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If you’re just starting your own business, you know it’s a lengthy process. Write a business plan, get training and find a mentor, confirm a location, get financing and many more steps besides. Some of the most exciting early moments come when you register your business name and start the process of branding and establishing an identity for yourself.

As you move through this process, it’s important to present this identity like a professional. One of the first pieces of branding people see is your email address. This address should be a business address that uses your new business’s website domain name.

A basic consumer Gmail account does the trick, but taking the step to get a real business email sets you apart. It signals your high level of professionalism, commitment and preparedness. Setting up your business email feels like a big step, but it’s actually very easy. And it makes a big difference.

Start by Registering Your Domain Name

After registering your business name with the government, including your “doing business as” name, it’s time to register your domain name. Choose a domain name registrar like GoDaddy, Hostmonster, Namecheap or even Google. These companies are accredited by ICANN to reserve domain names. Most registrars also offer website hosting and related services. You can shop around to find the company that offers the mix of products and services that fit you.

Use the registrar’s website to search for your business name. It may be available under one or more extensions. These are the .com, .org, .net and even .party you find at the end of web addresses.

Your straight-up business name may not be available as a .com. Be prepared to search for alternates. For example, an Indianapolis business named Pete’s Guitars might want petesguitars.com as a first choice. They need to have second and third choices like guitarsbypete.com, getpetesguitars.com. It can help to add a geographical identifier like petesguitarsindy.com.

Decide which name to use as your primary web address and buy it. Reserving your domain name typically requires an annual subscription between $3 and $12. This address will be the one you use for email.

While you’re buying your primary domain name, considering buying the alternates as well. Come up with common misspellings of your business name as well as the alternate names and shorthand people use to talk about you. Buy a few of these to keep your competitors and other companies with similar names from crowding your turf.

As you complete the checkout process, most registrars will try to sell you website hosting. If you’re already talking to a website professional, get their advice about which hosting package is right. If you’re not in talks or not quite ready for a website, that’s ok. Feel free to decline those special offers on hosting and stick to getting your domain.

Your registrar might also offer email hosting. Now, that’s more tempting.

Shop for Email Hosting

Email and messaging is such an integral part of life, it’s easy to overlook the infrastructure that makes it work. We forget that even text messages take up file storage space. At least, until your device says the mailbox is full and no longer accepts new messages. Then we freak out.

As a new business, email may be one of the first technology purchases you make. This is a great time to consult with an IT professional and begin a tech support relationship. Do you really want to be your own IT guy? Trust me, you do not want to be responsible for fixing your email when you’re the one who broke it.

Your IT professional may have their own email hosting preferences and maybe their own service. Check with them first. However, it helps to know some of the most popular options and immediate solutions available. There are two approaches to consider: email-only service and email bundled with productivity software.

Get Email Only

Without getting too deep into the infrastructure, email requires a computer hooked up to the Internet to host your email. Messages sent to addresses on your domain are stored in this computer and accessed remotely by your desktop, phone and other devices.

Technically, the same computer (server) used by your website can store email as well. You want to be careful with this method. It’s quick to setup with most server software and works great for low or medium number of messages. But many small businesses I’ve known grow out of it quickly.

Alternatively, you can search Google for “business email” to see a catalog of options, some of which I’ll highlight here.

Check out Yahoo Business Email for a cloud-based solution you could probably sign up for and run in a few minutes. This solution is intended for personal use and small enterprises. Quick growing businesses may overwhelm the resources allotted by Yahoo and see diminished speed and surprise limits on storage.

Rackspace Email offers affordable email-only options with room to scale up and integration with Microsoft’s popular Exchange platform. Or try Exchange Online for email directly hosted by Microsoft.

Get Email and More

Email’s joined the pantheon of essential business tools, right up there with Excel, calendars and slide decks. Microsoft recently turned Outlook into a cloud-based service synced to a webmail interface and eye-catching new software for desktop and mobile.

Get Office 365 for email bundled with always-updated, anywhere access to classic Office apps. Looks pretty good to me. But in many ways, Office 365 is a me-too product built to compete with Google Apps.

Gmail’s won hearts for years with faultless performance, spam protection and near business class tools for consumers and students. Google Apps adds word processing, spreadsheets and other productivity apps to Google’s signature Gmail tools, all optimized for collaboration. Looking to step outside Microsoft’s big umbrella? Google’s big umbrella might be just right.

While Google Apps and Office 365 will cost you, Zoho Mail nets you a comparable app and office suite for free, with options to scale up as you need.

Sign up and Get to Work

Think you’ve found the right service provider? What are you waiting for? Sign up! Whether you do it all yourself online or call IT, get your business email address today. Don’t do business in your sweats with that personal address. Suit up and show the world you’re ready.

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