Workshop attendees with online presence raise their hand.
It was a packed house for both workshops held at the Taubman Museum of Art Tuesday. There were 60 computers sitting ready for two sessions aimed at getting small businesses with no Internet presence online for the first time. Extra tables had to be set up to accommodate as many as 100 people for the second workshop.
Sue and Brittany Staley came from Martinsville. They purchased Hidden Valley Farmz. Sue said they hoped to get a website up to showcase their all natural farm. “We’re trying to get people out to see what they are putting on their table.”
The workshop was free and Intuit offered a free website for up to 3 pages for one year. After the initial year the business would pay $6.99 a month if they decide to keep it. The offer is still available at VirginiaGetOnline.com for businesses still wanting to take advantage of the offer.
Google came to Roanoke in response to a request by Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Goodlatte was a guest speaker at the second workshop. He served as past Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet. Congress is currently working on legislation that would require online businesses to collect sales tax for goods sold across state lines. Online business currently only collect sales tax in the state where they reside.
Goodlatte will support online sales tax legislation but as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee he told attendees that he will insist that it be make “as simple and seamless for [businesses] online.” He made the point that with all states having differing requirements for collecting sales tax it would create a collection nightmare for online retailers.
Cracking down on criminal activity on the Internet is another effort Congress needs to undertake. The “trust factor” is an important for businesses. “People won’t do business with you unless they trust you,” said Goodlatte.
Sue and Brittany Staley of Martinsville prepare for workshop.
Becca Ginsberg, Communications Manager for Virginia Get Your Business Online said that their research showed that 97 percent of users go online to look for local products and services. In Virginia 45 percent of all businesses do not have a website. “A quarter of those are completely invisible online,” she said.
Ginsberg said she has heard from business who are intimidated by the Internet and perceive a website as being too time consuming. “They just haven’t taken that step to do it.”
Businesses attending the workshop will have a website by the end of the session she said. They were told to bring pictures and think of what they wanted to say on their new website. Businesses without a website are at a disadvantage as more and more people search for services and goods online. “If they don’t find you online they’ll go to the next business,” said Ginsberg.
Soo Young Kim, the Head of Marketing for VGYBO said those who come to the workshop prepared will have their website up in 60-90 minutes with no coding using Intuit’s Sitebuilder tool. “If businesses aren’t online consumers can’t find them … especially those with no storefront and businesses grow 40 percent faster when they are online.”
Later Congressman Goodlatte expanded on the sales tax legislation that Virginia hopes to tap for its transportation needs. He has conveyed to Governor Bob McDonnell who has included online sales tax revenue for his transportation plan based on congressional action that there is no timeline. “It has a long way to go,” said Goodlatte. “My initial reaction is that there is more work to be done to make sure that the businesses are treated fairly.”
Congressman Bob Goodlatte speaks to workshop attendees.
Red tape has to be eliminated he said. There is both legislation to exempt small businesses and there is legislation to require them to be more streamlined. “I frankly prefer that all businesses be treated the same,” said Goodlatte. He favors all business participate in a streamlined system. Small businesses would have one sales tax for Virginia transactions and one sales tax for their interstate transactions.
Goodlatte said consideration for businesses not online needs to be considered. Different states have different kinds of paperwork and some give kickbacks. All that needs to be worked out with the 45 states that have a sales tax. “You don’t have a representative in [another state’s] legislature to go and complain like you do here in Virginia.”
Businesses online currently have a sales tax advantage over “brick and mortar” businesses. On the flip side online businesses have shipping costs to contend with said Goodlatte. “This legislation is not going to move anytime soon,” he said. There needs to be some compact between the states for it to move forward before Goodlatte would support it. “That is a significant concern of mine.”