Over the last 10 years, email has become the most common avenue for businesses to communicate with customers. Email also provides a rapid and secure method to send and receive documents. What else then, is there to say?
All email is not created equal!
Email starts with your domain name. Are you email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or Allison@BettysBookeeping.com ? Your name is your brand! Domain registration is simple and inexpensive. All businesses should use branded email for all employees communicating with your customers.
There are a number of consumer email services that are very familiar.
These services are funded by advertising. Either you see ads, or in some cases the ads may also be attached to the email that you send. Since the provider offers you very little service, the ads are enough to pay for the accounts.
If you are not using one of these as your email service, you might be using a “comes with” solution. Many providers offer POP email when you buy internet service or sign up for a domain name. These free services “come with” the package you purchase.
Why shouldn’t I use the free one?
Before you decide to use the free service, you should consider your email needs. Do you read email once and then trash it? Do customers or clients email you? Are there emails that you would hate to lose? Are you disciplined enough to back up your email? Is your contact list important to you? Do you sort your emails into folders?
In a nutshell, POP email’s best feature is its price. All of the sorting and organization happens on your computer. Also, the address book and calendar are not stored as part of the email. If you have a computer crash, you could potentially lose all of your email, contacts, and calendar. Furthermore, POP was developed before people used a number of devices to check email. You have to be careful if checking mail from a desktop, a laptop, and a phone as changes are not synced back to the server.
What are my choices?
Microsoft has been selling Exchange to businesses for years. It works great and overcomes many of the issues with POP accounts. Exchange combines mail, contacts, and calendar and Outlook was built for Exchange. In the past, the only way to get Exchange was to host it yourself. This is a HUGE commitment for a small business because a copy costs $1,299, plus the server needed to run it, which is an additional $3,000. Now you are responsible to anti-malware, anti-spam, and anti-virus solutions. When you combine the front end cost with the cost of maintaining the server, you have a significant investment in your email.
We recommend that most small businesses needing business class email explore what is called Hosted Exchange. Simply put, we pay someone else to run the exchange server and we pay for that service. This solution provides all of the advantages of Exchange with no upfront costs. Exchange was built for businesses and has a vast array of features including:
- Never lose your email. All changes are synced to the Cloud. If you get a new computer then just log in and everything comes back just as you left it! Best of all, this includes your contacts and calendar!
- Sync means that you can make changes on any device and they sync everywhere. Use your smartphone to sort out messages at lunch, take a laptop home at night, use your tablet – they all sync!
- Share calendars or address books with coworkers.
- Executives can delegate an assistant to read and reply to their emails.
- Lightning fast searches …
- Web version available when you don’t have access to your machine.
- Meeting invitations can be sent from Outlook and recipients can accept from that message.
- Anti-virus and anti-malware are built into the Cloud and Microsoft keeps them up to date.
- Archiving is built in. Old messages can be moved into an online archive that is as secure as other messages.
Microsoft calls this Office 365
Last year Microsoft kicked off a number of services under the Office 365 umbrella, some of which are great for small businesses. In a nutshell, you can now subscribe to Cloud services like Exchange and bundle together full versions of MS Office, as well. There are a number of choices available but let’s stick with the ones tailored for smaller businesses.
Almost everyone uses Microsoft Office. Some of you may have heard about Office 365. However, since this has been a rapidly changing product, let me review the basics. Office 365 does include an online “light” version of Office similar to Google Docs. Some people think that this is the version of Office in Office 365. You can certainly use it if you find it useful. However, when you add Office to a subscription, you get the full “PRO” version of MS Office. This is downloaded to your machine in a surprisingly short time and is just like the version they sell at Staples without any discs. You get all of the “normal” Office programs including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note, Access, and Publisher.
Best of all, you can get 5 installs per user for the same price!
That means that when you subscribe to Office, you can install it on 5 machines per user. You can also mix and match PC and Mac versions. Greg and I both have subscriptions. I have installed Office on my desktop, my Windows 8 laptop, and my MacBook Pro! I even installed a copy on my daughter’s laptop. Since licenses are handled through the Cloud, I have the ability to turn off one if I buy a new machine and re-assign it to the new one. This makes it easy when you have to replace an employee. Right now, the latest Mac version is Office 2011, but when the new version is released, I will get it on the same day! Microsoft has announced that they will be updating Office every quarter now and subscribers will get all of the updates first.
Let’s take a look at the costs:
I copied this from the Staples website:
Note that this install is for a SINGLE install on a single PC. If the PC dies, you are supposed to buy a new version. You certainly cannot install this one on several machines!
Office 365 – Hosted Exchange Only (Email, calendar and contacts – 25 G with online archive) – $10 per user per month
Office 365 – Hosted Exchange (same plan) + Office 2013 Apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, One Note) – $25 per user per month (on up to 5 devices per user)