Free email services like Hotmail (to be replaced by Outlook.com), Google, and Yahoo have the advantage of giving users instant access to friends, family, and businesses around the world at no cost. The popularity of these services is beyond question, with Hotmail boasting 360 million users (Outlook.com has 60 million); Gmail with 425 million and Yahoo Mail with 281 million. However, despite their popularity, there are numerous reasons why free email services are a less attractive option for the professional looking to stand out in the world of business.
First, the upsides.
However, even though these email providers offer their services at no financial cost, generally speaking, they do have some serious downsides.
Email accounts from free providers are notoriously prone to phishing scams or hacking. Because these email services are most often targeted by spammers and malware, they also tend to be viewed with suspicion by the professional community. In one such phishing scam in 2011, approximately 10, 000 Hotmail accounts were compromised. These highjacked accounts could then be used to send out fictitious emails to others, thereby potentially compromising them as well.
Consequently, some corporate spam and malware filters automatically filter out emails from Hotmail and other webmail services as they are the most widely exploited services out there. This means that professional emails bearing the @Hotmail, @Gmail or @Yahoo addresses may be deleted before they even reach the recipient’s inbox.
In addition to their security vulnerabilities, professionals have an added set of issues when it comes to using free email services.
As we all know, perception and trust are essential in business, meaning that making a good first impression is paramount. These days, your first contact with prospective clients or business contacts is likely to be through email, making this your “first impression.” Many sources report that emails from addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org are taken less seriously professionally than addresses with the company’s domain name included. This is because companies with their own domain names are perceived as more established and stable than those using the free email services.
In some countries, businesses may also have compliance issues to be concerned about with regards to email. In Australia, for example, anyone storing financial or federal data must host that data within the country. Therefore, in such countries, if you send your email through Hotmail or some equivalent, then you could be in breach of the law. Professionals will want to take note and educate themselves on the law in their particular jurisdiction.
If a free email service goes down, gets hacked or simply closes its doors, this means that your archived emails and all their attachments risk being lost. This can be disastrous when looking for the draft proposal a client sent to you or that report you needed for an important meeting. Many times, this can occur without warning, leaving you no time to back up your data. If you aren’t doing backups yourself, you risk losing a lot of valuable information.
One solution is a professional email address, which is one with your business name in it (e.g. email@example.com). This increases trust because, when customers or contacts see it, they can easily look up your company for more information. Greater trust ultimately leads to greater sales–whatever your business may be. Setting up your own email domain, especially through an established host, can reduce the risk of your important business emails or newsletters getting bounced or sent straight to the trash bin.
If you prefer your own domain name, you can either host the data in-house, which requires a basic corporate IT infrastructure or through a company you have a service level agreement with. Many such agreements include backups and contingency strategies, ensuring that your data is secure and accessible. Hosting the data in-house and service contracts with outside hosting services are just not cost-effective for any but the most established professionals, though.
For the cost-conscious businessperson, there are a number of options for setting up a professional email address. You can use the built-in mail server that comes with WordPress web hosting providers, for example. There are various different types of WordPress hosting options available such as Free, Shared, VPS, Dedicated, and managed to host. Honestly, the functionality you get with the built-in WordPress client is pretty limited, so you may want to go a different route.
Another option is one that routes emails with your pre-purchased domain name through Outlook.com or Gmail addresses. Personalized domain names can be purchased from GoDaddy for about $5/year. The setup for this option is beyond the capabilities of most non-techies though. It does offer the benefit of providing you with your own domain name but may not avoid the security issues that come along with free email clients.
For the professional looking for a simpler solution, there is another option. Many domain registry services also offer web hosting and personalized (read: professional-looking!) email addresses as a package at a reduced cost. For example, a package including domain name, web hosting (of your blog and/or website) and personalized email support can be bought for about $ 80/per year with search engine optimization available for an additional fee. This option provides the benefit of one-stop-shopping while also offloading the IT infrastructure issues onto a separate web hosting company. Be sure to go with a reputable and established provider since you don’t want to be left with no recourse (and no email) if the company suddenly shuts its doors.
In today’s competitive business environment, you definitely want to use every tool in your arsenal to ensure that you are taken seriously from the get-go. While free email services offer the benefit of convenience at no financial cost, they do pose a risk that your data may be exposed to corruption or outright loss by hackers. A personalized email address with your company’s domain name is a safe and relatively inexpensive way to set yourself apart from the competition. Given all of this, now, more than ever, professional email addresses seem to be the way to go for the cost-conscious professional looking to make their mark in the world of business.