In which I judge you about your email address

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 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?

  1. Register your preferred domain. I use NameCheap. Pick something simple, like your full name, or your company name.
  2. Set up your email using Google Apps for Domains, which enables you to use Gmail with Here are detailed instructions on how to do that.
  3. Create a simple website. I’d recommend using, and then connecting your domain with your new site. In fact, you may just wish to start with by registering your domain there.


  1. I am by no means a webophile and I have a gmail email address. I have spent my whole life trying to explain to people how to spell and pronounce my last name. Are you saying that to make myself “presentable” to the internet savvy, I just HAVE to have an email that ends in @my long polish hard to pronounce

  2. I was actually going to recommend differently, in that it can be better to have a domain that ISN’T necessarily your own name (or all of it), and also isn’t too specific to your current business. At least, that’s what I did.

    When I started my own freelance business about a decade ago, I chose “Penmachine Media Company” because I already had the domain — chosen because it’s not too hard to remember, it was available, and it doesn’t pin me down to a particular activity — and “Media Company” was about as generic as I could make the formal government declaration for my proprietorship. That way, whether I was writing, editing, playing music, taking photographs, designing websites, whatever, they were all part of my business and fit in with the name.

    You also don’t know how your business could evolve, or even if you might sell it or take on partners. Consider some of the biggest business names: Apple, Amazon, eBay, even Craigslist. Are they wedded to a particular business or product (computers, books, auctions, classifieds)? Not really. Of course, domains like that are hard to find now.

    I’m also not completely consistent: I often give out my long-time email address, but my and mail (and others) all go to the same place in the end.

    My basic recommendation is not to be too specific. I’d avoid, for instance, in favour of something less specific, even if it’s under a .ca, .net, .org, or .info domain. (In your case, could work.)

    1. Thanks for the feed back Derek.
      I do actually own and, but have yet to set up a web site. I am a real newbie to this new world. Just finished reading Darren’s book and wandered over to check out the blog. I’m enjoying the exploring!

  3. I’m not involved in the Internet in any business type way (though I guess I’m a “hobbyist” (that’s a new word to me!) with my blog and even with that I do silly things like constantly changing its name & URL), but I also find I judge people’s email addresses too. I use my Gmail account for personal things, but I’ll use my UBC email for academic things and my work email (with my employer organizations’s domain) for when I want people to take me more seriously, figuring that others will judge the way I (and, from your posting, it looks like many others).

    That said, I do have my name as a domain (had to include the “Dr.” in it because someone else is squatting on my name without the “Dr.”) with a vague plan to make it my “professional” site (as I do the occasional contract in my (non-webby) field and figure that someday I may want to ramp up that aspect of my career). So sometimes I use my email from my own domain.

    I may also have an email address hoarding problem.

  4. Oh come on. I suspect some business paid you to write up this post as PR branding using key words Canadians would more than likely search for………….My ISP sucks and I let them know that their service and reputation sucks. DO THEY CARE? – NO. Instead of fixing the problems are they just hiring people – like you – to make them look so Canadian wholesome. Add a few wholesome links into the mix for SEO to really get the message out there. Can’t kiss babies anymore for photo ops, so how else is this company going to get people to emotionally bond with them? Hire you, I suspect!

    1. Have you looked at Darren’s site before? Or in any detail? Or was that just a pointless fly-by troll?

      If your ISP sucks, then change it. Unless you’re trapped with an email address at their domain. Oh wait…

      1. What Derek said.

        Also, if I was writing this for SEO purposes, I would have:

        * Written a title and headings that were keyword-rich, and not abstract.
        * Actually linked to somebody who might, theoretically have paid me. I suppose I linked to NameCheap, but I do legitimately use them for a bunch of my domains.

  5. I don’t understand the kerfuffle about a difficult to spell surname/website/email.

    If you’re handing it out as part of a business, I’m sure it’s on your business card.

    And people only ever enter it once. Through the magic of autocomplete in most email programs, just type in a part of the name and … bingo!

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