All professionals need a personalized email address and a home on the web. And Gmail accounts and Facebook pages don't count.
- I saw a branding consultant recently without a branded email address. Who hires a brand consultant who doesn't invest in their own brand?
- I saw a company trying to recruit managers... just email an AOL account. (In case you are wondering, the company wasn't recruiting for AOL.)
- I was trying to find out information on a store in town and all they had was a Facebook page that hadn't been updated in a couple of months.
I don't really care what your business is — from a home-based business to a large corporation — if you don't have a real email address with your own domain name, I'm less likely to take you seriously. And if your only web presence is a Facebook page, you don't have a real business.
Look. I get it. It's easy to get by with the free accounts. A penny saved is a penny earned. Absolutely. But investing in a domain name and a Google apps account? It's not that expensive. Without your own domain, you send a message to all your clients and potential clients that you can't or won't invest in your own company.
It used to take some effort to get on the Web a decade ago, but now, services like Squarespace provide great solutions for small businesses and take care of hosting, e-commerce and more. Like Gmail? That's fine. You can customize your address with Google Apps. Other services like Hover can help you get your domain and email set up. There are seriously hundreds of services to help you look professional. It's not that hard and not that expensive.
Having a professional online appearance is every bit as important as dressing appropriately or speaking intelligently. It's a necessary investment that lets people know that you are serious about your business.
Unless you aren't serious about your business. And then, I guess, any email address or website will do.