Small firms supported in the drive for e-commerce

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The Independent Online
BY 2002 the Government wants to see 1 million small businesses using and benefiting from e-commerce. With 40,000 small businesses in Sussex alone, Sussex Enterprise recently set up a subsidiary devoted to electronic commerce in the county. Called Wired Sussex, the organisation offers support and training to SMEs on the internet, intranet, e-mail and CD-Roms. It has kicked off by publishing a booklet called E-Commerce Know How.

"Quite simply, electronic commerce is the ability to conduct real, secure transactions online - it means using a website not just for promotional purposes, but to generate income," the guide says.

Just 32 pages long, this pounds 9.99 publication tells all in such simple terms that meta tags, hyperlinks and cookies become child's play. It offers case studies, statistics and ideas, explaining that effective sites need shopping cart, auto-respond and credit card security among their facilities if they are to have any hope of reaching sales targets. Registration with search engines, links and banner advertising are all included together with facts and figures to illustrate their effectiveness.

The booklet is complemented by the website where a further 100 case studies and links are provided. Sussex Enterprise has also launched its Xtranet for its 2,300 members. Here SMEs can access information on local markets, events and discounts on services available from other members. They are also able to take part in electronic ballots and discussions on issues such as the euro, Y2K and the working-time directive.

Putting your business on the web plays such a valuable part in promoting your service or product to the world that an increasing number of businesses operate solely on the internet.

"Lots of individuals are opting for self-employment. If you work from home you eliminate the need to rent premises which can offset the costs of setting up an effective website," said Anna Pedroza, in charge of e-business for Wired Sussex.

"We are quite an entrepreneurial lot here in Sussex," she said. "While there is a lot of enthusiasm in the small business arena, there has been little support and information available. There is huge enthusiasm for technology and small businesses are not as conservative as you think."

While a physical retail outlet attracts a limited market, a shop front on the web has the potential to attract the whole world. There is no point producing a website that is little more than a brochure.