Small Businesses Find Success on the Web with bCentral Business Web Services

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 11, 2000 — Larry Henry and his wife Tina own a small business in Texas that specializes in services for musical education and the sales of electronic pianos and keyboards. When Henry decided to take their business onto the Internet last year, he knew he needed help.
“I’ve used computers for years, but I’m still a rookie. If I had to do something in HTML, we’d all be in trouble.”

Sally Rosenbaum is a Northern California painter of colorful, sun-filled contemporary impressionist scenes. When she started to think about a Web site to serve as an online art gallery, she found:
“It was overwhelmingly confusing. I’m just a one-person operation, and my job is to paint. I had to have faith that I could find a service that would make getting on the Web quick, easy and intuitive.”

Making a living in the arts is notoriously tough. To be successful, self-employed artists are expected to create — a book, a painting, a stirring rendition of Casta Diva — while also taking care of the business end. It’s not exactly easy to spend your day as Chief Creative Officer and then switch gears to become head of marketing, promotions and sales. On the face of it, the rapid growth of e-commerce on the World Wide Web might not seem to offer much to a self-employed artist. Who can afford to pay someone else to develop a Web site? Who has time to learn HTML when there’s a commission to complete?

Both Rosenbaum and Henry credit Microsoft’s bCentral and its Business Web Services — a simple and affordable suite of online tools that make domain registration, site creation, business email access, e-commerce and online marketing — with helping them get their successful Web sites up and running.
“I think bCentral is just fabulous for artists and independent agents. With these tools, you can take control of your business and take control of your marketing,”
Rosenbaum says.
“And the costs are so minimal if you compare it to the prices of traditional advertising, printing and mailing.”

New services on bCentral

Business Web Services is the first of several new integrated services to debut on bCentral. They are designed to provide small business owners with the basics needed to take their businesses on the Web by giving them easy-to-use tools to build a professional-looking business Web site, with additional features to conduct online sales, says Satya Nadella, vice president of Microsoft bCentral. Business Web Services also provides business email and calendar functions that can be accessed both from the road and at a home computer. The suite also includes Web marketing and advertising features, including search engine registration, banner ad creation and tools for electronic newsletter creation.

A Musical E-Lesson

Larry and Tina Henry bring years of musical experience to their business, which is both a traditional bricks-and-mortar storefront and a successful e-commerce Web site at www.allegromarketing.com. While the storefront offers digital keyboards and other items related to teaching music in the classroom, the Web site features additional pedagogical tools. The Web site allows students and teachers to download MIDI files that contain recordings of accompaniment for standard repertory pieces. A student learning the violin part of Bizet’s Habanera doesn’t need to find a pianist to play along with her; she can download the file, record it and then play along with it according to her own schedule.

When Larry Henry started looking for help with his e-commerce Web site, he shopped around and checked out several online services. He decided to use bCentral.
“I was able to contact the people at bCentral and get answers to some of my concerns, like privacy and security for customers, and the reliability of the servers. Cost was also a factor. When I learned how costly it can be to have a site professionally designed, I decided to do it myself. And what clinched it for me were the processes contained in Business Web Services. With Business Web Services, you get a well-outlined, page-by-page guide about how to construct a Web site — bCentral made it easy.”

Business Web Services gives subscribers the look and feel of a fully functional Web site and business quality email without having to invest in expensive software or additional Web site hosting services, says Microsoft’s Nadella. Subscribers follow simple instructions to register a Web domain name — they can find out if the Web address they want is available and secure the name immediately. Then they can begin using the bCentral Site Manager tool to create a professional-looking Web site that is ready for e-commerce, complete with shopping cart and credit card features. Users can build an unlimited number of pages using up to 40 MB of disk space.

Henry used the service first to register his domain name, then used Business Web Services tools to design his Web site from scratch.
“The site gives you examples of many different kinds of Web sites — including one for music sales — and it gives templates of the most common kinds of Web pages,”
he says.
“You pick the pages that are appropriate for your business and make a site map, then write the copy. The templates are graphically designed and are very intuitive to use.”

One of the newest features of Business Web Services is business email. Using a Microsoft Outlook-like interface, Business Web Services delivers subscribers full email and communication features such as electronic calendaring, contact listings and document storage, without requiring an investment in any additional software beyond the Web browser. Henry likes the fact that his email can feature his company’s name, such as sales@allegromarketing.com, rather than the name of an Internet service provider or online service. Easy management is also important, and the online email administration in Business Web Services enables users to easily manage data, add users, change passwords and set up mailboxes.

Marketing 101 for Artists

Sally Rosenbaum says that when she discovered the Web, she immediately recognized its value for painters.
“It’s such a visual tool,”
she says.
“You can use it to post paintings and pictures and share them with the rest of the world.”
Prior to developing her own Web site, Rosenbaum had to rely on galleries for exposure.
“I’ve experienced the highs and the lows of consignment sales. Galleries can be fickle; you never know how much they are promoting you. Some months are good, others are horrible. It made me want to take control of my own promotions and start developing my own client list.”

Rosenbaum developed her Web site at www.sallyrosenbaum.com, through which she sells cards and calendars. However, to Rosenbaum, the real value of the Web site is that it serves as a tool for displaying her art in her own online art gallery.
“Though most people that come to my site have seen my paintings before, other customers just stumble across me on the Internet,”
she says.
“If someone inquires about a painting and if I’m represented in a gallery nearby, I refer them to the gallery. If they live elsewhere, we start an email conversation, and I scan pictures in. From the contact, I hopefully make a sale or develop a commission.”

Rosenbaum got started using bCentral’s Banner Exchange feature. Using this feature, subscribers trade banner advertisements — the small animated ads that appear at the bottom and top of many business Web pages — with other bCentral subscribers, which means that that an ad for a bCentral Web site appears on 5,000 other bCentral sites throughout the Web each month.
“What really attracted me to the Banner Exchange was that I could target it to a specific geographic region,”
Rosenbaum says.
“If I have an art show in a gallery in Sausalito, I can have my banners run on Web sites in that area. People see me at the show and say ‘I think I saw you on the Internet.'”

Rosenbaum also uses bCentral’s
“Submit It!”
feature to help promote her Web site. Submit It! helps users automate the listing process for business Web sites at 400 of the top search engines and directories, including MSN, Yahoo!, AltaVista and Google.
“One of the handiest features of bCentral is Submit It!”
Rosenbaum says.
“It can be a daunting task to keep your information current in the various registries, categories and search engines. With Submit It!, you do it once, and after that, it’s easy to do automatically.”

What this Web exposure means to Rosenbaum is that she can develop a listing of people interested in her art.
“Having people respond to you on the Web isn’t like sending out a mailing to a million people. People who email you are really qualified, legitimate buyers. So I am able to develop a client list of truly interested customers. I can complete a painting, scan it in and send the image to a group of people interested in buying. It’s extremely focused marketing.”

And Rosenbaum is happy to have her Web site hosted by bCentral, a division of Microsoft.
“Microsoft has always led the way. I feel confident that they’ll contact me when there are new services I need to know about. I feel like I’m involved in state of the art. They’re good hands to be in.”

bCentral helps Rosenbaum do what she does best: paint. So far this year, Rosenbaum has sold 10 full-sized paintings from contacts made through her Web site, sales that she most likely would not have made from her gallery contacts alone.
“On the Web, you never know where the contacts come from; it’s like sowing seeds. The Web is kind of like Karma — you put it out there and it comes back to you in ways you can’t trace.”

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