Best email hosting for small business 2021

Email seems simple as a user, but that’s because your email provider is taking care of all the complexity on the back end. If you’re just starting out, you can get by with [email protected], but as your company grows and you want to give each staff member their own email account, you’ll need to invest in a dedicated email hosting service. 

There’s a better way to deal with email.

Automate your inbox

While technically, you can still host your own email server, it’s complicated, unpleasant for everyone to use, and likely not a good use of anyone’s time. And the best email hosting services for business are as good as (or the same as) consumer email services like Gmail and Outlook. 

I spent time researching and testing different options, and these are the best email hosts to consider for your business.

The 5 best email hosting providers

  • Microsoft 365 for companies that use Microsoft apps

  • Google Workspace for keeping everything on the cloud (and Google users)

  • Zoho Workplace for email hosting and collaboration tools on a tight budget

  • IceWarp for user storage options

  • Fastmail for privacy

What makes a great email hosting service

How we evaluate and test apps

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Your website hosting provider may offer email hosting for an additional cost. While some of these apps and services are solid (like Titan, which is available from a few different hosting companies), others are absolutely unusable. You’ll be able to send and receive emails, but if you’ve used a modern consumer email service like Gmail or Outlook, things will understandably feel incredibly barebones. So much so that some of these services only offer desktop and mobile email syncing as a feature on higher-tier plans.

For around the same price, or at most a few dollars more per month, you can instead get a modern email client. (Two of the picks here are literally the business versions of Gmail and Outlook.) That’s why we’ve focused exclusively on dedicated email hosting services.

A lot of email hosting providers also offer additional productivity tools, from calendars and contact books to whole suites of office apps. The email service was the most important consideration, but I also took into account what additional tools each service provided as part of the whole package. (If you look at the top two apps, you’ll understand why.)

Here are the features I was looking for as I tested the apps:

  • The ability to use a custom domain. All of the email hosts featured below let you create email accounts using your company’s website domain address, regardless of where you purchased your domain name.

  • 24/7 support. If you don’t already have a systems administrator on staff, you shouldn’t need to hire one just to manage your email. I selected tools that offer around-the-clock support, so there’s always someone to help when you have questions or issues (or I noted when they don’t).

  • A great web app and mobile app. Your staff shouldn’t have to suffer through an awful email experience because you went with your web host’s default plan. I wanted services that offered a great web and mobile experience, so everyone can access email as they need to. 

  • POP3 and IMAP support. With that said, I also looked for email hosting services that allowed you to use your own favorite email app. If you like Apple Mail or Mailbird, you should be able to use it.

  • Decent amounts of mailbox and cloud storage. If your employees make business decisions or communicate with clients and customers by email, they’ll need plenty of storage room for archiving old emails. This is one area where consumer email accounts often fall short, so I looked for options that allowed for a healthy amount of both mailbox and, ideally, generic cloud storage. 

I started with a list of almost 20 companies that claimed to provide business-class hosting. Using these criteria, I narrowed the list down to around 10 that required deeper testing—the rest obviously would not meet the bar I’d set. For those 10, I signed up and went about the process of setting up an account (if I didn’t already have one). In a few cases, it quickly became apparent the app would not make the list, so I stopped. Otherwise, I generally explored the apps and their features, taking note of how easy they were to use. (This was an unusual experience at times, as I’ve been using a few of these apps as part of my tech writing jobs for more than a decade.)

As good email hosting services all offer much the same set of features, the decisions on which apps to include often came down to what extra apps they provided, and the price. While I generally try to avoid just comparing apps spec-by-spec, in some situations, it’s necessary.

(Quick note: it’s important to understand the difference between an email hosting provider and an email client. An email host is what lets you send and receive email across networks. An email client, or email app, is the application you use to write and read emails. Your email host and client do not have to be the same. For example, you can send and receive emails hosted through Google Workspace or Microsoft Outlook via a variety of desktop, web, and mobile apps. In this piece, we’re looking specifically at email hosting provider features and not always at the features of their built-in email clients. If you’re looking for an email client for your business, check out our recommendations for the best email apps.)

Best email hosting service for companies that use Microsoft apps

Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365, our pick for the best email hosting service for companies that use Microsoft apps

There are two big email hosting options: Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. Both are excellent, and it is hard to draw a line between them based on individual features. If your employees rely on Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to do their work, the best option for your email hosting is probably Microsoft 365’s Business Standard plan. (Or, if you just like Outlook. It’s a great email service.)

Microsoft 365 Business Standard bundles all of the features you need from a hosted email service—email sending and receiving, custom domain addresses, and spam and data loss prevention—along with the Office apps your employees use daily at work. With a $12.50 per user per month single subscription, you get hosted email and web, desktop, and mobile access to Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, and OneNote apps. (If you only want the web and mobile versions of apps like Word or Excel, you can also try the Microsoft 365 Business Basic plan for $6 per user per month; it’s a more direct equivalent to Google Workspace.)

In addition to the standard Office apps, Microsoft 365 Business Standard also gives your employees access to some of Microsoft’s hybrid working tools, including Microsoft Teams, the company’s competitor to team chat app Slack. And with Microsoft 365’s Zapier integrations, you can automate all those tools.

Email hosting with a Microsoft 365 subscription is provided through Microsoft Exchange, which is also available as a standalone subscription if you don’t need all of the add-on apps—at just $4 per user per month, it’s roughly the same price as some web host-provided services. And both the lowest-price standalone Exchange plan and Microsoft 365 Business Standard give each of your users up to 50GB of mailbox storage, though the Microsoft 365 Business Standard plan also includes 1TB of OneDrive storage, which can be used to share large file attachments.

  • Microsoft 365 tools: Email, calendar, contacts, file storage and sharing, file editing and collaboration, voice and video conferencing, instant messaging, team chat, internal social network, intranet, and tasks.

  • Microsoft 365 price: From $12.50/user/month for the Microsoft 365 Business Standard plan that includes hosted email for up to 300 accounts, 50GB storage per account, and access to all apps listed above; from $4/user/month for the Exchange Online Plan 1 that includes email hosting, shared calendars, and a global address list.

Best email hosting service for keeping everything on the cloud (and for Google users)

Google Workspace

Gmail, our pick for the best email hosting service for keeping everything on the cloud (and for Google users)

If your organization prefers using cloud-based tools, otherwise relies on apps like Google Drive, or you just prefer Gmail to Outlook, then Google Workspace is your best bet for email hosting.

Google Workspace is Google’s alternative to Microsoft 365, combining email hosting with the company’s own communication and collaboration apps. With a Google Workspace subscription, you get a minimum of 30GB of cloud storage space per user—though Enterprise-tier plans provide as much storage as you need—as well as shared contacts and calendars.

You also get access to Google’s entire set of workplace communication and collaboration tools, including Chat for messaging and Meet for voice/video conferencing, Google Drive for cloud file storage, Keep for note-taking, and access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides—some of the most accessible file editing and real-time collaboration tools available. If you use Google’s suite of apps, you can also automate them with Zapier. 

Google’s administration tools are simple to use as well, and increasingly have the advanced features businesses need, such as Vault for compliance archival. And since it’s still the Gmail your team already knows how to use, onboarding will be easy.

  • Google Workspace tools: Email, calendar, contacts, file storage and sharing, file editing and collaboration, voice and video conferencing, instant messaging, team chat, internal social network, intranet, and tasks.

  • Google Workspace price: From $6/user/month for the Business Starter plan that includes core Google apps and 30GB storage per user; from $18/user/month for the Business Plus plan that includes 5TB storage per user, Vault, and enhanced security and management tools.

Best free email hosting service for email and collaboration tools on a tight budget

Zoho Workplace

Zoho Mail, our pick for the best email hosting service for email and collaboration tools on a tight budget

Zoho Workplace is Zoho’s version of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, offering hosted email, calendars, and contacts, as well as Zoho’s own communication and collaboration apps: WorkDrive (for cloud storage), Office Suite (for creating and collaborating on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations), and Cliq (for team chat). You can automate Zoho Workplace with Zapier integrations for Zoho Mail, Zoho Cliq, Zoho Writer, and Zoho Connect.

It’s worth talking about the email app here too: Zoho Mail is a nice modern take on email with some handy collaboration features. Instead of sending a long message with a subject and signature every time, you can send a quick stream message to colleagues—or share an email from a client that you need to collaborate on. It includes shared email inboxes as well, so everyone on your marketing team can share the same partner and press emails, searching through them all along with their personal emails. And it’s a tabbed app, so you can switch between your inbox, calendar, and a draft email in a tap. If you don’t want any of these features, it also plays nice with any email app of your choosing—so it can just work as a great email backend.  

Zoho’s admin panel for email administration is a bit less intuitive than those of some of the other hosting services, but it makes up for it with extremely detailed step-by-step instructions for how to do just about anything you need to do on its platform.

Best of all,  if you have five or fewer employees, you can get email hosting for your business domain and Zoho’s ad-free email client for absolutely free. When you add your sixth user, you can get just Zoho Mail for as little as $1 per user per month. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s impossible to beat.

  • Zoho Workplace tools: Email, calendar, contacts, file storage and sharing, file editing and collaboration, instant messaging, and team chat (Basic plan); voice and video conferencing and internal social network (Professional plan).

  • Zoho Workplace price: Free for up to 5 users, email hosting for a single domain, and 5GB storage per user; from $4/user/month for the Standard plan that includes email hosting for multiple domains, 30GB storage per user, and access to Zoho Office Suite, Docs, and Cliq; from $7/user/month for the Professional plan that includes 100GB storage per user and access to Zoho Connect.

Best email hosting service for storage options

IceWarp

IceWarp, our pick for the best email hosting service for user storage options

IceWarp is another great email hosting option. Like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, and Zoho Workspace, it also bundles a suite of productivity tools—as well as a wild amount of storage space. If you want a lot of file storage and are happy with IceWarp’s Microsoft Word and Google Docs alternatives, it could be a great fit. One nice touch is that not everyone needs to be on the same plan, so if you and your graphic designer need lots of storage but the marketing department doesn’t, you can tweak things to save money.

IceWarp plans start at $2.80 per user per month for 5GB of email storage and 20GB of FileSync cloud storage, and go up to $8 per user per month for 500GB of email storage and a whopping 5TB of FileSync cloud storage. However, you can combine as many of each kind of plan as you want. So, for example, if ten members of your team can get by with the cheapest plan, but three need the most expensive one, then your total plan price would be $52/month, instead of having to pay for 13 seats on the most expensive plan, which would cost $104. Half the price.

In addition to email hosting and shared calendars and contacts, IceWarp also offers its own suite of collaboration tools as part of your subscription. You get access to IceWarp’s custom document, spreadsheet, and presentation editors; team chat; and voice and video conferencing.

  • IceWarp tools: Email, calendar, contacts, team chat, instant messaging, file editing, tasks, file storage and sharing, and voice and video conferencing.

  • IceWarp price: From $2.80/user/month for the Lite plan that includes 5GB email and 20GB FileSync storage per user, collaborative document editing, and basic voice/video conferencing; from $8/user/month for the Professional plan that includes 500GB email and 5TB FileSync storage per user, team chat, and desktop office apps.

Best privacy-focused email hosting service

Fastmail

FastMail, our pick for the best email hosting service for privacy

As companies, Microsoft and especially Google aren’t universally beloved. It’s understandable that some people generally try to avoid products from some of the biggest tech companies where possible. While paid enterprise products don’t tend to have the same privacy concerns as free consumer products, there is something to be said for sticking to your principles. (Although it didn’t make this list for various reasons, I personally use Hey in huge part because of this.)

If you want an independent privacy-focused email service for you and your staff, look no further than Fastmail. While it’s available to individuals, it has all the  business-focused team features needed to make this list. You can set up as many domain aliases as you want (like [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and so on) that all forward to the same central inbox. You can share calendars and contacts across your entire company, add custom branding to the app and login screen, and add a company footer to everyone’s emails. 

Fastmail also offers custom domain email addresses, but with one minor caveat. Organizations can pick which plans they need based on each user’s needs, similar to IceWarp. The $3 per user per month Basic plan doesn’t include custom domains. However, as long as at least one person in your organization is on one of the higher tiers, which start at $5 per user per month, they can share custom domains with anyone on the Basic plan. 

The biggest downside to Fastmail is that it really is just an email hosting service. For roughly the same price, you can get access to a full suite of apps from Google or Microsoft. You pay a premium for privacy going with Fastmail—but it may well be worth it to you.

  • Fastmail tools: Email, calendar, and contacts.

  • Fastmail price: From $3/user/month for the Basic plan that includes 2GB storage per user, push mail, calendar, and contacts; from $5/user/month for the Standard plan that includes 30GB storage per user and enables emailing from a custom domain for any Basic team members.

Which business email hosting provider is right for your company?

When managing email for an entire team or company, email isn’t quite the simple service you’re used to as an individual: the tools you use for your business require a bit more thought and care if you want everyone’s email accounts to play nice together.

But it can still be a set-it-and-forget-it service. With today’s cloud email hosting providers, you’ll only need a few hours to add your domain to your email service, set up new accounts for your team, and import their old data. Your service will take care of the rest, making sure your team has their emails, contacts, and calendar appointments whenever they need them. Long gone are the days when hosting your own email server was a sensible option.

Originally published in May 2017 by Matthew Guay, this post has had contributions from Matt Jessica Greene and Eric Ravenscraft. The most recent update was in August 2022.

Written by Jane