The ease of setup and the price certainly attract many to use a free gmail, yahoo, AOL, or other email service for their business communications, but is it the right move? In most cases, the answer is simply “no.”
When Is It the Right Move?
There really is only one situation that using a free email service for business is suitable. It’s when you offer a service or product that is intrinsically tied to you as an individual and your business operations are subsistent; to employ yourself. If this doesn’t describe you or your business, don’t use a free email service.
As consumers we all have set standards for the services and products we use. This might be in the form of expecting a printed menu at a restaurant rather than a hand-written one, or a more serious one of expecting your doctor’s office to be clean and sanitary. It’s not hard to see that someone wouldn’t want to receive medical treatment in a filthy environment. While it may not be apparent to the business operator, having a free email address for business falls into this category.
Using a free email address may convey to your potential customers that you haven’t done something basic to operating a business. The average person would be unlikely to cite it as a reason, but it would contribute to a feeling of uncertainty about your business. We all have skipped past the stores with the ugly signs. Just like you, the store might have something great to offer, but gets passed over because there’s a lack of confidence in that based on a lack of an attribute that the majority of your customers believe is basic to running a business.
Control of Your Information & Brand
When signing up for a free service, have you ever thought “what happens if I lose access to this account?” The answers to this question lead to the most serious concerns with using free email.
Each email service provider will vary in the way they handle this situation, but they all have several things in common. They have some mechanism to reset your password, usually based on answering secret questions (think about all of those Facebook surveys you’ve completed), sending you a text message, or emailing a backup address. They also have another thing in common: they won’t actively help you. There is no phone number or live chat that you can ever expect to help you. Why would they offer that? You’re not exactly their customer.
The Password Is Absolutely Critical
We’ve observed the shared use of a free email account in some companies. This is very risky. All of the people who use the account have to know the password, and if one of them wants to take over the mailbox, there’s little you can do to stop them. They can change the password, update the backup email address and phone number, and change the secret questions, all of which would prevent you from accessing the mailbox. The only realistic recourse is to convince them to turn control back over to you. There’s no one to call and no one who could really help. Theoretically, the legal system could get involved to compel them to return it, but do you have months to wait for that to happen? It’s not a criminal matter, so the police wouldn’t get involved.
Whether it’s an exiting employee or an unknown malicious actor taking over your account, one thing is certain, it all comes down to the password. If someone else has the password, they can take it over and get to the point that you would almost certainly give up on trying to get it back. It would be a shame for hundreds or thousands of contacts to have now incorrect information to reach you.
The Most Basic Business Email Solution Is Better
One of the stranger situations we’ve observed is a business with a very nice website, but uses free email services. The reason it’s strange is because just by having a website, you likely have access to some level of basic business email service for that domain at no additional cost. Almost every web hosting service includes basic email service. We aren’t saying that it’s a great service, but it completely mitigates the challenges associated with free email services. A business could start with the basic service and look to the premium services as the limited functionality holds them back.
The Premium Services Are Relatively Cheap
The two most-widely used email services for business are Microsoft 365 and G Suite. Their plans start out at $4 and $6 per user per month, respectively. This is a small price to pay to have effective email communication, that can’t easily be taken away from you by an exiting employee, further your brand by using an address at your website, and that you won’t have to worry about losing contact with hundreds or thousands of your associates.
Your Information and Online Presence Is Valuable – Protect It
The longer you use an email address, the more valuable it becomes to you. This can either become an asset to build your organization, or a liability and threat to it. Protect it; make sure that it’s always an asset.
Navigating the set up and maintenance of an email system can be a challenge, but it’s worth the investment. Events like permanently losing access to your email account are not only embarrassing, but also impact the revenue. You never know the opportunities you’ve missed if you cannot get the message. You should talk with your IT support resources to address these issues if you’re using a free email account before you’re impacted.