Microsoft reinvents Office Live for SME’s as ‘free’

Microsoft is now offering its Office Live Small Business product for free to SME’s! 

Office Live Small Business is aimed at companies with ten or fewer employees and to date has pulled in over 600,000 subscribers, which is somewhat modest by Microsoft standards.

New features include Store Manager, a $39.95 per month ecommerce tool for small and medium-sized business to sell their wares online either through their own website or on eBay; and a beta email marketing add-on for newsletter production.

Customers can expect to stump up $14.95 for each subsequent year that they have a domain name registered on the service. Anyone who subscribes to Office Live Small Business will be able to keep their personal information out of the public Whois database, Microsoft says.

Microsoft is also supporting the Firefox 2.0 web browser – which means Office Live will be accessible on non-Windows-based systems.

The service is currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan.

Microsoft’s press release is here.

I’m surprised the Office Rocker hasn’t blogged about it 😉

Do small firms really need a website?

Thanks to all for sending me a link today’s BBC News article, discussing whether small firms really do need a website?

The evolution of the Web is changing the way consumers are interacting with web sites and businesses. Online tools such as blogs, podcasts and wikis are allowing consumers to ‘actively’ contribute and participate whilst online. In essence, the web today has become more ‘social’.

As the BBC article states, just over half of the UK’s small businesses have a web presence. Indeed, this a very small number the vast majority of those with websites offer nothing more than an ‘online brochure’.
A few pages of business description, a list of goods or services for purchase and some contact details. As a consumer with endless choices to purchase good and services, why should I buy from you?

Unless a small business can offer something ‘different’, there is absolutely no reason for them to spend any time on your site. Businesses such as Wiggly Wigglers and English Cut are great examples of small firms who have used social tools to differentiate their businesses online. Indeed, both businesses have grown virally because of it and have established strong brands in each of their business areas.

The founders of both businesses have capitalised on the ‘social’ aspects of the web, along with an interesting way of revealing the nature of their businesses in a compelling way. Both firms create regular online content in terms of blog posts or podcasts which are read and listened to by their Internet audience. This ever growing audience has access to content which is timely, relevant and interesting. If the audience enjoys what it reads or listens to, it is more likely to make a purchase and five times as likely to tell others about it. Blogs and podcasts allow a small business to start a conversation around their own businesses. More importantly, it also allows them to shape the conversation, which may have not existed before, or was badly delivered in the past.

It is important to note, that creating compelling content requires considerable commitment and time. Wiggly Wigglers and English Cut were not overnight successes. It took a few years, before they were able to reach the hearts and minds of their respective audiences. They succeeded because they had something interesting to say and the social tools allowed them to tell their business stories easily,quickly and allowed their audience to also take part in shaping their business story.

If you already have a very close and tight relationship with your customers, these social tools may not be useful to you. However,  for the vast majority of small firms hoping to grow their businesses and access new markets, such tools are becoming a necessity in order to differentiate and eventually compete in the global market place.  Thus, to conclude I think it is very important for small firms to have a website today if they want to grow their business and reach new markets.  Using social tools can help. However, the small firm will need to think of interesting ways to reveal the nature of the business they are in, offer unique glimpses and insights into their industry. Customers demand some kind of value. Creating good and useful content can help to create that value.

Read excerpts of interview with Heather Gorringe, founder of Wiggly Wigglers below, as well as an excerpt of an interview with Tom Mahon, founder of English Cut.

Interview with Heather Gorringe (Heather Gorringe)

Interview with Tom Mahon (English Cut)

Most Small Businesses will be virtual by 2020

Outsourced business services and hosted applications will be the norm for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) by the year 2020, according to a report by the Social Issues Research Centre.

While 2020’s always-on Generation “C” – C for Content, Connectivity, Creativity, Collaboration and/or Communication, says SIRC – will be more able to communicate with a wider cross-section of people, virtual businesses will be outsourcing the majority of business functions, the report claims.

The study (here) predicts that purchased and locally installed software will be replaced by Software as a Service (SaaS), accessed over the internet.

If I was an IT director, I’d want my staff focused on delivering value to the business, not patching servers,” he noted. “For example, with the hosting provider now doing security, the security team’s job is as custodians, not fire-fighters.”

Personally, I’m excited by SaaS. Today’s web innovators and entrepreneurs already get this – Outsource as much as possible, use the freeness of Web 2.0 consumer apps. However, once their businesses experience significant growth, the free consumer based Web 2.0 stuff will no longer meet their needs. This is where SaaS comes in.

UK businesses using Web 2.0 technologies

A nice article in the Guardian newspaper dated 26th May 2006.

Guardian Unlimited

Sage in Touch via Management Today

If you are a UK business that uses Web 2.0 technologies, I would be interested in hearing from you.