Preparation is key, as is setting expectations appropriately.
I just read a story of how a lawyer sued Microsoft because his e-mail account had become inactive for two or three weeks. He had tried for days and tens of hours on hold trying to get the matter resolved. He used the email to communicate with his clients, opposing counsel and the courts. It was a real problem because he had no way to know who or when someone was communicating with him.
Is there some technical solution that I can put into place ahead of time so if that were to happen to me, I could still get my e-mail while the original email account was made active again?
Yes, there is.
My flippant answer is to not rely on free email accounts for your business. Especially not Microsoft’s. Had a paid service been used, this would have been a non-issue.
That would also be a little hypocritical on my part, though, as I manage all my business email through free email accounts. I’ve just set it up so it doesn’t matter if that account goes away.
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Losing your business email account
The most important thing you can do to avoid email account loss is to set up your email on your own internet domain. This allows you to choose and/or change the actual email provider used to send and receive email. While you should avoid publicizing free or ISP-based email addresses, having your own domain allows you to use those services safely.
Disappearing email accounts
And free accounts have little to no support. Aside from automated “forgot my password” recovery processes, there’s no one to reach out to if those don’t work.
When using a free account, you should simply assume that if something happens, you run the very real risk of losing the account permanently and without recourse.
Disappearing email addresses
There’s a variation of this scenario that’s less malicious in nature but just as potentially difficult.
If you or your business rely on an email address assigned to you by your ISP — something like email@example.com — you’ll have an issue if you ever move or change ISPs. As soon as you close your account with your original ISP, that email address stops working. While some ISPs have provisions to keep email addresses available even if you’re technically no longer their customer, they’re few and far between.
Even worse, in recent years we’ve seen an assortment of ISP consolidation and restructuring that has resulted in forced email address changes for existing customers. If that happens, your old email address will stop working, and you’ll have no recourse.
Own your own destiny
You can use those services and still protect yourself, though. It just takes exactly what you’re asking for: preparation. It boils down to this:
- Get your own domain.
- Example: I own “askleo.com”.
- Set up your email address on that domain.
- Example: I have “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
- Set up a third-party email service to handle the email on that domain.
- Example: I use a free Gmail account to manage all the email on email@example.com.
- Separately back up your email yourself, locally.
- Example: I use Thunderbird on one of my machines to continually download email to my PC.
I never expose my “real” Gmail address,2 only the email address on the domain I control: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your safety net
Here’s why I recommend doing all that: everything servicing your email address can change, but the email address itself never does.
For example, let’s say I lose my Gmail account.
OK, well, that’s annoying. But all I need to do is return to step 3 above:
- Set up a new third-party email service to handle the email on my askleo.com domain.
That means changing the third party service you setup originally, above, to something else. Things might be a little confused for a day or so while the change takes effect, but once complete, I’m back to using my email address, which never had to change.
That “new” third-party email service could be anything, including:
- A new Gmail account
- A new Outlook.com account
- A paid account somewhere
- An account provided by my ISP
- A service provided by my domain registrar
- Any service that meets my needs to manage email
The bar is lower here, because if anything breaks again in the future, I can simply repeat step 3 again, switching to yet another provider, all while keeping my email address intact.
A note about business emails
While it’s less true for Gmail accounts, honestly, exposing an email address on a free email service as your business email doesn’t look very professional. Some, like Hotmail email addresses, are often considered a sign of someone who doesn’t take their business seriously. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant — it’s a real stereotype. And it’s a stereotype that’s easily avoidable.
So, on top of protecting you from issues with your free email service provider, invest a little in getting your own internet domain and email address associated with your business.
If you want to protect your ability to preserve your email address, particularly if you’re a business:
- Get your own domain name.
- Establish your email address on that domain.
- Use whatever email service you like to manage, send, and receive email.
- Back up your email.
It really is that simple.
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Footnotes & References
2: Or, rather, I try to. It’s impossible to hide completely, but I don’t publish it and I don’t promote it.