SBA, corporate site offers advice to businesswomen

Women entrepreneurs seeking to start or expand businesses turned to the World Wide Web last week to learn about selling to the federal government.

Women chatted online with Dietra Ford, the General Services Administration's associate administrator of the Office of Enterprise Development, who was featured as part of the new Online Women's Business Center, developed by the Small Business Administration, IBM Corp., J.C. Penney Company Inc., NationsBank Corp., GTE Corp. and Avon. The center offers a wide range of business data and services to women business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs.

To access the center, check out www.onlinewbc.org. This informative site, which was created to provide fledgling business owners with a practical electronic guide for self-employment, is organized to fit the needs of users in various stages of launching or running a business. The center's Web page designers culled the most current information on business practices, principles, management techniques, mentoring, networking and resources from more than 50 SBA-affiliated women's business centers throughout the country.

The "Conference" button allows users to access the interactive portion of the center, where individuals can sign up for discussion groups on various topics, "sit in" on a virtual conference or track down an expert for some practical advice.

Users who have yet to take the plunge into the realm of the self-employed may want to start in the "Learning about business" section. Here, users will find tips on starting and growing a business as well as success stories for inspiration from those business owners whose ventures are thriving. For example, to compete with the "big dogs" in a specific industry, users are advised to keep up a good image through public relations and crisis control and by marketing through key customer relationships.

The page also is divided into broader categories for users tackling specific issues, such as marketing, finance, management, technology and procurement. Click on the "Entrance" button to find links to these topics, which are packed with practical guidance from choosing a PC to responding to audit notices from the Internal Revenue Service.

The center's Web page points out that of the $200 billion of federal contracts awarded each year, only 2 percent go to women-owned businesses. Users interested in developing a strategy for tapping into the federal government procurement arena should click on "Procurement place," which is packed with details for business owners interested in finding their way through the government's maze of regulations and rules. This area provides links to small-business and women-owned business development centers and electronic commerce resource centers.

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