Build yourself a Web store

A conversation with BigStep.com founder Andrew Beebe.

You’re ready to start an e-business, but now you’re confronted with a somewhat frighten-ing prospect: Who’s going to design and build your site?

You could design it yourself, but there is a learning curve and if you’re running a company, you don’t have time. You could hire a developer. While Web designers come in all prices and abilities, it may cost you more than you want to spend.

Another option is to create a Web store through an company that offers everything from Website templates to shopping carts. Using templates can be easy and inexpensive. Because fully functional shopping cart software and credit card processing is included, it can also make it easy to get an e-commerce site up and running quickly.

To create an online component of an existing business, one affordable option is a company called BigStep.com.

The company helps small businesses take the “big step” into the Web world, helping with Website building, taking payments online and Internet marketing.

They’ve published more than 125,000 small-business Websites.
BigStep has formed strategic partnerships with leading companies including AOL/Netcenter’s Small Business channel, NetBusiness, and powers the Website building component of several other Internet portals.

Jupiter Media Matrix rated BigStep the No. 2 Website services small-business brand, behind Microsoft. Forbes put them in their “Best of the Web,” and they won PC Magazine’s Editors’ Choice award for two consecutive years.

BigStep.com’s founder and chairman Andrew Beebe knows a thing or two about creating successful Websites. He started with designing Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) 1994 campaign Website – the world’s first political campaign online. This former White House intern has a message for anyone who’s concerned about getting a business site on the Web: “Get online this year and share a bit of the American dream with us all.”

Beebe gave us a look into how small businesses can succeed online and why it’s not too late to take the “big step” onto the Web in 2003.

Q: So you say e-commerce is not dead? Talk to us about how small business fits into e-commerce.

Beebe: Small business is the fastest growing segment of the American economy. Merle Sandler, of IDC’s Small Business Research Group, estimates that while over 40 percent of these 25.5 million independent businesses are on the Web, only about 30 percent have e-commerce capabilities.

BigStep believes that everyone should have the opportunity to develop a business online – not just large companies that have thousands if not millions of dollars to invest in online efforts.

BigStep is solely dedicated to giving small businesses the necessary tools to build relationships and success. Our mission is to help small businesses succeed online.

Q: Tell us a bit about BigStep?

Beebe: BigStep is an online service center for small businesses. We began in 1998 in San Francisco as the first company dedicated solely to leading the movement of small businesses to the Web.

We understand the small business industry. BigStep helps the people who operate small businesses by offering an affordable service that eliminates the technology, time constraint, limited workforce and knowledge barriers to developing a business online. Any small business can do business, build relationships and succeed on the Web.

Q: What is the BigStep service?

Beebe: We’re the first one-stop-shop for small businesses and offers low-cost services in Website building, taking payments online and Internet marketing.
The services combine state-of-the-art technology like e-commerce transactions, site building, communications, marketing, reporting, database management with best practices.

For instance, we’ll create a highly functional store newsletter, “Auto Responders, Privacy and Merchant Policy Integration.”

Q: Do the business owners have to be tech-savvy to have a Website?

Beebe: The company understands that small businesses don’t want to become technology wizards. It’s really an easy, step-by-step guide through the process of growing a successful business online.

Business owners are guided through simple tasks as they create a unique and flexible e-business. The service is easy to follow and use and provides educational and engaging content that is framed around short, simple task-based steps.

Q: Who uses BigStep?

Beebe: We’re focused on the people who operate small businesses – both service and product-oriented companies. Eighty-five percent of BigStep’s members are the small office/home office (SOHO) market with fewer than 20 employees.

Businesses with two to 10 employees is at our “heart.” More than 60 percent of small businesses are service providers, and BigStep’s e-business center gives them the communications, marketing and identity-building tools they need.

Example members include caterers, florists, specialty retailers, law offices, videographers, musicians and performing groups, non-profits and educational institutions, and photographers.

BigStep’s member base has grown 400 percent in the past year to more than 125,000 published small business Web sites.

Q: Why take your small businesses online?

Beebe: BigStep is the only completely integrated, design-it-yourself e-business service that helps any type of small business – product or service-based – succeed online.

The company offers small businesses more ways to reach potential customers than anywhere on the Web. Existing e-business services are mostly catalog-centric offerings geared around transacting sales of products on the Web.

Others present aggregated links that require small businesses to jump from site to site, and then integrate different services from many providers.

As the first online service center for small businesses, the company is solely dedicated to the people who operate small businesses and helping small businesses to expand online.

Q:How does BigStep make money?

Beebe: BigStep’s business model aligns with the company’s goal of helping small businesses be successful online.

Premium services account for 80 percent of BigStep’s revenues. The company generates this revenue through the members’ adoption of additional, fee-based and value-added services and ultimately through the retention and expansion of its highly loyal member base.

The remaining 20 percent of revenue comes from sponsorships on the BigStep corporate site – all sponsorships come from companies offering products and services relevant to the people who operate small businesses. BigStep never puts advertisements on its customers’ Websites.

To learn more about BigStep.com, go to their Website at: www.bigstep.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host, producer and engineer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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