Today, businesses are almost required to have a presence on the Internet; email is needed to communicate with vendors, customers and clients. But some business owners might not have the resources to afford paid email services or their own mail servers. Fortunately, there are free email sites available that can be accessed via webmail on a website or forwarded to your email program. One even has enough features to rival paid email services.
Free basic email accounts are available at Windows Live (formerly Hotmail), Excite and Yahoo! sites. These accounts offer the ability to filter incoming mail to various folders, import POP3 mail from other accounts and set up auto-responders. The Excite and Yahoo! mail accounts are web-based, meaning you have to go online to see your mail. While these accounts are free, many spam filters will catch an email from a basic service; overall, a Hotmail or Yahoo! email address doesn't often present you as a professional in the business world.
Google's Gmail is the most flexible and offers the most features of any free service. It has the options offered with basic accounts, plus a lot more. With Gmail, you can either set up a business email and use it as is, like email@example.com, or use a domain name you already own, such as thisismybusiness.com, and use Gmail's features to mask the fact that you're using a free email address for your professional contacts.
Setting Up A Gmail Account
Gmail is out of its extended beta phase, meaning that you no longer need an invitation to sign up. Just go to the Gmail website. Remember to choose a professional-sounding name for your email, preferably the name of your business. If the name is taken, Gmail will offer substitutions. You can accept one of these, or try again with a different take on the name. Once you've chosen a name, you can either use Gmail on the web, or adjust the settings to import into your email program.
Creating A 'Send As' Setting
Most domain names come with at least one free email address, depending on the service. If you wish to mask your Gmail address and you already have a domain name, go to the webmail page, then to the Settings tab and Accounts tab. The first option is "Send mail as:" and this is where you enter the email address associated with your domain, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, every email you send out with Google will list that email as the sender.
Once the Gmail settings are changed, log into the website listing your domain. If you have a domain like GoDaddy, you'll have a domain control panel. Change the setting of your domain email to forward to your new Gmail address. Now you have the best of both worlds: a professional-looking business email and a free mail server with many professional options.
Beth Bartlett has been freelance writing for nine years, and her work has appeared in such publications as "Meetings South," "Angels on Earth," "American Profile," and "Mental Floss." She also writes a weekly humor horoscope column for print and the Web.