Following a successful launch in May, the Online Business Guidebook team expanded distribution of its book this summer to more than 25,000 readers across the country and around the world. This fall, the student publishers, guided by faculty advisors, will work on reaching out to high schools in a pilot program while continuing to develop their small-business audience through new initiatives, including out-of-state and foreign editions.
The 74-page e-business guide’s Fall 2009 edition (and second print run) was fully sponsored by GladHandle.com and Progress Printing of Lynchburg. The guidebook organization recently received a $10,000 donation from Freddie Mac to support its operations, says Alan Abrahams, an assistant professor of business information technology who is the organization’s primary faculty advisor. Law firm LeClair Ryan, he says, has signed on as a flagship sponsor of the Spring 2010 edition.
Abrahams says about 9,500 hard copies of the Fall 2009 edition have been printed and are primarily distributed through small business development centers and small business counselors in Virginia, Florida, New York, and California. “The free electronic edition, launched in July at the guidebook’s web site, was downloaded more than 15,500 times in July and August combined, by visitors from all 50 states and more than 100 countries,” he says. “There is a huge interest in the publication out there.”
Meeting a great need
The book is meeting a great need, he adds, judging from the feedback received at the businessguidebook.org website, including this recent comment from a member of the small business development center at Gulf Coast Community College, who requested 200 more copies (twice the college’s original allocation): “I can’t seem to keep copies of your book in the office. The clients love them!”
Complimentary copies of the guidebook were also sent this summer to a Portland, Ore., youth development organization in memory of Pamplin College benefactor Robert B. Pamplin, who died in June.
The guidebook organization, Abrahams says, is currently seeking funding for a high-school outreach program that would send 50 Pamplin business information technology students a year to 100 Virginia high schools. “The students would teach online business concepts, distribute free copies of the book, and serve as mentors to high-school entrepreneurs.”
This fall, the team is collaborating with Virginia Western Community College to launch a pilot program at Franklin County High School. “We hope that this program will be replicated state-wide next year, with a target of 10,000 Virginia high-school students, and, in future, expanded to other states via university partners,” he says.
Focus on small business
Small-business owners, however, remain the team’s primary focus, says Abrahams, who conceived the step-by-step guide in 2008 as a hands-on project for his Business Analysis Seminar in IT class and is the on-going project’s driving force. “If the current download rate of the e-book edition is sustained, we expect the guidebook will be read by more than 100,000 aspiring entrepreneurs over the next 12 months,” he says. “We’d also love to distribute 50,000 more free print copies of the book in five states, via small business development centers, small business counselors, and entrepreneur development seminars, and are actively recruiting sponsors.”
He adds that foreign editions are also being planned with partners in other countries. Initial discussions are underway for a French edition, and partners are being sought for British, Australian, South African, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian editions.
The organization offers its resources for faculty research on Internet businesses, says Abrahams, and welcomes enquiries and research ideas from prospective collaborators. Studies being planned include analyzing changes in the advertising market for B2B Internet companies, process models for Internet-based small business creation, and outcomes assessment of the guidebook program.
The guidebook is available via the following channels:
- free at small business development centers in Virginia (all 29 centers), Florida (via 12 regional offices), New York (24 regional centers, 29 outreach offices), and California (various centers)
- free at all Entrepreneur Express Workshops in Virginia, hosted by the Virginia Department of Business Assistance—visit the Virginia Co-operative Extension Desk
- free via SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) small business counselors in Virginia
- purchase at businessguidebook.org (via Google Checkout)
- purchase on Amazon.com