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Microsoft aims to serve up support for small businesses with a new training program.

The Microsoft Partner Program has long been a haven for technology service and solution providers and resellers to get certified in specific disciplines and tap into Microsoft's far-reaching support network. An extension of the program, dubbed the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community, launched in early July with a focus on partner companies that serve the technology needs of small businesses. "It's a recognition of what we call the small-business technology revolution, and the increasing sophistication of the operating environment and the technology environment for small businesses," says Cindy Bates, general manager of Microsoft's U.S. Small Business Group.

To call themselves Microsoft Small Business Specialists, partners have to complete training and pass a proficiency test. "They'll be trained on understanding the unique needs of small businesses, as well as appropriate licensing options," says Bates. Microsoft defines a small business as one with 50 employees or fewer, so the training is specifically geared toward those companies, which typically don't have in-house IT staff. Areas of training include security, proficiency with products like Microsoft Small Business Server, and understanding the technology priorities of smaller companies.

There are two facets to this program. First, growing businesses that are already Microsoft Partners, or those looking to get involved, can become Small Business Specialists. With that comes the benefits of Microsoft's clout, continual training in the latest products and help in reaching and retaining small-business customers. On the customer end, entrepreneurs dependent on Microsoft products can look for the Small Business Specialist logo when shopping for IT help to find partners specializing in businesses of their size.

Bates says they expect to have 20,000 certified specialists within 18 months. She anticipates a wide variety of solution providers, from value-added resellers to system builders, to participate. The increased focus on small-business needs is a good sign for entrepreneurs looking for technology guidance, particularly in the Microsoft realm. To find a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, visit the Microsoft Small Business Center online.

This story appears in the August 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »