What is a Patent and Who Needs One?

patents imageOn July 31, 1790, the first official U.S. patent was granted to inventor Samuel Hopkins for what was known as “an improvement in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” A patent statute was signed into law by President George Washington just 3 months earlier.

Since that day 224 years ago, countless patents have been issued for some of the most basic and innovative inventions throughout the history of our great country. If you are a proud entrepreneur or small business owner who has come up with something unique, and you’re not sure if you need to obtain a patent for it, 1800Accountant offers a brief crash course on what patents are and who needs them.

According to guidelines from the federal U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – or USPTO for short – a patent is “an intellectual property right granted to an inventor that prevents others from making, using, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” In general, a patent only lasts for a specified period of time. It comes in exchange for publically disclosing the details of a certain invention when the patent is granted to an inventor.

There are 3 basic categories of patents you should know about:

- Utility patents: These types of patents are issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. They are also issued for those who come up with a new and useful improvement to something, such as improving upon a manufacturing process. In general, a utility patent allows its owner to exclude others from creating, utilizing, or selling the invention at-hand for a maximum of 20 years from the date on which the inventor applies for a patent. According to USPTO statistics, the overwhelming majority (roughly 90%) of patents issued to inventors in recent years have fallen under the utility patent category. Keep in mind that there are often maintenance fees associated with maintaining a utility patent over a given timeframe.

- Design patents: These patents are issued for a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. By having this patent, others are excluded from using or selling the design for up to 15 years, as of December 18, 2013. Those issued prior to this date have the old limit of 14 years. Unlike utility patents, design patents are not subject to maintenance fees.

- Plant patents: It might sound a little strange, but if for some reason you discover or invent a distinct and new variety of a plant, you may be able to obtain a patent on it. The only types that are excluded from this patent are tuber-propagated plants or those that are found in an uncultivated state. Newly discovered seedlings and hybrids are among those that qualify. Plant patents are usually good for up to 20 years, and they are not subject to maintenance fees.

The main reason entrepreneurs should acquire a patent is to protect their idea or creation. With so much competition out there in the small business environment, there are always individuals looking to strike it rich by coming up with the latest and greatest invention. But, if you come up with something and don’t want others to infringe on your idea, consider obtaining a patent. You may also wish to get a copyright or a trademark, which are other forms of protection.

If you need guidance with any aspects of your small business, turn to the accounting and business consulting experts at 1800Accountant. Call 1-800-222-6868 or visit www.1800accountant.com.

6 E-mail Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners

1800Accountant offers 6 e-mail marketing tips for small business owners to get more "opens" and "clicks."

1800Accountant offers 6 e-mail marketing tips for small business owners to get more “opens” and “clicks.”

Thanks to the power of the Internet, e-mail marketing is a major factor in the small business marketing and advertising landscape these days. But it can be tricky to find the best formula for success in order to get those on your e-mail list to actually open and then click on any links or offers in the messages you send out. So, to better help you, here are 6 quick e-mail marketing tips for small business owners:

– Simplicity is key.

E-mail messages that have easy-to-read “from” lines, “subject” lines, and content inside them are usually the most effective kinds to send. Certain e-mail platforms mark e-mails loaded with graphics, a template, and links as “spam.” You certainly don’t want your messages getting sent to a folder where they may never actually be seen by the recipient, unless they’re cognizant enough to regularly check this folder. Another relevant tip is to maintain a very clear font type, along with a clean presentation that’s easy to follow. Get right to the point at the top of each e-mail. Additionally, it’s worth sending e-mails from an “@nameofcompany.com” domain if you have one. Not only is this more professional, but also it can help you get around the “spam” filter.

– Include website links, but be picky with which ones you choose.

Although simplicity should be top-of-mind when writing e-mail copy, it is still important to include links to your company website, a blog post, or a landing page where you are presenting an offer to your customers. Links are often part of a “call to action” – a marketing term that means prompting people to open your e-mail and take some kind of action. E-mails that are sent out for marketing or advertising reasons should include some type of message, but there should be a way for users to connect with your business. This is where website links or phone numbers come into play.

– Strike an appropriate balance with e-mail volume.

You certainly don’t want to be too quiet with the number of e-mails you send out. On the flipside, you should not overwhelm your customers with too many e-mails, which can turn them off quickly. Sending out one or two e-mail blasts each week is pretty reasonable, and sending them on a particular schedule is also important so that customers can expect when they’ll be hearing from you. In basic terms, make each and every e-mail you send count, and refrain from sending lots of messages just for the sake of pushing your brand.

– Customize your e-mails if you can.

In the e-mail marketing world, saying something like “Dear client” is a big turnoff because of how impersonal it sounds to the person reading it. Because of this, try to personalize e-mail messages you send out to large customer lists. It won’t necessarily guarantee an immediate response or action based on what the message is about, but it can definitely help your efforts. There is plenty of e-mail software out there that can automatically perform this function for you. People love being called by name, and you never know how one little piece of communication could impact whether someone makes a purchase from you or decides to shop elsewhere.

– Have a good understanding of the individuals on your e-mail list.

Make sure you have a good handle on everyone listed in the “to” section of an e-mail you’re sending to a customer list. This means knowing your recipients would be interested in seeing what you are sending them. While you may not have a massive list of customers or clients, consider breaking up the list you do have into groups or categories. This is effective for target marketing.

– Mainly promote your best offer/website page.

The main purpose of e-mail marketing is to promote the products or services you sell, typically through different offers. Because of this, you should select the best offers that you think would be most appealing to customers. Then distribute specific information about these offers. Be sure to promote any major specials you have going on. You can certainly use e-mail marketing strategies to promote any or all of your offerings, but try honing in on the ones you think will garner the most opens and clicks.

For all of your small business accounting and development needs to help put your company on a path to prosperity, team up with the accounting and consulting experts at 1800Accountant. Call 1-888-749-0117 or visit www.1800accountant.com.

4 Tips on Getting to Know Your Small Business Customers

Handing out customer surveys is a great way to get to know your customers a little better.

Handing out customer surveys is a great way to get to know your customers a little better.

If you proudly operate an established small business through which you have built up a solid customer base, you likely know a thing or two about those who walk into your store or click around on your website. If not, this information can be a great tool for marketing and other purposes. Here are some tips on how to get to know your customers a little better in honor of National Get to Know Your Customers Day:

– Take that extra minute to talk to them.

If a customer walks through the doors of your retail store and buys one of your handmade scarves or an auto part for her sports car, take that extra minute or two to talk with this customer. Get to know the person a little more. Where do they live? How did they find out about your store? How long have they lived in the area? It might sound like small talk, but finding out some of these seemingly meaningless details can be a big help for your small business marketing efforts. It’s essential to know who is in your target market to make future improvements to your products, services, and sales processes. Even if you communicate with someone via phone or e-mail, you can still kindly ask a customer a few questions. It only takes some extra seconds, and it could lead to more customer loyalty and sales for you down the road.

– Hand out customer surveys.

No matter what type of small business you run, there should be a way to get surveys to those who have made purchases from your company. This could be done by handing out paper copies of surveys in your store, through snail-mail, or electronically by e-mail. On such a survey, ask basic questions about a customer’s contact information. This alone can give you a good idea of where the customer lives and perhaps a bit of insight into their socioeconomic status. Additionally, consider asking other questions about their likes/dislikes, how they found out about your business, their age range, and other relevant data that can assist you in some fashion. You could pose a question about their experience as a customer of your small business.

– Connect with them on social media.

If you don’t have company pages on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, consider revamping your small business marketing plan. These days, it’s a must to be social. Not only are these platforms effective to spread the word about your products or services, but also they can help you connect a little better with your customers. Pose questions to which customers can respond with a “comment” or photo. Kindly reach out to those who “like” or “follow” your pages. It’s easy to see pictures of your customers on social media sites, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words. In the advertising arena, this can provide you with important information. Plus, you can really find out the personalities of your customers on these sites by following them as well.

– Throw a party!

Who doesn’t like to celebrate with balloons, noise-makers, food, and free stuff? If you have a retail location for your business, think about throwing a party for current or potential customers. This could be a “grand opening” for a startup that is just getting rolling, or it could be for any holiday or significant date throughout the year, such as the anniversary of your company’s official launch. A party is a great way to connect face-to-face with customers in a more informal environment. Find out who they are, what they like, and offer them something to take home with them to remember your company. Free food is always a fantastic way to get people to visit your store, so find some finger foods that would be good for this. Thanks to technology, there are many ways you can host some type of party or event online as well if you don’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar location for your business.

Learn more about starting a business, ways to get to know your customers, and ways to save money on your business taxes by working with the small business accounting and consulting experts at 1800Accountant. For details, call 1-888-749-0117 or check out www.1800accountant.com.

IRS Putting Limit on Direct Deposit Tax Refunds in 2015

Tax refund fraud is a major problem these days. Scammers are pulling out all the stops to use any method they can to beat the system and steal money from innocent taxpayers. In its efforts to combat the problem, the IRS is enacting a new rule regarding tax refunds starting in January 2015.

When the 2015 tax season kicks off, there will be a limit of three electronic direct deposits of tax refunds into one bank account or onto a prepaid debit card. Those who go over this limit on direct deposits will instead receive subsequent refunds via snail-mail in the form of a regular paper check. Taxpayers who request over three direct deposits of tax refunds to a single bank account will receive a notice of the change in the mail. It will inform them that they can expect a refund check about four weeks later, and they will be able to track the status of their refunds online. Another noteworthy aspect of this new rule is that direct deposits must be made to accounts that bear the name of the taxpayer for whom the refund is directed.

Each year, millions of dollars are stolen from thieves who receive fraudulent tax refund money that is supposed to be going to upstanding citizens who file their taxes properly and deserve any money back due to overpaying Uncle Sam. The main reason for this new limit is to cut down on tax scammers from easily getting access to multiple tax refund payments. It’s also designed to prevent tax preparers from getting the payments for their tax prep services by depositing a taxpayer’s refund money into the preparer’s bank account through fraudulent practices.

This change has been in the works for a few years. Back in 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said that the IRS should put a cap on how many refunds could be deposited into one bank account. At the time, there was evidence that some financial accounts were receiving large numbers of tax refunds in the form of direct deposits that were going undetected by the IRS. With tax fraud continuing to be a huge hassle for both taxpayers and IRS agents, the agency finally felt taking this step would make it more difficult for fraudsters to accomplish their unscrupulous goals.

Most taxpayers will not be impacted by this change. However, those who have single family bank accounts could be affected if the refunds for all family members are normally deposited directly into this single account. In such a case, taxpayers may have their refund payments delayed a few weeks and instead will need to check their mailboxes to ensure they receive their refund checks in the mail.

Learn more about what the IRS is doing to prevent tax fraud along with steps you can take to protect yourself by working with the accounting experts at 1800Accountant. Call 1-888-749-0117 or visit www.1800accountant.com for details.