Gmail is one of many of Google's free web-based tools and services. In this case, it's an email service similar to Yahoo Mail or Outlook. In the past, having a free account made home businesses look unprofessional, but Gmail is different. It's why many entrepreneurs have switched or include Gmail as one of their email providers.
Gmail features include:
- Effective spam filtering and virus protection
- 15 GB of free mail storage
- Access to email via mobile devices
- Built-in chat capabilities
- Customizable tabs to help you organize your email inbox
- Themes to change the look of Gmail
- Video calls
- Ability to view attachments within the email (as opposed to downloading)
- Ability to send money
The free version of Gmail is ad-supported using ads that appear on the right and not in your email, making them very unobtrusive.
The free version works great, but if you want some extra perks and no ads, you can use a paid business version of Gmail that offers more storage, integration with other email services (i.e., MS Outlook), 24/7 phone and email support, 99.9% uptime, and you can create a personal email (i.e., email@example.com). Google offers two paid plans, one for $5 and one for $10 per month.
You don't need a Google account to set up Gmail. In fact, all you need is a valid existing email address and agree to Google's terms and conditions. Having a Gmail account makes it easy to use other Google services, such as AdSense, AdWords or Google Search Console (formally Webmaster Tools), Blogger, Youtube, Google+, and all other Google properties.
How Gmail Can Help the Home Business Owner
There are many great features and add-ons you can use to make Gmail a tool in your home business. Some include:
- Create folders to organize and store email. For example, you can create a folder for each project you're working on.
- Label email to sort and organize even more—for example, if you want to identify specific topics or clients within a folder. If you have a folder for freelance writing work, within that folder, you can label emails by client name.
- Colored stars help you to organize even more. You can choose which and how many stars you want available. For example, you can identify what's a to-do versus a to-read by what color star you choose.
- Customize Gmail tabs to organize your inbox. It helps you separate personal email from business. Or commercial email (i.e., coupons from your favorite retailers) from your regular inbox.
- Manage multiple emails from one spot, including pop-3 email accounts. It allows you to check and respond to all your email accounts from one place. You can even have more than one Gmail account, but manage them all through one account (you'll need to set up mail forwarding).
Plus, there are a host of add-ons you can use to make Gmail work best for you. Here are a few things you can find in Gmail Labs to add to your Gmail:
- Authentication icon for verified senders will help protect you from phishing scams by verifying emails. For example, if you get a message from PayPal, the add-on will let you know if it's really from PayPal or a fake phishing email.
- Multiple signature lines. Using Canned Responses, you can have different signature lines. For example, you may not have any sig line for personal email, but want one in your business exchanges. You can pick and choose, which, if any, sig lines are used with each email you send.
- Set up multiple inboxes. If you're an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, that prefers to have all your email needs in view (as opposed to labeled and filed), you can set up multiple inboxes on your main page. Using this option sets up your general all-email inbox on the left next to your Gmail menu, and on the right, you can set up multiple other email inboxes for things such as "To Do," and "To Read," "Client Email," etc. You can use the stars feature to designate which inbox an email should go. Once tagged with a star, select the email and hit the "Archive" button, The email will move out of your main email box and show up in the other inbox you selected (you may need to refresh the page).
- Quick links. If you want to access specific emails quickly, you can set up quick links which appear in your left-hand side Gmail navigation menu. Other things you can create quick links for are saved searches and labels.
- Preview external services in messages. It allows you to view maps, video and other items within your email, as opposed to having to click to a new page.
- Undo send. If you've ever hit send and immediately wish you could take your email back, you'll like this Gmail lab option. With the Undo Send lab, when you hit send, Gmail will wait for a set time (i.e., 10, 20 or 30 seconds -- you can decide in the settings) before actually sending the email. You have that time to hit the "Undo Send" button if you change your mind. If you don't hit the undo send, the email will be sent.
To access the Labs, click on the gear icon at the top right of your Gmail account, and then on Settings. You'll see a host of options across the top, including Labels, Inbox, Themes, etc. You'll also see Labs, which you'll click. Enabled labs and those you can enable are listed. Labs are Gmail's testing ground for cool features, so some options may come and go. Further, because these are testing features, Gmail doesn't make any guarantees about the lab apps.