Did you know that Google offers free e-mail accounts for small businesses with up to 50 accounts, each with seven gigabytes of storage? It’s called Google Apps Standard Edition, and you can use it with your own business or personal domain name. You can send and receive e-mail with firstname.lastname@example.org.
The initial setup only requires some routine technical work:
Sign up. Visit Google Apps Standard Edition and click Get Started.
Select a domain name. You can purchase a domain name through Google or enter the name of a domain that you own on the initial set up page. If you already own the domain, then be sure that you can configure its DNS settings (think of DNS as the Internet’s system of road signs to point the way to a destination). The first time that you go through this process Google has you verify that you own and control your domain name by asking you to either put a specific file on your web server or configure your domain’s DNS with a specific entry.
Configure DNS. If you purchased your domain name through Google in the previous step then your DNS information will automatically be configured for Google Apps. If not, Google provides step-by-step instructions specific to your domain name registrar (for example, GoDaddy, DynDNS, 1and1, etc), and Google also provides a list of hundreds of professional services providers who can assist should you want additional help. You can preview the three-step DNS setup instructions (with video tutorial)
Add features. Although not necessary, once you’ve configured your e-mail, you can follow the other instructions on your control panel to configure your domain to use Google Docs (which is a suite of online word processing and spreadsheet apps) in addition to Google’s Calendar, Chat and Sites services.
The entire process will take less than 30 minutes, although you may have to wait up to an hour between some steps while Google’s servers verify that you own and control your domain name. If you need to go beyond the 50-account limit, go to the non-profit or K-12 pages. Businesses can upgrade to Premier Edition and pay $50/user/year, which will give you 25 gigabytes of storage per e-mail account plus additional features.
Once you’ve configured your domain to use Google Apps you can either access your e-mail through your web browser, which looks like Gmail, through your regular e-mail application on your computer, or a smartphone with either POP or IMAP. This is just one more great tool for small businesses from Google.
Joe Moreno is the founder of the photo sharing site Epics3.com, based in Carlsbad, California. He provides cloud computing consulting services to businesses. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeMoreno.