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So You Need Email for Your Business. What Are Your Options?

Open email connection on a laptop placed on top a cluttered desk
Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com

Email communication is an important part of doing business. Having email coming from your own domain name makes your business look more credible than using a personal email, and many business email providers will include much more storage as well.

How Does Business Email Work?

Business email works in largely the same way traditional free email works. You have a mail server that collects your emails, usually managed for you “in the cloud” by a mail provider like Gmail. You connect to this server with a mail client, which usually comes in the form of a web dashboard, though you can also use a downloadable app like Outlook, Thunderbird, or the Mail app for macOS.

The main thing that sets business email apart from regular email is having it come from your custom domain. If you have your own website, you might want email to come from an address like yourname@yourcompany, which looks more professional.

This requires you to verify your domain name, which means you’ll need to be able to access your DNS records, or edit the webpage hosted at that domain name. Custom domain email is also not free, and requires you to pay for the “business tier” with most providers.

Hosted Email with G Suite

Open laptop opened to Gmail

The simplest option is to just pay someone to host your email for you. Google’s premium email service is called G Suite. It’s exactly the same as regular Gmail, except it’s hooked to your domain name, and will send as yourname@yourcompany.

If you have an organization with multiple users, G Suite gives you access to features like company-wide Google Hangouts sessions, and includes 30 GB of Google Drive storage per user, making it easy to share and collaborate on files in Drive.

G Suite’s standard tier is $6, per user, per month. You’re also given the ability to create email aliases; for example, you could forward contact@yourcompany to yourname@yourcompany without paying anything extra. You can create up to 100 aliases for the same account.

When you sign up, you’ll need to verify your domain name to connect G Suite. This involves either editing your domain records to include a verification key, or adding an HTML tag into the homepage of your website. This will need to be done through your hosting provider or domain provider.

Microsoft Outlook and Exchange

Microsoft Outlook opened on a laptop and phone

Another popular option for hosted email is Exchange and Outlook. Outlook is a desktop app usually included with Word and Excel, but is also available as an online web app. Outlook is just a mail client, which is confusing because Microsoft also includes free email with your Microsoft account and calls the whole service “Outlook.com“.

The server powering Microsoft’s free email is Exchange Server, which is what you’ll be buying if you want business email. You’ll still use the Outlook application to connect to Exchange, but you could use another client if you desired.

If you have an Office 365 “Premium” or “Business Essentials” subscription, Microsoft includes Exchange and Outlook as a service, which you can set up with your custom domain. You can also get Exchange by itself from Microsoft, which is the cheapest at $4 per user but doesn’t include Outlook.

You can also get Exchange hosted for you from services like Rackspace, which costs $3 per user at the cheapest, and will be functionally the same as getting it hosted from Microsoft. In most cases, you’ll still pay per user just like G Suite, but probably won’t get Outlook included with the plan, because that’s not available for third-party vendors to license.

The Exchange Server application is available to license, so you could run it yourself on your own servers, but those licenses are intended for large businesses running it internally and cost thousands of dollars per year. You’ll instead want to buy it from a vendor offering a hosted option.

Use Your Hosting Provider’s Built-In Account

GoDaddy's built-in hosted spaced

The provider that you use to host your website may also include email as an add-on or built in to your service. For example, if you’re using GoDaddy, it probably manages your domain and web server hosting already. They also offer hosted email for $2 a month, and include it in some of their packages.

GoDaddy’s email service, alongside many others, includes their own webmail interface, which isn’t very user friendly. You can solve this by connecting your inbox to a third-party client like Outlook or Thunderbird, and managing it from there instead.

Check with your hosting provider to see if you already have email, because you might be fine with using that as your mail server and not paying extra for G Suite or Exchange. However, even if your provider includes email, you should still be able to set up hosted email from another service without much issue, unless your domain settings are locked down.

Just Use a Normal Gmail Address

Setting up a Gmail account

While it’s not as professional, there aren’t many differences between G Suite and regular Gmail besides extra storage and custom domains. Gmail specifically is still reasonably professional, especially if you’re able to snag yourcompany@gmail.com (which you should probably do anyway). However, you should definitely stick to Gmail, as @hotmail.com or @AOL.com look much worse.

If you really need your emails to send with a custom domain, it’s actually possible to set up a normal Gmail account to use your business name, but it’s not a great solution.

First, you’ll need to set up email forwarding with your DNS provider. Forward yourname@yourcompany to your personal Gmail account. Then, follow these steps to verify the domain, configure Gmail to send as your custom domain, and set it as your default “From” address.

This way, any incoming mail will be forwarded to your personal email, and any outgoing mail from your personal email will have your domain name slapped onto it. However, this isn’t supported in every mail client; in Outlook in particular, recipients of your mail might see “Sent from youremail@gmail.com on behalf of yourname@yourcompany,” which is not ideal. But if you’re fine with it working most of the time, and don’t mind taking an hour to set it all up, this is the only real free option for a custom domain.

Anthony Heddings Anthony Heddings
Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times. Read Full Bio »

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