Twilio: getting hands-on with phone-number-meets-web fun

logos_downloadable_roundPermit me a small backstory here. Like most people, I tend to be contacted most on my mobile where work matters are concerned. Now I work from home a lot more though, I’ve found that the reception here is, in short, appalling. I could change network, but my deal is an awesome one that makes that a pretty unappealing prospect. Similarly, I don’t want to give people my home number, and fitting a second line could prove expensive – a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

Enter Twilio. For a while now I’ve been curious about this service, which interfaces telephony with the web. My mate Syd Lawrence has done some very clever stuff there, which in turn had me interested in what was possible from a marketing perspective. However what tipped me over the edge into using it was this post, explaining how you could use Twilio to dodge roaming costs when travelling. From that, I learned a few things. Firstly, you could buy a number for a tiny amount ($1 per month). Secondly, you could then do a LOT with that number. In some respects, Twilio is like a more powerful version of Google Voice – a service unavailable to anyone outside the US.

Twilio has solved my problem. How? By giving my business a flexible landline number (and a local London one too!) that my clients can call. How the number behaves it entirely up to me – and believe me, it can do some funky stuff if I so desire. In the simplest terms though, I can have the number forward on to either my home landline, or my mobile. Alternatively, I can just have it dial me on my computer, allowing me to use it in the same manner as a Skype phone number. As the above blog post demonstrates too, I can also use it to handle my being abroad, by having Twilio forward to a local SIM that I’ve bought in whatever country I am in. Similarly, whilst I am there I can use my laptop to call clients via the web and it won’t cost me the earth. Usefully, they also just see the same number calling them, so they always know it is me. It allows a reliability that my clients will appreciate (only one number to call, anytime, to get hold of me) and with that brings a touch more professionalism to my business.

So – how do you go about doing all this? Well, its pretty simple really:

1. Get a Twilio account and phone number. Go to Twilio.com and signup for free. To buy a phone number, you’ll need to add payment info.

2. Select your number. Its worth noting that you can buy numbers for many different territories. For example, I could buy a US contact number if I wanted to. So, if like me you’re in London, you can select a local 0203 number so clients won’t be wondering where they’re calling. Also worth noting is that you can search for numbers. In my case I was able to find a very memorable one comprising a bunch of double-digits (e.g. 44556633) with a bit of trial and error. Spend time on that – its totally worth it.

3. Once your number is set up, log in to Twilio and click on “Account” and then “Numbers”. Or, if you’re logged in, click here.

4. In that section you’ll see two entries: one for how voice calls to your number are handled, the other for how SMS is handled. In the voice section, paste the following in to create a simple forwarding instruction:

http://twimlets.com/forward?PhoneNumber=THEPHONENUMBERTOFORWARDTO

That will then ensure that any voice calls get bounced on to that number. Do the same for SMS if you also want text messages to go to the same place (e.g. your mobile).

5. Click on “Save Changes” and that’s it – your Twilio number will now forward on to whatever number you specified.

That’s it! Simple eh?

If there is one caveat around this, it is the pricing. Twilio charges $1 per month for your number. Beyond that, it then charges $0.01 (1 cent) per minute to receive a call if you are taking it on your Twilio number directly (ie using a VOIP client). If it is forwarding on, it will also charge you for making that call to the handset you’ve specified. To a regular landline (or a Skype In number), that price is $0.02/min. When forwarding to a mobile though, it can get more expensive – up to $0.32/min. For that reason, you might want to think twice about using forwarding to mobiles. Personally, I get around this by using the VOIP client wherever possible – and have a failsafe setup so that if I don’t answer via VOIP, it will then call my mobile to ensure clients can reach me. So far, that’s worked really well.

Whilst the pricing may mean the solution is potentially a costly one for some, I have to say that I find it entirely worth it. For one thing, my clients don’t need to save 3 different numbers to chase me on. For another, it means that when I’m at my home I can just take calls in a manner that ensures they won’t drop due to bad reception. For that alone, its 100% worth it. The travelling aspect will prove a huge bonus too, with the article linked to above claiming that a saving of around $350 was possible for the duration of that person’s stay.

This is just the simple stuff. Beyond that, you can do some really awesome things with Twilio and even incorporate it into other services you use. I’ll save that for a separate post though. For now, I really recommend having a play around with the service as its quite the eye-opener as to what’s possible. Go get stuck in!

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One thought on “Twilio: getting hands-on with phone-number-meets-web fun

  1. Shem says:

    Thanks Darren for this, worked first go for me. One dollar a month for a US phone number forwarding to anywhere ain’t bad.

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