This week in the Index's tech column~ Christmas gift-buying with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks

Why not set up shop online for holiday e-commerce? Shopping via the Internet is way, way up this holiday season.

Are you going to do your Christmas shopping online this year?
All those good reasons for shopping online haven’t changed since the dotcom bombed on the stock market. Good ol’ etail is alive, healthy and growing!
According to Jupiter Research, Americans spent $10.8 billion online during the 2000 holiday season – that’s a 54 percent increase over the $7 billion spent in 1999. Does that sound like a sluggish tech economy?
Someone’s going to be getting some of those billions – and if you’re a small business, it might as well be you. Don’t think that it is all about the e-commerce “big guys” like Amazon. If you were second-guessing about doing business online – forget about it.
To create an online component of an existing business, a company needn’t hire a staff of information technology managers or pay a Web development firm tens of thousands of dollars. One affordable option is a company called BigStep.com.
The company helps small businesses take the “big step” into the Web world, helping with Web site building, taking payments online and Internet marketing. They’ve published more than 125,000 small-business Web sites.
BigStep has formed strategic partnerships with leading companies including AOL/Netcenter’s Small Business channel, NetBusiness, and powers the Web site building component of several other Internet portals.
Jupiter Media Matrix rated BigStep the number-two Web site 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 Web sites. He started with designing Senator Dianne Feinstein’s 1994 campaign Web site – 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 for the holiday shopping season: “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 2001.
Q: So you say e-commerce is not dead? Talk to us about how small business fits into e-commerce and what small business will mean to the upcoming holi-day shopping season.
A: Small bus-iness is the fastest growing segment of the American econo-my. Merle Sand-ler, 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.
A: 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?
A: We’re the first one-stop-shop for small businesses and offers low-cost services in Web site 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 Web site?
A: 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?
A: 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 2 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?
A: 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: Your company has received a fair amount of awards in your four years of existence.
A: Yes, it’s very satisfying. Some of the honors we’ve been awarded are PC Magazine’s “Top 100 Web Sites” list, their “Top 100 Web Sites for 2000” list, and their “Best of 2000” list for Web development. Home Office Computing gave us the “100 Gold Award.” Red Herring designates us in the “Top 50 Private Companies” and “Top 10 Companies to Watch.” USA Today gave us the “Hot Site” award, as well.
Q: How does BigStep make money?
A: 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’ Web sites.
A full audio interview with BigStep.com can be heard at:
http://www.webtalkguys.com.
Dana Greenlee writes about technology every Friday in the Index. WebTalkGuys, a Tacoma-based talk show features technology news and interviews. It is broadcast on CNET Radio in San Francisco and Boston, on the Web at:
CNET (http://www.radio.com) and http://www.webtalkguys.com.
It can also be heard via the XM satellite network.
Past shows and interviews are also webcast via the Internet at:
http://www.webtalkguys.com.

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