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Microsoft is urging partners in the United Kingdom to sign up for its Office Live Designer and Developer Community, hoping that the promise of nearly 1 million potential small business customers will add to its Office Live Small Business partner base.

Microsoft’s Tim Kimber, director of product marketing, Office Live, says about 250 Office Live partners have signed up since the service launched in February, but that Microsoft is launching an awareness and marketing campaign beginning in the United Kingdom to recruit hundreds more.  He says there are about 1 million businesses using Office Live worldwide, a huge opportunity for partners.

"We’re trying to match up partners who have an expertise in Web, e-mail and small business technology with many of the over 1 million customers who’ve already signed up, so partners can help them build sites and manage running their businesses online," Kimber says.

When partners sign up, they are given a free OfficeLive developer account, free access to online training materials and add-on applications, Kimber says. Partners then create a listing and an online advertisement so customers can easily find local and regional partners if they need help with services, Kimber says.

While the May 21 announcement applies to U.K. partners, Kimber says Microsoft will also be launching simultaneous campaigns in the United States over the next few months.  Partners confirmed they haven’t heard much about OfficeLive stateside yet. Rick Bahl, the owner of Microsoft partner Quality Systems Solutions, says he attended a 2-hour partner Webcast the morning of May 21 and no mention was made of Office Live.

Office Live gives small businesses a domain name, a hosted Web site and e-mail capabilities for free, Kimber says, and now it also includes an e-mail marketing beta to ease e-mail newsletter campaigns and promotions. 

Kimber says that targeting these “micro small businesses” is a great area of opportunity for partners to get in on the ground floor, grow along with a customer and become a true trusted advisor. 

"This allows partners to engage with customers at a much earlier stage than they would previously, and then be there when [customers] grow enough to need a server, for instance, or other higher-end services," Kimber says. 

With Microsoft Office Live Small Business, partners can offer basic Web site creation and customized Web design, as well as keyword advertising, e-mail marketing and e-commerce services. Partners can also develop recurring revenue streams through online services support. Getting customers on the Web can be a stepping stone to upgrade customers to different solutions and services, Kimber says.