Email is something that has become so common we hardly think about it anymore. Yet many things about these services matter, especially in a business context. Since it’s part of your brand, should you host your email?
The truth is that you have several options; Free email, using professional email services, or use business email hosting. While they’ll all work (to some extent), these options come with varying characteristics.
Free Email Services
Thanks to companies like Google and Yahoo!, many of us will have at least one (or more) email accounts. They offer them for free, often with an impressive array of included services. But is free email an option that’s valid for business use?
Not really. It goes back to the point made earlier about email being part of your brand. Let’s consider this use case; you’re a small legal service that needs to convince clients of your integrity and professionalism but send them an email from “email@example.com.”
You’ll be lucky to pass the spam filter on their email clients.
Professional Email Hosting Services
Many free email services have a professional option for business users. For example, Google allows you to use custom domains with Google Workspace. This customization gives you the means to turn “firstname.lastname@example.org” into “email@example.com.”
In addition, you benefit from the email infrastructure provided by a large, often IT-centric, company. It sounds great - but it does come at some cost. You’ll have to pay for that professional service, often at per-user rates.
Remember, too, that professional email services seldom include configuration. You’ll still need to handle that on your own. Many big services provide comprehensive “support documentation” that helps, but it remains a very hands-on affair.
Hosting Your Email
Next, we come to the third choice, which is hosting your email. Hosting your email might sound complex and not something many companies would want to do, but there are a fair number of pros and cons to doing this.
Just to be clear, though, when we say “hosting your email,” in this case, we’re referring to using an email hosting service of your choice. Not on-premise hosting with your equipment.
Advantages of Hosting Your Email
1. Chances are you’ll get it for free
Our first advantage of hosting your email is a surprise that would leave some jaws dropping. Yes, it’s entirely possible that you already have the means to host your email for free. Well, if you have a company website, in any case.
If you’re on a web hosting plan that your company website sits on, it likely allows you to host your email as well. The basic infrastructure is the same, there are many integrated free tools for this purpose, and it’s not difficult to manage.
2. Better Privacy
Free or professional email hosting might work but hosting your email gives you a controllable degree of privacy. At the very least, you’ll know that any communications that pass through your email server aren’t getting inspected by third parties.
Since you choose the hosting solution, you can even mandate where your email data physically resides. This characteristic is something that might be important in specific industries that need to confirm or regulatory requirements.
3. Your Choice of Email Tools
Roundcube webmail application for self-hosting
The problem with using professional or free email services is that you’re stuck with whatever tools they want to offer. While there may be some elements of customizability, that’s about all the leeway you’re going to get.
Hosting your email means that you get to choose the tools you want to use. For example, you can opt for hundreds of webmail applications or choose the spam filters you want to put in place. The power is in your hands.
4. Go Wild With Email Account Capacity
Almost every email service in the market comes with specific price tags for each size of email account. Some even limit the size of an email that their servers can process. Hosting your email means blowing through those limitations with ease.
Why put up with enforced limitations when you can have a massive chunk of storage space for your pool of email addresses? Self-hosted emails often come with generous storage allocations, and you can specify the account limits yourself.
5. Control Spam and Viruses
While many professional email hosting services are pretty good at spam and virus control, nothing beats fine-tuned security. Having control over the email server with self-hosting means you can set microscopic filters to block unwanted or harmful emails.
Many email hosting service providers even provide you with anti-spam and anti-virus tools. If that isn’t sufficient, you can also work with cybersecurity experts like Sucuri to secure your mail server.
6. Create and Link All the Accounts You Need
This advantage is something from which many smaller organizations can benefit. Even if you’re running a solopreneurship, you can establish multiple email accounts such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org to give off a more professional appearance.
Even better is the fact you can link everything, so you only need to handle a single email account in reality. It’s something advantageous and with minimal downside at all.
7. It’s More Cost-Effective
The final advantage of hosting your email is that it’s generally more cost-effective than professional email services, especially at scale. Most professional email services charge on a per-account basis. Imagine if it costs $10 per user each month, and you have five staff.
Hosting your emails means paying a single flat rate and partitioning it between as many users as you want. You don’t need to be concerned about increasing your overhead each time your headcount rises.
To see this advantage hit home, let’s outline a short comparison.
Professional Email @ $10 / month / user with five staff = $600/yr.
Hosting your email @ $10 / month with unlimited users = $120/yr
That’s a massive potential cost saving. It might even offset the cost of hiring IT talent to manage your email hosting for you on a sufficient scale.
Disadvantages of Hosting Your Email
1. Reliability Might be More Questionable
Professional services like Google have infrastructure that spans the globe, offering better reliability.
When using a professional email service, you tend to get pretty good accessibility at all times. Many of them have global infrastructure that swaps alternate email routes if there are failures. When hosting your email, you seldom get that benefit.
You can somewhat mitigate this risk by choosing your hosting partner wisely. Pay special attention to the service level agreement for support or uptime. Better hosting partners will spell this out in black and white in their terms of service.
2. Management Might be a Problem
Managing your email hosting may be an issue for some due to technical challenges - or even if you don’t have the time to spare. The choice can be debatable in scenarios like this since taking on IT management talent might be counterproductive.
Managing self-hosted email isn’t challenging, but that’s from someone with IT experience. If you’re way out in the left-field where tech is concerned, you may need help hosting your email. You will also have to consider that updates and patching or applications need to be managed as well.
3. You’re Responsible for Backups
Professional email services often come with comprehensive redundancy for everything, so your data is relatively safe. Hosting your email means that it sits on the small slice of a server that you rent. If anything goes wrong, you better have backed up the data.
While you can do this quite easily with automated tools, it’s something to consider nonetheless. Even with a backup, you’ll need the skills to recover from any incident and restore everything the way it was.
4. Migration Might be a Headache
The problem with using a hosting service is that standards of service might change over time. If you find yourself unhappy with how your hosting partner performs, moving your emails to another email service may be stressful.
You also need to consider the potential downtime in email services if a migration is planned. While the obstacles are insurmountable, they nonetheless need to be accounted for.
Conclusion: Should You Host Your Email?
Like many things in life, there isn’t a concrete answer to this. Aside from the advantages and disadvantages of each email model, your specific situation needs to be considered as well. If you plan to have more than five email accounts in operation, it will likely be a good idea to consider hosting your email or use business email hosting.
For solopreneurs that don’t need to step past a single inbox, getting a professional email hosting service can be more convenient and cost-efficient. The least advisable choice, though, is to opt for a free email service. The risk and reputational hit aren’t quite acceptable.