Which email provider would be best for your startup? The answer depends on your situation, storage needs, security demands, budget, and sometimes other factors. Free email providers are great for your budget, but they may lack some of the features of a paid service that you need.

Appearance and function are the two most vital features in an email provider. What your email looks like will shape your business reputation, and its ability to handle all communication and collaboration needs effectively is essential for your operations.

For a great startup email provider, here are five essential factors to consider.

1. Start with Free

Pretty much every startup owner begins the journey with a free email address like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. It’s an easy way to send and receive emails, collaborate with employees, and more.

In many cases, a free email address provider works fine, especially if you’re a one-man/woman show, or you don’t use email a lot for communication with customers.

After a while, though, your personal email might not cut it. You’ll require something a little more versatile to handle greater traffic yet maintain organization. You’ll also need stronger security to shield your sensitive information and that of your customers.

A paid email provider is also crucial for anyone who hopes to establish a memorable brand. Free email providers don’t allow you to use your brand in the address. Being able to place your domain name in your email address makes the brand look more credible and will facilitate growth.

2. Avoid Nicknames and Unprofessional Wording

Using a branded email is a great way to expand the credibility of your brand. Nicknames, unprofessional wording, and other random jargon in your email address will destroy that professional veneer, however.

Catlover432@hotmail.com doesn’t exactly scream certified entrepreneur. Whether you’re using a free or paid email service, stick to variations of your first and last name in your address.

This looks even better if you use your domain name with a paid email service. Jsmith@mikespizza.com has a much more professional ring. It’s a classic that never goes out of style.

3. Prioritize Security

Paid or unpaid, your email can use security protection, especially if your business model involves transactions with customers’ sensitive information. Personal and financial data attached to an email are prime targets for hackers and cybercriminals: about 60 percent of small businesses report experiencing a cyber-attack.

There are many ways to secure your email, including strong passwords, two-factor authentication, phishing filters, and email encryption. You can also apply advanced data protection and privacy options to your email if you learn how.

4. Define the Storage Space

Few headaches are worse than having to delete emails constantly so you can receive your incoming mail, or finding out you can’t attach a file because it’s too big. These are two of the biggest frustrations of using a free service.

You might not notice when you’re a small operation, but as you grow, your limited free service provider can restrict you in many ways. Paid services offer extended storage space for your email, larger attachment capabilities, greater security, and other must-have features.

Unless your business stays at startup size, you’ll have to make the switch from free to paid at some point.

5. Seek Collaboration Tools

Email has become far more than just a simple communication tool. It’s also useful for collaborative efforts, so using an email provider that has a variety of collaboration functions can be invaluable.

For example, Outlook and Gmail provide calendars that sync with your inbox. Other employees can send calendar invites, and you’ll see the updates immediately on your calendar.

Email threading makes it easier to follow colleague conversations. Storage and file sharing services enable everyone to stay on the same page. Instant messaging lets team members communicate in real time. Filtering services simplify organization. Look for an email provider that offers all the bonus features you need.

Employed in combination, these tips will enable you to navigate email selection. You need a service that will facilitate simple communication and collaboration without risking the security of both your and your customers’ sensitive information.

Select your option with these criteria in mind.