What Small Businesses Need from an E-Marketplace: Keeping Technology Applications Simple and Focused; Working Collectively through Business Networks; and Tapping into a Network of Global Contacts for Technical Adaptations Has Helped This Business Support Organization Offer Online Solutions to Small Exporters

Article excerpt

Since 1995, PEOPLink has helped small exporting firms with e-commerce applications. PEOPLink discovered that small exporters don't know how to capture the benefits of the Internet for their businesses, have high access costs, find technology applications too expensive and complicated, and cannot manage the potential complexities of online payments.

Simplifying online marketing

In 2000, PEOPLink assembled a virtual team of programmers--working from locations as dispersed as Albania, Ecuador, India, Ireland, Siberia and the Ukraine--to develop an e-trade platform that would answer the concerns of small businesses.

Called CatGen, for "catalogue generator", the software allows companies to market themselves individually and as a group. Non technical users can quickly organize and digitize company and product information and images. The software also facilitates printing paper catalogues and publishing to CDs.

Among the features that help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are templates that can be previewed offline, for easy control of graphic design. Password-protected sites are available for each client. This way, small firms can work from shared computers such as those found in Internet cafes or at local chambers of commerce. They also offer multilingual instruction manuals and templates; multiple pricing schedules; integrated web traffic analysis; and low-cost web hosting.

E-marketplace solutions for small firms

Businesses can jointly develop searchable "catalogue of catalogues" portals, to provide the visibility and credibility that are impossible for individual merchant catalogues. They can also insert themselves in other marketplaces easily, because the software is designed to do just that. To facilitate small orders, the software offers credit card payment facilities and aids to streamline export documentation, including built-in harmonized tariff codes and United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) categorization tools. …