How To Create An Invoice In QuickBooks Pro

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How to Create an Invoice in QuickBooks Pro

Invoices equal money for your business, so it’s important to know how to send an invoice using QuickBooks Pro.

Here are 15 simple steps for invoicing customers with QuickBooks.

Table of Contents

Create An Invoice

You’ll want to customize your invoice templates before you start sending them to clients. If you need help customizing your invoice, check out our post: How to Customize Invoice Templates in QuickBooks Pro.

Once the invoice template is to your liking, start creating an invoice by going to Customer>Create Invoices (or click Ctrl+I).

Step 1: Select A Customer

Begin by selecting the customer you want to invoice from the drop-down menu. If you can’t find the customer, you can click “Small Business Sales Tax Guide.

Step 11: Write A Customer Message

While this field is technically optional, we highly recommend adding a customer message.

QuickBooks makes it easy. You can select one of five preset customer messages using the drop-down menu, or you can click “QuickBooks Community or call QuickBooks directly. If you have any further questions, leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you.

Chelsea Krause

Chelsea Krause is a writer, avid reader, and researcher. In addition to loving writing, she became interested in accounting software because of her constant desire to learn something new and understand how things work. When she’s not working or daydreaming about her newest story, she can be found drinking obscene amounts of coffee, reading anything written by C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury, kayaking and hiking, or watching The X-Files with her husband.

Chelsea Krause

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Do I Qualify For A Startup Grant?

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startup grants

Free money to start your business – isn’t that every entrepreneur’s wildest dream? It’s too bad that startup grants are so hard to come by. You can think of business grants sort of like scholarships for adults. Just as with a scholarship, you have to convince the grant-issuer that a) you will put the funds to really good use and b) you are more deserving of the money than other applicants.

There are many types of business grants offered by myriad organizations, both public and private. As you might figure, there are different eligibility requirements for different grants. In general, though, only certain types of businesses are eligible for grants. These include businesses belonging to economically disadvantaged demographics such as Native American Indian tribe members, single mothers, and veterans returning to civilian life. There are also grants for innovative businesses breaking new frontiers that benefit society  – think tech startups, doctors, and scientists.

In this post, I’ll talk about the types of businesses that might qualify for a startup grant, and give a few examples of organizations that offer grants to these businesses.

If you belong to any of the following business categories, you might eligible for a startup grant.

Table of Contents

Innovators

Many startup grants are for innovators and businesses which contribute valuable creations to society. These grants are generally for entrepreneurs in the fields of technology, medicine, science, agriculture, education, and research and development. Here are some grants you might qualify for if your business falls into this category.

Grants.gov 

While this is the one-stop shop for all U.S. government grants, the majority of these grants go toward businesses and nonprofits in science, medicine, and R&D.

Search for grants on Grants.gov or check your eligibility to apply for a grant from the federal government.

SBIR 

From The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website:

The SBIR program is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.

This US government-funded program awards grants of up to $150K in Phase I of funding. Depending on the results achieved after six months, recipients may receive up to $1 million over the next two years (Phase II).

NC IDEA 

This is a private foundation offering up to $50K for high-tech companies in the state of North Carolina.

Green Businesses

There are some public and private grants for green businesses, including startups. Generally, these grants cover the cost of installing sustainable infrastructure and/or energy systems.

Rural Energy For America Program 

As part of the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), this program awards renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement grants. Grants are awarded to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.

Green Technology Business Grant Program 

This grant is designed to attract new green technology businesses or to expand existing green technology businesses in the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Eligible applicants may receive grants of up to 0.5% of new payroll to the city for up to five years and may also qualify for an additional $5,000 Moving Assistance Grant.

Rural Businesses

Various grants aim to stimulate the economy in rural and economically distressed areas. These grants serve to attract new businesses to struggling regions. Depending on where you are opening your business or nonprofit and the specifics of your organization’s goals, you might eligible for some of this grant money.

Rural Business Development

This grant is specifically for nonprofit and public entities. From their website:

This program is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas which will employ 50 or fewer new employees and has less than $1 million in gross revenue.

From the same agency, rural farmers/agricultural producers might be eligible for the Value Added Producer grant, while for-profit businesses that provide education or health care to rural areas through telecommunications might be eligible for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant.

U.S. Economic Development Assistance Grants

From their website:

EDA supports development in economically distressed areas of the United States by fostering job creation and attracting private investment. Specifically, under the Economic Development Assistance programs (EDAP) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), EDA will make construction, non-construction, and revolving loan fund investments under the Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) Programs.

Interested? Check out the EDA’s grantee resources.

Women-Owned Businesses

There are many business grants you might be eligible for if you are a female entrepreneur. Additionally, some grant money goes to businesses that create solutions that benefit women and families.

InnovateHER Grant 

Sponsored by SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, the InnovateHER grant competition is an opportunity for entrepreneurs who create commercially viable products and services that benefit women and families. The first place prize awarded in 2017 was $40,000. There were also grants awarded in the amounts of $20,000, $15,000, and $10,000.

Chicago Foundation For Women

Women living in the Chicago metropolitan area are eligible to apply for a grant to start a new business through this nonprofit fund. Grants range from $15,000 to $150,000. These grants are very competitive and are only available to businesses that benefit women’s economic security, freedom from violence, and/or access to health care.

Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit startups that have 501(c)(3) status with the IRS are eligible for some government and private grant money. In fact, you’re much more likely to be awarded a grant if you run a nonprofit organization, as opposed to a for-profit business. While there are tons of nonprofit grants, I won’t spend too much time on this section, assuming this audience is mostly for-profit entrepreneurs.

These grants, which you can apply for year-round, are mainly for nonprofits and educational programs, though some small businesses may be eligible as well.

As mentioned, Grants.gov is the main stop for government grants, many of which go to nonprofit causes.

Veteran-Related Businesses

Veteran business grant money includes retraining grants for veterans returning to civilian life and grants to nonprofits providing services to veterans. Below are a couple examples.

StreetShares Commander’s Call Veteran Business Award

This StreetShares program awards annual grants to veterans and spouses of veterans who own small businesses. The first place award is $5K, the second is $3,000, and third is $2,000.

StreetShares also offers conventional business loans to some small businesses, veteran-owned or otherwise. Head over to our StreetShares Review for a rundown on their loan services.

Wisconsin Department Of Veterans Affairs Retraining Grants

This program awards up to $3,000 per year for up to two years to veterans receiving job-related training. Most “startups” probably wouldn’t be eligible for this program, but hey, it’s possible.

2501 Program

These grants, awarded through the USDA, go to veteran and minority farmers and ranchers. You might think that most startups aren’t in the farming sector, and you’d be right, but ag-tech startups are gaining prominence – think sustainable farming and other “smart” farming practices now possible with the help of new technology.

Minority-Owned Businesses

While there are grants designed to benefit various non-white business owner demographics – Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others – most government grants for minority businesses are specifically for members of federally recognized Native American Tribes. Here are a couple grants that may help fund minority-owned startups.

Healthcare-related small businesses can use this grant for programs that provide health services to minorities.

Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative

Offered through the American Indian First Nations institute, this initiative awards six grants of up to $30,000 each year to Native American institutions that support arts and culture.

Note that while the Minority Business Development Agency offers various resources designed to help minority business owners, this program does not include grants.

Just Plain Amazing Small Businesses

There are a few general small business grants available to any kind of business, but they are very competitive, so you will need a super impressive story to wow the judges. An impressive track record is a particular challenge for a startup business, which is usually defined as a business that’s been around for less than six months. But hey, if you’ve achieved a lot in just a few months or you have an especially amazing idea, you might want to apply to one of these highly competitive small business grant contests.

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Any type of small business may apply. To give you an idea of what kind of competition you’d be facing, in 2017 there were 4,500 applicants and 10 winners. The grand prize is $25,000, and the other winners in the top ten get $5,000.

Miller Lite Tap The Future

This grant is one of the few that’s actually specifically geared toward startups. With this Shark Tank-style entrepreneurship grant contest, participants have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas and compete for the grand prize of over $100K.

Visa’s Everywhere Initiative

This contest awards startups with innovative IT solutions, awarding $50,000 to the top three finalists.

Startup Grant Alternatives

Very few private businesses are actually eligible for a business grant. Unless your business or startup is highly innovative and provides a demonstrable benefit to your community or the world at large, unfortunately, you are probably not grant-recipient material. Even if you are eligible for some grant money and you make it through the lengthy proposal process, you may only land a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Furthermore, startup grants are particularly hard to come by, as grantees will generally want to see what kind of results you’ve achieved on other projects carried out by your organization. Don’t fall for government grant scams that will have you believe there are piles of free grant money out there for the taking – this is not the case at all.

So, rather than hoping to be among the fortunate few who are granted free money, you might want to look into grant alternatives for your business.

Startup grant alternatives include crowdfunding, P2P lending, online loans, equipment financing, and others. Some examples might include:

For more ideas on how to get the seed money for your new business endeavor, check out our article on the best ways to finance a business startup.

Shannon Vissers

Shannon is a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, CA. Shannon has a three-year-old daughter named Izzy. Shannon likes to unwind by watching trashy reality television and reading literary fiction during the commercial breaks.

Shannon Vissers

Shannon Vissers

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Shopify vs. Squarespace: Online Store Options Compared

Shopify vs. Squarespace – they are two of the most well-known brands in the online store / website builder industry. I’ve written a Shopify review here and Squarespace review here. But how do they compare directly to each other?

First, a bit of background. Over the past few years, online store software costs have plummeted, and the technology to get a website from idea to reality has blossomed.

Whether you’re using a text editor and uploading to the Amazon cloud, hosting your own site powered by WordPress + WooCommerce or using a drag and drop website builder, there’s never been an easier time to create an online store. It’s no longer 2002 where every storeowner had to know PHP, HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript.

All-inclusive ecommerce builders have been particularly interesting. Companies like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, Shopify, and BigCommerce – not to mention platforms like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon – have brought ecommerce to everyone regardless of their coding skills.

On the wide spectrum of ecommerce store building solutions, they all live on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website.

That is in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. That’s not a good or bad thing. But it is something to be aware of when you’re choosing one of them as a solution since it affects your website both long and short term.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

Using an online store builder is like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Shopify, Squarespace and other options like BigCommerce and Weebly as a group compete with options like WordPress (which provides the free software to build a website that you own & control – see my WordPress setup guide here) all the way to options like typing actual HTML code into a text file.

The last preface I’ll mention is that Squarespace is an all-around website builder with ecommerce capability.

Shopify, in contrast, is strictly an ecommerce platform.

This focus puts Squarespace behind as an advanced ecommerce tool and Shopify behind as a general website builder tool. With their respective free trials, you can quickly see the differences.

Try Shopify for Free

Try Squarespace for Free

Make sense? Awesome – let’s dive into the comparison.

Side note – if you want this comparison in a BuzzFeed-style quiz, you can take my online store builder quiz here…

You can also look at my posts on –

Otherwise, we’ll look specifically at pricing, onboarding/user experience, design features, technical features, ecommerce features, marketing features, and customer support.

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my professional experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pricing

Comparing pricing between Shopify and Squarespace is fairly straightforward if you have a clear idea of your needs. This comes from the fact that Shopify focuses on *only* online store owners whereas Squarespace markets to everyone.

The short version is that Shopify is more expensive. But there’s a few caveats to look at.

Shopify Pricing

Squarespace Ecommerce Pricing

The first caveat is credit card fees.

Squarespace syncs with Stripe and PayPal. Their fees are 2.9% + $.30 per transaction.

Shopify has their own payments gateway that charges lower per transaction fees. But – if you use a non-Shopify gateway, Shopify charges an additional transaction fee that Squarespace does not have.

So why is this important? If you already have a gateway (ie, Authorize.net for your physical pop-up shop) and you want to use them with Shopify – then Shopify’s transaction fee kicks in. But – if you want to use Shopify Payment’s for your online store – you can save a bit of money on transaction fees. Those fees add up. If you have revenues of $100000 – a 0.4% reduction in fees could equal $500 per month.

The second caveat is value pricing.

On front-end features alone – Squarespace is significantly cheaper than Shopify, especially on their Advanced plan, which compares almost directly with Shopify’s Standard plan.

See Shopify’s Plans here.

See Squarespace’s Plans here.

But – like I mentioned in the introduction, it’s hard to compare their pricing tables directly since they are really different products for different audiences.

It’s a bit like comparing the pricing of a motorcycle vs. an SUV.

Sure, the motorcycle is much cheaper and it gets you from A to B. It has wheels, an engine, and it drives on the road just fine. But it’s also meant for a certain type of driving.

It all really comes down to what you need for you project – two wheels that will get you where you need to go or a vehicle that has plenty of room along with lots of features. So let’s look at other differences.

Aside – if you’re curious, Shopify’s $9/mo Lite plan isn’t applicable since it’s more of an inventory/payments software than an online store builder software. You can upload products, manage them, and accept payments, but you can only sell them via other platforms such as a Facebook plugin or a button on an existing website. Same goes with Squarespace’s Business Plan. It’s meant to do a website that happens to have a couple things for sale – not really a full online store solution. I’ll set both those options to the side for the moment.

Onboarding & User Experience

No matter how intuitive and simple a piece of technology is, there’s always that moment of “what am I looking at and what do I do now?”

Onboarding is the process of guiding you past that point. In theory, a huge selling point of online website / store builders is that they have a near-zero learning curve. They have a straightforward process from website concept to website reality.

On this point, Squarespace and Shopify both do alright but in different ways.

Shopify has a quick path from free trial signup to site launch. They have guided tours and a very straightforward setup. They also have customer support outreach focused on getting you up and running quickly.

Shopify Backend

However, Shopify also has many more features, apps, and technical options available that can present a challenge. The most daunting hurdle is linking your domain name to your store. It’s not difficult but is daunting at the mention of “setting your CNAME” (in fairness, you don’t have to direct your domain if you purchase via Shopify for a bit more per year than via a 3rd party).

Since Shopify functions as a platform for payments, offline inventory and more – their website store setup is actually on the second menu of their main dashboard rather than front and center.

Squarespace has a ridiculously fast sign up to live site process. Their backend is fairly intuitive for basic websites. However, they to have a “Squarespace jargon” to get used to. They like to appeal to developers and freelance designers – so there are advanced tools that can clutter simply launching a site.

SquareSpace Onboarding

Their support emails and tours are structured well. But since their software is made for all types of websites, the ecommerce features are a bit buried (and limited) from the perspective of an online store owner.

I would not rule either provider out on onboarding/user experience. But their differences are sort of like a restaurant with a waiter (Shopify) vs. a fast casual restaurant with a menu above the cashier (Squarespace).

If you want more help and more customization, then Shopify is your choice. If you want to quickly see and order from the features, then Squarespace is less daunting.

Design Features

Part of the overall value of website builders is simple, straightforward design – no web designers necessary.

But good design is hard. And it matters – a lot. A lot of people can spot a good looking website but have a harder time figuring out how to get there. Using a template for a foundation and then customizing it is a good way to get the site you want without paying for a custom design.

Both Shopify and Squarespace use templates (aka “themes”) for design. But they are very different in customization options.

Shopify has a solid drag and drop design feature. You can create any layout element you’d like and drag it into place. You can click and edit any portion of any web page – including both content and design.

But – Shopify does not combine design and content. You have to get your design right – and then add content in a separate area (ie, it’s a template).

Since you can edit HTML/CSS with Shopify, you can build any design possible. There are few, if any, limits to any design that you see on the Internet. Additionally, Shopify has a drag and drop template editor.

Shopify Drag Drop

Squarespace has a hybrid approach. They famously have beautiful pre-built designs.

Squarespace Designs

They also have drag and drop – and pretty intuitive editing.

But – they also combine design and content with their editor. This approach has tradeoffs. On one hand, you can edit the design for specific pages. On the other hand, your design can go “off-base” pretty quickly – especially with content for hundreds of products.

The other drawback with Squarespace is that their off-the-shelf themes require *a lot* of really good imagery. If you don’t have access to high-quality photography, their themes are not going to work well. Many of Shopify’s designs are fine and functional regardless of product imagery.

They both have large marketplaces for premium designs (in addition to professional designers).

If you are a fan of raw functionality – then you’ll appreciate Shopify’s approach to design. If you want your site to look amazing off the shelf, love to edit details, and have access to good imagery – then you’ll appreciate Squarespace.

Ecommerce Features

The absolute core features of an ecommerce store are a –

  • product database
  • shopping cart
  • checkout page
  • payment processor
  • order database

That is it.

But, especially in 2017 (and 2018 and beyond), there is a *lot* more than can (and should) go into an ecommerce store. There’s everything from selling via Facebook Messenger to syncing with Amazon FBA to integrating with eBay – not to mention features for executing on marketing fundamentals.

Even for advertising products, there’s selling via Buyable Pins, Google Merchant, Twitter cards, and more. There’s remarketing and coupon codes. There’s A/B testing. There’s inventory synchronization with vendors like AliExpress. And there’s order synchronization with shippers like UPS and USPS.

And that’s all a drop in the bucket.

Obviously, not every store needs every feature. If you are trying to sell a couple T-shirts or a couple specialty products – you certainly don’t need them all. But if you want to grow and expand, you’ll need your options open.

For ecommerce features, Shopify wins hands down, though Squarespace does make it simple to sell your product. Squarespace has a few advanced features (like abandoned cart recovery), but it’s nothing like Shopify.

Shopify not only has more features directly integrated into their platform, but they also have a well-established app store that includes free and paid apps to extend your store with every feature you could possibly need.

Shopify Integrations

That said, this section is a bit unfair to Squarespace, because, again, they are a general website builder that includes ecommerce. Shopify is strictly an ecommerce platform.

If Shopify didn’t “win” on ecommerce features it would be a surprise. Technically, Squarespace competes more with the likes of Weebly and Wix or WordPress who are also website builders that provide core ecommerce features.

In short – if you need core ecommerce features integrated in a simple, straightforward way, then Squarespace is fine. If you actually need a full suite of ecommerce features to grow, then Shopify is hands-down better.

Technical Features

Technical features are all the web development best practices that don’t really “matter”…until they matter a lot. I’m talking about generating clean URLs, editable metadata, allowing page-level redirects, etc.

On this point, Shopify does very well – and not just compared to Squarespace, but compared to any hosted platform.

Traditionally, hosted platforms presented a risk for web designers, developers, and marketers who wanted to work on the technical aspects of the site.

I know that I flinch anytime a prospective client tells me they are on a hosted platform of any kind.

But Shopify and Squarespace perform well in general. Many skeptics of hosted platforms note that they actually take care of the technical features well. You still don’t have FTP access to your server, but you do have access to change things via their Liquid editor (Shopify) or Developer Mode (Squarespace).

Where they differ (especially for me) is in their potential for technical features. And again, here, Shopify’s app store is their “killer” feature. Even if a feature is not native to Shopify, a non-developer can usually add it.

On the flip side, Squarespace has a lot of native features that simply “work” – and a process of continually adding & revising existing features.

Both Squarespace and Shopify have inherent limitations as hosted platforms (ie, when you leave, you a lot of your data), but Shopify does a bit more to eliminate the weaknesses and capitalize on strengths as a hosted platform.

Marketing Features

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character says “if you build it, they will come.” Sadly, that is not true about websites. Like any business, you have to actively promote and market your online store for anyone to show up.

Marketing features like custom metadata, open graph information, Schema markups, email signups, share buttons, landing pages, etc all make marketing your site a lot easier.

For marketing features, both Shopify and Squarespace both do really well. They support header scripts. They integrate with many products. They add meta data, product schema and open graph tags automatically.

But like design & ecommerce features, there’s the same catch. For an ecommerce store owner, Shopify has many more (and higher quality) built-in features plus a better, more developed app store.

Squarespace has core marketing features built-in, but with more limits.

Support & Service

Customer support and service are difficult to judge. Like I’ve said in most of my reviews, a single customer can never really know if they happened upon a disgruntled rookie or if the company is really that bad.

That said, there are ways to look at a company’s investment in both customer services and support.

For Shopify vs. Squarespace, I think the clear “winner” is Shopify. Shopify not only provides more channels for customer service (phone, chat, email, forums, social media, etc), they also have an incredibly extensive help center.

The help center not only tackles technical issues, it also tackles customer success issues (aka problems with making money).

Squarespace has email support, and limited chat support – but no phone. Their knowledgebase does not have the attention or the depth that Shopify has.

Comparison Conclusion

So Shopify vs. Squarespace – which one is a better fit for your project?

If you plan on running a growing online store and want all the features possible, then you should go try Shopify.

Go try Shopify for free here.

If you want a simple store – or a general site with a beautiful look, then Squarespace might be a good fit for you.

Also – bookmark my post on creating an ecommerce marketing strategy here.

Good luck!

“”

Is Hard Money The Answer When You Have Declared Bankruptcy?

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Businesses that have declared bankruptcy can face a challenging road back to the regularly lending scene. If you search online for loan alternatives, sooner or later you’re going to run into the concept of hard money.

Hard money is a direct loan from an investor to an individual or business for the purpose of buying and developing real estate. The terms of a hard money loan are usually very specific to the investor extending the offer.

We’ll take a look at whether hard money is a good loan of last resort.

Table of Contents

Can You Get Hard Money With A Bankruptcy On Your Record?

In theory, yes. Whether the hard money lender is willing to take a risk on a borrower with a bankruptcy on their record will depend on a number of factors, including the lender’s appetite for risk. Usually, hard money lenders are more concerned with the opportunity presented by the property than they are with your credit. You should, however, expect this type of lender to check your credit even if they weigh other factors more highly.

In most cases you’ll have to wait until your bankruptcy discharges before hard money lenders want to touch you; this will happen more quickly if you filed Chapter 7 than Chapter 13. In some cases, you may be able to be able to convince your Chapter 13 trustee and a hard money lender to work with you, but don’t count on the lender wanting to take on that kind of risk.

One of the bigger challenges of getting hard money is finding hard money lenders. Because you’re dealing with real estate, you’ll generally have to work with investors who have an interest in developing property in your area. Your local real estate association might be able to help you find hard money lenders in your region.

What Are The Limitations?

A hard money loan is a non-traditional loan made by regular investors to (effectively) real estate investors. Since the loan is secured by the property you’re buying or developing, there are practical limitations on how you can use the money.

Here are the things hard money is typically used for:

  • Purchasing Real Estate: Hard money is often used to buy real estate in situations where traditional lending would be too slow.
  • Improvements And Renovations: A hard money lender who is more interested in the potential of the property rather than its existing state may write a loan for a developer interested in making capital improvements.
  • Construction: Hard money can be used to build new projects. As in the case of renovations, the lender will be interested in the potential value of the property.

There are a number of other potential uses, though most involve either improving or stabilizing the value of a property or circumventing the restrictions that come with bank lending. Since hard money loans don’t have the complex underwriting process of bank loans, some developers find them useful for quickly closing time-sensitive deals.

Should You Get Hard Money If You Can?

If you were recently underwater with debt, you may want to think twice about getting a hard money loan. You’re looking at double-digit interest rates and significantly higher origination fees to get your project off the ground.

These loans aren’t meant to be long-term financial solutions. The ideal use for hard money is to increase the value of the property in question, then flip it or refinance it. You don’t want to get bogged down by hard money’s high-interest rates over the long haul, or you could easily find yourself back where you were before.

Final Thoughts

Even if you’ve had a bankruptcy, you can dive back into the borrowing scene almost immediately after it resolves. Hard money is just one of your options. It’s costly, fast, and has narrow applications. If, however, you’re in a situation where you have a good investment opportunity and a well-developed exit-strategy, hard money can be a road back to solvency after a bankruptcy. If you’ve had experience with hard money, especially after a bankruptcy, we’d love to hear about it.

Not sure where else to look for loans? Our guide can be a good place to start.

Chris Motola

Chris Motola is an independent writer, journalist, programmer, and game designer who has mastered the art of using his laptop in no fewer than 541 positions, most of them unergonomic. When he’s not pushing keys or swiping screens, he’s probably out exploring urban or natural environs, experimenting in the kitchen, or delighting/annoying his friends with his ideas and theories.

Chris Motola

“”

Small Business Accounting: How To Close Your Books At The End of the Year

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Year End Accounting Processes: How to Close Your Books

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…until you realize you have year-end accounting processes to take care of. Closing the books can be an intimidating process, especially for new business owners.

That’s why we’ve broken down the process into 17 manageable steps. It sounds like a lot now, but these key steps will help you gain control of your accounting and get you ready to ring in the new year. To make things even easier for you, we’ve also created a printable Year-End Accounting Checklist so you can mark your progress.

You can print the Year-End Checklist now and use it to follow along or you can jump right in. You’ll be closing out the accounting year with confidence in no time.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Create Invoices

One of the most important aspects of closing out your business’s financial year is to make sure all income and expenses are recorded and up-to-date. If you have any unbilled invoices, don’t wait any longer to send them. Get all unbilled projects and orders invoiced immediately.

Step 2: Send Invoice Reminders

On that same note, if you have customers who haven’t paid their invoices yet, follow up with them right away. Most accounting software allows you to email invoice reminders. Take advantage of this feature and get those invoices paid as soon as possible.

If there is a client who will not or can not pay you, then you can write off unpaid invoices as bad debt as a last resort (so long as you’ve made sufficient efforts to collect payment). Before you do this, talk to your accountant and read what the Journal of Accountancy has to say about bad debt to learn if this course of action is right for your small business.

Step 3: Record Expenses

If you’ve fallen behind on recording and categorizing your expenses, now is the time to catch up. Make sure all expenses are entered into your accounting software. Not only is this crucial for accurate record-keeping, it will also help your accountant find all of the tax-deductible expenses your business qualifies for.

Recording your expenses throughout the year can help make this process much simpler.

Step 4: Separate Personal & Business Expenses

Ideally, small businesses should have a separate bank account for business expenses. However, we know this isn’t the reality for many smaller businesses and freelancers. That means you must separate your personal and business expenses.

If the IRS suspects that your small business deductions are actually personal expenses, then you are in great danger of an IRS audit. That’s why it’s incredibly important to keep your business expenses and personal expenses distinct. Some accounting programs, like Wave, allow you to separate expenses easily.

Step 5: Update Mileage Log

With tax season right around the corner, you’ll want to make sure your mileage log is up-to-date so you can maximize your small business tax deductions.

Step 6: Pay Bills From Vendors

In addition to making sure all of your customers pay you, you need to square away any unpaid vendor debts your small business has accrued.

Step 7: Pay Contractors

Also be sure to pay your contractors in full before you close your books.

Step 8: Reconcile Your Bank Accounts

Once all of your income and expenses are properly recorded, be sure to reconcile all of the bank and credit card accounts for your small business. You want to make sure that the income and expenses recorded in your accounting software match the totals from your official bank statements. If they don’t, there’s a discrepancy or mistake somewhere that you’ll need to address.

According to a CPA and Kashoo user, Siena:

The most common mistake people make [at year-end] is not performing bank reconciliations regularly.

Reconciling your accounts once a month can help this process be run smoother and take less time.

Need help reconciling your accounts? Contact your accounting programs’ help center or ask your accountant for assistance.

Step 9: Update Fixed Assets

Before you close the books, make sure all of your fixed assets are up-to-date. Add any new fixed assets that you may have forgotten.

A fixed asset is a long-term asset with a life that lasts longer than a fiscal year.

For example, if your company purchased new computers, these would be considered fixed assets rather than expenses. Even though you paid for them as an expense, a computer’s life lasts longer than a single year making it a fixed asset instead.

Step 10: Run Depreciation

For all of your fixed assets, you’ll need to run depreciation for the year. Remember how fixed assets last longer than a year? Well, depreciation is how the IRS determines how much of that asset’s life has been used up in a year. You can write off the amount that has been used as a tax deduction.

If you need help understanding these concepts, read what Investopedia has to say about depreciation or talk to your accountant for more details. Your accountant can also assist you with running depreciation, or you can run depreciation yourself using accounting software programs like Xero and QuickBooks.

Step 11: Decide On Employee Bonuses

Before the end of your financial year, decide whether or not your company will be offering employee bonuses. If so, you’ll need to set aside the proper withholding tax.

Step 12: Double Check Payroll Taxes

According to CPA Michelle Edward, you’ll want to ensure that your payroll tax liabilities match your quarterly payroll returns.

If there are any discrepancies, talk to your accountant to get everything squared away before you close the books.

Step 13: Verify Employee Information

Go over all current and past employee and contractor information for the year and verify that the information you have on file is 100% correct. It might be worth even sending an email to your team to check if there have been changes. Employee contact information must be correct in order to send out W-2’s and 1099’s before tax season, which is right around the corner.

Step 14: Count Your Inventory

Next, you’ll need to do a final inventory count. Do this count on the day you close your books (for many businesses this will be December 31st). Small businesses are expected to record their inventory at the beginning and end of each year as these totals are used on several tax forms.

Read our post How to Get the Most Out of Your Accounting Software This Season to learn more.

Step 15: Run Reports

Use your accounting software to run a Profit & Loss report (or Income Statement) and Balance Sheet report. Analyze both reports and verify that the information you see is correct.

You may also want to run your Statement of Cashflows report and get ahead of the game by running the key reports your accountant will need for taxes.

Step 16: Create A Company File

I can’t emphasize how important this step is. Once you’ve completed steps 1-15, create a company file of the year’s data. The last thing you want is to lose access to important accounting data from the year. Your accountant will also need access to your company file in order to make any necessary year-end adjustments and to file taxes.

Step 17: Close Your Books

Once you’ve completed every step and checked off each part of your Year-End Checklist, you can officially close your books! Luckily, accounting software makes this process easy.

When you close your books or set a lock date, users won’t be able to edit or add transactions that occurred before the closing date. Most often, the business owner will set a password so that only admin and accountants can access previous transactions. This helps your accountant double check that everything is up-to-date and make adjustments if needed.

If you are using Quickbooks, you can follow these steps to close your books. If you are using Xero, you can set a lock date for your account. Most accounting programs will have a similar feature, which you can search for in their help center, or you can talk to your accountant and have them do this for you.

What Comes Next?

Once you’ve closed your books, be sure to get your company file and all necessary reports to your accountant so they can make any adjustments and start calculating your small business’s tax deductions.

Now that you’ve closed your books, keep the momentum going and start preparing for tax season. Don’t let April 15th sneak up on you. Instead, find out How to Get the Most Out of Your Accounting Software This Tax Season and check out our complete Tax Prep Checklist. Take time as well to read What Can I Write Off As A Small Business Tax Deduction? You can find these tax resources and more on our Merchant Maverick blog.

Chelsea Krause

Chelsea Krause is a writer, avid reader, and researcher. In addition to loving writing, she became interested in accounting software because of her constant desire to learn something new and understand how things work. When she’s not working or daydreaming about her newest story, she can be found drinking obscene amounts of coffee, reading anything written by C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury, kayaking and hiking, or watching The X-Files with her husband.

Chelsea Krause

“”

Small Business Sales Tax Guide

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Before you started your small business, you probably only thought of sales tax as a pesky total on the bottom of your receipts—the thing that changed your nice round price into something bizarre. (The Dollar Store doesn’t really work when it’s the $1.07 Store.) But now that you’re a small business owner, understanding sales tax is necessarily a lot more complicated.

In this article, we’ll explain the basics of small business sales tax and what you need to do to get your company legally set up to collect sales tax. By using this article as a starting point, you’ll understand the confusing concept of small business sales tax in no time.

Table of Contents

Understanding The Basics

Before we discuss how to set your company up to collect sales tax legally, we wanted to cover a couple of important basics and some common FAQs about sales tax. If you’ve ever had questions about sales tax, you’ve come to the right place.

What Is Sales Tax?

Sales tax is a government tax on the sale of goods and services.

In Which State(s) Do I Have to Collect Sales Tax?

You must collect a sales tax in any state where you have a nexus.

What Is A Nexus?

We’re glad you asked. In the original sense of the word, a nexus is a connection. When talking about sales tax, a nexus is a legal term that means you’ve created a sufficient physical presence in a state. Once a nexus is established, you are required to pay sales tax on any items sold in or shipped to that state (with the exception of Oregon, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, and New Hampshire, which do not impose a sales tax).

How Is A Nexus Created?

You may have a sales tax nexus in states where:

  • You have an office or other property
  • You have a storefront
  • You have employees (including salespeople and remote workers)
  • You have a warehouse
  • You attend a tradeshow (or other events)
  • You use drop shipping

For example, let’s say my company is headquartered in California, but I also have an inventory warehouse in Washington. That means I would have a nexus in both California and Washington and must collect and pay sales tax in both states.

Each state has slightly different rules about what constitutes a sales tax nexus, so be sure to contact a state’s sales tax authority directly if you think you may have a nexus there.

If you’re still confused about what constitutes a nexus, you can read about it in more detail in the Tackling Taxes section of our Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store ebook.

How Do I Determine Which Sales Tax Rate To Charge My Customers?

Sales tax rates vary by state, county, and even city. And some states—Oregon, Alaska, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Montana—don’t even have sales tax. So how do you know which rate to use?

First, you have to determine the address on which to base the sales tax rate.

If you are selling items from a storefront, your sales tax rate will be based on your store’s address. If you are shipping items, the sales tax rate will be based on the address you’re shipping the items to (not the address you ship goods from).

As we mentioned above, you only have to charge sales to customers when you are selling items in or shipping items to a state where you have a sales tax nexus. So if you are shipping items to a state where you don’t have a sales tax nexus, then you don’t have to worry about sales tax.

Once you’ve determined the proper address to use, all you need to do is consult the state’s sales tax agency to find the sales tax rate for that state, county, and city. (Most states offer a tool that allows you to look up sales tax rate by address online.)

Here is a list of all 50 states’ tax agencies. For most states, the appropriate tax agency will be the Department of Revenue. If you operate out of California, you’ll want to go to the Board of Equalization.

How Much Sales Tax Should I Charge My Customers?

Once you’ve determined the proper sales tax rate (as explained in the section above), you can use this formula to calculate your actual sales tax:

Total Cost x Sales Tax Rate = Sales Tax Total

Let’s do an example. My customer spent $49.95 at my store in California. The sales tax rate is 7.5%. How much sales tax do I charge?

I’ll put the total cost and sales tax rate into our formula.

$49.95 x 7.5% = ?

Since we’re working with a percentage, we have to move the decimal to the left two spaces. So we’re calculating:

$49.95 x .075 = ?

Multiply.

$49.95 x .075 = $3.746

Round to the nearest ten. Now you should have $3.75 as your sales tax amount. Simply add this amount to your total cost (in this case $49.95) and voila! You have the correct price to charge your customer.

$49.95 + $3.75 = $53.70

Luckily for you, you don’t need to manually calculate sales tax. While knowing the principles of sales tax calculation is important, almost all POS and accounting programs do the math for you, and there are plenty of tax software options that can help too. We’ll cover these in more detail later.

What If I Sell Products Online?

Things get trickier when it comes to online sales tax. The sales tax laws for each state were originally created with the brick and mortar store in mind, so figuring out the correct procedures for online sales tax can be a bit difficult.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to make this easier. In our eBook The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store, we devoted a whole section to the basics of eCommerce sales tax. We also recommend TaxJar’s complete Sales Tax Guide for eCommerce Sellers to online sellers who want to learn the nitty-gritty details of online sales tax.

Preparing Your Company To Collect Sales Tax

A lot more goes into charging sales tax than just figuring out the appropriate sales tax rate. You’ll need to take the proper legal measures to ensure your small business is set up to collect and pay sales tax.

Here are four simple steps you’ll need to follow before you can legally charge sales tax:

Step 1: Learn Your State’s Sales Tax Rules

Above all else, be sure to learn the sales tax rules of every state in which you have a nexus. Each state has different laws, which makes this research imperative. Go directly to your state’s official sales tax agency for the most accurate information.

Again, here is a list of all 50 states’ tax agencies. As I mentioned above, for most states, the appropriate tax agency will be the Department of Revenue. If you operate out of California, you’ll want to go to the Board of Equalization.

Take note of the state sales tax rate, county sales tax rates, city sales tax rates, and sales tax exemptions. Check and see if your state offers an online “lookup sales tax by address” tool. And don’t forget to make sure you’re up-to-date on your state’s specific sales tax laws.

Many of these cites will also have small business learning resources about sales tax. Be sure to take advantage of the resources offered by each state.

Step 2: Register For A Sales Tax Permit

You’ll need to register for a sales tax permit everywhere you have a business nexus. To register for a sales tax permit, go to the appropriate tax agency.

Some states may charge a fee for a sales tax permit. Read this post, Which States Charge A Fee to Register for a Sales Tax Permit?, to get an idea of how much you’ll be expected to pay.

If you need additional help, TaxJar has a comprehensive How to Register for a Sales Tax Permit post where they break down the registration process state by state. The post covers how to apply, the information you’ll need to apply, the cost of the application, the state’s sales tax permit renewal policy, and more.

Step 3: Collect & Record Sales Tax

Once you’re officially registered to collect sales tax in a state, you can start collecting and recording sales tax. We recommend talking to your accountant about using accounting software to keep track of your sales tax records.

Accounting software can help you:

  • Keep good records
  • Charge sales tax to customers
  • Automatically calculate sales tax totals on invoices
  • Provide important sales tax reports

Many accounting software programs also integrate with key tax software players like Avalara and TaxJar.

If you need help deciding on an accounting software, check out the top-rated accounting software programs in our accounting comparison chart or visit our comprehensive accounting software reviews for more details.

Step 4: Pay Your Sales Tax

Depending on the state(s) in which you’re registered to collect sales tax, you may be paying your sales tax monthly, quarterly, or yearly. After you complete your Sales Tax Permit registration, you should receive information about when sales tax payments are due and where to go to make these payments.

If you are unsure, contact your state’s sales tax agency directly.

Final Thoughts

We know that was a lot of information, but sales tax is one topic you don’t want to play fast and loose with. That’s why, when it comes to sales tax, we recommend that you consult your accountant.

While online resources and accounting programs can help point you in the right direction, your professional accountant is the ultimate authority on sales tax. Your accountant knows how to properly prepare your small business to collect sales tax and will ensure that you’re charging the appropriate rate.

We hope this overview gives you a basic understanding of sales tax and a clear idea of how to get started collecting it. Best of luck and happy selling!

Chelsea Krause

Chelsea Krause is a writer, avid reader, and researcher. In addition to loving writing, she became interested in accounting software because of her constant desire to learn something new and understand how things work. When she’s not working or daydreaming about her newest story, she can be found drinking obscene amounts of coffee, reading anything written by C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury, kayaking and hiking, or watching The X-Files with her husband.

Chelsea Krause

“”

How Can I Get A Bank Loan For My Business If I’ve Had A Bankruptcy?

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Bankruptcy shouldn’t be taken lightly. Aside from asset forfeiture, the shock to your credit rating is the main disincentive to filing bankruptcy. Prospective filers are cautioned that they’ll have a hard time accessing credit for up to a decade. While there’s some truth to these warnings, the worst case scenarios are also a bit overblown.

It’s possible to get bank loans after a bankruptcy, but you may have to work a bit harder to get them and approach the process with an open mind. We’ll look at some of the questions you should ask and strategies you can pursue below.

Table of Contents

What Happens To My Credit Score?

Even after bankruptcy, your credit rating will be one of the biggest determining factors in whether or not a bank will lend to you.

While you might assume bankruptcy completely destroys your credit, the truth is a bit more complicated. You can expect a bankruptcy to shave a hundred or two points off your credit rating which, of course, isn’t great. How negatively impacted your credit is will depend on the amount of debt being discharged and how many accounts are delinquent, as well as how many accounts are current. In fact, depending on how bad your credit was at the time you declared bankruptcy, it’s not impossible that your credit might slightly improve.

The bankruptcy will stay on your record for seven to 10 years, but your credit can begin to improve immediately.

How Can I Improve My Credit Score After Bankruptcy?

There are a number of different ways to improve your credit. Some of them apply to everyone, others more specifically those with bankruptcies on their record.

  • Get A Secured Credit Card: Unlike regular credit cards, secured credit cards require a cash payment as collateral. In fact, that deposit serves as your credit line. It’s not a great deal, but it will help rebuild your credit and offer the functionality of a credit card.
  • Pay Your Bills On Time: This is pretty obvious, but keeping your accounts current will help.
  • Use Only A Fraction Of The Credit You Have: Keep your balances small (somewhere below 25 percent of your available credit).
  • Take Out Loans and Keep Payments Current: Availability will vary based on your credit rating. We’ll be looking at some options below.
  • Use Alternative Lenders: Many alternative lenders cater to individuals and businesses with bad credit, just be aware that some of them won’t work with a borrower who recently declared bankruptcy.
  • Consider A Hard Money Loan: If you’re looking at a short-term real estate investment, hard money provides a risky way to get financing with bad credit.
  • Wait: On the bright side, the farther you get away from the date of your bankruptcy, the less impact it will have on your credit rating.

What Loans Are Available?

Lending is a gamble, but there are lenders willing to take a bigger risk in exchange for a potentially larger payday. Believe it or not, it’s possible to get a personal loan almost immediately after you declare bankruptcy. Business loans aren’t off the table either, although you may have to jump through additional hoops to prove the creditworthiness of your business plan.

The bad news is that you’re probably going to be paying through the nose for any credit that’s extended to you. But if you’re judicious about how much you borrow and don’t let a lot of interest accrue, you can still make good use of loans.

Since we’re looking specifically at bank loans, the good news is that they tend to be a bit more conservative when it comes to how much they’ll extend you and the length of the terms. Keep an eye out for any supplemental fees they charge on high-interest products.

Mortgages are a different story. It’s almost unheard of for a bank to offer a mortgage to a newly bankrupt customer. Depending on the type of mortgage you’re looking for, the waiting times can range from one to four years. If you’ve previously defaulted on a mortgage, your wait time is more likely to fall on the longer side of that range.

How Can I Find The Right Bank?

Not all banks have the same bankruptcy policies. Consider keeping your business and personal accounts with a bank or credit union willing to extend you credit. You’ll also want to gather as much information as you can about what products are offered to customers with a bankruptcy on their record.

Be wary of extremely high-interest rates and (especially) any monthly maintenance fees charged in addition to interest.

What If I’ve Filed Chapter 13?

Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcies, Chapter 13 bankruptcies last several years while your business undergoes restructuring. During this time, you’ll have trustee-enforced restrictions on how you can borrow.

Final Thoughts

As big an impact as a bankruptcy has on your life and business, it’s by no means the end of the line in terms of getting credit. Just be patient, weigh your options carefully, and don’t get taken advantage of.

Chris Motola

Chris Motola is an independent writer, journalist, programmer, and game designer who has mastered the art of using his laptop in no fewer than 541 positions, most of them unergonomic. When he’s not pushing keys or swiping screens, he’s probably out exploring urban or natural environs, experimenting in the kitchen, or delighting/annoying his friends with his ideas and theories.

Chris Motola

“”

8 Alternative Crowdfunders To Fund Your Business

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alternative crowdfunders

When we survey the socio-economic landscape for entrepreneurs, two seemingly incongruous things stick out. First, recent economic data indicates that the rate of startup business creation in the US is near its 40-year low. Second, over this past decade — the very decade that has seen a nadir in entrepreneurship — young companies have raised billions of dollars from (mostly) ordinary people through crowdfunding campaigns. In fact, Kickstarter (the biggest rewards crowdfunding platform) has facilitated the raising of $3.4 billion since its birth in 2009.

From these facts, we can deduce that entrepreneurship is widely popular among Americans in 2017, if only as a spectator sport and not a participatory one. What also becomes clear is that people can be readily persuaded to financially support new businesses if they stand to benefit from that support!

If you’re building a new business at this moment in history, you may well be considering giving crowdfunding a go. You’ve probably heard of the “big three” crowdfunding giants: Kickstarter (see our review), Indiegogo (see our review), and GoFundMe (see our review). However, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to seek out an alternative crowdfunder. Maybe you’ve read accounts of how the process of crowdfunding on Kickstarter has become unduly influenced by investor-backed campaigns and crowdfunding agencies. Or perhaps you want to be able to offer rewards to your backers in a different way than the Big Three allow. Maybe you want to give people rewards on a continuing basis and not just once. Maybe you want to give donors equity in your company instead of a mere gadget or trinket.

The point is, there’s no one right way to do crowdfunding. Different crowdfunding platforms may have more to offer you than others, depending on your particular business type. The following alternative crowdfunders may help you tap the coffers of The Crowd in a different manner than the more established platforms.

Table of Contents

patreon

Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to refer to Patreon (see our review) as an “alternative” crowdfunder, considering their rising popularity and outsized public profile in the creative industries. However, their approach to crowdfunding still stands as unique. Patreon was founded in 2013 by a musician who was frustrated by the lack of ways for up-and-coming artists to effectively monetize their work. He saw his friends set up Kickstarter campaigns for support with one artistic project, then struggle to come up with a rationale to launch a second Kickstarter campaign for their next endeavor. Seeing an opportunity to offer a more rational crowdfunding model for creatives who release content continuously, he started Patreon.

Unlike Kickstarter and just about every other rewards crowdfunding platform, Patreon operates almost like a subscription service for artists and other content creators. People who like your work can sign up to financially support you on either a per-month or per-creation basis. In exchange, they get access to exclusive content that you make available only to your paying followers, whether it be an LP, drawings, videos, podcast episodes, or just about anything else under the sun.

Patreon takes 5% of the money you raise in fees, which is pretty much the standard rate in rewards crowdfunding. Unfortunately, an additional ~5% goes to the payment processor, which is more than Kickstarter’s payment processing fee rate of approximately 3%. For most creatives on the site, however, the convenience of not having to launch a whole new campaign for their every endeavor makes Patreon quite the cost-efficient prospect nonetheless. What’s more, Patreon is more relaxed than many crowdfunders when it comes to permitted content, allowing for a wider spectrum of expression than the competition. From the political irreverence of Chapo Trap House to the various hentai artists using the platform (not gonna include any links here, sorry), Patreon supports content creators other crowdfunders might shy away from.

Read my Patreon review if the idea of long-term crowdfunding sounds appealing.

fundrazr

You may not have heard of Fundrazr (see our review), but, as it happens, it is Canada’s largest crowdfunding platform. It might not have the name recognition of some of its larger competitors south of the 49th parallel, but this rewards crowdfunder has some distinct advantages for certain kinds of businesses.

First off, FundRazr doesn’t pre-screen campaigns before allowing them to fundraise, nor does it limit the duration of your campaigns. It also permits you to keep whatever you raise even if you don’t reach your funding goal. These are three things Kickstarter doesn’t allow. What’s more, FundRazr’s fees match those of most of the crowdfunding industry (5% to the platform with an additional ~3% for the payment processor), so you’re not paying extra for this flexibility.

Another unique feature offered by FundRazr is Crowdfunding As A Service. If you choose to use this, you can host funding campaigns on your own website, under your brand, not that of FundRazr. Essentially, this turns FundRazr into a white label crowdfunder. Hosting crowdfunding campaigns for people in your community under your business’s name can provide your brand with a nice image boost.

Check out our FundRazr review to see if what’s good enough for Canada is good enough for your business.

kiva logo

What if there were a way to get crowdfunded support for your business in the form of a loan instead of a gift premised on future rewards? What if I were to tell you that these loans come with 0% interest? Does this sound too good to be true? Well, Kiva U.S. (see our review) shows that this concept is indeed a reality.

Kiva U.S. is a nonprofit P2P (peer-to-peer) small business microlender whose funding campaigns resemble those of other crowdfunding sites, except in this case, your backers are lenders who chip in to offer you a loan. Kiva U.S. operates on the principle of “social underwriting,” meaning that your loan-worthiness depends not on your credit score (Kiva U.S. doesn’t even check your credit score) but on the trust of the community. The hope is that you’ll be motivated to stay in the good graces of the community, which is especially important if you decide to seek a second loan from said community!

Of course, you’re getting a loan, not a gift, so you’ll have to pay the money back if you don’t want Kiva telling the business credit agencies of your misdeeds. However, these loans carry no interest whatsoever. Neither are there any origination fees. You are only responsible for paying back the principal. You can raise as little as $25 to as much as $10K. For the right type of business, it’s a remarkable funding deal.

Read our Kiva U.S. review if the idea of interest-free loans for your business appeals to you.

crowdfunder

With the most generic name in the crowdfunding industry, Crowdfunder (see our review) is far from a generic crowdfunder. In fact, Crowdfunder is a pioneer in the field of equity crowdfunding. Equity crowdfunding is a form of investment in which your backers are investors who fund you in exchange for equity in your company, not gadgets or other exclusive content. Equity crowdfunding has only recently become legal thanks to the passage of the JOBS Act in 2012.

Crowdfunder lets you raise money from accredited investors (this term refers to people with high incomes and/or significant wealth and doesn’t necessarily denote any particular skill in investing). This is a crowd that likes to keep a pulse on the next big thing, so if your new business is one of the rare startups with exponential growth potential, Crowdfunder’s investors may well want to get in on the action.

Crowdfunder is unique in other ways as well. Crowdfunder doesn’t collect the funds pledged to your venture — you have to collect the funds offline from the investors themselves. Accordingly, neither Crowdfunder nor any payment processor takes a cut of what you raise. However, you will need to purchase a subscription package in order to fundraise on the platform. Crowdfunder’s monthly subscription packages start at $449 per month.

It’s not for everybody, but Crowdfunder’s unique flavor of equity crowdfunding holds great potential for the right kind of business. Read our Crowdfunder review for more information.

Ulele bills itself as the “the 1st European crowdfunding site” though they host campaigns from North America and Australia as well. Ulele strives to lend a human touch to rewards crowdfunding, offering personalized coaching to all Ulele project creators, which (according to Ulele) has produced a 68% funding success rate for projects on the site. Ulele claims that this is a “record rate among international mainstream crowdfunding platforms.”

Ulele maintains a consistently bright and cheerful feel throughout the site, and its focus is on fashion, design, games, music, and art. Ulele is worth considering as a crowdfunding platform if you have items of value to offer as rewards that might have a particular appeal to the European market, as Ulele is more of a known entity there. As for fees, Ulele charges 6.67% of all funds received by credit card and 4.17% of all funds collected via check or PayPal.

fundable

Fundable (see our review) is a hybrid crowdfunding platform in that its hosts both rewards- and equity-based crowdfunding campaigns. Not just anyone can start a campaign on this site — as with Kickstarter, Fundable pre-screens all campaigns to determine their suitability for crowdfunding. Another trait it shares with Kickstarter is the fact that the funding campaigns are all-or-nothing. If you don’t reach your funding goal, you collect $0, and you do not pass Go.

Instead of charging a platform fee on what you raise, Fundable charges a flat monthly fee of $179. Unfortunately, this means that you can end up in the red if your campaign doesn’t hit its marks. And while Fundable charges a fee of about 3.5% for payment processing for rewards campaigns, it does not do so for equity campaigns, because all payments are made offline from the investor to the campaigner in a Fundable equity campaign.

There’s something of an air of exclusivity around Fundable, but certain businesses may stand to benefit from this unique platform. For instance, you can start off with a Fundable rewards campaign, and if you’re successful, you can use your success to demonstrate the appeal of your product to investors and pivot to an Equity campaign without having to go to another service.

Check out our Fundable review if you’re intrigued.

wefunder

The other equity crowdfunding platforms I’ve covered thus far have been for accredited investors (i.e. rich investors) only. Wefunder (see our review) is different. It is, by a significant margin, the largest equity crowdfunding platform that lets non-accredited investors (everyone) invest in your business. Sometimes referred to as Regulation Crowdfunding, Wefunder is the one company that has figured out how to do it right.

Regulation Crowdfunding has only existed since May 2016, when the provision of the JOBS Act authorizing it finally took effect. It’s fair to say that the kinks are still being worked out. However, if you want to get in on this new field and feel like a pioneer, Wefunder is the platform to go with. It does charge $195 to launch your campaign, however. Wefunder also takes 7% of what you raise in fees. However, all payment processing fees are paid by the investors.

Read our Wefunder review if you want to get in on Regulation Crowdfunding.

kickfurther

So far, we’ve covered rewards crowdfunders, debt crowdfunders, and equity crowdfunders. However, Kickfurther (see our review) is difficult to even classify! Truly an alternative crowdfunder, Kickfurther is entirely unique in that instead of raising money in exchange for rewards or equity shares, you offer your backers the chance to purchase inventory on consignment. Your backers also get their own Kickfurther-branded online store in which they can sell your products.

It’s an odd arrangement, so I’ll try to explain it using an example. Perhaps the most prominent project on Kickfurther was the Vaportini, a weird alcohol vaporizing system. If you backed the project, you were offered a 16% return on your investment in the event that 88% of the inventory is sold. To be sure, it’s an odd system, but if you like the idea of having your backers help finance your inventory purchases and having some of them sell your product online, you might want to look into Kickfurther.

One caveat for backers: Kickfurther doesn’t appear to do a good enough job ensuring that backers get paid what they’re due. In fact, a comment was left on my review from one of the backers of the Vaportini, claiming that the company took their money and defaulted on the payback “with no enforcement, follow up, or communication from Kickfurther.” I found other reports from backers of Kickfurther projects with similar stories. Bottom line: Kickfurther may be an interesting prospect for businesses with unique products to sell, but backers have ample reason to be wary of the platform.

Read our Kickfurther review if you’re interested in crowdfunded inventory purchases and/or alcohol vaporizers.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to take you beyond the Kickstarters and Indiegogos of the crowdfunding world to show you some of the innovative — and sometimes downright bizarre — crowdfunders out there doing it their own way. There’s no “right” way to conduct a crowdfunding campaign. It all depends on the type of business you own and the sort of product, service or experience you have to offer. Know your options, then dive in and give it a shot!

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is a writer, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from San Diego. A native Californian who enjoys the beach, Jason nonetheless prefers to do his surfing on the World Wide Web, the raddest wave of them all. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers

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404 Page Best Practices, Ideas, & Examples

It’s an annoyance for site owners and visitors alike – the 404 page. A visitor types in a URL or clicks a link and expects to land on a certain page, but they get this instead…

404 error

It’s frustrating, but it’s also a part of life on the web. Mistakes will be made, and error messages will be seen.

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In fact, you can turn your website’s error page (also known as a 404 or Page Not Found error) into a positive experience for your visitors.

But before we get there, let’s cover a few of the basics.

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 is the error page your server shows when it cannot find the page someone is looking for on your site. It is also known as a Page Not Found error, because it is shown when a specific page within a live website cannot be found (if the entire website were down, a different error would show).

4o4 pages are usually shown when someone mistypes a web address, or if a page has been taken down and a redirect to a different page has not been set up.

Why does it matter?

A 404 error page is actually a necessity, because it lets a user know that whatever they’re looking for cannot be found.

And while a 404 page isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it shouldn’t be caused by your own internal links. This means that whenever you link to another page on your site, you should always be pointing to an actual page — not a “page not found” error code.

To make sure none of your internal links are rendering a 404 page, use Screaming Frog to do a scan of your site’s pages. You can also use the Chrome browser extension, Check My Links, to do a quick scan of the page you’re currently on. If you are specifically looking for Googlebot 404s, you can check your Search Console report.

link checker

But even if you have all of your ducks in a row when it comes to internal links, your website visitors are human. There’s always a chance of a URL typo that will bring up your 404 page. There’s also the possibility that others who link to your site may link to an outdated page that does not have a redirect, or may type the URL incorrectly, which will also render a 404 error.

As such, it’s important to have a page that clearly communicates the error and provides a good user experience (more on that in a minute).

When to Redirect vs. When to 404

Like anything on your website, the decision to implement a redirect (when you automatically send a user to a new page when they type in an old URL) or to show a 404 error page isn’t black and white. It all depends on user experience.

Let’s say you have a page that ranks high in search engines and includes a ton of external links to it. For some reason, you take it down. In this case, you’d probably want to create a redirect to something similar and reach out to the external linkers to get the links replaced with the new content.

In other cases, it may be better to use a 404 page because it clearly shows users the information that they’re expecting to see doesn’t exist. For example, if you expect to land on a blog post about the best dog toys for large dogs, but end up on the brand’s product page for dog toys instead, you’d probably be a bit confused (and maybe even frustrated).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into some 404 page best practices that you should be using on your own site.

Explain What’s Happening

Have you ever landed on an error page full of technical jargon like “Internal server error” or “File or directory not found”?

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Don’t make the same mistake on your 404 page. While a lot of error pages come with standard 404 messaging like “page not found” or “there’s been an error”, take the extra step to make sure the copy on the page is rid of technical website jargon and explains what went wrong.

REI

Ex: REI

Remember that a lot of searches aren’t even aware of what a 404 error is, which means it’s on you to break down what’s happening when they hit the error page.

Be Consistent with Your Brand

Out of the box 404 pages are rarely a thing of beauty. And while your page doesn’t need to be masterfully designed, it should fit in with your overall website design and brand voice.

To make sure it does, put some sort of branding on the page (or at least make sure your site navigation and logo appear at the top). You’ll also want to be sure that any additional elements on the page (like photos, colors, and fonts) fit with your site’s color palette.

Reddit

Ex: Reddit

When it comes to the actual copy on the page, keep it warm and welcoming. A 404 error shouldn’t be a disaster, and your copy should make that clear. You’ll also want the copy to match with your overall vibe (i.e. if you’re cheeky on the rest of your site, be cheeky here).

Give Them Somewhere to Go

The last thing you want someone to do when they land on your 404 page is hit the back button. Unfortunately, this happens all the time.

Why? Because there’s nowhere to go! Take this error from Bank of America. There’s no action to take but to reload the page or head back to wherever you were before this page.

Bank of America

Don’t fall into this trap. Make sure your 404 page invites people to go somewhere else on your site. A standard practice is to leave a link to the homepage at the very least, so users can navigate to the start of your site. It can also be good to include a search bar so users can search for exactly what they were looking for when they initially landed here.

MailChimp

Ex: MailChimp

But Don’t Overwhelm

You want to give users an option of where to go from your 404 page — but this doesn’t mean dump every link you have on them and make them choose without any context.

To ensure your 404 page provides a good user experience, limit the links on the page to a few key ones, like your homepage and contact page. No matter which links you choose, make sure you include the homepage for those users who aren’t totally sure what they’re looking for yet.

Litmus

Ex: Litmus

Get Creative

A great 404 page can be the opportunity to change a visitor’s feeling about their whole experience with you. You can take a user from frustrated to satisfied just by using a bit of creativity on your page.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to weave a bit of humor into it. Take this clever 404 page from LEGO, which uses Legos to convey the error.

LEGO

Keep in mind that however you represent the error on your page, it needs to fit with your overall brand. For example, if you’re an attorney, you may not want to make jokes on your 404 page. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get creative! Take Chase as an example:

CHASE

They do a great job of adding a touch of creativity with their copy while still keeping things professional.

Looking for extra inspiration for your 404 page? Here are a few more that we love:

Bloomberg

This 404 page from Bloomberg animates a businessman destroying his computer and then combusting. The clever use of animation and humor make landing on this error page actually worth it!

LinkedIn

LinkedIn

You don’t have to be a creative genius to have a good 404 page. Sometimes simple is better. We like LinkedIn’s because it’s straightforward. The moving telescope is a nice touch, too.

NPR

NPR

NPR does a great job of giving the user the right number of options for a next step and adding a bit of humor with their stories about lost people, places, and things. Bonus points for adding a place to report the page as missing . This is a great way to make sure they’re accounting for non-user errors.

There’s always a chance of someone getting a 404 error on your website — it’s up to you to make the experience a good one.

Remember that your 404 page has the opportunity to change a user’s experience with you. It’s an excellent opportunity to take a frustrated visitor and turn them into a fan of your business.

At the very least, a good 404 page clearly explains the error, why it might be happening, and gives visitors a path to follow to continue interacting with the rest of the website.

To take your page up a notch, try weaving in some of your brand personality a bit more. Play with creativity and humor (if appropriate). You never know when a good 404 page can turn someone into a brand advocate or loyal customer.

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Homepage Best Practices, Ideas, & Examples

Ah, the homepage. If you’re like most website owners, you’ve put massive thought into making your front page look amazing.

But there’s a rhyme and reason behind homepage design… at least, there should be. Your homepage likely attracts the most visitors of any page on your site. It’s the front door to the rest of your content — and the rest of your business online.

Think about your own browsing habits. What happens when you have a bad homepage experience on someone’s website? You likely hit the back button ASAP.

So let’s talk about getting your homepage where it needs to be. Here are five homepage best practices you should follow, from how your copy should be written to how to give visitors next steps (with examples)!

Your homepage should…

Highlight Who You Are and What You Do

For many (but certainly not most) visitors, your homepage is their very first interaction with you. This means it needs to answer these two questions immediately: Who are you and what do you do?

There should be no doubt in a visitor’s mind that they’re in the right place when they hit your homepage. If they can’t identify who you are and what you have to offer in a matter of seconds, they’re going to bounce (and probably head to your competitors).

Dropbox

Who does it well: Dropbox

Vibe with Your Audience

There’s no point in dropping tons of bucks to design a homepage if it doesn’t resonate with your target audience — no matter how beautiful it is.

Your homepage should be all about your users, which means it needs to read the way they speak and have a design that gives off the right perceptions about your brand.

Keep your copy clean, straightforward, and rid of jargon that could confuse your audience. You’ll also want to make sure your design is clean, offers a great user experience, and gives off the emotions you want associated with your business.

For example, a bank may want to have a more professional feel and use colors that portray trust and reliability (like blue). In contrast, a doggy daycare may want to be more playful and fun and use bright colors, creative fonts, and animations.

Ellevest

Who does it well: Ellevest

Help Users Find What They’re Looking For

While your homepage is a huge source of new traffic, most of the time your homepage visitors come to your site knowing what they’re looking for. Why not give it to them in as simple a way as possible?

Your website’s navigation should be clearly visible at the top of your homepage and have logical paths to guide users to the next step. You can also include a website search, which gives users direct access to exactly what they’re looking for without having to click through multiple pages (this can be especially handy for ecommerce businesses who have tons of products).

Au Lit Fine Linens

Who does it well: Au Lit Fine Linens

Be Responsive

It’s not enough to have a homepage that looks great on a desktop. In today’s day and age, your website must be optimized for every type of device. A 2016 study by Hitwise saw mobile search made up approximately 58% of search queries — which means a significant portion of your traffic is coming from mobile devices.

But optimizing your homepage for mobile means more than just making sure your design fits the screen dimensions — it means the entire experience needs to be user-friendly for mobile users.

Your mobile homepage should be rid of anything that makes it cumbersome to navigate and use your site (like annoying pop-ups that are hard to close on a small screen). It should also load quickly and feature clear and simple navigation.

Kong

Who does it well: Kong Company

Tell People What to Do Next

If users get stuck on your homepage, it’s not doing its job. The page should be logical — which means it should have primary and secondary calls-to-action (CTAs) that help your users take the best next step depending on what they came to do.

Your primary CTA (the main action you want users to take) should be “above the fold”, which is designer jargon for “above where the page cuts off and a user has to scroll down”. Your secondary CTAs can sit lower on the page.

Keep in mind that while you don’t want users hanging out on your homepage forever, that doesn’t mean you should go into CTA overload. Stick to a few actions that your audience may want to take and make sure you cover all stages of someone’s “journey” with you (i.e. have an action for those who are ready to convert, and one for those who are simply looking to learn more about you).

HupSpot

HubSpot2

Who does it well: HubSpot

Need extra inspiration? Here are three more examples of homepages that hit it out of the park:

Design and User Experience

Milwaukee Ballet

The Milwaukee Ballet homepage immediately catches the eye with a beautiful video of dancers performing. The entire homepage hero slideshow is video, but it doesn’t overwhelm. In fact, it hits just the right vibe a ballet-lover would love: elegant, sophisticated, and fluid.

But perhaps the best part of this homepage is that the user experience doesn’t take a backseat to the design. The navigation is easy to find and use (search bar included), and the CTAs over the video slideshow are logical and clear.

Clear Value Proposition

KIND Snacks

KIND Snacks gets full marks for its amazing tagline and value proposition. A visitor immediately understands what sets KIND apart as soon as they land on the homepage. Plus, the use of contrasting colors makes the whole page pop and immediately draws your eye to the product photo and tagline. Speaking of product photos… the KIND bar photo and secondary CTA photos are the level of quality homepage designers should be looking for. They do a great job of making the snacks look ultra-appealing.

Less is More

Lululemon

Remember that your homepage doesn’t need to be all things for your website. In fact, it needs to be one thing — the gateway to the rest of your site. Sometimes this means less is more, as is the case with Lululemon.

This minimalist homepage balances bold photos and colors with a clean design and straightforward navigation. There’s no doubt about what actions a user with a specific goal should take. Lululemon covers everything from trends, to different clothing categories, to gifts. They also do a great job of throwing in a value proposition at the top of their site to help reassure uncertain buyers: free shipping and free returns.

A great homepage draws in visitors and then keeps them on your site. This means the focus of your homepage shouldn’t be just a cool design — it should be on clearly communicating your value and next steps to your audience.

But keep in mind your homepage isn’t set in stone. In fact, it shouldn’t be! Your homepage should always be fresh to keep users engaged.

To be sure your homepage is delivering, keep an eye on how your it performs in Analytics. Look especially at the Bounce Rate to determine if people are leaving immediately after landing there. If the bounce rate is high, it could mean visitors can’t find what they’re looking for, or you haven’t sold them on your value proposition.

Most importantly, be flexible! If you think something isn’t working, hop in there and fix it. In fact, try that now. Head over to your homepage and identify one thing you could change, and do it.

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