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July 15 2011

HOW TO: Establish Business Credit


Nellie Akalp is CEO of CorpNet.com. Since forming more than 100,000 corporations and LLCs across the U.S, she has built a strong passion to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and protecting their business the right way. LIKE the CorpNet.com Facebook page for exclusive discounts and giveaways! To learn more about Nellie and see how she can help your business get off the ground quickly and affordably, please visit here.

For the small business owner, trying to navigate the credit and lending world can feel like a vicious Catch-22. Most commercial banks and traditional lenders are reluctant to loosen their purse strings until you’ve proven yourself with a strong credit history. But it’s difficult to develop that good record when no one will lend to you in the first place.

Many small business owners rely on the strength of their personal credit to fund their businesses. But when you use personal credit, your mortgage, auto loan and personal credit cards all affect your ability to qualify for a business loan. Using business credit separates your personal activities from that of the business. Your business credit is dependent on your company’s payment history, assets, cash flow and other financials. It doesn’t include your personal debts or other personal financial obligations.

A strong credit history is the foundation for success, as it can lower your interest rates and give you access to more capital when needed. To start building your business credit, here are the initial steps you should take.


1. Set Up a Business Entity


There’s no such thing as a business loan or business credit for a sole proprietor — that’s a personal loan. In order to receive a business loan or investment, you must separate the business from its personal owners by setting up a legal business entity — a corporation or LLC, for example. Your CPA can advise you on the best legal structure for your particular situation, as your choice in entity can have some pretty significant tax implications.


2. Get a Tax ID Number (EIN)


Every business must have a tax ID number, just like each individual has a social security number. The Tax ID number (or EIN) is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to business entities operating in the U.S. You’ll use this number to open your business bank account and build your business credit profile. Apply for your business’ EIN online through the IRS site — and don’t worry, the process is fast and simple.


3. Establish a Business Bank Account


Your business needs at least one bank reference. Ideally, if you need to apply for a loan, your bank account will be at least two years old (of course, there’s not much you can do to change this situation other than apply for a business bank account as early as possible). More important than your account’s lifespan, your business bank account should show a cash flow capable of taking on a business debt. Of course, the optimum average daily balance of your account will depend on your type of business and the amount of financing you’ll be seeking.


4. Get Listed with the Business Credit Bureaus


Dun & Bradstreet is one of the main business credit bureaus and runs its own business credit score. D&B gives businesses a separate credit file number (known as a D&B or DUNS number) that rates your credit profile. Go to their site to find out if your business is already listed and has a score. You can also begin the process by applying for a free DUNS number once you’ve established your business entity and have your EIN. The number is how lenders will determine your business’ credit worthiness (most business credit card and lending companies will ask for your D&B number during the application process).


5. Establish Business Credit History


Check if your trade vendors are reporting your payment history to one of the major reporting companies, like D&B. Just like with your personal credit score, the more vendors that report a good payment history, the better your business credit will be. It’s common that small trade vendors won’t report your payment history to D&B. In this case, you should compile a trade reference sheet with at least three references (include their name, contact information and credit limits) to augment your official business credit report. In addition, you should open a business credit card (in the name of the business) and use it wisely — meaning keep your balance low and always pay on time.


6. Maintain a Good Personal Credit Rating


When you’re a relatively new or small company, creditors are going to be looking at the personal credit of the person who owns the business (or any shareholders with more than 20% ownership of the company). In today’s lending environment, you should expect to be asked to sign a personal guarantee on any kind of loan or credit of the business. This isn’t always mandatory, but it has recently become common practice in the lending industry. As a result, anyone with a 20% or higher share in the company should keep a close eye on his own credit rating.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t build business credit overnight. Business owners should think about their business credit from day one. Even if you’re self-funded now, you never know what challenges or growth opportunities will develop down the road. Having access to credit can only help you adapt to changing conditions and position yourself for success.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, idrutu

More About: business, credit, establish credit, finance, loan, startup, tax id

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March 13 2011

Your Online Guide to an Easier Tax Season

tax image

Charles Wiedenhoft is the Director of Business Planning & Optimization for Red Door Interactive, a San Diego-based Internet Presence Management firm. Clients include Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, PETCO, Charlotte Russe, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Cricket Communications. E-mail him at cwiedenhoft@reddoor.biz.

In the year 2011, we can do laundry from our smartphones and file tax returns electronically. Yes, even the IRS is on Twitter! Technology has made it shockingly easy to tend to our taxes, especially for the procrastinators and hyperactive digital multi-taskers who fear the date like plague.

According to comScore, tax websites attracted 26.8 million visitors in January, representing a 345% increase from December. Sites such as TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxACT all achieved triple-digit gains. If you aren’t part of the lucky few already awaiting a refund, the following resources will not only help get your filing done quickly, but provide you with a jumpstart on next year’s tax planning.


Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the Web


It’s the first tax filing season that the IRS won’t be mailing its forms. Digital delivery is now standard. It seems that the agency is taking steep measures to modernize its offerings in order to meet the needs of growing tech-savvy taxpayers. The benefits of filing electronically include knowing the status of your return 72 hours after submitting it versus the three to four weeks it takes via snail mail. Plus, you can find tax tips using all of these IRS new media resources:

  • E-mail alerts: Daily tax tips to help with planning and preparation. [?]
  • Podcasts: Available in English and Spanish on the IRS website and iTunes. [?]
  • Twitter: Keep up with tax updates and IRS announcements.
  • YouTube: Videos on the IRS Channel include segments for homebuyers, choosing a tax preparer and education/vehicle tax deductions.

Mobile Apps


snaptax image

You can also file your taxes from your phone thanks to TurboTax’s free mobile app. The service, called SnapTax, isn’t for everyone, but for those who qualify, it’s about as easy as ordering takeout and about the same price at $14.99. Here are the simple steps:

  • Download SnapTax (available for iPhone and Android):
  • Take a photo of your W-2 with your phone’s camera.
  • Answer basic questions.
  • Review, pay and e-file.

And while “free” and “IRS” don’t always go hand-in-hand, the agency does offer a mobile app completely gratis.

  • Download IRS2Go (also available for iPhone)
  • It allows taxpayers to check on the status of their refund.
  • It sends a notification when a refund is processed or if additional information is needed.
  • You can sign up for IRS tax tips and see Twitter updates.

Tax Planning


mint image

If you’d like to make things a little easier before Uncle Sam knocks on the door next year, here are some web-based services for organizing and archiving. The IRS recommends saving tax returns and supporting documents for three to six years.

  • Mint.com: Free financial management that pulls all your accounts (savings, checking, auto, mortgage and investments) into one place online.

    Helps you create a goal to save money by tax time and offers tips on how to save.

    Tags tax expenses and business deductions.

    Sends notifications when your refund arrives.

  • Dropbox: A web-based file hosting server that enables storing and sharing information through cloud computing.

    Scan your receipts in a digital format and safely keep e-filing confirmations, residential documents, and other financial records.


Security


find phone image

The issue of privacy inevitably comes up when financial records are being transmitted online. It’s a valid concern, and not just from the skeptics. However, there are several precautions you can take when filing online to make sure your sensitive tax information is protected.

  • Look for secure connection and encryption on sensitive information like social security numbers.
  • The IRS clearly states their smartphone app is masked and encrypted for security purposes.
  • Mint.com uses 128-bit SSL encryption (the same security that banks use) and all data is protected and validated by VeriSign and TRUSTe. Mint is also read-only, so no money can be moved in or out of any account.
  • If filing from a coffee shop or other public area, be aware of the people around you and make sure you’re on a secure network.
  • Password protect your laptops, smartphones and tablets, so a thief can’t easily get information if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Set up remote phone locks and GPS tracking software such as “Find my iPhone” for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad to shut down thieves.
  • Downloading security software for your smartphone is now just as important as downloading it for your computer. This includes firewall, antivirus and antispyware programs from companies such as Anonymizer.

While the IRS implements new changes to amplify a digital role in tax preparation, there are numerous resources available to help guide those who aren’t quite so tech savvy. Take the opportunity to learn about and share them, and tax time may not be so daunting.

Image courtesy of Flickr, music2work2


Interested in more Business news? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover resources and information on your favorite Mashable topics.

More About: IRS, List, Lists, mint, money, social media, tax

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December 15 2010

Why Your Smartphone Will Replace Your Wallet

mobile_wallet

The day when near field communication (NFC) will help replace plastic credit cards, coupons and loyalty program cards with a wave of a phone at a payment terminal has been long anticipated.

Wireless NFC technology enables devices, including mobile phones and payment terminals, to communicate with one another or read special tags. Its short-range signal, convenience and built-in security make NFC an apt choice for mobile payments. Its efficacy persuaded companies like MasterCard, American Express, and Visa to join the NFC Forum in 2004 shortly after it was founded to advance the use of the technology. Today, the possibility that this technology could replace a wallet full of plastic seems not only likely, but imminent.

Samsung’s Nexus S, the first NFC-enabled Android phone, will be on sale at Best Buy starting December 16; Nokia has announced that all of its Smartphones starting in 2011 will support NFC; and Apple recently hired an NFC expert. Jeff Miles, the director of mobile transactions worldwide at NXP Semiconductors, which co-invented NFC with Sony in 2002, says he expects more than 70 million NFC-capable handsets to be manufactured in 2011.

“As far as what will happen with it, who owns the keys and all of that, none of that has really been determined,” Miles says.

Players in multiple industries have made strides toward putting virtual wallets on consumers’ mobile phones. Here’s how some of them have been approaching the opportunity to transform the way we make purchases.


Credit Card Companies


Mastercard

Contactless payment terminals for MasterCard’s PayPass, American Express’s ExpressPay and Visa’s payWave could also be used to accept the tap of an NFC-enabled phone for payment. In essence, the terminals, which are installed in all U.S. McDonald’s, CVS Pharmacies, Home Depots and other merchant locations, are the beginning of a “tap-to-pay” infrastructure.

MasterCard, for instance, is now accepted on about 265,000 contactless payment terminals that would also be able to accept an NFC-enabled phone. Considering that the company has about 29 million locations worldwide, this is far from a complete infrastructure. But it’s a start.

“Definitely we’re seeing a lot of interest and support, and I think 2011 is really going to be a year when we really start seeing commercial deployment,” says James Anderson, head of mobile for the company.

Although NFC-enabled devices have been available in various markets for quite some time, with the exception of a handful of pilot projects, they haven’t been used for payment. In order to safely use the technology with checkout terminals, a “secure component” also needs to be either embedded in the phone, in a SIM card, or through MicroSD cards.

Visa recently made mobile contactless payments available using a MicroSD card solution that can be inserted into the phone’s existing memory slot. Wells Fargo announced this month that it would launch a pilot of the payment option with 200 of its San Francisco employees.

In the meantime, credit card companies have started programs to get customers used to the idea of tapping their phones to pay. MasterCard customers that bank with Citibank, for example, can ask for a mobile PayPass tag to attach to their phone to enable tap-and-pay. The adhesive chips use the same NFC technology that would be embedded in some phones. Visa plans to release a version of the chips, called “Visa Micro Tags,” for its network.


Mobile Network Providers


Isis

Last month, an unlikely partnership of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile announced a new initiative called Isis that will create an NFC contactless payment network for the three companies’ combined 230 million customers. Ryan Hughes, the VP of business development at Verizon Wireless and an Isis spokesperson, sees the joint venture as a signal to merchants that they are committed to mobile payments.

“[Our announcement] was actually an opportunity for us to say to the merchant community that this is happening; it’s going to be real, this is not a science project for us, and we have the opportunity on our side to put the technology in a lot of consumers’ hands, and it’s a rallying cry for banks and merchants that the time has come,” Hughes says.

Because the companies are working together on the payment network, merchants will only need to update their terminals once in order to provide service to all three mobile networks’ customers.

Barclay’s “Barclaycard U.S.” will be the first card on Isis’s planned network, although Isis says that it will welcome other banks and mobile carriers that want to join in the future. Isis is planning to use Discover’s own payment network and its existing terminals that accept Discover’s Zip contactless payment cards. When it launched in November, Isis was expecting to launch a product within 18 months.

MasterCard and other credit card companies have created similar partnerships with mobile networks outside of the U.S. Mobile carriers have large customer bases and relationships with handset manufacturers to make sure that NFC technology is included in new handsets and to create a common set of technology standards.

“We’re in a place where we will have conversations with all parties interested, including banks and [telephone companies], to get to a place that would benefit everyone,” Anderson says.

Starting a brand from scratch and a payment network that people trust is a substantial investment, but Hughes thinks that Isis might distinguish itself by doing more than replicating a plastic card experience. While Hughes didn’t mention anything specific that Isis has in mind, there are opportunities to integrate similar store loyalty programs, checkins and other capabilities that mobile apps have already started to provide for in-store shoppers.


PayPal, Bling Nation and Other Players


While mobile phone networks and credit card companies are trying to turn your cell phone into a type of credit card, PayPal is trying to use NFC to make its online-only system viable in the physical world.

The company has partnered with Bling Nation, a Palo Alto startup that has been installing contactless payment terminals at local merchants since 2008. When users attached an NFC-enabled sticker to their phone, they could swipe to make payments and receive rewards. Previously, Bling Nation users were paying from accounts at partner banks. Since this summer, they’ve also had the option to pay using their PayPal accounts.

Boku, a company that makes online purchases easier by allowing customers to use their mobile phone numbers at checkout, has also expressed interest in entering the physical world as a payment option. In Boku’s case, online purchases are currently charged to the customer’s phone bill. How exactly the addition of physical payments would take place remains unannounced.

Other companies are focusing not only on payment, but on replacing the loyalty program cards, coupons and other cards most people carry in their wallets. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Google purchased Zetawire, a startup that held a patent for “mobile banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing,” and little else.

Startups like Placepop, AisleBuyer and Coupious have taken less comprehensive approaches to trying to replace your wallet.

Still, companies like Boku increasingly see your wallet as unnecessary. As Boku’s co-founder Ron Hirson says: “I think us carrying around a wallet full of plastic will absolutely go away, and I think that billing methods will live inside the phone, and that’s where we’ll be.”


More Mobile Resources from Mashable:


- NFC Technology: 6 Ways It Could Change Our Daily Lives
- HOW TO: Accept Credit Card Payments on Mobile Devices
- Why Small Businesses Should Care About Mobile Payments
- Linking the Real World to the Web: 3 Emerging Technologies Compared
- Why the Best Online Marketing May Be Headed Offline

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, photo_smart

More About: discover, mastercard, Mobile 2.0, Mobile contactless payments, near field communication, nfc, NXP, tech, technology, Visa

For more Mobile coverage:


September 02 2010

15 Essential Back to School Podcasts

Podcast Books

Alexander Hotz is a freelance multimedia journalist and public radio junkie based in New York City. Currently he teaches digital media at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Follow Alex on Twitter at @hotzington.

With another long hot American summer coming to a close, many students are scrambling to get back into “learning mode” before school starts. One of the simplest ways to ease that transition is with podcasts. Whether your passion is American History or Algebra, there’s probably an educational podcast out there for you.

While these programs probably won’t mirror your lesson plan, they will explore topics covered in class. Below is a sampling of some of the exceptional podcasts that both teach and entertain. Best of all – they’re free. Read on for your “2010 Downloading Curriculum.”


Science


radiolab image

Radiolab investigates some of world’s most intriguing scientific questions in a unique conversational format. Recent episodes have examined the importance of words in human development and time. First time listeners will probably notice that the show also just sounds different.

Before becoming a radio producer, Jab Abumrad, one of Radiolab’s creators, was as an experimental musician. Abumrad’s passion for ProTools is apparent in the show’s textured soundscape, which is layered with a variety of sound effects and quick edits. Perhaps the show’s only downside is its frequency. There are only a handful of episodes every season because one Radiolab episode requires months to produce.

Outlet: WNYC, New York City’s Public Radio Station
Time: An Hour
Frequency: 5-6 every season

Additional Listening: The Naked Scientists Podcast


History


dan carlin image

In Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Carlin, a veteran journalist turned podcaster, dissects the textbook version of events. In shows that often run over an hour, the host passionately retells some of history’s best stories.

Hardcore History has become one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes, and Carlin’s widespread appeal can also be attributed to his insight. One podcast asked, “Could widespread child abuse in earlier eras explain some of history’s brutality?” Another show was based off the question, “Does the toughness of peoples play any role in history?” Don’t let the name fool you; all material is appropriate for younger listeners.

Outlet: Dan Carlin
Time: 1 – 1 1/2 hours
Frequency: 5-6 every year

Additional Listening: Stuff You Missed in History Class


Economics


planet money image

Planet Money is NPR’s podcast on global economics and business. Initially created by veteran public radio reporters Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson to explain the recent financial crisis, the show quickly became one of the most popular and praised podcasts available.

Planet Money’s success lies in how it tackles complex subjects with great storytelling. A financial instrument like a Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) may sound impossibly boring, but Planet Money routinely makes these types of things the heart of a thrilling narrative. The team continues to explore the financial collapse, but they’ve expanded their scope to include all aspects of the global economy.

Outlet: NPR
Time: 15-30 minutes
Frequency: Twice a week

Additional Listening: Freakanomics Radio

Disclosure: The author interned at NPR.


English


cliff notes image

For those of us who couldn’t make it through Wuthering Heights, Cliff Notes Cramcast would have been a lifesaver. This free podcast reviews some of the stuff you need to know for the big test and does it in three to four minutes. Of course, these podcasts can’t cover every detail. To do that, you would — you know — need to read the book.

Outlet: Cliff Notes
Time: 15-30 minutes
Frequency: Twice a week

Additional Listening: Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips


Foreign Language


radio lingua image

The Internet is full of podcasts that cater to students learning foreign languages. For those interested in the major European languages, Radio Lingua is a good bet. Another reliable hub is Open University, which in addition to the European languages also has a set of Mandarin podcasts. These outlets are mainly for beginners or students who need a quick review. Both are rated highly on iTunes by users.

Outlets: Radio Lingua and Open University
Time: 15-30 minutes
Frequency: Lesson plan

Additional Listening: Other reliable podcasts include Discover Spanish and Learn French.


Math


math dude image

For those of us who struggle to calculate a 15% tip, The Math Dude’s podcast is a must-listen. Every week, affable nerd Jason Marshall explains basic concepts like how to calculate the area of an object or how to add faster. When Marshall isn’t podcasting, he researches “infrared light emitted by starburst galaxies and quasars” at Caltech, which just means his left-brain knows what’s up.

Outlet: Quick and Dirty Tips
Time: About 7 minutes
Frequency: Weekly

Additional Listening: Mathgrad.


Current Events


the bugle image

Every Sunday, comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver recap the week’s events in The Bugle, a satirical podcast that is easily one of the funniest listens on the Internet. Think an audio version of The Daily Show, where Oliver is also a regular. The Bugle’s focus tends to be on the biggest international news, but the duo’s separate locations – Zaltzman in London and Oliver in New York City – ensure a focus on the English-speaking world’s antics. Although the pair has a leftward slant, there are no sacred cows. The Bugle even takes aim at itself in its tagline: “An audio newspaper for a visual world.”

Outlet: The Times (UK)
Time: 30 minutes
Frequency: Weekly

Additional Listening: NPR News, BBC World Service


More Educational Resources from Mashable:


- 10 iPhone Apps to Get You Back to School
- Why Online Education Needs to Get Social
- 5 Innovative Tech Camps for Kids and Teens
- 5 Organizations Helping Women Get Ahead in Tech
- 5 Fun Ways to Help Your Kids Learn Math Online

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mattjeacock


Reviews: Internet, iStockphoto, iTunes

More About: back to school, cliff notes cramcast, current events, dan carlin, economics, education, english, foreign language, history, itunes, math, planet money, podcast, podcasts, radio lingua, radiolab, Science, the bugle, the math dude

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August 07 2010

10 Entertaining eBay Facts You Might Not Know


As the world’s largest marketplace, eBay has hundreds of millions of listings live at any given moment. Since its founding in 1995, the company has grown from just one curious computer programmer to over 15,000 employees. Over the past 15 years, eBay has become one of the largest companies in America, consistently ranking in the Fortune 500, and is one of the most recognized brands around the world.

Throughout the years, the world has gawked at some of the oddest items listed on eBay, including, among others, old gum, entire towns, and even spouses. The fact that anyone can list almost anything (yes, there are some restrictions), makes this site one of the most interesting places to find rare or outlandish items.

We took a deeper look at the history behind eBay and pulled together some of the most entertaining facts about the company that we could find. Here are 10 that you might not know.

Fill us in on any fun facts that you may have in the comments below.


1. eBay was Originally Called AuctionWeb


This screenshot is the earliest example of the AuctionWeb homepage, circa March 1997, but the basic design did not change from May 1996 to September 1997. Click the image to see the full-sized screenshot.

The site we now know as eBay was launched during Labor Day weekend in 1995 as “AuctionWeb,” by entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar in his living room in San Jose, California.

AuctionWeb was just one of four sites housed under Omidyar’s umbrella company, eBay Internet. The other three included a travel site set up in loose partnership with a local San Jose travel agent, a personal shopper site, and a site about the Ebola virus. Check out the screenshot above of AuctionWeb, circa 1997.

The decision to change the name from AuctionWeb to eBay was made by Omidyar and Jeffrey Skoll, eBay’s first full-time employee and president, in mid-1997. The change was spurred by the fact that most customers referred to the site as “eBay,” and the initial media coverage, though sparse, also used “eBay” more than “AuctionWeb.” The actual name change took place in September of 1997 and involved a migration of existing users to a completely new platform with a more graphical website and home page. It also introduced the world to the multi-colored eBay logo we know today.

So, where did “eBay” actually come from? Long before AuctionWeb existed, Omidyar went to Sacramento to register the domain echobay.com for his planned business name Echo Bay Inc., but it was taken. He came up with “eBay” on the spot and registered it instead.


2. The First AuctionWeb Logo Was Called the “Death Bar”


“The boxy black-and-white AuctionWeb logo … was so sinister the eBay staff had taken to calling it the ‘death bar,’” according to Adam Cohen in The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, a book explaining the story of eBay. Above you’ll find the original logos for AuctionWeb (the auction website) and eBay Internet (the umbrella company). Steve Westly, one of eBay’s founding executives thought it was so horrible that it was scaring away potential corporate partners. We can see why employees might go a little bonkers after staring at these logos every day.

For a short period in 1997, the eBay logo was changed to a slightly more appealing navy blue design, as pictured above. It is difficult to find a trace of this logo on the Internet, as it wasn’t in use for very long and may not have ever existed on the website itself. One of the only places that it still exists is on an eBay listing posted by Jim Griffith, the first customer sales representative at eBay and the current host of eBayRadio.

Griffith’s listing described a stack of eBay brochures and stickers that he found in a trash bin at the eBay office. He included a detailed photo as well, watermarked with his seller name, uncle_griff. Upon finding the items, he couldn’t bear to see history tossed away, so he saved them and later sold them on eBay to benefit one of his favorite charities, The Disabled Online Users Association. In his listing, he commented on the blue logo design as:

“…one that didn’t last more than, well, probably a week if my memory serves me. And thank heavens for that! Can you imagine what eBay might have become with such a boring old logo? Still, it could have happened…(shudder).”

We agree, Griff. Luckily, in 1997, the company hired CKS Group, an ad agency owned by Bill Cleary, Mark Kvamme, and Tom Suiter (all three of whom had previously worked at Apple Computers), to revamp their corporate identity, including visual imagery, typography, the website, and recommendations on advertising.

A screenshot of eBay’s website in 2003

We spoke with Cleary, who at the time led the graphic design team that created the eBay logo, about the rebranding process and the idea behind the logo design. He elaborated:

“We saw that site as probably the first social networking site. People were aggregated around their interests -– people who collected antique cars, people who collected toy soldiers, people who collected Civil War memorabilia. I called them ‘eBay tribes.’ With all of the various tribes, the site attracted a lot of different types of people. We wanted to create something that really resonated with the broadest base of consumers.”

Inspired by the visual imagery behind Eastman Kodak and Apple, among other brands, Cleary and his team created a logo that would appeal to the masses. The final result was the multi-colored logo spelled e-b-a-Y in overlapping letters with baseline shifts. The logo was chosen out of five or six other designs and had the “friendly, open and accessible” personality that the eBay team was looking for.


3. The First Item Listed on eBay was a Broken Laser Pointer


On Labor Day weekend in 1995, computer programmer Omidyar wrote the code for what he called 
an “experiment.” He wanted to know what would happen if everyone in the world had access to a single global marketplace. To test his idea, he came up with an auction website, where he listed a broken laser pointer that he was going to throw away. In the end, a collector bought it for $14.83.

Among the other items sold just a week after Omidyar launched eBay were autographed Marky Mark underwear for $400, a Superman metal lunchbox for $22, and a Toyota Tercel for $3,200.


4. The eBay HQ Building Names Reflect Categories on eBay


There are seven buildings at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose, California, and they are all named after categories on eBay.com: Collectibles, Jewelry, Motors, Music, Sports, Technology and Toys.

All of the conference rooms are named according to the corresponding building theme. For example, in the Motors building, rooms are named after type of cars, and in the Music building, rooms are take the names of various musical instruments.

True to its name, the Community building has a few distinct characteristics. It’s conference rooms are named after original eBay community terms, including PowerSeller, About Me, Feedback and Buy It Now. And it also houses two of the most social locations on campus, the cafeteria and the coffee house. Even more interesting is the fact that one of its conference rooms is named after an eBay community member, Jack Sheng.


5. Jack Sheng Was the First to Reach a Feedback Score of One Million


As of November 13, 2008, Jack Sheng was the first eBay seller to receive a Feedback score of one million. He currently has a score of over two million. It took Sheng eight years to earn a Feedback score of one million, but it only took him 18 months thereafter to reach two million.

To congratulate Sheng, the eBay staff created a special “Shooting Star” for his seller profile and named a conference room after him. Nice setup, Sheng!


6. Fixed-Price Format Trumps Auction Format


For over a year, fixed-price format (Buy it Now) has accounted for a majority of merchandise volume. Approximately 59% of sales during the second quarter of 2010 were purchased via the “Buy It Now” feature.


7. You Can Adopt a Pet on eBay Classifieds


Looking for a pet? Check out eBay Classifieds (formerly Kijiji); it’s a local listing site that is free of charge and open to everyone. Pets are among the most popular listings. Dogs are the pet of choice, with the most popular canine searches being Yorkie, Chihuahua, Boxer, English Bulldog and Pitbull. And for the feline fanatics, the most popular cat breeds searched are Persian, Siamese and Bengal. With Petfinder as a partner, over two-thirds of pet listings are from shelters, so you know you’ll be giving a deserving puppy or kitty a new, happy home.

Check out the eBay Classifieds Pets iPhone app for access to local pet listings on the go. It just launched this week.


8. Mobile is Used for Big Ticket Purchases


Looking at mobile behavior on eBay’s apps, you can see that mobile commerce is an increasingly important focus for the company. One item is purchased every two seconds using eBay mobile apps, and in 2009, eBay users bought $600 million of merchandise using their mobile phones. On the last earnings call, eBay CEO John Donahoe predicted that number will nearly triple this year to $1.5 billion.

It’s no wonder that mobile is such a focus for the company. Users are shelling out big bucks on their mobile phones. So far in 2010, the most expensive item sold via eBay’s mobile app was a 1985 Piper PA-46-310P Malibu airplane for $265,000. The transaction was successful and resulted in the exchange of positive Feedback.

Another big ticket item bought via the eBay app this year was a 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder for $139,000. So far this year, it’s the most expensive car bought via eBay’s mobile app.

An exciting addition to the eBay app roster that will make mobile shopping even easier is Red Laser, a popular iPhone app that scans barcodes in stores, and returns the best prices for the same item online and at other stores. eBay recently acquired the app and will soon integrate Red Laser’s technology within its eBay applications — eBay Marketplace, eBay Selling, StubHub and Shopping.com.


9. The Most Expensive eBay.com Purchase: A Jet


A Gulfstream II Jet that sold for $4.9 million in 2001 is the record for highest eBay sale price yet. The record sales price was more than three times the previous known eBay record of $1.65 million. The jet was sold by Tyler Jet (now, Tyler Jet Motorsports), the world’s largest business jet dealer at the time.


10. eBay was the First to Live-Tweet Its Earnings Call


Richard Brewer-Hay, eBay’s corporate blogger, was the first to live-blog a company’s earnings call using a Twitter feed. During the Q2 2010 earning’s call, Brewer-Hay tweeted away using the hashtag #eBayQ210.

Prior to that, he had worked in conjunction with eBay’s legal team to create social media guidelines for reporting company information on behalf of eBay to dodge any legal issues.

Brewer-Hay has played a key role in eBay’s growing presence on various social networks, but there are over 40 other eBay-owned Twitter feeds, including eBay Radio, eBay Classifieds, eBay Green, and PayPal.

Did we leave any interesting facts about eBay off of this list? Let us know what you would add in the comments below.


More Fun Facts from Mashable:


- 10 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Google
- 10 Fascinating Facts You Didn’t Know About Apple
- 10 Fun Microsoft Facts You Might Not Know
- 10 Fascinating Facebook Facts

[img credits: liewcf, labormikro, pfranson365, Fine Aircraft, Comfy Sky]

More About: auctionweb, ebay, facts, List, Lists, most expensive item, online auctions

For more Tech coverage:


August 02 2010

How Small Businesses Will Use Social Media in the Future


This series is supported by Gist, an online service that helps you build stronger relationships. By connecting your inbox to the web, you get business-critical information about key people and companies. See how it works here.

growth imageShort of saying we’ll all be doing business from Foursquare-fueled hover cars, the future of social media and small business is very much an unknown. While most social media-savvy businesses undoubtedly have an online presence, the ability to then monetize online efforts is still in its infancy.

The usual suspects — Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare — have already proven to be great ways to engage with an audience and promote a brand, but what are the next steps in using these social networks to earn real money for your small business?

Soothsaying necessarily has its limitations. In order to peer into the future of small businesses and social media we took a step back and tried to build cases based on the evolution of trends and some successful examples. Below, find some key ways that your business can develop those ideas to (hopefully) earn some good old-fashioned cash.


New Platforms


adly image

It’s clear that social media will continue to evolve both in its appearance and its offerings. It is unclear, however, whether this means that our beloved Facebook and its ilk, will be replaced by entirely new platforms, or whether it will become more robust as it’s used for more complex actions.

“I have a hard time seeing Facebook ever going away,” said Scott Scheper, an entrepreneur and VP of Strategic Partnerships at Yontoo. Rather than e-mail blasts or bursts of self-promotion, Scheper suggests that small businesses try to create added value. “… Something that people have a lot of fun doing that you can put your brand into subtly. It’s kind of like product placement and getting eyeballs on [your brand] without having a stand-out ad.”

The idea is more about viral than Madison Avenue: Create content that is attached to your brand that would naturally get shared online. Scheper also pointed to the cost-per-share model as touted by Ad.ly’s in-stream advertising.

In-stream advertising has been gaining popularity as a way to leverage social networks to better target buyers. “You have a pipeline into somebody’s brain, almost,” said Andrew Nusca, a writer for tech and business site ZDNet.com. That pipeline is also an important way to gain information. He said networks like Facebook and LinkedIn would become even more important for the huge amount of data they index. “This is a data game, this is a war over data,” Nusca said. “That LinkedIn knows your work history, that Facebok knows what you like or don’t like… That’s why they changed those pages, because they can look it up. They’re tags.”

We’ll have to wait to see whether the data giants of today or the new platforms of tomorrow will win out among small businesses.


Capitalizing on It


motosport forum image

With all this data available, the trick will be for small businesses to find their ideal audience and market strategically. Loudspeaker networks like Twitter are invaluable for broadcasting, but they retain very little personal information.

Small businesses by definition have smaller budgets and must watch their dollars more closely, explained Mike Svatek, Chief Product Officer of social commerce consultancy bazaarvoice.com. “If you can see ROI [“Return on Investment”], it’s much easier to keep pouring money into it.” Svatek said MotoSport, one of their clients, saw a 21% increase in conversion when their mailings included user-generated content and product reviews.

Facebook will have to deal with more businesses as they become better at marketing online. “I think as marketing and advertising gets savvier about how to use social platforms, they’re going to start putting demands on the Facebook platforms and Twitter platforms [to provide more feedback and services].” Still, Svatek sees advertising on Facebook or Twitter as a way for business to ultimately drive customers back to their home sites.


New Ways of Thinking


Any innovation in monetizing social media will be limited by the ability of analytics to keep up. Analytics and metrics will need to be just as advanced as the ads they monitor in order to truly change the way small businesses can approach marketing. This is partly why all three of our biz experts believe traditional banner ads will always be a part of monetizing social media.

“There are so many solutions and services built for tracking those ad sites,” Scheper said. “If I’m published and I want to show ads in a new format, I’m going to have to call up a huge agency and now I’m asking them to work harder and ask them to step away from their typical routine… it’s a little bit of a tougher sell.” For Scheper, there is a disconnect between the creativity of recent social media-related ads — from Old Spice’s viral videos to small business Facebook apps or Foursquare promotions — and the analytics designed to measure them.

“I don’t think that banner ads and traditional advertising models will go away,” Svatek said. “I do think advertising is a function of its medium.” Banner ads might be around forever, but their basic function will change. Svatek gave the example of a highway billboard by the side of the road. Because of the limited time a driver has to interact with the sign, the ad has large, bright pictures and just a few words. Online ads are based around creativity and interaction. The user is expected to click through and gain added value, much like Apple’s new iAd advertising platform.

Businesses that can tailor their efforts to focus on interaction and appeal to their users’ unique contexts will be the most effective in converting social media into money. Much of that interaction might come from your own friends. “We know throughout history that word of mouth is the most powerful way to get someone to perk up and take action,” Svatek said. In-stream advertising, news feeds from Facebook, and user-generated content are all ways for a business to monetize a customer’s interaction with both their friends and the brand.


Directly Monetizing Your Efforts


While we can dream of a time when the hours spent updating an online profile will directly translate into money for small business, “the most immediate opportunity for anyone, big or small, right now is to drive the traffic back to a website,” Svatek said. One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is not leveraging the content they’ve already created. Svatek saw missed opportunities where small businesses could repurpose traditional content for use on their social networks.

All of this, however, depends on approaching social media with a concrete goal. Scheper suggested small monthly steps like getting one sale via Twitter or converting one user per month via Facebook. While businesses shouldn’t invest a huge amount of time joining every new network they see, it can be useful to secure your handle or company name on startup sites with promise. You don’t want to be late to the game and find out that your preferred username or vanity URL has already been taken.

While Nusca said it could be possible to translate social media into real cash for small business, he believes that social networks are really just platforms. “It’s a conduit, it’s a pipeline,” Nusca said. “Twitter would have to bend to the will of every company that tried to make money off of it. I don’t think it’s possible for the platform to expand that way.” Small businesses will have to continue using these networks as mouthpieces for their brands and as platforms to build customer relationships — the development will be better-targeted ads and more effective outreach.


Potential for Growth


madison image

So which of all the popular networks is the best one to put your money on? Which should you devote the most time to now in order to best reap the rewards later? Unfortunately we don’t have one answer, but we did get some insights depending on the kind of company you are. “I would say Facebook or LinkedIn,” Nusca said. “It depends on the business you’re in… It’s because they are both tied to real people — you are you. And they have real data.” Nusca sees the value in obtaining information on individual, identifiable customers. Business sites might benefit more from LinkedIn’s emphasis on work data whereas Facebook is better for getting information about personal tastes and pop culture.

Scheper thought Foursquare had the most potential for its emphasis on geo-location and its focus on businesses and real places. Still, he acknowledged that Twitter is the best site to get content to go viral whereas Facebook is most effective at building and maintaining long-term consumer relationships.

Geo-location was a key area for Svatek who saw the future of social media and small business hinging on mobile. “The nice thing about a mobile device is, mobile is inherently social,” Svatek said. Consumers think of phones as ways to connect to friends. They’re also becoming a quick and easy way to spread mobile commerce. The (sometimes strange) success of ring tones and other micro-transactions could easily be applied to small business purchases or perks.

Svatek also stressed the importance of search engines like good ol’ Google. Google is still the biggest router of information on the web. With phones, most people find information by typing in searches on the go. A well-optimized site can show up high on search engine results — a fact made all the more important when considering how many fewer results pop up on a mobile screen. Svatek gave the example of Swanson Health Products, another client. They implemented a technique that allowed all of their user-generated content to be indexed by Google. As a result, they saw a 163% lift in traffic and a 67% increase in keyword diversity from inbound traffic. Not only did their numbers improve, but they were attracting new customers from a more diverse range of search results.

Regardless of how large or small your business may be, the future of social media monetization is far from certain. We’ll continue to keep an eye on trends and small business resources to help you make sense of the future of social media.


Series supported by Gist


This series is supported by Gist, an online service that helps you build stronger professional relationships by bringing together information from across the web for all your contacts and their companies, giving you the right information at the right moment to get a first meeting, deliver an amazing pitch, or just find a better way to make a connection. Gist does all the work for you, assembling a dynamic collection of all your contacts and their companies from your e-mail inbox, your social networks, or even your CRM system automatically building and updating their profiles as new content is published – by them or about them.


More Business Resources from Mashable:


- Growing Your Business: 5 Tips From the Founder of Blip.tv
- Growing Your Business: 5 Tips From the Founder of Foursquare
- 10 Tips for Corporate Blogging
- 5 Lessons to Learn from Web Startups
- 11 Essential Online Resources for Consultants

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, LockieCurrie

More About: advertising, business, data, facebook, foursquare, future of social media series, Google, MARKETING, Mobile 2.0, small business, twitter

For more Business coverage:


July 22 2010

July 07 2010

40+ Essential Social Business Resources


Business and social media are becoming more and more inseparable. Most businesses, from big brands to startups, are expected to have an efficient, developed social media presence.

The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. We’ve collected a list of Mashable resources, published over the past months, that can help you start, manage, or grow your social networks.

Whether you need an app on the go, are looking for real-world examples, or want to expand your marketing online, this list of resources can help your business needs.


Social Media


Twitter City ImageBelow are some resources covering the most popular social media sites. Ranging from Twitter to LinkedIn to Foursquare.

If you’ve ever wanted to develop your business strategy on Twitter, manage B2B marketing on Facebook, or finally leverage Foursquare as a useful workplace tool, these resources will be right up your alley.

Check out these posts and then scroll on to see how you can take some of these resources with you on the go.


Mobile


Blackberry Business ImageThe social businessperson is a mobile one, and there are lots of smart ways to take your work with you when you’re on the go.

Here, we’ve narrowed down the mobile and business posts from the past few months to three of the most useful for managing your social presence in the palm of your hand.


Real World Success


While we’re all obviously fans of the digital world, it’s great to see when social media leads to real results.

Here we’ve collected some of our posts documenting the real ways in which social media has impacted several professions as well as some small businesses with great success stories.

Social media may take place in the digital world, but that doesn’t mean its effects are limited to your computer. Read on for some examples.


Starting Up


One of the hardest parts of a starting up a business is trying to own your social media presence, build a team, and raise funds for your new venture.

If you’re looking for some tips on what to name your company or are just looking for some ways to grow your market, we’ve got some great resources from the past few months to get you going.

After you’ve read through, continue on to our Business 101 stories for even more useful tips.


Business 101


Twitter Money GraphHere are some posts in which we sat down and did some deep thinking: How does data affect business relationships? What will Facebook’s changes really mean for your company?

These resources take a broad approach to the practical questions every business faces. Read through to get some insights (and advice) on the pitfalls and potential future of business in social media.

After you’re done, continue on to our tips and resources for networking online.


Networking


Regardless of what level of business you have, the one constant is networking. You’ll always need to meet new contacts, expand your network, and share with your community.

This list of a resources is a perfect primer for all the challenges you could face online and offline. If you need to become a savvier networker, need to manage your existing contacts, or even need tips on how to bring your social world offline, read through these resources as a start.

When you’re all set up to network, continue on to our resources for marketing your business using social media.


Marketing


Target Customer ImageMarketing and social media have always gone hand-in-hand, even before the days of Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, now with even more tools available to the social media marketer, we’ve come up with some good tips and resources for the well-rounded marketing team.

Whether you need help running a daily deal, want to take steps to improve your customer outreach, or are looking to include QR codes into your marketing strategy, these resources will set you on the right track.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, style-photographs, Pablo631, hjalmeida, GodfriedEdelman, geopaul
[img credit: tsevis]

More About: apple, blackberry, business, facebook, foursquare, linkedin, MARKETING, Mobile 2.0, networking, social media, startup, strategy, twitter

For more Business coverage:


March 26 2010

10 Essential Money-Saving iPhone Apps

iPhone Piggy Bank ImageLuke Knowles is the founder of numerous money-saving websites including Coupon Sherpa, Gift Card Granny and Mr. Free Stuff. In 2008 Luke founded Free Shipping Day, now a red-letter discount date for online holiday shopping.

Despite a recession allegedly in our rear view mirror, frugality remains a hot, dare I say trendy topic. Nowhere is that more evident than in the often expensive world of consumer tech. Those of you currently debating that iPad purchase know just what I mean. But remember, a one-time splurge could pay dividends in the long run if you do your homework.

Take Steve Jobs’ previous technological wonder. The iPhone’s price tag might seem hefty, but just a cursory review of its money-saving potential might prove tempting to even the most fiscally conservative. Here are ten of our favorite apps for the frugal-focused.


Finances

Finance Apps

The first step to saving money is learning how to handle it. Depending on your needs, there are literally hundreds of apps to help you manage your money, track expenses and pay bills. You can use your iPhone to make late fees and overdrafts a thing of the past.

  • 1. Quicken

    Existing Quicken users as well as newbies will no doubt find this simple but handy app the ideal way to check financial accounts on the go. Track your financial goals, monitor account activity and even find an ATM.

    Cost: Free

  • 2. BillMinder

    One of the most popular bill tracking apps out there, the interface is simple, sleek and easy to use. Plus, you can back up your data and export via e-mail for added peace of mind. Enable push notifications to make sure you never miss a due date.

    Cost: $1.99


Shopping

shopping apps image

Once you’ve got your accounts balanced, it might be time to start spending (wisely). But a note to the coupon clippers: Now you can leave that Sunday circular at home.

  • 3. Coupon Sherpa

    Coupon Sherpa offers both in-store coupons (just show the entry at checkout) as well as exclusive deals just for users. You can search by category or store name, locate merchants closest to you, and even e-mail coupons to your friends. (Disclosure: the author is the founder of Coupon Sherpa.)

    Also check out Yowza!! Mobile Coupons and Coupon Cabin.

    Cost: Free

  • 4. Grocery Gadget Shopping List

    Scribbling down grocery lists is so 2006. Meticulous shoppers can now download apps to manage their grocery needs, ensuring every discounted item is accounted for. This one allows users to upload and share lists while offering additional frugal options like price comparisons and coupons.

    Cost: $4.99


Food & Drink

Food and Drink iPhone Apps

The recession has taught even the most sociable among us the value of eating in. These apps can make it cheap, and relatively pain-free for even the most amateur of gourmets.

  • 5. AllRecipes.com Dinner Spinner

    A godsend for foodies. Spun off from the hugely popular website, it offers quick access to thousands of recipes complete with directions, photos and user reviews. Try the “spinner” and find yourself a new favorite dish. Tips not required.

    Cost: Free

  • 6. Mixology

    Instead of fighting the crowds for a $14 martini, home-based mixologists can entertain friends hassle-free. Mixology features 7900+ recipes and a fun “liquor cabinet” feature to manage your whole inventory. Charge a cover at your next shindig, and you’re back in the black!

    Cost: Free


Travel

Travel Apps

Whether you drive, fly, ride the rails or hail a cab, just getting around can cost a pretty penny. Luckily there are a number of apps to help keep prices (and aggravation) down.

  • 7. Maps

    The only native app (though based on Google Maps) on our list is a no-brainer for anyone who relies on public transportation. Integrating directions, schedules, traffic and more into this mega-app, you’ll find the closest, fastest, and most importantly cheapest route with ease.

    Cost: Free

  • 8. Gas Buddy

    Drivers can use this to find the cheapest filling stations nationwide. With prices varying as much as 20% (even in the same city) this could mean big savings. Get distance, directions and time estimates to each location. Just stay off that phone when you’re behind the wheel!

    Cost: $2.99


Communications

Communications Apps

Since the iPhone is, after all, a phone, we should point out some ways to offset that monthly service fee. Chatterboxes, take note.

  • 9. TextFree Unlimited

    This is an interesting option for those looking to completely eliminate a portion of their monthly phone bill. Be aware, this app must be open in order to receive a text, and certain features from the native iPhone version are unavailable. For light users, though, this could be a good alternative.

    Cost: $5.99

  • 10. Skype

    Already a popular desktop application for placing worldwide voice calls over the Internet, now Skype has an iPhone app that many feel delivers an even clearer connection. Calls between Skype users are free, and peanuts to landlines or cell phones. If you have international friends and family, this could save you a bundle.

    Cost: Free



For more mobile coverage, follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook




More iPhone resources from Mashable:

- 3 Useful iPhone Apps to Help File Your Taxes
- 10 Essential iPhone Apps for Runners
- 10 Best iPhone Apps for Dog Lovers
- 10 Fun iPhone Apps for Beer Lovers
- Mashable’s New iPhone App: Download Today!

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, THEPALMER


Reviews: Coupon Sherpa, Facebook, Google Maps, Skype, Twitter, iPhone, iStockphoto

Tags: apple, iphone, iphone apps, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, mobile apps, money, personal finance


March 25 2010

3 Useful iPhone Apps to Help File Your Taxes

iPhone TaxesTax season is upon us, and the iPhone is here to take the sting out of Uncle Sam’s April chore. The current arsenal of App Store software is useful for both simple and complex tax processes, and is generally cheaper than desktop equivalents.

While there are a variety of tax-related apps by independent developers, the major players in the App Store market are also the star gladiators vying for dominance in the e-commerce market: Intuit (TurboTax) and H&R Block.

Below is a run down of the three most sophisticated tax apps we found for the iPhone.


1. H&R Block Tax Answers

H&R Block iPhone App

For many filers, a simple W-2 won’t suffice. H&R Block offers free, human guidance for even the most complicated questions via its iPhone app, Tax Answers. To give it a test run, I asked a question about educational exemptions for Social Security taxes (something I’d been trying to figure out for a long time) and received an answer only a short while later (though estimates are up to 24 hours). Tax Answers also has an index of previously asked questions. While these questions are not searchable, I was able to find what I was looking for in their predefined categories (work, education, small business, etc).

Unlike the other software on this list, I’ll probably keep this one on my iPhone for its glossary. On occasion, I run across financial terms that I’d like immediately defined. It should be noted that H&R Block also offers these service on its website, but as more users, especially younger ones, move to mobile browsing, this will surely be a useful application.

Cost: Free


2. TaxCaster

TaxCaster iPhone App

Want an estimate on your tax return ASAP, but you’re either not ready to file or don’t have your W-2 handy? Intuit’s TaxCaster is a quick-and-dirty tax calculator that takes about five minutes to use, and doesn’t require exact numbers to give an estimate.

For those with more complex needs, TaxCaster can take a range of exceptions into account: Education, family, rental and housing -– even alimony and new vehicle deduction. The subtle genius of TaxCaster is its targeted advertising at the bottom of the screen, which dynamically updates itself based on your input. As soon as you input a number for “Annual Mortgage Interest,” the ad fades from “Turbo Tax Free” to “Turbo Tax Deluxe.”

Cost: Free


3. TurboTax SnapTax

Intuit’s SnapTax, which automatically completes tax forms from a snapshot of a standard W-2, should be the iPhone’s showcase application in this category. After the W-2 is uploaded, users answer a few key questions about dependents, education, etc., and the information is whisked away to Uncle Sam. So far, the application is rated very well (4 of 5 stars). My experience, however, was much rockier.

Unfortunately, SnapTax is only available for Californians, and the App Store reviews are littered with users who clearly did not understand this limitation. Additionally, if you require any other forms but a W-2, 1099-INT, 1099-G or 1098-E, SnapTax will offer you its heartfelt apologies with an online $10 discount at the TurboTax website.

Like many employed students, I had a 1099-MISC, and therefore discovered I could not complete my return using this app. Other omissions include medical expenses, charitable donations, and vehicle registration fees.

Out of pure geek-driven curiosity, I tried my hand at the “snap” feature to see how well the photo automation worked. Again, I was disappointed. I tried for an hour, but the only thing it ever accurately picked up was the Employer Identification Number.

For all its shortcomings, it’s certainly a move in the right direction and a much cheaper alternative considering state income filing software is often more expensive than $10. So, for brave experimentation, SnapTax earns a place on our short list.

Cost: $9.99


Conclusion

As April 15th nears, we might see more options available in the App Store. Until then, iPhone users will be able to get a quick estimate on their return, receive answers from a certified expert, and automatically file their taxes from a mere picture. Taxes may still be a pain to file, but technology is making it increasingly more convenient.



For more mobile coverage, follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook




More iPhone resources from Mashable:

- 12 iPhone Apps for Surviving Conference Season
- 10 Essential iPhone Apps for Runners
- 10 Best iPhone Apps for Dog Lovers
- Top 10 iPhone Apps as Judged by Mashable Readers
- 10 Fun iPhone Apps for Beer Lovers
- Mashable’s New iPhone App: Download Today!

Tags: app store, apple, finance, H&R Block, intuit, iphone, iphone apps, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, Mobile Lists, money, taxes, turbotax


January 29 2010

How Facebook Can Become a Money Making Machine

facebook money imageDallas Lawrence is Chair of the Social and Digital Media Practice at Levick Strategic Communications, the nation’s top crisis communications firm. He blogs on emerging digital media trends and best practices for social media engagement on Bulletproof Blog. Connect with him on Twitter @dallaslawrence.

Social networks have truly come of age in the last year. No longer viewed as lonely outposts for youthful college slackers, the reach of these platforms has grown exponentially. Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet users visit the social networking sites that reel in billions of eyeballs every 24 hours.

Yet, despite the staggering growth of social networking, determining how to monetize social media platforms remains a tough code to crack for even the savviest of companies. As such, identifying new revenue models will be instrumental in kicking off the next cycle of the social networking phenomenon in 2010.


If Anyone Can Do It, Facebook Can

mark zuckerberg imageFacebook, social networking’s acknowledged leader, has surpassed every platform on the market today, corralling more than 350 million unique users globally. If any social network is poised to design a winning formula for successful revenue streams in 2010, it’s Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has set an aggressive agenda for the company, publically stating that he “expects social networks to become as essential as web browsers and operating systems,” and he has set the lofty — yet entirely realistic — goal of 1 billion users worldwide.

In the less than five years since it expanded beyond scholastic audiences, Facebook has not only grabbed the lion’s share of users, it has engaged them like no other platform on the Internet. The average Facebook user visits the site at least once a day and spends an astounding 55 minutes engaging friends and family –- statistics that another Zucker (Jeff) would probably kill for over at NBC.

While translating such popularity into dollars and cents isn’t easy –- especially in an industry whose users have grown accustomed to getting something for nothing –- Facebook could potentially provide a monetization template that would revolutionize social networking as we know it.


The Next Level of Advertising Revenue

Advertising has traditionally provided the simplest means of generating revenue. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in October that Internet advertising revenues totaled $10.9 billion for the first half of 2009. It’s been estimated that Facebook alone took in $435 million of that total. But for a site with nearly half a billion users, a quarter of which spend more time within the network than watching television, these numbers represent just the beginning potential.

First, Facebook needs to admit to itself that it is in the business of selling ads. By better managing its advertising network, intelligently expanding its marketing options, and developing workable social ads that leverage the branding power of friends and connections, Facebook can begin to capture its rightful share of online ad revenues. The final piece is to increase awareness and understanding of Facebook ads among corporate decision makers.

For example, every executive in America today understands the value of purchasing Google ads –- and that didn’t happen by accident. Google understood that what caused it to dominate online search wasn’t going to ultimately position the company as a global corporate powerhouse valued at nearly $200 billion. Google’s aggressive marketing, communications, and lobbying shops have worked to ensure every ad buyer, political campaign, marketing executive, and public relations flack knows the value of the service and has direct and easy access to account executives who explain the much worshiped “ROI” Google ads provide.

Today, Facebook stands on the precipice Google inhabited just before it became a top money-maker. By taking a page from the Google playbook, and aggressively marketing — and explaining — its power to influence buying decisions, Facebook ads could become as essential to 21st Century marketing as the yellow pages were in the 20th Century.


E-Commerce – Stop Sending Customers Away

facebook cart imageThe launch of Facebook as a true e-commerce site holds immense potential as a business solution and could forever change the way we shop. Online purchases through the first three quarters of 2009 totaled $98.3 billion according to the Department of Commerce. For the majority of companies selling products online who are also engaged on Facebook, opening Facebook fully to direct e-commerce transactions will dramatically change how businesses advertise and how consumers buy goods online.

Consumers and companies would flock to a Facebook storefront for one simple reason: We do everything else there. Imagine an integrated, one-click solution whereby your friends see your recent purchases (because you were incentivized by the brand to share your information) in their feed and are able to simply point, click, and purchase the same item.

With a few adjustments, companies can make timely offers of birthday gifts for friends, travel arrangements for event items, or the latest music from favorite artists –- and make the sale without forcing the user to leave Facebook or put in new login information.

Rather than driving their 350 million users away from the platform to “close the deal” with retailers and purchase the item on an external platform, Facebook could benefit financially by charging companies a percentage of sales, a fixed rate to have a storefront, or from increased advertising opportunities.


Premium Subscription Options

subscribe imageFinally, whether users like it or not, Facebook will do itself a long term disservice if it does not consider premium subscription options. Users (whether they are corporations or teenagers) are amenable to paying for even the simplest features and functionality, as evidenced by the success of Facebook gifts.

Nothing good in life is free. It’s a stark, mature reality that Facebook (and its users) need to face in 2010. By leveraging economies of scale, Facebook can churn a sizable profit without alienating users. Would you pay one dollar a month to share higher-resolution photos or upload higher-quality or longer videos? Last month, 2.5 billion photos were uploaded to Facebook. Even if only a quarter of the site’s active users opted for premium options, this one change would generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues.

Improving advertising, developing an e-commerce platform, and adding subscription services will not only generate the revenue necessary to make the transition from highly adopted to highly profitable, it will open revenue streams — as Google did before — for the next generation of digital developments.


More business resources from Mashable:

- Social Media Marketing: How Pepsi Got It Right
- 5 Ways Small Businesses Can Avoid Social Media Panic
- HOW TO: Take Advantage of Social Media in Your E-mail Marketing
- HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy
- 18 Online Productivity Tools for Your Business

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, peterspiro

Tags: advertising, business, e-commerce, facebook, MARKETING, monetization, monetizing, money, social media, social networks


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