Columns

Tax Those Bloggers, City of Philadelphia


Bloggers in my hometown are up in arms because the City of Philadelphia is charging some of them a $300 lifetime "business privilege" tax. The city's position is that many of the bloggers accept advertising revenue and are in effect operating a business within the city limits. "How can they do this," the bloggers shriek. "This is a violation of free speech; it's an outrage."

To the City of Philadelphia I say: "Hip, hip hooray."

Tax those guys. By doing so you're actually helping small businesses, not hurting them. I support this tax of bloggers. (Actually, I think it's too small.) If you're going to have a blog and use it for your small business, you should pay a significantly higher tax. This way we can rid the world of lousy bloggers. We can save many small business owners a lot of time they're now wasting by blogging. And those small business owners who don't have a blog can stop feeling so guilty every time their technology guy tells them they should. Because they shouldn't.

Why? Most small business blogs are terrible. Most business people (like me) don't know how to write very well, even if they did get a B in 8th Grade English. Many small business owners are told by their IT advisors, marketing experts and public relations gurus that they should have a blog. The truth is that they really have nothing important to say. I don't care if my office equipment supplier wants a free Tibet. I just want lower prices on ink toner. The City of Philadelphia is providing a service. They're making us face the fact that most small business owners shouldn't waste their time on a blog. Instead of writing about the state of society and whether Barack Obama is a Muslim (by the way, he's not) they should be reviewing their overhead, meeting with potential customers, and helping their employees do a better job. Not blogging.

Any bozo can blog—but well?

This is not to say that there aren't good bloggers. There are some great ones. But look around and you see a trend. The best baseball players are the guys in the major leagues (except for the Pittsburgh Pirates), not the guys on your Sunday softball team. The best pilots are flying commercial or military aircraft, not idiotically landing their private planes on the interstate because they forgot to check their fuel gauge. The best bloggers are professionals—writers and journalists and pundits who blog full time and who not only have something interesting to say, but know how to say it in an interesting way.

The reality is that most small business owners I know find that blogging takes too much time and money. Any bozo can start blogging for free on hundreds of tools available such as Blogspot or Wordpress; it just takes a lot of time. Unfortunately, the one thing most small business owners do not have is a lot of free time. If someone in your company doesn't spend enough time keeping your blog up-to-date and interesting, no one is going to read it. And if no one is reading your blog, the whole exercise is useless. Most small business owners I know who've ventured into blogging learned this lesson the hard way. And they stopped.

So you still want to have a blog for your small business? Look, I'm not going to stop you. I've got a blog for my small business, too. There happen to be a few things I've learned about small business blogging that every entrepreneur should know.

a good marketing tool—for a few

The smart business people I've met who succeed with their blogs invest in this technology as with any other marketing effort. If you're going to do it, do it right—or don't do it at all. Commit to posting something at least daily. Pay (yes, pay) someone to do research, post content, and manage comments. For example, I pay three people in my company to post tips about using our software products to our blog. They each do about 10 to 12 posts per month. I also post links to columns such as this one and other writings. My blog is a marketing and customer service expense. Another thing small business owners who've succeeded with this technology do is link it to other technologies. For example, some of my clients have accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and FaceBook. Then they use social media aggregator technology such as Ping, Profilactic, or Strands to connect all of these sites and other social community sites. This way they can post one message everywhere.

Do people read my blog? Not many. We get a few dozen comments each month. Our blog is just one way of getting our software tips out. They also get posted to the social community sites mentioned above and they get regenerated in our monthly newsletter, which goes to clients and others that use our products. It all starts with our blog and disseminates from there. For us and a few other small business owners I know, blogging is a good marketing tool that we use to communicate product information to our customers. It makes good business sense and is worth the effort.

For the large majority of my clients and other small business owners, blogging is not a worthwhile exercise. It serves only to clog the Internet with nonsense and to provide busy work for public relations firms and tech people. So thank you, City of Philadelphia. Tax those silly bloggers into oblivion. Free them from the burden of blogging. Help these business owners realize they should be spending their time more productively—and profitably.

Gene_marks
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at www.quickerbetterwiser.com.

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