Picking an email service provider

Woman reading email on her laptop computer

The scene: Me on a train somewhere in Texas, headed for the West Coast. Working on my computer and checking email on the phone when a slew of clearly spam messages appear in the inbox. I scroll through them, careful not open any of them, trying to find the ones that are legit so I don’t miss anything important.

Why am I getting all this spam? Oh, that’s right, I turned off the computer at home since I was going to be gone on this trip for 2 weeks. And that’s the computer that runs the spam filter software for my email accounts. Bad move.

So I call home and ask my wife to turn the computer back on.

When I check email on my phone later that day, there is decidedly less spam showing up. Not totally spam free, but less of it.

On that trip I decide there has to be a better way to handle my email.

For many years I did what so many other small business owners and nonprofit managers do: Used the free email accounts that come with website hosting packages. After all, it’s free. Who wants to pay for email?

That worked well enough, except for lots of spam, and often difficult setup of new accounts. I even had email accounts where I couldn’t delete emails from my phone. Only from the desktop computer. Go figure (actually, I couldn’t figure it out, so just gave up).

As for the spam, I finally gave up on the excuse for spam filtering that came with the free email accounts and installed a spam filter on my office computer. It filtered all my accounts and as long as it checked incoming email before the mobile devices, they benefitted from spam-free email too. Then I turned off that computer and went on a 2 week trip. Bad idea.

So I decided there had to be a better way. Plus, I was about to migrate to new web hosting for faster service. That meant the old email accounts would go away and have to be set up again on a new hosting server. And there would be a service interruption while that changeover happened.

That’s when I decided I needed to separate my email service from the hosting provider. For all the good reasons above.

Because email should pretty much just work. From anywhere. On any device. And not be complicated to set up. Plus who has time (or is geeky enough) to fiddle with spam filter settings to get good emails through and keep all the bad ones out? Not me and I don’t have an IT staff with nothing better to do.

So I started looking at options. I manage web and email services for a client using Google’s G Suite with nearly 100 user accounts. Not much of an issue with spam there and easy access on all kinds of devices.

Same story for a client using Microsoft Office 365 email.

Options for email service

The great thing is there are options for email service. Here they are, the good, the bad and the ugly:

UGLY
Any random email account. Definitely not professional and yet I see that on business cards from time to time. Email on your own domain is a must to be taken seriously.

Tell me, which looks more professional?
Joethecarpenter@hotmail.com or Joe@themastercarpenter.com
Case closed.

ALSO UGLY (for other reasons, if you’ve paid attention to the news)
Your own server. Yeah, you totally control it. Unless you’re hacked. Seriously, don’t even consider unless you have an IT team that has lots of time for that stuff).

BAD
Email that comes with a web hosting plan. What I used myself and would set up for clients. Still use at times in specific cases. Spam filtering is very basic and requires a LOT of work from you to be effective. I ended up running spam filtering on my computer. May or may not work on all your devices.

Plus: Included with hosting plan, so no extra cost
Con: Tied to hosting plan, so if change website hosting provider, email has to change as well. Did I mention the spam thing?

GOOD
Specialized email service provider
G Suite
Office365
Both have super spam filtering and are accessible from any browser and on any device. Easy to use and set up for the most part.
Monthly cost (may be free for qualified nonprofits)
Rackspace Email. Haven’t used their service, but it comes well recommended and would be worth checking out.

Making the transition

A concern with changing email service provider is of course “What happens to the old email?” Because none of us can bear to lose any of the 25793 unread emails in our old email inbox. Seriously, it is a valid concern.

There are different models for handling the migration. When I moved my email accounts from my old webhost to G Suite, I archived all the old emails (inbox and sent) on my desktop computer. Then started with fresh, clean accounts at G Suite. Note: I kept the same email addresses. Just didn’t migrate the old emails into the new accounts.

A few months after the migration, I found that it’s quite rare for me to look in the archived emails. If you’re working on a zero inbox model already, you’re used to archiving read emails anyway.

Then I guided a couple clients through their email move from the webhost email service to in one case Microsoft Office 365 email and in the other case G Suite. Both needed access to old emails in the new accounts, so full migration took place and once that was done, everything worked just like they were used to with all the email history at their fingertips.

My conclusion

I decided it was time to give up the “free” email (that cost me dearly in having to deal with spam all the time) and start paying for reliable service. The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true.

In the case of G Suite (or Office 365 email) there’s a per user/account fee each month, BUT I have email that works. That can be accessed from anywhere. All built for ease of use. Totally worth the peace of mind. Plus with G Suite (and Office 365 email), there are other things that come with the subscription that are useful.

A side benefit of having separated email and web hosting is that I can now change web hosting without any fear of email downtime. If both are in your future, the trick is to do the email switch first and once that’s all working, change the web hosting.

Your conclusion

If your current email setup works well, then don’t mess with it. Unless you’re not using your own domain for the email. Then you need to upgrade right now. To be professional.

If your current email is giving you fits and filling your inbox with spam, look at your options and select what’s best for how you use email in your business/organization.

Some people truly only ever check email on one computer. Others use a number of devices throughout the day and need that flexibility.

Some people prefer to check email in an app. Others always use their browser to access email.

For my clients, I recommend either G Suite or Microsoft Office 365 email as those services are easy to set up and scale as the business or organization grows.

At the end of the day, we need email that works. All the time. On all our devices. Because timely communication is important.

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