How to Select a Business Email Provider

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You’ve selected and purchased a domain for your business, now it’s time to decide how your email will be powered.

If you go out and search for “email provider” you’ll see tons of possibilities out there, but honestly very few of them are relevant to your business.

This article is structured to cover selecting the right email and at the end includes some very important email tips. Make sure to read the tips at the end 🙂

Small vs Corporate

Before we get into the details, you need to figure out if you are looking for a corporate type of email or a small business type of email. If you only have a couple of email addresses, then you are going for small business.

Small business email is an email account which uses your domain and doesn’t involve an IT department to set it up.

Corporate email normally involves a lot of email accounts and IT to set it up and maintain it.

Typically, if you are looking at 20+ email addresses, then you are likely looking at a corporate email setup. Most corporate setups will involve an exchange server for your business (virtual server or dedicated server). These servers require IT personnel (your own staff or a contract with an IT company) to run them.

If you looking at going corporate, I recommend you go ahead and read Rackspace’s article on it.

For small business email, read on.

Free vs Professional Email

Now that the corporate folks are gone, let’s focus on business emails for those of us without an IT army.

People just starting off or on a tight budget are tempted to go with a free option. Or at least an option that doesn’t cost extra money outside of your website hosting fees. This can work in the short term, but likely you’ll find that the drawbacks of free outweigh the alluring price tag.

Here’s a brief comparison of the two:

Free emailProfessional email
no extra money$5/user/month or more
Very easy to setup, very easy to removeSetup involves DNS changes and is subject to DNS propagation delay
Limited backup optionsCloud backup options
Does not work with some marketing platforms (such as mailchimp)Works with virtually everything
May cause email delivery issuesGenerally higher email deliverability with proper setup
No or limited customer supportCustomer support options
NOT HIPAA compliantHIPAA compliant options available

The “Free” Options

The two most commonly used free options are: a non-domain email like @gmail.com; using your Internet Service Provider (ISP) provided email account like @comcast.com; and a Linux cPanel email setup.

A non-domain email such as using @gmail.com accounts is very easy to setup and can be useful for “throw away” type email addresses. Throw away type addresses are useful for tool sign-ups, etc. I frequently use my @gmail.com addresses for mailing list signups to keep my business email box free of that stuff.

  • A big disadvantage of @gmail.com type address is set up with marketing platforms.
  • Another big disadvantage is they just don’t appear professional. They aren’t on your domain, so they could be coming from anyone.

ISP provided email addresses you get when you sign up for internet service for your home or business. You may look at this as a free email account ready to go, but you should be extremely wary of ISP provided accounts. ISP provided accounts tend to be subject to strict limits on data, have very restrictive user agreements, and are the most prone to outages/glitches/your email not working. I always recommend avoiding them.

ISP provided accounts tend to be subject to strict limits on data, have very restrictive user agreements, and are the most prone to outages/glitches/your email not working. I always recommend avoiding them. Besides, if you ever move or change ISPs, you lose this account.

On most hosting companies which offer Linux cPanels you can set up email addresses for your domains hosted there. These emails are quite easy to setup, however, over time you are likely to run into issues with spam. The spam issues range from your emails flagged as spam by other email providers to your inbox flooded with spam.

  • Additional setup with DKIM and SPF records can improve your deliverability.
  • Some Linux cPanel hosting companies turn off email functionality to prevent you from making accounts (for example GoDaddy).

Professional Email Options

Most professional email options start at about $5 per user per month. So if you have 3 users (3 addresses) then you’ll be spending $15 per month.

I’m going to talk about 3 main options: Office 365, G Suite, and Rackspace. These are from Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace, respectively.

The basic question for which provider you go with comes down to this: Office 365 uses Microsoft apps & tools; whereas G Suite uses Google apps and tools. If you like using Google Docs and Sheets and being able to share these within your organization easily, then go with G Suite. If you are married Microsoft apps and tools, then use Office 365.

If you don’t need apps (or just need Google Docs/Sheets which can be gotten for free), then Rackspace can save you some money.

Here are more details to help you decide:

Office 365G SuiteRackspace
$6/user/month if billed monthly, $5/user/month if billed annually, qualifying non-profits can get free products$5/user/month always, monthly billing to easily add/remove users, qualifying non-profits can get free products$2/user/month, $3.50/user/month for file storage, apps & IM
50 GB email storage30 GB email & file storage25 GB email storage
Use your own domainUse your own domainUse your own domain
Web versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (desktop versions of applications not included)Create and edit text documents, robust spreadsheets, and beautiful presentations across devices. Share files with teammates and work in the same file at the same time. (the version control rocks)$2/month no apps or storage, $3.50/month with apps & 30GB storage
1 TB of OneDrive storage30 GB file storage$3.50/month with apps & 30GB storage
Host unlimited HD video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people with Skype for BusinessMeet face to face with your team using easy-to-join HD video calls.No video messaging
Chat-based workspace & Skype businessGoogle chat includedNo messaging on $2/month plan, IM on $3.50/month plan
24/7 phone and web support24/7 support by phone, email & online24/7 support by phone, email & online
HIPAA Compliance availableHIPAA Compliance availablenot HIPAA Compliant

They all have larger plans with more options, but these are their basic plans which will work for most businesses.

A number of hosting companies offer versions of Office365 that you can purchase through them. However, since they act as a middleman they are frequently offering you less service for your dollar. So if you want Office365, buy it directly from Microsoft. Their pricing is a bit confusing and they have different options on different pages, so spend a little while going through their site to find the right package (or click here if you want Office applications included).

However, if you need HIPAA compliant Office365, I do recommend you go with GoDaddy as they will sign business agreement documents with you (they of course charge monthly you for this service). Microsoft themselves have been very unfriendly in the past about signing documents.

The hosting companies that offer G Suite generally give you the full G Suite experience. Many of them allow you to transfer a GSuite account purchased through them to Google without any downtime.

Click here for a step by step guide to setting up G Suite.

Google has a pretty easy process for getting your HIPAA compliant business agreement signed. They have whole guides to walk you through the process.

Important Warning: If you have an existing email address with your domain that you’ve been using extensively Google Apps with, do NOT move to G Suite without considering this: if you have an existing email address using Google Apps and you move that email address into G Suite, it will move everything you have access to over to a new email address, and they have no way to fix it. So if you used info@mydomain.com for everything Google then switch to G Suite, it will move everything to infomydomain@gmail.com. This includes Search Console, Analytics, Docs, Sheets, Developer API, everything Google related.

Rackspace email is purchased directly from Rackspace. They are quite nice and will help you with the more complicated parts of the setup like setting DNS records.

Zoho Mail is another option for those who need fewer features. Their standard email is $2/user/month and includes 30GB of email storage and includes G Suite integration. However, for those on a really tight budget, you can use the Zoho Free Plan which is limited to 5GB, 1 domain and doesn’t include any extra features (like G Suite integration). Like Rackspace, Zoho is not HIPAA compliant.

Setup for Professional email

Professional email purchased through a provider has additional setup items needed. This is because your hosting provider and email provider are different.

You need to add records to your hosting provider’s DNS settings. These are for routing your email and also to ensure email deliverability. You’ll need to enter at least one MX record, and then an SPF record. You will be instructed on what to do and when to do it during the setup of your account.

If you contract with a developer to assist you with website matters, then your developer can frequently help you set this up.

Make sure that your developer is reputable and doesn’t just try to add you to their account. Some developers will try to handcuff you to them by signing up for services using their account.

Your developer should always create a new account for you and provide you with all login credentials. Your email address needs to be the contact on the account and your credit card charged for the service. This ensures that you actually own the account. Otherwise, if you and the developer get into a conflict you could lose everything.

Email Tips

You should be using your domain for business email. This presents a consistent and professional image.

However, if you plan to do outreach emails or marketing strategies involving “cold emailing”, these could be viewed as spam. In this case, you may actually want to use “throw away” types of email addresses. You may want to reconsider these outreach strategies in favor of a strategy less likely to get you marked as spam.

If you need HIPAA compliant emails, make sure to let any provider you are considering know before you sign up. HIPAA compliance requires additional steps.

Go with larger companies like the ones I’ve listed above for your email provider. It can be a pain to change providers, and selecting the right one up front is far less painful. If you use small shops then if your relationship changes, they change owners or go out of business, you could be in serious trouble.

Small providers are also far more likely to have outages. There was a provider who handled a few hundred websites and they had a serious server failure causing an outage of nearly a week to all of their customers. Your business can’t afford to randomly be without email, so you want a large provider with a lot of redundancy.

If you will have your website send emails (such as contact form notifications or thank yous) then you need to authenticate your website to send emails on your behalf. This is a couple of extra steps, but very worth the investment for deliverability.

Every year deliverability of emails becomes harder. This is because every year the spam filters become more complex as the spammers try to go around the previous set of filters. Because of this, a reliable large provider is essential to your business.

In fact, email deliverability is such an important issue, you should click here to read my article on it.

As far as a blanket general recommendation, GSuite will probably meet just about every need you have (unless your needs involve Microsoft, but I generally recommend not having needs that involve Microsoft). If your budget is incredibly tight, go with Zoho and don’t complain about limited features.

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