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SMALL BUSINESS | Business Tools: Software, Technology
and New Products to Help Your Company

Web Site, in Free Analysis, May Give You Valuable Insights to Your Firm

May 19, 1999|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Most small-business Web sites offer general advice that you can find in books, business magazines and newspapers. Business Insight Online is different.

This free site (http://www.businessinsight.org) asks you to fill out a 50-item questionnaire about your company and business strategy and provides a critical analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.

The site, operated by Austin, Texas-based Business Resource Software Inc., is designed to promote the company's "Business Insight" software. The $895 program asks 500 questions and provides more than 50 pages of analysis along with charts and graphs.

Regardless of whether you spring for the commercial version, the free Internet service may provide you with some valuable insights you can use right away.

The questionnaire begins by asking the name of your business and the product or service you want to evaluate. That is followed by questions such as how long you've been in business, the type and size of your business, your cash position, market share and the experience level of your key personnel. If you're a one- or two-person business, you obviously don't have a separate chief financial officer or a development manager, but you can answer the questions from the perspective of whoever performs that task.

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When I looked at the page I noticed it didn't have a privacy policy, which disturbed me because the site asks questions that could require entering proprietary information.

Jerry Spencer, president of Business Resource Software, told me the information you enter is purged from the server as soon as you exit the page. He also indicated that you don't have to give an e-mail address and that it is OK to make up a name for your business. He indicated that he would soon add a privacy statement to his page.

For some small-business people, the site will have value even before you receive the analysis. The questions force you to think about issues you might not consider otherwise, such as how the price of your product or service compares with the competition's.

After you're done, you press the submit button. The site spewed out a seven-page analysis of the business I entered.

The analysis may not be as specific as what you'd get from a consultant, but it includes a number of specific suggestions. The wording is a bit technical, but if you read it carefully, you should get some insight from it. Mainly, its value lies in the process of filling out the questionnaire and the fact that many of your answers are summarized as part of the analysis.

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In addition to providing insight, the analysis you get from the software or the free Web site can be instrumental in helping to build a business plan because it asks many questions that a potential funding source or business partner might ask.

The idea that a Web site or a computer program can provide you with everything you need to understand your business strikes me as a bit naive, but as tools--along with common sense, intellectual elbow grease and possibly some professional advice--both the Web page and the software can be quite helpful.

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Lawrence J. Magid can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword "LarryMagid."

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