I have always been a bit surprised at the number of legal and other professionals who have an email address that reads @aol.com or @gmail.com or what have you.
First, as far as AOL is concerned, many see it as an unfortunate choice of email domain. I mean no offense to anyone but AOL has long been considered a bit of a joke, the place where people who know nothing about the Web hang out. The prejudice that many have against AOL has only increased since the service pretty much went belly up. A quick search on “what your email address says about you” will show you that AOL is the Rodney Dangerfield of the email world. For a time Hotmail and Yahoo! were the places to go for a free email account. Now the go to for a free account is Google with Gmail. All of these free email services have their positives and negatives. I am not going to focus on the specifics because since I use Gmail and haven’t used Hotmail or Yahoo! in years, I don’t feel I can offer a fair comparison.
Other business people or attorneys will use whatever paid service they are subscribing to as their email domain. Commonly I will see @comcast.net or @verizon.com. As providers these services might be fine, but what happens if you want to change providers? Now you have to notify everyone that your email address has changed or you are stuck with a provider that might not make you happy.
The main issue I have with using any of the services noted above as the domain for an email address is one of branding. Branding is something you no doubt hear a lot about on and off line. Branding simply means the way in which your product, whatever it may be, is presented to and recognized by customers and potential customers. In the past I think people generally thought of a product as a tangible item, Sony, Five Guys, Dell, these are brands, they provide televisions, yummy burgers and computers; things you can get your hands around.
The reality however is that we are all brands. My Blog is called Jennifer Ellis. Why did I choose to call it that? Perhaps when you saw the name you thought, wow this Jennifer person is boring or lazy. And I might be. But in this case I have a good reason. I chose to call my blog Jennifer Ellis because I myself am a brand. And so are you. If you are a sole practitioner your name is your brand. If you are with a law firm, the law firm’s name is the brand. It doesn’t matter that we provide a service as opposed to a tangible item. In the Internet era, we are all brands.
The cynical side of me says the concept of branding is simply a good way for marketing consultants to make money. The realistic side of me knows that with all of the ways to communicate with people if a firm or company is not branded it could easily get lost in the shuffle; especially since there are now so many ways to communicate, so many ways to present yourself.
The most common way in which people communicate with customers or clients is through email. Every time your business or firm sends an email with a domain name that does not relate to that business it is wasting a branding opportunity. Exactly what does your company wish to advertise? Your business or a multimillion/billion dollar company with which you have no relationship other than obtaining free email or paying for Internet service? Another thing to keep in mind is that if you choose a simple domain name it will be easier for people to remember your email address. If you tend to have clients who contact you every now and again it is much better to be easy to find online, instead of the customer trying to remember: Is s/he with Comcast? Is she with Gmail? If you have a memorable email address it will be easy for people to contact you. If you have, at least, a business card Website connected to your email it will be easier for people to find you.
It is inexpensive and easy to set up a domain name, email address and business card Website. There is nothing more important than being findable. A simple domain name, email address and business card Website will give you and your business a basic presence online and help you begin the branding process so people can remember who you are and how to find you.