This being the New Year, we are on the verge of one of those happy coincidences of space and time that for many small business people in the UK means heartache, anguish and stress, and for resellers means a great sales opportunity.
As many of you know, the end of January is the time for self-assessed tax returns. Actually, most of you shouldn't know this unless you lied on your registration form and said you employed a staff of 150 when really it's just you and your brother-in-law assembling PCs in your spare room.
But small businesses across the land are about to look at the piles of paper and creaky ledgers and say, 'maybe we can do this on a PC'. So the month which normally involves avoiding the PA you tried to pull at the Christmas party, trying to scrounge tickets for the Five Nations and having a permanent bad mood will this year include the fun-filled task of computerising the bookkeeping.
Before Christmas, I spoke to Joe Macri, Microsoft's man looking after the interests of small business (which is like Dracula minding a blood bank, but that's not Joe's fault). He says MS has counted 2.6 million small businesses in the UK that are responsible for a quarter of MS sales.
'The bad news is we were doing very badly because those businesses employ 58 per cent of the UK's workforce and are responsible for 40 per cent of GDP,' he adds. The challenge when selling software to these businesses is that only 250,000 of them are growing quickly. The rest are either just starting, collapsing, or in the vast majority of cases, trying to sort out what they are doing. This came as a surprise to MS staff, who assumed that all small business people were driven by the urge to be as successful as MS, when in fact most are driven by the urge to get home in time to see the footie on TV.
This led to some interesting focus groups.
Man from MS: What were you thinking about at work? Pick one of the following: achieving hyper-growth, going public or employee stock options.
Small Business Person (SBP). Actually, I was wondering if we're having sausages for tea.
Man from MS: We don't have a category for that. This explains the success of products like Quicken, which in a timely move has bundled QuickTax 97 on one CD. Quicken speaks the language of the SME technology sale.
SBP: The MS focus group made me nervous. I need a software package that will simplify the process of preparing accounts before the end of the month or the Inland Revenue will cut my goolies off.
Reseller: Actually, only Customs and Excise has the statutory power to do that. But I suggest you use a product like Quicken.
Reseller: Because it draws a picture of a cheque book and you don't have to know what a macro is.
SBP: Done. If I pay cash can we lose the VAT?
Reseller: See? You're learning already.
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