2003 a Big Year for Small Businesses

Monday Dec 29th 2003 by Patricia Fusco
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As you gear up for 2004 and attempt to forecast how technology will impact your business, we thought it would be helpful to take look back at the stories that topped the SmallBusinessComputing.com charts in 2003.

As it's nearly year-end and we prepare for what promises to be an eventful 2004, we take a moment to look back at some of our readers' favorites articles in 2003. Join us for the best of Small Business Computing.com.

Taxing Times
When it comes to small business news and trends, the hot topic at the beginning of 2003 was TurboTax setting a limit on its software to ensure single use. In its 18th tax season (the 2001 calendar year), TurboTax was the No.1-selling tax-preparation software program. According to third-party research, TurboTax owned 71 percent of the market in 2002, at least when it comes to units sold. For its 2002 version, Intuit announced it would build new anti-piracy systems into its software. Many customers of the popular tax-reporting software learned about the change early in 2003 as they installed the application to begin their 2002 tax returns.

Mid-year, taxes were still at the forefront of our consciousness. Congress made it a little easier for small businesses to invest in growing their businesses through new technologies. One of the provisions of the tax cut package passed in June is a quadrupling of the expensing limit for small businesses to purchase capital equipment. The tax cut increases the amount of investment in equipment that a small business can write off in the first year from $25,000 to $100,000. The tax cut also allows small businesses to depreciate 50 percent of the cost in the first year that the new equipment is put in service — as long as it's before Jan. 1, 2005.

Meanwhile, at the end of the year, hopes for renewing the Internet tax ban faded. Sharp divisions over the duration of Internet access and e-sales taxes, and definitions thereof, tied up both houses of Congress. The result is that no action is expected until Jan. 2004. The movement to revive the Internet access tax ban essentially died on Nov. 1. Let's hope a two-year extension hits Capitol Hill in January.

Big Year for Small Business Software
The year was filled with plenty of product debuts. We saw IBM rev up its Express series of software solutions. Symantec's PC Anywhere 11.0 received rave reviews for providing a safe and secure telecommuting solution for small offices. And any Internet security system from Symantec and McAfee consistently received top marks from our readers. Customer relationship management (CRM) software hasn't exactly taken the small business market by storm. In November, enterprise software giant SAP sharpened its focus on bringing CRM software the SMB market by adding new features to its Business One offering. SAP's take on CRM and SMBs is that to date small business have managed customer relationships adapting contact managers, spreadsheets and other other tools.

However, one software major maker stole the show — Microsoft. Based the popularity of our articles covering the Microsoft Office System and Small Business Server software, we had to set up a special series of articles just to cover the relevant product debuts coming out of Redmond, Wash.

That's not to say that Microsoft is not challenged by developments in open source software. OpenOffice.org took another step in its quest to secure a place in the small office with the release of OpenOffice.org 1.1, an alternative business productivity suite. The new version is an open source challenge to Microsoft's dominance in the space, though it faces an uphill battle with Microsoft owning more than 90 percent of the market.

Hardware Gets Better, Costs Less
Based on our readership, Dell's Inspiron 8600 should be the best selling notebook of the year. Either that or gamers invaded our Web site just for the review of the high-powered, wide-format portable PC.

All-in-one devices for printing, scanning and copying remained popular this year — particularly with small and home offices. HP's PSC 1210 flatbed scanner/copier/printer was not the first all-in-one device to reach the low price of $149, but the multi-function device appears to be one of the best. Our review of the HP PSC 1210 landed in our top 20 articles from March through August.

Of course, the question "how much PC does $1,000 get you" is a frequent one among our readers. The latest update to our series of quarterly shopping sprees, as prepared by the hard-working folks at sister site HardwareCentral.com, consistently ranked among our top stories — four times a year.

Online Marketing
Figuring out how to make the most of small business e-mail and online marketing budgets is always a hot topic. When Ecommerce-Guide.com joined the Small Business Channel in June, we essentially doubled our coverage of the trials and tribulations of selling goods and services on the Web.

Each week we journey along with Beth Cox, our blooming Web entrepreneur, as she sets up shop on eBay. We revisit the basic elements of e-commerce and learn how to avoid the perils of fraudulent scams.

E-commerce software is also a hot topic among the do-it-yourself crowd. Our e-commerce software challenge was one of our most popular articles in November. Meanwhile, our coverage of eBay programsfor small businesses also received rave reviews from our loyal readers.

Running a Web-based business requires managers and owners to wear many hats — developer, designer, marketer and others. To help readers looking for a little advice, we launched the E-Commerce Makeover Series in 2003 and introduced you to the five finalists in September and winner in October. The makeover is still a work in progress and we'll keep you posted in 2004.

Web Management
Speaking of the do-it-yourself crowd, you may have noticed that we have expanded our how-to articles throughout the year. From setting up a FTP server to sharing a broadband connection, our readers learned how to make the most of their small office systems.

Other hot how-to topics throughout the year included simple ways to keep a network secure, painless backup solutions, and how to troubleshoot XP network connections.

New for 2004
You might notice a few changes the next time you visit us. We're going to be adding another section to handle all the product announcements we don't have time to cover on a daily basis. This special section will be appropriately dubbed Small Business Product Watch — watch for the debut early in the New Year.

Also new for 2004 is our first ever Excellence in Technology Awards. If you haven't already voted for the top products introduced in 2003, please take a moment to do so now. Winners will be announced on or around January 19, 2004.

Our Buyer's Guides remained one of the top destinations for many readers this year. So popular, in fact, that we're brining our Buyer's Guides back as a major section in SmallBusinessComputing.com soon. This section, in addition to our Online Forums, will be the talk of the town — or at least the Web site.

All trends are indicating that small- and medium-sized businesses will be a hot topic among major hardware and software vendors next year ... and for several years to come. So we'll be here, ready to deliver the facts to your desktop, five days a week, to help you choose new technology as well as use what you have to run your business wisely.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
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