Dear startup founder, please save some bucks $$.

So you finally decided to start your own business which could be freelancing, a fully established business or an NGO. Whichever group you fall into, you’ll have to communicate with clients or customers. Also, in other for people to take you seriously, there are some basic things your just have to put in place. These things range from tax requirements, legal papers and of course a custom email like ( which is our focus for today).

Having a custom domain name for your emails is sacrosanct, if not people will think you are just another joker sending emails that are supposed to reside in a spam or trash folder. If you don’t think a custom domain email is important, trust me; you are probably a joke. But when Google Suite and others cost about $5 per user per month, being a joke could be an option.

However, in this article we’ll use an email service provider called Zoho that gives us up to free 25 users as the time of publishing this article.

For small startups and NGOs, cash is always hard to get. And if you happen to be in Africa or especially Nigeria, many of the services you need that are not local: such as custom email, highly available cloud servers, project management tools etc. would be priced in US Dollar, something so rare to get these days. No thanks to some banks who no longer allow dollar payments with a Naira ATM Card. But hey! Flutterwave came to our rescue when they created Barter, a product that can help you create a virtual card in any international currency.

Enough of the long speech, let’s dive into the business of the article which is to do the following;

  1. Buying a domain name.
  2. Pointing your DNS from your registrar to Digital Ocean.
  3. Creating a free zohomail business account.
  4. Verify domain ownership and create first email.


Buying a domain is as easy as abc with lots of name registrars now available. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll use a domain bought on Upperlink a domain name provider based in Lagos, Nigeria. You can also consider other providers. Depending on the top level domain in question, your domain name should be available for usage after about 1hr to 7 days.

Point Your Name Servers To Digital Ocean

  • After buying your domain name, login to your domain name provider’s dashboard, click on manage domains and the click on new domain you bought.
  • Next click on mange nameserver.
  • Select `Use custom name server` and update the nameserver values of your cloud provider. For this tutorial we’ll use DigitalOcean. The default nameserver values for Digital Ocean is,, Your screen should look like this;
  • Once you update the name servers for your cloud provider, switch to your digital ocean account. If you’re new to digital ocean then signup here. Good enough your card won’t be charged by digital ocean for just the mail service.
  • Enter your billing information, verify your account and login to your digital ocean dashboard.
Always be careful and pay attention to details when dealing with domain names. Any mistake especially in DNS updates can make your domain unavailable for a period of time. Which can negatively impact your business.

Create a free zohomail account

I stumbled on zoho mail sometime in 2014 and since then I’ve not looked back in using them to setup custom email for anyone who requests. I’m sure you must have guessed my major reason;). They give me up to 25 users for free. Wawu!! Who wouldn’t go for that with the state of the economy ? Setting up your zoho account is pretty straight forward, follow the steps below to create yours.

  • Go here to create your free zoho account.
  • Because you have already bought the domain name on another domain name provider, select Sign up with a domain I already own option. Your form should look like this.. Remember to use a strong password :).
  • Click on the signup button and zoho should send a verification code to the phone number you provided. The will serve as the admin and first email created on the account.
  • Enter the verification code sent and click on verify my mobile button. Zoho should take you to a dashboard to start your domain verification.
The domain verification step is an important part of our setup because that is the only way zoho as a mail service can send and receive emails using the domain you bought earlier on your preferred domain name provider.

Domain Verification on Zoho

  • From the drop down, select your DNS Manager. My DNS manager which in this case is Upperlink isn’t on the list so I’ll just select the last option others. The various verification options which are CNAME , TXT and HTML Methods will display on the screen.

Don’t fidget if you have never heard of CNAME, TXT or HTML. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll use the CNAME method for our domain verification. Simply put CNAME basically means another name/alias for your domain. A domain name can have multiple CNAMEs. Let’s save the CNAME tutorial for another day.

In the next few lines we’ll enter that values shown under the CNAME verification section on our digital ocean dashboard.

Let’s go to our digital ocean dashboard created earlier, add our domain name and verify the domain.

Here are the steps to do that;

  • Login to your digital ocean dashboard.
  • Click on the Networking tab and enter the domain name you bought. As you can see in the image below mine is
  • Click on the Add Domain button.
  • After the domain has added successfully, click on the CNAME tab to update the values displayed on the zoho verification page.
NOTE: I had some technical issue pointing my domain name( from Upperlink to Digital Ocean which I have reported to DigitalOcean and they are working on it. So I’ll update the article once it’s fixed. However you can drop any question you have in the comments section. Or if you need to setup a custom email, I can help the first person who indicates interest and then complete the article while doing the setup.

Final Words

So far we’ve been able to see how to purchase a domain name and then create zoho and digital ocean accounts. We also started the process of verifying our domain name. I’m sure this will help you save some dollars in the first few months of your business until you grow more than 25 users. For those who are already paying for a mail service and is no where near 25 users, it’s also possible to port your mail provider.

In the future updates, I’ll share how to add SPF/DKIM records for your domain and also how to ensure emails sent from your domain are not seen as spam by other mail clients.

You can reach me @amos_bube on twitter for any questions. The only fee you have to pay if you found the piece useful is to clap and share the article:) so that others can also benefit from it.

Thanks to ADÉDÈJÌ ỌLỌ́WẸ̀ of SystemsSpec for also inspiring this article.

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