So I've been doing a lot of research the last few days into businesses that are local to me, checking their websites and branding to find those who aren't up to scratch. Many of them already do a great job, but there's one rule being broken, one really simple mistake being made by so many that I really couldn't believe it. Far too many are reliant on free email accounts to do business on a day-to-day basis.
At face value this probably seems to be the least serious of all possible reasons to not use free email, but in reality it could be the one reason that does most damage and takes the most work to undo.
When you build a business, you are also building an image and you only get one chance to make a first impression. Your company's image should be one of professionalism & consistency; free email is one way to guarantee that you look unprofessional to your clients.
I'll give you an example. Lets say somebody receives an email claiming to be from a business they recently shopped with, but the email was sent from a Hotmail address. “What's the harm?” you may ask.
First of all it makes you look small-time; like you're just playing at offering the products and services you are and that you're not really serious about running your business.
But more importantly also it begs the question: can people really be certain that the email was sent from the business it says it was? Of course, the answer is no.
This is because free email services are so open and so freely available that absolutely anybody could have created that email account.
Even if the email itself is completely legitimate, the fact it wasn't sent using an email address that is 'at' the website the client visited, doubt begins to erode the trust that the business has already gained, which can quickly snowball into much more negative consequences.
This doesn't only mean they'd get fewer responses and less business for the effort they put in, but it also lowers the perceived value of the products and services offered at the same time.
When you use a free email account, it makes it difficult for the client to differentiate between your email and personal emails sent via the same service, this means the strength of your message is weakened significantly.
In addition, free email is often used by the more unscrupulous people looking to scam others out of money and so by using free email, you run the risk of being lumped in with the wrong crowd, which could destroy any credibility your business has and even get your email address blacklisted as spam.
Your message (and your brand) will break through far more loudly and clearly if your email is sent 'at' your website's domain name, which in turn helps reinforce your brand's trustworthiness in your clients mind.
"But I don't have a brand..." Yes, you do! Every business has a brand regardless of size, age or industry and I don't simply mean a logo. Branding is the sum total of all aspects of marketing used by your business to make the public aware of it's existence.
Any sub-standard branding will undermine the good work you've done elsewhere and believe me, any negative aspects of your marketing will do far more harm than the good that the positive aspects bring you.
This is because, generally speaking, people are far more reactionary to negative stimuli than positive and using free email is the number one way of undermining your trustworthiness as a company.
Unfortunately it seems that too little value is placed on branding by small businesses as they figure they don't need it. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. One of the reasons small businesses become big ones is because of the trustworthiness that solid branding and marketing can bring.
So as we saw before, "Why should I trust this business?" is a perfectly valid question that anybody should be asking when looking for products or services online.
Trustworthiness is the cornerstone of online business, as in most instances clients don't get to see the real quality or value behind a product or service until after they've parted with their hard earned cash.
So up until that point, you're reliant on trust, so you should be doing all you can to ensure that you portray an image of quality and trustworthiness. The problem is by the nature of free email, it does not instil trust as they can (often unfairly) call the stability of the business and commitment by the owners into question.
The problem is compounded if the business happens to also have a 'free' website in addition to their free email. This is because it shows a complete lack of financial commitment to the business by the owner.
Ask yourself why anybody should be prepared to spend their hard earned cash with a business if the owner isn't prepared to invest in it themselves?
If you already pay for a web hosting account then you're almost guaranteed to already have the solution. Web hosting providers worth their salt will provide you with email hosting that is 'at' one of your owned domain names at no extra charge.
These email accounts are quick and simple to set up and can be accessed easily via a freely available client, such as Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird and can also be set-up very easily on your smart phone too.
If you don't already have a domain name, then it really is worth investing one for when you reach out to your clients, because as we've seen, their perception of your business is heavily influenced by the way it portrays itself online.
If you've any questions about email, or would like any assistance, please feel free to drop me a line and if you know anyone who is using a 'free' email account for business email, please share this post with them!
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