Dec 182012
 
A businesswoman shouting at the world through a megaphone

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I’m late. It’s mid-December and tax “busy season” is dawning. To get my rear in gear, I started my day by doing a little research.

I was performing a competitor analysis and I noted that a nearby accounting firm had a poor review online. Now, I am naturally curious, and I am all for freedom of information (clearly!). However, I would like to take a moment to discuss a few of the ways reviews impact small businesses. This comes from me not just as a small business owner, but as a neighboring community member, and as an understanding, benefit-of-the-doubt-giving human being.

The Particulars

After reading this review, I concluded that it was not due to lousy service or negligence or an unfriendly reception, etc. The reviewer was clearly not an accountant, as most people aren’t, but the low review questioned a rumor the person had heard about particular price paid by a particular client. Specifically, it was a division of the town government that willingly chose to contract with this firm and pay a set price for payroll for only one person, and the reviewer did not like the price. Again, this was a rumor that got the only accounting firm in my area a review, and it was a low one from a non-client.  Now in my professional opinion, the actual client got quite a deal! I was shocked to read that someone else thought it was a poor deal, poor enough to take the time to look up the firm and write a review, especially as they seemed unaffiliated with either party.

In Defense of Payroll

Payroll is a very touchy subject. Not only is it is huge, throbbing pain in the ass, but the laws are always changing, and it is risky to start up an in-house payroll. You need someone, or a team or people who are very experienced and know what to look for and how to correct mistakes timely, people who are beyond dedicated and reliable and unfortunately, put their jobs first. Unfortunately in the sense that, if a check got cut for the wrong amount, they are willing to cease sleeping or nursing their baby or what have you to run to the office at 4am to re-cut that check and redo multiple journal entries and possibly have to be on the phone with the bank or banks for goodness knows how long to correct it. Otherwise, the company will suffer. Law suits can arise from employees whose withholdings were incorrect, company morale will be low if payroll can’t even figure out how much to pay them, reputation will be ruined, and this is before all the fines, audits, and scrutiny from the government agencies. Payroll can get very bad, quickly.

It is worlds cheaper and much, much less risky to outsource payroll to a competent accountant. Accountants have annual, required professional education. Not all accountants will offer payroll services. I definitely don’t. You would have to pay me a pretty penny to convince me to take on that kind of monster. I’ve done it before, so now: no thank you. Chances are, if the accountant does in fact perform payroll services, they have many payroll clients, enough to make the trouble worth it. If they still have clients, they must be successful, otherwise their clients would quickly go elsewhere in a matter of two weeks. Since payroll is chosen specialty in the accounting profession, these accountants are current on all the laws and related breaking news briefings, since accountants get this information in multiple ways: in industry newsletters, immediate email notifications, educational seminars, reference websites they review daily, and through networking with other accountants.

Most firms have  tiered payroll fees. Between 1-5 employees is $X, 6-25 is $XX, 25-100 is $XXX, and so on. Some firms have minimums (must have 100 employees on payroll or you still must pay $XXX), and maximums, too. A one-person firm probably won’t be doing payroll for a company of 2,500 people.

Lack of knowledge led this person to publicly draw conclusions that I feel, are quite unfounded. If this citizen had such a pounding question about fees willingly paid by one party to another rendering a typically torturous professional service, why couldn’t they just call the firm and ask what their prices were?

five Yellowish-orange stars in a line from small to large signifying rating optionsIn Defense of Competitors

If you haven’t read my article about competitors, in short, I believe that competitors should be thought of as your brothers and sisters. They are in many ways like you. Think of them as being on your team.

When thinking of competitors, I imagine running track and field in the Olympics, lined up with two or three other American women who are on my team. On one level, we all want to win first place, but on another level, we don’t care as long as we win together. Yes, we all work hard individually, but we also should work hard together, to cast an honorable light on our team and our profession, to garner sponsors, to attract new talent, and to increase interest in the Olympics and our chosen sport.

Other local people who share your line of work? These are community member and neighbors of yours.  They could help you someday. They can refer extra business to you. You will see them at the grocery store, at the traffic light, at a work seminar. You will hear good things and maybe not so good things about them. There is enough work to go around. If you work together and make it attractive for outsiders or first timers to try out dance lessons or chiropractic treatment or Zumba or an accountant or teeth whitening, believe me, there will be more than enough customers for all of you. It’s not about you and your business. It’s about attracting people to need you or want you as an industry professional.

People like choices, they like what is in vogue, what is popular. If you are the only clock and watch shop for miles, well great, I guess you’ll get all the local business as long as Walmart doesn’t undercut your prices (because that will never happen, right?!?). But if there are three or four or five clock and watch shops, all downtown, holy shit, your town becomes the mecca for time-telling fanciers. Clock lovers will vacation from overseas to your town to browse and buy from your store, from the grandfather and antique clock store next door, from the cuckoo clock store across the street, and from the wholesale clock parts store around the corner. Locals will get interested in clocks, your chamber of commerce and town counsel will advertise your area as the Clock Capital of wherever, and money will trickle in to your local economy. One business is good, but many are better.

So really, where is the camaraderie? Where is the brotherly and sisterly love we show to others who work hard in our community toward similar goals?

Sticks and Stones

Now, I will be the first to admit I am the queen of Class versus Sass. We can keep it classy, or things can get really, really sassy. Just like the United States: in my book, you are innocent until proven guilty. In my mind, every person I meet starts out as innocent as a newborn. And I will be patient with you and nurture you and listen to you and put myself in your shoes and try to understand your points of view. But when you are guilty, once you have done me wrong,  may your God try and help you.

I am a consumer. Just like the rest of us, I am a patron of businesses. Many times I have walked out fuming and furious. Many more times I have walked out thrilled with the product or service I received.

During my angry times, and boy those can get angry, I may stop around with smoke coming out of my ears for a few minutes. I will be the first to tell you I can be nothing short of a tyrant. Really! But in minutes, it subsides. I don’t think I have ever written a poor review of a business. I am pretty positive I never have. If I have years and years ago and don’t remember, strike me down, because I didn’t and don’t mean it! I don’t have enough hate in my heart to forcibly and viciously attack another person’s livelihood because I wasn’t happy with their business that day.

When I am annoyed, the first person I tell is the one who is making me annoyed. “You are taking too long.” “You need to keep my water-glass full.” “I can’t taste the vodka.” “You forgot my change.” If that persists, or more commonly, if I am getting patronized by an employee, I use the old “I need to speak with your manager.” This is usually where everything smooths out. Typically, the employees you deal with first, face to face, purposely don’t have certain authorities, like taking that fee off your account, or comp-ing the wrong sushi order.  The employees know this, the managers know this, and they know they got you stressed and under their thumb; this is how the game works and this is how the conversation is going to go. This is OK.

Now when I have a favorable experience, Oh, will I write a review! Even for people I don’t know, like what happened today, I will stick up for you, I will always ferret out something good to say. This makes me feel good about myself, and even more about the cool places I have been, businesses I have experienced, and good will I have bestowed.It makes me feel good that someone else will feel good about their business, and a person looking for that type of business will feel confident and helped in choosing one.

I have found only one problem with writing outstanding reviews for businesses, and this information is from 2009, so I am not sure if it is still pertinent. As of 2009 or so, some online business listing and review sites like Yelp! have a formula for how much weight each registered reviewer’s reviews carry. So if you are like me and watched Bambi as a kid and “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” and give only five star reviews, Yelp! and similar sites will discount you, and your ratings won’t factor in to that business’s score. I guess they want each registered reviewer to submit both good and bad reviews. But if you don’t have any bad reviews to give, should you write an exaggeratedly bad one on a business that was mediocre, so your good reviews can help your favorite businesses?  That seems a little cynical, don’t you think? What do you do to get your positive voice heard?

Take it or leave it, come on people: stress is a killer. If you go home holding a snooty attitude and write some nasty catty review because your waitress “Wendy” swore at your kids and charged you double for your drinks, can you just think before you type, for once?

“Wendy” dug her own grave. Screw her, karma is a bitch, and I’m sure her manager is already well aware of “Wendy’s” inappropriate behavior and she is on her way out as soon as the weekend rush subsides. But when you stamp home in your little tiff and write a bad review online, even if it specifically mentions “Wendy” and all the horrifying details, you are not giving “Wendy” a bad review and only one star, you are giving it to, let’s say, “Janice and Dave’s Restaurant”. The restaurant you loved for so many years (because you apparently go there, or at least it looked attractive enough for you to try it). The restaurant that they worked hard to build and the business they rely on to feed and house their family. “Janice and Dave” are real people who probably love each other, who have feelings including the feelings of hurt and worthlessness and sadness when they read your bitchy online review, and “Janice and Dave” are doing their best, because that is what you do when you own a business.

Just think, for a minute, about how you would go about opening a business. You. From scratch. Your new baby that consumes money you don’t have, energy you didn’t know you have, and nothing short of your heart and soul. It’s a huge, scary plunge to take. Can’t we all just stand up and slow-clap for our friends who grew the balls to actually give their dream a chance? Whether if succeeds or not? Can’t we acknowledge that there are people out there who are doing their  best, their best towards something productive and helpful and of value?

I remember working as an employee. Yeah, I did my best: my best to make sure my boss didn’t catch me on Facebook half the day (shamefully and blatantly via a proxy server, no less) and did my best to remember what department had a birthday that day so I could go bottom-feed off the leftover cupcakes. So yeah, if you don’t own a business, I know exactly what your best is. Granted, yes, am being playfully facetious to make a point, and anyone who has actually worked with me knows I’ve always done my work with quality, triple checked, finished early before deadlines, helped others who were still working til they were done, with no problems (which was the problem because my speed and accuracy left me all this time to dick around unproductively, but I’ll save that for another story).

Before you rant and rave publicly, especially if it wasn’t even you with the issue, especially if you didn’t bring up your grievance privately with no one short of the direct service provider/employee you dealt with, and their manager and the business owner, and issues still weren’t resolved, who the hell do you think you are to be such a troll and trash someone’s small business online? Really! Don’t even say you believe in God, and you better not be vegetarian or anything else high and mighty if you have done such a thing, because what a load of crap your righteous little “label” you’ve given yourself is: “Loving Vegetarian Christian mom of Four! ; D” writes evil things and destroys lives online )8-) har har har!

Are you with me on how absolutely silly this is? This is the legacy you want to leave behind? Because even if you write something anonymously, and tell no one, and go as far as to condemn such behavior publicly, you are going to die with that poison in your blood. You are going to die with that on your conscience. How shitty.

To quote the book and movie The Secret, “Thoughts Become Things.” If you want to live a happy, positive life, you have to stop the negative thoughts. All together. Does that seem ludicrous or impossible? It’s not. You think it will be too hard to control all your thoughts? Like working a muscle, yes, it takes a little practice most days, then more practice every day, and so on. What? If you never speak another bad word you won’t have anything to gossip and complain to your friends about, so you’ll grow apart or not be on the same level? Hmm…did you really just think that? Hmm…

Do I never have a cynical thought? Do I never say anything snarky? Of course I do. Rarely, but when I do, usually it’s about a general idea and not a person, place, animal, creation, or specific thing made, owned, desired or loved by anyone. I have worked on myself over the past few years, and it really does take effort, but I have put so much thought into thinking positive, that before I speak something less than, spinning red lights go off in my brain and that little voice in my head starts talking. For real.

The little voice goes, “Hey. Lady. Do you really want to make that comment to your girlfriends about the way that guy’s house smells like cat pee even though he doesn’t own a cat? What can be gained from this? A laugh? A feeling of mutual agreement? Increased camaraderie? A way to fill the silence? Is that really the type of condescending comment and judgmental-ness you want people to remember when they think of you? How many other questionable things have you said today in front of this audience? One? Well, you’re allowed one  every other time you see them, so keep your trap shut on the cat pee. Next time…next time you can be witty, but try to turn on the rainbows and unicorns for a while!”

six caucasians hands that are plain clean hands from the forearm up giving thumbs up

Blurting out words is bad. My mom calls it “Diarrhea of the Mouth”. The movie Mean Girls describes it as “Word Vomit”. Mental health professionals call it “Impulsive Speech” (yes, this is an actual symptom of poor mental health, aka mental illness, if you didn’t catch it the first time). But what is it when called when you brew and stew on it, and plot it out before eloquently writing your nasty review online? If it was murder, the cops would call it “Premeditated”. And this is the worst type of murder.

What would our world be like if just one in ten people participated in the positive philosophies I described above? Would we have a raised level of consciousness for each other? Would the economy turn around because more people are getting stellar reviews online and citizens are inspired and enthusiastic about trickling down their dollars to local business owners? Would business owners take greater pride in their service and strive even harder to give consumers a better value? Would we all live happier lives? Could we love each other more?

Could we all just love each other more.

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