You don't necessarily have to pay for a great email solution for your small business.
If you're tempted by premium business-class email services such as Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Office 365, consider a free service first. Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo! Mail might meet all the needs of your business, without the monthly fees.
For new business owners, sticking with a free service can also afford you the time to let your business grow. Until you have at least a handful of employees, you might not need the features that paid email provides, such as collaboration tools and shared calendars. And waiting might make it easier to pick the right paid service for the long haul, especially if your company grows quickly.
But don't settle on just any webmail service. Read on for five features you should look for in a free email solution for your small business. Then check out BusinessNewsDaily's sister site, TopTenREVIEWS, for a full review and feature breakdown of the most popular free email services on the Web.
Custom email addresses
You want to appear professional, even if you're not using a professional-grade email service. That's why it's so important to link your free email account with a custom email address that includes the name of your business or website. Instead of email@example.com, your email address can be firstname.lastname@example.org. An email address that includes your brand can give even the smallest of businesses an air of professionalism, and that's important when you're networking or connecting with new clients or customers.
Not every free email service allows users to set up a branded email address, and some require you to pay a recurring fee for the privilege. If you intend to stick with a free email service, be sure to pick one that allows you to customize the domain name in your address.
Advanced security features
Just because you're using a free email service doesn't mean you don't deserve top-of-the-line security tools. The best free email services don't just shield your inbox from spam. They also help protect your business machines against viruses and malware by scanning attachments and filtering suspicious messages.
Some services also restrict automatic downloads that could infect your machine, and offer phishing filters to screen against malicious emails that ask for personal information like passwords and credit card numbers. Even savvy small business owners can benefit from these automated security features, especially as your company grows.
Substantial inbox storage
You inbox is a record of every email correspondence you and your employees have made. By picking a service with generous storage limits, you can worry less about deleting and archiving old messages. That means your old emails, especially those that came with important attachments, will still be there whenever you need them.
Inbox storage limits vary widely among free services. Google provides 15GB of free storage for its Gmail service. But even that considerable amount of space might not be enough if you frequently deal with large email attachments. By comparison, other popular free services such as Yahoo! Mail cap your inbox at 1TB, and Microsoft's Outlook has no cap on the number of email messages you can store.
Generous Attachment Limits
Does running your business mean sending and receiving large files such as spreadsheets, product orders or presentations? Most webmail services limit attachment sizes to between 10-25MB . That's enough to send Word documents, but if you need to attach multiple PDFs or other large files, you'll hit the limit in a hurry.
Many modern email services allow users to send much, much larger files by pairing your email with a cloud storage service. Google lets Gmail users send files up to 10GB, so long as the file is first uploaded to a Google Drive account. Similarly, Microsoft's Outlook accommodates files up to a whopping 300GB if they're uploaded to SkyDrive, and Yahoo! Mail offers similar functionality in conjunction with Dropbox.
IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. Email services that support IMAP allow for true two-way email management, so any email you send or receive in any IMAP client will synchronize with the provider's server.
Not every free email service includes IMAP support, but it's a must-have for business users. IMAP allows you to access your email through a mobile app or desktop client, in addition to the provider's Web portal. That gives you more options to read, sort and be notified of new messages, so you can always stay on top of your email inbox. When looking for a way to access and manage your email across desktop and mobile devices, opt for IMAP over POP (Post Office Protocol.) POP allows you to download your email to any computer of mobile device, but erases your email from the main server in the process.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.