Thursday, May 31, 2012

Save Money: Professional Email on the Cheap, pt2

In Part One I explained how to route corporate emails from your domain to a free Gmail account. Now that we can receive emails, we need to complete the process so we can send emails from our corporate email addresses.

Step 3: Configure Gmail to send email through your domain name
You can tell Gmail to send email on behalf of another account. Your Gmail account might be, but your outgoing mail can be your company's email address. This is how you make your business look professional and legit.
In your Gmail settings go to Accounts and click "Add another email address you own". You'll get the following prompt:

"Name" is how you'd like the account's "From" line to appear. Then enter the external email address that you just set up at your registrar (e.g. Keep the "Treat as an alias" checkbox checked.

Gmail will send that address a verification email. Because of the routing at your registrar, that verification email will land right in your Gmail inbox. Click on the verification link and then you'll see:

Sweet! Now you have end-to-end send/receive corporate email set up for your business!

Final step: Set up your email signature
Go back to your Gmail settings. Under the "General" tab scroll down to Signature. Select your corporate email address from your domain name and add an appropriate signature.

All set!
Now when you compose a new message, you can select your new corporate email address and Gmail will automatically add the correct signature!

Gmail is also smart enough to default to the correct email address when you reply to a message; if the original message was sent to, "Reply" will automatically assume you want to respond from that email address.

Awesome, yes?
As far as the outside world is concerned, you look completely legit and professional with your email address and corresponding email signature. Yet, aside from the cost of registering the domain name, you haven't spent a single cent on an email server or email services. Nice!

One account to rule them all
My account is now set up to handle my email address with the business I consulted for in Athens, the new corporate email addresses for my first µ-Dev project that is in development now, and the email address for this blog that I just set up for demonstration purposes for this post.

It may seem confusing to have all of those addresses live in one account, but it actually makes life a lot simpler. Here's why: I log in to my account and that's it! If all of my various email addresses for all my various businesses were all separate accounts, it would be an enormous pain to keep having to log in to different accounts just to check for new mail or send a quick reply.

One exception: I have an existing Gmail account for personal use and I'm glad it's separate from my corporate account. The business-vs-personal separation keeps me more focused and significantly reduces the clutter that would accumulate in my corporate account if the two were mixed.

Part of the µ-Dev philosophy is to keep building the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. Keeping all those corporate email addresses under one account makes it a little more practical to be a parallel entrepreneur.

So why pay for Google Apps for Business?
I'm not sure I'm really getting my money's worth at $50/user. I suspect we could have just gone with free Gmail accounts.

One benefit that might not be possible with just free Gmail is that I was able to set up email groups with our Google Apps for Business accounts. An email group acts just like an email account to the outside world. For example, I created a "corp" email group which gets its own email address (corp but is not considered a "user" so I don't have to pay an extra $50/yr for it. The "corp" group is configured to automatically forward all incoming mail to both me and my COO.

We use this "corp" email for all of our important business accounts - online banking, online accounting package, etc. It's a minor form of transparency between him and I so that we both always know the status of those important business accounts.

We do the same with a "support" email group. This is our primary means of providing customer service to our EssayTagger users. Selected people in the company all get the "support" emails so that we all know what's going on with customer issues and resolutions (this is our zero-budget approach until we see the need for an actual customer service/CRM package).

But other than this groups feature, I'm not sure it's worth the money. The step up from 10GB to 25GB of storage is meaningless; you really shouldn't have that much data in your email account anyway. That's what Dropbox and other cloud storage services are for.