Small business owners and business development professionals have given high marks to the "Online Business Guidebook," produced by Pamplin College of Business and other students at Virginia Tech.

Among the comments the students received:

“I can’t seem to keep copies of your book in the office. The clients love them!”

“A success story we can share … is a woman-owned business that started as an Internet store following the guidelines in the guide, and as she gained popularity and following, added a physical store front/retail location.”

“Most of all, it is the beginning-to-end, step-by-step nature of the book. It is straight forward and no-nonsense and relatively comprehensive.”

Following their e-business guidebook’s successful debut last spring, the students have expanded their audience to more than 60,000 readers in the United States and abroad and launched an outreach program to more than a dozen high schools in Virginia and Maryland. The students have also donated a 30-minute slide presentation, “How to start and grow an online business,” to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s online courses website, at the request of the SBA (registration is required to view the presentation).

Ian Hamre, a senior in finance from Fort Worth, Texas, who is the guidebook’s distribution manager, said about 500 small business development centers (SBDC) in 45 states will receive the guide during the next few weeks. The hard copy can be purchased online, where it is also available as a free download, and at Amazon. All proceeds from sales benefit the Virginia Tech Foundation and fund scholarships, research, and student projects.

“The goal is to send free copies to all 1,100 SBDCs across America, if sufficient funding is obtained,” said Alan Abrahams, an assistant professor of business information technology and the organization’s primary faculty advisor. Abrahams conceived the publication as a hands-on class project in 2008, and it is now a continuing venture, with new editions produced each semester by a new class of students. The students have added an interactive forum and a blog to the guidebook website and recently received official tax-exempt status for their organization.

The guidebook students received a $10,000 allocation from the Pamplin College’s Dean’s Fund for Excellence to support their operations, as a result of a donation from Freddie Mac. Primary sponsors of the fall 2009 edition — which had a total print run of 9,500 hardcopies — were GladHandle and Progress Printing, of Lynchburg, Va., and law firm LeClair Ryan. “These companies have again generously supported the spring 2010 edition, which comprised 30,000 hardcopies.”

Abrahams said downloads of the free electronic edition, launched last July, totaled 51,509 during the July 2009 – January 2010 period, by visitors from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. “The response has been phenomenal,” said Andrea Lovett, a senior communication major from Greensboro, N.C., who is the guide’s executive director. “In addition to the many visitors to our website, small business counselors and advisors ordered — and reordered — hard copies.”

The guidebook is available via the following channels:

  • Free (limited quantities) at small business development centers in 45 states
  • 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) counselors in Virginia
  • Purchase at businessguidebook.org (via Google Checkout)
  • Purchase on Amazon.com
  • Free download online (http://www.businessguidebook.org/ebook)

Learn more about the guidebook:

  • Spring 2009 Pamplin magazine (cover story)