Should You Brand Your Business Email Address?

March 22nd, 2013 | Shonali Burke | 38 Comments

mailboxEarlier today I saw a terrific post over at Lisa Gerber‘s blog by Alan Lemire, on his entrepreneurial journey thus far. Just as I enjoyed Dan Cohen (part of the WUL team) sharing his experiences thus far, because there’s so much we can learn from each other. And as I continue on my own entrepreneurial path, I am starting to see and meet so very many people who are either doing the same, or yearning to do so.

So an honest post like Alan’s, or those that Dan authored are, I think, supremely invigorating, thought-provoking and valuable.

Seeing as how Alan came with a super recommendation from Lisa (one of my good friends, and whose opinion I value and respect), I clicked through his website. It’s beautiful.

And then I saw that his contact information contained what I assume is his personal email address.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this, of course. I have clients right now who use their personal email addresses for work, and have seen quite a few other iterations of a business name incorporated into a popular email provider, e.g. “MyBusiness” [a] yahoo [dot] com.

And I’ve always wondered: why? Why not just set up your branded business email address, especially if you already own your domain? If you’re going to showcase your business professionally, then shouldn’t you have an email address to go with that? Wouldn’t this be one of the basic marketing mistakes to avoid?

So I posed the question on Twitter and Facebook to see what others think. Here are some of the answers (and many thanks to all who replied):

Daniel Honigman thought it was fine:

Deb Lee, on the other hand, didn’t, unless you’re just getting started and don’t have your own domain yet:

There were others who agreed with Deb:

And over on Facebook, there were a variety of opinions:

FB responses to business email address #1

 Both Joe Hackman and the afore-mentioned Dan Cohen had interesting responses:

FB response to business email address #2

FB response to business email address #3

 D.C. Hughes and Amy Vernon had some interesting points (made energetically):

FB answer to business email address #4

The discussion on Facebook became quite animated, actually, and many thanks to Jason Konopinski, DC Hughes, Joe Hackman, Dan, Doug Wendt, Jeff Crites, Amy Vernon, and Tinu Abayomi-Paul (to name just a few) for sharing their thoughts on Facebook. And for – perhaps – changing my mind.

Before and after

You see, when I posed the question earlier in the day, I was pretty convinced of my position: if you’re running a business, why use a personal, or Gmail (or other email provider) email address? I’ve written before about “dressing up your business,” with things like a decent website, etc… and wouldn’t an email address be an extension, or part, of that?

Now I’m not so sure. Because I have seen many, excellent practitioners who use AOL or Comcast email addresses, for example. Their LinkedIn profiles aren’t sexy. Some of them don’t even have websites.

Yet, they have done such great work, that they have built a steady client base, and their work begets them more work (as Heather Whaling said on #PRStudChat the other night, “referrals = gold!”).

Sure, some people may think of them as not “with it,” or not taking their business seriously. But the people I know like this… not only do they take their businesses very seriously, they have been running them for years and years, so they must be doing something right… right?

A matter of perception

I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perception. For my part, I like having an email address associated with my domain. I run everything through Google, but I prefer keeping business communications to [a] shonaliburke [dot] com emails, keeping my Hopkins-related communications to my Hopkins email address, and so on.

I do find that folks for whom LinkedIn might have been the primary online connection tend to send emails to my personal address… and I’m fine with that, since my LinkedIn profile is, after all, my personal profile. Right now, my company is primarily represented by me, so the dividing line is a bit fuzzy… but that is something that will need to be figured out as the company grows.

However, when people work with me under the Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc., umbrella, they get, and use, email addresses associated with the domain. I feel more comfortable with that, and so far, at least, no one’s objected (I also don’t throw a hissy fit if they forget to use the “official” email address once in a while).

So while I do think how you present your business is important – and your email address is part of that – I wouldn’t automatically dismiss anyone who used a personal email address for it. At least, not any more.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Do you have a opinion, perhaps a strong one, one way or another? Do share!

Image: cascade hiker via Flickr, CC 2.0

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
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37 comments
sidekickhq
sidekickhq

@JamieCrager @shonali especially when its so easy to set up a Google for Biz email addy! {{shakes head as to why smart ppl fail to do this}}

AlanLemire
AlanLemire

Wow....all very interesting comments! Can't say that I disagree with any of them - as every person is going to have a different perception based on their experiences with various businesses/individuals. In the end, I went with a personal email address instead of a branded one through my website for the following reasons....

When people hire me, they are hiring me specifically, not my company. I want them to know that every communication that we have will be directly with me, and the fewer layers in between, the purer (is that a word?) that communication will be. 

I like to think of myself as an artisan, someone that puts some of himself into every aspect of his work. If I was hiring a woodworker or a metalworker to build something for me, I wouldn't care what his email address was.....or if he even had one. He doesn't have a phone? Fine with me - that makes me feel that he is probably more focused on his art. 

I also use my personal phone number. Does anyone else that is a single entity/business owner use a business line? One more way to let people know that they will be dealing directly with me, and not going through someone (secretary, business partner, intern, whatever).

Lastly, and certainly not least: I'm not technologically challenged, but I'm certainly not technologically gifted either. The simpler the better for me. The fewer email addresses I have to manage, the fewer mistakes that will be made in acknowledging/answering/organizing email replies. 

Also, no worries on any kind of feedback. It was all taken in the best of terms!

Thanx everyone!

AL

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I'm firmly in the branded email camp but - and it pains me to type this - @HowieG ain't wrong. ;-) And yes, plenty of people are doing just fine w/ branded emails thank you. 

Seriously it's window dressing, it's perception - when you're talking about individuals or even small partnerships DBA something more than that. It's also the difference in organization, being a business vs. being a job. Already mentioned were the legal implications; to me it signals a way of thinking, company culture - is it being run as a professional business or a hodgepodge of random people? 

IDK. I know I don't like it when people mix my personal/professional emails. I'm cautious when I see - esp. from a company w/ 10+ employees and a branded website already - using personal email accounts. Why are they? Will my emails get lost in the din of personal friend requests, soccer schedules and bills? What happens when that account gets hacked, how much spam am I in for? (happened.)

Even the "joebobplumbing AT hotmail . com" addresses raise my eyebrows, makes me question the kind of 'professional' company it is; and if I perceive those doubts, who's to say others won't? Put it another way: is anyone turned off by a branded email, do they second guess the company? Even from an independent consultant like me - I'm not trying to fake anyone out; I'm running a business, making it professional not personal. FWIW.

Sean McGinnis
Sean McGinnis

 How in tarnation did I miss this discussion?

I prefer the business branded email path. That said, I don't necessarily judge if you prefer a different path - so long as that path shows you are technology-centric. If you're still using an AOL email address, then you are definitely engendering a view that you are change averse and not "with it" technologically speaking. A little less so for Yahoo and/or Hotmail. Gmail and me.com and probably OK.

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EricaAllison
EricaAllison

This is SO good! Short answer: yes, I think you should have a branded email address, especially in this culture of doing business from anywhere - brick and mortar not required. As many have said in their tweets and here, it lends itself to your credibility in the business world. I adore @HowieG and no one is further outside the 'box' than he is, but I still think it helps land accounts and gigs when folks are looking, and often hiring, 'site unseen'. 


Like you've pointed out, Shonali, it also isn't the end all, be all if you have good business chops - and the street cred to back it up. BUT, to get your foot in the proverbial door, it can help. It's not everything. Results should and do matter. If you can't deliver those, no amount of vanity plates in the world will help.


I'm in a branding nightmare of my own at the moment with about 3 different email addresses floating around, one of which is my business branded email (an alias for others), the others are at+t and gmail. I've been stressing out about it and would love to clean them all up in the coming quarter so that one prevails; however, I know that many who've had my att.com address or my gmail address (iPad) will continue to use it.  Heh. Like I said, it's the results that matter, right?

Cathie Ericson1
Cathie Ericson1

I wish I had branded my email address years ago, but now I feel like it's too late! My consulting/freelance business grew organically -- and faster than I expected (lucky me!) -- so now I hesitate to change my email because it's such a hassle. I also do lots of subcontracting to other agencies, as well as ghostwriting, so in many ways I am 'invisible'. I worry more about how my clients look than me so I don't put much time into thinking about it, and yet, I would have done it differently.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I tried commenting from my phone yesterday and it didn't work 8(


I am very disappointed at 90% of these answers with people not thinking outside the world/industry they work in. This is very industry specific. Entertainment productions most of the people use generic or personal email addrsses. Why? They don't work for a company they work for temporary business entities. Every movie and TV show is set up as it's own business and when production end's everyone is fired and goes on unemployment until their next job. So I might of worked on Skyfall building sets produced by MGM but my next job might be on a Sony Pictures project. So I need a generic or personal email so when that Production Coordinator is seeking a set designer and wonders if Howie is available, they can shoot me an email.

In fact this week my LA client received a mention from a show on NBC seeking home chefs. We were asked to help with a retweet. The casting person had a generic Yahoo address.

Many freelancers and contractors like to set themselves up as a business to look professional when really we are just one person. Some industries this is best practice others it has no influence on whether you get a job or not.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

This is a great question and while it shouldn't matter, I think it does. It goes under appearances. Just like dressing professionally for a meeting, having a branded email just looks better. I don't think anyone is losing business over it, but if you want to appear like you're the real deal - certainly in the communications industry - then having a branded email is important. For a photographer? I don't know if it's as important so I'm not picking on Al here. 

I'm SO glad you enjoyed his story - I think it's a cool one too. I have others coming in the next few weeks also. 

prosperitygal
prosperitygal

I use my branded email but it points to google account and when I respond I see it ends up looking like gmail after a while.  I think we are making too much noise about something that is not really that important.


Now if you email is snookie baby at yahoo I get it, but other wise I would work with someone who is articulate, professional, can answer my questions, expresses a knowledge to serve my needs and has happy customers.  


Now if I had to choose between a solid professional who uses goggle with all the above over someone with email address tom at tom.com and tom's reputation was a little shady but he had a branded email, would it make me go with him? Nope.

Tinu
Tinu

When I answered, I was coming from the perspective of a consumer. I also used to have a problem where I didn't get my company email and had to give out my Gmail as a backup. I fought with my hosting company at the time about it for Months. It was a big deal to me, it felt like I was running my business out of the trunk of my car. 

On the other hand, if a person has had an AOL email address since 1999, or before company emails were both common and inexpensive, I don't fault them for continuing to do so. But the consumer in me doesn't know that, and will judge them for it. But I'm a techie, I know you can get a domain name for as little as $5, and Google Apps for $5 a month- though I also know that everyone doesn't know that, it still concerns me.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

MANY thanks for sharing your thoughts D.C. Hughes, Jason Konopinski, Douglas Wendt, Joe Hackman, Amy Vernon, Tinu Abayomi-Paul and for contributing to the post... and so many others too!

Erin F.
Erin F.

I don't have a strong opinion on this, but I tend to think a branded email is a part of building credibility. I'm frequently mistaken for being quite a bit younger than I actually am, so a branded email is an attempt to thwart some of the pats on the head and things of that nature.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@AlanLemire Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment/reply - I really appreciate it! And I apologize for not being by myself to respond earlier.

What you said about people hiring you specifically, not your company, is what I was thinking. And that's what I referenced when I was responding to @Lisa Gerber and others... and interestingly, I've seen this quite a bit with photographers specifically, though it seems it would apply to any artisan/artist whose work is specific to him/her.

I used to have a business line but then I canceled it. What I did instead was sign up for a Google Voice number, and now I use that as my business line. It redirects to my home/cell phone, but also functions as its "own" phone number, if that makes sense. I don't have my assistant answer it - I answer it - but it does give me some separation between "work" and "personal" calls on my phone. 

Here is what I really like about it - transcription of voice messages (which can be very funny!) and also avoiding text spam. Plus, that way when I give people my actual cell phone number, they know that they are getting something not everyone has... it makes them feel special.


Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Sean McGinnis So this is really interesting to me: you used the phrase, "you are definitely engendering a view." To me this is key ... because it speaks to our own actions as a factor in defining how people (and potential customers and prospects) perceive us. Or, in other words - is it worth the effort? Our own effort? For me, it is, and I would feel very weird not doing so. But I guess for others they are so focused on the work it's just not an issue for them.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@EricaAllison i always get confused which address to send the lili Pictures! On the topic can't anyone have one of the www.me pages? Those seem perfect for individuals who want to look professional without much fuss.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Lisa Gerber I hope it didn't sound as if I was picking on Al - I absolutely was NOT - and, in fact, when I saw his site/email address, it reminded me of other, extremely high-level photographers who also use Gmail/personal email accounts. 

I wonder if that is, in fact, more desirable if you're building a personal photography business, as opposed to a photography chop shop... do you know what I mean? I don't have a way to ping him, but I'd love for you to ask him/have him stop by and tell us.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@prosperitygal I do the same with Gmail. Good point about the Snookie Baby-type of email address, and I think a few others made a similar point. 

Personally, I don't think this is an unimportant question, because people do have strong reactions to one type of email address or another... but perhaps more so in some industries than others, and that's what I was interested in learning about. I do think in *our* business it's an important question. If one's own online presence, and branding (including email branding) is not all that professional, yet we offer that as part of our services, then we can't blame prospects who decide not to work with us. But as some others pointed out, there are other industries where it really doesn't make that much of a difference.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Tinu You hit upon some very interesting points, Tinu. One that not everyone knows you can get a domain name really inexpensively, etc... and seeing as how so much is done on the Internet these days, that is a little worrisome, especially for entrepreneurs (for those who are not, they don't really need to know, or care about knowing). 

The second is your very smart observation of your perception as a customer - and I think that's where many of us come from as well. As a customer, I *do* think poorly of businesses, especially service-oriented businesses, if they don't have professional branding, email, etc. Especially when it is easy and inexpensive to set up. As a person, I'm trying to be more forgiving... but you're right, most of the time the average customer or prospect won't see that.

Ultimately, as I said to @Erin F. I think your work product will speak for itself and perhaps impact the perception. I wonder if even that differs from industry to industry, though, simply because of niche and scale... what do you think?

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Erin F. That's a good point. I do think how one ends up actually behaving, working, etc., will ultimately make it immaterial. For example, there might be people with very snazzy websites, etc., but whose work is crap. So ultimately I think the quality of work product will speak for itself. 

But I can absolutely see how a branded email address might help avoid the pat on the head kind of thing. @jessostroff comes to mind - I haven't met her IRL (yet, will be doing so this coming week!) but having worked with her and seen how professional she is, her work ethic will always stand out for me, though she is clearly much younger than I am (because I'm ancient!).

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@HowieG So... I think my About.me page is decent, but I don't want that as my "main" page anywhere. More and more people seem to be finding it, and I'm not quite sure how... go figure. But that's definitely something pretty easy to set up... it doesn't solve the branded email address problem (if it's a problem) though. 

@EricaAllison I think I've emailed you at ALL of those addresses...! It's similar with me... there are people who'll only use my Gmail, and that's that. I don't really mind - but for people I don't know very well, I prefer to keep their emails on the business side. It just puts my head in a better place. Which is very important!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Lisa Gerber Me too! @HowieG Stop being a snob. ;)

It's interesting you mention that about casting directors, etc., Howie - I've seen that too. I think that's different, though; the ones I've seen, they are specific to that show, and it's almost as if they don't want to get email overload at their "real" address (or get stalked, or start getting inundated with press releases), so they set up a Yahoo or Hotmail account (or whatever) to deal with the casting-type emails.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@Shonali @Erin F. @jessostroff I know that's true, too, but if I can remove one of the reasons for a person dismissing me, I'm going to do it. I know I'm a good copywriter and editor, but I have to get people past appearances to see that.

Have fun with Jess! I met her briefly at SXSW. I would have liked to talk with her more but that's the way of things at SXSW. 

And you're not ancient.

jessostroff
jessostroff

@Erin F. @Shonali I was really trying to completely unplug during my vacation, and that's when this goodness took place so I'm so sorry for the late reply!

I am a big proponent of investing time and money into whatever it takes to make you look professional (assuming you actually ARE a professional!). I didn't launch my website until I had the money to hire a designer and was (mostly) satisfied with it. Before that, I just had my email address and phone number on my business card, no website URL. I had a PDF that I would send to potential new clients since I had no site to show my work, but I thought it was worth it instead of putting up something quickly that I wasn't proud of. Creating an LLC, having a professional email address (even if you don't have a website), and being really careful about what you publish on social networks are all things that I think business owners should do. You never know who's watching (or listening!) and I think that constant level of professionalism goes a long way.

Erin, I am sure we will get to meet again soon in a smaller and less insane setting! I look forward to it.

I hope @Shonali Burke still thinks I am professional after meeting IRL! I certainly feel that way about her :)

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