Easy enough to find the Small Business Administration's Web site, right? Type in www.sba.gov, and there you are. But what if you write www.sba.com instead? You'll wind up at the Web site of Smith, Bucklin & Associates, a 700-employee trade-association management firm in Chicago. And you won't be the first.
It's not a case of deliberate cybersquatting. Founded in 1949, the firm is known in its field as SBA, so logically, says Will Thomas, vice-president for Internet services, it chose www.sba.com for its Web address. Before long, the firm got some unexpected e-mails, posing such questions as "How do I get a small-business loan?" Thomas felt obliged to add a hyperlink to the government's small-biz site. Of Smith Bucklin's 40,000 to 50,000 visitors per month, about 20% want the federal SBA, which logs about 700,000 visitors weekly. Still, there's ample room for cyber-confusion, with www.sba.net, an education company's site written in Dutch, and www.sba.org, the Southern Bakers Assn.'s Web sites. The bakers get about 15 e-mails a day from small-biz owners. At least they're all talking about dough.