Email is an indispensable part of running any small business. It’s often the best – and least intrusive way -- to communicate with employees, colleagues and collaborators. But if email is so important, you'd better think hard before choosing an email service for your business. Not all email platforms are created equal, so it's important to choose one with the features you need. At the same time you'll want to avoid overpaying for features that you don't need. Here are five factors to consider before you settle on an email platform for your business.
1. Free or paid?
The one thing you can't get with a free Web mail service is the ability to use your brand's name as part of your email address. For example, registering for a free Gmail account gives you an email address like [username]@gmail.com; but by subscribing to Google Apps for Business, you can secure an email address that reads [username]@[yourbusiness].com. In most cases, you'll need to already own your own Web domain in order to use it as part of your email address, but registering a domain can cost as little as $10 per year. Other services, such as Microsoft Office 365, give you your own domain name without the need to pay additional hosting fees.
Whether or not it's important for you (and any employees) to have a branded email address is ultimately up to you. An email address that includes your own domain name can potentially boost the perceived credibility of your business. On the other hand, a generic email address might be fine for the smallest businesses, especially if you are a sole proprietor.
2. Storage space
Of course, a branded email address isn't the only advantage of a paid email service. Paid platforms offer plenty of other perks, such as expanded cloud storage for email and other files.Many free email services offer limited storage space, forcing you to delete messages when your inbox gets full. If you run a small business that relies heavily on email, and you prefer to archive messages rather than delete them, your inbox can fill up in a hurry. By subscribing to a paid service, you can gain access to a much bigger inbox.
There are a few other related concerns to consider. For example, the maximum size of an email attachment varies widely between different services, with some services capping attachments at 10GB and others letting you send huge files up to 300GB or more, as long as the file is already uploaded to the cloud.
Whether you pay for email or use a free service, you’ll want tight security for your business inbox – especially if running your business involves the exchange of private client data. And other sensitive data can be attached to your email account, such as bank account numbers and tax returns. Even more than with your personal email, it’s important to keep cybercriminals out of your business account.
Before settling on an email service, check for common-sense security measures such as spam and phishing filters. Support for two-factor authentication is also important; the feature helps keep outsiders out of your inbox by requiring users to have two pieces of information to sign in. The first is your regular password, and the second is a freshly generated code sent to either your mobile phone or a second email address. Other security features to check for include built-in antivirus measures to keep malware off your computer, which is especially important if you download a lot of attachments.
4. Collaboration tools
A good business email platform makes it easier for you to work together with your employees or colleagues. The best platforms include tools to help you collaborate. For example, services such as Gmail and Outlook include a built-in calendar as part of your email inbox. And in a few simple steps you can share your calendar with others so they can view and edit it on the fly. That can really help with planning and collaboration.
Email threading is another feature that can help you work together with colleagues. Threaded emails make it easier to follow long exchanges because replies appear one after another in a single thread, instead of being spread throughout your inbox in the order they were received.
5. Bonus features
Once you've found an email service that covers all the basics, check for additional features that can boost your productivity. For example, some platforms such as Gmail and Outlook include integrated video chat. That means you can use a single service for both exchanging messages and meeting remotely, making your day-to-day operations simpler and more efficient.
Some email platforms also include instant messaging functionality. Instant messaging is better than email for real-time discussions, since you can exchange numerous short messages in rapid succession. And sending an instant message may be preferable to sending an email if the content of your message is not that important.