When it comes to managing email systems for small businesses, some are challenged by the simple fact that they don’t have an IT staff to call upon or they don’t have the resources to put in place an exchange server and maintain it. In those instances many small businesses rely on either:
- Free mail
- Webserver + email client
The problems should be fairly obvious for the free mail choice. Using a @yahoo.com or similar address doesn’t exactly brand your company well, and most prospective customers will instantly wonder about the credibility of the company. Using your webserver can be a decent option for some small businesses depending on the amount of mail and the number of employees. However, there can be some pitfalls to that solution. Mainly the issue of email client maintenance and performance – and what happens if there’s a problem with the email client.
Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who is the CFO for a decent size nursing home management firm. Our conversation was unrelated to this topic, but it lead to an opportunity for him to email a number of mutual contacts. Unfortunately, he said he couldn’t send such an email because his outlook application recently became corrupt and he lost all his contacts and was in the process of re-building his list. Because I was just starting this Biz-Bite entry, I asked him about their email management environment. He explained that they were using their webserver for mail delivery and each employee had their own outlook client. I was a bit shocked at that because of the company’s size, but suspect there are more companies of similar size than I imagine who are setup the same way. Further, IT is not something that’s a focus for them, and simply call in a third party when needed.
In our conversation he mentioned that email management was something they were now looking at and discussing with their third party consultant. The recommendation they presented to them was an exchange server, nothing else. This lead me to mentioning another option that many small businesses are just not aware of, which we had become familiar with; Gmail, via Google Apps for Business as an option. As I suspect many people believe, he thought gmail was simply a free mail service, and that was not an option for them. In case you don’t know, when using Google Apps for Business Gmail, it’s your domain that mail is being sent to and from, e.g., @ach-payments.com, not gmail.com. As I explained more about what google apps for business was, he became more and more interested and it’s now something they are exploring as an option.
Last year we decided to start using google apps for business and migrated all of our email management onto the gmail platform. For us it was a great decision. No exchange server to worry about, no more remote users who have outlook issues to worry about, because even if they prefer to use outlook as a client, there’s always the gmail web portal to fall back on. Personally, I prefer the gmail web client over outlook anyway, but that doesn’t mean everyone is like me. In fact, in our company I’m in the minority. But I suspect that’s a familiarity issue. I have read other opinions where there are many people like me who prefer the gmail interface – mainly because they have been using gmail as a personal option for so long.
Are there cons to using the gmail system? Sure there are. Data needs to be migrated from the exchange server, or if using webserver with individual outlook installations, data needs to be migrated from the client. Google provides the tools to do this, but to your everyday non-IT person it’s greek. The webserver MX records need to be adjusted to allow gmail to route the mail properly. Again, that’s something not many mainstream small business people know how to do. There’s also certificates that need to be created that authenticate that your domain is tied to the gmail system in order to avoid your mail ending up in a cyber circular file. However, there are specialists in migrating companies onto the Google Apps for Business Gmail system, and all things considered, my opinion is that it can be well worth the cost for many small businesses.
Certainly for us it’s been a great decision and doubt we will ever look back. Migrating the data, configuring everything and paying the annual $50 per user cost has been well worth the benefits. And we haven’t even talked about the plethora of other Apps for Business tools and integration’s. But I’ll toss just one out as an example: In reviewing the many integration’s we decided to use a CRM system that was listed as a Google Apps for Business integration. There’s a number of reasons why we chose it over other products, but one really nice feature was that the CRM integration was visible within an individual email, making it easy to archive email messages to the CRM. And vice versa, if using the CRM’s email client, messages are automatically stored withing gmail folders.
Following are a few more reasons that I personally like in using Google Apps for Business Gmail:
- Data Storage – Google manages it, it’s secure and the amount of data that can be stored per user (25GB) won’t be reached by me for years.
- Threaded Conversation View – You can’t control how your customers or contacts have their email client configured. In some cases when they reply to a message sent, there is no copy of the original message. And if you’re like me, you get so much email it can make your head spin at times. What threaded conversation views do is place all replies and forwards into a thread, similar to a forum thread structure, making it easier to follow what are multiple messages on the same topic.
- Unbeknownst to some gmail app users, it is entirely possible to create html signatures. It is also easy to configure auto-insertion of signatures in replies and forwards.
- Set it and Forget it – Once subscribed and migrated to Google Apps for Business Gmail, there’s really noting to worry about. It’s running on Google’s infrastructure, and I’d say they’re pretty reliable with that department.
- Integrated Google Chat – Chat is available from the same interface as your email is accessed. Contacts are located in the same place, making it a fairly simple chat solution.
- Labs – Lots of widgets to customize your personal settings and user experience.
- You can still use an external email client like Outlook, but contact details and email data don’t dissapear if the application becomes corrupt.
- SPAM prevention – Gmail is superb at filtering out spam!
- Connect anywhere – Traveling, access your mail securely from any device. Mobile, easy to setup gmail on most all smart phones as they are pre-configured with gmail settings.
Do you have any personal experience with this topic? Let our clients know if you have something constructive to add by scrolling down and leaving a reply!