Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER
Not online with your small Minnesota business? Internet search giant Google wants to fix that.
Google says nearly two-thirds of the state's businesses with fewer than 25 workers aren't online, largely because they think it's too difficult or expensive. But Google and its partner, small-business software firm Intuit, are offering to make it simple and inexpensive.
"Small businesses think it's difficult to get on the Web because they don't have a dedicated IT guy," said Steve Grove, Google's head of news and politics for its YouTube online video operation. "But getting online is easy."
The two technology companies will explain how it's done in free seminars being offered at the St. Paul RiverCentre from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Small companies that participate can get a free website for a year and a $75 credit on Google advertising. After the first year, the website costs $7 a month to maintain.
"Small business is one of the main engines of the economy, but it can only succeed if it's on the Web," Grove said. "So step one is getting online, and step two is how to drive traffic to your website. We use the seminars to present how-to-do-it stuff. And we show people how to use all the online advertising sites, not just our own."
Intuit provides website-building software, gives the website an address (such as mysmallbusiness.com) and hosts the website on an Intuit server. Intuit hopes that businesses that use the new websites will one day become customers for its small business software, including the QuickBooks accounting program, or services such a processing credit card purchases via a website.
"A lot of folks wouldn't know where to start to build a website," said Megan Bhattacharyya, Intuit's product manager for websites in Mountain View, Calif. "But in the cities we've been to with Google, customers are shown how to set up a website in 60 minutes."
To register for the seminars, go to www.minnesotagetonline.com or call 1-800-986-6852.
Minnesota is the fourth state where Google and Intuit have offered Web help to small businesses. Neither company seems likely to reap immediate financial rewards. The companies have made a similar pitch to small businesses in Texas, Vermont and Missouri, and next week they'll be in Iowa.
"It seems like there's a huge opportunity here," Grove said. "Minnesota has over half a million small businesses, and 59 percent of them have no website."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who plans to attend the Saturday session in St. Paul, said her travels around the state convinced her that many small businesses aren't online, but should be to reach consumers.
"Everything is changing, and we don't want small businesses to be hurt," Klobuchar said.
Some businesses have successfully moved online.
At Brand Ink, a year-old St. Anthony firm that wraps cars, buses and trucks with vinyl advertising artwork, President Nicholas Lowry said he'd never have succeeded without an Internet presence.
"It's such an equalizer that a small company can gain attention," said Lowry, who used Google's AdWords advertising program, in which searching for certain terms brings up related business ads.
Sarah Gordon, a consultant who helps businesses and homeowners organize work or living spaces, said Google helped get attention for her business through advertising and free services, such as the online map that located her Blaine-based firm, Sarah Gordon Professional Organizer and Home Stager.
"Our goal is to reduce the friction in getting business people online," Grove said. "After that first year of free service, they can choose what to do next."