NSFW means not safe for work. It’s an acronym typically used to describe racy pictures or politically incorrect cartoons found in about 78% of the internet. But in this context, we’re talking about email. If you run a business and your email address that you use to communicate with customers, suppliers etc ends in hotmail.com or gmail.com or yahoo.com or any other widely available free email service, you’re doing it wrong. The last time we talked it was all about emptying your inbox. Well today’s diatribe is mostly about how to try to fill it.

Everyone needs email. I repeat, everyone needs email. Every business in existence needs an email address. Web presence, including email is no longer something you can afford to do without. People are cancelling their white and yellow page subscriptions and turning to Google for answers. If Google doesn’t find it, it doesn’t exist. This is the way you should be thinking about things. So, we’re in agreement. You have to have email. But why not Gmail?

Let’s say you’re going to see a heart surgeon. Let’s say that the surgeons’ office emails you a few days before your appointment to provide you with some additional paperwork you need to fill out and the name that pops up in your inbox is doctorheartsteve@gmail.com. Doesn’t have a very professional ring to it, does it? How likely are you to keep that appointment. I know what you’re thinking. Well, I’m not a heart surgeon so it doesn’t matter. The fact is it does matter. Your field is irrelevant. Gmail, Hotmail and the ilk are not professional. There’s nothing wrong with using them for your personal communication but when it comes time to represent yourself, you want  people to think you have a real business, because you do.

ANYONE can get a Gmail account. It doesn’t mean you’re a functioning business or that you’re anything other than a fly by night ripoff artist. However, taking the time and money to register doctorheartsteve.com is an entirely different story. If you are in business, you need to own your own domain. Not only is it more professional, but it keeps people from impersonating you or building their business off of the name that you’ve made for yourself. In order to be steve@doctorheartsteve.com, you need to go out and buy doctorheartsteve.com. If you don’t, when you can, you’ll be sorry.

Here’s what I mean. We’ll use our favorite doctor once again. Steve Jones is a heart surgeon and he has a business. He doesn’t have a website and is email address is doctorheartsteve@gmail.com. What he has been is a very competent surgeon in the area for over 20 years. So people start looking for Steve on the internet. They remember that his name was Steve and that he was a heart doctor and that his name was Steve. So, they assume when they find steve@doctorheartsteve.com that this is THE Steve. But it’s not. It’s another craftier heart surgeon named Steve Johnson. Now, the patient is not sure about the names but they figure, heart surgeon names Steve, gotta be him. And there’s a customer gone. This may seem like a far fetched fable but the fact is that if you have a business, people are looking for you on the internet. Don’t you want them to find you?

Some people take shortcuts, such as running their website through free space provided by a company like Google or even Eastlink. Once again, the primary issue here is professionalism. You cannot afford to look anything but professional. You have to look legit and your own domain name does that. Think about it this way. When you’re looking for a plumber would you prefer a plumber with the website halifaxplumbers.com or plumbing/user4281~/eastlink.ca? It doesn’t seem like much of a question. Why do people do this? Well, they want to save money. You know the old saying, “you have to spend money to make money”? Well, this is kind of true when it comes to your website, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. You have options. Lots of them. One of those options is talking to a company that creates websites for small to medium size businesses (shameless plug opportunity, mike@oneredcat.com). You need to invest in yourself, but you don’t need to go bankrupt building a site. Many designers will build you more than you need and this is the most common issue with having a company build your site; a lack of communication and agreement. But we’ll go into detail about web development in the very near future. All you need to know for now is that if you need to build your web presence, you should talk to me. That’s it. Nothing more.

Ok, so we’ve established that you shouldn’t use Gmail for your business email and we’ve established that you should own your own domain but the question that remains is, what should your domain name be. It’s not always the case that your business name should exactly match your website. In my case it made sense. We picked OneRedCat because it was catchy and it was a concept we liked. But what if our business name had been OneRedCat Media Relations and Web Development? Should our website be OneRedCatMediaRelationsAndWebDevelopment.com? Probably not. This is where you really need to think about things. And I mean REALLY need to think about things. Why? Well, it’s easy to make a mistake here and damage your companies image. Let’s explain how this can happen.

You’re the park manager for Hocking Hills (Ohio) State Park, located near Old Man’s Haven, home of the famous Old Man’s Cave. So you figure the best thing to do is draw attention to your connection to this famous spot by naming your website oldmanshaven.com. You’re now the home of hairless old men. Think that’s a one off? Imagine that you are in the metal recycling business and you operate on a national scale. Great work, americanscrapmetal.com. I’m not going to explain that one, just look at it for a while. By the way, those are the safe ones. There are also other examples such as the database of talent representatives that tell you who represents each celebrity that you search for. The name of the site, whorepresents.com.

So, how do you avoid this? Well, first things first. Take the words you want to use, put them together and just stare at them for a while. This should have been the first step for companies such a pen island, mole station nursery, and dick’s lumber (hint: they don’t allow apostrophes). The second step? Type it out a few times. Is your website hard to type? This may seem silly but you want people to be able to easily type out your website name. Also, avoid words that people tend to spell incorrectly. The last thing you want is to not be found because they don’t teach spelling in school anymore. If you haven’t established your presence online and you’re having someone build your site for you, talk to them about the site names you might want to go with. (I know, here we go again with the shameless plug, right? mike@oneredcat.com)

Finally, you don’t want to just own your domain name, you want to own that identity. You don’t generally want the .ca version of a domain that already has the .com taken, or vice versa, unless you are VERY confident that people will pick the right one. Also, you want to make sure that social media will be available for you. For example, is the twitter name that you would most associate with your business available? And if it isn’t, can you afford to be associated with the person who is using that twitter handle?

So, to recap.

  1. Don’t use Gmail for business.
  2. Have your own website.
  3. Own your own domain name.
  4. Make sure your domain name says what you want it to.
  5. Hire OneRedCat to help you make steps 1-4 go smoothly. 

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