To help small businesses effectively market themselves and sell online, Microsoft Office Live Small Business launched new features and enhancements to its Web service. New features include Store Manager, an e-commerce tool to help small businesses easily sell products on their own Web site and on eBay; and E-mail Marketing beta, to make sending e-mail newsletters and promotions simple and affordable.
Small businesses that sign up will receive a valuable set of tools and features for free, including Web hosting; rich site design capabilities; numerous productivity applications; contact management software for performing basic customer relationship management (CRM); and custom domain name registration with 100 business e-mail accounts (custom domains are free for the first year). This release is also compatible with the Firefox 2.0 Web browser, making the service accessible on both Macs and PCs.
Despite consumers’ growing tendency to search for products and services online, about half of the small businesses in the United States with fewer than 10 employees do not have a Web site.
With eight out of 10 Americans today spending as much time online as they do watching TV, small businesses could be at a disadvantage.
“Today having a professional Web site is as essential to running a small business as having business cards,” said Baris Cetinok, director of product management and marketing for Microsoft Office Live Small Business. “By making it simple and affordable to develop and maintain a Web site, and offering user-friendly sales and marketing features, Office Live Small Business provides a one-stop shop to help small businesses easily take, promote and manage their businesses online.”Cetinok also points out that once small businesses have a Web site, they do not always take advantage of online marketing techniques to drive traffic and sales.
“We design our features specifically with the needs of small businesses in mind,” Cetinok said. “Our Store Manager e-commerce tool, our e-mail marketing feature, and the updated adManager search marketing tool are user-friendly and low cost, and work together.”
Although it is designed to be an easy “do-it-yourself” service, Office Live Small Business also provides customers with access to designers and developers with helpful “do-it-for-me” solutions. From Web designers who can produce rich, sophisticated Web sites to developers who create custom applications for specific industry verticals and much more, third-party partners can help Office Live Small Business customers get the most from the service.
Following is a detailed overview of the new features and enhancements:
• Store Manager is a hosted e-commerce service that enables users to easily sell products on their own Web site and on eBay. ($39.95 per month)
• Custom domain name and business e-mail is available to all customers for free for one year ($14.95 annually thereafter). Private domain name registration is included to help customers protect their contact information from spammers. Business e-mail now includes 100 company-branded accounts, each with 5 GB of storage.
• Advanced Web design capabilities, including the ability to customize the entire page, as well as the header, footer, navigation, page layouts and more.• Round-the-clock customer support. Small-business owners are often on the job around the clock, and so is the Office Live Small Business support team.
• Support for Firefox 2.0 means Office Live Small Business tools and features are now compatible with Macs.
• A simplified sign-up process allows small-business owners to get started quickly. Users no longer have to choose a domain name at sign up or enter their credit card.
• Domain flexibility allows businesses to obtain their domain name through any provider and redirect it to Office Live Small Business. In addition, customers may purchase additional domain names.
• Synchronization with Microsoft Office Outlook provides customers with access to vital business information such as their Office Live Small Business e-mail, contacts, and calendars, both online and offline.
• E-mail Marketing beta enables users to stay connected to current customers and introduce themselves to new ones by sending regular e-mail newsletters, promotions and updates (200 e-mails per month free during beta).
• Contact Manager is the foundation of customer marketing. The improved user interface enables customers to find and add contacts more efficiently (free).
• adManager search marketing tool is now easier to use and allows users to advertise across multiple sites and search engines, including MSN, Live Search, Ask.com, Excite.com and Lycos.com (pay-per-click pricing).
Managing a Business
• Business applications are now included free to all customers and are easier to navigate and use. Two of the most popular applications — Team Workspace and Document Manager — are automatically provisioned. Customers can easily activate any of the more than 20 others, such as Project Manager.
• Reports have been updated to include reporting for Store Manager, adManager and E-mail Marketing beta. With Web site traffic and marketing reporting integrated into one central reporting experience, customers can have the insights they need to understand how their marketing campaigns impact site traffic.
• Homepage gadgets have been updated to include additional gadgets such as a Reports gadget that shows users at a glance the number of unique visitors and page views for the current week and the previous two weeks (free).
Microsoft has not announced whether the new features would be released worldwide; at the time of writing, the UK version of the site had still not been updated.