The other day I had a meeting with a professional person, a freelancer who worked in an industry tangentially connected to the Web. We organized the meeting via email, and I noticed with dismay that he had a Compuserve email address, as in Wayne.Gretzky@compuserve.com. This an old-school American internet service provider–a Canadian equivalent might be Shaw or Uniserve.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’m an email snob. When I get an email from a self-employed professional and it comes from Gmail, Hotmail and the like, and not their own domain, I get a little judgey.
It suggests to me, in a small way, that the person isn’t really serious about marketing their own business.
I asked around amongst my web-savvy friends, and they all confessed to a similar bias. Call it snobbery, call it elitist–there’s at least a hint of the business card scene from American Psycho here–but it seems to be a widely-held opinion, at least among webophiles.
On occasion, I give talks at universities and colleges, and participate in informational interviews. One of the pieces of advice I give to all students, wherever they intend to work, is to establish some kind of web presence for themselves. You are, after all, what the Internet says you are, so it’s best to own a piece of that presence. I just read Gina Trapani’s post about the importance of a ‘nameplate site’.
Differentiate yourself from the pack
So why don’t freelancers get their own domain for their email accounts?
- They don’t consider having a generic email address an issue.
- They’re aware of this perception, and they don’t care.
- They don’t know how cheap and easy it is to set up your own email (and web) domain.
If you wish to be self-employed and work full-time (as opposed to a hobbyist or part-time position) in 2011, you need a simple website and a branded email address. Not only does it look to us web snobs that you’re serious about what you’re doing, but it will also differentiate you from a bunch of freelancers who haven’t taken these steps.
I randomly happened upon Victoria Bushnell’s website. She’s apparently a freelance writer and editor, and she’s got a simple, good-looking website. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, and it doesn’t have to be updated often, but it certainly exudes professionalism.
The retort to my advice is usually “but I get lots of work with no website and my plain old Gmail account”. That’s all well and good–I forget to bring business cards to events sometimes, and I still may get work out of them. However, are you getting the best possible work you could? If not, then there’s room for improvement, and a branded email address and simple website seems like low-hanging fruit.
Three steps and you’re done
So, how do you get started?
- Register your preferred domain. I use NameCheap. Pick something simple, like your full name, or your company name.
- Set up your email using Google Apps for Domains, which enables you to use Gmail with @yourdomain.com. Here are detailed instructions on how to do that.
- Create a simple website. I’d recommend using WordPress.com, and then connecting your domain with your new site. In fact, you may just wish to start with WordPress.com by registering your domain there.