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Why Freebie Email Accounts Are Not A Good Thing – Especially if They’re Associated With Your Website

Back in the old days, when the internet began to take off, one of the first revelations was the use of email. I remember a friend telling me, “This email thing is amazing! You really need to try it.” Based on that, I got an email account and began to figure out how to use it.

One thing that was common with those original email accounts was that they were actually accounts; you paid for them and, in turn, you got the expected privacy and exclusivity. In order to access your email you needed an “email client” — which meant that you needed a copy of a software program, something like Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird, to access your email account.

While these first email accounts were initially used for both personal and business purposes they were all common in that they were connected to a domain name that was corporate in nature. That is, the words that followed the @ character were connected to a business or organization. That’s why they came to be known as “corporate emails” or “business emails.” This article is centred on corporate emails and I’ll continue to use that term.

So, email communication across the internet began with corporate email accounts – and then things changed.

Hotmail appeared, as did Yahoo! Mail. And then, along came the biggie: Gmail. All of a sudden the world was awash with dozens of different types of free email accounts. Not only did you avoid having to pay for them, but you also didn’t even need software to use them; full access to all of the needed functionality of email could be had through your browser! At first, most folks didn’t realize the implications of giving up control of their email and an entire generation has now come to consider a free email account akin to the right to free speech and democracy.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking has found its way into businesses and literally, millions of enterprises are currently run using Gmail and other freebie email accounts. Frankly, based on the truly low cost of having a private, corporate email account, I don’t know why any self-respecting and security-conscious business or organization would ever use a free email account.

Just consider the primary reasons:

  1. Your email will not reflect the branding of your enterprise and will stigmatize it as being cheap and/or not very security-aware. I wrote a whole other blog post on this very subject! Please read it.
  2. Your company’s intellectual property, assets, inventory, and client list are all yours, but your email account is not your property, nor are its contents.
  3. If someone leaves your organization or business in a situation that isn’t amicable, you could find you have lost control over one of your main methods of communications to your business community — and the rest of the world.
  4. If whoever controls your email suddenly dies or becomes incapacitated, just refer to item 3 above.
  5. The disc space used by free email accounts is often taken into account when calculating the total space allotted and you may find yourself with no storage capacity and a lot of bouncing incoming emails that never get to your inbox.
  6. Website-generated emails.
  7. Many businesses won’t engage with a business that doesn’t have a corporate email account.

I could easily think up a half dozen more reasons, but those are the main ones. Here are some more details about them:

Email Property

As I trust it is clear to you, a free email account bears no direct financial cost to you, but it does cost you a significant amount of privacy. Realizing that free email isn’t the product and that you, your business, and their data is the product is the first step in weaning yourself off of running business information through an account that someone (or more correctly, something) is eavesdropping on.

On the other hand, a corporate email account (i.e. one with your domain name after the @ character) is totally private. You’ve paid for it and you can be the only one on the planet with the password for the account. And if you’ve done a good job of using a secure password, it’ll be as bullet-proof as anything can be on the internet.

The Disgruntled Employee

Your primary company email is mywidgets@gmail.com and you’re happy and lucky to have grabbed that address when Google began giving out free Gmail accounts because your company name is “My Widgets.” How appropriate! But a few minutes ago, you fired Joe Blow because he was taking too many washroom breaks. Prior to going out the door and unbeknownst to you, Joe has quickly accessed the company Gmail account and changed the password to it.

Five minutes after Joe went out the door, you’re wondering why you no longer have access to your email account. You can’t correspond with customers or suppliers. Leads that come into your business through your website are inaccessible.

This situation is probably repairable, but not after spending many hours trying to make contact with somebody at Google who has the authority to put your “personal email account” (because that’s what free email accounts really are) back into your hands. Do you know who to call at Google (or Microsoft if it’s an outlook.com account, or Yahoo! if it’s a yahoo.ca account)? I don’t.

Here’s the good news: A corporate email account always has a “back door.” That is, a way to go into the account and change the password associated with the email account. Note that I didn’t state that one could see or know the password, only change it. (I stated earlier that “you are the only one on the planet with the password for the account” and I stand by this because it’s true.) Such authority is typically only given to two people: me and the owner of the email account, never to the user of that address.

casket at funeral

The Dead Organization Volunteer

This is similar in circumstance to the previous situation with the same eventual complications. But the middle of the story is slightly different:

Your organization “Good Folks” has been using the goodfolks@yahoo.ca email for all of its online correspondence. Potential volunteers and givers use that email address and it is linked with dozens of related and linked charitable websites.

Because there was a perceived threat a few days ago, the organization’s secretary changed the password of the email account to something different; something she could easily remember. Unfortunately, because the organization is all run by volunteers, she didn’t tell anyone else and now she’s dead – or perhaps she’s just incapacitated to the point where she can’t speak or be conscious. Do you want to be asking her family what the potential password to the charity’s email account might be?

As I pointed out earlier, if you had a corporate email account there’s a quick fix to this – and it is an exceptionally quick fix. That is, you or I just access the administration area of the email account and change its password. Since the disgruntled employee or deceased volunteer doesn’t have access to this function, it’s pretty easy to do this task.

hard disc drive

Uh Oh! You’re Out of Disc Space!

Almost all free email accounts have a limit to how much disc space their contents can fill up until they reach a limit. Most people have no idea of what that limit is or whether they’re approaching that limit and many free email account providers don’t tell you in advance. To complicate things further, many of these providers (e.g. Google) consider the space used by your Gmail account to be part of your Google Drive’s capacity.

Some paid-for email accounts provide an infinite amount of disc space – with the word infinite being a bit of a misnomer. Nevertheless, under normal circumstances, you shouldn’t ever run out. Even the ones that have a cap are very generous. The email service I provide gives 25GB of disc space. If you exceed that, you have an underlying email management problem that needs to be addressed.

Did You Know That Your Website Sends Emails?

It sure does! If you have a contact form on your website, then it’s actually your website that’s sending a copy of it to your designated email inbox — and sending a copy of it to whoever completed and submitted the form. Your website also has the ability to send out emails about its performance and other technical related issues. (Those typically come to me as the designated website administrator.) If you’ve got any form of e-commerce on your website, all emails to you and your customers all come from your website.

One of the technical aspects of having a website these days is that it will inevitably be on shared hosting. Whether I put your website on one of my leased servers or you go elsewhere, there are dozens (sometimes hundreds) of other sites sharing the same computer hardware. Without going into a long and technical discussion, to prevent bad people from taking over the email-sending functions of websites, we have to effectively “bind” a sending email address to your site. Doing this with a freebie email address is a dozen times more complicated than doing so with a corporate email. It’s also likely that, sometime in the future, free email hosts will no longer allow this to happen any longer, requiring you to have a proper email account in the end anyway.

Don’t Have a Corporate Email? – Sorry.

I’ve recently encountered this situation and know it’ll only grow in use. My client wanted to sign-up with MailerLite, an online newsletter and mailing list program. (MailChimp is its biggest competitor.) In order to enroll, MailerLite required a corporate email account. That is, any email that ended in @gmail.com or @yahoo.ca or whatever was unacceptable. This is understandable because a throw-away email address can indicate that someone is not wanting to use the service for legitimate reasons. Only bona fide companies use corporate email addresses, right? I foresee other SaaS (Software as a Service) vendors going this direction in the future.

Summary

If you’re a one-person show and plan on staying that way, you’re in total control of your email — freebie or not — and much of what I’ve written might not apply to you. Regardless, having a corporate email account will, if nothing else, make you appear to be much bigger to the outside world and certainly more professional.

The monthly cost of a corporate email account will typically cost what one or two nice coffees at Starbucks go for. Many website hosting companies include one or more corporate free email accounts in their plans. When you consider the potential costs — both financial and reputational — that go along with the stigma (or some might even say “bad smell”) of a free personal email account, I don’t know why anybody would ever use one.

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