As some of you may know from reading a few of these articles I’ve written, I grew up in a small town where my family owned and operated a hardware store for over six decades. If you didn’t know that, well, now you do.

Gramp and Dad were in business at what we sometimes jestfully called The 3M Store – Meacham’s at Main and Maple – because you didn’t really have to know the cross streets to find it. Our downtown was essentially a three-block stretch (with 2 stoplights) and Main Street just happened to be a section of US Army Highway 6. You pretty much had to drive right by the store to get anywhere up in that neck of the woods – at least if you wanted to stay on paved roads.

Both Dad and Gramp were consummate professionals, wearing ties, starched dress shirts and slacks to work every day, come rain or shine. Of course, they usually donned tan smocks, always buttoned, to keep their shirts as clean as possible. I asked Dad why they got so spiffed up and he told me that it was to maintain a level of professionalism that people in town had come to expect over the years.

And that kinda brings me to the topic for today – why having a paid email account versus a free one is important to you and your business.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Most importantly in my mind, having one adds a level of professionalism to most everything we do in this digital age. I’d venture to guess that 90% of all our communication with clients, vendors and even family runs through an email server somewhere.

For reasons that I can only assume are bubbling up from deep within the age old “surrogate indicator of quality” axiom from Marketing 101, I feel a whole lot better about spending my money with joe@hwwmachinery.com than I do with joe.smith3567@aol.com, especially if hwwmachinery.com has a website up and running. It seems self-evident to me that having an email address incorporating either your domain name or business name can’t help but bolster your professional presence and credibility.

And even though you may not want or need a website, it’s relatively simple to register a domain that you can use for your email. Granted, a lot of the good names are already taken, but with a little creativity, we can still come up with a respectable option for your business.

THE REAL COST OF ‘FREE’

Then consider the cost of that ‘free’ email account. Whoa. But it’s free you cry! No. Remember Econ 101? TANSTAAFL. Nothin’ is ever free. And when we’re talking about those ‘free’ email accounts, little pieces of our privacy often become the currency used for payment. Buried deep within the bowels of that agreement we never bothered to read, we’ve agreed to let the provider sell our information to companies that know how to turn it into profit. Or bombard us with ads or emails that are somehow amazingly relevant to searches we may have just made. Surely you didn’t think that was a coincidence, did you Timmy?

Maybe with a personal account, that privacy thing isn’t such a big deal. But within a company account, it might well be. When you have 10-15 people all using a ‘free’ service, who really knows what’s getting sold where and to what end? (Remember, we never actually read that agreement when we signed up, and even if we did, we couldn’t make hide nor hair if it). Couple that with less stringent security measures than a paid service provides, and the expense of that ‘free’ service could add up pretty quickly.

Given that most paid services run maybe $8-10 per month per user, on balance, that’s money well spent. Plus, there are added features and benefits included with most offerings in that price range. Maybe video conferencing, cloud storage, application access and lots of other neat stuff.

CHECK YOUR SPAM FOLDER…

Then there’s the issue of spam. While most all the ‘free’ services do a good job of blocking incoming spam on your behalf, spam filters on your intended recipients’ email accounts often see emails from you@whateveryourfreeserviceis.com as suspect. Over time, they’ve seen so much spam from those ‘free’ accounts that they’ve become trained to assign higher spam scores to them. Depending on the sensitivity of the settings your clients and their servers are using, your emails might be going directly to spam, or worse, getting deleted.

And Timmy, little is more uncomfortable in the email world than calling a client to see if they got your email and then hearing them say “Oh. Here it is. In my spam folder.” Unless it happens consistently. That’s way more uncomfortable because now they’re looking at you sideways, wondering why – with all the money they’re spending with your company – you can’t bump it up a notch and spring for a paid email service.

Finally, let’s look at branding. Using a paid service that allows you to incorporate your domain and/or business name subtly – but significantly – reinforces your brand. And it adds that element of professionalism that could well set you apart from your competition. In this day and age of an ever increasingly competitive market, a little edge can make a big difference.

Just like those ties and starched shirts Gramp and Dad wore…

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