When I first thought about writing this post I actually decided not to go ahead for one simple reason – I thought this content was so basic that no one would be interested. Since then though I’ve had a number of conversations with people around various topics, all of which can be brought back to the question of how to choose the best email addresses for your business.
The thought struck me that the value in writing this post would not necessarily be in each isolated point, but in bringing various related points together into one post. Once that idea clicked, the idea for this post made a lot more sense.
This post is for anyone running a business, no matter how big, small, new or established. I have elements of this discussion on a regular basis with clients from small one-person start-ups to established organisations with hundreds of employees.
Why free email addresses like Gmail.com and Outlook.com don’t cut it
Years ago (in an internet galaxy far far away) it was commonplace for everyone to have email addresses like email@example.com, or MeSoCool@yahoo.com or BettySmith2@hotmail.com. This was a time when email for the masses was comparatively new, and it was still common enough for a business to either have no email, or have a single email address for the entire organisation.
Those days are long past. Not only does Hotmail not even exist anymore (it’s now called Outlook.com), but the days of these free email addresses being acceptable for business purposes are also long gone. The point is not how technically capable these services are, but more about how it presents your business to the world.
Given how cheap and easy it is these days to get your own “vanity domain” as they’re sometimes known (mine is grassrootsit.com.au), presenting your hard-won prospects with an email address on the same domain as every teenager out there doesn’t put you forward as being a professional business operator. Even worse, especially if you run an online element to your business, these email addresses can make you appear downright amateur and even shonky.
Getting your own domain name to use in your email addresses is cheap and easy, and should be considered a non-negotiable for anyone serious about their business. So how do you get one? Head over to a Domain Registrar such as Netregistry and use the search field there to search for an available domain name, then follow the prompts to register one that you like.
Pro Tip: Choose the shortest domain name you can that still accurately reflects your business.
You will want to use your business name (or something close) for the first part of your new domain name. For example, my full domain name is GrassrootsIT.com.au, so as you can see I was able to use GrassrootsIT as the first part of my domain name (note that domain names aren’t case sensitive).
The second part of your domain name is the TLD or Top Level Domain. The TLD that I chose for my business is .com.au. This demonstrates that we are a commercial organisation (the .com bit) and that we are proudly Australian (the .au bit). If we were looking for a more global client base, we could have chosen to instead use .com instead of .com.au.
In practise the TLD that you choose will have no impact on how your new domain name functions – it is simply there to let you demonstrate something about your organisation. The most common choices with our clients are either .com.au or .com.
Picking the best addresses – your naming schema
Now that you have your very own domain name ready to go, the next step is to decide on the naming schema that you will use for all of the email addresses. What I’m referring to here is the bit that goes before the @ symbol.
Some common choices are:
For example, my full email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, so you can see that we have chosen to use our first names only in our naming schema. If we had chosen one of the other naming schemas listed above, my email address might have looked like any of these:
So which naming schema should you choose? It’s entirely up to you, but here are some tips to help you choose.
- Make your email addresses as short, memorable and type-able as possible, while choosing a schema with enough variables so as to avoid duplicate addresses.
- If you only expect to ever have a small number of staff, perhaps Firstname@ is suitable.
- If you have larger numbers of staff, you might have multiple people with the same first name, so perhaps firstname.lastname@ would be more appropriate.
Above all you will want to maintain consistency with what email addresses you choose for people, so committing to a naming schema early on is wise.
But we have two guys called Bob Smith!
The more staff you have with email addresses the more likely you are to come across situations where, per your chosen naming schema, their address is already taken. Choosing your schema wisely can help to a point, but even then situations do occur.
Let’s say for example you have two employees, one called Bob Smith, another called Bob Simon. Now let’s consider what this might look like based on the common naming schema discussed above.
|Schema||Bob Smith||Bob Simon|
As you can see, if we chose FirstName@ as our naming schema, we would have a problem with a duplicate email address (which won’t work). Now imagine the same situation with a husband and wife team whose names are Bob and Belinda Smith. Again you can see that some of our possible schema would work, while others would not.
So how do you deal with a duplicate address situation? My advice is to first explore other logical options. For example, perhaps Bob Smith is happy for his email address to be based on his full name of Robert instead of just Bob.
If you don’t have any such option though, you will need to make an exception and break your naming schema for this person. You may simply append a numeral to the end of the address – eg: bsmith1@. Or perhaps they have a middle initial that can be included – eg: basmith@.
What about generic addresses?
Generic addresses are generally email addresses that don’t use an individual person’s name. Some common examples are:
Generic addresses are commonly used where multiple people will be working with those emails, or where you are describing a job role more-so an individual person.
Having said that, I have worked at businesses where the staff turnover was so consistently high that every single person with an email address had a generic one, rather than one based on their name. This was so that when the person performing that role changed, nothing needed to change with the email address. Although at the time I thought this slightly impersonal (my email address was itmanager@...) in hindsight I think it was a good idea for their unique situation.
Your email addresses and your domain name are valuable opportunities to present your business to the world. So the bottom line? Choose the shortest domain name you can that still accurately reflects your business, the shortest naming schema you can that avoids potential duplicates, and away you go.