Three practical reasons to use your own domain for email:
Yes it looks unprofessional and cost just makes it look worse. Think about it like this: If you won't spend 20 bucks to setup an email on your own domain then how seriously do you take your own business? How could you expect someone else to take it seriously?
Any free mail address is totally unprofessional.
Get a domain for yourself or your business and use that.
My house cleaner has an @aol.com on her business card. For that type of business, I am OK with it. My plumber is a @yahoo.com.
Anything further up the food chain in terms of clients you are serving better have @yourdomain.
Absolutely! Just this week, when hiring creative talent for a small gig, I discounted a couple applicants solely on account of their unprofessional email addresses. Tip: a company named Net Identity owns many MANY common surnames. If they own your surname, as the do mine, there's a chance you could have email@example.com. It's not free...at all... but it looks impressive in email inboxes and resume headers.
If you have your own domain name, it's NOT OK to use email addresses like @aol.com. Why not use your own domain name. I know many non technical people do not know this fact but whoever built their site, should know.
I am trying to read from the email address with whom I I'm talking to. Either is a customer email, or new lead or potential partner, I am looking at the email address.
To some people this could be ridiculous, but people without their domain email often have a need to be hidden for some reason. I am not talking about plumbers here, but business people.
In the situations where I need to go on the low profile, I used to use gmail accounts. Nothing illegal there, just privacy was necessary due to some business reasons.
Bottom line, definitely email address with your own domain name is important, it gives confidence in you (please back it up with proper site :) ) and looks much more professional.
Not only does it add credibility but it gives you control over its usage. Some of those hosted free email solutions have limits on its usage, and you share ip space with some unsavory people.
Imagine trying to email your latest client, and just because some viagra spammer is on that same physical server, your perfectly good email gets put in their blacklist. Not in a spam folder where they can fish it out, just off of their radar because that whole server sent thousands of spams to the clients server. If you have your mail hosted with a paid host, you can control this much more closely.
If it becomes a problem there as well, and email is very important to your core business, then you can pay a little more and be assured delivery by acquiring a static ip for your email communications, usually only a few more dollars a month at a respectable hosting provider.
There is no excuse for not having email to your own domain. Google apps is free, domains cost $7-12 a year. Hotmail and yahoo in particular look clueless/out of date.
I'm not sure why but my feeling is that Gmail is the least worst of the possibilities if you have to put it in a business card. Then comes Yahoo, and finally Hotmail, which is unacceptable to do business with.
Most people have their company's email, and use Gmail for private email. So the fact that you have a Gmail account does not necessarily mean you can't afford your domain name, it may just mean that you consider the other party SO IMPORTANT that you give him/her your PERSONAL EMAIL! It has actually some cache to it...
As a sales/marketing and business management type, I'd also add that have your own domain and associated email address adds a bit of credibility for little money. It also implies that you've invested in your business - even "the little things".