The modern small business should be able to move seamlessly between office, home, and mobile using the best tools available on the web. You can set up a free, consumer-level Gmail account as a great solution for routing your business e-mail address into what is essentially a web-based Outlook client; one that is universally synced across all devices, and offers far better storage, search, and customization features.
Do I Even Need a Business E-mail Address?
You may already be using and touting the virtues of web-based e-mail for your business. But too often, we see messages from business contacts with addresses like email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. While functionally for the user this approach offers the same benefits as what I'll discuss below, to the outside world, using a free web e-mail account to do business may seem unprofessional.
It used to be a Catch 22. You want to look professional with a domain-based e-mail address, but POP3 e-mail was often limited to desktop-based clients like Outlook that you could only use effectively from the one computer where it was configured to send and receive mail.
Gmail is one of the first web-based services to change all that, and by most measures, it's still the best. Now you can use your professional POP3 domain e-mail address on the web, from any internet connection, including your mobile. Here's how to set it up.
NOTE: This tutorial refers to POP3 e-mail accounts that can be registered through common hosting companies. If your business uses a larger internal network or a Microsoft Exchange server, you should contact your IT person to find out if you are capable of routing messages through Gmail.
Step 1: Say Goodbye to Desktop E-mail
Pick a day to say goodbye to desktop e-mail. With the setup below, once you start using Gmail as your client, your Sent and Received items will no longer match in Outlook. You should disconnect Outlook from your e-mail address and simply use it as an archive for old items going forward.
If you're new to Gmail, be sure to get familiar with it before making the transition, as it organizes incoming mail somewhat differently than traditional desktop clients.
Step 2: Auto CC Your Incoming E-mail
The next step is getting incoming traffic flowing to your Gmail address.
Gmail does have options to fetch messages from a POP3 server the way Outlook does, but I have found this approach to be tempermental. For this tutorial, we are going to work around those potential issues.
Log in to your domain e-mail hosting service and visit your e-mail account settings. These could be located in different places, depending on your hosting company, but should be easy to find.
Look for a feature to enable "CCing" of incoming e-mails. Most e-mail hosting platforms (like GoDaddy, for instance) should have this functionality. If it doesn't, you may want to consider changing services, or trying Gmail's POP3 download method instead.
Set your email@example.com e-mail address to auto CC over to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once that takes effect, all of your incoming e-mails will appear in Gmail as though they were sent there directly (i.e. without "FWD" in the subject).
Step 3: Configure Gmail to "Send Mail As"
Now go into your Gmail settings, located at the top right of your Gmail inbox. Click the "Accounts and Import" tab. The second item is "Send Mail As." This is where you can configure Gmail to send e-mail as if it was from your email@example.com account.
Click the button "Send Mail from Another Address" and enter your name and business e-mail in the pop-up window.
Click "Next Step" to configure your settings.
This part is important. You'll want to route your outgoing messages through your business e-mail server, and not through Gmail. This will ensure recipients don't get messages from you with "firstname.lastname@example.org On Behalf of email@example.com" in the From field. This would look unprofessional, and defeat many of the reasons why we're setting up this account in the first place.
Be sure to select the second option, "Send through SMTP servers." To configure this, you should refer back to your settings in Outlook. Depending on your e-mail service, the server name and port settings will vary, but whatever settings you were using in Outlook to send e-mail should apply here in Gmail as well. To check your Outlook server settings, go to:
Tools > E-mail Accounts > View or Change Existing E-mail Accounts > Choose firstname.lastname@example.org
Your "Outgoing SMTP mail server" should be shown here, and your port settings will be under More Settings > Advanced Tab.
Step 4: Verification
Once these settings are in place, Gmail will need to verify that you indeed own email@example.com. Click "Send Verification" and Gmail will send a code number to your business e-mail address. Grab the code and enter it back into the pop-up window. Click "Verify."
Step 5: Make it Your Default Account
Now that firstname.lastname@example.org is added, set it as your default account so that all incoming and outgoing mail is automatically routed through this address.
While in the "Send mail as" section, click "make default" next to your business e-mail address. Below that, you may also want to select "Always reply from default address" to ensure that no e-mails are ever sent from email@example.com.
Step 6: Testing
Now you should be ready to go, but be sure to test your account settings before heading back to work. When you compose a message in Gmail, it should now be from firstname.lastname@example.org. Send a test message to an outside e-mail address or a colleague to ensure that it is coming from the right place, and that replies are being routed properly. During any message transaction, neither you nor your recipient should ever see a Gmail address.
If you are having issues sending e-mail, select "edit info" on the account and try different port settings until you find the one that works.
A Reminder: Clean Your Domain E-mail Box Regularly
Remember that with this setup, incoming messages to email@example.com still reside on your hosted e-mail server. If this server has a space limit, you'll want to be sure to log in to that web interface and delete those messages from time to time. Because everything has been auto CCed and archived in Gmail, there's no need to worry about deleting important content. It's all available to you in your new web-based business e-mail client.