Microsoft Gives Small Biz Site a Makeover

Friday Feb 25th 2005 by Dan Muse
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Based on feedback from 20,000 small business owners, Microsoft adds new online resources to its Small Business Center.

Many small businesses are in a perpetual quandary. Because they don't have deep IT resources, owners and managers need to track down tech info themselves, but they have less time than managers in large enterprises. That's why many turn to Web-based resources, which are always accessible when the opportunity arises — often at night and on weekends.

Realizing this, Microsoft yesterday unveiled a makeover of its Microsoft Small Business Center Web site. The changes to the online resource come as the result of feedback from 20,000 customers, according to Doug Leland, general manager Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner group at Microsoft.

The survey, Leland said, indicated that small business owners are looking for answers to specific questions, contact with industry experts, help in understanding what's available, and ways to learn how to use existing tools more effectively.

Education, support and dialogue with experts are the driving forces behind the upgraded Web portal, Leland said. "Small businesses are still in their infancy in terms of realizing the potential of information technology."

To help SMBs reach their next stage of high tech development, Leland said Microsoft is trying to accomplish three goals with its Web-based resource: The software giant wants to help SMBs find the right technology, provide the right resources and tools, and connect customers to qualified partners, he said.


Microsoft Small Business Center
Security plays a prominent role in Microsoft's new-look Web-based small business resource.

Among the new features are a Security Guidance Center that includes short interactive modules designed to explain issues small-business owners should know about security. You can also test your knowledge by taking security quizzes and answering interactive questionnaires. "Security is top of mind for small businesses," said Frederic DeWulf, Web director, U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions at Microsoft. DeWulf said small businesses' approach to security is "tell me in a nutshell what I need, and I'll get someone to help me."

To help give SMBs a sense of community, the new site includes a forum where small businesses can connect with experts and peers. Microsoft has 14 "small business experts" who offer advice in various categories. The site also offers a tool that provides recommendations on the products and services tailored to a company's size, type of business and so on. You can also post questions on online forums for experts or fellow small business owners to answer.


Microsoft Small Business Center
The Microsoft Small Business Center looks to answer both technology and business-related questions.

One feature that will likely be a hit with small business owners who don't have the time or inclination to explore all the features of their existing applications is the addition of interactive content (including training videos) that shows customers how get more out of products they already own. It will, for example, include a series of Microsoft Office 2003 templates.

The use of short video clips is noticeable on the site. Leland said the Microsoft's research asked not only what type of content small businesses wanted, but also asked how they want to consume that information. Short video presentations featuring both Microsoft staffers and small business users was the answer. "They wanted a nontext alternative. They don't have a lot of time to read long documents or watch a long video."

Leland said that the Microsoft Small Business Center has 40 millions users worldwide and seven million users in the U.S. and that it is available with localized information in 50 countries.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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