When I started my first business in 2008, I had some convoluted ideas about business tax. First off, being used to the W-2 grind, I barely kept any financial records. (Which didn’t turn out as badly as it could have, since I barely made any money). And when it came time to file my income tax returns I was miffed that I had to pay the government. I had truly gone into business thinking there were tax breaks for business owners.

via GIPHY

As a shiny new business owner, I was totally naïve. If there were handbooks on business taxes back in the day, I wouldn’t even have known where to look for them.  All I knew was that I loved writing, wanted to make a living at it, and was way too busy working in my business to worry about distant, unprofitable hassles like taxes.

Little did 2008 Jennifer know that one day I’d end up devoting my career to educating harried, overworked, rather-be-doing-literally-anything-else business owners about sales tax!

Which brings me to TaxJar.

TaxJar Philosophy: How we Talk to our Customers

Jenn Customer Communication
TaxJar Support Specialist Jenniffer Nevarez talks with potential customers!

TaxJar is a company founded by and for entrepreneurs. We’re currently a team of 20, and at least 80% of us have owned our own businesses in the past. We understand the struggle, and that our customers have approximately 5 minutes to devote to learning about sales tax before a different pressing business matter tugs at their attention.

When I started writing TaxJar’s blog and other content, I knew that I needed to explain some knotty sales tax problems while respecting that our customers and potential customers would rather be almost anywhere else than on our blog trying to decipher sales tax. We use plain language instead of the legalese you’ll hear from the states or many CPAs, and we answer your questions directly and to the point so you can get back to doing what you do best – running your business.

Why We Met our Match with Sales Tax

So why is it so hard for business owners to understand sales tax, anyway?

First, there’s no federal sales tax, so that means each U.S. state gets to make their own sales tax rules and laws. And these rules and laws can vary widely.

Second, while they really do try, states aren’t that good at communicating sales tax rules and laws to the public. So how exactly to comply with sales tax in a specific state can be hard to decipher.

Third, while you and I might live and breathe eCommerce, where states are concerned, online selling is fairly new.  They’re just now “getting it.” This means that a lot of state rules are regulations were written for brick and mortar sellers, and that laws that apply to online sellers can be hidden somewhere in a state’s thousand-page code of laws. Ouch.

Fourth, tax laws change all the time! Just when you get the hang of collecting sales tax in a state, they go and change something up on you. Many of our customers don’t have CFOs and accounting departments to keep track of every small sales tax rate increase or rule change in every state where they have sales tax nexus.

So it makes us happy when we get Tweets like this:

Combating “Scare Tactics” in the Sales Tax Industry

Ryan Thompson at Meet Magento New York
Not all sales tax experts wear capes (but TaxJar CRO Ryan Thompson does)

Our customers are no dummies. They are smart and driven enough to grab a little slice of the business-owning dream for themselves.

This is why it irritates me, and all of us at TaxJar, when we see other companies in the sales tax compliance space employ scare tactics to try and win customers.

At TaxJar, we respect our customers and leads enough to speak to them like fellow business owners. We give honest answers to their questions, and if we can’t answer a question, we point them to someone who can – like a state taxing authority or a vetted sales tax CPA.

But our customers have told us horror stories of how other companies, instead of simply answering questions and building a rapport with customers and leads, will tell a business owner that they’d better sign up “or else.” (With “or else” being threats of a gnarly, business-killing sales tax audit.)

One example is the “100% accuracy” scare tactic. Competitors will say “your sales tax has to be correct to the penny, or you’ll get audited.” When in fact, states like California require that you round your numbers. We’ve processed thousands of sales tax returns and, due to rounding and other state-level idiosyncrasies, a sales tax return is hardly ever accurate down to the penny. And states know that. (You can call them up and ask!)

Other companies also use confusing language and legalese to confound customers into thinking they need an expensive product in order to avoid audits and legal trouble.

This is not how we want to be talked to as business owners, and we’ll never talk to our customers this way.

We Even Disqualify Customers

TaxJar Reports and TaxJar AutoFile were expressly designed to take care of sales tax so online sellers can instead spend time on the more profitable aspects of their businesses. If your time is too valuable to spend filing sales tax returns, then TaxJar is for you.

However, we sometimes run into folks on our free trial, or inquiring about our products, who absolutely, 100% do not need TaxJar. They may run a fairly simple one-person show, or live in a state with no sales tax, or perhaps their sales tax filings take five minutes, and just aren’t complicated enough yet to justify spending their hard-earned money on our software.

Our overall goal at TaxJar is making online sellers more successful and profitable. It doesn’t help anybody if an online seller is spending money on a service like TaxJar that they just aren’t ready for yet.  Instead, we recommend these customers spend that $19/month they would have spent on TaxJar on marketing, or sourcing new products, or buying lunch for a distributor.

TaxJar will be here when your sales tax filings get out of control, or when your profits are rolling along so well that you can justify never looking at a sales tax filing ever again!

Other times, a customer may want to use TaxJar, but have very specific sales tax needs that we don’t support. In those cases, honesty and transparency is the best policy. If we can’t help you (yet), we’ll tell you – and even send you to a competitor if they can help. But we’ll also take down info about your feature request, and, if you like, even involve you in building the feature.

To Sum it Up…

Even though I managed to write a long blog post about it, our golden rule of talking to customers is pretty simple – treat customers how you’d want to be treated. We just welcomed our 8,000th customer earlier this month, so the golden rule seems to be working!

Do you have questions or something to say about talking to customers? Start the conversation in the comments.

  • Bill Grant

    Great post and advice!