Expert tip: 03 is a magic number for your small business

It might seem surprising, but the type of phone number you choose for your small business can have a big impact on whether a potential customer chooses to call. 0800 numbers can be expensive for customers to call from mobiles, a local dialling code (e.g. 0207, 0131) can make your business seem parochial, and a mobile number can lack credibility. If you’re unsure whether your current business number is working for you, you might want to think about changing it as part of your office ‘spring clean’. Here Gayle Smith, our guest expert from Penelope, the virtual phone system for start-up and emerging businesses, explains why an 03 prefix could be the right option for your small business.

The problem with prefixes

Believe it or not, customers can make a whole host of assumptions about your business based on your phone number - assumptions that might put them off making that all-important call to you.

  • If you only provide a mobile (07) number, people may assume that your business is small or not very well established. Potential customers may be put off by the possibility that you’ll answer their call while you’re ‘on the go’. They may also be concerned about how much it will cost to call you on your mobile.
  • A local phone number (beginning with 01 or 02) may give the impression that your business is tied to a specific location or region, and that you’re unable to work with national or international customers.
  • Many people are unwilling to pay the high call charges of 084 and 087 numbers. Premium rate customer helplines have recently been the subject of a good deal of government scrutiny, and will soon be banned for airlines, train operators and major high street and online retailers. In light of this, customers may be suspicious of other businesses that continue to use these numbers.
  • If you use an 09 number, customers may well doubt your scruples, as these are not only expensive for customers to call, but they are revenue sharing numbers. This means that the dialled party can receive a share of what the customer pays to make a call.
  • Why 03 could be the way forward

    Introduced by Ofcom in 2007, UK-wide 03 numbers are a great alternative to chargeable 08 numbers. They provide a single national point of contact for your business, and customers won’t be charged any more to call an 03 number than they would a local one. Some of the other benefits include:

    • 03 numbers will be free for the majority of customers to use as, by law, they have to be included in free minutes and free call deals. Even if a call to an 03 number is charged (e.g. from a landline), it will be at no more than the national rate for an 01 or 02 number.
    • With an 03 number, people are unlikely to make assumptions about the size or location of your business
    • Unlike 0800 numbers, incoming calls to 03 numbers won’t incur any charges for your business.
    • Revenue sharing is not allowed on calls to 03 numbers.

      Spreading the word

      Although 03 numbers have been around for several years, their benefits are not particularly well known among customers and business owners. While 03 numbers are slowly starting to become more recognisable - Children in Need uses an 03 number for its telephone donations, for example - Joanna Swash, Commercial Director of Penelope, feels that more needs to be done to raise awareness. “We have seen a consistent increase in the use of 03 numbers,” Swash says, “however, there is still much confusion among start-ups about which number is best for them. We are calling on the Government to provide more clarity on this matter to ensure that business owners make the right decision.”

      Special FreeAgent offer

      Penelope and FreeAgent have teamed up to offer a free month’s subscription to Penelope’s service, which includes the option to create an 03 number for your business. To claim, visit, choose your package and enter the offer code ‘AGENT’ at checkout. Alternatively, call 0333 20 21 020 to discuss further.

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