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What Does Your Email Say About You? Free Is Fine But . . . (Part 1 of 3)

If you are looking to streamline, upgrade or change your email communications you would probably want to know what all the options are – right? Starting with this post, we’ll explore the email landscape, so to speak, identifying the different kinds of emails, how they work, what they cost and the pros and cons of using them.

We’ll start the series with a look at free email services, the ones that most people primarily use for personal communications.

Free Email Services
The top free email providers I would recommend are Yahoo and Google’s Gmail.

> Google GmailThe upside of using Gmail is it is conveniently tied into the rest of the Google-sphere (Calendar, Docs, Drive, YouTube, Analytics, etc.) and so many people I know love it.  I have tried it, but I still find its interface counter-intuitive and confusing.   Maybe it’s just me, because I know so many people LOVE it. 

> Yahoo Mail – I have used Yahoo Mail for years and years and years.  I was a pretty big fan until the recent redesign (becoming more like Gmail), server outages and hacking problems.  Regardless, I like the format and think they have a pretty terrific search function.

> If you still have AOL, MSN or Hotmail as part of your email address, it means you probably haven’t been hacked and that you are perfectly fine with the service.  If you are looking to upgrade,  I wouldn’t advise using one of these as they can be viewed as technologically out of date.

> If you are using or choose to use a free service from your Internet provider or Mac (think Optonline, Bellsouth, me.com, mac.com), their services typically work well  (though their interfaces sometimes seem clunky) but remember you are then tethered to those provides and would lose your account if you switch providers.

Not matter which free service you might use, I implore you to do three things now (and on a regular basis) before crisis makes you realize “shoulda, coulda, woulda”:

1)   Back up your contacts – Just because you have a “contact” list within your email service, doesn’t mean that you have access to it if your account is hacked or shut down unexpectedly.  Backing up your contacts on your hard drive or in the cloud will allow you to have an easy-to-retrieve file from which you could upload your contacts and stay connected to your peeps.  This is especially important if you are planning to create a new email for business or professional purposes.

2)   Save important emails outside of your email program – Given that these free services offer practically unlimited capacity and pretty decent search options, many us have started treating our inboxes like filing cabinets (Hello, 16,000+ emails in my inbox!). Again, should your free email service ever become inaccessible, say good-bye to all of those images, documents, letters and important information that you meant to save.

3)   Change your password frequently – This is a regular habit of mine and I believe has helped keep my account free from hackers. (Though now I ‘ve probably jinxed it – right?)

Conclusions about using free email services . . .
Upside: Free is free!
Downside: Free is great but it’s not so great, when your account has been hacked or you get completely locked out of your account due to server outages.   Free usually means that customer service requires hours of navigating through ineffective help support FAQs (none of which are relative to your problem) to finally find a functioning help request form that takes 24 hours response time.  This is not good for your mental state or stress level when one of your major sources of communication goes kaput!

Coming up next in the “What Does Your Email Say About You” series:

  • Personalized/Business emails – What are the options?
  • Third party email services – What do they do and why do I need them?

Please share in the comments:  What email service do you use and why?  Have you had a nightmare email story? Do you have an email tip or trick you’d like to share?

Making More Meaningful Holiday Connections

When it comes to communicating and connecting during the holidays, we have a standing principle around here: if you are going to make the effort, then show that it means something – don’t just do it, to do it.

If you are choosing to send cards, give gifts or throw holiday parties, you probably want to give the project meaning and not just be doing something to tick off of your your very long to-do list. Right?

Well, it is not as overwhelming as it seems. Following these 4 simple steps will not only make your holiday message stand out but it will allow you to appreciate the process as much as the receiver appreciates the effort.

1) Be intentional – Take the time this season to think about who you are connecting with and why you are doing it. At a minimum, personalize cards by writing the recipient’s names on the card and a quick message.  Or if you are seeing people and spending time with them over the holiday season at parties or events, don’t feel compelled to send cards at all.  Actually visiting with someone might be of greater value than an impersonal card or gift.

Or consider sending something that benefits someone else, whether it’s a card that supports a charity or helps someone less fortunate.  Here are few great ideas for doing good works while spreading holiday cheer:
–       Cards That Give
–       Holiday Mail for Heroes
–       Heiffer International

And if you are gift giving, think about giving experiences (less wrapping) rather than items that might get re-gifted.  It will mean more to the receiver and probably create great memories.  We sometimes make activity coupon books for the boys that they can cash in throughout the year or think about planning an adventure or a special trip as a gift.

2) Make it a team effort – Get your family or employees involved.  Their participation doesn’t have to stop at smiling for the camera to get “THE holiday card picture.”  Let them be part of the design process or encourage them to make a contribution to the year-in-review letter (or make a video – see below) or encourage them to sign cards, too.  At the very least, let your team help with the addressing and stuffing (and wrapping, if you are sending gifts). You might find you have interesting conversations and ideas as they review the recipients.

3) Do something different – Some of my favorite holiday missives over the years were not store bought or custom-printed, but were wonderful homemade creations (that don’t necessarily require creative artistic talent at all).  My cousins have sent a CD of their favorite holiday music and my sister’s family typically does a “Top 10” list. One year we did a crossword puzzle instead of family letter and a few years ago, we started a family blog.  Or think about sending a card that keeps on giving like this bloomin’ card that has seeds for planting in spring.

And who says you have to send cards (or gifts) anyway?  In the time that you would spend “doing your holiday cards” you could:
Call your 10 nearest and dearest (family, friends or clients) and schedule get-togethers in the new year.
– Make a holiday greeting video or a slide show and email it.  Better yet, make a few individual videos personalized for the receiver.
Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  Your friends and clients will understand that is probably more meaningful and impactful anyway.

4) Be authentic and show your personality – Make sure your message or gifts show who you really are and what is important to you. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing or expecting.

Our accountant is a great example as he sends a card with beautiful drawing by his artistic daughter each year – really special.   We also look forward to a very clever card from family friends with Christmas themed words (Peace, Love, Hope) spelled out with members of the family shaped into the letters. (I’ll try and find a picture to post). Another family we know doesn’t send their cards until January or February, which means their card usually gets more attention.

So don’t worry about the haircuts, matching colors and deadlines. Don’t be perfect, be who you are and if you are going to do anything this holiday season, make it as meaningful to you as it is to the recipient.

Here are some further resources for making the most of your holiday messages:
Free Download – 250 Holiday Stock Photos – Hubspot
25 Ways to Boost Your Personal Brand During the Holidays – Jill Celeste
Holiday Card Sites That Do the Mailing For You – Techlicious
Tips for Holiday Emails: Design, Support, and Social Media – Mailchimp

So what will you be doing different this holiday?  What other ideas, examples or resources would you include in this post?  Let me know in the comments and please share this article if you think others might benefit from seeing it.  Thanks.

Happy, happy, merry, merry, jingle and a little gobble!