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AOL Takes Big Step with Small Biz Service

This week Bigstep.com managed to land a multi-year alliance with America Online Inc. to provide its free small-business site building services across all of America Online's brands.

As if that weren't enough, Bigstep.com can put 100,000 candles on its birthday cake to commemorate signing up the same number of small businesses to use its e-business building tools and services.

Bigtep.com has established an impressive array of alliances, in addition to the AOL deal. Since the inauguration of its free e-commerce services, Bigstep.com has landed promotional partnerships with the likes of Compaq Computer Corp., the Direct Marketing Association, McAfee.com Corp. and Stamps.com, among others.

Many firms target the small businesses and Web entrepreneurs, but few have delivered the value proposition that Bigstep.com manages to administer around the clock.

Under the terms of the agreement with America Online, Bigstep.com's free Web-based store-building solutions, integrated e-commerce applications, and marketing tools will be featured AOL's branded small business channels.

The co-branded offering is designed for small businesses that require dedicated e-business solutions. As part of the agreement, Bigstep.com and America Online will work together to offer marketing, advertising and distribution programs to help drive traffic to the service.

Andrew Beebe, Bigstep.com chief executive and co-founder, said aligning with America Online has been a long-standing goal.

"Small businesses and entrepreneurs need solutions powerful enough, yet easy to use, that allow them to extend their unique offerings online," Beebe said. "They also need alliances like this one to help bring them distribution, marketing and placement. We believe that inking this deal is more than just good news, it's our job."

America Online spent $4.2 billion to acquire Netscape Communications Corp. on November 1998. Netscape has been an integral part of AOL's small business Web marketing initiatives.

Jim Martin, Netscape senior vice president and general manager, said the agreement with Bigstep.com would help it provide small businesses with what they need to thrive."

"The small business market has huge potential, and we are committed to working closely with best-of-breed companies like Bigstep.com to offer tools and services for small businesses to tap this potential and succeed online," Martin said. "The deal underscores AOL's commitment to focus our efforts on this booming market and offer our users targeted services."

Bigstep.com is a free, do-it-yourself, online service center where small businesses can build a business Web site, communicate with customers, market the site, accept credit cards, track visitors, and more.

Bigstep.com provide a well-rounded storefront package that charges no hosting fees. But business owners must arrange for a merchant account through Bigstep.com, even if it business already has one.

Accounts are established with Cardservice International, which include opening a merchant account, real-time sales transaction processing, and access to shipping and taxes calculators. The service costs $15 a month plus 20 cents per transaction.

During setup and catalog building, Bigstep.com providers site-builders with a simple to-do list that guides businesses through building their Web pages by using a series of templates.

Unlike rival online catalogue firm iCat Commerce Online, a division of Int



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