Gearing Up for Success

SME Toolkit helps small businesses grow and succeed.

Imagine a set of business tools that can help you with business financing, web development and human resource functions. What if it helped you build a community around your business, build ties across town, across the country and across the globe; and as a bonus helped you make important decisions? What would that be worth to you? What if it was free? Welcome to the SME (Small and medium enterprises) Toolkit.

Since its original 2002 launch, the SME Toolkit has grown in scale and capability. Understanding that as much as 80 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses, but that these businesses are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to training and technology, IBM partnered with IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank, to create a free small business toolkit that would offer woman- and minority-owned small businesses in the United States, as well as small business owners in emerging markets, access to the kind of highly developed business information, tools, and training services usually reserved for Fortune 1000 companies.

The Tools Involved

The SME Toolkit helps entrepreneurs and small business owners implement the kind of sustainable business management needed for finance, accounting, international business, marketing, human resources or legal activities. Among the free tools specially designed for small business are:

  • An online calculator to determine if your small business is ready for financing.

  • Free website building software.

  • Free employee performance evaluation forms.

  • Community tools including online conferencing, blog capability, group calendars.

  • Survey, and quiz builders to assist small businesses decision making.

  • A multilingual business directory to help small businesses link locally, regionally and globally.

Small businesses using the Toolkit can also receive business training delivered via classroom workshops and partnerships with local support providers and help to expand globally because they receive detailed market access, investment and trade information for the 64 top importing countries.

“This truly is one-stop shopping for small businesses, and it levels the playing field,” said Stanley Litow, President of the IBM International Foundation and Vice President, IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs. “We know the tools that large businesses mostly use and we know the role technology can play in leading to growth. Now, every business can have the same chance to succeed. It’s vitally important that we help small businesses who are the major employers and growth engines in developing markets. These are just the kind of tools that can help underserved markets be successful.”

On the international side, local partners in each of the countries hosting the Toolkit, such as Elite in Nepal, Dunn & Bradstreet in Singapore, and FUNDES in Latin America, are responsible for making sure the more than 500 pieces of content, tools and resources are customized, localized and available in the language of their respective markets. These partnerships provide small businesses with local support, thus nurturing their businesses to improve their chance of survival and to generate more jobs. In the U.S., an advisory group will serve this same role to review existing content and identify new tools specifically for Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and women-owned businesses.

The SME Toolkit:
A Colorblind Resource

Now, does this mean that, if you happen to be a business owner who is both white and male, that there is nothing for you in the SME Toolkit? Certainly not! The tools, articles and other little treasures you will find in the Toolkit are colorblind and perfectly useful regardless of your race or sex. In fact, you would be very hard-pressed to find anything in the Toolkit that is race- or sex-specific. The creators may be marketing the Toolkit to women and minorities in business, but the tools within it are for everyone.

Using the Toolkit

Navigating the SME Toolkit is very easy. The navigation is consistent and intuitive and gives you precisely what it promises. There are links to the Toolkit’s foreign language sites, free tools and informational how-to articles, features, and success stories detailing how the SME Toolkit was able to assist small business owners in developing a business plan, streamlining processes, developing pricing strategies and even honing the businessperson’s presentation skills.

Main topics covered in the Toolkit include accounting and finance, business planning, human resources, international business, legal and insurance, marketing and sales, operations, and technology. Within each of these larger topics, you will find a list of more specific topics. These lead to pages where the subject matter is broken down even further into specific articles and tools.

Responsible Party

IBM dedicated nearly $2 million to build the SME Toolkit platform. They undertook this work in order to improve the Toolkit’s usability and performance, and in doing so provided enhanced functionality and created a resource hub, learning location, and an online meeting place for small and medium businesses. The result is a toolkit that includes an open source platform (to make it customizable), sporting Web 2.0 technology to support such features as live chat, online forums, and survey capabilities.

“We see the SME Toolkit as a way to accelerate economic development and job growth in geographies and communities not yet engaged in the market economy, as well as to help spur development of women– and minority-owned businesses in the U.S.,” said Litow. “We are excited to bring our technical resources to this project that has the potential to reach so many.”

Something For Nothing

For something that cost so much to develop as the SME Toolkit, the price is certainly reasonable: It’s free. There is nothing to join, there isn’t even a registration process—free or otherwise—before you get to the good stuff. All you need to do is go online, type in the URL and everything that IBM and IFC have put together is right there for you. Visit and have a look. It will be the best money you never spent.

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