The internet is alive with the words of “bloggers”!
According to Netlingo, the Internet Dictionary, a weblog, or “blog” is “A Web site (or section of a Web site) where users can post a chronological, up-to-date e-journal entry of their thoughts”. It is “an open forum communication tool that, depending on the Web site, is either very individualistic or performs a crucial function for an organization or company. There are three basic varieties of blogs: those that post links to other sources, those that compile news and articles, and those that provide a forum for opinions and commentary.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of weblogs in the category of “personal finance”. These blogs cover a wide variety of areas, from investing and saving to getting out of debt to living frugally to real estate to retirement to budgeting to taxes. Some cover all of the above in varying degrees, while others specialize in a particular area – such as the “tax blog”.
Over the years the “blogosphere” has had a Tax Man, a Tax Lady and Your Tax Lady, a Tax Girl, a Tax Mama (is there a Tax Papa?), Missouri and a Tennessee Tax Guys, a Tax Playa, a Tax Prof, a Tax Guru, a Tax Dog (not about taxes) and Tax Dogs (about local tax) and a Tax Monkey. I am known as “The Wandering Tax Pro” (http://wanderingtaxpro.blogspot.com).
There are generally three types of tax blogs. First is the tax law blog, written by university law professors. The most prominent of these is the “Tax Prof Blog” (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog) by Paul L. Caron, Associate Dean of Faculty and Charles Hartsock Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Paul’s blog is an extensive and comprehensive “source of resources, news, and information of interest to law school tax professors in their scholarship and teaching”. I expect it is also of great benefit to law students. It is not written for the average taxpayer. Even I find it a bit “intimidating” at times.
Other tax law blogs offer scholarly commentary on current federal, and sometimes local, tax policy issues, such as –
· “Mauled Again” (http://www.mauledagain.blogspot.com) by Professor James E. Maule of Villanova University School of Law,
· “A Taxing Matter” (http://ataxingmatter.blogs.com/tax) by Professor Linda Beale of Wayne State University Law School, and· “Bed Buffaloes In Your Tax Code” (http://bedbuffalos.blogspot.com) by Professor Mary O’Keefee, while not technically a tax law professor, is a public policy economist who teaches Income Tax Policy and Practice at Union College in Schenectady, New York and coordinates the college’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
The second, and largest, category of tax blogs is written by practicing tax professionals, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, lawyers, and just plain tax preparers like me, to provide up-to-the-minute advice, information, resources, and commentary on federal and state income taxes. “The Wandering Tax Pro” falls in this category.
This type of tax blog provides the most benefit to the “great unwashed masses” of American taxpayers. Most of these blogs are written in connection with the website of the writer’s tax practice and are used to promote that tax practice. While these blogs concentrate mainly on federal income taxes, they often also cover local state tax issues, as I do with New Jersey.
Some days I report on pending and enacted tax legislation, some days I provide information on a specific tax deduction or credit, and some days I discuss tax-planning strategies. I have also published advice on getting ready to prepare your return, what you need to provide to your tax professional at tax time, and choosing a tax preparer. On occasion I leave the world of taxes behind and post about my travels, or review Broadway, off-Broadway and local plays and musicals I have seen – what I like to refer to as “other interesting stuff”.
Kelly Phillips Erb of “Tax Girl” (http://blogs.forbes.com/kellyphillipserb)a practicing tax attorney, lets readers ASK THE TAX GIRL often makes each Friday FIX THE TAX CODE FRIDAY, asking readers for their comments on specific tax issue questions, such as “Are Offers in Compromise good tax policy? Or are they unfair to taxpayers who regularly pay their obligations?”. She also did a regular feature of GETTING TO KNOW YOU TUESDAYs in which she interviewed fellow tax bloggers (like me) and tax practitioners.
Others in this category include -
* Peter J Reilly of PASSIVE ACTIVITIES (http://blogs.forbes.com/peterjreilly),
* Joe Arsenault of CAFE TAX (http://www.cafetax.com), and
* Bruce McFarland, the MISSOURI TAX GUY (http://themotaxguy.com).
There is a kind of camaraderie between the more popular bloggers in this category. We frequently “comment” on each other’s postings (each blog posting allows for readers to submit comments and questions on and responses to the post, which, if accepted, are published in a special section of the post) and refer and link to each other’s bloggings in our posts.
The third category is blogs of mostly commentary by “non-practicing” (i.e. they do not prepare tax returns for a living) tax writers and scholars. At the top of this list is Kay Bell of Texas, as knowledgeable about taxes as any tax pro (and probably more than some), who writes “Don’t Mess With Taxes” (http://dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com). Non-Profit educational organizations like the Tax Foundation, with “Tax Policy Blog” (http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog), the Tax Policy Center, with “Tax Vox” (http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/blog), and Citizens for Tax Justice, with “Talking Taxes” (http://www.ctj.org/blog) also fall into this category.
I first learned about “blogging” at a presentation on “The Future of Easy Web Site Design” by Internet Consultant Lenny Charnoff at the NATP National Conference in New Orleans on July 13, 2001. My first blog posting was published on Sunday, July 22, 2001.
I had decided to write a blog to provide year-round advice and information to my existing clients and to promote my tax preparation and accounting services. Back then I was still soliciting new clients. Currently I do not solicit or accept any new 1040 clients, nor do I accept any corporate or partnership clients.
I continue to blog to provide a source of updated federal and state tax information for my 1040 clients, to attempt to market my various special reports and newsletters, to provide easily accessible samples of my writing for potential publishers, and, quite frankly, because I just enjoy it. Now that I am no longer looking for new clients I frequently receive emails from individuals who have visited “The Wandering Tax Pro” inquiring about my services.
Trish McIntire, an Enrolled Agent from Kansas, writes the blog “Our Taxing Times” (http://trishmc.typepad.com). Trish started blogging in 2004. “Besides my tax practice I was doing a little bit of web design and took a class in Blogging for that. I found that I liked blogging. It gave me a way to express my opinions on taxes, the tax business and owning a business. I have always seen my audience as small business owners and taxpayers like myself.”
“Our Taxing Times has evolved since I started”, Trish continues. “I am more interested in writing about the business of preparing taxes and my take on laws and the tax business. I don't see OTT as a mission to educate or build a business. It is my chance to express my opinion. I have a one person office in a small Kansas town, but through the blog I can be heard across the country. And if someone learns something about taxes that is icing.”
Has it helped build or expand her practice? “I don't know. No one has come in saying that reading my blog was the reason they brought me their business. However, more people are using the internet to check out services and people. Our Taxing Times, and my website, give potential clients the chance to learn about me and my business.”
Joe Kristan is a CPA with Roth and Company, PC of Des Moines, Iowa. He writes the firm’s TAX UPDATE BLOG (http://www.rothcpa.com/taxupdates.php). According to Joe -
“I blog because I enjoy it, and because I think it is good for me professionally. I have long started my day reading the tax news, so it wasn't a big leap to start commenting about it. I think it helps keep me sharp, and it helps me stay current on the ideas and issues out there. And, of course, there's the glamour, fan adulation and women. Well, ok, none of those things, but there should be.”
Kelly Phillips Erb, started her TAX GIRL blog, mentioned above, “because I am that much of a tax geek. I just wanted to write about tax. I also wanted to make it accessible to people who think tax is boring - that's simply not true. Tax is fascinating and it touches everything.”
Kelly has found that her blog has “increased my profile among other tax professionals, which I've found invaluable”.
Writing in his FORBES.COM blog entrepreneur engineer Dan Reich lists “9 Reasons You Should Blog” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/danreich/2011/10/15/9-reasons-you-should-blog).
Think blogging might be for you? Then you will need to find a host. Don’t worry, in most cases you can create and main your blog for free. I use Blogger.com as my “host”. It has been called “A great starting site to get a taste of blogging, very easy to use.” Other options include Blogs.com, Blogster.com, Bravenet.com, and Typepad.com, to name a few. Each will give you step-by-step instructions for getting started. Blogger.com, for instance, can help you create a blog in three easy steps:
· Create an account,
· Name your blog, and
· Choose a template.
Soliciting new clients is not the only way you can earn money from a tax blog. Another way is to join an “affiliate program”. According to Wikipedia, “Affiliate marketing is a method of promoting web businesses (merchants/advertisers) in which an affiliate (publisher) is rewarded for every visitor, subscriber, customer, and/or sale provided through his/her efforts”.
A merchant’s affiliate program will use your blog to drive traffic to its website. As an affiliate you place a banner or text ad for the merchant on your blog. When a reader clicks on the ad he/she is automatically taken to the merchant’s site. If the reader makes a purchase from the merchant you will receive a commission. Your site can display a general ad for the site or avertise a specific book or product. A tax blog that becomes an Amazon.com affiliate can display an ad for a particular book on a tax topic (i.e. “Taxes for Dummies”). Those who click on the ad will be taken to the page on Amazon.com that describes that particular book.
Some affiliate programs will “pay-per-click”. You will get a small fee (usually pennies) each time someone clicks on the ad or link appearing on your blog.
Associate Programs (http://www.associateprograms.com) offers a directory of thousands of affiliate programs, plus useful tips, articles, researched recommendations, and a helpful affiliate forum. Affiliate Match (http://www.affiliatematch.com) also offers a directory of affiliate programs. You can join an “affiliate network”, such as Linkshare (http://www.linkshare.com) which represents many individual affiliate programs.
I prefer using affiliate programs for earning money from a blog to “pay-per-click” programs like Google Adsense. I can select affiliate programs for websites that are reputable and appropriate for my audience, and can advertise specific products which I have researched in advance or that I have actually used myself and can truly recommend without reservation.
Google Adsense will place random links on your blog that, while relevant to your general audience and blog content, may not be reliable, reputable or appropriate. From what I understand you cannot select the individual links that are placed by Adsense. I do not want to jeopardize my reputation by sending a reader or client to an “unappropriate” site.
A tax professional can use a blog to keep current clients up-to-date on changes and developments in the tax law, solicit new business, create national exposure and enhance his/her reputation, and earn some extra money. And it can be fun in the process.