REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 12, 2008 – The Internet has provided endless business opportunities for the budding entrepreneur, but also presents new challenges. Small businesses now have the ability to compete in a global marketplace, but also need to react quickly to market demands. With a growing need for technology solutions to succeed in these new markets, Microsoft continues to build on its commitment to small businesses.
On the heels of announcing a series of new features and tools for Microsoft Office Live Small Business, PressPass sat down with Cindy Bates, Microsoft General Manager of U.S. Small Business, to talk more about the unique challenges and opportunities small business faces today and how Microsoft is working to provide tools and services to benefit these customers.
PressPass: Talk about the small business market and how you define the “small business” customer.
Bates: Small businesses are a vital part of the U.S. economy – today, the U.S. alone has approximately 21 million small and home-based businesses. Our approach continues to be driven by our recognition of the unique needs of small businesses, which we define as those companies having fewer than 50 employees, the typical cut-off point when a business begins to have the ability to invest in full-time, professional IT staff. Through ongoing customer feedback and research, we continue to shape our strategy for small business by building solutions from the ground up to meet the needs of this space, working to deliver affordable solutions with our local partner communities, and continuing to invest in free resources and tools.
Cindy Bates, Microsoft General Manager of U.S. Small Business
PressPass: What are some of the services and tools Microsoft has developed to serve the small business market?
Bates: Our Small Business Center Web site is central to our strategies to service small businesses. The site serves as a premier online resource for small businesses in the United States and internationally. Small business owners can visit the Small Business Center to learn how to get more out of their technology through demos, case studies, how-to videos and other resources, as well as connect with one of our 5,600 U.S.-based Microsoft Small Business Specialists – a community of partners with specialized training on small businesses’ unique technology needs.
We also continue to innovate for small businesses by delivering easier ways to purchase and consume technology, and up-to-date educational resources. Along with our recent announcement of enhancements to Office Live Small Business, we’ve brought other small business solutions to the market during the past few months, including Microsoft Response Point and Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008. The next version of Windows Small Business Server R2 is also on the horizon.
Our recent launch of the the Big Easy incentive program and upcoming March 3 launch of Open Value Subscription licensing program, as well as continued enhancements to online resources such as the Microsoft Startup Center, Microsoft Small Business Show and our upcoming third annual Small Business Summit, all demonstrate our continued commitment to the small business community.
PressPass: How does customer feedback inform your strategy for the small business solutions you are bringing to market?
Bates: In the United States, small businesses have generated 60 to 80 percent of new jobs in the past decade and represent about half of the private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. As these small businesses deal with the day-to-day issues such as economic fluctuations, competing in the broader global economy and with larger companies, and making payroll each week, they consistently identify four important areas where a company like Microsoft can help add value to their business: to generate more revenue through new and existing customers; to effectively manage cash flow through day-to-day operations; to retain valuable employees and provide them with the right tools to be productive; and to have the ability to serve their customers whether they’re in or out of the office. Across each of these areas, small business owners have told us they need technology solutions that are easy-to-use, scalable, secure and affordable.
PressPass: How is Microsoft helping small businesses use technology to connect with customers?
Bates: As more small businesses do business on the internet, finding ways to attract online visitors is becoming an increasingly important skill. By making it simple and affordable to develop and maintain a Web site, and offering user-friendly sales and marketing features, our latest version of Office Live Small Business helps small businesses easily promote and manage their businesses online. Microsoft Office Live Small Business is an affordable way to give a business visibility with a Web site, e-commerce capabilities, e-mail marketing tools, enhanced design layouts and flexible user options.
One of our customers, Whiner and Diner, is using Office Live Small Business to bring more attention to their specialty pet feeder business. They’re now able to attract more customers by using search engine marketing tools to easily maximize the impact of keyword searches and monitor the site’s traffic. When the site first launched, a busy day saw about 50 page views; in recent months it’s ranged from 500 to 2,000 pages views a day.
PressPass: What is Microsoft providing for employees to increase their productivity?
Bates: Especially for a small business with fewer employees, productivity in and out of the office is paramount to keeping a business running smoothly. With the new features in our Windows Vista Business and Ultimate editions, coupled with Microsoft Office Professional 2007, we’re making it much easier for small businesses to get work done quickly, easily and professionally.
Small business Selfish Box, an environmentally-friendly catering company, uses the 2007 Microsoft Office system to help simplify tasks, work more efficiently and manage costs. Through Excel, Outlook and Word, they’ve been able to save a significant amount of time on otherwise arduous tasks and now claim that they’re able to create their meals 16 times faster than before. Now when employees see organized information in terms of orders and recipes, they make one trip to refrigerator and just start working – they don’t waste time and don’t waste food.
Additionally, we’ve found that 53 percent of small businesses are either using or evaluating Windows Vista, according to a recent survey from reseller CDW among 772 IT decision makers. Nearly half of businesses are in some phase of preparing to update desktops to Windows Vista with small businesses moving the fastest to implement the operating system.
PressPass: Can you talk more about mobility and the solutions you are bringing to market that enable a more flexible work environment?
Bates: Flexibility and responsiveness can make or break today’s entrepreneurs. Being able to react to market forces, customer demands and operational issues quickly and successfully is paramount. To provide greater collaboration, connectivity and security, Microsoft offers Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2.
One of our customers, Robby Gordon Motorsports, uses Small Business Server to help pit crews remotely access vital business and competitive data during race time, when every decision counts and cars have to be returned to the track in minutes. Data gathered from monitors in the cars is analyzed to support mission-critical decisions made in the repair or building of these high-performance vehicles.
PressPass: What are you delivering to customers to help manage cash flow?
Bates: Accounting software is one of the first business applications many small businesses purchase. To date, we’ve had two million customers take the opportunity to get up and running quickly with a free download of Microsoft Office Accounting Express. For established small businesses, Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 offers enhanced accounting features and is available in bilingual Spanish-English versions to help the nearly two million Hispanic small business owners in the United States.
PressPass: Can you talk a bit about security and efforts Microsoft is making in the small business space?
Bates: With mobility becoming increasingly more common in the workplace and continued blurring between personal and professional activities on the Internet, small businesses are increasingly at risk for data losses and theft. For this reason, Microsoft continues to make security a priority for all the products it delivers to market. In Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2, features such as the “green check” of software health and improved integration with Windows Mobile-based technology help small businesses can feel secure and more efficient.
Microsoft also recently launched Windows Live OneCare 2.0, which provides multi-PC support and home network management, new options for data backup, printer sharing support and enhanced security for small businesses.
We know that it’s vital for small businesses to easily access their network while getting the most out of their PCs both in and out of the office. The Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate SKUs have been developed with these scenarios in mind. Features within these editions like the Network and Sharing Center and Windows Meeting space allow small businesses to easily connect to their customers to share vital information while providing employees the tools to better collaborate. Depending on small business needs, the Ultimate edition offers advanced capabilities including digital entertainment features.
PressPass: There has been a fair amount of buzz about Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for small businesses. You briefly mentioned Response Point earlier. Can you tell us more about what Microsoft is doing in this area?
Bates: VoIP can enable cost savings and enhanced communications for small businesses. According to a recent study by AMI Partners, a U.S.-based small business with 10-19 employees can save an average of $8,780 in the first year alone by using an IP-based phone system. In light of the value VoIP offers, we launched Microsoft Response Point last fall, a new software-based phone system created especially for the unique communications needs of small businesses.
Customers and partners are very excited about this offering, and we’ve found early sales of Response Point to be strong. Our hardware partners, Quanta and D-Link, have already sold through their first production run. Comenity, a Seattle-based designer and builder of home entertainment systems, was one of the first small businesses to use Response Point. Comenity CEO Mark McCracken has told me that Response Point offers his business credibility and a professional, personalized appearance. He says that when customers call competitors, they get someone’s cell phone.
PressPass: What steps is Microsoft taking to provide more budget-friendly and flexible payment options for small businesses?
Bates: We know small businesses are often strapped in terms of budget and are looking for flexibility in how they purchase and use technology. Microsoft is offering several affordable and simplified ways for small businesses to buy.
On Feb. 1, we launched our “Big Easy” incentive program, an all-in-one offering that includes up to US$10 million in subsidies used to help small businesses purchase and implement new software through their local partners. With a qualifying purchase between now and June 27, customers will receive a check for between 10 percent to 22 percent of the purchase price to spend with one of our 5,600 Small Business Specialist Partners or any other local Microsoft partner.
On March 3, we’ll be launching the Microsoft Open Value Subscription licensing program in the United States and Canada, which is a “lease-like” model for purchasing software designed to address small businesses’ requests for more flexible purchasing options. With Open Value Subscription, businesses will receive significant discounts on software through lower upfront costs and the ability to purchase only the licenses they need as their companies grow or potentially fluctuate to fewer employees over a three-year, annual subscription.
Another tool we continue to evolve for small businesses is Microsoft Financing. At last year’s Worldwide Partner Conference, we launched the SmartPay deferred payment promotion, available through the end of June 2008. Small businesses can pay as little as $50/month for the first 12 months of their loan, reaping the benefits of their new solution long before the regular payments kick in.
PressPass: You mentioned Small Business Specialists as a way for small businesses to get local Microsoft support. How else are you supporting small businesses at the local level?
Bates: We recently launched an updated local engagement model, building on the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community we currently have in place. By deploying Microsoft employees throughout the country, we’re driving local partnerships, events and engagements specifically focused on small businesses in the area through local Chambers of Commerce, mentorship organizations and local commercial alliance partners such as banks and shipping companies. Through this new model, we’ll create deeper partnerships with a variety of local small business influencers and provide partners with resources to help them engage the small businesses in their area and provide more complete solutions.
PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to support start-up businesses?
Bates: Microsoft continues to invest in serving the millions of companies formed each year. Knowing that making the right decisions early on is critical to the growth or demise of the business, we launched StartupCenter.com to provide comprehensive, actionable advice to help new business owners easily and successfully launch their companies. Recently, we enhanced Microsoft’s Startup Center by adding a personalized task list that enables users to check off the various steps they have taken and monitor those still needed to get their business off the ground. MasterCard Worldwide, Bank of America, FedEx and Startup Nation continue to be important partners on Startupcenter.com, which provide additional resources for startups to take advantage of in those early stages.