Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Small Business = Big Opportunity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Small Business = Big Opportunity

Article excerpt

Small business is a big business.

If there was ever any doubt about that, it should be erased by now because so many giant companies - from telecommunications and computer companies to insurance companies and brokerage firms - have programs specifically tailored to the small-business market.

The way they market to small businesses, which make up about 50 percent of the private-sector economy, is instructive, for it always seems as if making a sale is the last thing on their minds. Rather, corporations try to offer a partnership, becoming a source for information, training, consulting, business resources and, yes, products you might want to buy. Call it the soft sell. MCI Communications Corp. sponsors a customer service award with Inc. magazine. Compaq Computer Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have teamed up to provide computing and software services at offices of the U.S. Small Business Administration. American Express has expanded its small-business financial service offerings. These are but a few of many examples. All of these efforts seemed to have reached a critical mass in the last few years, especially as large companies have downsized while small companies have grown. Dick Schrumpf, senior vice president and general manager for small-busin ess financial services at American Express, put it this way: "Small businesses are the third-largest economy in the world after the United States and Japan." Now serving 1.7 million small businesses, American Express has seen its business grow in the sector at double-digit rates. It estimates there are about 20 million small businesses in the United States out of the 24 million companies that file business tax returns. "One thing that has become apparent to large corporations is that they just can't rely on their traditional customer base to sustain and grow sales," said J. Riley McDonough, publisher of Inc. magazine, which is geared to growing businesses. "Through keener marketing and better service they realized they could eke out small gains with their customer base but they also recognized that small businesses were growing at a faster rate and were in need of products and services," he added. …

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