Technophobes Guide


E-Mail

WHAT IS E-MAIL?

Electronic mail, or e-mail, is a fast, inexpensive way for your business to communicate, both internally or externally, to anywhere in the world. E-mail allows you to send and receive messages on your computer, either internally, between a network of computers, or externally, via a phone line linked to the Internet. You can send a message to as many recipients as you wish and also attach documents or files.

INTERNAL E-MAIL

You and your colleagues can communicate by e-mail via a network of computers.

Setting up

Hardware

All you need to use e-mail internally is two or more computers linked via a network. This enables them to communicate with each other, share data files, printers, faxes and e-mails. A Local Area Network (LAN) links computers together in an office or a building. A Wide Area Network (WAN) links computers at different sites. An expert or engineer would be needed to enable a network to be set up.

Software

E-mail software should offer the following basic features:

  • Send text e-mails
  • Attach files
  • Receive and store e-mails
  • Address book
  • Security function (to protect sensitive data)
  • Automatic message handling (to allow you to forward mail or alert you to the arrival of urgent mail )
  • Formatting features – e.g. italics, underlining, tables, spell-checks

The software needed for e-mail use, e.g. Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, will be available as part of Microsoft Office or similar start up packages. There are other software packages such as Eudora or Turnpike, which other companies or organisations might prefer.

EXTERNAL E-MAIL

With Internet access you can send and receive e-mail messages to people outside your business anywhere in the world.

Your Computer(s)

You can use almost any PC or Mac to send and receive e-mail externally, including lap top computers and PDAs (personal digital assistants) or palmtops (e.g. Psion Organiser). If you have an older computer it is worth checking that it can cope with the speed at which modern modems transfer data. It is easy and relatively inexpensive to upgrade your computer.

Phone line/ISDN/ADSL

A standard phone line is sufficient for sending and receiving e-mail but for large files of data and regular use of the Internet it is worth considering an ISDN line (or ADSL if available). Though more expensive, this will significantly speed up the transfer of information. Remember that your phone line will be engaged when you dial out, so it’s worth investing in a second phone line for your e-mail system if you intend to send lots of e-mail and access the web a lot. All the options are explained in detail in Connecting to the Internet.

Modem

The modem (Modulator/Demodulator) translates the data sent from your computer into a form that can be sent over the phone. Most modern computers come fitted with an internal modem. The faster your modem speed, the more efficiently you can send and receive data. If you have ISDN or ADSL you will be provided with the appropriate modem. Your modem may offer additional facilities including faxing and voice processing (so your computer can also be an answer phone).

Software

Your supplier can provide or advise on the software package suitable for your business. Your business package should enable you to:

  • Send text e-mails
  • Attach files
  • Receive and store e-mails
  • Dial into your office system to pick up your e-mails if you are away
  • Create entries in an address book
  • Protect your data and messages from unauthorised access by password protection
  • Automatic message handling (to allow you to forward mail or alert you to the arrival of urgent mail )
  • Formatting features – e.g. italics, underlining, tables, spell-checks

Getting connected – your ISP

The service provider transmits your messages and collects messages sent to you, which are delivered when you connect to the ISP.

More information on ISPs can be found in Section 4.

Your e-mail address

Many companies now routinely list their e-mail address alongside their postal address and phone number on company stationery. You will be allocated a unique e-mail address by your ISP which will be included in the cost. This, typically, will include your name, name of the ISP and country code. For example, yourco@ispname.co.uk.

It is advisable for companies to acquire their own domain name (URL) which means that you use your own unique business address without mentioning the ISP. For example, info@yourco.co.uk, sales@yourco.co.uk, j.bloggs@yourco.co.uk etc. This would allow, for example, all key staff within your organisation to have an e-mail address even if you only have a single user Internet Access Account into your business. Your domain is transferable between different ISPs, though bear in mind there may be a charge for this.

When typing out an e-mail address, it is usual to use lower case and it is important to spell the address correctly, including use of hyphen (-), dot (.) and underscore (_). If an e-mail address is typed incorrectly it can be either delivered to the wrong person or will ‘bounce’ back as undeliverable to your computer.

THE BUSINESS BENEFITS OF E-MAIL

E-mail offers significant benefits over phone calls, fax or the post:

E-mail saves money

Whether you are sending a message to the next town or the other side of the world, e-mail will never cost you more than the price of a local phone call because your connection is charged at local telephone rates. It also saves on postage, which can be significant if posting abroad or sending lengthy documents.

E-mail saves time

An e-mail message can be sent instantly and received within minutes, or a few hours at most. You can also send the same e-mail to numerous addresses. Compare this with a first class letter which will take at least a day to arrive – and which needs to be folded, placed in an envelope and franked before it can be dispatched.

If you don’t have e-mail you could lose the advantage of speed. Your competitors could get their quotes in before yours.

E-mail also reduces the time spent on leaving telephone messages and returning telephone calls.

E-mail is flexible

All types of documents can be sent, including spreadsheets, project plans and word documents.

E-mail is convenient

You don’t have to be on-line to read messages only to receive or send them. They will be stored until you next access the ‘net and use your e-mail software to retrieve them. This is particularly useful when contacting people abroad in different time zones.

E-mail can transform all aspects of your business

  • Marketing – keep in regular contact with your customers, sending direct mail-shots automatically by e-mail.
  • Sales – respond instantly to requests for quotes and product detail. If you set up standard forms on computer, you can considerably reduce paperwork when dealing with quotes and new orders for customers.
  • Purchasing – receive written quotes instantly via e-mail.
  • Exporting – communicate with customers world-wide for the cost of a local phone. Send documents overseas. Supply products or services that can be stored electronically (e.g. photos, architectural plans etc.)
  • Business Operations – staff and customers communicate more effectively and can easily exchange documents, whether they are in the same office or in another town or country.
  • Design and Production – speed the pace of design and production. Staff can work collaboratively on plans or documents thus reducing the time it takes for designs to be approved and production to begin.
  • Managing information – information can be shared rapidly.
  • Customer Service – improve customer service by processing queries and keeping customers informed promptly and economically.

E-MAIL ISSUES

Mailing lists – and junk mail

With the facility to send a message to thousands of addresses instantaneously, it is hardly surprising that there is a proliferation of junk mail which can swamp your inbox. It’s wise to be selective about who you give your e-mail address to. If you are unlucky enough to be the recipient of copious quantities of junk mail you should be able set your e-mail package to automatically filter incoming mail so that known junk mail (originating from a particular address or containing certain key words) is automatically deleted before it reaches you. Don’t be tempted to issue junk e-mail on behalf of your business. It is unpopular and many ISPs will terminate the account of a customer caught abusing the system.

Keeping up appearances

Whilst e-mail tends to be a more informal way of communicating than by letter, it’s important to bear in mind that it still reflects your corporate image. Poor spelling, bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, failure to indicate the subject matter of the e-mail or say who the e-mail is from are common faults. Most e-mail programmes offer a range of facilities to enhance your presentation, including spell checks, automatic signatures and inclusion of your company contact details. Make sure you and your staff use these and check regularly to ensure standards are not slipping.

E-mail and the law

The use of e-mail has grown so rapidly in such a short time that the legalities of its use are still being determined. In theory if you can verify the source of a document then it can be used as documentary evidence in a court of law. However, it is always better to back up a contract with a hard copy containing signatures of the parties involved. E-mails can be deleted! Obtain professional legal advice if you have any specific queries

The EU is currently working on a framework to ensure security and trust in e-mail and general electronic communications.

Companies should have a clearly defined policy concerning business and personal use of e-mail and should ensure that they are not exposed to the risk of claims for sexual harassment or defamatory or offensive content. All e-mails sent out should have a disclaimer and must comply with the Data Protection Act.

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