Top 10 Tips: Selecting and managing Email for your small business

This guide is for small business owners who need to understand the considerations for providing email access for themselves and their employees.

The tips are written with the expectation that at I.T. professional will be doing the work for you. Thus, I do not go into any detail on “how” implement the tips, rather I focus on what to ask for.

1. Consider something other than email!

Perhaps a strange way to start of a top 10 tips for email, but minimising overuse of email has significant benefits. For example, rather than sending files by email, send a link to the file and store the file on an Intranet. This means the latest version of the file can always be referenced rather than needing people to dig around in their mailbox. Another example is using Instant Messaging for real-time conversations with colleagues is significantly more efficient than the non real-time nature of email. Using alternative tools such as an Intranet, or Instant Messaging, will reduce your email load, and in turn make email more efficient.

2. Keep email synchronized across devices

If you have multiple devices with access to the same email account, for example a laptop and a smartphone, then you will need a plan that keeps changes made on one device synchronised with the other device. This functionally is available with most email service providers, but beware that lower cost plans do not always allow this. Even Microsoft has a low cost business plan, called the K1 plan, that does not have this functionality when using Microsoft Outlook.

3. Manage access to employee devices

You will need a method for managing email access if employees use their own devices with company email. In particular you should make sure that their device is encrypted, and that it includes a passcode – without both these options, it is not difficult for a motivated individual to remove email from a stolen or lost phone. In addition, if an employee leaves your business you need to be able to remove email from their device. The approach to managing these examples is called Mobile Device Management (MDM) and depending on your email solution, this may be a built-in feature, or a third party product will be required. Your I.T. professional can advise on the options available.

4. Consider email encryption

Email messages are usually not encrypted. While it is difficult to do, it does mean your email messages are susceptible to being read by malicious people. This is a big issue if your email contains commercially sensitive, or personally sensitive information. There are various methods to encrypt email, and they either focus on the email while it is in transit, or after the email has been delivered (“at rest”). Make sure you also understand your compliance obligations to securing email, and then speak with your I.T. professional to implement the most appropriate arrangments.

5. Understand your compliance obligations

Depending on your jurisdiction, industry or government regulations will influence how you use email. For example, credit card merchants will not allow you to collect credit cards by email (there are some theoretical exceptions, but I’ll avoid those). Regulations may also define how long you should keep documentation (which includes email) relating to financial transactions. For those in the medical field there may also be requirements for encrypting email. Importantly, email solutions to all these obligations exist, including automatic archiving, email encryption and even methods for keeping tamper proof copies of emails.

6. Choose an appropriate email client

There are various interfaces available for accessing email, from built-in clients available with Smartphones, to desktop software programs. The features available to use with email, such as a central directory or integrated calendar, will depend on the client you use. In general, built-in clients are free (e.g. the Mail application in Microsoft Windows), but advanced mail software comes at a price (e.g. Microsoft Outlook). Wikipedia has a comparison of email clients available here.

7. Monitor and control email usage

Understanding how email is being used is essential to keeping a reliable service. Effective monitoring includes understanding: who has access to email; if email storage limits are about to be reached; if you have unused licences; if access is available via smartphones and the security policies applied. Without this sort of monitoring and control your business information is at risk of unintended exposure.

8. Use a common, shared, directory

A common, shared, directory is a great way to save time for your employees in finding email details, and contact details in general. Employees can still keep personal contacts private, but publish employee and key business contact information on a directory that is available to all. This is a simple way to have access to accurate contact information when sending email form a computer or when on a mobile device.

9. Use a shared integrated calendar

Having a calendar integrated as part of email provides an efficient way to send and accept meeting bookings. This applies not only to people, but also for meeting rooms and shared equipment like projectors or company cars. Note that not all email clients include an integrated calendar (see Tip 6). Calendars can be used to share when you are free or busy, while also keeping the details of any meetings you have hidden. This sharing ability can also be done across organisations.

10. Have a process when an employee leaves

When an employee leaves your business, have a specific process for managing their email accounts. This may seem trivial, but please consider the following points: change email passwords, remotely wipe email from mobile devices, assign the departed users email address to another users, apply an autoreply message to their account, archive the emails for future reference, recover any associated licences (this list is courtesy of Cogmotive).