Competition is heating up between Google, Microsoft and Facebook as they fight for the attention of sign makers large and small searching for free e-mail options. As the companies battle it out small business owners are set to reap the benefits by means of upgrades and additional features tailored for your sign making business needs. While installation and interfacing with your current business e-mail set-up may take a bit of work, it is well worth the effort. Here are the top 4 free online e-mail services for small businesses, including Facebook’s new Messages service.

Google Gmail

Gmail is possibly the most popular option for free online email sources, and with good reason. Google takes everything it does seriously, and its e-mail services come as no exception. Constantly searching for ways to better itself, you are likely to never see an end to new, useful features with Gmail, ones perhaps you never even knew you needed. Take the Priority Inbox option for example. This feature allows Gmail to intelligently guess which emails are of the utmost importance to you. You train the feature by marking emails as priority or not. It also modifies itself according to what emails you open first, sensing those are priority. Believe me when I tell you, this can save tons of time previously spent sifting through your inbox. Google has some of the best folder options, making it easy to organize and locate emails. You can also upgrade to Google’s business email, Google Apps Mail, and use Google mail to manage a e-mail address. Gmail isn’t perfect though; long email conversations can be hard to manage, and the offline version of Gmail isn’t easy to navigate. Gmail:

Microsoft Live Hotmail

Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft’s free e-mail service, has recently been added to the arsenal of online business tools that make up Office Web Apps. Hotmail is easy to navigate; the inbox layout is clean, folders are easy to understand, search, and control. The Sweep feature, for example, allows you to move all information contained in one folder at a moment’s notice. If you don’t like the way looks, then you can use the second e-mail domain option recently added –, which looks a touch more professional. Hotmail doesn’t do well syncing with outside e-mail software other than Microsoft’s Outlook. Integration with other calendars and software can be difficult, and emails are not easily tagged and organized. While Hotmail may work for small businesses, if yours is growing it would be best to investigate other options.

Facebook Messages

While it isn’t exactly your standard e-mail server, Facebook is testing the waters with a new, limited-release test version of an upgraded messaging system. This new invention takes the norms of social networking (messaging, commenting, and wall posts) and combines them with standard short messaging services and an @facebook e-mail address. If your company has an active Facebook account, getting on the Facebook e-mail services might be a good way to increase your marketing campaign with the simple addition of an e-mail address. Your customers might well respond with less pressure after receiving a Facebook message. On the downside, social media can be a very powerful and dangerous tool. When interacting with employees or vendors, you will likely want to use a more secure means of communication. A confidential Facebook message could too easily wind up being a public Wall Post. Keep Facebook, messages included, for marketing and advertising. Facebook Messages: