Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain

I’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo,

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain - Web and BeyondI’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or any other free email address that’s not [email protected], you are missing out on an amazing marketing opportunity. And, you’re likely hurting your professional reputation. I’d like to unpack how branding your email address is as important as your business website’s domain, and ways in which you can take advantage of a branded email address by getting and using it.

Professional Reputation and Legitimacy

Think about the ubiquity of email in business today. And you’re telling people implicitly to visit AOL or Yahoo instead of your company’s website by not having a brand-enabled email address. As well, some people look down on your business or don’t see you as stable by using a free email service.

As an example, I get at least one email a week from a purported Small Business owner asking me if we can help them with their website and whether we “take credit cards.” It’s the strange way the senders write their email messages that make it a dead giveaway that it’s a scam, but their email addresses are always from generic email services. Identifying this kind of scam spam is important for everyone receiving email today. I see email from those I don’t know and I immediately don’t give them as much credibility because they so similar to those that aren’t legitimate. We all only have so much time in the day to manage our email and if you decrease your legitimacy factors to not only spam filters, but to the humans trying to identify you as a real business, having a professional email address is vital.

Furthermore, when you create a branded email account and their accompanied aliases, you can setup DMARC records for your email accounts (as well as DKIM and SPF), which is an email-validation system so that when mail exchange servers receive, they know it’s coming from you (or third-party services you’ve approved to send on your behalf, like your email marketing software). This increases chances you get into the inbox of your intended recipient in the first place.

Proper Email Boundaries

Turn off your email when you are away from the office, whether for just a few days or on a multi-week vacation. That’s simply a free bit of life-work balance for you as an entrepreneur.  However, setting good email boundaries and expectations is a form of customer service (which is, in my opinion, a part of the marketing department in small businesses). When you use your personal email account for business email, now you have conflated those two roles in your life. This makes it difficult when you wake the screen on your phone in the morning on vacation and you see an “important” email message from a client. Instead of that client getting a professional automated response noting that you’re away and when you’ll respond (logically), you react (emotionally). Responding to email messages when you’re in work mode is always going to be better than reacting when you’re trying to rest and rejuvenate.

I personally don’t check my personal email accounts that often, but when I’m on vacation I turn off my work email accounts and switch my personal email accounts to notify me as messages come in. I’m usually traveling and wanting higher engagement with my friends and family at those times, and having a separated business email account structure gives me the comfort in knowing those email messages coming in are the right context for me at any given time.

As well, using a branded email, I can add the appropriate persons in my company to contact in my absence via my autoresponder “away” message, or I can forward specific client emails to staff, should they be able to help in my stead.

Marketing Your Website

Your website is where sales happen. And, it takes time, energy and resources getting visitors to your business website. So, why would you squander the marketing opportunity to expose your website domain name to people with whom you share your email address? When someone meets you and receives your email address, this is the chance to get them to become curious in checking out your website. But, you most often than not won’t ask them directly to visit your website. By, giving them a branded email to stay in touch, say, at a networking event, you have planted some curiosity for them to check out your website when they see [email protected]

For different marketing campaigns you can set up forwarding email addresses (which are not real email accounts, but merely fronts for forwarding inbound email along to another email address of your choice). So, when leads and potential clients email you from a business card, flyer, postcard or brochure, you can identify from where they learned about you and/or your business.

As well, your email is more memorable when it’s [email protected] When you give someone a generic email address, like [email protected] or [email protected], it’s harder to remember why they were going to email you or what your name or your business name is.

A good rule of thumb: whenever you have an appropriate chance to share your website domain name, do so.

Present Yourself (as Bigger or Smaller) Depending on your Business Situation

With branded email, you can create accounts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] These represent departmental emails that go to the correct person for handling inbound messages. In a Small Business, all these hats may be centralized to a few people, if not one person–you. But, your clients don’t need to know that!

Also, as I do, I have separate public and private email addresses. I use my public email address for all public-facing marketing materials, such as when I present to audiences at workshops and seminars. However, I have a private email address that’s only used between my staff and me so that those messages can be segmented and focused on our client needs, and not distract me from all the other email I get every day. This public-facing email is also a shared account with my assistant so email I don’t need to deal with can be processed and organized while I’m in meetings, presenting seminars, or teaching workshops. The remaining, non-time sensitive email messages from the public email address will then we be waiting for me when I get to it.

Branded Email Is Low-Cost and High-Value

I think a big concern for most business owners, established and startup alike, is that branded email is going to cost a fortune. And, the reality is, that most branded email today is very cost effective.

By hosting with a proper email hosting service provider, you get technical support. Email is important for your business and free email services don’t have any guarantees about their uptime. But, your email hosting provider will be able to give you 99.9% uptime guarantees.

As you might imagine as the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, I’m a huge fan of G Suite, Google’s business productivity suite. It includes almost every type of software a business owner needs today to get started and grow their business over time; what’s not available in G Suite proper is possible through an integration partner in the G Suite Marketplace. But, to our topic at hand, every G Suite license comes with branded email powered by Gmail. This is substantially and substantively different than consumer-grade Gmail as G Suite email is your business data, owned by you, private, no advertising, and secure. Yet, it has all the features you have come to love about Gmail; it does have the ability to turn off features you don’t like. As well, for those who are in a Microsoft-preferred ecosystem, you can get business email through Office 365 Business Premium or Exchange.

Also, W3 Consulting’s Web Services provides 100 free email forwarding aliases for departmental email addresses (as I indicated above, such as [email protected], [email protected], etc.) with the purchase of any domain registration or Managed WordPress hosting purchase. These will forward to one or several email addresses in your company that cover the appropriate roles. If you’re using G Suite, you can create these within the Admin Console as Groups.

Protecting your Brand with Employee Emails

When you hire new employees, you want them to use your company’s email address when corresponding with clients. This not only positions them professionally and legitimately as acting on behalf of your company, but it also gives some protections for you and your employee.

When an employee leaves, you don’t lose control over that email account. You can change the email alias (which is the yourname in [email protected]) and direct it to your email or another employee’s email account when an employee resigns or the business terminates an employee. This continuity with your client communications is very important in marketing and other operations management areas of the business.

How to Create a Branded Email Account for your Business

It’s increasingly easier to get your branded email account set up for your business today.

If you didn’t know, you can have branded email without having a business website yet. I recommend that you have your business’ branded email account set up as soon as possible when you are starting out. You can plan and launch your website thereafter, but it’s never too early to get your audience aware of your business website’s domain.

So, here are the basic steps to getting your branded email account for your business.

  1. Register a business domain name, which you want to use for your business and email.
  2. Decide on your business email hosting provider, whether that’s G Suite or another email hosting provider.
  3. Set your domain’s MX (mail exchange) records in your Domain Manager to direct to your email hosting provider.
  4. Now, choose an email program that you want to handle your email management on desktop and mobile. From your email hosting provider, get the email setup information so you can establish control over the branded email within your software on both desktop and mobile.
  5. Create a professional email signature for your email account, and you’re ready to go!

Do you have any questions about branding your email address? How about creating a branded email address? Feel free to contact us, or comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer questions or direct you to a resource that can help!

Cybersecurity for Small Business: It Doesn’t Keep You Up at Night? It Should!

If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support

Cybersecurity for Small BusinessIf you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And, these cyberattacks were not even the primary targets of most attacks in the world. Hackers today find it lucrative to target businesses and, more specifically, North America-based small businesses.

Hackers have breached about 14 million small businesses in the last year, and most don’t know it. Cybersecurity for Small Business might sound obscure if you’re in business on “Main Street” and don’t sell online. However, it’s one of the most important management areas of your business to focus on today. Cybersecurity itself means protecting your digital world from attacks in a variety of forms so you can focus on running and growing your business.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can buy antivirus software for your desktop computer and all your digital worries can go away; it’s part of the solution but it’s not the whole solution. There are many ways in which hackers can penetrate your personal, your business, your employees, and your customers’ machines and access data with intent to steal or get access to that equipment for nefarious reasons. Frequently, the reasoning doesn’t make sense on the surface so you aren’t suspicious, and this can be the most dangerous cybersecurity breaches because you are unaware for so long.

I’ll use the colloquial term “cybercrime” throughout this discussion to cover the wide variety of crimes, unethical tactics, and downright immoral practices of individuals and companies against personal and business systems and their data. These cybercrimes include, but are not limited to,

  • hacking your digital devices (which could be your smartphone, computers and laptops, Point of Sale terminals, credit card machines, and similar devices),
  • hacking your digital services (think about your website, email, cloud storage, and online services),
  • blatant physical theft (ergo, larceny) of digital equipment to get the underlying data,
  • data theft,
  • phishing,
  • stalking,
  • identity theft,
  • wire tapping,
  • denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your servers to shut down your websites,
  • email bombing (the equivalent of a DoS/DDoS attack, but with a volume of email messages sent to you instead of HTTP requests to the server), and
  • injection of malware (malicious software), ransomware (taking data to make you pay to gain get it back), and other types of software that do dubious actions to your digital environment.

Now isn’t this a Charlie Foxtrot, eh? I know it’s daunting and it might scare and overwhelm you. It’s understandable that you may feel this way. But, as a business owner in the Internet Age, you must head cybercrime off at the pass, or risk losing time, money, and clients. Thankfully, there are some common sense ways to deal with cybercrime, so you can rest at ease knowing your digital world is safe and get back to running your business.

Physical security of hardware

Every Small Business should have physical security protocols for all digital devices (phones, external hard drives, computers should be secured in place so they cannot be easily picked up and run away with, laptops / tablets / credit card readers should be secured in locked storage when not in use.

Your next best defense since people are fallible, is to have an off-site backup. This can include making a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive and taking it someplace away from the business location, and/or using a cloud storage backup service such as Carbonite, Crashplan, or even Google Backup and Sync.

Something that some businesses are starting to do as well, when all else fails, is to make sure their business liability insurance cover physical theft. And, you should know that there are cyber security risk / liability insurance policies available for damages and losses from digital means.

Physical access to systems (users)

When it comes to physical access to systems, your users should be guided by an effective Digital Device Policy and include protocols for:

  • How to create employee user accounts and assign only the administrative/user privileges needed for them to perform in their role.
  • Give users physical access to systems only at the times needed to satisfy their assignments, and not give access to unnecessary systems at all. If employees don’t need access to your server room, don’t give it to them.
  • For  how to allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) employees at your business. You should have in place a policy for managing BYOD’s. Employees must use and abide by these security protocols on their mobile devices, if they use personal devices at work.

Separation of personal and business devices

You separate your business and personal finances, because you need to track what is yours and what is your business’, even if only for tax purposes. The same goes with cybersecurity. You need separate personal and business logins for online accounts. This may also include hardware, like the phone you use to make and receive personal or work calls. Will your ISP or telecommunications provider have protections in place if you’re using your consumer service for business purposes? Probably not. The fine print matters here.

Software protections

Since the late 1990s there has been antivirus and anti-spyware software. And, yet, business owners resist installing reputable antivirus software on their business machines. While some have costs associated with them, many are free and built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender. You simply need to activate them. But, if you have purchased a license for one not built into your operating system, please make sure that your license is still valid and the software are kept up-to-date (including your mobile phones and devices). Also, firewalls keep your computer, and any devices or routers connected to the Internet safer, especially your Web browsers (all of them, even if you don’t use them all, all of the time), must have firewall protection. Again, on Microsoft Windows, there’s Windows Firewall that simply needs to be enabled.

VPN when on WiFi on anyone else’s network

If you spend much of your time on other people’s WiFi, then you need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your business data trafficking across the network. This includes any open WiFi network at your local cafe and if you’re working at a coworking space or even at your client’s site. No network outside your firewall can be trusted to be secure. A VPN product you can try for 500MB per month for free is TunnelBear and if you use more data than that per month across your business, then you can upgrade.

Web browsing and email protections

As a business owner (and advising your staff similarly), don’t open suspect emails and don’t transact any personal or private information about yourself via email. Period.

At the core of most Web and email protection is antivirus and spam-filtering software, so it’s definitely recommended that your ESP (email service provider) and/or ISP (Internet service provider) give you options for protecting and securing your Web and email traffic. However, that’s simply not enough for a business today.

In addition to such protective software, you should also seek out information on implementing SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC as available through your ESP.

It also doesn’t hurt to enable two-factor authentication (a/k/a 2FA or TFA) on all online services that have the capability. Where possible, use a password manager, such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, to not only use unique passwords for every online account you have for the business, but also long passwords with unique passwords to increase its resilience to attacks.

Mobile security

As more and more computing happens on mobile devices, security on them will become the dominant concern for small business owners. But, mobile doesn’t simply stop there. With the advent of Internet of Things (embedded “smart” technology in everyday things), wearable technologies, smart vehicle systems (Android Auto, anyone?), and voice assistants (like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home, and, the newcomer, Apple HomePod), cybersecurity needs expand to have to meet those new frontiers.

It’s so important for Small Business to have their representatives’ support when it comes to combatting cybercrime against them and their customers. In April, a bipartisan small business cybersecurity bill was introduced by nine senators—the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act of 2017. Sadly, this bill, according to Skopos Labs as detailed on GovTrack.us, has a 3% chance of becoming law. This is a commonsense piece of legislation to get the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), “to disseminate resources to help reduce small business cybersecurity risks, and for other purposes.” Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you support S. 770 and they should support their small business voters by supporting this bill.

Also, if you’re scared senseless and you need help, never fear. Contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and we can refer you to professional security consultants who can help you.

Next Roundtable – Sizing Up the Competition

Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts a monthly Business Development Roundtable from January to November. We meet in our main conference at noon on the third Tuesday of the month, and you can bring a beverage or your lunch, for a different business marketing or management topic that’s pertinent to Alexandria Small Business. Join us on August 15, 2017 at noon, when we gather to discuss “Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage.”

Creating an Email Community With Google [Webinar]

Creating an Email Community With Google Email is a powerful communication tool when used effectively in a Small Business environment. And, Social Media is touted as the primary community-building tool on the Web. Well, email is just as powerful, and

Creating an Email Community With Google

Email is a powerful communication tool when used effectively in a Small Business environment. And, Social Media is touted as the primary community-building tool on the Web. Well, email is just as powerful, and you guessed it, Google gives you the tools to build an email community using its product, Google Groups. We will provide an overview of the Google Groups tool and then cover the practical steps in creating an email community and maintaining it for your business!

This Webinar, as part of the Beyond Google: Marketing and Managing on the Web series from Virginia SBDC, will be presented by Ray Sidney-Smith, Web & Mobile Strategist, author of SoLoMo Success: Social Media, Local and Web Small Business Marketing Strategy Explained, and President of W3 Consulting, a digital business strategy and training firm helping business owners learn why and how to use Web, mobile and digital technologies for greater marketing and management impact.

Who should attend?

  • Small business owners, entrepreneurs, micropreneurs, and solopreneurs
  • Office/sales/customer service managers, marketing directors, executives and professionals
  • Administrative/executive assistants and sales/account representatives
  • nonprofit executive directors and board members

Managing Email Overload! [webinar]

Managing Email Overload

Are you overwhelmed by the amount of email messages you receive? Do you have an overflowing email inbox? Are you losing potential business because it takes too long for you to respond to email messages? You are not alone!

In our next Beyond Google – Marketing and Managing on the Web Webinar Series, Virginia SBDC brought Ray Sidney-Smith, President and Web Strategist at W3 Consulting (and productivity geek!), to show you how to manage email overload! Watch and learn how to quickly and effectively triage your email inbox, maintain a responsive strategy for business email and build an email culture that fosters productivity…so you can get back to your business and not just “busy-ness!”

You will learn:

  • how to get your inbox to empty on a regular basis;
  • how to manage email responses that are important/urgent and important/not-urgent; and,
  • how to develop an email culture around your business that respects good email culture.

My big secret…

my big productivity secret small businessMy Big Secret is…

Whenever I go away from my office for an extended time (such as vacation or illness), I come back two to several days earlier than when I let everyone know I’m back to work.

Okay, there; I said it. What a relief?! Now, why would I tell you that? Because there’s something about being productivity as a Small Business owner that evades many and being productive makes my heart sing. And, I want you to have that feeling too. If you get back a few days earlier than everyone thinks you’re back, you have time to stabilize your home life and then triage your work projects before the onslaught of communication and so forth swings into action when you are publicly back to work.

One the many great benefits of doing this over the years is that my time away from the office is purposeful no matter if it’s vacation or illness. If it’s vacation, I can spend it with the people I care about that I’m with, knowing that I will return to work with the time needed to get caught up and back on track. No need to do those things while I’m on vacation. Further, if I am on vacation and the urge compels me to do something, it’s usually in a creative capacity and I can capture the ideas and know that I will have a time and place to map out a realistic, strategic goal when I get back from my time away.

Why not just tell everyone that you’re back a few days early?

If I did that, the staff (including my colleagues and clients) would start to anticipate and that’s the death knell of the strategy. Keeping employees and independent contractors on their toes–not to be sneaking up on them, mind you, as I trust the people I work with and so should you–is about not allowing you nor them to settle into well-worn business paths that start disable passionate effort. There are many other ways to “keep honest people honest”; financial fail-safes and team-building activities. I do not return to work usually by going into the office so it’s not a matter of looking over anyone’s shoulder. I’m trying to get my work life in order, not theirs! We can all argue over the finer points of this, but you don’t have that kind of time. You’re an active (as I don’t like the word “busy”) entrepreneur! However, I believe that when people become too used to norm, they become complacent and you are their leader; they need you to keep the passion burning and your ability to prepare, triage and excite them are all inherent in this strategy.

Why not prepare before for your departure?

Actually, I do in a way. I am always preparing for the inevitable time when I may be from the office expectedly or otherwise. And, I recommend that you do so as well. There is a rate of diminishing productivity return on investment when you cram. Hopefully you learned the lack of value of this tactic in secondary or undergraduate education. Also, my staff and colleagues and clients are already well-poised to deal with my absence. Why? Because I have trained them to stand in my stead in different capacities along the way. You can do the same thing and watch the stress melt away. It’s usually your “feeling” that I might be letting them down that would makes you want to do more than is reasonable before you leave. Resist the urge, plan and implement everyday continuity plans for your business operations.

Sometimes I don’t know I’m going to be away for an extended period and so I treat everything as my esteemed colleague, Lou Kastelic of Jordan Crandus, would say about business. “Run your business as though you were going to leave it tomorrow,” he once told an audience of young entrepreneurs (with myself in the crowd). Be it by sale, by dissolution, or death. You’ll quickly see that your business leaps to great heights of both efficiency and effectiveness when you run your business day as though it were your last…every day. This seems to stand true for my personal and work projects as well. If I work from the perspective that I only have now I will achieve more, notwithstanding the great hope and good certainty that I will live to work another day!

A couple of guidelines.

Yes, some people in your organization may need to know about your big secret. For example, my assistant knows when I’ll be back…for real. And, usually one family member knows my real travel itinerary in case of medical emergency and/or safety concerns. At the very least, someone who can take action to save your life in such an unfortunate circumstance needs to know. Additionally, prepare for what you are going to tackle when you get back. Is it your email that always has you crazed? Plan to come back and tackle your email by sifting through it for however long you determine you need to read, reply (in draft without hitting “Send” until people know you have returned) and digesting and planning the action steps from the email messages that require your movement on projects or tasks. Or, perhaps you need to catch up on your blogging while you have been away from the office or store? Well, plan chunks of your time when you get back to focus on writing, editing and scheduling to publish those forthcoming nuggets of insight and wisdom for your target audience. Finally, make the amount of time match the amount of time you need to get your personal and work life back in order. If you need three days, then don’t come back to the office for three days. If you need only one day, make it one day. If you standardize it to always two days, then your mind will start to tolerate the buffer and it will become ineffective.

If we are living life to the fullest, and living our dreams as entrepreneurs, we must face a few realities with poise and excitement. By buffering days to catch up without typical interruptions, you can come back with ease and stability. Have you tried this technique? Has it worked? Do you have unique challenges you would like clarification on to carry out this strategy in your business? Comment and I’ll be happy to discuss!

EVENT: Every Word Matters in Business (Tues, 2/7/12)

Ever stare at a blank screen and not be able to write about your business? Do you struggle when you are under a deadline to write that business report or marketing piece? You are not alone! Many business owners know what they want to write, but they just can’t get it right!

Eliza Dolin - Ivy Quill Communications
February's Brown Bag Workshop Speaker, Eliza Dolin - Ivy Quill Communications

Come to our February Brown-Bag Lunch event and hear an upbeat, educational presentation about why good writing matters to all businesses – particularly small ones! These days, clear communication — whether in website copy, emails, memos, or newsletters — is more important than ever in achieving your business success.  Communications consultant Eliza Dolin of Ivy Quill Communications, LLC, will explain the reasons why, identify the causes of and cures for ineffective business writing, and offer tips that will help your business thrive.

Register today!

Join other small businesses at the monthly Brown-Bag lunch series of START, MANAGE, GROW your business sponsored by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership who are committed to helping small business thrive in Alexandria.

Free of charge, and held monthly in our boardroom located at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from noon until 1PM, business owners are invited to bring their lunch, network and learn nuggets of knowledge from experts.  A Q & A session will follow each presentation and we’ll get you back to your business promptly @ 1PM!