Large businesses, often with dedicated IT staff, usually manage their own servers for email provision. At the opposite end of the scale many new-start businesses use the 'free' email address which comes from their ISP (Internet Service Provider). Unlike mobile phone numbers, these email addresses are not transferable. The price paid is that the business (or individual) becomes tied to their ISP. I do not use ISP email addresses even for my personal emails. I have seen these types of unprofessional email addresses printed on stationery and even on the side of vans!

Actually own your email address

A domain name will only cost from about £10 per year for a 'dot com', and less than half that for Selecting the correct domain name and provider is another story! However, adding an email address to your domain needn't add much to the bill. Domain providers will offer this service for a few pounds per month, per address. Alternatively you could use a service like 'Google Apps' and get additional functionality like online shared-calendars and document storage.
It is possible to receive and store emails alongside your website hosting if you have it. Historically this was acceptable as emails were downloaded to a single PC. Users now demand access from multiple devices, and therefore all emails and their attachments must be stored permanently and reliably in the cloud*. The requirements and pricing structure for website and email storage are different, and therefore I would keep these services separate.

Configure for expansion

Consider how many separate email addresses you need. You should have a separate 'box' per user needing to access emails. You can add groups and forwarders later. Remember it is possible to set up multiple names (before the @ in an address) to go into the same mailbox, often called 'aliases'.
Mailbox endpoints should be for 'people' and should use their name, i.e. peter@ my business domain. You can use aliases and forwarders for 'roles', for example: sales@, help@, accounts@.
This allows for new people to enter your business or take on new roles. Beware; generic names like 'sales' and 'contact' are more likely to be targeted by spam attacks. Never display personal email addresses on your website.

It can still be free (almost)

You can also set emails received at your domain to forward to free email accounts (not on your domain). Services like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo. This is useful if you have multiple businesses or want to consolidate personal and business emails into a single system. These systems can be configured to also send email as-if they were sent from your original address. You need to remember to select the 'from' address when sending emails. Some tech-savvy people, spam filters and certain email-clients will know you have routed your emails this way.

Keeping your ISP, domain-name, email-system and website-hosting separate may sound like extra complication and effort at the outset. However, you retain full and flexible control when it comes to reconfiguration and upgrading.

*cloud = just a trendy word for computer-processing and file-storage on the internet.

Article by Peter Davies of Digital Acorn Ltd.

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