• A domain name.
  • Access to your domain name settings (known as DNS records).
  • About 20 minutes of free time.

Similar to Google Apps, there is a free 1-month trial of Office 365 and the service I’ll be configuring today is Office 365 For Small Business.

You can register for a free 1-month trial of Office 365 at the Office 365 Trial page. You’ll need to scroll down to find the business options.

Select Try Now and then complete the following registration form.

In the second part of the form, you’ll be asked to enter your desired user ID. Once you enter the first part (your username), the company name is autofilled into the box next to it.

So we can be up and running straight away, Microsoft provide all users with acompanyname.onmicrosoft.com address which can be replaced by a domain name at any time.

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be automatically logged into your new Office 365account, where you’ll be prompted to enter a mobile number and confirm your backup email address in case you lose access to your account.

And with that, you’re now registered for Microsoft Office 365! You can access your service at any time by visiting the Office 365 portal and signing in with your account.

Now that we have a fully working Office 365 service, it’s time to configure it for email. Doing so will not only verify our domain name but also configure it to use for mail routing in one go, making it a little more straightforward than having to verify the domain name and then configure it for mail routing.

At the moment, we could simply use our companyname.onmicrosoft.com email address straight away, but since we’re wanting a more professional email address anyway, let’s just go ahead and set everything up now.

Within the Office 365 portal, select the first option called email address.

You’ll then be shown a screen entitled Change your Office 365 email address to use@yourcompany.com.

When you’re ready, click on start now and enter your domain name that you wish to use with Office 365.

Select the options that best suit you with regards to existing email and website. I’ve selected that I’ve not been using email with this domain name before and that I don’thave a website, even if you do. You’ll find out why a little later on.

Once you’ve chosen your selected options, click next.

As you can see, Microsoft has provided me with multiple steps to complete:

  • Confirm I own my domain name.
  • Update existing Office 365 email addresses.
  • Add more users to my Office 365 service plan.
  • Complete the process.

We can perform all of these steps consecutively and can even start them straight away. Let’s go through these step-by-step.

When you’re ready, select start step 1.

You can select your domain registrar from the list or get the options manually. Similar to setting up Google Apps, selecting a registrar on the list provides step-by-step instructions to making the necessary changes.

Although my registrar, Godaddy, is on the list, for the purposes of this guide I’ll be configuring the options manually. Select general instructions from the drop down menu and then click next.

Similar to Google Apps, verifying our domain name requires adding a DNS record. In a new tab or window, log in to your domain registrar and launch their DNS editor.

Microsoft provide two ways of verifying your domain name and either can be used. Unless you have a specific requirement, I would recommend just adding the TXTrecord.

We just need to add a new TXT record with the information Microsoft has provided us. Here’s what it would look like when adding it to Godaddy.

It can take up to a few hours for the changes to take effect, depending on your domain registrar. I’d suggest waiting a few minutes after making and saving the changes, then attempting to verify.

Once Microsoft has verified your domain name, we can move on to the next step. Click finish.

As the email address created when we registered used@companyname.onmicrosoft.com, Office 365 will update this to our newly verified domain name. Simply confirm you wish to do so and that’s all there is to it.

Now that we’ve changed our email address, we’ll need to log back in. Enter yournew email address and existing password (the one we specified when setting up theOffice 365 trial) and you’ll be logged back in to the portal.

Don’t worry that you might have to start the step-by-step guide again, we can carry on where we left off just by selecting the email address button again, which will have 2 of 4 steps completed (written underneath).

At this stage, you can add more users if you wish. Remember, you will be paying per user per month for additional users once the trial expires. I’ll be skipping this step as it will just be me using the service, for now.

Now that we have verified our domain name and updated our email settings, the final task is to configure how our mail is routed.

Every domain name has something called an MX Record. These records are basically a domain name or IP address of a particular mail server. So when an email is sent to yourname@yourdomain.com, the mail server sending the email looks at the domain name yourdomain.com to see what the mail server details are. Once it has them, the message is then passed to it, where it’s then placed in the user’s inbox. Without these records, email just doesn’t function.

Office 365 prefers, if possible, to manage your entire domain name and that means being in control of your domain’s DNS settings. Rather than adjusting your domain name’s MX records, Office 365 would prefer to manage your entire domain name and ask you change the name servers. What this means is that instead of going to your registrar to alter DNS settings, you’d do so within the Office 365 portal.

Whilst this is meant for ease of use, I’d recommend avoiding this approach. There’s actually nothing wrong with having your DNS managed by Office 365 and, in some ways, it is more convenient. For me, I prefer to have my email, web hosting and DNS all managed separately. That way, if either my mail or web host go down then there’s less chance of it having a knock-on effect on another service. Instead, we’ll just do the same as we do with Google Apps and adjust the MX records manually.

Within the step-by-step guide, select save and close and, when you confirm this, you’ll be back at the main portal screen. On the far right, select Manage your website and email domains.

Select your domain name from the list and then click where it says Verified.

It doesn’t look like there’s much information here but it’s actually hidden from view. Click where it says DNS records created automatically by Office 365 to reveal the information we need.

If you completed our Google Apps article then you’ll know there were a number of MX records to configure. With Office 365, there’s actually just one, but there are two more DNS records that we need, a TXT record and another called a CNAME. This lets us add our email address into many Exchange mail apps and it will automatically configure the settings appropriately, something that proves very useful.

Make a note of both the MX and CNAME labelled autodiscover, as well as the TXTrecord that starts v=spf1.

Add these three DNS records to your registrar’s control panel and your mail routing configuration is set up and ready to go.

Now we’ve finished all our hard work, it’s time to actually test our mail settings and see if they’re all working. Remember that DNS settings can take time to update so if you find something doesn’t work straight away, give it a little more time and try again.

Launch your preferred mail app, eg. Apple Mail, and use the following settings to log in:

  • Account Type: Microsoft Exchange
  • Username: Your email address
  • Your Password: The password you have set
  • Server: Your domain name

As we added an option for email apps to “autodiscover” our mail server settings, any Microsoft Exchange-compatible email app should notice this and automatically discover the correct settings. Without any further information, we have successfully added a new email account that will allow us to send and receive mail.

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