Joyride Through Cyberspace By Caroline Wright
How's Business?
from the Internet Gazette, May 1999

This issue (May 1999) of the INTERNET GAZETTE will be printed just in time for Hawaii’s annual Small Business On The Move expo.

Ahh, entrepreneurial Hawaii. What challenges you must be experiencing right now! According to the Small Business Survival Index 1998, Hawaii is officially the 2nd most small-business-unfriendly state in the entire country. (The MOST unfriendly state isn’t really even a state - it’s the District of Columbia, a city long plagued by corruption, crime, and apathy. )

That sad statistic was reported on the website of the Small Business Survival Foundation (a “nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization”). Though they claim political neutrality, many of their features smell suspiciously right-wing - and understandably so. How could an organization whose raison d’etre is to foster “opportunity for small business owners and their workforce” be anything but GOP-friendly?

Tools Of The E-Trade

I’ve gathered information about sites constructed specifically for small business owners, containing real tools and pertinent information. Let’s take a look at a few that could help you beat the grim statistics.

The CCH Business Owner’s Toolkit is probably my pick of the litter. It’s packed with so much useful (and FREE!) information, I hardly know where to begin. For example, this site contains a huge collection of forms and materials needed by small business owners; each form is in Rich Text Format (RTF) and can be downloaded to your computer and opened with a word processing application.

This site also provides and facilitates free e-mail access to the entire network of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives); these seasoned pros can help you with any one of 600 unique skills, from accounting to yarn spinning.

And this site contains, in its entirety, an entrepreneur’s guidebook. Broad topics such as MANAGING YOUR BUSINESS FINANCES are broken down into specific topics, and then broken down some more, and illustrated, whenever possible, with well-written examples. Each area is explored in beautifully simple language.

Putting all this material online must have been a substantial undertaking. I’m thoroughly impressed!

I also really liked Biztalk.com. “Current estimates put small business ownership at roughly 23.3 million in the US, yet only 12% of the 23 million small business have established a presence on the Internet,” reports this website. Created specifically for the small business owner, with the intent of pushing entrepreneurs toward the Internet as an avenue for success, Biztalk contains plenty of useful information on a variety of relevant topics: Y2K Issues for Small Business, Finding a Good Small Business Accountant, Health Purchasing Alliances, The Legalities of Stealing Clients...

There’s a Java-based chat forum, a search engine, and a newsletter. Membership is free, and the ads aren’t too obnoxious. Just one small complaint - I’m not sure how often this site is updated, and I don’t see an archive.

I found the graphics at The Idea Café a little juvenile. But that doesn’t matter a bit. This site is a good one, and I believe you’ll find its contents quite interesting. For one thing, it’s a great source of small business info; its directory contains URLs and brief explanations of entrepreneurial-content websites all over the virtual universe. For another, it has a subtle sense of humor. Its sign-up form (yes, registration is FREE) is fairly dry and straightforward, until you get down near the end, and are asked:

On which island do you plan to retire? (Click one)
Bora Bora... Bali... Kauai... Iceland... Cuba... Fantasy Island

The Virtual Team

Over the past few months, I’ve been dialoguing with a great team of people, pitching some intriguing new clients, waiting impatiently for That One Big Job that will make us all very wealthy for a day or two. Gil, the project manager, is a pioneer of innovative and creative solutions; Annmarie, who handles marketing and advertising, is a true visionary; and Jon, the graphics guy, is sharp and talented.

There’s just one little problem: the physical space between us is vast. Gil and Jon are way up in the frozen tundra of Ontario, Canada; Annmarie is an old pal in Kailua, and I, your humble columnist, am a chicken rancher and freelance writer in rural South Carolina.

Thankfully, Gil has managed to reduce our different time zones to nothing more than a bit of an annoyance. He’s found a new tool called Lotus QuickPlace.

Quickplace is a “revolutionary Web-based teamware application that lets users create an instant shared workspace - a QuickPlace - on the Internet or their corporate intranet, where team members can centrally communicate, share, and manage and organize information, documents and schedules around any project or initiative.” Our team recently tested this spiffy new tool, still in its beta stages, and we were all very, very impressed.

This isn’t for the fainthearted; users need IE 4.0 with Active Scripting and ActiveX enabled, or Netscape 4.08 or better with Java and JavaScript enabled. If YOU are working with a virtual team, you’ll want to check this out.

SITES TO SEE

Small Business Survival Foundation
www.sbsc.org

CCH Business Owner’s Toolkit
www.toolkit.cch.com

Biztalk
www.biztalk.com

The Idea Café
www.theideacafe.com

Lotus Quickplace
www.quickplace.com


Caroline Wright, of WRIGHT FOR YOU Word Services, is a freelance writer. A former resident of Hawaii, she now lives in rural South Carolina. Feel free to e-mail your comments to Caroline at cw@wrightforyou.com.