How we host our email
Each website we own is hosted by a shared website hosting service. Even our bigger more data heavy platforms can be hosted relatively cheaply on our hosting provider. Our hosting provider provides a decent email hosting package which provides optional extras;
- Paid email backup.
- Paid junk email management.
The challenge with optional extras is they still come with their own maintenance overhead. There are increased challenges with GDPR.
We want to propose how we have set up our email management. This may be of interest for clients and non-clients alike. It is not intended as advice but as one possible approach smaller businesses may want to operate. It should be worth noting, we have written our own mailbox management software to handle;
- Rules based archiving.
- Multiple mailbox monitoring.
- Persistence to databases.
- Referral management.
Our reasons for writing email software was more for complying with regulatory requirements and to permit reporting on mailbox activity to reduce the need for manual monitoring.
How we set up our mailboxes for each of our websites
As you may know, Info Rhino sets up web data platforms for ourselves and clients alike. We try to apply common approaches to ensure we have consistency across these platforms.
Our specific set up
We have a fairly standard set of email addresses we have for each website we own. It is for you to determine whether our approach works.
- Support - Typical address used to allow users to contact us with technical queries.
- Individual Accounts - Staff will have their own email address.
|Forwarding accounts | Accounts involved in forwarding information to users, or notifying users.
- GDPR accounts - We want the ability to assist potential GDPR subject data requests.
- Customer - Customers may have sales and service queries.
Ensuring Email business continuity
Business continuity planning for emails within a small business
- Avoid loss of emails.
- Reduce spam.
- Keep maintenance low.
The importance of a centralised cloud based backup account
Whilst we cannot advise on a specific storage based provider, to ensure business continuity, we want to store all important information off of our device. Computers do fail, and always when you least want it. Popular cloud providers include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive.
What is important, is to know what to back up and how to back this up. We cannot be prescriptive on this and only give basic ideas on backing up mailboxes.
It is worth noting that our hosting provider does provide mail based backup, there may be some important reasons why doing this is not to your requirements;
- You may want to have ownership of the backup.
- You may want to encrypt the backup before saving to the cloud.
- You may not want to have a third-party in control of backing up your data.
To backup our information, we do the following;
- Ensure we have a machine which has good uptime.
- Install the cloud based client on our machine. This gives us a local drive we can copy to.
- Ensure our mailboxes are configured to save data locally.
- Include any settings you wish to be retained or potentially replicated in any backup.
- Use a commandline zipping tool to find relevant files and save them to that local instance of the drive.
- Use Windows scheduled tasks or some other mechanism to run this automatically.
- Periodically remove older backups.
The importance of using a password manager
Good practice is vital when you are a small business. Doing the small things well gives you a big advantage over less organised competitors.
We use an open source password manager. It securely stores email accounts and website logins. The software offers password generators which stops us reusing passwords across different websites.
We can store a file per client or have multiple client details within a single password database.
As a word of warning, despite there being many incredible subscription based password managers - be very careful. Open source means you have access to the code in the event the company goes bust. Sometimes, sacrificing ease of use for better protection is a necessary step.
Thunderbird Mail Client
We use Microsoft Office, in an enterprise setting - it is the go to email and calendar client. Two main sticking points with email management for small businesses;
- Microsoft Related products and add-ins tends to be quite expensive and requires quite a bit of research and testing.
- They tend to be focused around how Microsoft does things, which can be a real headache for most small businesses.
So, we use Thunderbird - it is open-source and therefore free (although we will be making a donation to them once we have complete confidence in their software). It has an inbuilt spam filter.
Understanding the difference between IMAP and POP3
Internet Mail Access Protocol is a newer email protocol. The key advantage is when you manage emails on your computer (client), it is reflected on the server. This key benefit is why we use IMAP and not Post Office Protocol with Thunderbird.
We can set up Junk Email rules, and let mailboxes remove most emails which will remove them from the server. This is a key win if you have these email accounts also set up on mobile devices.
Ensuring key Thunderbird settings and configuration are retained
Most software stores settings and key information in folders. This is a great way to ensure your settings are backed up. In our situation, with multiple websites and clients, we want to be able to replicate this relatively easily. Whilst not prescriptive, please consider the following;
Backing up folders;
Considering the importance of the message rules folder;
This file can be tokenised and replicated for different accounts.
Do research add-ins for Thunderbird
We are likely to set up some maintenance scripts as we are a software house. However, we may decide to simply buy plugins to help manage our accounts and profiles.
I prefer Outlook
Nothing stops you setting up Outlook and using that, and configuring Thunderbird to handle non-personal accounts.
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