You can sign up for a free business email address from a service like Outlook in just a couple of minutes. But are these free services right for your company?
Free business email for start-ups
"When you start up in business, you are going to be concentrating on getting it off the ground and not too worried about your corporate identity," acknowledges Ian Dunston, founder and MD of Exeter-based Cobalt Computer Systems. "Many people start by just using free emails like Outlook or whatever comes from their internet service provider."
And that's fine - if you have no plans to become a bigger company. "If you're only ever going to be the sole trader who cleans windows for the same three streets or the small builder who will never need to grow the client base, this sort of email address isn't going to be a problem."
But what happens if your business takes off? What if you need to hire more staff, or start competing with bigger and more established players who have better name recognition than you? Dunston says companies which stick to free business email for too long risk running into two barriers to success:
- Free business email could make your company look insubstantial and unprofessional.
- You could be missing out on effective communication techniques which are only available to organisations using professional business email systems.
Will you get your own domain name?
The most obvious thing that most free business email services lack is an individual domain name. This is the second part of your business email address, like yourcompany.co.uk. It identifies your company and looks much more professional than the name of your free email service.
Having your own domain name links your email address with the rest of your brand, from the name on the side of your van to the logo at the top of your invoices.
It's much better than your customers getting emails which look like they have been sent from an internet cafe. "It's just a fact that in the business-to-business world, people expect more than that," warns Dunston.
Free business email is stuck online
There are also functional limitations with most free business email services. For starters, some only let you access messages through a web browser. This means you have to visit a specific website, then log in with your username and password.
With internet access easy to come by, this isn't the problem it once was. However, many people still prefer to download email to their computer (using software like Microsoft Outlook), so they can work on their business email even when not connected to the internet.
There are a number of different ways to accomplish this - read about the different types of business email that are available.
Certainly, if there's more than one person in your business, most free business email services are a no-no. They don't give you any way to manage email accounts for different people centrally, set consistent email signatures, or even gain access to an employee's email account if you don't know their password.
Basic business email can be had for just a few pounds a month. For most businesses, it's money well spent.