Four Tucson entrepreneurs are holding their breath and crossing their fingers today as their Web site officially goes live after months of intense design work.

SmallBiz.com, which got 100 to 500 visitors a day before it was even operational, is packed with features designed to help businesses with tasks like incorporating and putting up their own Web sites.

"It provides one focused place, one common place, to get these services," said President and CEO Michael Banner.

Using technology to help businesses become more efficient was Banner's objective when he bought the site last June for $45,000. Banner has owned several brick-and-mortar companies as well as one virtual firm, IncYourBiz Corp., where people can incorporate a firm or form a limited liability company.

Christopher Chapman, the company's chief technology officer, said many Web sites are not intuitive, bombard users with ads, and are often merely portals to other sites. SmallBiz.com strives to be different by providing easy access to information, he said.

SmallBiZ.com's owners are a diverse mix, including Chapman, owner of Chapman Net Systems Inc., which designed the site; Mariclare Hannah, vice president of IncYourBiz Corp. and the new company's chief legal counsel; and MJ Jensen, chief marketing officer and owner of IdeaMagic Inc., a marketing firm.

The SmallBiZ.com foursome doesn't fear failing like so many dot-com companies because, Banner said, the company isn't in debt to venture capitalists, and the name SmallBiZ.com alone is enough to draw people to the site.

Funding the company themselves also allowed the principals to take their time about getting the site together, Banner said. It cost more than $100,000, in addition to the $45,000 the domain name cost, to get the site up, he said.

Although the team did not have to meet a deadline set by someone else, it was eager to launch the site.

"Being on the back end of this, it's frustrating as heck. We were talking about launching last November," Banner said.

3,000 respond to survey

The Web site's content was influenced by a 30-question survey on SmallBiz.com, to which more than 3,000 people responded. The survey asked respondents what industry they are in, what is important to them and what services they would most like to see.

"The services they rate highest on their list are what's going on SmallBiz.com," Chapman said.

People can log on to the site for free. As they use it, built-in programs will "remember" their preferences in a number of different areas.

"The system actively and automatically filters things that match your personal interests," Chapman said.

The multi-tiered site has a number of features. Using something called "WebCafe," businesses can create a Web page for free using the template of their choice. Smallbiz.com will host the site for $9.95 a month.

Since the content - like the business's name, address and other distinct information - is separate from the template, users can easily switch from template to template to find the one that suits them best, Chapman said. If they have a little bit of technical knowledge, users can customize their Web page even further.

Many people create Web pages but don't register a domain name. With WebCafe, besides getting a sub-domain name - such as accounting.smallbiz.com or flowers.
smallbiz.com - subscribers also get their own "yourcompany.com" domain too.

"Gurus" offer free help

Another feature is SmallBiZ "gurus" - a service that lets users ask consultants questions and receive answers and advice for free in a nonthreatening forum.

"If you don't know who to ask and what to ask, you don't ask it," Banner said. "You end up getting into trouble you could have avoided."

Besides buying the domain name SmallBiZ.com, Banner also bought about 350 other "SmallBiZ" related domain names, including 50 state-related names like smallbizaz.com, and smallbizca.com.

All those sites are linked to SmallBiZ.com, so a user from Wisconsin, for example, can go to, SmallBiZWI.com, a site that will feature news and information pertaining to that state.

SmallBiZ.com is Banner's third Web site venture. He bought the domain name
SellYourBiz.com in 1998, but that site never got off the ground.

What did work was IncYourBiz.com, a site where businesses could incorporate or form a limited liability company online for $31, plus state fees and publishing costs. That adds up to $201 in Arizona. Incorporating or forming an LLC can cost $1,500 through a lawyer here, or hours of research if a business owner does the paperwork.

The tricky thing about a Web site where people can incorporate a business is that every state has different rules and fees, Banner said.

Inc-YourBiz.com, which will now run through SmallBiz.com, handles every state.

A timesaving tool

The new Web site will make money through the incorporation feature, Web site design and editing software subscriptions, including hosting; registering domain names, selling listings in various directories; and advertising.

Computer tech Chapman said the site is designed to be intuitive and simple.

"We want it to be a timesaving tool," Banner said.

Banner estimates that only 10 percent to 15 percent of small businesses use the Internet for business, and even fewer have their own Web sites. Smallbiz.com hopes to draw the remaining 85-90 percent.

"We're going after those people," he said. "And that's a harder prospect."

www.azstarnet.com


Small business tools including: 



  • Terminology dictionary 

  • SmallBiZ E-news 

  • SmallBiZ Incorporator, where people can incorporate their businesses online 

  • SmallBiZ WebCafe, where people can design a Web site for free, then have it hosted for $9.95 a month 

  • SmallBiZ Guru, where entrepreneurs can ask questions of consultants for free 

  • SmallBiZ E-market, where small businesses can advertise their business for sale, for free 

  • SmallBiZ Broker, a listing of small business for sale, business opportunities and franchises 

  • Local business news by state