More than 12,000 small business owners and managers will hit the Internet today and for the rest of the week to attend one or more of Microsoft's 40 free Webcasts geared for SMBs, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based software company. With its Small Business Summit as the backdrop, Microsoft also announced today plans to make it easier for small businesses to finance Microsoft products (as well as products and services from other vendors).
Previously, financing was available only on purchases of $10,000 or more. Starting today, that threshold is $3,000 for 36-month loans. Microsoft Financing will offer a 90-day deferred payment promotion available on all qualifying transactions and loans of $3,000 that close by June 30, according to the company.
"We know small businesses struggle with cash flow and tend to live month-to-month," said Doug Leland, general manager for the Worldwide Small and Midsize Solutions & Partner Group at Microsoft. Leland said Microsoft partners have reported that 20 percent of deals don't close because of lack of financing. The new financing option is designed to bridge the gap between what a small business needs to move forward and its practical concerns about how it will pay for the new products and services.
While most large technology companies offer financing, what may make Microsoft's approach more appealing to small businesses is the fact that in addition to Microsoft products, the financing covers hardware from system vendors and IT services from Microsoft partners.
Microsoft also reported that while small businesses are heavy credit card users, most prefer to use third-party financing or leasing over using cash or credit cards for IT-related purchases of more than $5,000. Leland said the financing will be available through Microsoft Gold Partners and Microsoft Small Business Specialists.
Ring It Up
Microsoft also announced today that it is making its point-of-sale product available through an expanded relationship with Best Buy. While originally not packaged with the necessary hardware for a turnkey retail system, Microsoft Point of Sale software is now bundled as part of complete all-in-one solution. To be more in line with what Intuit offers in its QuickBooks-based point-of-sale product, Best Buy stores offer will offer a Casio all-in-one, touch-optimized hardware package preloaded with Microsoft Point of Sale. Best Buy will also offer various levels of support to small businesses during and after installation, according to Microsoft.
In addition to making Microsoft Point of Sale available at 115 Best Buy stores in the U.S., the retailer is also expanding its relationship with Microsoft by creating Best Buy for Business Centers to provide what Leland describes as "a store-within-a-store." As certified Microsoft Small Business Specialists, Best Buy's goal will be to provide one-on-one advice about which Microsoft technology is right for a small business.
Leland said that two-thirds of small business owners shop retail, according a research from AMI. For that reason, it's important to provide full service — hardware, software, services — through retail outlets. Best Buy will offer on-site services through its well-known Geek Squad.
Currently, this type of end-to-end retail service for Microsoft products is available only through Best Buy, but Leland was quick to point out that Microsoft hopes to capitalize on the retail channel to reach small businesses. "We're eager to expand this concept to other retailers."
In other news, Microsoft said its upcoming Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 will add new management features for network-wide patch and update management. Its new Green Check feature is designed to gives customers and partners a visual indicator that everything is up to date.
Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 also includes increased mailbox size limits (more than 1 GB per user) and SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition technology. Leland said that any small business that purchases Windows Small Business Server 2003 SP1 Standard or Premium Edition from an original equipment manufacturer or system builder (dating back to March 1) can get the R2 upgrade media kit for a small shipping and handling fee.