If any of you well-behaved small business owners visited the federal government’s Business.gov when it first launched back in 2004, you may remember it as a dull and dreary little web site that was not much more than a collection of links.
The web site was re-launched in February 2009 with a new look, new and snazzier programming, and a new venture into social networking (which I’ll get to in a minute) but, in the end, it remains essentially a collection of links. And, truth to tell, that is because that is what Business.gov was always intended to be.
Business.gov is a web portal operated jointly by 22 different federal agencies, believe it or not, as an online resource portal for small businesses. It has links to federal programs, compliance assistance links for various sorts of rules, regulations and laws, state-specific and industry-specific links, and more.
Some of the information is provided there on the web site but, for the most part, the links provided send the inquisitive small business owner to other web sites to explore further. If a newbie wanted to find out about writing business plans, for example, he or she would find that most of the links on the relevant page lead to the main SBA web site, Small Business Development Center web sites, and other credible resources.
There are a lot of good things to be said about the new-and-improved Business.gov web site. Certainly it would not be possible to link to all the good information for small business owners to be found online and it is very helpful for somebody to limit the number of resources to something manageable.
The information and links provided are much easier to navigate in this version of the web site, too, thanks to that aforementioned snazzy programming. Web site visitors will not spend any time at all scratching their heads wondering why that resources was listed under that heading and, plenty of cross-referencing means that they’re likely to find what they are looking for regardless of how their minds work.
That said, this site is in the unfortunate position of trying to be all things to all small business owners and probably is just not possible. There is quite a lot of information available for startups, including an encouraging amount of content targeted specifically at single-person businesses, microbusinesses and home-based businesses.
There is also a lot of information here for larger small businesses and those that are not so young and vulnerable, although I question how many of those firms will need to visit Business.gov in search of those resources. My hunch is that the more experienced business owners who are used to being online will already know where to find this information and will have little use for the portal.
Which brings us back to the social networking I mentioned earlier. In addition to the easier-to- use redesign, Business.gov now boasts a small business community where users can discuss whatever is on their minds.
Topic categories include financing, taxes, business law, and government contracting and here, too, is a separate board for the self-employed and home-based businesses. According to the “About Us” section of the web site, this is actually the very first online community sponsored by a federal agency.
If you decide to join the 1,000-plus members of the community, be prepared to dig your way through the self-serving not-quite-spammers in order to get to the golden nuggets of information posted by the more community minded members.
Even among the more genuinely helpful posts, you’ll find a distressing amount of self-serving drek. Dispensing the fruits of your experience in an online community like this is such a generally accepted online marketing ploy that you’d have thought people would be less heavy-handed and crass about it but that’s not the case.
As this community grows, it has the potential to become a wonderful source for networking and developing relationships, provided the community also grows a strong set of leaders and develops a culture that deals openly and mercilessly with trolls, spammers and self-serving twerps. That will take time, of course.
Meanwhile, I would suggest that Business.gov is well worth a visit and even a bookmark. The site will continue to grow as more tools, resources, and small business expert content are added. Besides, tone is everything in an online community like this; it may be worth your while to establish yourself as an early leader to help set that tone.
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About the Author: Dawn Rivers Baker, an award-winning small business journalist, regularly reports and analyzes small business policy and research as the Publisher of the MicroEnterprise Journal, where the nation’s business meets microbusiness. She also publishes the Journal Blog.