Microsoft will begin an eight-country rollout of a new set of online resources and technical support for its small-business customers today, a company executive said on Friday.

The new offering, called Small Business Plus, is part of the company's ongoing effort to provide better access to software, support and services for this customer segment, said Doug Leland, general manager for small business at Microsoft's Worldwide Small and Midsize Solutions and Partner Group.

The resources of Small Business Plus include content and technical support that is personalised using information that a customer provides when signing up for the service. That content and support can be accessed through the Small Business Center website, which Microsoft set up in March 2004 as an online portal for its small-business customers. The company has been trying for some time to make its software easier for that segment to deploy and purchase, Leland said.

Small Business Plus will be available in eight countries once the rollout, which begins today, is complete on 2 February. The offering will go live in the UK today, as well as the US, Australia and Canada. It will reach Germany on 30 January, the Netherlands on 31 January, Italy on 1 February and France on 2 February.

Customers can sign up for Small Business Plus for free. By providing information about their company, small-business customers gain access to a self-service environment that gives them answers to common questions about software products, along with service packs, articles, patches and webcasts that might be helpful to them, Leland said. The information is customised for companies based on their sign-up information.

Customers can also chat for free with live customer service representatives for quick advice on products. However, if those calls become too lengthy or complicated, an agent will inform a customer they must pay for that kind of chat-based technical support. Small-business customers can purchase that support through Small Business Expert, a yearly subscription service that provides a mix of online chat and over-the-phone technical support, Leland said.

Small Business Expert comes in Bronze, Silver and Gold packages, each with a yearly subscription fee. Bronze packages provide six online chats for $149 (about £84); Silver provides unlimited online chats for $299 (£169); and Gold combines unlimited online chat support with phone support for $499 (£282). New members of Small Business Plus in the US and the UK receive the Silver package on a free trial basis for 45 days, Leland said.

Before Small Business Plus, small-business customers had to pay $250 (£141) for phone-based technical support per incident. While Microsoft offers free technical support for many of its software products, it is not a guarantee for all the products a small company might use, so Small Business Expert is a good deal, Leland said.

Those who sign up for Small Business Plus are also eligible for software product training, as well as business training that will help employees of small businesses apply Microsoft technology to their particular roles in the business, he said. Software training is available for the Office Suite and Office Small Business Accounting products. Business training – which Microsoft partners will help the company provide – will be customised for marketing, management and technology professionals, among other roles.

Technical support is available through Small Business Support for the following products: Windows; Office components Small Business Management, Small Business Edition, Professional Edition, Live Meeting, OneNote, Outlook Live, Visio, Project and Small Business Accounting; Small Business Server; Microsoft business applications Great Plains, Navision, Small Business Financials and Solomon; Microsoft Retail Management System; Point of Sale; and Microsoft Customer Management.