additional functionality and value if you need these services, but they also generally cost more per minute since there is usually two “legs,” one going into the computer and one going out to the recipient and they always have a slightly higher monthly fee.  You also have to be careful because some of these companies deceptively hide this 2nd leg charge in the fine print to try and sound cheaper.

              There is more on all of these different types of services and their rates and which is best for you in the Providers Click here to COMMENT on thisSection, but this quick overview explains just a little of the types of companies you generally see.

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