Small businesses form the backbones of many economies. In Europe, the EU estimates that small and medium enterprises constitute 99% of all firms (PDF file), with the average enterprise in Europe employing no more than six employees. Often termed “micro” businesses, firms with ten employees or less are especially suited to specialised niche industries such as web development and design.
As use of the internet has expanded exponentially, having a web presence is deemed essential for marketing and communication and for reaching more markets. To be effective, the design must be professional, sophisticated and appealing. To cater to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of firms needing websites, many web design companies have come into existence in the past decade, many of them small in size.
The benefits of working with a small company are many, including greater flexibility and the likelihood of having a more personal relationship with the management and developers. However, small businesses face challenges, most notably the ability to retain experienced, dependable staff, especially designers and developers, the ability to effectively market themselves to potential partners and customers, support and training costs, and cashflow—translating in these trying economic times to the ability to stay afloat. In the web design world, small firms face the added burden of having to compete against their larger counterparts, many of which are outsourcing some parts of their web development projects to cheaper locations such as India, Romania and Russia.
Another factor of the web design world is that access to the technology tools required to design compelling websites have traditionally either been expensive, or have lacked the full range of features and support programmes required. This meant that the upfront costs for the web design agency were steep—and proportionately much higher for small, micro firms than their larger counterparts. Their choices were stark—fork out for the more expensive packages such as Adobe, with a dizzying array of products and charges for extras, such as training; take a cheaper product such as CoffeeCup or Web Creator Pro, which only offers fairly limited content; or use an open source package such as Aptana that, although it is free of charge and offers product support, is complex and time consuming to implement.
Today, the landscape has changed with the introduction of the WebSiteSpark package from Microsoft. This new package is offered free to web design and development micro companies with ten employees or fewer for a period of three years and provides them not just with the tools that they need, but access to training and support from a team of developers worldwide. It also offers them the ability to promote and expand their business through access to marketing, business and partner networks.
Small web design and development firms signing up to the service are required to use the tools to develop a website to showcase their own services within six months of signing up in order to qualify to continue to use the service for the full three-year period, after which you only pay a small exit fee. But that in itself is a bonus, as the website will be showcased through the WebSiteSpark portal, providing a much more cost-effective way of reaching potential partners and customers than traditional marketing methods.
This is a scheme that will be welcomed by small companies in the web design space owing to the wide range of development and hosting tools, backed up by a community of support and access to potential new business opportunities.
And it is timely as many companies, especially those with few employees and little infrastructure that are becoming used to applications and services being delivered without the upfront costs of purchasing technology licences. With such a programme delivering their needs and more for no upfront costs, Microsoft’s competitors will find themselves on the back foot.