Social networking has moved rapidly from teen-centric sites such as MySpace into the realm of business with career-networking sites like LinkedIn. Now the trend is picking up speed in the world of small business with sites like Moli.com.
This self-described social media/social commerce site has launched the Moli Small Business Center, which it said is designed as a destination where small businesses can go to collaborate with, learn from and market to their peers.
The company defines small business as a the owner/operator or business with fewer than 10 employees and Judy Balint, Moli's president and COO (and one-half of the management team that created Etrade), estimated that there are 22 million such small businesses in the U.S., and a total of 40 million world wide.
Balint described Moli as a free, online social community designed for collaboration and e-commerce, a place where individuals and small business owners can create their own Web sites. It lets them manage multiple Web profiles from a single account to control their privacy and separate their social, business and family relationships.
The site offers tools and resources to help small business owners take their companies to the next level and, said Balint, still have time for their real life. Through a partnership with E-Myth, an expert in work/life integration, Moli offers E-Learning courses covering topics such as sales, marketing, accounting, HR, finance and operations.
"Moli combines rich functionality that lets people do more in one place in less time," said Balint. "It lets us get offline and get things done in the real word. We're not teenagers with hours to spend. Efficiency is key for us."
Other resources available in Moli's Small Business Center include a variety of forums, courtesy of a partnership with Yedda. In the community forum, members can connect, network, discuss issues and get advice and support. In the Ask the Experts forum, members can seek advice from retired business entrepreneurs.
The Small Business Center also offers a media album, calendar, blogs, RSS feeds and message boards along with audio and video clips and podcasts that contain content from both original and third-party sources.
Business owners cant afford to spend unproductive time searching aimlessly around the Web looking for the resources they need to better manage their businesses and improve the quality of their lives," said Balint. "With the Moli Small Business Center, members have the most comprehensive set of resources and tools available to grow their businesses for long-term success.
According to Balint, small business owners often have a hard time driving traffic to their Web sites, if they even have one. "Building a Web site in a social networking environment let's then focus on marketing and promoting their business instead of on SEO," she said. She added that Moli does it for them because its building community for everyone.
A free Moli account includes a control panel, a private page where you can manage your separate business, personal and family Web pages. Balint said that Moli uses CoVibe technology that protects personally identifiable information and provides members with consumer data aggregation and analysis on the visitors to their sites.
Members can purchase reports from CoVibe that contain real-time stats on the visitors to their sites, including how many visitors, their sex and their age. Balint promises that none of the information is personally identifiable but meant as a way to let members know what kind of an audience is interested in them.
Reports cost between $3.99 and $7.99 depending on how many variables and the type of analysis you want to include.
Moli also includes online store resources to let you sell products on your site. Tools include audio and video, text, a proprietary, AJAX-based shopping cart, Google Checkout and PayPal. Balint claims you can set up an online store in 30 minutes without any programming.
The online store costs $3.99 per month, and Balint said there's no limit to the number of products that you can sell, and that Moli does not take a cut of the transaction fee. Currently, the e-commerce function does not work with QuickBooks, but Balint said that integration with the popular accounting program is in the works.
Membership on Moli is free, and includes one personal URL and as many profile pages as you like. You can make profile pages private, public or hidden altogether, a capability that Balint said makes it easy for small businesses to create separate, hidden pages for vendors, clients, customers and employees.
Additional URLs cost $1.99 per year each. Currently, Balint said there are no storage limitations because the service is still young and they're learning about the community's usage patterns.
They may add storage limits in the future, with options to purchase more, but Balint said the basic storage offering would stay in line with the marketplace (i.e., Google currently offers more than 2 GB of free storage).The company launched in January 2008 with 241,000 registered members. According to Balint, in April 2008, the site received 20.9 million unique visitors.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.