IRS Piloting Program for Virtual Appeals

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IRS Virtual Appeals Service Being Piloted

As part of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights posted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), taxpayers, including small businesses, have the ability to appeal and resolve any disagreement you might have with the IRS. To simplify the appeals process, the agency just announced a new web-based virtual conference option you can use from anywhere.

One of the difficulties for small businesses (or for anyone filing for an appeal) is the limited number of IRS offices with appeals officers. Even though you can meet over the phone with an appeals officer, many people like face-to-face interactions.

IRS Virtual Appeals Service

If there is not an appeals officer in your location, you either have to settle for a phone meeting or travel to another city. As part of a pilot program, the web-based virtual conference platform will launch on Aug. 1, 2017. After the pilot, the IRS will evaluate the outcome, which will include customer satisfaction with the technology before implementation.

For businesses and individuals looking to appeal an IRS decision, the technology will save time and money. All you need is an internet connection and you can initiate a web-based virtual conference. This is especially useful for taxpayers in remote locations or places where appeal officers are not available.

According to the IRS, there are more than 100,000 appeals being filed each year. So what is an appeal?

The appeals office is separate from departments investigating or auditing tax returns. An impartial officer settles the dispute on matters such as disallowing a deduction. You can have an attorney or CPA represent you, or you can do it yourself.

If it all works out according to plan, IRS Chief of Appeals Donna Hansberry, said, “In the future, the technology may give taxpayers greater options in engaging with Appeals and could allow us the flexibility to serve taxpayers virtually from any location using mobile devices or computers.”

IRS Building Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “IRS Piloting Program for Virtual Appeals” was first published on Small Business Trends

Does Your Small Business Really Need AI?

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Does Your Small Business Really Need AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be intimidating to small businesses. In fact, a survey commissioned by Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) last year found 61 percent of small business owners felt they weren’t ready to adopt it. They felt AI was too complicated for what they needed.

Salesforce wants to change that perception with its AI platform, called Einstein.

Does a Small Business Really Need AI?

Small Business Trends spoke with Tony Rodoni, Executive Vice President for SMB sales at Salesforce, about AI and what it can do for small businesses.

The Big Brands Are Already Using It

Whether small businesses are ready or not, big brands are already using AI to stake out huge territory, says Rodoni.

“Apple’s Siri uses natural language processing to recognize voice commands. And companies like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify are using machine learning to understand how items in their catalogs relate to one another and their customer’s preferences,” he says.

AI Adoption by Small Businesses

Small businesses can do the same. But the pace of technology adoption by small businesses isn’t always fast.  Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Small Business Report notes only 21 percent of small businesses are using features like business intelligence software and analytics.

Rodoni explains what they’re missing by not adopting AI.

“AI has the potential to make every company and every employee smarter, faster, more operationally efficient and more productive,” he says.  “For small businesses with limited time and resources, the ability to work smarter and automate basic tasks can be a life-saver. That’s why we launched Einstein.”

In fact, small businesses that are early to adopt new technologies look bigger than they are. Rodoni has called this the blowfish effect.

The Benefits of AI

Maximizing resources and prioritizing time are just two of the benefits of artificial intelligence.

With AI, you can predict customer service issues before they happen. AI can help you identify the prospects that are most likely to buy your goods and services. Your marketing efforts become more personalized because you have more information about customer preferences to work with.

The benefits of AI include the ability to help your business:

  • Automate the send-time for your marketing emails to arrive when they will most likely be read.
  • Figure out which segments of your audience to target with the greatest expectation of return on investment.
  • Predict the amount of sales in your pipeline — even before the results come in.
  • Predict your most important sales leads.

Spending hours sorting through spreadsheets, hunting down leads or tweaking marketing campaigns manually can be things of the past.

It’s Good for Growth

Rodoni draws a connection between AI and success for startups.

“I believe that AI is a necessity to growth,” Rodoni says.  “Behind every deal, every order and every opportunity is a customer. AI marries human interaction and machine intelligence in a way that enables companies to better connect with their customers.”

Artificial intelligence works to scale, another win for the smaller shop.  Not only that, it leads you to the right customers and helps you to engage them. At the same time, it automates tasks across marketing, service and sales.

Choose Vendors That Incorporate AI into Products

Once small businesses have gotten over their initial apprehension, integrating AI into their businesses is easier than might be expected. You don’t have to master the technology underlying artificial intelligence. You just have to find the vendors that have mastered AI and incorporated it into their product offerings.

In Einstein’s case, it’s an add-on to the Salesforce platform.

“The beauty of Einstein is that it’s embedded directly into the Salesforce platform. Customers don’t need to do anything to start using it or seeing the benefits – it just works,” Rodoni says.

Image: Salesforce

This article, “Does Your Small Business Really Need AI?” was first published on Small Business Trends

Can Customers Find Your Company’s Phone Number? Here are the Places They’ll Look (INFOGRAPHIC)

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Best Places to List Your Business Phone Number

Want to make it easier for customers to connect with you?

Make sure you update your phone number in online directories. It turns out these are found to be the most popular means to obtain contact numbers.

That’s according to new research by National Cellular Directory, a Minneapolis-based information commerce search engine.

Data compiled by the company determines online directories are the most reliable at helping users fine contact numbers at about 84 percent.

Traditional Phone Directories are Not Very Useful

The report also revealed the diminishing relevance of traditional phone directories (usually in booklet form) since they contain only landline numbers. These directories are therefore “becoming less and less valuable” Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance told USA Today.

Moreover, only 9 percent of Americans answer their landline, which further makes phone directories less attractive to users.

Stay Updated on Google and Social Media

With 95 percent of U.S. adults owning a cellphone today, Google and social media have become more popular for searching phone numbers.

Businesses should therefore update their phone numbers on their Google listings and social media pages.

Try Not to Change Your Phone Number Too Often

Most customers will save your number when they find it. That’s why it can be quite annoying for them to try your number again a couple of months later and find it doesn’t work anymore.

In certain cases, when you just have to change your number, make sure it is updated everywhere.

Best Places to List Your Business Phone Number

Curious to know more? Check out the infographic below:

Best Places to List Your Business Phone Number

Images: National Cellular Directory

This article, “Can Customers Find Your Company’s Phone Number? Here are the Places They’ll Look (INFOGRAPHIC)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Starbucks’ Closing of Teavana Stores Could Be Small Business Opportunity

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Starbucks' Closing of Teavana Stores Could Be Small Business Opportunity

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) just announced that it’s closing all of the storefronts for its Teavana brand. And that could mean new opportunities for small businesses to break into the market.

Closing of Teavana Stores Opens Opportunities

Starbucks decided to close the once popular tea stores due to slow sales. But there’s still a fairly sizable market out there for tea businesses. And there are also trendy offerings on the upswing right now like bubble tea and matcha that could provide great differentiation opportunities for small businesses.

So with Teavana, which was one of the more recognizable tea brands in the country, exiting the space, it could be the perfect time for small businesses to jump in. You could do this by researching tea franchise opportunities or just opening your own independent shop.

The brand’s departure will also be another blow to business at the mall where most of the 379 Teavana stores were located. Teavan’s exit from malls follows the departure by other key brands like JCPenney and GameStop.

But here again the loss of big brands at the mall could be small business’s gain.  According to a report from the National Retail Federation, smaller malls may fail but larger ones are here to stay. And the departure of some big chains could be the perfect opportunity for the right small retailers at the mall.

So do some homework on the niches and opportunities out there and find a way to deliver your product to consumers where they actually shop. Then maybe you can make a name for yourself in this market where there’s suddenly a huge business opportunity.

Teavana Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Starbucks’ Closing of Teavana Stores Could Be Small Business Opportunity” was first published on Small Business Trends

Reports on the Death of Microsoft Paint Have Been Exaggerated

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Don't Listen to the Microsoft Paint Rumor

Good news for fans of MS Paint fans! Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has announced reports of the popular app’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Instead of killing off the popular tool, Microsot says it will be moved to the Windows Store — and offered for free.

Earlier reports that MS Paint might be laid to rest all together led to some elegant eulogies to the popular software on Twitter.

However, Microsoft quickly responded to the news in a tweet saying:

Don’t Listen to the Microsoft Paint Rumor

Microsoft’s General Manager Megan Saunders also reinforced the company’s position in a blog, saying: “Today, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia around MS Paint. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans. It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app. Amidst today’s commentary around MS Paint we wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight, clear up some confusion and share some good news: MS Paint is here to stay, it will just have a new home soon, in the Windows Store where it will be available for free.”

It is, however, important to mention that part of what made Paint a powerful tool is that it came by default. It chose users and not the other way round.

Microsoft also said that the new app for creativity — Paint 3D — will now be available for free with the Windows 10 Creators Update. Small business owners who once relied on MS Paint for their design needs, will doubtless find enhanced fearures with Paint 3D. In addition to its 3D capabilities, the new app also features many of MS Paint’s features, including line and curve tools, photo editing, and 2D creation.

So while Paint gets put out to pasture, small business users who praise its features might also want to give Paint 3D a try.

Image: Microsoft

This article, “Reports on the Death of Microsoft Paint Have Been Exaggerated” was first published on Small Business Trends

Network to Get Work: Is It Really the Only Way?

The Chris Linder Thought You Might Be Interested…

Those looking for help finding a new job will most likely be given three key tips: network, network, and network. Life Hacker called it “common sense by this point.” A… Read more »


Alex Jeffreys Divulges How To Find Certainty In An Uncertain World

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“Everybody is looking for certainty in an uncertain world.”
Internet marketing guru Alex Jeffreys learned this valuable insight into human nature from a mentor years ago.

“So now that you… Read more »


23 Percent of Vacationers Research Products for their Trip on Social Media, Data Says

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Social Media for the Travel Industry is a Must Have

If your business is in the travel industry or benefits in any way from it, you need a strong social media presence.

As we’re in peak vacation season, it may actually not be too late to reach vacationing families right now before the end of summer.

New data shows that vacationing consumers are likely going to check out social media about their destination. They’re going to do other travel-related research online, too.

According to data from the Global Web Index, nearly 1 in 4 people (23 percent) going on vacation use social media to research products to buy ahead of their trip. That figure goes up for vacationers with children. A family on vacation heads to social media to do pre-trip research 31 percent of the time.

A further dive into the numbers shows how these vacations are using social media to find what they want. And it also shows what they’re doing when they get online.

Social Media for the Travel Industry

Here’s how you can get your social media presence in shipshape to appeal to vacationers:

Set Up a Page

It sounds simple and in most cases, it is. Make yourself a checklist of things you’ll need to complete your profile and start posting things about your brand and the products you sell. According to the data, 27 percent of vacationing families visited a brand’s social media page in the last month.

And 25 percent of families going on vacation “Liked” or followed a brand they clearly connected with on social media.

Consider an Ad Campaign

If your business is new to social media, you may want to consult a professional or expert before launching a social media ad campaign. It could end up being a costly venture that nets insignificant results if you’re headed into uncharted waters.

But if you have a handle on something like a Facebook Ad campaign, vacationers aren’t avoiding this content either. The Global Web Index data showed that 18 percent of the nearly 1,000 vacationing families clicked on sponsored content they saw on social media.

Paddle Boat Rental Beusiness Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “23 Percent of Vacationers Research Products for their Trip on Social Media, Data Says” was first published on Small Business Trends

Here’s a Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create Awesome Meetings

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Here's a Step-to-Step Guide on How to Create Awesome MeetingsMeetings serve a vital purpose in the business world, but the way we’ve structured them is far from productive or creative. In fact, it can be time-draining, soul-sucking, and any other horrible adjective that you can think of. How To Create Awesome Meetings: A Step-By-Step Guide to Help You Make Your Next Meeting More Productive and Profitable!, written by a certified meeting facilitator, was created to solve that problem. Instead of perpetuating the “let’s get this meeting over with” mentality, the author wants readers to leave each meeting with so much enthusiasm that participants can’t wait for the next one.

What is How To Create Awesome Meetings About?

Meetings are a vital source of information in any group of humans, whether you are running a business, deciding who will pick up the kids from school, or trying to land a man on the moon. The problem is that they are just so … boring and inefficient. Meetings often start off with good intentions but can quickly derail into off-track conversations about travel plans, employees attempting to peek at their email, or a talking match between the two most dominant speakers of the group.

Most books on the “inefficient and boring meeting problem” focus on controlling the agenda and the speakers. How to Create Awesome Meetings asks a different question, “Where’s the fun?” Yes, the book says, meetings are supposed to be efficient. How to Create Awesome Meetings provides strategies for minimizing wasted time, taming the agenda, and performing efficient follow-up (highlighted by the book’s FAST acronym for efficient follow-up). The book also argues, however, that meetings should be fun. Meetings should engage. They should be something that people willingly want to participate in.

To get to that point where meetings are awesome, How to Create Awesome Meetings details a ten-step process that readers move through to shift their perceptions and expectations about meetings. Author Gord Sheppard begins by shifting the reader’s perspective from meetings being a “boring thing you do at work” to “a chance to actively connect with another human (or humans) to get advice and feedback” in every situation. He then walks readers through minimizing the internal and external barriers to an effective meeting from beginning to end. Along the way, Sheppard shares ways to maintain an engaging and active but focused meeting (Check Out the “Meeting Fight club” for addressing conflict) that saves money and time and builds morale.

Sheppard is a professional meeting facilitator, speaker, and owner of Create Awesome Meetings, a business that provides consulting services to save the world from bad meetings. A former corporate manager with a Bachelor’s degree in Drama, Sheppard went on to facilitate or participate in 2,000+ meetings in his professional career. He began his quest for a better meeting format after his wife told him to stop complaining about how many he had to attend.

What Was Best About How To Create Awesome Meetings?

The best part of How to Create Awesome Meetings is the simple way it challenges our unconscious beliefs about meetings. First, we typically focus on “meetings at work” while ignoring that we engage in meetings all the time. Secondly, the book challenges our excessive focus on meeting efficiency while forgetting to make those meetings engaging. As Sheppard points out, this imbalance doesn’t cure bad meetings. Efficient, but non-engaged meeting participants are still not efficient. The book does a good job demonstrating how simple strategies (not necessarily expensive seminars) can fix boring meetings.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

How to Create Awesome Meetings does a good job of discussing several of the broad obstacles that interfere with meetings (lack of engagement, lack of effective of follow-up, conflict, the flow of conversation, etc.). It is especially helpful in the area of post-meeting follow-up. The one area that could use more attention is adapting the book’s 10-step process to different types of meetings. One obstacle that perpetuates bad meetings is the lack of adaptability. Some situations, like a weekly update, may require a few minutes while others could take hours. These two types of meetings have different dynamics to wrestle with.

Why Read How To Create Awesome Meetings?

How to Create Awesome Meetings is a good fit for meeting participants and facilitators alike because it addresses meetings from a variety of perspectives. For meeting participants, the book provides practical suggestions for improving meetings on a personal level (for example, addressing your own preconceived expectations about a meeting). For meeting facilitators, the book provides an efficient system for controlling a meeting before, during, and after the meeting starts.  This is a distinguishing feature of the book. As a reader, you might want to turn to How to Create Awesome Meetings if you are seeking to get a better financial and creative return out of your meetings.

This article, “Here’s a Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create Awesome Meetings” was first published on Small Business Trends