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E-mail recommendations for startups and small companies.

By on Nov 4, 2007 in Business Strategy, Web Engineering

Entrepreneurs occasionally ask me about e-mail best practices, both informally and during the course of our website projects. Since I started Loud Dog in 2001, I’ve had the opportunity to get a broad overview what works and what doesn’t, both observationally and through experience dealing with our own internal e-mail, and I’ll try to share what I’ve learned here.

I recommend Google Apps or hosted Exchange.

I recommend using Google Web Apps to manage your e-mail, or remotely hosted Microsoft Exchange provided by 123together if you prefer Exchange. Both of these solutions are remotely hosted and both:

  • allow you to manage a bunch of accounts from a single interface;
  • are accessible via the web, via a desktop client (like Outlook or Mac Mail) and via your mobile device (like a Treo, Blackberry or iPhone);
  • will remain synced across multiple access points;
  • include calendaring and full productivity suites;
  • and are hosted by large companies with strong track records of stability and uptime.

These solutions are not for bulk e-mail.

I differentiate between corporate e-mail and bulk e-mail. Bulk e-mail (e-mail marketing) is a different ballgame, and should be handled differently than “normal” e-mail. E-mail is processor-intensive and while normal usage is fine, sending thousands of e-mails can place a heavy load on your e-mail server and has inherent risks that require specialized set ups. (Not to say that not possible to send bulk e-mail from your normal system, I just don’t recommend it.)

Other options: Local versus remote e-mail.

When setting up an e-mail system, there are two fundamental choices: locally hosted or remotely hosted. Which your organization needs is dependent on your specific requirements and desires.

Locally hosted e-mail is where you have an e-mail server actually on your premises, or at your collocation facility (usually Microsoft Exchange). The primary advantage of locally hosted e-mail is that you retain complete control over it: data security, back-ups and everything else.

Of course, this is its primary disadvantage as well. Because the server is under your complete control, you’re responsible for backing it up, keeping it secure and making sure it’s always running. Unless you already have this expertise in-house or have a good relationship with an IT firm, this probably isn’t right for you.

Most smaller companies and organizations are better off with remotely hosted e-mail, where your e-mail server is managed by a specialized company. The advantages of remotely hosted e-mail are that maintenance and management is taken care of by people who specialize in it, so it’s more secure, more stable and generally more cost effective than something you’ll set up on your own.

Deciding between Google and Exchange

The main differences between Google Apps and Exchange are price, interface and corporate features. Google Apps is between free and $50/year per user. Exchange is more expensive, but still very manageable – 123together is around $15/mo per user, though additional features are extra.

Exchange offers a few more corporate features than Google and the hosting companies generally offer more personal service, though both are relatively easy.

Setting them up is a snap

Both require you to edit your DNS records at the place your registered your domain name (GoDaddy, Register.com, for example), and will begin routing your e-mail over to them.

Although setting this up is somewhat technical, both of these companies provide relatively easy-to-follow instructions, and I recommend giving it a shot on your own before calling an IT consultant.

Other options: Hosting your e-mail with your website.

Many small companies and organizations host their e-mail at the same place they host their website, or have it all managed by their web design consultant.

I strongly recommend against this.

  • This ties your e-mail to your web hosting company. If you even need to upgrade, change servers or change design firms, the process may be painful.
  • This ties your e-mail to your web server. If your site goes down, your e-mail may as well. This is bad.

I hope this article has been useful; if you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me.

Hey! This wasn't written by a leash of foxes! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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