Greetings from Austin, Texas. I'm at the annual South By SouthWest (SXSW) Interactive festival. I'm writing a follow up story about the Small Business Web which I described last March after SXSW 2010 as 'a group of software companies whose programs are connected to each other via a set of communication channels. These APIs let them pass data from one program to another – giving small business solutions the capabilities of an integrated enterprise suite of applications at a small business price.'
The 'why should I care' part for your growing company is that you can list several types of software your business needs, add the services online, and connect them like building blocks so your invoicing, email marketing, and customer relationship management (CRM) system, for instance, are all connected. And you don't need tech support to make it happen. Many of these companies also support Google's Apps Marketplace, allowing a company to integrate tools via the sign-in they already use to get email.
The Small Business Web has grown from my reported 70 companies last year to 168 this year, according to co-leader Sunir Shah, "Chief Handshaker" of online invoicing service Freshbooks. Not all the companies integrate with all other companies, since some integrations don't make business sense. But all signed the manifesto indicating that they believe, among other things, that 'small businesses should have access to the same tools and technology that big companies have.'
And there are competing companies involved, according to Michelle Riggen-Ransom, Director of Communications for small business CRM provider BatchBlue. 'We have email providers MailChimp, Icontact and Constant Contact as well as other competing CRM providers.' The tools range from mail and CRM to customer support and project management, with new categories being constantly added.
Shah added 'If one cloud-based service succeeds, it benefits everyone in our industry. An increasing market helps all of us. ' That market is only beginning its growth. According to an IDC Research report quoted* in the Wall Street Journal, 'only about 7% of small-business owners were using cloud services, but that number is expected to grow to more than 10% by mid-2011.' (UPDATE: Direct link to the research, behind a pay wall.)
The fact that the products integrate is really important to Shah. 'At Freshbooks, we're 3 times more likely to have a customer go from a free trial to paying for our service if they use any of the integrations with other Small Business Web partners.'
The Small Business Web effort got a boost recently when the Small Business Web received support from American Express OPEN. 'OPEN is about small business doing more business,' said Eric Jepsky, Vice President of Business Development. 'Small businesses really have a strong need for tech companies focused on them. We appreciate their focus on making small business' lives easier through interoperability.'
OPEN has it's own set of Small Business web apps, but these apps currently do not integrate through open API interfaces like those used by the companies in the Small Business Web group. Jepsky said such interfaces are 'TBD, but the Small Business Web is an innovative, best of breed group that we wanted to be a part of.' This group will likely continue to grow with the support of OPEN and other companies.
Does your small business need some of the tools provided by the almost 170 companies in the Small Business Web? Are you working with them? Let us know your story in the comments.
(*IDC's report is behind a pay-wall and they were not reachable for comment. UPDATED above.)