Sunday, September 17, 2000

Small-business diary

Give customers little more

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

        Small businesses must continually try to be innovative to succeed in the marketplace.

        “The ultimate key is to put yourself in the position of your customers,” said Janet Lasley, head of Lasley Construction of Princeton, N.J. “Give them what they want — and a little bit more.”

        Some ideas from her, as listed in Small Business Success magazine:

        • Give your customers something unexpected. “Bella Trattoria in San Francisco often gives a special treat or complimentary dessert to its regular customers. The cost is minimal, but customers feel like celebrities.”

        • Extend the warranty on your product. “This communicates both a quality statement and a commitment to customer satisfaction. San Diego Rain Gutter has extended its warranty for as long as the client owns the building, which is virtually unheard of in that industry.”

        • Add value through information. “Provide your customers with new ways to utilize your products or increase their efficiency. This can include newsletters, special seminars, or face-to-face consultations.”

        • Use the Internet. “Improve the frequency of your customer communications via e-mail. Brief notes with tips on product usage, coupons and special offers — even just a seasonal greeting — can keep your firm top of mind. One caveat: Always give your customers an easy way to be deleted from your e-mail list if they so desire.”

        • Celebrate with your customers. “Sending birthday cards and congratulatory notes on new babies and job promotions may seem "old hat,' but in today's depersonalized world it's appreciated once again. Add a coupon for a special gift or discount on the customer's next visit.”

        • Expand your services or product line. “In today's harried environment, people prize convenience and time savings. Ask your clientele how you can serve them better, subsequently extending your product and service offerings to provide additional benefits for your customers and additional profits for you.”

        • Employ mass customization. “Offer your clients options that result in products that are tailor-made to their needs.”

:Millions fail
to take tax break

               Millions of self-employed tax filers, unaware of the full deductibility of their family's health-care expenses, fail each year to claim a tax break that could save them up to $2,500 on their return, said Total Administrative Services Corp., the nation's largest administrator of tax savings plans based on Internal Revenue Code Section 105.

        The section allows a self-employed business owner to employ his or her spouse to assist in the venture, even part time, and deduct 100 percent of the family's health insurance premiums, as well as noninsured medical, dental and vision-care expenses on federal, state and self-employment taxes.

        Dan Rashke, TASC chief executive officer, estimated nearly 7 million business owners are eligible for the deduction. Of these, he said, only about 1 percent take advantage of the tax break.

        Section 105 applies to individuals in business for themselves, from barbers to plumbers to farmers, whose spouse assists with the venture in any way, even if it is a relatively minor role such as bookkeeping or ordering supplies.

        Mr. Rashke said filers who used the Section 105 deduction on their 2000 tax returns saved an average of $2,450.

        He said Section 105 tax savings plans can be applied retroactively, so filers who adopt the plan before the end of the year can claim health-care expenses back to Jan. 1.

        By calling (800) 422-4661 and answering simple questions, self-employed business owners can determine their eligibility for a Section 105 deduction, he said.


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