PracticeConsultingThe top SME portals

The top SME portals

Business advice on the internet is plentiful. But like most things on the web, finding the help or the information you need can be frustrating. AccountancyAge.com this week features a review of some of the best sources of advice and service for small businesses and start-ups compiled by our sister site, vnunet.com.

BusinessEurope.com

A well-designed, well-planned website that is primarily an information resource for SMEs across Europe (available in English, German and French). Journalistic standards are high in the News section, and the Resources area provides a lot of simple, straightforward advice on everything from finance and e-commerce to human resources and sales and marketing techniques.

The Community area suffers from the problem that most SMEs are too busy trying to make money to want to add their thoughts to such burning issues as the euro and Labour’s New Employment Legislation – leaving the commentary to inveterate pundits and the political zealots. Perhaps people would be more confident in commenting if the discussions were in a more private space.

There is also an Executive zone, which seems a little out of place, although its main emphasis is on executives with a pan-European perspective (probably appealing to very few SMEs in the UK at the moment). The Marketplace section is not bustling with activity, either.

ClearlyBusiness

This is a joint venture between Freeserve (recently acquired by French ISP Wanadoo) and Barclays Bank – and that impartiality shows on the homepage, where an advert for Barclays online services is seamlessly integrated with the ‘editorial’ content.

That aside, this is good stuff – easily accessible and digestible guides to a range of material that many SMEs will find compelling. We like the way the site is structured around four core areas: general business advice, ebusiness advice, financial services and executive time-management ideas.

There are a range of nippy guides and features in each section (we like the emphasis on individual concerns – stress management and balancing work and private lives for work-stressed SMEs) mixed in with handy everyday business ideas. ‘How to write a killer ad’ and ‘Bean-counters explained’ gives you a good idea of the no-nonsense tone.

Euroline Services

This is a Pan-European website that claims to be the first business-to-business portal for SMEs in Europe. There’s a pretty thin news service that is predominantly stock market-oriented. A Business Services section includes e-banking, directories and financial and legal information. The financial section includes handy links to tax websites in nearly all the European Union member countries, and some of the applicant states.

The site links to the Mondus website, which enables companies to sell and buy products and services to/from each other. A Business Travel section offers flight and hotel details, along with related travel information. Finally, a Euromobility section offers a pan-European job search function – something which staff in corporates and larger SMEs may find useful.

Virginbiz.net

Richard Branson’s multi-faceted empire (although lottery-less) does have a typically brash website aimed at small businesses. Virginbiz.net is currently offering a free 45-day trial period for businesses to set up a single-page website, get a URL and email accounts, and generally introduce themselves to the company’s site builder technology. Not to be sniffed at!

There’s also a series of BizGuides which include handy ready-reckoners that will help you decide how much it will cost to set up a business, research the market and prepare a cashflow forecast – all essential tools for getting your bank manager to back your ideas.

The Cost Calculator is fascinating – if you’re an Ian Beale type you can check out what equipment you’ll need to kit out a fish and chip shop; if you’re a Basil Fawlty you can gasp over the costs of setting up a hotel/guest house. This is small business enterprise made fun!

Editor’s Choice

BT Click for Business

Without a doubt, this is the best place to start for any SME that has decided to get internet access, email and/or set up a website. BT has an historic advantage over its competitors – and still has almost monopoly control for many areas of the UK. Some customers may balk at that advantage, but what it does offer on its site is clearly organised and straightforward.

The site provides guidance and services for customers wanting ecommerce and web design facilities, as well as new application service provider packages such as Staffpay.net – an outsourced payroll facility accessed through your browser.

There’s also heaps of excellent standard business information available in Adobe Acrobat formats (see our features on Downloads to access the free Acrobat Reader software). BT estimates that more than 300,000 new businesses will be set up in the UK next year, and it wants the lion’s share of all those new revenues.

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