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Oxygen to offer small-business Web site building

Oxygen Media tomorrow will announce a partnership with Bigstep.com, in an effort to attract to the Net the largest sector of small-business owners: women.

Oxygen Media will tap Web site builder Bigstep.com in a joint effort to attract to the Net the largest sector of small-business owners: women.

Bigstep will create a cobranded service on Oxygen's Ka-Ching finance site, the companies are expected to announce tomorrow. Available for free, the service will enable women to build and manage their businesses, create catalogs of products, send customer newsletters, analyze site traffic, and accept online credit card payments.

Oxygen, which plans to launch a sister cable channel for women in February, hopes the Web site-building tools will keep its audience coming back, rather than turning to veteran sites such as Women.com and iVillage. See related newsmaker: Geraldine Laybourne But for San Francisco start-up Bigstep, the partnership could give it a leg up in an extremely competitive market, where firms such as Yahoo, CitySearch, CommerceKey, and Intel provide similar Web services to small and medium-sized businesses.

Women own 40 percent of all businesses in the United States but are "starting new firms at twice the rate of all other business," according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Bigstep estimates that more than half of its current clientele are women-owned firms, such as financial planners, legal consultants, and retailers.

By pairing with the women's network, Bigstep will have access to a huge pool of potential customers. Bigstep also could benefit from Oxygen's new national advertising campaign, which will include a Super Bowl ad, as well as traffic driven by Oxygen partner Oprah Winfrey, who frequently plugs the site on her show.

Down the line Bigstep hopes to make money by offering extra services to established clients.

"We made the decision to work with them because they are incredible people, but we knew the marketing opportunities they are going to be rolling out over time would be massive," said Andrew Beebe, chief executive of Bigstep. "We think building thousands of sites out of this is a no-brainer."

The quick tools Bigstep will provide are the kind of feature Oxygen had been promising to offer its users. Rival Women.com's small-business area lets women write business plans and set up home offices, for example.

"We will help Ka-Ching focus on this 'underserved' market," Beebe said. "You just click on 'starting your business,' and it can take 15 minutes to get your business up and running."

Geraldine Laybourne, Oxygen's founder, said in a statement that "this offering goes to the heart of what Oxygen is all about--providing unique services and solutions designed to help women manage their lives and realize their economic power."