Even though social media and other alternative communications get all the headlines these days, email remains a vital tool for any small business. Costs associated with premium email services can take a bite out of your bottom line, however — and those expenses typically increase with every employee your hire. Now for the good news: If your business is in the market for no-cost digital communications, you’ll find more free email options available than ever before.
Before you leap feet-first into the no-cost world, consider the possible impact on your business. Free software holds a few risks, which are covered in-depth in a previous post, “Free Small-Business Software for Shoestring Budgets.” Based on your position, the negatives may outweigh the positives. Although using a free email-reading client is fairly safe, note that service providers typically do not back up your messages or guarantee a specified amount of uptime.
Here are some leading no-cost email clients and services:
Free Email Clients
- Mac Mail — Email is easy if you use Macs in your workplace. Apple’s OS X operating system includes the fully functioning Mail application, complete with SMTP, POP3, IMAP, and Microsoft Exchange Server support.
- Mozilla Thunderbird — Many people know Mozilla for its Firefox web browser, but they don’t realize that the organization offers up a remarkably full-featured email client called Thunderbird, too. A Mail Account Setup Wizard automatically configures settings based off your email address, which is a nice touch. The tabbed interface lets you search the web while you check your mail, and a plethora of add-ons, extensions, and plug-ins let you customize nearly every aspect of the software. Plus, it’s updated regularly. Highly recommended.
- Windows Live Mail — Tales of Outlook Express’s demise have been greatly exaggerated; the perennial powerhouse just underwent a face-lift and rebranded itself as Windows Live Mail, part of the Windows Live Essentials pack. The program offers many of the same basic features as Thunderbird, but sports the Ribbon interface familiar to users of Microsoft’s Office programs. One interesting feature is Photo Email: Instead of sending pictures as attachments, Windows Live Mail uploads the image to a Microsoft SkyDrive cloud server and sends a link to the recipient, saving inbox space.
- Opera Mail — Here’s an odd one, an email client built right into a web browser. As weird as it sounds, the mail function built into the Opera browser works very well. It offers a clean, slick interface, POP3 and IMAP support, and a robust spam filter. Even though the Mail function is built into the browser, offline access is supported (as it is with all clients covered here). It’s hard to recommend Opera over the others as a standalone application, but it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a one-stop browser/email solution.
Free Email Services
Among the host of free-email service providers out there, Google’s Gmail is perhaps the best known and offers tons of space, excellent basic functionality, and a superb spam filter. Microsoft’s Hotmail is another strong option that provides unlimited storage. Both have apps for mobile devices, and both allow business use of their services (although, as previously noted, they forswear any liability for lost data and downtime).
One thing to keep in mind: Some people consider businesses that send emails from free domains, such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, to be less than professional. You may want to use an email account linked to your web domain, such as email@example.com.
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