The internet is a great way if
getting information to SMEs. Campbell McCracken looks at
a new resource with support from two big media guns and
A new internet resource centre for small and
medium-sized businesses has just been launched. Business
Europe is an integrated service that provides European
SMEs with a suite of tools, information and advice to
support them in their business. It was founded jointly
by Andrew Neil, former editor of The Sunday Times and
executive chairman of Sky Television and chairman of
Press Holdings Limited, and Damian Gilbert, previously a
managing partner with Advanta Partners, a $20 million
internet start-up fund.
Business Europe backs the campaign launched by the
European Union in the Lisbon Charter to boost internet
awareness among Europe’s 19 million small businesses. It
has been estimated that ecommerce revenues for SMEs are
set to grow by 800 per cent over the next three years,
to $3.2 billion. It has also been estimated that almost
one third of European SMEs will have a web site by the
end of this year, and a further third are planning to
have one – although only 5000 can accept online
"If a company has a web site or ecommerce strategy
today, they have a competitive advantage," said Gilbert.
He added the warning: "But that advantage will only last
two months. In two months’ time they will no longer have
a competitive advantage – but the minimum required
position. Businesses are being left behind, suffering
from elag, jet lag for the internet world."
But it’s not just in getting online that help is
needed. "The small business sector is still a wealth of
untapped potential as it is not being fully served by
any single organisation," said Gilbert. "We asked small
businesses how they got information and advice and most
replied that they felt underserved and overwhelmed. We
have built our service to help them with the issues –
such as red tape, getting paid on time, finding and
converting leads and staying ahead of the competition –
that they identified as critical to their survival and
The BusinessEurope.com site is arranged into a number
of key areas including News, Resources, Zones,
Marketplace and Community.
The News area includes headlines (current news items,
updated twice daily), features (expanded topical items)
and research sections.
The Resources area is split into a number of
sections, each run by an expert in that area. The
sections (ecommerce, finance, office and people, sales
and marketing, technology, and travel and transport)
each contain a series of ‘how to’ guides and discussion
fora. The topics covered in the guides include ‘Using
the internet via your mobile phone’ (ecommerce section),
‘Find an independent financial advisor’ (Finance),
‘Prepare for the new stakeholder pensions’ (Office and
People), ‘Advertise your business on the internet’
(Sales and Marketing), ‘Control call charges for
internet access’ (Technology) and ‘Minimise business
travel expenses’ (Travel and Transport). At the moment
there is only one ‘Zone’ – the Executive Zone – aimed at
the business executive. More zones are expected to
follow soon as the web site grows.
The Marketplace area contains sections for buying
(allowing you to post a request for quotation) and
selling products and services, and a company directory
with search capability. Some of these sections require
you to register before they can be accessed.
There are three sections in the Community area –
Discuss, Ask an Expert and Talk Live. Discuss lets you
into one of BusinessEurope.com’s discussion fora. These
use a simple email system to let users swap ideas, give
opinions and share or gather information.
Current discussion topics include bank charges, home
working, sales promotion and computer viruses. Messages
can be posted at any time, but are moderated.
"By working with creditable business organisations
such as the Institute of Business Advisors and services
such as Business Links and Chambers of Commerce, we can
help small businesses work out how to solve problems and
effectively use the internet as a business tool," said
Gilbert. "Our private sector partners such as Viking
Direct and Manpower, provide expertise, special services
and discounts to the Business Europe membership."
The Business Europe site is supported by an offline
contact centre that can provide direct support for
potential businesses that are not currently online.
Business Europe can be found at http://www.businesseurope.com/.
The offline support number is 0845 6000 439.