South Carolina Considering Tax Credits for Angel Investors

Jim Lastinger

January 26th, 2011

According to media reports and political literature circling South Carolina, there is a plan to introduce a bill that would provide angel investors a tax credit for funding provided to start-ups within South Carolina.

The bill, introduced as H.3270 and H.3044 in the South Carolina State House, calls for a tax credit in the amount of 25% to 35%.

If I read the bill correctly, the max credit one could receive in one year is $100,000 per year and the unused portions of the credit can be used up to 10 years in the future until it has expired.

The credit would apply to investments made to entities primarily engaged in:

manufacturing, processing, warehousing, wholesaling, software development, information technology services, research and development, or a business providing services other than those described in subitem (g);

Those exclusions are:

real estate or construction; professional services; gambling; natural resource extraction; financial brokerage, investment activities, or insurance; entertainment, amusement, recreation, or athletic or fitness activity for which an admission or membership is charge.

A few representatives that we talked to said that they are looking into the bill and would support it, but it is truly dependent on the state of the budget.

As a side note, this is one of the majority caucus’ agenda bills and the Republicans control the House, Senate and Governor’s mansion.

Obviously, this would be excellent news for any start-up based in South Carolina.  It could be an instrumental component of your companies pitch to obtain additional funding to grow your product.

So Angel Investors, would a tax credit make you more likely to invest in a start-up in South Carolina?

Extras:
Upstate Angels Press Release
NFIB Release

Your Staff Matters

Jim Lastinger

January 26th, 2011

We have heard Gary Vaynerchuk talk about the value of thank you and caring about your customers. Many startups and small businesses have heeded his advice and reaped the benefits. The fact of the matter is that it applies to big businesses too!

I just finished the acquisition of a new vehicle from a local dealership that my family has done business with since 2005. The experience was amazing and I thought it would be interesting to talk about some customer service points that stood out during the process.

Knowledge

Whenever I’m looking into a new car I take time to research and compare multiple vehicles.  When I arrive at the dealership to talk, I try to know more than the sales rep I am doing business with.  Needless to say, I’m not always successful, which is the point.  When I’m talking about the car in question I want my sales rep to know everything possible about the car.  If not, I look for them to get the answer.  A sales rep that doesn’t typically loses my business.

Attitude

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you’re an ass, that’s a deal breaker.  For me this is hard.  My blunt personality leads to some awkward situations, often leading to an “ass moment”.

Our sales rep has always had a great attitude.  I know at some moment I have made a statement that was an “ass moment” and she has always handled it professionally.  Not only that, I have never seen her without a smile.  Always a gentle greeting and eager to get you in the car you need.

Customer Focused

Immediately when we walked in the door, we were greeted by the staff.  9 times out of 10, this really annoys me when I am car shopping.  I like to browse the lot and check the vehicles out.  Our local dealership knows this about me, so they will say “How are you doing, Gary?  How’s the family?” and will go on with their business.

When it’s time to talk business, they don’t ask for all of my personal information and perform an immediate credit check either.  I despise that process.  They discuss all options and when I finally say it’s time we do business.

Your Staff Matters

We continue visiting Vic Bailey Imports primarily because of the relationship we have built with our sales rep.  She’s been there since 2005 and is very successful.  Her friendly personality, knowledge, and desire to meet her customers’ needs are essential in her success. For me, I will continue doing business with them as long as she and others are still there.  I have no reason to go anywhere else.

Excellent Customer Service 101 – The Basics

Jim Lastinger

January 3rd, 2011

Catering to the customer and making them feel valuable is something that can set one company apart from the competition. Effective, approachable customer service is crucial to running any highly successful business, especially web companies. There are many websites that provide extraordinary customer service, such as Zappos and Mailchimp. However, for every company that providers great service there are at least 10 websites that provide subpar service, or no service at all (I’m looking at you, Facebook).

This is the first post in a series I’m going to write about how to provide your customers with the best service possible. Firstly, I want to look at the very basics of customer service, such as how you listen to and respond to your customers.

Ring for Service

Response is Critical

Any time a customer states that they have a question or a problem the clock starts ticking. The quicker the response the better for the customer. Just a simple reply from a human stating that you’re aware of their situation is reassuring to a customer. If a customer has to wait several hours before hearing anything he/she can start to doubt the reliability of the company and their products.

In addition to responding quickly, you have to respond in a way that satisfies the customer. All of your hard work is for naught if the customer still leaves dissatisfied. It may not always be possible to give a customer exactly what they want, but they should still feel that you did everything you can for them. If you can’t do something for them, explain to them why you can’t; always be truthful.

Listening on Multiple Channels

Your customers are using many different channels for communication, so you have to as well. Effective customer service means monitoring not only your support ticket system, but also Twitter, your Facebook fan page, forums, and any other site where users are talking about your brand. It’s absolutely critical to know when and where you have customers that have an issue. If someone tweets that they’re having problems accessing your site then not only are you at risk of losing that customer, there’s also the chance that the user’s followers will be negatively influenced about your brand.

Here are some tools that can help you stay on top of communications about your site.

  • Use Hootsuite for monitoring your Twitter accounts and Facebook pages as well as Twitter keyword searches. A customer may not @ reply to your account if they have problems, but they will almost always name your business, so keyword searches are critical.
  • Google Alerts are great at giving you near real-time updates on your keyword searches. This is a great way to find users talking about your site on both large and obscure forums, as well as blog posts mentioning you.

Excellent Service vs Average Service

Here are a few differentiating factors to look for when assessing the quality of your customer service team.

  1. Real people vs “nameless” agents. Customers should always be able to see that they’re conversing with a real person, not someone hiding behind an alias, such as “John” or “David”. A real person has a first and last name and even has a profile picture (if your helpdesk software supports it).
  2. Personalized responses vs canned responses. Templates definitely have their place in the support world. I would estimate that at least 60% of all support queries are repetitive issues. That being said, make sure that your responses refer to the customer by name and includes at least some content that is not from a template.
  3. Waiting for responses vs closing tickets prematurely. If there is any chance that your customer will need to contact you again regarding this ticket then I recommend setting the ticket status to “pending” or something similar. It can be an off-putting experience for a customer to see that their issue has been marked “resolved” or “closed” if they do not feel that is the case.

What are your thoughts on excellent customer service? Anything else that you’d like to see added to the list or discussed in the next entry?

My Twitter Toolset

Jim Lastinger

December 6th, 2010

I (@jimlast) spend a lot of time on Twitter, managing both my personal and business accounts. Running effective social media campaigns requires you to not be too far from contact at any time. The problem compounds as you manage more and more campaigns and companies. These are the tools that I use to keep everything in order.

1. Hootsuite – iPhone, iPad, Laptop

Hootsuite‘s ability to manage large numbers of accounts, searches, teamwork, etc. makes it the perfect primary tool for managing campaigns. Having the ability to organize accounts and searches into tabs makes a huge impact on productivity and visibility of individual accounts. You can spend a few minutes on each tab and be confident that you’ve checked in on everything you need to. The scheduling function is also a nice touch and lets you plan out your content distribution to maximize viewership.

2. Twitter for iPhone/iPad

The official Twitter app is my go-to method on mobile devices. I prefer the Twitter interface to Hootsuite for my personal messaging. The recent addition of notifications makes it even easier to be alerted on activity you need to pay attention to.

3. Tweetdeck – Desktop

Tweetdeck is still my favorite desktop app for managing Twitter interactions. The most recent update that turned on real-time updates is a game-changer. I now use Tweetdeck for most of my personal account activity, especially rapid fire conversations. It gets a little complicated when you add a lot of searches, so I try to keep it pretty minimal.

My toolset has evolved over the past year and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Any other apps out there you’ve seen that you think would be better? I’m always looking to simplify things and optimize my SMM efforts.

Lean Startup Primer

Jim Lastinger

December 1st, 2010

An entrepreneurial trend that has been gaining popularity and notoriety lately is lean startup. Lean startup (#leanstartup on Twitter) is the method of building a new business by focusing on customer development, reducing waste, and pivoting often. You can think about lean startup as the new business cousin of lean manufacturing.

I’m kind of late to the lean startup party, but I plan on using the ideology for the next MediaLeaf business. The basic tenants are simple, straightforward, and apply to any new business, not just online ventures. Here’s a very quick and dirty intro to lean startup as well as some links for further exploration.

Lean Startup

Customer Development

Customer development is a method of using constant customer interaction to continuously refine your product and businessmodel. Having a few potential customers early in the process that you can frequently check in with regarding your product is a way to gain invaluable insight into how much utility your product has and its ultimate potential. Customer development is a large topic and worthy of an entire series of blog posts.

Reducing Waste

In the software world waste can take several forms, including unnecessary features. Features that aren’t critical to your product or heavily used by customers are most likely wasteful; they have a cost in terms of development and support manpower and time. These features can also draw interest and focus away from your core product. This ties in closely with focusing on a MVP (minimum viable product).

Pivoting vs Optimization

Pivoting is the process of refining your product’s feature set and function to increasingly improve user experiences or to better suit the customer’s needs. Pivoting is a completely different mentality than optimization. Optimization is taking what you have in place and improving it. A good example of optimization would be changing the color of a button on your signup form and A/B testing to see the improvement.

Pivoting is more about making large-scale changes, such as changing the focus of an entire business or feature. An example of pivoting might be a general contractor deciding that it would be more profitable to focus solely on building gazebos. Optimization would have that contractor trying to figure our ways to be a more profitable general contractor. This is an example of the “local maximum problem” or the “hill climbing problem”. Optimizing your current situation is all well and good, but you should also consider whether or not bigger opportunities exist.

Further Reading

Steven Gary Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany

Steven Gary Blank’s Stanford Talks on Customer Development

Brant Cooper’s The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development

Eric Ries’s Blog

Dan Martell’s Blog

Favorite Articles of the Week

Jim Lastinger

November 6th, 2010

Each week we read a LOT of articles on entrepreneurship and social media marketing. Here are a few of my favorites from this week.

3 Tips For Increasing Your Productivity – Harvard Business Review

Productivity Systems: Do they Really Help You Blog Better? – ProBlogger

57 Things I’ve Learned Founding 3 Tech Companies – BetaShop

Switching from SVN to GIT: A Startup’s Perspective – GazeHawk

10 Tips to Hosting Better Events With Social Media – SocialMediaExplorer

What is Personal Productivity? – WorkAwesome