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FreeMail - Perception is Reality (Part 1 of 3) PDF

Free email accounts are great.  They’re easy to get, easy to use, and serve a useful function when you need it to be portable from ISP to ISP or don’t have (or want) to publish your “real” email address.  They have the draw of being relatively “anonymous” on the internet and can let you come up with a nickname for yourself.

When it comes to businesses using “freemail” accounts as a contact address I always advise clients against it. Over the next couple of segments we will explore the reasons why every business should have a true “business class” email address. We’ll find out about some perceptions people have about the topic and some very real concerns any business should have about mixing business email with personal accounts.

To begin the discussion, I asked the question:

What do you think when you see a business card or receive a business communication from one of the “freemail” providers (yahoo, hotmail, gmail, etc)? 

An informal poll of business and technology associates revealed some rather harsh opinions, but overall the sentiment was the same: it looks unprofessional. 

•    “I cringe.” Said one Technology Professional, “It says that they aren’t sure enough in their skills or the longevity of their business to invest in a domain name, or that they simply don’t value the technology easily available to them.”

•    “I question the legitimacy of their business when I see a free email account.  It instantly communicates business size and the value they place in how they want to be perceived.” Said another Technology Professional.

•    “They are missing a real opportunity to gain mindshare.  Every communication is a reminder to customers, vendors, and prospects that your organization is professional, and wants to be taken seriously as a business.” Said a Marketing Professional.

•    “I had an attorney with a free email address he used for his practice, and I was a little concerned about him sending emails as a representative for my company.” and “There are advertisements in his emails to me! I can’t believe he uses it for business!” Said a Financial Industry Executive.

•    “I don’t like it when members of the same organization all have different email providers; I expect a business to have a consistent, cohesive, professional public image. I don’t want to have to remember that you are LawGuy9782@*****.com” Said one Business Owner

Those sentiments were repeated in virtually all of the responses. Even consumers chimed in with concerns about doing business with users who have “freemail” addresses posted on sites like ebay.  “They’re just too easy to get and discard. When I see them I usually just keep looking.”

While some of the responses were more neutral, none of the people asked in this very unscientific poll thought it was a good idea to use a “freemail” account for business purposes. If you have been using one of these accounts for your business, or if someone you do business with has, do not despair – buying a domain name and setting up email can be easy with a little help.  We have a simple guide you can use to help you (or someone else) get setup and running in Part 3 of this series.  Of course we would like you to choose to host your website and email with us, but the steps are generally the same for most major hosting companies.

Be sure to check out other installments in this series and on this blog for more business and technology information.  Have a Question you would like to have answered on Ask A Tech?  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and we will publish answers\opinions to commonly asked business technology questions.

FreeMail - Hazzards to Business (Part 2 of 3) PDF

In Part 1 of this series FreeMail: Perception is Reality, we started talking about the perceptions people have about Freemail accounts (yahoo, hotmail, gmail, etc.) and their use as “business” email addresses.  In Part 2, we’ll be exploring more tangible business reasons why a business should not use “freemail” or “personal” email accounts for business communication.

Beyond the issues of perception, there are significant business continuity and security concerns associated with using “freemail” accounts for business. 

Business is about Relationships

Case in point: Roger is an accountant with a good size practice and a great reputation.  During the busy tax season, he contracts Margret to do some tax preparation for his clients.  Margret contacts the clients assigned to her and works closely with them over a series of weeks or months; they exchange emails to and from her personal “freemail” account frequently.  As time goes by, the clients build their relationship and level of comfort with Margret herself rather than Roger’s business.  After tax season, clients continue to contact Margret for their questions and expert advice with no idea that she is no longer working with Roger.  Just like that, Roger has allowed (even helped) his clients find another accountant.

This is not a “worst case scenario.” In this particular case, no malice was intended by anyone -- but the result was that Roger lost a client.  It could be worse if Margret were an employee who left to work for a competitor, or struck out on her own with all the contacts she established while working with Roger.  By enabling employees to communicate with clients outside the control or bounds of Roger’s practice he unwittingly gave his clients permission to build relationships with individuals instead of with his business.

What could have Roger done to prevent this? If Roger had taken control of how business communication was handled in his organization and limited it to his own domain (Margret@Roger’sDomain.com), he could have limited his exposure to this sort of issue.  It is possible (even easy) to forward Margret@Roger’sDomain.com to someone else in his organization after her departure.  Sadly, as it worked out Roger’s hands are tied.  He has no right to Margret’s personal email and his clients are free to do business with whomever they choose.

The legal issues involving employers reading employee email is beyond the scope of this article, but it seems well established that an employer has NO RIGHTS to an employees personal email account.

Risky Business

While they may be of little concern to personal users, freemail services have a number of security concerns that are of particular interest to business users.

Many businesses have been exposed to so much spam or bogus email from many of the popular “freemail” services that they choose not to accept any email from them at all.  If the service you use is blacklisted by someone you are sending a message to, you may not receive a notification that your message did not reach its intended recipient.  This can cause issues or delays and miscommunication with clients, customers and vendors.  In fact, some internet vendors will not ship orders purchased using an “anonymous” or “unverifiable” email address such as a “freemail” account.

Many “freemail” services are popular targets for spam, phishing, hackers, crackers, and other unsavory aspects of the internet. Based on sheer numbers of accounts they host these services are likely targets for internet crooks who attempt to steal sensitive information or spread malware. While many of these services scan email, it’s easy to see why relying on them for important business communications can be a risky proposition.