From the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

The big online service providers know a good thing when they see it. Announcing his company's first year of profitability this spring, Rodrigo Sales, CEO of Vendio, said, "We are entering a new era in e-commerce- increasingly driven by smaller businesses and merchants."

The small- and midsize-business (SMB) sector has not suffered with the IT slump as much as megacorporations have. The SMB market is also well-positioned to take advantage of services offered online that don't require investing in on-site hardware or software. That's why companies including AOL, Covad, Microsoft, Vendio and Yahoo! are working hard to woo growing businesses with a host of Internet services designed specifically for companies like yours. Here's a closer look:

  • AOL for Small Business (www.aolforsmallbusiness.com) is an enhanced version of AOL's regular service with perks like up to seven simultaneous log-ons (for multiple employees) under one account, priority technical support, and extra-cost premium features like Web site building and business e-mail. The basic access plan runs $23.90 per month for dial-up and $54.95 for broadband.
  • Covad Communications Group Inc. (www.covad.com), a major supplier of DSL to businesses, isn't content to just dish out Internet access. The company doesn't offer the wide range of services some other providers do but instead focuses on cost-effective e-mail and Web hosting solutions.
  • Microsoft bCentral (www.bcentral.com) sells services such as e-mail marketing, targeted sales leads, Web hosting (starting at $30 per month), e-commerce, Web collaboration, and just about everything else you can imagine. Live Web chats with sales specialists are available to steer you through the offerings.
  • Vendio Services Inc. (www.vendio.com) changed its name from AuctionWatch earlier this year and expanded its services to encompass online businesses of all kinds. Vendio helps businesses organize, manage and automate the sales process across multiple channels, including auctions, e-commerce and online stores, and also offers services for customer management.
  • Yahoo! Small Business Center (http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com) offers Web hosting and e-commerce solutions through Yahoo! Stores as well as a variety of Web promotion and management tools. Partner offers and resources connect you to companies like Cisco Systems Inc., MasterCard International and Thomas Register. DSL Internet access co-branded with SBC Communications (www.sbc.com) is also available.

The substantial list of major players in this area means growing businesses are benefiting from the competition, both in price and in the scope and quality of services. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, this attention and interest from providers shows no sign of waning.