BankAmerica Corp. has revamped its Internet site for small businesses, adding comprehensive information tied to each stage of growth in small companies.
The Web resource center now offers advice such as how to obtain financing, do marketing, hire employees, and write business plans.
"We want America's small-business owners to view NationsBank and the new Bank of America as a company that will help them throughout the life of their business," said James Lientz, head of the company's small-business customer group.
Small businesses are increasingly Web-savvy, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston consulting firm. It says that 36% of small- to midsize companies maintain Web sites, and 60% plan to establish one within 12 months.
Karen Brooks, a vice president at BankAmerica, said a recent customer focus group found that small businesses like the convenience of Web-based banking services.
Using the BankAmerica site, small-business customers "do not have to go out of their way," she said.
"One of the things they value the most is their time," she said.
BankAmerica has 1.6 million small-business loan customers, with $9.7 billion of loans outstanding.
It is one of a growing number of banking companies to realize that small businesses-led by professionals in the so-called SoHo (small office home office) market-are driving the nation's economy.
The vast majority of U.S. businesses-98%-have sales of less than $10 million a year and account for 75% of all new jobs.
Scores of Web sites are popping up to serve the country's estimated 15 million small businesses, especially as they gain prominence in the hearts and minds of America, said Gene Fairbrother, small-business consultant at the National Association for the Self Employed, a Washington advocacy group with 325,000 members.
"There is no question that everyone is tripping over themselves going after microbusinesses and home-based businesses," Mr. Fairbrother said.
This attitude is a major shift in how banks think about the segment, he said.
In the past, he said, it was much more difficult for small-business owners to get loans that would let them reach merchant status and accept credit card payments.
Greg Constantine, a vice president at Fisi-Madison, a Nashville unit of Cendant Corp., said he is finding a receptive market among banks for its BusinessEdge, a third-party service designed to help banks market to small businesses.
BusinessEdge, which is added to a bank's business checking account, combines various bank services with Fisi-Madison's proprietary products, such as equipment leasing, cash management sweep accounts, office supplies, and business insurance.
"We are trying to help a bank create a small-business resource center," Mr. Constantine said. "The bank basically becomes a portal for the small- business owner."