Stand out, bulk up with Small Business Specialist Certification

While certifications offer an opportunity to differentiate oneself from competitors, that shouldn't be the only goal when completing an accreditation. Microsoft's Small Business Specialist certification requires candidates jump through several additional hoops.

If you support small businesses and seek a competitive edge, you likely owe Microsoft's Small Business Specialist Certification a look. But not for the reasons you might think.

Small businesses, of course, form the majority of U.S. companies. Numerous information technology professionals service the sector, either as full-time employees or independent consultants. Earning Small Business Specialist certification helps one stand apart from others, but that's not why the accreditation is worth pursuing.

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Windows Small Business Server 2003 has more than captured the attention of small businesses. Studies indicate Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 OS owns an overwhelming 86 percent of the small business market. IT professionals can leverage Microsoft's Small Business Specialist certification process to ensure they've mastered the baseline skills, knowledge, and expertise required to effectively deploy and maintain the server platform. Rather than earning the certification for the specialist logo and marketing edge that comes with the accreditation, the track does technology professionals a favor by insisting they take the time to properly understand the complex operating system and put the right relationships and tools in place.

Admit it. We get busy. It's really easy to begin rolling out new servers using the default settings and tapping powerful wizards when customization is required. But Windows Small Business Server 2003 (Standard/Premium/R2) boasts so many features and capabilities that the time taken upfront to learn all the ins and outs more than pays for itself in the end.

Here's what's involved.

Small Business Sales and Marketing Skills Assessment

Candidates must first pass Microsoft's Small Business Sales and Marketing Skills Assessment. One staff member within an organization seeking Microsoft's Small Business Specialist certification must pass the online test. The free online tutorial course reviews essential marketing and sales skills important to small business success.

Obtain proper partner status

The next step involves obtaining the proper Microsoft Partner status. In most cases, consultants will have already registered as Microsoft Partners and subscribed to the Microsoft Action Pack, a partner program benefit and software subscription designed to assist Microsoft partners in maximizing selling opportunities.

To proceed on the Microsoft Small Business Specialist track, candidates must be registered members with a current Microsoft Action Pack subscription or members of Empower For ISVs (a support program that aims to help independent software vendors develop applications effectively on Microsoft platforms). Alternatively, an organization can meet partner requirements by earning Certified of Gold Certified Partner standing.

Pass the exam

Once the marketing and partner requirements are met, candidates must tackle one or two Microsoft certification exams. While only one exam is required, many individuals and organizations elect to sit for both. The two exams are:

The strategy that's best for you or your organization depends on your need. If you seek to demonstrate expertise designing, deploying, and administering Small Business Server environments, the 70-282 exam is likely all you require.

The Designing, Deploying and Managing a Network Solution for a Small- and Medium-Sized Business exam targets IT professionals having at least one year of experience designing, implementing, and administering network servers. The network servers they administer should be in environments with up to 100 connections, support remote users and have Internet connectivity (which anymore should go without saying).

Specifically, the exam tests candidates' abilities to analyze business needs, design solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses, install, configure, support and maintain Windows Small Business Server 2003, expand an existing Windows SBS network, install and configure Windows Server 2003 and migrate SBS 2003 servers to Windows Server 2003.

If, however, your organization will regularly and routinely be preparing OEM installations, Exam 74-134 will ensure you're comfortable working with Microsoft's OEM pre-installation kit, using Setup Manager and understanding licensing requirements.

Pre-installing Microsoft Products and Technologies is a Technology Specialist exam. Candidates should possess at least one year of experience installing Microsoft operating systems and applications using Microsoft's pre-installation kit before attempting the test. Further, Microsoft recommends candidates pre-qualify themselves by first passing the online Pre-installation Specialist exam.

The 74-134 exam tests candidates' knowledge installing the OEM Pre-installation Kit tools, preparing hardware for the Windows Pre-installation Environment, creating configuration sets using Setup Manager, creating and applying pre-installation images, pre-installing applications, drivers and updates, complying with licensing requirements, troubleshooting pre-installation problems and pre-installing Small Business Server itself.


While certifications offer an opportunity to differentiate oneself from competitors, that shouldn't be the only goal when completing an accreditation. Microsoft's Small Business Specialist certification requires candidates jump through several additional hoops. While at first glance appearing to be a simple marketing tool, in this case the additional steps help ensure practitioners possess the knowledge, tools and partner relationships required to fuel long-term success.

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