How to Find the Right CPA Near You

Tax season is almost here. Dun, dun, dun!

Although it’s a dreaded time for many, tax season doesn’t have to be stressful. With the right CPA or accounting firm on your side, you can rest easy knowing that you’re in good hands.

Of course, you could do your taxes yourself, and there are plenty of programs that make it easy. However, there are many reasons why you might want to consider hiring a tax professional. If working with an accounting firm is the right option for your needs, you’ll want to ensure that you find the right one.

There’s a lot on the line when it comes to hiring a CPA. Working with the right CPA could make the difference between owing money and getting a tax refund, so it’s worth your time to be mindful about who you hire.

6 tips for finding the right CPA



#1. Figure out what kind of tax specialist you need

Before you start your search for a CPA, you need to know exactly what kind of tax specialist you’ll need. If your situation isn’t too complicated, you probably don’t need to worry too much about finding a CPA who specializes in anything in particular. On the other hand, if you’re facing a complicated situation, like an audit, you need a tax specialist who can get you through it.

CPAs are just one type of tax professional you could choose to work with. If you’re preparing a tax return for an estate, you may need to consult a tax attorney. Or, if the situation you’re dealing with is overly complex, an EA (Enrolled Agent), who has to pass rigorous tests, can help with things, like audits and collection actions.

#2. Know where to look

Finding a CPA can be challenging, especially if you don’t know where to look. As I said, there’s a lot on the line when hiring a tax specialist, as it affects whether or not you get a refund, as well as how much that refund is. There are a lot of places you could look for a CPA, but only a couple of places you should look.

With so much at stake, you don’t want to risk looking for a CPA in the phone book or in even in a Google search, at least without further research. One of the best places to start in your search for a local CPA is a personal recommendation from a friend or coworker. The one downside to this, though, is that a personal recommendation is only about one CPA and only gives you a glimpse of one experience.

Searching for a CPA with Top Rated Local® will allow you to get an instant look at several accounting firms’ overall online reputations and compare them side by side. You’ll also be able to read a firm’s reviews across all of the verified sites it’s listed on.

#3. Pick the right size firm

The general rule is that the bigger the accounting firm, the more likely it will have higher fees and have less time to dedicate to working on your return. That’s not to say that it’s never a good idea to hire a bigger accounting firm, but you’re likely to get more personalized service if you work with a local tax professional.

On the other hand, small accounting firms may not have the diverse talent and experience necessary to get through your return if it’s complicated. In this situation, you might be better off choosing a bigger firm.



#4. Verify that they have a PTIN

Anyone who is compensated for preparing income taxes, or assisting in preparing income taxes is required by the IRS to have a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number). Keep in mind that this doesn’t apply to someone who has volunteered to help you prepare your taxes. But, if you’re paying someone to do your taxes, you’ll need to ensure that they have a PTIN because they’ll need to include it on your tax return.

#5. Ask the right questions

Before you commit to working with someone to do your taxes, you need to speak with them ahead of time. This could be done through an email, over the phone or in person. When you speak with them, make sure that you ask the right questions. These include:

  • How much experience do you have working with people in my situation?
  • Do you specialize in any tax issues in particular?
  • Does the work get done by you personally or your in-house assistants, or does it get outsourced?
  • How are your fees calculated — flat fee, hourly or another rate option?
  • Are your fees negotiable?
  • Approximately how long do you expect it to take for you to finish my taxes?

#6. Watch out for red flags

There are many different CPAs out there who you could choose to work with. Often, you can tell if someone isn’t right for your needs right off the bat when you know which red flags to watch out for. Here are a few common ones:

  • They promise that you’ll get a big refund before even looking at your information.
  • They promise that they can get you a bigger return than other tax professionals
  • They promise that you’ll be able to make certain deductions before looking at your information
  • Their fee is a percentage of your refund
  • They’re not prepared to provide you with support if you’re audited
  • They don’t have the appropriate credentials

Find the right CPA with Top Rated Local!

When you’re ready to search for a CPA near you, start with Top Rated Local. You’ll be able to find the best-reviewed accounting firms in your area, compare them side by side, read CPA reviews from across the web from one place and more. Find a local CPA near you today!

Originally published 2/26/20

How to Find the Right Roofer

When you hire a roofer, it’s important to get it right

Your roof isn’t a small thing. In fact, it’s probably the most important part of your home from a safety and protection standpoint. So, when you’re in need of roofing services, you need to turn to a roofing company that you can rely on to get the job done right the first time.

Hiring a roofing contractor isn’t like hiring a carpet cleaner or a painter. If the job doesn’t get done correctly with one of these contractors, it’s frustrating and will probably look bad, but at the end of the day, no one is in danger or at risk.

But, that’s not the case with your roof. If a roofer makes a mistake, the consequences can be much, much bigger. That’s why you should never settle when it comes to hiring a roofing contractor.

Hiring the right roofer for the job takes a little more time and research than hiring almost any other contractor or local business. Top Rated Local® is here to help!

5 tips on finding the right roofer

#1. Work with a local roofing company

There are countless horror stories out there of homeowners who hired a roofer that offered a five-year warranty, only for that roofer to be nowhere to be found when they actually need them. Unfortunately, roofing is one of those industries where scams are common, but one of the best ways to avoid a roofing scam is to hire a company that has a long history of serving your community.

Another reason why hiring local is beneficial is that a local roofer will understand the unique issues that affect roofs in your area. Whether your roof is prone to algae growth, hail damage or wind damage, a local roofer will understand that, and they’ll be able to better prepare your roof for those kinds of common problems.

When I say to hire a local roofing contractor, that doesn’t mean hiring someone that just operates locally. You want to hire a local contractor that has an established reputation in your community.

#2. Double-check that they are licensed and insured

You want a roofer that has experience, knowledge and expertise, but equally as important, you want a roofer who is both licensed and insured to do the job. And, while you may have to take a roofing company’s word when it comes to their skill and knowledge, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) take their word when it comes to licensing and insurance.

In order to become licensed, a roofer must go through training that teaches them how to do inspections and perform services safely and effectively. Maintaining that licensing also takes work, and any repairs or installations have to meet current building codes. Licensed roofers also follow safety standards, and many of them offer warranties and contracts that help to protect homeowners like you.

Roofing isn’t exactly the safest job, and accidents happen even with the best of roofing companies. If the contractor you’ve hired doesn’t have insurance, you could be the one financially liable for any injuries that occur on the job. Always make sure that any roofer you hire is insured!

#3. Don’t look at the cost alone

Roofing services aren’t exactly cheap, and when you’re in need of roof repairs or a replacement, you might be tempted to simply accept the lowest bid for the job without doing any further research. However, this could potentially be a huge mistake, and while it’s important to consider the cost, it’s certainly not the only thing you should consider.

If a roofing company offers much lower rates than what’s typical in your area, there’s probably a reason for it. Roofers that don’t have a lot of experience or don’t have a strong reputation in their community tend to low-ball when it comes to cost, but chances are, that cost-savings will result in the sacrifice of quality.

Where roofing is concerned, you get what you pay for. That’s not to say that you should automatically choose the highest bid, either, but if a bid is significantly lower than the rest, it’s a red flag.

#4. Find a roofer who shows instead of tells

Roofing services are a lot like automotive repairs in that roofers and auto mechanics know a lot more about the subject matter at hand than your average homeowner or driver. That means that you need to be able to trust the roofer you hire to work with integrity and honesty, and to help you make the right decisions regarding your roof.

Beware of any roofer that tries to sell you a solution without fully explaining the problem or all of the potential solutions to choose from. Any roofer you hire should help to inform you so that you can make the right decision, and that often means showing instead of telling. And, they definitely shouldn’t just make the decision for you.

#5. Read reviews

Every roofer you talk to and every roofing website you visit is going to tell you that they are the best in the business. They’re all going to claim to offer great service and to get the job done right the first time.

However, not every roofer can be the best, and not every roofing company will do what it claims on its website. The only way to know for sure what working with a roofer is really like is to learn what their past clients have said.

Reading reviews is a great rule of thumb to keep in mind when hiring any local business, but it’s especially important when there’s so much on the line. If the roofing contractor has a reputation for leaving jobs unfinished, making mistakes or leaving their clients high and dry when they need them, reading their reviews will help you avoid them.

Find a roofer near you with Top Rated Local®

When you look for a roofing contractor with Top Rated Local, you’ll be able to read each roofing company’s reviews from across the web and compare its overall reputation to the competition.

It’s the only place where you can learn about a roofing company’s online reputation overall without having to visit tons of review sites and directories. There’s a reason why it’s become the go-to local business directory and review site.

Find a local roofer near you today!

Originally published on 3/13/20

Your Guide to Supporting Local Businesses

Here at Top Rated Local®, it’s no secret that we love local businesses. They’re the lifeblood of what we do because we know that our community wouldn’t be the same without them, and neither would yours.

It’s also no secret that the small businesses that make our communities unique and special need our support right now.

Small businesses have had to make so many changes, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, that have hurt many bottom lines. Some local businesses, unfortunately, have had to close their doors already, and many more are fighting to stay alive.

If you love the local businesses in your area as much as we do, now is the time to start giving back and doing your part. And, luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can support the local businesses you love.

How to Support the Local Businesses You Love

#1. Always shop local first.

One of the very best ways you can show local businesses a little love is by making the simple choice to always shop local before you turn to Amazon or a big box store. For example, if you’re looking for some flowers, start by visiting your local garden center.

You’ll be surprised at just how much you can find in your local community. Too often, people just don’t look because they know that the big box store has what they need, and it’s convenient. However, a little inconvenience is a small price to pay to save the local businesses you love.

Whether you’re shopping for arts and crafts supplies to keep you busy at home or you’re looking for a pest control company to help you keep your home pest-free, always look for a local source first. Even when you’re shopping online, look for local businesses first.

#2. Buy gift cards.

Thanks to the coronavirus, you may not be able to visit your local beauty salon or barber shop, or you may not be able to get a massage or pamper yourself with a pedicure. But, just because in-person services are less accessible right now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t show your support.

Buying gift cards helps you show support to your favorite local businesses in multiple ways. Obviously, it allows you to financially support them, but it also helps you provide emotional support.

When you buy a gift card, you’re sending the business in question the message that you plan to work with them in the future. You have faith that they’ll be around when you feel safe going out and getting your nails done again or visiting your hairstylist. That hope is contagious and a powerful motivator.

#3. Write positive reviews.

Most consumers don’t understand the full weight of what reviews do for local businesses. They seem them as a way to give feedback and inform other consumers, but for businesses, they provide powerful testimonies that encourage other consumers to have their own experiences with the business. Reviews also help to make local businesses more visible online.

Reviews are everything to your modern-day local business, and if you want to support your favorite businesses, writing reviews is a great way to do so. The best part about this kind of support is that you don’t have to spend any money, at a time when financial support may just not be in your budget right now.

Take some time to write reviews for the local businesses in your community that you’ve come to rely on over the years. Be honest about your experience, and use the opportunity to let them know why they’re so important to you.

#4. Refer them to your friends and family.

Another powerful way that you can help local businesses in your community stay afloat is by sending business their way. You may not need what they have to provide, but if you know someone who does, let them know who to turn to.

People trust their friends and family to send them to someone they can rely on. Referrals almost always lead to business for local companies.

Not only are you helping local businesses when you make referrals, but you’re also helping your friends and family. It takes time to research local businesses online, but a quick referral from you helps them find someone they can trust right away.

#5. Share the love on social media.

In this day and age, a local business’s visibility online can make or break its success. There’s a lot of competition online these days, and since most people don’t look past the first page of Google, it means that a lot of businesses are competing for only a handful of rankings for competitive keywords.

One way you can help the businesses you love to be more visible online — and therefore, more successful — is to promote them on social media. You can share about an experience you’ve had or just express your gratitude for how they’ve impacted your community.

Even if you don’t have thousands of followers, anything you can do to spread the word about the local businesses you love will make an impact.

#6. Take advantage of online services.

A lot of businesses that have had to restrict or eliminate in-person services have shifted to offering services online. For instance, some fitness centers are offering online classes and online personal training sessions, and some hairstylists are offering online consultations.

Stay connected with the local businesses you love online so that you can be in the know about any online services they’re offering. Visit their website regularly, follow them on social media, and sign up for email newsletters to stay up to date.

If you’re in the market for a local business to support, start with Top Rated Local — your go-to local business directory. Search for local businesses near you in a wide range of categories, read a business’s reviews from across the web, and directly compare local businesses to each other side by side — all from one place.

Start your local business search with Top Rated Local today.

How to Stay Safe While Out Shopping

Want to stay safe while you’re out shopping?

The coronavirus pandemic has made a lot of simple things much more complicated, including shopping. But, whether you need a new pair of socks or to replenish your pantry, it’s something we can’t avoid doing forever. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to stay safe while you’re out shopping. Here are just a few of them:

#1. Do curbside pickup when you can.

The best way to stay safe while out shopping is to avoid it altogether! Luckily, that’s easier to do now than ever before, with so many stores adopting curbside pickup. It used to be that only a select few grocery stores offered curbside pickup, but now you can find it at just about any store. Even some beauty salons and nail salons have put together curbside at-home kits that you can use to keep up your beauty routine at home.

With lots of retailers, you can now order online, and they’ll bring it out to your car. But, if the store in question doesn’t offer online shopping, don’t hesitate to call and ask if they’ll do curbside pickup. Many will gladly do so and will accept orders over the phone.

#2. Have a plan.

In order to minimize your time out in the public, you want to avoid browsing while you’re in the store. You should have a plan in place before you go out shopping, which means that you should put together a list of what you want/need ahead of time.

One of the best ways to ensure that you get out of the store as quickly as possible is to organize your list by aisle, and put your list in order by what you’ll pass in the store first. Of course, this requires you to be familiar with the store you’re going to, which can also help to save a lot of time.

If you’re not 100-percent sure which items are found in which aisles, you can still make your trip faster by organizing your list by type. For instance, if you’re going to the grocery store, list all of your produce together, all of your dairy together, all of your frozen goods together, etc.

#3. Try to avoid using your fingertips.

High-touch surfaces, like door handles, can harbor lots of invisible germs that can be transferred to your face when you touch them with your fingertips. If the door to the store is not propped open or doesn’t have a sensor that will automatically open the door for you, you can often avoid touching the handle with your fingertips by using your elbow or hip to push the handicapped button. You can also use these alternatives when pushing the door open.

#4. Wear a mask when out in public.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all Americans wear cloth face coverings when out in public, especially in crowded indoor areas, like retail stores and grocery stores. This is meant to keep others around you safe, which is important because COVID-19 can be transferred before symptoms start to appear.

#5. Stay at least six feet away from others.

When you’re in the store, make it a point to steer clear of other shoppers. If there are arrows in the store indicating which direction you should walk in, make sure to pay attention to them and follow them. If an aisle looks crowded, wait for a few minutes for it to clear up before you go down it. Or, if someone is standing in front of something you want to grab, let them make their selection and walk away before you to get what you need.

Maintaining your distance while out shopping is one of the most important steps you can take to keep yourself, and those around you, safe. The downside, though, is that it can make your shopping trip longer because you have to wait for a clear path before you go down a certain aisle or grab certain products. That’s why it’s always good to give yourself a little more time when you’re going out these days.

Another important step you can take to ensure that you can keep your distance while shopping is to avoid going out when the store you’re visiting is crowded. If you’re unsure about when that might be, don’t hesitate to call and ask about the store’s busiest hours.

#6. Look before you touch.

In order to avoid spreading more germs than you have to, you should refrain from actually touching things as much as possible while out shopping. A lot of people like to browse with their hands, handling each item, reading the packaging. This, unfortunately, leads to a lot of unnecessary handling of products that end up getting put back on the shelves.

To avoid this, look with your eyes instead of with your hands. If possible, compare similar products ahead of time online so that you have an idea of what you want before you go to the store.

#7. Wash your hands.

The advice not to touch your face is sound, but it is much easier said than done for many of us. If you’re anything like me, the second I tell myself that I won’t touch my face is the second my nose starts itching like crazy. That’s why good hygiene is so important during this pandemic.

When you get in the car after shopping, eliminate the germs that may be living on your hands by using some hand sanitizer. And, when you get home, after you’ve put your groceries or other goods away, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Want to shop at a local retailer near you? Start your local business search with Top Rated Local®. Top Rated Local is not your average local business directory. When you search for local businesses with us, you’ll be be able to easily compare retailers side by side by looking at their Rating Score™ — which is a quick snapshot of what a business’ online reputation looks like overall — as well as read a business’s reviews from across every verified review site it’s listed on. Get started today!

How to Find a Local Business You Can Trust

It’s never been more important to support local businesses, and it’s also never been more important to find a local business you can trust.

Local businesses across the country are facing an uphill battle at the moment, and they are more in need of your support than ever before. But, with the number of coronavirus cases growing by the day, you also want to know that you can trust any local business that you hire.

6 Tips for Finding a Local Business You Can Trust

#1. Check for any necessary licensing or accreditation.

Most industries are under some form of regulation, and many different businesses require some sort of licensing or accreditation. This includes everything from roofers and plumbers to nail salons and massage clinics.

Any time you’re working with a local business that requires a license or accreditation, you should, at the very least, make sure that they have them. If the business isn’t properly licensed or accredited, you shouldn’t even consider working with them.

If you’re hiring a local business to do something inside your home, it’s also essential that you ensure that they are properly insured. This not only prevents them from liability, but you, as well.

#2. Look them up on Google.

You don’t have to hire a private investigator to learn what kind of organization a business is. In fact, you can learn a lot about a business simply by looking it up on Google.

You’ll find the business’ website, Facebook page, local listings, etc. but you can also look for any news that’s been associated with the business in question. For example, if you’re looking for a local restaurant that you can safely support amidst the pandemic, a Google search could help you learn about any previous health code violations they may have had.

#3. Read reviews.

The number one way to learn about what actually working with a local business is like is to go straight to the source — it’s current customers. Here are a few things you can do to get the most out of reading reviews:

  • Read multiple reviews – Individual experience is just that — individual — so reading just one review may or may not be reflective of what the typical customer experience is like. Reading multiple reviews allows you to look for common themes and learn about the customer experience overall rather than just one-off experiences.
  • Read recent reviews – Businesses change all the time. They hire new employees, offer new products or services, and adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers. Someone’s experience three years ago may have very little bearing on the typical experience at the present moment, so make sure that you read recent reviews.
  • Read positive and negative reviews – Don’t just read a business’ five-star reviews or one-star reviews. Read a mix of reviews so that you can get an idea of what the best- and worst-case scenario looks like.
  • Read reviews on multiple sites – A business’s reputation on Yelp isn’t always indicative of its reputation on Google or Facebook, or vice versa. In order to really learn about a business, you need to learn about their online reputation overall, which means that you need to read reviews from more than one review source.

#4. Pay attention to how they respond to feedback.

If a business has a one-star review or two, it’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be trusted. We all make mistakes; it’s just a part of life. But, it’s how a business responds to those mistakes that can tell you a lot about what working with it is like.

When someone has had a poor experience with a business and gives them a one-star review, it’s a red flag if the business doesn’t respond because it indicates that they either don’t care that their customer didn’t have a good experience or that they don’t pay attention to the feedback they get online.

When a business does respond to a one-star review, on the other hand, it can tell you a lot about what kind of business they are. Did they get defensive and petty when they responded to the negative feedback, or did they own up to their mistake and try to make it right?

A business that can’t accept feedback and doesn’t take responsibility is not the kind of local business you want to work with.

#5. Find out how they treat their employees.

Not only should you ensure that any local business you work with treats its customers well; you should also look at how a business treats its employees, especially right now.

With coronavirus, the last thing that anyone wants is to work with a business that isn’t properly protecting its employees, particularly if those employees work directly with customers. It’s more important than ever to ensure that a local business you work with encourages employees to stay home when they’re sick and keeps employees safe by enforcing social distancing requirements while at work.

#6. Learn about safety precautions.

These aren’t typical times, which makes finding a local business a little more complicated than it typically would be. Whether you’re hiring someone to work in your home or you’re visiting them at a store or an office, you want to know that they have your safety in mind. Make sure that you ask about what the business is doing to keep people safe.

Start your local business search with Top Rated Local®.

When you’re looking for any kind of business near you, whether it’s a barber shop, roofing company, or restaurant, start your search with Top Rated Local. With Top Rated Local, you can read a business’s reviews from across the web, and you’ll get a quick glimpse of a business’s online reputation, overall, by looking at its Rating Score™.

Find a local business near you with Top Rated Local today!

How to Stay Healthy From Home

There’s nothing more important in the midst of a pandemic than staying healthy.

Keeping your distance from others is the key to avoid getting COVID-19, but staying healthy involves so much more than not getting sick.

It feels like everything is on pause right now, but the consequences of letting health fall by the wayside are the same as they ever were. And, despite the fact that our kids can’t go to school and many of us can’t go into work as we normally would, we still need to prioritize our health.

These days, when going to the gym isn’t an option and bulk shopping makes eating fresh fruits and vegetables more of a challenge, that can be easier said than done. But, the good news is that there are many things you can do to protect yourself while social distancing at home.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Staying at Home

#1. Move

You don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise. There are plenty of ways to exercise in and around your home. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Go on a walk – Walking may not seem like much, but if you walk regularly, it can be a great thing for your cardiovascular health.
Do strength training from home – You don’t need weight lifting machines or any other serious equipment to get strong from home. Simple equipment, like dumbbells, can be helpful, but you might be surprised at how effectively you can build strength with bodyweight exercises alone.
Workout with videos and online classes – Whether you’re into yoga, pilates, or plyometrics, there are a ton of workouts you can do at home by following along with a video. You could also check in with your usual fitness center to see if they’re offering online classes for members.
Move a little repeatedly throughout the day – You don’t need to get in your daily exercise all at once. Mini-workouts throughout the day can keep you active without taking up too much of your time.

#2. Eat Well

If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, it’s been inundated with pictures of homemade banana bread, cookies, scones, cinnamon rolls, and all kinds of other delicious treats. Baking has become the favorite pastime for many people, and while it might be a fun way to fill some time, the last thing Americans need is an increase in our average sugar intake. I’m not saying you can’t indulge in baked goods every once in a while, but it should be sporadically instead of on a regular basis.

In addition to watching how much sugar you’re consuming, it’s also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. That can be easier said than done when you’re shopping for a few weeks at a time, and fresh produce typically only lasts for about a week.

I typically shop for two weeks of groceries at a time in order to limit my exposure to others, and my own strategy has been to buy fresh produce for the first week and make meals with frozen fruits and vegetables the second week. If frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t an option, canned fruits and vegetables are another option.

#3. Take a Break From Screens

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, video streaming has increased by a whopping 61 percent. There’s also been a huge spike in hours spent playing video games. This is understandable, as our access to our social circles has been drastically reduced if not cut off entirely. However, it’s important to spend at least some of your time away from screens.

Spending the entire day looking at screens can strain your eyes and make existing vision problems worse. The blue light emitted from the screens could also upend your circadian rhythms, which could disrupt your sleep cycle. Some studies have also found that so much screen time affects your ability to be creative and productive.

Just like with enjoying baked goods, looking at screens should be done in moderation. That can be difficult for people who are working online or going to school online, but all it takes is a little mindfulness. For example, instead of ending your day watching TV, end your day reading a book or writing in your journal. Instead of checking a friend’s timeline on social media, call them and have a good, old-fashioned phone conversation.

#4. Get Outside

Getting outside from time to time is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy, and believe it or not, it actually benefits your health in many different ways.

A few ways getting outside can benefit your health:

  • Better short-term memory
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased energy
  • Better concentration
  • Increased productivity
  • Stronger immune system

Of course, you’ll want to keep safety precautions in mind when you’re outside. Stay at least six feet away from others, and stay away from crowded areas. Consider going out in the early morning or other times of the day when fewer people are out and about. Wear a mask if you’re unsure whether or not you can sufficiently stay away from others, and absolutely do not go out if you’re sick.

A lot of the local businesses that are dedicated to helping you stay healthy, like dentists, fitness centers, chiropractors, massage therapists, therapists, etc., have restricted their in-person services, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to offer you. Lots of businesses in the wellness industry have started offering online services and can guide you on your journey through the pandemic.

Find the local wellness professionals you need with the help of Top Rated Local®, your go-to local business directory. On Top Rated Local, you can read a business’ reviews from across the web and gain an overview of their reputation overall. Get started today.

How to Get More Out of Reading Online Reviews

Reading reviews has become a key part of researching a local business.

When you’re doing a local business search online, say for an HVAC company or a plumber, you need a way to sort through all of the results. Depending on where you live, there might be hundreds of options to choose from. And, the only way to differentiate one local business from another is to read its online reviews.

Now, more than ever, it’s critical that you hire the right local business for your needs. With coronavirus, you want to know that you can trust whoever you hire to take your health and safety seriously, as well as that of their employees.

Reading reviews is a great way to determine whether or not you can trust a local business; however, it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds. Reviews can actually be incredibly misleading, especially if you always take them at face value.

Knowing how to read reviews is an important step toward getting the most out of them.

6 Tips for Reading and Learning From Online Reviews

#1. Read more than one review.

A single experience might sometimes be reflective of the overall experience you can expect from a local business, but that won’t always be the case. Whether the review is one-star or five, it’s not easy to learn much about a business from a single review. In order to get a true understanding of what kind of business it is, you need to read about more than one customer experience.

I would suggest reading between five and 10 reviews for a business you’re considering working with. And, make sure that you read reviews with a range of star ratings. Reading only five-star reviews will skew your view of a local business just as much as reading only one-star reviews. You need to read about good, bad, and neutral experiences to get the best idea of what working with a business is really like.

#2. Read the most recent reviews.

A lot can change for a small business in a matter of months, or even weeks. Employees come and go; management can change; suppliers and equipment can change. Someone’s experience eight months ago may not be relevant to the current customer experience a business offers. That’s why it’s important to always read the latest reviews.

Some businesses experience change faster than others. Restaurants, for example, tend to see high turnover rates and frequently change up their menus — both of which can affect the customer experience. An architecture firm, on the other hand, is much more likely to have the same team of architects as they did six months ago and probably provide the same kind of experience.

#3. Read reviews from multiple sources.

A business that has a 5.0 average star rating on Google won’t necessarily have that same stellar rating on Yelp or Angie’s List. Reading a business’ reviews on one source gives you only part of the picture. To truly understand what working with a business will be like, you need to gain an understanding of their online reputation, overall, and you do that by reading reviews from multiple review sources and local business directories.

Instead of visiting five different review sites to read up on a business, visit Top Rated Local®! Top Rated Local is your all-in-one source to all of a business’ reviews across every verified review site it’s listed on. Best of all, a business Rating Score™ — which is out of 100.00 and calculated based on the number of review sites a business is listed on, the number of reviews a business has, the rating of those reviews, and more — will give you a good idea of what their online reputation looks like, overall.

#4. Read the responses to any negative reviews.

Local businesses are run by human beings, and part of being a human being means making mistakes from time to time. But, when, for example, a plumber makes a mistake fixing the pipes in your home or a roofer makes a mistake while repairing your roof, it doesn’t exactly make for a positive experience.

Reading negative reviews is important because it helps you understand what kind of mistakes a business has made in the past and how often it’s made those same mistakes. But, it’s also very important to read the business’ response to those negative reviews. While reading the response, look for a business that’s willing to learn from its mistakes and do whatever it takes to make the situation right.

#5. Look for themes.

It’s sometimes difficult to separate an individual reviewer’s experience from the overall customer experience a business offers. This is especially true if the reviewer in question has made their review specific to their individual experience, which isn’t always reflective of the typical experience. For example, using a specific employee’s name, or talking about a specific experience.

The best way to get a real idea of what working with a local business is like, look for common themes while reading reviews. Have multiple people praised the timeliness of their service or complained about the attitudes of their employees? If one or two customers have commented on something, you can probably chalk it up to individual experience, but if five or six have, it’s worth paying attention to.

#6. Watch out for nasty personal attacks.

A few months ago, I was looking for an accounting firm near me. As I was reading one firm’s reviews, I noticed a single one-star review that was bringing its average star rating down. When I read it, I was surprised to learn that the complaint had very little to do with the business at all. In fact, this woman was upset about the way the accounting firm’s branded vehicle had been parked at the grocery store and wanted the world to know.

While I appreciate how frustrating it is when someone doesn’t stay in the lines when parking, I don’t think it has much bearing on their accounting services. Personal attacks like these just aren’t helpful to anyone who is truly interested in learning about a business’ customer experience, so take them with a grain of salt.

Reviews are great, but it’s important to know how to read them. Write reviews for the local businesses you love and use our local business directory to find the best local businesses near you! Get started today!

6 Reasons to Support Local Businesses

The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all in some way or another. Some of us have sick friends or family members, or have even been sick ourselves. Some of us have lost our jobs or have seen a reduction in our income. Some of us have had to adapt to working from home or homeschooling our children.

Local businesses haven’t been immune to the effects of coronavirus. Many have had to close their doors entirely, while others have had to make drastic changes in order to stay afloat. Still, with all of this, we hear stories daily of local businesses that have stepped up to help their communities, even though it often has meant making huge sacrifices in order to do so.

These businesses need our support more than ever before, and they are incredibly deserving of that support for many, many different reasons.

Why We Should All Make it a Point to Support Local Businesses

#1. Support jobs in your community.

Local businesses do a lot for the communities they serve, but their biggest contribution is the jobs they create. Businesses that are locally owned create more jobs in their communities than large chains. Furthermore, in many sectors, local businesses even offer higher wages than those chains.

When you choose to support a local business, not only are you supporting the people who own and manage that business; you’re helping to support every person they employ. As unemployment rates have reached almost 17 percent, the local businesses that are still operating and employing people in our communities absolutely deserve our support.

#2. Support your local economy.

Local businesses support local economies far more than their big-box competitors do because they recycle a much larger percentage of their revenue back into their local economies. One way they do this is by working with other local businesses for the supplies and equipment they need to operate.

In addition to supporting other local businesses in your community, local businesses, on average, give more to local nonprofits and charities. This helps to support the people in your community who need help the most.

#3. Protect your local environment.

The term “big-box” doesn’t just apply to the revenue a large corporation makes or the size of its workforce; it also often applies to the sheer size of the stores themselves. Big-box stores, like Walmart, Target, and the like, require a lot of space and take up a lot of resources. They also have much larger carbon footprints.

The fact of the matter is that local businesses don’t require nearly the infrastructure that big businesses do, nor the resources, which helps to protect your local environment. And, since many of them turn to local sources for the equipment and supplies they need, it means fewer trucks transporting goods from across the country.

#4. Celebrate what makes your community unique.

You can go into a big-box store in any state or any city across the country and find the same products that you’ll find anywhere else. There are, of course, a few regional differences, but for the most part, the product offerings in these stores are identical. In some ways, this is a good thing, because many of us have the same wants and needs, but it also threatens what makes individual communities unique.

Local businesses, on the other hand, are born out of their local communities and are a direct reflection of them. They offer unique products and services that were designed to meet the immediate wants and needs of the community they serve. In this way, local businesses introduce diversity in the marketplace and create competition, which is the cornerstone of capitalism.

#5. Support businesses that innovate.

You’d think that, with how much money they rake in, large corporations would be constantly innovating and leading the way in the creation of new products and services. That, however, is just not the case. Surprisingly, a study from the Small Business Administration found that small businesses produced 16 times more patents than larger firms.

One of the biggest reasons why local businesses tend to be so innovative is that they’re much more connected to the people they serve. When your customers are your friends, family, and neighbors, it’s easy to see how you would have a better understanding of their needs than people working out of a boardroom across the country would have.

#6. Support businesses that provide great service.

Local businesses have a reputation for providing a higher level of service than large corporations and big box stores. As I mentioned, their customers are their friends, family members, and neighbors, and they have to face them in their daily life. This means that local businesses are held more accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, there’s a lot more at stake for local businesses than there is for big-box stores and chains. If a large corporation loses a customer, it potentially has millions more that it can rely on. But, for a local business that has a much smaller customer base, every time a customer is lost, it’s acutely felt. That gives local businesses a greater incentive to take care of their customers in the best possible way.

Support the local businesses that make your community great with Top Rated Local®.

These are just a few of the many reasons to support the local businesses in your community, and there are lots of wonderful ways to do so. In a previous blog, I talked about a few things consumers can do to support the local businesses in their communities, one of which is writing reviews for the local businesses you love.

Use our one-of-a-kind local business directory and review site — Top Rated Local — to find and support the local businesses that make your community what it is.

How to Avoid Common Vehicle Storage Issues

Believe it or not, long-term storage can be hard on your vehicle.

Lots of things are on pause right now, and with mandatory lockdowns across the country, many of us aren’t using our vehicles very much.

Most people haven’t given much thought to the potential consequences of storing their vehicles without use for so long, and that’s because most people don’t realize that those consequences exist in the first place. However, it’s important to know that there are many problems associated with vehicle storage, as well as what you can do to avoid them.

Today, I hope to help you keep your vehicle running smoothly by going over the most common issues associated with storing your vehicle and what you can do to prevent them.

Common Vehicle Storage Issues and How to Avoid Them

#1. Flat Spots

When your vehicle remains stationary for a long period of time, it means that the entire weight of your vehicle is bearing down on just one spot on your tires that entire time. That can result in the rubber flattening out on the affected portion of the tire.

Flat-spotting isn’t something that will happen in a couple of weeks, but after a month or more of storage, it’s definitely a concern you’ll want to be aware of.

One thing that can increase the risk of flat-spotting is low tire pressure. Make sure to keep your tire pressure at the appropriate levels, which you can find by checking the manufacturer’s recommendations.

#2. Dead Battery

It may seem counterintuitive, but when you drive your vehicle, you’re actually charging its battery. And, when your car is sitting idle for a long period of time, the battery isn’t getting the charge it needs and will eventually die completely. Just because your vehicle is off, it doesn’t mean that it’s not using the battery. This is especially true if you have a high-tech computer and an alarm system.

Disconnecting the battery for vehicle storage is a good way to prevent it from draining even faster/

#3. Fused Brake Pads

When brake rotors are left unused, rust will eventually start to form on them, which can actually cause the rotor to bind to the brake pads if left for too long. Another thing that can cause the brake pads to fuse to the rotors is leaving your car in “Park” for too long, which keeps the brake pad pressed up against the rotor.

If you’re parked on a flat, even surface, don’t store your vehicle with the parking brake on. If you’re parked on an incline, remember that brake repair is preferable to a runaway vehicle, but you can always use a tire stopper to keep your vehicle in place as an alternative.

#4. Paint Degradation

Not only can long-term storage lead to a number of mechanical problems for your vehicle, but it can also damage your vehicle’s paint job. Bird droppings, sun exposure, dust, tree sap, and even water spots from nearby sprinklers can all damage your vehicle’s paint job over time.

If you have the option, park in a garage or under a shelter to protect your vehicle from the elements. If that’s not an option, try to wash your vehicle every few weeks, or, at the very least, spot-clean any necessary areas as needed.

#5. Pest Damage

Parking in a garage helps to protect your vehicle from exposure to the elements. It’s a dry, safe place to put your vehicle, but for these same reasons, the garage is also an ideal home for many different pests, including rats and mice. Unfortunately, these pests can get into your vehicle and cause real damage, like chewed wires and belts.

You can prevent pests from getting into your vehicle by covering any gaps where they could get into it, like the air intake and exhaust pipe. Steel wool is an effective solution for this. You could also consider positioning rat poison or mouse traps around your vehicle. But, even if you take these precautions, check under the hood periodically for pest damage.

#6. Other Issues

The different fluids in your vehicle can degrade in their own way. For instance, the fuel in your vehicle can start to separate, leading to the accumulation of water vapor in your fuel tank. Hoses and gaskets need to be lubricated regularly in order to prevent them from drying out and cracking.

How do you avoid these common vehicle storage problems?

Although there are different steps you can take to eliminate or reduce the risk of some of the above problems, the number one thing you can do to protect your vehicle is simply to drive it every once in a while. Ideally, you should drive your vehicle for 15 to 20 minutes once every two weeks. This will keep everything lubricated, charged, and working like it should.

Find an auto shop near you with Top Rated Local®.

I hope that this blog will help you avoid any problems related to vehicle storage, but if the damage has already been done or your vehicle is in need of maintenance or some other repair, find an auto shop near you with Top Rated Local.

With our one-of-a-kind local business directory, you can read an auto repair shop’s reviews from across the web, which will help you find one you can truly trust.

When you do find the right local auto shop, be sure to call ahead. Many local businesses are operating under different hours, and if you have an appointment, it means less time in the waiting area. When you call, you can also get a good idea of how long the appointment will take. If it will take more than a few minutes, it might be worth arranging for someone to pick you up, if possible.

Find a local auto shop you can trust with Top Rated Local today!

Your Guide to Bicycle Maintenance

In much of the U.S., the weather is perfect for a bike ride.

The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping. Spring is here at last, and there’s no better way to celebrate than to get on your bicycle and pedal.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there are few activities outside of the home that are still acceptable, but luckily, riding your bicycle is still one of them (at least for now). Riding a bicycle is an excellent way to keep your heart pumping, which can help to keep your immune system strong and working properly.

Riding your bicycle is fun and gets you moving, but it’s important to stay safe while you’re out riding. Right now, that means steering clear of crowded trails. Social distancing rules still apply when you’re on a bike, so you’ll want to avoid riding where there will be lots of other people out riding, walking, and running. Instead, try exploring a new neighborhood or riding in the early morning to avoid crowds.

In addition to protecting yourself while you’re out riding, you also need to make sure that your bicycle is mechanically ready for use in the spring, especially if it’s been sitting in your garage or storage shed all winter.

How to Prepare Your Bicycle for Spring

Step #1. Give your bike a scrub.

Not only will cleaning your bike make it look like new again; a clean bike is a well-functioning bike. Leaving dirt and grime on your bike for a long period of time makes it look uncared for, but caked-on dirt and grime can actually degrade the parts of your bike, so it’s important to clean it off every so often.

In addition to making your bike look pretty and protecting it from degradation, giving your bike a quick bath will also help to inspire you to get out and ride it! It can be difficult to find motivation with everything going on, and any little bit helps at a time like this.

Step #2. Clean and lubricate the chain.

Your bike’s chain is essential and should be taken care of properly. If your chain is dirty, worn out, or rusty, it’s not going to do you any favors and will likely make pedaling much more difficult than it has to be.

If there’s any muck or grime on your chain, gently wipe it off with a washcloth. Then, lightly grease your chain with chain oil. This will help to keep it moving smoothly. If your chain is looking rusty or worn out, it might be time to get it replaced.

Step #3. Manually test your gears.

When your gears are running easily and smoothly, it makes your ride better and helps you get more power every time you pedal. Before you pull your bike out for spring, you’ll want to ensure that its gears are working perfectly.

Turn your bicycle upside down, and shift your bike into each gear while manually pedaling it with your other hand. Watch out for any signs of sticking gears or wear and tear.

Step #4. Check your tires.

Visually inspect your tires carefully, checking to ensure that the rubber hasn’t worn down in certain areas or there are signs of any damage, like cracking. When you spin your tires, it’s important that they spin smoothly with no signs of wobbling.

If your tires are worn down or damaged, you may need to replace them. If not, make sure they are properly inflated before riding your bicycle. Check for the recommended air pressure on the tire itself.

Step #5. Make sure your brakes are in good shape.

From a safety standpoint, brakes are one of the most important features on your bicycle, and it’s imperative to ensure that they’re working properly before you get your bike out for spring. When you pull the brake levers, they should engage the both sides of the brake pads on both wheels.

If the brake is working properly, it should fully stop the tire in motion without sticking. If the brake cable is sticky or frayed, it should be replaced. If the rubber on the brake pads is worn down, they should be replaced.

Find a bike shop near you with Top Rated Local®!

These bicycle maintenance tips are a great place to start, but in some cases, professional bicycle services may be required. If that’s the case, you can find a great local bike shop to work with near you with Top Rated Local.

Depending on where you live, there may or may not be bike shops open for business, but even in states where they’re not considered to be essential businesses, many are offering remote repair and maintenance services that you could take advantage of.

Find bicycle maintenance and repair near you today!