Email addresses have become almost as common a piece of contact information as physical addresses and phone numbers. You give your email address to your friends, your family, business contacts – but do you give everyone the same email address or do you use a separate email address for business purposes?
Employees of office-based businesses will typically be given a corporate email address at the time of hire, and their personal and work inboxes will remain completely separate. If you own or work for a small business, however, you may or may not have a company email address to use. Should you? What would be the benefit of complicating matters if you’re used to using your existing email address?
Your email address makes an impression, one way or another.
Didn’t know that your email address said anything about you? It most certainly does. Just like your physical address, which likely provokes at least some level of preconceived notions based on your neighborhood of residence, your email address makes an impression. Maybe it won’t make a difference to everyone – just like someone unfamiliar with your town won’t know the context of your physical address, someone less aware of internet culture might not think twice either way about your email address. There are a lot of people who will, though, and making sure you have an email address that makes the right impression is an easy step to take – certainly far easier than changing your physical address!
Why should you care what people think about your email address? If you’re using the address strictly for personal reasons, then you shouldn’t. If it’s the address you give out to friends and family for personal correspondence, then you have no reason to worry about this, unless it particularly bothers you when your gamer nephew ribs you for refusing to give up AOL (yes, some people still use AOL email addresses).
If you’re using the address for business, however, then yes, this is something that you should take into consideration, even if it seems silly to you. Some people don’t understand why the clothes they wear should be a factor in how their professionalism is judged, but if they’re smart those people will still dress nicely for a job interview.
So how can you be certain you’re not showing up for your interview in a t-shirt? Let’s take a look at your options.
Email Through Your ISP
Having an email address through your internet service provider – Comcast, AT&T, etc. – is, let’s get real here, pretty old-school. This isn’t something that you will generally see with tech-savvy people. Why? Think about it this way – remember how much of a pain it was to have to change your cell phone number every time you changed service providers? Remember how nifty it was when we all gained the ability to keep our numbers even if we switched to a different carrier? Well, you’ll never be able to do that with email addresses. If you change your internet provider for any reason, AT&T isn’t going to let you carry over a Comcast email address. So if you tie your email address to your provider, then yes, if you change providers you will have to change your email address, which isn’t something that most people want to have to deal with.
Email through an ISP used to be the main – sometimes only – way that people not in a technical industry could have access to an email address of their own, so it used to be extremely common. Times have changed a great deal, however, giving everyone with internet access multiple options when choosing an email provider, and so most people will choose an option that allows them to continue using the same email address no matter what. Even if you’ve had the same provider for a decade and you have no plans to ever switch, an email address tied to an ISP gives the impression that you’re a small, low-tech operation.
Email Through A Free Service
Using Gmail or a similar free email service is definitely a step up from going through your ISP. It’s an extremely common choice for personal email, and although people may have their preferences about which option is better (you actually use Yahoo??) and some options may seem dated (you can still have a Hotmail address??), this type of email address won’t carry the same stigma as an ISP related address. It’s not a t-shirt – it’s more of a casual polo. Still not a nicely pressed button-down, but you’re getting warmer.
Email Through Your Domain
Without question, the best option for business email is an address that goes through your business’s domain. Putting firstname.lastname@example.org on your business card is going to be far superior to any of the above options. An email address on your own domain conveys that you are an established business and that you either have a level of technical proficiency or the ability to hire someone who does.
You don’t have to give up the t-shirt!
With an email address on your own domain, you will usually have the option for email addresses on that domain to forward messages to an existing email address – so if you are extremely comfortable using your existing email system, you may not have to give it up. Your web host, IT person or friendly tech guru may be able to set up email@example.com so that all messages to that address are forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org, giving you the ability to use the professional-looking email address in your business dealings and still continue to use your favorite email system.
Whether it makes more sense for you to have a completely separate work email address or to have business emails forwarded to an existing address, an email address on your domain is going to make a favorable impression. An email address alone isn’t going to win you customers, but it’s one of many factors that people will use to decide whether your services are the right choice for them, even if they don’t consciously consider it a determining factor.
You wouldn’t underdress to meet a potential client for the first time – make sure your email address isn’t lounging around in its pajamas either.