What is VPS Hosting?

What Is VPS Hosting

VPS Hosting is a hosting product that dedicates specific server resources to a hosting account. VPS Hosting is used as a predictable hosting solution for high traffic or resource websites.

How VPS Hosting Works

VPS stands for “virtual private server”. A VPS server is a server that runs “virtualization” software which divides & dedicates the hardware resources to specific accounts.

Imagine real-world housing for a second. A VPS is kind of like a row of townhouses. They look like one shared structure. But when you look at the blueprints, every single townhome is separated from the rest all the way to the ground. There is no “co-ownership” of anything even though it’s all a single structure.

A VPS server might be a single server located in a single rack – but it behaves like multiple servers since everything from the memory to storage space to processing power is already allocated.

What VPS Hosting Is Used For

VPS Hosting is used for running consistently higher-traffic or more resource intensive websites at a predictable price. With a VPS server – you know exactly how many resources you have, regardless of the other accounts on your server.

If you know how many visits you receive, and how efficient your website is – then you can pay a locked-in price for those resources.

Often I’ll see publishers switch to a VPS hosting plan around 25,000 to 30,000 visits per month (that’s when I upgraded). For an ecommerce site, I’ll often see the switch happening around 10,000 visits per month.

Now – both of those numbers are not benchmarks. Your numbers can vary wildly depending on the exact specifications of your website. It always pays to check your own memory, bandwidth, and CPU usage on your hosting account’s cPanel page.

VPS Hosting Differences

VPS Hosting exists on a spectrum of hosting products. Here’s how it differs.

VPS Hosting vs. Shared Hosting

VPS Hosting offers dedicated resources rather than shared resources. It’s kind of like a townhome vs. a condominium. They are both private property within a building. But – with a townhome, everything is allocated. With a condominium, a lot more is shared.

With shared hosting, you have to share all of a server’s resources with the other websites on your server. This means that you can usually get a much better price than VPS – and you can usually get the same performance since the hosting company will work to keep the server load balanced.

However, a VPS hosting plan will offer more control and more freedom.

VPS Hosting vs. Dedicated Hosting

VPS Hosting offers dedicated resources on a single server that is shared with other accounts. Dedicated hosting offers the entire server for your use. You are basically leasing a server with support & top tier connection to the Internet.

VPS Hosting vs. Cloud Hosting

VPS Hosting offers dedicated resources on a single server whereas Cloud Hosting decentralizes your website files & databases across thousands of servers everywhere. With VPS Hosting, you pay for specific resources. With Cloud Hosting, you pay for use – though there are plans that provide a certain number of uses for a stable price.

It’s kind of like purchasing a townhome vs. having some sort of AirBnB subscription where you can stay anywhere, anytime, as long as you pay.

With Cloud Hosting, you basically have unlimited resources – but you pay for each use. With VPS Hosting, you pay a stable price for stable resources. It’s like an a la carte all you can eat buffet vs. ordering an entree for a single price.

Confusingly, many hosting companies mix and match the advantages and disadvantages of each. A common combination is to use Cloud Hosting as backup for VPS Hosting.

What To Look for in VPS Hosting

Since you are paying for dedicated resources, shopping for VPS Hosting is simpler than Shared Hosting in many ways.

You are really looking for –

  • Server Resources (memory, bandwidth, processors, etc)
  • Server Management Support (how much they’ll help with setup)
  • Server Management Software (does it come with pre-installed graphical software)
  • Data Center Location & Bandwidth Provider
  • Plan Bonuses (ie, automated backups, etc)

VPS Hosting Providers

I’ve used quite a few VPS Hosting providers both for my own projects and for clients. Here’s the main 4 companies that I’ve used & really liked. I receive customer referral fees, but all the data & opinion is based on my professional experience.

Name Best if you want… Features!
InMotion …great overall value, high resources w/ great customer support. See Features.
DreamHost …unlimited bandwidth w/ affordable pricing tiers. See Features.
LiquidWeb …very high performance w/ great customer support. See Features.
Digital Ocean …developer-focused platform w/ fast, global deployment. See Features.

I also created a more in-depth best VPS hosting guide with a quiz here.

Additionally, using a VPS host will not automatically solve your website speed issues. I wrote a Beginner’s Guide to Website Speed & Performance here.

The post What is VPS Hosting? appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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10 Strategies To Improve Cash Flow

10 Strategies To Increase Cash Flow

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know how important cash flow is. Cash flow is the mainstay of your business. Positive cash flow means you can successfully run and grow your business, and negative cash flow — well, that’s bad news.

But what do you do when you have negative cash flow? How do you increase your positive cash flow and get your business where it needs to be?

Cash flow is affected not just by bringing in more cash inflows, but also by limiting your cash outflows. This means you have to manage your expenses just as much as your sales. Read on for ten practical tips to help you improve your cash flow and get your business on the right track.

1. Send Invoices Right Away

Sales and invoices are the lifeblood of a small business. You can’t get paid if you don’t send invoices. Simple as that.

Make sure you stay on top of invoicing your customers. The quicker you send invoices out, the faster the cash comes in. If your current invoicing process is tedious, consider switching to a cloud-based accounting software with attractive, easy to create invoices. Software like QuickBooks Online and Zoho Books both offer great invoicing capabilities which can help you speed up your invoicing process and increase your cash flow.

Our comprehensive accounting software reviews cover QuickBooks products, Xero, Freshbooks, Sage, and more of the top cloud-based and locally-installed accounting solutions on the market today. If you want a quick peek at the top contenders, check out our accounting software comparison chart.

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2. Get Customers To Pay Invoices On Time

Another key to increasing your cash flow is getting your customer to pay their invoices on time. We know this is easier said than done, but there are plenty of practical strategies to increase the likelihood of getting paid faster. Here are some of our top invoicing tips:

Follow Up With Invoice Reminders

Make sure you remind your customers when their invoices are due. Send email reminders a few days before the invoice is due, the day the invoice is due, and a few days after. If they still haven’t paid, give them a call and continue sending reminders. Many accounting programs have built-in invoice reminders that you can automatically send to late paying customers.

Give Your Customers Incentives

Consider offering a discount to customers who pay their invoices before a certain time. If your invoice terms are Net 30 (due 30 days after the invoice is sent), but you really want your customers to pay their invoices in the first week they receive the invoice, offer a small discount. Customers looking for a deal will be more likely to pay their invoices faster, which means you get cash faster.

Charge A Late Payment Penalty

Another key to successful invoicing is having a strong invoicing policy. Choose a consistent time when invoices are due (ex. due upon receipt, Net-15, Net-30, etc) and stick to it. Have a late payment penalty in place for customers who exceed the due date. Not only will this help increase your chances of getting your money, it will also set you apart as a professional.

When it comes to late payment penalties, be upfront about the penalty, when it will be charged, and how much will be charged. You can often include this in your terms and conditions section on your invoice. Do some research on what a normal late penalty policy looks like for your industry before implementing.

Consider Invoice Factoring

If the above strategies don’t work or you need cash right away, another option is invoice factoring. Invoicing factoring is the process of selling your unpaid invoices to a company in exchange for immediate cash. The factoring company takes a small cut of the money you earn, but the payoff is that you aren’t stuck waiting on customers.

Invoice factoring can be a great cash flow solution, as can invoice financing. Check out one of our favorite invoice factors, BlueVine, to learn more. Or take a look at Fundbox, an invoice financer, for an alternative solution.

3. Increase Prices

If you are hurting for cash flow, it may be time to consider increasing the prices for your products or services. Ask yourself:

  • What are my competitors charging?
  • Have the prices for equipment or inventory increased?
  • How much manpower does my inventory assembly or services require?
  • Do my prices outweigh the time put into my creating my products?
  • Are my prices too low? Do my products come off as cheap or valuable?

You want to strike a balance between keeping your prices competitive and fairly compensating the hard work you and your employees do. At the end of the day, you want to make sales, but you also want to make a profit. If your prices are too low, you may be selling yourself short. In some cases, lower prices can also make your company seem less qualified.

4. Expand Sales Market

Another solution to increasing positive cash flow is to brainstorm new sources of income. Get the dream team together, sit down with some coffee, and consider new ways to expand your sales market. Here are a few new sales possibilities to get the ideas rolling.

Add New Services Or Products

Think about the current items or services you offer and consider if there are other items or services you think would be a good addition to your business. Think outside of the box and consider alternate ways to earn income as well.

Maybe your coffee shop starts offering homemade lemonade for the summer; maybe your event planning service adds a cleaning service to maximize on business; maybe your office rents out its large outdoor space for parties and events on the weekends when it’s not in use. Whatever it is, get creative about new ways your business can generate income, which will in turn and increase cash flow.

Create A New Marketing Strategy

Maybe the products you offer are spot on, but your marketing could be expanded. Think of new ways to get the word out about your business. Consider if there are any other groups of people that could benefit from what your business offers. Bringing in more customers is a great way to bring in more cash flow.

Encourage Customers To Buy More

Another great way of improving cash flow is getting your existing customers to spend more. There are two great ways to do this:

  • Bundle Items: Sell similar items together to encourage increased spending.
  • Advertise Related Products: If you use an eCommerce platform, advertise additional products that the buyer “may be interested in” or that “others also purchased.”

Both of these can be great ways to expand your existing sales (rather than having to expand a whole sales market). If you want to start advertising related products or selling your products online, check out our top eCommerce recommendations.

Don’t Forget Your Loyal Customers

Another great way to expand your market is by letting happy customers do it for you. Encourage loyal customers by offering discounts to loyal customers or implementing rewards programs, like stamp cards, for multiple purchases. Also, consider implementing a referral program. This way you can encourage your loyal customers to grow your business for you through word of mouth.

5. Reevaluate Operating Expenses

Managing cash flow isn’t just about getting more cash to come into your business. It’s also important to reduce the cash going out of your business as much as possible. Here are five tips for reducing your business’s operating expenses, so you have more cash to spare.

Cut Out Unnecessary Expenses

Take a careful look at your cash flow statement and analyze your company’s business expenses. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are these expenses necessary?
  • If they are necessary, is there a cheaper alternative?

Carefully consider your current expenses. Cut out any that are unnecessary and try to minimize the necessary expenses as much as you can. It may seem difficult to do, but you (and your wallet) will feel much better knowing that you’re managing your cash flow and expenses effectively.

Streamline Your Business Processes

Another important aspect of managing your cash flow is making sure your business is running as efficiently as possible. Focus on cutting time, not just costs. Analyze all of your current business processes and judge how efficient the current process is, and if there’s any way to speed up that process.

Maybe that means implementing accounting software to send invoices faster or rethinking your employees’ inventory assembly process. By using time efficiently, you can get more done, spend less on wages, and avoid excessive overtime pay (which can put a huge dent in your business’s cash)

Purchase More Efficient Equipment

One way to increase your company’s speed and efficiency is to purchase better, updated technology and equipment. While it may cost a bit to purchase the equipment initially, you will save time which cuts back on wage expenses. This may also lead to increased production or the ability to take on extra projects, which leads to more incoming cash.

Looking for equipment financing? Check out our comparison of the top equipment financers for small business.

Ask Suppliers For Bulk Inventory Rates

Some vendors, especially those with whom you have a good relationship, may offer discounts for buying inventory in bulk. These can definitely be worth taking advantage of, so don’t be afraid to ask your suppliers if they have any deals.

Consider Leasing Equipment

If you don’t have the cash to flat out buy equipment or you don’t qualify for a working capital loan, it might be worth considering leasing equipment. You lose the advantage of having the equipment as a fixed asset for your business, but you gain lower monthly payments, which may be what you need to keep your cash flow in check.

6. Liquidate Old Inventory

Inventory is one of the largest business expenses you might encounter. You need inventory to make a profit, but you want to make sure the inventory you’re buying is actually selling. Carefully consider which products sell well and which you have a hard time turning over. Take a look at your sales patterns to see when your busy and non-busy sales times are and order inventory accordingly.

If you have any old inventory that you’re having a hard time getting rid of, consider liquidating the items. Any money coming in is better than no money.

7. Pay Vendors At The Right Time

Be strategic about when you pay your vendors. If your vendor offers a discount for paying early, be sure to pay in the time required time to save some money. If the vendor doesn’t offer a discount, pay when is most favorable for your business.

Say your bill is due on the June 1st. Your cash flow statement records show that May is a slow month for your business, but June has a history of higher sales. Pay your bill the last day it’s due so that you can report a positive cash flow for May.

If you need even more time to pay off bills, you can also consider paying with a business credit card. This way you can pay off the expenses over a period of time rather than all at once. Take a look at our business credit card reviews to find the right card for you.

8. Open A Business Savings Account

If you don’t have one already, open a business savings account where you can earn money on interest. This is a simple way to generate a bit of extra cash and it’s a smart way to ensure you always have a cash flow cushion for your business.

9. Consider A Cash-Back Business Credit Card

Using a cash back business credit card can be a strategic way to earn cash on your expenses. As long as you use the card wisely and can afford to make regular (if not full) payments each month, a cash back credit card is easy money. There are several great cash back rewards cards out there. Here are some of the best cash back business cards for small businesses.

10. Take Out A Small Business Loan

Another option to increase cash flow is to take out a short-term loan or line of credit. With a short-term loan, a lender gives you a lump sum of money that is paid back in regular installments over a short period of time. With a line of credit, a lender grants you a max borrowing amount that you draw from any time you need cash; payments are made only on the money used.

While the prospect of owing money may make you squeamish, there are several great reasons to take out a cash flow loan:

  • To expand your business
  • Purchase inventory
  • Take on a new, profitable project
  • Purchase new equipment
  • Unexpected expenses
  • To cover off-season slumps

If a loan sounds like a good cash flow solution for your business, check out our top small business lenders to find the right loan for you.

All of these tips can help you manage and increase your cash flow. Whether you decide to focus on increasing your sales, decreasing your expenses, gaining capital — or a mix of them all — you’re well on your way to increasing your cash flow and running a more successful business.

The post 10 Strategies To Improve Cash Flow appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals

When you scan or insert your debit or credit card at the mall or your local convenience store, you probably don’t put a lot of thought into what type of machine is reading and processing your payment. And really, why should you? To consumers, they’re all pretty much the same (except for maybe those machines that angrily beep at you to remove your card. Why is that sound so aggressive?) That said, if you’re a retailer and you’re not paying attention to what type of credit card machine you’re using, it could cost you. An unreliable or even just a slow machine can impact your bottom line. It’s imperative to know what you want and need from a credit card machine when you’re purchasing your hardware.

Let’s start out by defining some terms. This post will specifically talk about credit card machines and terminals as opposed to credit card readers. A credit card machine is a device that connects directly to or is integrated with your point of sale system, whereas a reader is a smaller, mobile device that generally connects to phones and tablets and can be used with an app.

While many terminals look similar (big buttons, a place to slide or insert your card etc…) there are a number of other features you should be looking for when you make your purchase.

Credit Card Machine Features

First off, you’ll need to make sure your machine is compatible with your processor. Some companies sell hardware that can only be used with their own processing plans. However, there are many universal options available that will sync up with any processor and will give you more flexibility. Some credit card processors will charge reprogramming fees for hardware not purchased directly, so keep this in mind. 

Your level of connectivity is also crucial as any downtime or lag that impedes your ability to process payments is going to have a significantly negative impact on your business. Most newer machines have both a phone and an internet connection and many are now equipped with wireless capabilities in case your landline connection fails or you are in a place where only WiFi is available.

You’ll also want to assess the type of payments you’ll be accepting. In this day and age, you will almost certainly need to process debit card payments, in which case you’ll want a PIN pad (either separately or built-in) for customers to type in their number. Depending on your industry, you may also need a device that handles EBT (electronic benefits transfer). If you’re accepting checks, you’ll want a device that can process them electronically — the same goes for gift cards if that’s an option your business offers. A more modern way to accept payment, like a tap terminal that allows customers to pay via their phone with a service like Google Pay, may also be advisable.

If you’re buying a new machine or terminal, you’ll almost certainly want to make sure that your system can accept EMV chip cards. These cards are becoming the standard in the industry (as of 2015) for their superior level of security; any quality processing machine should be compliant at this point.

What Do Credit Card Terminals Cost?

Now let’s get into what everyone is really interested in: the cost. Credit card machines are generally a bit more expensive than your standard credit card readers which simply hook up to a phone or mobile device. But, with that added expense, you’re also getting added security. To put it in broad terms, machines can run from anywhere between $50 for a bare bones terminal that simply takes card payments, to upwards of $500 depending on what features you want or need.

Each added feature will typically send the price a little higher. If you want to be capable of accepting mobile payments, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, expect a slightly higher cost. If you need a built-in printer for receipts, expect to pay a little more. If wireless capability is a must, that will also result in a slightly higher cost alongside the expense of a data plan. However, many companies offer payment plans and, depending on what services you’re signing up for, some companies run promotions where you can get hardware thrown in for free or at a discount.

Credit Card Hardware Options

When you’re shopping around for a credit card machine, you won’t be hurting for options. However, there are a handful of companies that you will want to check out.

Ingenico and Verifone have long been the gold standard in the credit card terminal industry, and for good reason. They both offer a wide variety of products that are reliable, durable, and competitively priced.

  • Ingenico: Chances are good you’ve used multiple Ingenico products, perhaps in just the past week. It’s difficult to recommend a specific item as they range from very basic readers with built-in PIN pads to others that accept virtually all forms of payment and can print directly all from a device small enough to fit in your hand. Ingenico’s products thrive on their user-friendliness, from set-up to the customer experience, and they have a highly-rated customer service department. Ingenico is also an international company with products that can function all over the world.
  • Verifone: Verifone is equally user-friendly and has an exceptionally sleek and modern interface in many of its credit card machines. Like Ingenico, they offer a wide range of products from a fully integrated POS to mobile and desktop devices. Verifone prides itself on the speed of its transactions and its versatility. The VX520 has been one of its most popular models and should be able to handle most small business needs for under $300. Verifone packs a lot into its devices and they are highly durable and built to handle large numbers of transactions.
  • Pax: Another company to keep an eye on in the credit card terminal game is Pax. While not as ubiquitous as Ingenico or Verifone, Pax is a cost-effective solution with many of the same features. Pax’s products are brightly colored and aesthetically pleasing. The S80 CounterTop terminal has an inbuilt contactless processor and can handle multiple payment types. Pax’s products offer speed and strong memory capabilities while featuring state of the art security measures. They also offer a wide variety of PIN pad options.

A current trend in the world of processing is fully integrated systems. These systems are ultra-modern with the ability to accept nearly any form of payment. They can connect to existing hardware but they’re also on the more costly side.

  • Poynt: Poynt has become a major player in the past few years. It currently offers a two-screen desktop system and a mobile device that allows customers to make payments from anywhere in your store. Poynt accepts gift cards, EBT, and mobile payments — among others — and has features like signature encryption, EMV, and a receipt printer built in. The system is incredibly simple to use and lets the customer see exactly what is happening with his or her transaction.
  • Clover: A similar product to Poynt is Clover Station, which also features a dual screen model. Clover has been extremely popular since its release. With Clover, you are locked into First Data processing, a fact that is still holding Clover’s devices back in our ratings here at Merchant Maverick. However, there’s still a lot to like with this hardware. The ability to customize your experience with Clover is a huge benefit and Station comes with 20 preloaded apps. There is also fingerprint log-in for employees to increase security. Clover accepts EMV cards and comes with an optional NFC printer, 4 GBs of memory, and access to the Clover app store.
  • Square: One of the newest integrated processing products on the market is Square Register. Square’s reputation and popularity speaks for itself and this rollout doesn’t disappoint. With the same dual-screen format as Poynt and Clover, customers can make payments seamlessly with a recognizable and simple interface. Square offers a simple and consistent plan for processing fees and pairs with existing hardware in seconds. You can literally be up and running in a matter of minutes once you’re registered with Square and it comes with a two-year limited warranty.

It’s likely that you’ll find multiple credit card machines that can offer you the functions and features you’ll need to successfully run your business. That’s why it’s important to go with a trusted company and a product that’s proven to be reliable. Having a credit card machine that processes payments quickly and runs smoothly is one less thing a busy merchant needs to worry about.

Final Thoughts

Make sure that you’re always staying on top of current payment trends. Hardware companies constantly update to make sure that their clients always have access to the latest technology. New ways to give and accept payment are constantly hitting the marketplace, and whether it’s a new app for making payments or the ability to accept crypto-currency, credit card terminals are adapting quickly and many low-cost credit card readers are now on the market as well. Hopefully, this post has made your credit card processing hardware search just a little easier. 

Want more information? Read our Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines and Terminals.

The post The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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15 Best Touchscreen POS Systems

touchscreen cash register

Touchscreens are everywhere, and the point-of-sale industry is no exception. Touchscreen POS systems are more intuitive and easy to learn than traditional legacy POS software, and many cloud-based systems employ the same kind of iPad and Android tablets that your employees already use every day at home. Whether you’re running a restaurant, a retail outlet, or another type of business, a modern touchscreen POS system helps keep your sales moving and your business data secure. Besides simple point-of-sale features, most of these cloud-based systems also have advanced reporting capabilities, business management features, and integrations with other popular business software.

Arguably, the only problem with touchscreen point of sale systems is that there are so many different products to choose from. Do you go with a proprietary-hardware solution like Clover, an Android POS system like Toast, an iPad POS like Revel, or an open-source POS like Vend? In my opinion, the most important consideration when choosing a touchscreen POS is not just iPad vs. Android. More important are your industry type, your specific business needs, and user reviews. To help you get started in your search, I’ve put together this list of my favorite highly rated touchscreen POS systems, sorted by industry. Most of these are iPad-based, though I included some Android and open-source options as well.

To make it easier to find the best touchscreen system for your business type, I’ve sorted the following 15 POS systems into restaurant, retail, and hybrid (systems that can be used for either restaurant or retail) categories. Be advised that the order in which I’m listing these excellent systems does not indicate their ranking.

Restaurant POS Systems

The following restaurant point of sale systems can be used by just about any type of food industry business, from drive-thrus to fine dining:

1. Breadcrumb

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts $99/month/location
  • Must use with Upserve payments (interchange plus $0.15 fee)
  • Multi-location support
  • Online ordering

breadcrumb by upserve pos logo

Cloud-based Breadcrumb POS by Upserve (see our review) is a highly versatile restaurant POS, suitable for full-service restaurants, take-out, delivery, bars, and multi-location eateries. With Breadcrumb’s acquisition by Upserve in 2016 (Breadcrumb was previously owned by GroupOn), the company has expanded its restaurant management infrastructure, making this POS a complete business management system for just about any type of restaurant.

Breadcrumb is not the cheapest restaurant POS in town, but nor is it short on features. Some of the system’s strongest features include table management, employee management, customer management, and tableside ordering. Breadcrumb also recently teamed up with GrubHub to offer online ordering and delivery (at the $249/month/location “Pro” subscription level).

One thing Breadcrumb users really like about this system is that it is specifically designed with restaurant employees in mind. While we find Breadcrumb to be a very solid all-around POS/restaurant management system, a couple potential downsides are 1) you can’t use your own merchant account (you need to use Upserve Payments) and 2) there are occasional issues with outages. Learn more in our Breadcrumb by Upserve review.

2. Toast

  • Android POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $79/month
  • Must use with Toast credit card processing
  • Multi-location support
  • Exceptional customer service

toast pos logo

Android-based Toast POS (see our review) is another robust, cloud-based POS system for restaurants. It can accommodate any size or type of restaurant, and features like tableside ordering, labor management, and inventory management make Toast a force to be reckoned with on both the front and back end. Toast is intuitive and easy to use for servers, while also providing detailed reporting, customer data, and menu options.

Although we love Toast’s strong feature set and the fact that it uses Android tablets instead of iPads (cheaper hardware costs, less of a theft risk), keep in mind that if you want every single feature Toast offers, it’s gonna cost ya. For example, online ordering, table management, delivery management, and gift card support all carry an extra monthly charge. You also can’t choose your own credit card processor to use with this POS and must use Toast’s in-house processor (which Toast users seem to like, at least). What really sets Toast apart from a lot of other cloud-based POS systems, however, is their excellent customer support – an indispensable quality in any POS, given the inherent complexity of a system that lets you take payments, process orders, and manage almost all aspects of your business.

3. TouchBistro

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with multiple payment gateways
  • Best for single-location businesses
  • Locally installed system (not cloud-based)

touchbistro POS

Elegant and easy to use, Ontario-based TouchBistro (see our review) has the distinction of being the top-grossing POS Application on Apple’s App Store in over 35 countries. TouchBistro is one of the few systems on our list that, while tablet-based, is not cloud-based; rather, your store data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPad or Mac.

TouchBistro is not a full “restaurant management system” like Toast or Breadcrumb, but it’s good at what it does, and can readily handle the POS needs of just about any size/type of eatery, from a food truck to a full-service restaurant. Since TouchBistro stores data on local servers, it’s probably best for single-location restaurants (if coordinating data between locations is important to you). Keep in mind, though, that you will need an internet connection to process credit cards.

Some great features of TouchBistro include table management, menu management, kiosk option, tableside ordering, split-payment option, bar tabs, and sales reports. Customer service doesn’t seem to be as responsive as some users would like, though 24/7 support via phone and email is included in the standard cost. TouchBistro is compatible with Mercury, Cayan, Moneris, PayPal and several other gateways.

4. Lavu

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month with annual contract or $79/month without
  • Can use in-house payment processing or BridgePay, Heartland, PayPal, Nets, or Vantiv Integrated Payments
  • Multi-location support
  • Option to install in-house server backup in case you lose your wireless connection

lavu pos logo

Lavu (see our review) is yet another highly popular iPad POS system for restaurants, used in more than 20,000 restaurant terminals across 88 countries.

Lavu is not the most advanced restaurant POS there is, but it is equipped to handle the needs of most small-to-medium restaurants (or cafes, bars, coffee stands, etc.). Some features that make this POS system a hit include its customizable table layout and menus, easy employee management, advanced menu management, and useful integrations. Lavu also has renowned customer service, which is included in the standard monthly fee. You can add both a loyalty program and gift cards onto your subscription for just $40 a month.

Customers have complained about occasional glitches with the Lavu software, but the company releases frequent updates to solve any bugs or complaints. Affordable and highly customizable, Lavu is a strong and growing contender in tablet POS systems for restaurants.

Retail POS Systems

The following POS systems are suitable for retail store establishments, such as clothing boutiques, toy stores, electronics shops, and many others.

5. Lightspeed Retail

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $99/month (billed annually)
  • Integrates with Vantiv Integrated Payments (Mercury), Cayan, and izettle
  • Multi-location support
  • Bike rental store add-on

lightspeed retail pos logo

Lightspeed Retail (see our review) is one of the most fully featured tablet POS systems out there for retail. While Lightspeed can support up to enterprise-level size businesses, this cloud-based system is ideal for small and medium-sized businesses that want powerful functionality — think unlimited inventory, integrated eCommerce, work order management, and customer relationship management. Lightspeed Retail also makes it easy to transfer inventory between different store locations.

Lightspeed is among the pricier systems on this list, and various integrations to extend its functionality, such as eCommerce, can make it even more expensive. So, it’s not going to be the right POS every business. But if you want a super robust POS that you can operate from any desktop browser (meaning, you don’t have to buy expensive iPad registers), Lightspeed Retail might just be right for you. The POS is especially suited for apparel businesses but can accommodate virtually any type of retail setup, including rentals.

Note that there are several Lightspeed products in addition to Lightspeed Retail. These include Lightspeed Onsite, Lightspeed Restaurant, and Lightspeed eCommerce.

6. Vend

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with Vantiv, PayPal, and Square
  • Multi-store support
  • Apple Pay-capable

vend pos logo

Vend (see our review) was actually the very first web browser-based POS system when it was introduced back in 2010. Today, it is still a big force to be reckoned with in the retail POS world, used by more than 20,000 businesses in 100 countries.

Cloud-based and scaleable for retail stores both small and large, Vend uses an HTML5 browser (such as Google Chrome), or an HTML5 iPad app, for all operations. If the internet goes down, Vend can keep operating locally using the cache and will sync back up with the cloud once the connection resumes. Being browser-based means you can run Vend on a PC, Mac, or iPad. Some features on Vend we really like include customer management, eCommerce, built-in loyalty program, inventory management, and a good selection of third-party software integrations. Vend doesn’t have as much functionality as a POS like Lightspeed or Revel – for example, Vend doesn’t have item modifiers – but it is cost-effective and a good choice for a store (or even chain of stores) that doesn’t need every single “business management” feature out there.

Note that Vend’s email support is free, but 24/7 phone support costs an extra $19 per month, unless you have the multi outlet subscription ($199/month billed annually).

7. Shopify POS

  • iPad POS system for retail (Also supports mobile sales on iPhone and Android phones)
  • Pricing starts at $9/month for mobile and Facebook sales, or $54/month to also include Retail Package for in-store sales
  • Integrates with Shopify Payments and many outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Instant syncing with your Shopify online store

shopify pos logo

Shopify (see our review) started as an online shopping cart for businesses who wanted an easy way to sell their products online. Eventually, Shopify extended their offering to include a POS system for in-person sales. As you might expect, Shopify POS does a great job integrating online and offline sales for retail businesses that also do eCommerce with Shopify.

Shopify’s pricing structure is a little convoluted, but the most important thing to know is that if you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll need to purchase the Retail Package, which costs $45/month on top of whatever other package you select — the $9/month Shopify Lite plan, the $29/month Shopify Basic plan, or another higher-tier plan. The Basic plan plus the Retail Package will cost $74/month and provide pretty much everything most retailers need for both online and in-store sales. You also have the option to get better credit card processing rates at higher price tiers.

Most Shopify POS features are comparable with other top iPad retail solutions, and they have strong customer service too. The thing that really sets Shopify apart is their seamless online/offline sales integration. So, if you already use Shopify for online sales or would like to, this might be the right POS for you.

8. Quetzal

  • iPad POS for independent fashion retailers
  • Pricing starts at $75/month per location
  • Integrates with Evo Payments International, Velocity, CardSmith, National Discount Merchant Services, Vantiv, and Moneris
  • Multi-store support (max. 10 locations)
  • Clothing/shoe matrix

With its exclusive focus on fashion retailers, Quetzal (see our review) is an iPad POS that’s tailor-made (ha-ha) for stores that sell clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. This aesthetically appealing system has a streamlined iOS aesthetic; the interface seriously looks like it could have been designed by Apple itself, and Quetzal even has an iTunes app that lets managers check in on their store from their Apple Watch. Quetzal also uses a compact, sleek register, Star Micronics’ mPOP system.

Of course, functionality is more important than aesthetics when it comes to a POS, but Quetzal doesn’t come up short in terms of function either. We like the clothing/shoe matrix, in-depth sales reports, “tag cloud,” loyalty program, employee leaderboard, and “sales thermometer,” in particular. At only $75/location price is right as well, especially as there is no charge for additional users or terminals. A couple downsides are that after setup and installation, customer support costs extra, and also there is no QuickBooks integration.

While it doesn’t have a huge marketshare of the overall retail POS segment, Quetzal’s niche focus makes it a functional, affordable, and visually appealing choice for emerging independent clothing brands.

Hybrid POS Systems

These POS systems are flexible in that they are equally suited to retail and restaurant environments. Service-based industries such as beauty salons, rental businesses, and hospitality businesses also often use hybrid POS systems.

9. Shopkeep

  • iPad POS for retail and quick serve restaurants
  • $69/month/register ($29/month/register for fourth register and beyond)
  • Integrates with Shopkeep Payments and outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Matrix inventory feature

shopkeep pos logo

Shopkeep (see our review) is an affordable and enjoyable-to-use POS system that runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud. Shopkeep is used in both retail and restaurant environments, and while it’s more feature-rich on the retail side of things, it will more than meet the needs of most quick-service/coffee carts/food truck businesses.

Some things about Shopkeep we especially like include its comprehensive register functionality, in-depth reporting suite, mobile app to view your business stats on the go, and unlimited inventory matrix (which includes raw goods management). Shopkeep also offers unlimited 24/7 customer support (though premium phone costs an additional $30 per month). This POS integrates with MailChimp for email marketing, QuickBooks for accounting, and BigCommerce for eCommerce.

Shopkeep is a wise choice for a small-to-medium retail business or restaurant that doesn’t need extensive restaurant-centric features like table management. Note that ShopKeep is currently only available on iPad but is in the works to make its service available on the Clover Station via a recent partnership with First Data.

10. Revel Systems

  • iPad POS for retail, restaurants, hospitality, and more
  • Supports numerous payment processors
  • Custom pricing based on industry and individual business needs
  • Multi-store support
  • Ethernet internet connection

revel systems logo

Revel Systems (see our review) is arguably the holy grail of iPad POS systems. Revel is powerful enough that franchises like Cinnabon use it, and flexible enough that it can support businesses in virtually any industry, from brewpubs to gas stations. It’s also the only iPad POS system that offers a “wired” ethernet connection for a faster an more reliable internet.

Revel POS pricing is determined by which industry-specific package you choose, but depending on your needs, you can expect to pay about $80 to $200/month per location. Myriad add-on applications and integrations extend Revel’s functionality to make it do just about anything you can imagine, though this naturally increases the system’s cost as well. Some of Revel’s more impressive features include its kiosk mode, digital menu board, and ability to accept mobile payments (including ApplePay, PayPal, Bitcoin, and others). Because Revel is so powerful and customizable, initial system setup can take a while.

Revel can manage multiple locations and up to 500,000 SKUs. It is optimized for mid-sized businesses, particularly busy quick-serve restaurants that can afford one of the best iPad POS’s money can buy.

11. ERPLY

  • Web browser/iPad/Android/Windows POS for retail and restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $200/month/location
  • Compatible with all big-name payment processors, (though currently promoting PayPal as a preferred processor)
  • Multi-store support
  • Strong inventory features

erply-logo

ERPLY (see our review) originated in 2009 as a retail POS system, though it has eventually expanded support to food service too, now offering food-centric features such as kitchen printing and sell by weight. Whether you run a retail business or restaurant, ERPLY is especially powerful in the inventory management department, with functions like automated ordering, supplier management, and multichannel (online, in-store, phone, email) inventory tracking and transfers.

ERPLY gives you a lot of flexibility as a business owner. Using just about any payment processor under the sun, you can accept traditional swipe, chip card, and mobile payments, including Apple Pay, PayPal, and Android Pay. You also have the option to use pretty much whatever device you want, even without a reliable internet connection, or run ERPLY right from your browser.

It’s actually kind of hard to come up with a feature ERPLY doesn’t have. An open API architecture allows customizability and the ability to develop your own software integrations and customize it to meet your needs (or, have ERPLY make these integrations/customizations for you). Being such a versatile piece of software, it’s one of the pricier cloud-based POS systems. If you have a larger or franchise business, or you just want the flexibility and horsepower this system offers, you might try ERPLY out for size.

12. talech

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Standard subscription is $62/month/location (billed annually upfront)
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Kiosk mode

talech POS logo

talech (see our review) is a smaller player in the iPad POS world, but with their affordable price point and impressive set of more than 100 features, they can certainly give their larger competitors a run for their money. talech is used by both retail and restaurant businesses, but restaurants, in particular, will find a lot of useful features, including table management, coursing, and the ability to split the check by table positioning (seat).

Advanced inventory management, self-service (kiosk) mode, and the ability to generate purchase orders are some more features that set talech apart from some of its competitors in both the retail and restaurant spheres. talech also made it possible for restaurant owners to integrate an online ordering system so that you can manage in-person and online orders all from your iPad POS terminal.

One caveat: being 100% cloud-based, talech is unable to take credit card payments in the event of a WiFi outage, and you also won’t be able to access your back office. However, it’s possible to circumvent such issues by getting a specialized backup router.

13. Bindo

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Custom pricing depends on industry and number of SKUs
  • Works with nearly any payment processor
  • Multi-location support
  • “Favorites” grid displays most popular items as register buttons

Bindo POS logo

Bindo (see our review) is a hybrid POS whose varied and easy-to-use features make it suitable for retail or restaurant environments. A reasonable pricetag, clean interface, robust eCommerce storefront, and thoughtful inventory reporting suite make this an especially versatile touchscreen POS option. While fewer than 5,000 businesses use new-ish POS, customer support (included at all price levels) is responsive to these customers’ needs and tech support (also included) issues frequent updates to fix any software glitches.

As with most other fully cloud-based systems, you’ll need fast internet to experience the best functionality. More than one customer has also complained about being stuck in a leasing contract with Bindo for equipment they were not satisfied with (though in general, we do not recommend leasing POS equipment). Since Bindo works with most standard iPad POS equipment and offers a 14-day free trial, it is likely that you’ll be able to test out Bindo using your current equipment before you commit to purchasing.

14. SalesVu

  • iPad POS for restaurant and retail
  • Basic restaurant and retail packages start at $75/month
  • Works with Vantiv, Evo, and WorldPay
  • Multi-location support
  • Allows items to be charged by decimal and fractional quantities

SalesVu (see our review) is another affordable and feature-rich iPad POS system that can be used in many industries, including service industries and traditional retail and restaurant environments. Since this system allows you to ring up transactions in fractional amounts, it’s especially useful for hourly professionals such as therapists or dog walkers, and businesses that sell items based on weight, like fro-yo shops. SalesVu also has an appointment booking system that health, beauty, and hospitality businesses will appreciate. Like the majority of touchscreen POS’s on this list, SalesVu is best suited for smaller to medium-sized businesses, though it has the capacity to scale up if you open a second or third location.

SalesVu runs locally on iPad registers and syncs all your data to your account in the cloud. Though you can use the SalesVu POS app without an internet connection, you’ll need internet to process credit card transactions; however, you can use a specialized router with a 4G wireless modem with a data plan so that you can switch to 4G without any interruption if your main internet connection goes down.

Another cool thing about SalesVu is that it will run on an iPhone, allowing you to take mobile sales on the go. The basic mobile POS app without any frills is free, similar to Square. Which brings us to the final favorite touchscreen POS on our list …

15. Square Register

  • Proprietary POS hardware with free cloud software for retail, restaurants, service industry
  • Hardware costs $49/month for 24 months or $999 one-time payment
  • In-house credit card processing is 2.5% + $0.10/transaction or lower for high-volume businesses
  • Multi-location support
  • Best for businesses with average transaction of $40 or higher
  • Ethernet support for more reliable internet connection

While Square‘s popular free POS mobile app has been around for some time, the Square Register is a relatively new product, released in October 2017. There are still no monthly service fees, but rather than selling on your smartphone or iPad, you’re ringing up sales on fully featured POS hardware that you purchase as a complete package from Square. With a concept similar to that of Clover Station (which I didn’t include on this list because it is locked into First Data’s less than stellar payment processing), the Square Register is sleek, proprietary POS hardware that works right out of the box, complete with a customer facing screen and built-in credit card terminal. The Square Register hardware itself costs $49/month for 24 months, or you can simply purchase the system outright for $999.

Note that Square Register users have a different credit card processing rate than the standard Square mobile processing rate. With Square Register, businesses are charged 2.5% + $0.10 on every transaction, vs. 2.75% (+ $0.00) with regular Square. This pricing setup may at first blush look like Square Register has cheaper rates, but if you have a lot of small transactions you’ll actually pay more with Square Register than with the Square mobile POS. For this reason, Square Register is a more appropriate solution for larger businesses with average ticket sizes of $40 or higher. Larger businesses processing more than $250,000 per year and with an average ticket size of $15 or higher may also qualify for lower rates.

As for the specific business type, 100% cloud-based Square can work with just about any industry. Square has a built-in 24/7 online booking system for service-based industries, as well as restaurant-centric features such as suggested tipping amounts and online food orders.

Finally, Square Register is not to be confused with Square’s iPad-only, $60/month solution, Square for Retail (see our review).

Final Thoughts

When sorting through your options for touchscreen POS systems, the plethora of choices may at first seem overwhelming. But that’s why we’re here to help you sort out the stinkers and lead you to the very best tablet point of sale systems. And really, you can’t go wrong with any of the POS software systems on this list. Just check that the touchscreen POS system you’re considering meets your business’s needs in terms of functionality and budget, and test it out with a free trial before purchasing. And of course, don’t forget to check user reviews and complaints on the BBB and other consumer review sites. If you need further help choosing a touchscreen POS system, please contact me in the comments section and I’ll give you some further guidance.

The post 15 Best Touchscreen POS Systems appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Calculate And Analyze Business Cash Flow

How To Calculate And Analyze Business Cash Flow

Cash flow is one of the most important aspects of running a successful business. But how do you calculate cash flow? And once your cash flow is calculated, what does that tell you about your business?

We’re glad you asked!

Cash flow is the money that comes in and out of your business, so it would be easy to assume that you simply subtract the cash outflows from the cash inflows when calculating cash flow.

While this is the process, in theory, the application is much more complicated. There are several different ways of calculating cash flow, and it can be hard to know which way is best. In this post, we’ll teach you the most common way to calculate cash flow: running a cash flow statement.

We’ll also teach you what a healthy cash flow statement should look like and how to analyze your cash flow using the free cash flow ratio and a cash flow forecast. With these three cash flow calculations in tow, you’ll understand your business’s cash flow in no time.

Let’s get started.

What Is A Cash Flow Statement?

A cash flow statement, or statement of cash flows, is a report that measures the cash coming in and out of your business during a specific period of time. Along with the income statement and balance sheet, the statement of cash flows is one of the most important financial statements in accounting. The cash flow statement shows four different cash flow figures:

  • Operating cash flow
  • Cash flow of investment activities
  • Cash flow of financial activities
  • Net cash flow

You can create a cash flow statement by using Excel or Google Docs, but the easiest way to generate a statement of cash flows is by using accounting software. Most accounting software will do all of the hard work for you. Simply make sure your income and expenses are up-to-date, tell the software to run a cash flow statement, and voila! You have yourself a cash flow statement.

How To Calculate And Analyze Business Cash Flow

You’ll see that the cash flow statement is divided into three sections: cash flow of operation activities, cash flow of investment activities, and cash flow of financial activities. We’ll walk you through each section so you can understand exactly how the cash flow statement works and what it’s telling you about your business.

Still using Excel to run your accounting processes? It may be time to upgrade. Our comprehensive accounting software reviews cover QuickBooks products, Xero, Freshbooks, Sage, and more of the top cloud-based and locally-installed accounting solutions on the market today. If you want a quick peek at the top contenders, check out our accounting software comparison chart.

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Cash Flow Of Operation Activities

Cash flow of operations, or operating cash flow, shows the total cash gained or spent on business operations during a given period. Operating cash flow is used as a key indicator of how efficient and healthy your business is. It is one of the most common (and important) cash flow calculations.

Here are some examples of the operating cash inflows and outflows you can expect to see in the cash flow of operating activities on your statement of cash flows:

  • Inventory purchases
  • Wages
  • Cash received from sales or services
  • Interest earned
  • Rent payments
  • Other operating expenses

Your total operating cash flow is calculated by subtracting the cash outflows directly related to your business operations from the cash inflows directly gained from your business operations.

When you run a statement of cash flows, you’ll see your total operating cash flow expressed under “net cash flow for operating activities.” This amount shows what you made (or lost) on basic business operations. You can use the cash flow of operating activities to:

  • See how much cash you’ve gained from your business operations in a given period
  • Understand which business expenses you’re spending cash on
  • Analyze where to cut back on operating business expenses

Cash Flow of Investment Activities

The cash flow of investment activities shows how much cash you spent on long-term investments and made on long-term investments.

For most businesses, this section of the cash flow statement shows cash spent on purchasing new fixed assets and cash gained from selling fixed assets. (Fixed assets are valuable items owned by your business that have a long-term use.)

Examples of investments that you may see on the cash flow of investment activities section of the cash flow statement include:

  • Purchasing or selling property
  • Purchasing or selling buildings
  • Purchasing or selling equipment
  • Purchasing or selling company vehicles
  • Capital expenditures (CapEx)

Basically, cash flow of investment is affected by any change to your long-term assets — or property, plant, or equipment (PPE) — and any expenses paid to manage current assets (which is referred to as capital expenditures). You total cash flow of investment activities is calculated by subtracting your investment cash outflows from your investment cash inflows.

You can use the cash flow of investment activities to analyze the state of your company’s fixed assets. Lenders and potential investors also use this cash flow ratio to see if your company is growing and investing in your business’s future.

Cash Flow Of Financial Activities

The cash flow of financial activities shows the cash spent and received from financing — or raising capital. Cash flow of financial activities is used to see how much cash you’ve received from loans or investors and how much cash you’ve spent on paying back debts and shareholders.

Here are some examples of the financing cash inflows and outflows you can expect to see in the cash flow of financing activities on your statement of cash flows:

  • Cash received from loans
  • Loan payments
  • Cash received from investors
  • Dividends paid to shareholders
  • Purchasing company stock

Your total cash flow of financing activities is calculated by subtracting the financing cash outflows directly related to financing (like paying past debt and shareholders) from the cash inflows raised from financing (like new loans and cash from investors).

The cash flow of financial activities is important for analyzing whether your business has the cash to pay off its debt or to take on new debt. This is a key cash flow formula for potential lenders and investors as well. Lenders want to see that your business has the means to make payments on your a new loan, and potential investors want to see that your company has the cash to pay back shareholders.

What Does A Good Cash Flow Statement Look Like?

So now that you know what a cash flow statement is and how to run one, how do you know what your cash flow statement means? What does your cash flow statement say about your business’s financial health? What is a good cash flow and when should you be worried about your cash flow?

Don’t worry, your cash flow statement has answers to all of these questions. We already briefly mentioned how each type of cash flow can be used to analyze the health of your business. In this section, we’ll recap each section of the cash flow statement and give you a clearer idea of what a successful business’s cash flow looks like.

1. A Good Net Cash Flow

Your net cash flow appears at the bottom of your statement of cash flows and is a total of your cash flow of operating activities, your cash flow of investment activities, and your cash flow of financial activities. This total will either appear as a net increase in cash flow or a net decrease in cash flow. Ideally, you want a net increase in cash flow, which shows that your company brought in more money than it spent.

While you want a positive cash flow, you may not want your cash flow to be too positive. Seem counterintuitive? Here’s why.

If you have an incredibly high cash flow, that is extra money that you can be (and should be) investing back into your business. It’s important to strike the balance of maintaining a positive cash flow and using that positive cash flow to ensure that your business grows and makes even more money in the future.

2. A Good Operating Cash Flow

Your operating cash flow shows how much money your company is making or losing on everyday business operations. Business operations are the bread and butter of your business, so it makes sense that you want your operating cash flow to be a high, positive number. You always want to see this number increasing over time.

If your operations appear as a net loss instead of a net increase, you may want to reevaluate your business practices. Increase prices, don’t reorder unpopular inventory, streamline processes to save time and money on payroll, incentivize customers to pay their invoices in a timely manner — do whatever it takes to spend less and bring in more so that your business can flourish.

That being said, it’s important to not only know what your operating cash flow is but to analyze why your operating cash flow is negative or positive. There may be some months that you have a negative operating cash flow, and that may not be a bad thing.

Let’s say you’re a seasonal business and you spend a large sum on purchasing inventory to prepare for the holiday season. Because of this, your September cash flow statement shows a net loss on operating cash flow. However, during October, November, and December, you bring in tons of cash selling the inventory you purchased. You wouldn’t have been able to make strong sales or have such a positive cash flow during the holidays without that extra inventory.

In this case, one month of negative cash flow led to three months of incredibly positive cash flow, which was more than worth it. You only have to start worrying if your operating cash flow is negative again and again.

3. A Good Cash Flow Of Investing Activities

Your cash flow of investing activities shows how much money you’ve spent on purchasing and maintain fixed assets and made on selling assets.

Typically, most growing business will have a net loss on cash flow of investing activities. While that may sound ominous, it really means that you are actively investing in new fixed assets to expand your business and replacing old equipment to help your business run more efficiently. This is a good thing.

4. A Good Cash Flow Of Financing Activities

Your cash flow of financing activities shows the cash used to pay off your business’s existing debts and any new financing or loans received.

Generally, you want to see a negative net cash flow from financing activities. This means that you are paying off existing debt and paying dividends to shareholders.

That being said, it is okay to have a net gain in cash flow of financing activities at times. A positive net cash flow of financial activities means your business has gained cash from investors or secured a new business loan. While some business owners may assume that debt is always a bad thing, there are several good reasons for applying for a business loan:

  • To purchase new equipment that will benefit your business
  • To expand your business
  • Purchasing inventory
  • Hiring and training employees

If you can afford to take on a loan, the extra funds may be just what your business needs to succeed. Use the cash flow of financing activities to analyze your business’s financial state and determine what is healthiest for your future.

How To Use The Free Cash Flow Ratio

The free cash flow ratio is one of the most important ratios a business owner should know. While the cash flow statement shows your overall net cash flow, the free cash flow ratio shows the amount of cash that is actually available for your business to use. This ratio is incredibly important for analyzing your business’s financial health.

Free cash flow shows you the amount of the cash left over after paying for your business’s operating expenses (the expenses required to run your business) and capital expenditures (the expenses spent on purchasing and maintaining your fixed assets). You can calculate your free cash flow by using this formula:

Free Cash Flow = Operating Cash Flow – Capital Expenditures

Simply take the net operating cash flow from your cash flow statement and subtract the total capital expenditures for your business.

By using this formula, you can see exactly how much free cash flow your company has to work with. Free cash flow is particularly important when considering taking on a new working capital loan to expand your business. Knowing exactly how much money you have in free cash, on average, can help you determine the loan payments you can afford.

How To Create A Cash Flow Forecast

Another important step in analyzing your business’s cash flow — and, in turn, your business’s health — is to create a cash flow forecast.

A cash flow forecast, also known as a cash flow projection, is an estimation of your future cash inflows and cash outflows over a specific period of time (usually a year). This estimation should be based on past cash flow data or educated guesses on the cash sales and expenses you expect to face in the upcoming year. This helps your cash flow projection to be as accurate as possible.

While cash flow forecasts are beneficial for any business wanting to get a handle on their finances, they are particularly helpful for seasonal businesses. A cash flow forecast can help you pinpoint the months during which cash will be tight and the months during which cash will be plentiful. This way, you can plan to save enough cash to cover expenses during the slow months.

In this way, a cash flow forecast gives you valuable business insight. Additionally, comparing your cash flow projection with your cash flow actuals at the end of the year is an important business practice for seeing if you met your business goals, where your company is excelling, and where it could still improve.

Many accounting software programs have a cash flow forecast report built-in. However, if your accounting software doesn’t have a cash flow projection, you can create one manually by estimating your:

  • Cash sales for each month
  • Expenses for each month
  • Fixed asset investments
  • Debt payments
  • Additional capital

Be as realistic as you can and include any sales or expenses that directly affect your business’s cash. If you don’t want to calculate this all by hand, there are several free cash flow forecast templates available online as well.

What Now?

Cash flow is one of the most important aspects of business. Without a strong, positive cash flow, you won’t be able to stay in business long.

Now that you know how to run a cash flow statement, use the free cash flow ratio, and create a cash flow statement, you can confidently understand your company’s cash flow. You can use all three tools to analyze your business’s cash flow. These tools will let you determine where your business is excelling and where it could be improved, help you figure out if you can afford a loan, and prepare for the lean cash flow months.

After analyzing your business’s finances, you may determine that you need a working capital loan or a line of credit to help you maintain positive cash flow. Read through our detailed small business loan reviews or view our business loan comparison chart to find a lender that works for you. If your business depends on invoices, invoice financing might be more your speed. With invoice financing, it’s possible to get cash for your invoices right away. Learn more about invoice financing in our Merchant’s Guide To Invoice Financing guide and/or check out two of our favorites: BlueVine and Fundbox.

For more information on accounting concepts and strategies, our accounting and bookkeeping blog is a good place to start. We cover everything from double-entry accounting to small business taxes. We also guide you through how to choose small business accounting software. What’s more, our comprehensive accounting software reviews cover QuickBooks products, Xero, Freshbooks, Sage, and more of the top cloud-based and locally-installed accounting solutions on the market today. For a bird’s eye view of the top contenders, check out our accounting software comparison chart.

The post How To Calculate And Analyze Business Cash Flow appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Free Credit Score Services

free credit score monitoring service

Having a good credit score is integral to getting goods and services at a reasonable rate. Most creditors will look pull up at least one of your scores, whether you are looking for a loan, housing, a credit card, or some other product or service.

It’s important to have at least a rough idea of your current credit score, whether that’s so you’re prepared for what creditors are going to see when they pull up your history, because you are trying to improve your score, or something else.

There are a number of different services that can help you get a good overall picture of your credit health. But which ones are the best? And what do their scores really tell you? Below, we explain exactly what credit scores are and list some of our favorite places to access your scores for free.

Read on for the details!

What Are Credit Scores?

In short, credit scores are numbers that represent your creditworthiness. Lenders, credit card issuers, and other services that expect payment, like utility companies, cell phone providers, and more, look at your credit score to see how creditworthy you’ve been in the past, which indicates how likely you are to pay on-time in the future. Personal credit scores range anywhere from 300 to 850; the higher the better.

Each creditor has their own ideas about what’s considered “good” credit, but typically if you have a score above 600, you won’t have a terribly difficult time finding creditors willing to work with you. However, the higher your credit, the more services you’ll qualify for, and the better rates you’ll receive.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have just one credit score; in fact, you have many. Credit scores are derived from your credit report — a history of your past debts, payments, and other information gathered by credit reporting agencies. The big three credit reporting agencies are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. While all three agencies gather similar information about you, they might not all have the same information.

A scoring algorithm, usually either VantageScore or FICO, is applied to your credit report to come up with your score. As such, consumers have many different credit scores, depending on the scoring system and the credit report your information was derived from.

VantageScore VS FICO

Credit scores are derived from your credit report using a scoring model, either VantageScore or FICO. Both have scales of 300 to 850, but they might return different scores because they place importance on different factors.

Most free credit score services get their data from VantageScore. However, many creditors will look at your FICO score. If a potential lender pulls your TransUnion FICO score, for example, they will get a different number than what you’re seeing from your free credit score service.

That said, the difference in scores doesn’t tend to be large; if you have a high FICO score, you will also have a high score from VantageScore. Conversely, if you have a poor (or inaccurate) marks on your report, they will be reflected by both VantageScore and FICO as a lower score. For general credit score monitoring, either VantageScore or FICO will suit most consumer’s purposes.

If you need to know your FICO score, for whatever reason, you have a few different options:

  • Some of your FICO scores can be accessed for free via Discover Credit Scorecard (see below). This score is derived from your Experian data.
  • Scores derived from all three credit reporting agencies can be purchased directly from FICO via myFICO. Currently, one-time access to scores from all three agencies can be purchased for $59.85 ($19.95 for scores from one agency).
  • Some credit card issuers, or other places that extend credit, will provide your scores if you are a customer.

Be aware, however, that even if you check your FICO score from the same agency that your lender does, you still might be looking at a different score. FICO offers a number of different credit scores, some of which are not available to consumers.

The Best Free Credit Score Services

The following are our favorite credit score services. These services derive scores from at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies. All offer services for free and are available to all consumers.

Credit Karma

Credit Karma was one of the first online services to offer your credit scores for free. This service offers scores and reports from two agencies: Equifax and TransUnion (both VantageScore). Scores and reports are updated weekly. They also offer free daily credit monitoring, but only for TransUnion.

Credit Karma is the only service we know of that offers free scores from two different agencies; it is also the only one that pulls data from Equifax. Additionally, it offers a number of other useful financial tools for consumers, including personalized credit card and loan recommendations, financial calculators, informative financial blog posts, and even help filing your taxes.

Discover Credit Scorecard

Discover has recently started offering free credit scores to all consumers, regardless of whether or not you are a Discover customer. This is one of the only services to offer a free FICO score; most free credit score services provide your VantageScore. Discover’s FICO score is derived from Experian, and it’s updated on a monthly basis.

Be aware, however, that because FICO offers a number of scores, the score shown on your Discover Credit Scorecard might not be the same score that your creditors are using. However, it might still be worth a look for educational and general credit monitoring purposes.

WalletHub

WalletHub offers a free score and report from TransUnion (VantageScore). This is the only free credit score service that updates on a daily basis.

In addition to your credit score, WalletHub offers other useful services to improve your credit and financials. Customers receive free monitoring of their TransUnion account, as well as services such as customized advice to improve your credit, credit card recommendations, and savings alerts.

Credit Journey from Chase

Chase offers TransUnion scores and reports via Credit Journey. This service is free and available to all consumers (not just Chase customers). Your score is updated on a weekly basis.

Chase also tracks your score over time and has a credit score simulator that shows how your score might change if you take certain actions.

Free Annual Credit Reports

You should know that, by law, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are required to issue a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. Consumers who request a free copy of their report will receive a full copy, whereas many free services only offer a limited report. You can use your free annual reports to review the information included and contest any mistakes that you find.

Unfortunately, your annual free credit report does not include any actual credit scores. To access this information, you’ll have to sign up for a free credit score service or pay for your scores.

Annual credit reports can be requested at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Final Thoughts

Because free score services only offer scores derived from one or two agencies and don’t always offer a full credit report, it’s a good idea to also request free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com on a yearly basis and contest any mistakes that you have found.

That said, free credit score services are useful for educational purposes and general credit monitoring — just remember that the specific score shown is unlikely to be the same score that your creditors see. However, a free score service can give you the tools you need to improve and maintain your credit score. All the services listed above are free, easy to use, and offer useful services in addition to your credit score.

Do you need to improve your credit? Read about five ways to improve your score.

The post The Best Free Credit Score Services appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Is Shopify Easy To Use?

is shopify easy to use

If you’ve ever visited Shopify’s website, you know that ease of use is their number one marketing claim. But does that claim have any merit? Is this app as intuitive as they say?

As software reviewers who have tested over 40 eCommerce solutions over the years (many of them repeatedly!), we can confidently say that Shopify is indeed one of the most user-friendly shopping cart solutions on the market. In particular, Shopify is well designed for merchants with very little technical know-how.

Shopify makes it easy to set up an online store, add products, and tweak your site’s look and feel so that you can focus your energy on building your business instead of building your website.

In this post, we’ll give you a breakdown of a few frequently used features and design tools, complete with screenshots of Shopify’s admin panel. Keep reading to see if Shopify’s usability fits your experience level and business needs.

Signing Up For Shopify

The best way to experience Shopify’s usability is to actually take the software for a test drive. Shopify offers a totally free, no commitment required 14-day trial, which you can sign up for at any time. To create your account, all you have to do is provide your email address and answer a few questions about your business’s size and industry.

You’ll then be sent an email with login information, and you’ll be able to access your Shopify dashboard:

While Shopify does not provide a formal tutorial, they do list a few setup steps on your initial dashboard page. You can either choose to complete those actions now or find them on your own later.

We recommend you play around a bit with the “Add Product” and “Customize Theme” pages to get a general feel for Shopify’s functions. To start setting up your online store, head over to the “Settings” tab on the bottom left.

Adjusting Settings

From the Settings tab of the app, you can add payment processors, tax information, and shipping preferences. You’ll also be able to make changes to checkout, sales channels, account permissions, and more.

Calculating Taxes

Correctly collecting sales tax for online orders can be tricky business. Every state, county, and municipality has its own rules and regulations regarding sales tax, and trying to comply by all those rules can be maddening. Shopify makes this process a bit easier by keeping all those important calculations in one place.

In the setup process, you can decide how you collect taxes for shipments, including international shipments.

When it comes to domestic shipping rates, you can ask Shopify to handle all the tax calculations based on your business’s location(s). Input your State and zip code, and Shopify will present a range of tax rates based on all the locations in which you have tax liability (called “nexus”).

If you’d like to see those taxes more specifically, click on that range (highlighted in blue) and see details for each city.

Select Shipping Options

There are a variety of ways Shopify merchants can go about calculating shipping rates. You can, for example, integrate with your favorite shipping software app (like ShippingEasy or ShipStation) or you can subscribe to Shopify’s highest pricing plan to use your own negotiated rates with popular shipping carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx. One of the most popular options, however, is to simply use Shopify Shipping to calculate rates and purchase and print shipping labels.

Shopify Shipping provides connections with DHL, USPS, and UPS. You can purchase shipping labels online and have those labels print in bulk from thermal or desktop printers. And now, you can even purchase those labels from your mobile device. What’s more, Shopify Shipping has partnered with shipping carriers to provide you with discounted shipping rates, depending on your Shopify plan.

To start using Shopify Shipping, click “Edit” under the “Shipping Zones” option on your Shipping page in settings.

You’ll then be redirected to this page where you can select carriers (such as USPS) and services (such as Priority Mail). These options will then be automatically available to your customers, and you will be able to purchase and print shipping labels for these services. Pretty easy, huh?

So far, I can only see one potential issue with Shopify Shipping and, depending on your business, it could be a big one. Shopify Shipping will only display calculated rates according to the dimensions you list for your “Default Package.” That means that all shipments, no matter their actual size, will be treated as the same size.

If you sell products that are a wide range of sizes, calculated rates with Shopify Shipping might not be the best option. You may instead consider integrating with a third-party shipping solution to handle that aspect of your fulfillment.

Connect With Payment Solutions

To process payments, just select your preferred payment processor or payment gateway from the drop-down menu on the correct page in Settings.

Shopify also offers their own payment gateway, called Shopify Payments. If you choose to use Shopify Payments to accept credit card payments, Shopify will waive their transaction fees (which range from 0.5%-2.0%, depending on your pricing plan).

Note: I have seen many complaints online targeting Shopify Payments. Merchants say that while it’s easy to be initially accepted to the processor, your account may be canceled further down the road when Shopify gets around to reviewing your site. I’ve also seen complaints that say Shopify Payments withholds money from merchants. Keep these complaints in mind as you look into your options.

Adding Products

Creating new products is a simple process. Head over to the “Products” tab and click “Add a Product.” You’ll then be taken to a page like this:

Here you can input basic information like price, inventory totals, and images. You can also write product descriptions on this page and use tags and categories to organize items. Toward the bottom of the page, you can add shipping information, like weight, and list tariff code. You are also presented with the option to add variants.

If you choose to add product variants (size and color, etc.), you’ll be redirected to a new page where you can enter variant-specific information such as weight, inventory, and price. Notice, however, that there is no field available to enter product dimensions, which may result in less accurate shipping calculations.

Once you’ve added this information, the basic “Add a Product” page will change to reflect new variants. You will now be required to edit all weights, prices, and shipping information on variant pages instead of the main product page.

Managing Inventory

You can either manage inventory on individual product pages or in the “Inventory” tab in the admin.

Set quantities for each variant, and set low stock notifications to make sure you always have items on hand when customers want them.

Creating Promotions

Use Shopify’s “Discounts” tab to create coupons and discounts for your site. You can make these discounts specific to select categories or products, and you can set minimum purchase requirements. You can also make discounts only available to certain customer groups and set active dates for the promotion. Discounts can be fixed amounts, percentages, free shipping, and Buy X Get Y.

You can also promote your store through order confirmation emails, abandoned cart notifications, and other email marketing strategies. Use HTML design tools to modify the email templates that Shopify provides.

Editing Site Design

This app is designed for sellers who have little to no technical experience. Shopify works to make all of their customization tools accessible to beginners, including website design. You don’t have to know a lick of code to edit the look and feel of your site (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt!).

Most merchants begin the site design process by selecting a theme from Shopify’s vast marketplace. There, you can find a range of mobile responsive themes that are priced between $0-$180. It’s a good idea to start out with a free theme and move on to a more sophisticated theme once you get the hang of the editing tools.

Shopify provides a few options for editing your theme. The easiest option is Shopify’s drag and drop feature: Sections.

Using Sections, you can add and rearrange blocks of content. For example, you can add a featured products display, a map, and an image gallery on your homepage. Then, just drag those elements around until the site looks how you envisioned.

Sections is currently only available on select pages and with select themes.

Although Sections is great for those with little know-how, merchants who are looking to customize many elements of their design may find it too limiting. For those merchants, there is also a code editor available. Edit using Shopify’s Liquid templating language, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Final Thoughts

If there ever was a long answer to a short question, this article is one of them!

In short: Yes, Shopify is very easy to use!

Get Started With Shopify

The post Is Shopify Easy To Use? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Banks For Small Business Loans

Not impressed with the easy applications but high interest rates offered by alternative lenders? Well, the good news is that, despite the ubiquity of online financing, most of the best rates in the business continued to be offered by local banks and credit unions. Because you’re likely to encounter stricter credit requirements, as well as geographic constraints, the best bank for your small business is often one you’ve already built a good relationship with. Below we’ll look at a few of the biggest financial institutions that offer business lines of credit, business term loans, and SBA loans, as there’s a better chance of them operating in your area.

If your credit is below 600 or your business hasn’t been around very long, you’ll likely have a hard time qualifying for a bank loan from any of the lenders below. Online lenders like Ondeck, Lendio, LoanBuilder, and National Business Capital often have less stringent qualifications when it comes to credit scores and time in business. Our small business loan comparison chart can point you in the right direction.

Here are the best banks for small business loans.

1. Chase Bank

Best For: Small businesses and start-ups with excellent credit.

Borrower requirements:
• Must have excellent credit (high 600s)
• Must have access to a Chase Bank branch
Read our Chase Bank review

Checkered reputation aside, Chase is one of the largest and most accessible banks, boasting tons of locations — especially in the nation’s most populous states. Chase Bank also features some of the best small business loan rates you’re likely to see from a for-profit lender.

Chase offers business lines of credit, business term loans, and SBA loans to small businesses.

How To Apply For A Chase Loan

Despite its position as industry leader, Chase is surprisingly traditional when it comes to the lending process; you’re going to have to go to a branch and meet with a Chase representative in person.

Takeaway

With high credit requirements, Chase is a fortress that’s tough to breach, but businesses with excellent credit will find some of the best rates in the industry.

2. Wells Fargo

Best For: Businesses looking for a modern and easy application process.

Borrower requirements:
• Must have $1.50 in cash flow for every dollar borrowed.
• Must have a personal credit score of 640 or above.
Read our Wells Fargo review

Wells Fargo (read our review) has developed a reputation for being a big bank that’s willing to work with small businesses. Like Chase, Wells Fargo has made some headlines for the wrong reasons in recent years, but most of those aren’t related to this area of lending.

Wells Fargo is notable for offering fast, unsecured business loans online (similar to those of an alternative lender), but at bank rates. The online application process can be especially useful for businesses without a branch nearby.

Wells Fargo offers business terms loans, lines of credit, and SBA loans.

How To Apply For A Wells Fargo Loan

Depending on the product you want, you’ll be able to either apply online at Wells Fargo’s site or will have to go to your local branch to meet with a Wells Fargo representative. You can apply for unsecured loans online.

Takeaway

Businesses seeking bank interest rates with some alternative lender conveniences should give Wells Fargo a look.

3. U.S. Bank

Best For: Mature small businesses outside of the East Coast, including areas underserved by bigger banks.

Borrower requirements:
• Must be located in a state served by U.S. Bank
• Must have been in business for two years
Read our U.S. Bank review

U.S. Bank (read our review) is one of the largest national banks in the country, serving the middle and western parts of the country. For some areas, it is the biggest banking institution available.

U.S Bank has a reputation of being a bit more personable and flexible than many of its similarly-sized or larger competitors while offering competitive interest rates. Just be aware, U.S. Bank prefers to lend to well-established businesses.

You can get a term loan, line of credit, or SBA loan through U.S. Bank.

How To Apply For A U.S. Bank Loan

U.S. Bank provides several options for application, which you can do by submitting a contact form, calling them directly, or going to your local branch. You will, however, eventually need to meet with them personally to complete your application.

Most importantly, you’ll need to live in one of the 25 states served by U.S. Bank.

Takeaway

U.S. Bank may be a good option for established companies that may not want to do business with a huge, international behemoth. East Coasters will have to look elsewhere, however, as the bank has no immediate plans to enter that market.

4. Bank of America

Best For: Mature businesses with excellent credit.

Line of credit borrower requirements:
• Must have been in business at least 2 years.
• Must have a personal credit score of 670 or above.
• Must have revenue > $200,000 for unsecured products, or greater than $250,00 for secured products.
Read our Bank of America review

Bank of America (read our review) is one of the more conservative lending institutions on this list, but it does offer a versatile array of products at excellent rates and, as the second largest bank in the country, is accessible to most population centers in the U.S.

Despite stringent lending standards, the bank has modernized its application processes more than some of the other banks on this list.

Bank of America offers business lines of credit, business term loans, and SBA loans to small businesses.

How To Apply For A Bank of America Loan

If you already have a Bank of America ID (from an existing account), you can use it to apply for unsecured loans and lines of credit on the Bank of America site.

You’ll need to submit basic information about yourself and your business, as well as your number of employees, profit, sales, outstanding obligations. You’ll also need to submit personal information about each additional business owner, guarantor, and controlling manager.

Depending on the product, you may need to have a business checking account with Bank of America if auto-debiting is required.

If you’re not a current customer, you’ll need to apply by phone or at your local branch.

Takeaway

Bank of America offers some online convenience for existing customers while providing the excellent rates you’d expect from a large banking institution. Their steep prerequisites might disqualify many businesses, however.

5. TD Bank

Best For: Mature East Coast businesses with excellent credit

Borrower requirements:
• Must have been in business for 2 years
• Must have excellent credit, 680 or above
Read our TD Bank review

T.D. Bank (read our review) may be of particular interest to readers located on the East Coast (particularly those who let out a forlorn sigh when they read that U.S. Bank doesn’t operate in their region). T.D. Bank operates almost exclusively on the East Coast and can be a good option for those looking to avoid the Big Four.

Businesses seeking less than $100,00o in funding will appreciate the fact that T.D. Bank doesn’t charge origination fees on small loans.

Small businesses can get a term loan, line of credit, or SBA loan through T.D. Bank.

How To Apply For A T.D. Bank Loan

While they’re fairly traditional, T.D. Bank gives you the opportunity to begin your application from home by downloading forms available on their site. Depending on the type of financing you’re seeking, you may need to attach additional information or forms.

You can also submit your information in a contact form if you’d like a representative to help walk you through the process.

Takeaway

While East Coasters usually have a lot of banking options available to them, T.D. can be a reasonable compromise for those looking to working with a reasonably large, but not behemoth lending institution.

Final Thoughts

You have as many potential bank loan options as you have banks operating in your area. That said, they can be tough nuts to crack, especially for businesses with less-than-perfect credit.

Don’t think you can make the cut for a traditional bank loan?

Online lenders, like Ondeck and Lendio, aren’t quite as particular when it comes to credit scores and time in business. Our small business loan comparison chart can point you in the right direction.

The post The Best Banks For Small Business Loans appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is Cash Flow?

Have you ever sat by the ocean and watched the tide ebb and flow for hours? If so, you probably know a lot about water flow. As a business owner, though, you should be more focused on cash flow. What is cash flow? We’re glad you asked!

Aptly named, cash flow is the money that flows in and out of your business. Cash flow is the sustainer of life for your business. Without positive cash flow, your business is in serious trouble.

In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about what cash flow is and how it works, the difference between positive and negative cash flow, and how cash flow affects your business.

Cash Flow Definition

Cash flow is the money that comes into and goes out of your business. It is also one of the key indicators of how financially healthy your business is. You may hear people use the terms cash inflow and cash outflow. That may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple:

  • Cash Inflow: Cash that comes into your business (ex. sales, interest earned, etc.).
  • Cash Outflow: Cash that leaves your business (ex. employee paychecks, inventory purchases, etc.).

Cash Flow VS Profit

It’s incredibly important to know the difference between cash flow and profit. A business making a large profit can still go bankrupt if it doesn’t have a strong cash flow. Here’s why.

In accrual accounting, income is recorded when products or services are agreed upon, not when they are paid for. Say you send an invoice of $200 to a customer. Your income account will go up by $200, yes. But your cash accounts don’t go up just because your income or profit accounts have. You still have to wait for your customer to pay their invoice, which sometimes can take months. (Invoices that are not yet received are called “accounts receivable.”)

So if you really want to know how much money your business has on hand, you have to look at your cash flow, not your profit.

Positive VS Negative Cash Flow

Businesses can either have a positive or negative cash flow.

  • Positive Cash Flow: When your business earns more than it spends during a certain period.
  • Negative Cash Flow: When your business spends more than it earns during a certain period.

A positive cash flow indicates that your business is healthy and you have enough cash to pay your employees, cover your business operating expenses, and maybe even expand your business. A negative cash flow indicates that you may have trouble paying for your business expenses and turning a profit.

Generally, positive cash flow is best. However, shy away from automatically assuming that a positive cash flow is good and a negative cash flow is bad. It’s important to know why your cash flow is positive or negative.

In the same way that profit doesn’t always equal cash flow, a positive cash flow doesn’t always imply profit.

For example, say you run a craft store that earns half its income selling supplies and the other half teaching sewing classes. If interest in sewing dies down, you may decide to focus on retail and liquidate (or sell) all of the sewing machines you bought. When you sell your machines, you will see a positive cash flow, but you won’t be earning the other half of your income anymore.

This is just one example of why it’s important to analyze your cash flow so you can truly understand the financial state of your business.

What Is Operating Cash Flow?

Cash flow can be calculated in several different ways. Each way gives you a different insight into your business’s cash flow. One of the most common cash flow calculations you’ll see is operating cash flow.

On the cash flow statement (a report of your business’s cash flow status), there are three different sections:

  • Cash flow of operating activities
  • Cash flow of investment activities
  • Cash flow of financial activities

Cash flow of operating activities and operating cash flow are one and the same. Operating cash flow shows you how much cash you’ve made from your business operations. It’s calculated by subtracting business expenses like payroll and inventory from income generated through sales that have been paid in cash.

What Is Net Cash Flow?

Net cash flow, or total cash flow, is the difference between a business’s cash inflows and cash outflows. Net cash flow is calculated on the cash flow statement by adding the cash flow of operating activities, investment activities, and financial activities together.

What Is Free Cash Flow?

Free cash flow refers to the cash that is actually available to use. Free cash flow shows all of the cash left over after paying for a business’s capital expenditures (capital expenditures are the expenses spent on purchasing or maintaining a company’s assets like buildings or equipment).

When you hear people (especially lenders) talk about free cash flow, you may hear the terms unlevered free cash flow and levered free cash flow.

  • Unlevered Free Cash Flow: Unlevered free cash flow is the free cash flow available before a company pays its debts, interest, and other financial obligations.
  • Levered Free Cash Flow: Levered free cash flow is the free cash flow available after a company pays its debts, interest, and other financial obligations.

Direct VS Indirect Method Cash Flow

There are two different ways of calculating cash flow and presenting the cash flow statement.

Remember how earlier we said that the cash flow statement is divided into three sections: cash flow of operation activities, cash flow of investment activities, and cash flow of financial activities?

The difference between the indirect and direct method is how the operating cash flow appears on the cash flow statement.

  • Direct Method: The direct cash flow method breaks down specific cash inflows and outflows and shows you the cash receipts from customers, cash paid to vendors and suppliers, cash collected from customers, interest earnings, dividends received, paid income tax, and paid interest. Adding these totals together is how the operating cash flow is calculated.
  • Indirect Method: Instead of tracking each type of business operation cash flow, the indirect cash flow method is calculated by taking the net income from a company’s income statement and adjusting the earnings before interest tax (EBIT). It sounds confusing until you remember the difference between cash flow and profit. The net income shows your overall profit — we need to adjust it to show cash flow by subtracting accounts receivable (or invoices that haven’t been paid yet).

While the direct method of calculating cash flow is more detailed, the indirect method is far easier to calculate and more widely used by businesses. The good news? If you’re using accounting software, it does all of the behind the scenes work for you. You’ll just see the total operating cash flow on your cash flow statement.

Don’t have good accounting software yet? Our comprehensive accounting software reviews cover QuickBooks products, Xero, Freshbooks, Sage, and more of the top cloud-based and locally-installed accounting solutions on the market today. If you want a quick peek at the top contenders, check out our accounting software comparison chart.

Using an old version of QuickBooks Pro? Save $100 when you upgrade to QuickBooks Desktop 2018.

Purchase QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2018 Now

Why Cash Flow Is Important

As we mentioned earlier, cash flow is the sustainer of business. Positive cash flow allows you to:

  • Pay your employees
  • Pay rent
  • Purchase inventory
  • Purchase new equipment
  • Grow your business

Essentially, positive cash flow means you can run your business successfully. If you lack cash flow, you will have a hard time operating your business and paying your business expenses on time.

If you consistently have a negative cash flow, you may even be forced to declare bankruptcy. According to the SBA (Small Business Administration), lack of positive cash flow is one of the biggest reasons that businesses fail.

Additionally, both potential lenders and investors take your business’s cash flow into consideration.

Before approving you for a loan, lenders want to see that you have a consistent positive cash flow and that you have the money to make regular payments on a loan.

Potential investors also want to see positive cash flow, which indicates that your company is financially stable and that they are likely to receive shareholder payments if they support your company.

Final Thoughts

You may have come into this article assuming that focusing on profit is the best thing you can do for your business. In the end, however, it all comes down to cash flow.

Without an understanding of cash flow, you won’t be able to run a business successfully. Nor will you be able to apply for funding from potential lenders to grow your business in the future. Pay attention to the cash flow reports in your accounting software, and you’ll be well on your way to maintaining positive cash flow and increasing overall profitability.

After analyzing your business’s finances, you may determine that you need a working capital loan or a line of credit to help you maintain positive cash flow. Read through our detailed small business loan reviews or view our business loan comparison chart to find a lender that works for you. If your business depends on invoices, invoice factoring might be more your speed. With invoice factoring, it’s possible to get cash for your invoices right away. Learn more in the Basic Introduction to Invoice Factoring and/or check out two of our favorite invoice factors: BlueVine and Fundbox.

For more information on accounting concepts and strategies, our accounting and bookkeeping blog is a good place to start. We cover everything from double-entry accounting to small business taxes. We also guide you through how to choose small business accounting software. What’s more, our comprehensive accounting software reviews cover QuickBooks products, Xero, Freshbooks, Sage, and more of the top cloud-based and locally-installed accounting solutions on the market today. For a bird’s eye view of the top contenders, check out our accounting software comparison chart.

The post What Is Cash Flow? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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FedEx Options For eCommerce

Deciphering shipping options can feel a lot like navigating a maze. You’re faced with decisions at every turn, and each path seems to split into more and more potential routes. This is difficult enough for a brick-and-mortar retailer, but as an eCommerce seller, you need to make these decisions frequently and in very little time.

Here at Merchant Maverick our goal is to support growing merchants, so while we can’t make these decisions for you, we can at least help you understand the available options.

In this article, we’ll be addressing one of the industry’s most popular shipping carrier: FedEx. We’ll go over FedEx’s four categories of shipping solutions as well as the more specific options included within each of those categories. Keep reading to learn more about the best ways to ship with FedEx.

Need shipping or packing supplies?

Get Started With FedEx Office

FedEx Express (Domestic)

The first option we’ll cover is one of the more popular shipping solutions among online sellers: FedEx Express. This service costs a bit more than some alternatives, however in return they provide time-specific delivery commitments with a money-back guarantee (even if your shipment only arrives 60 seconds late). FedEx Express is great for shipments on a deadline, especially those you have to ship overnight, and can be a godsend during the holiday season.

What’s more, FedEx Express provides merchants with a large selection of free shipping supplies, which you can order online and have delivered directly to your door. Read more about these shipping supplies and other available services in our blog post, How To Print, Pack, And Ship With FedEx Office.

FedEx Express includes a range of shipping services. These services are differentiated by their prices and their delivery times, and they are broken into Next Day Delivery and 2-3 Day Delivery. Take a look at those options below or head over to FedEx’s website for more detailed information:

Next Day

  • FedEx First Overnight
    • Next business day delivery by 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m, 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.
    • Delivery by 10 a.m., 11 a.m., or 2 p.m. to extended areas
  • FedEx Priority Overnight
    • Next business day delivery by 10:20 a.m.
    • Delivery by 12 noon, 4:30 or 5 p.m. to some rural areas
  • FedEx Standard Overnight
    • Next business day delivery by 3 p.m.
    • Delivery by 4:30 p.m. to some rural areas (8 p.m. to residences)

2-3 Days

  • FedEx 2Day A.M.
    • Second business day delivery by 10:30 a.m
    • Delivery by 12 p.m. to rural areas
  • FedEx 2Day
    • Second business day delivery by 4:30 p.m.
    • Delivery by 8 p.m. to residences
  • FedEx Express Saver
    • Third business day delivery by 4:30 p.m.
    • Delivery by 8 p.m. to residences

For more information on delivery times for extended and rural areas, look into FedEx’s Service Guide.

FedEx Ground

While FedEx Express is great for time-sensitive deliveries, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative (and you don’t mind slightly slower shipping), FedEx Ground may be the way to go.

FedEx Ground offers merchants expedient delivery times at a lower rate. While they do not offer a time-specific delivery, they will guarantee your shipments arrive by the end of day on your scheduled delivery date.

One of the downsides of FedEx Ground is that you will not be able to order priority mail boxes for free. You will have to find and provide all your own packaging materials.

FedEx Ground is best for shipments that do not need to be delivered at a specific time of day. Ground is also good for shipments that are bigger or heavier, as you will likely pay lower shipping rates than you would with Express. In addition, Ground is the only way to go if you are shipping items that are regulated as dangerous goods via air shipment (Read about those items and related regulations).

Unlike FedEx Express, FedEx Ground does not offer a variety of shipping times. Rather, your delivery time will depend on your shipment and delivery locations. Typically, your package will arrive in between 1-5 business days, or 3-7 business days if you’re shipping to or from Hawaii and Alaska. You will be notified of an estimated delivery date for your shipments when you drop your packages off at a FedEx Office location nearby.

View FedEx Ground’s service map and test out the shipping rates calculator for better insight into how much your shipments will cost and how long they’ll take to ship. For FedEx’s explanation on the differences between their Express and Ground services, check out this webpage.

FedEx International Shipping (FedEx Express)

FedEx Express also offers FedEx International Shipping through their FedEx Express program. We have separated this service into its own category as shipping rates are different from the domestic Express rates.

FedEx International ships to customers in over 220 countries and territories, typically within 1-5 business days (not including time spent in customs). Like FedEx Express’s domestic service, FedEx International offers a money-back guarantee (view details) if your shipment is late by even 60 seconds.

If you choose to ship with FedEx International, you’ll be able to choose from three options:

  • FedEx International Priority: Delivery within 1, 2, or 3 business days
  • FedEx International Economy: Delivery within 5 business days
  • FedEx International Ground: Day-definite delivery throughout Canada

You can also choose to ship internationally via FedEx’s Freight services. Keep reading for more information on shipping freight.

FedEx Freight

Looking to transport product between warehouses? Or just hoping to ship a very large and heavy item? FedEx Freight could be the service for you. FedEx Freight provides merchants with options for LTL shipping. These shipments come with a no-fee money-back guarantee (for merchants on the standard rate tariff).

FedEx Freight International

As I mentioned above, FedEx Freight International allows you to ship large items or large quantities of items to over 130 countries and territories. Shipments above 150 pounds qualify for this service. This service includes the following options:

  • Urgent Delivery
  • Time-Definite Delivery
  • Day-Definite Delivery
  • Direct Distribution

Read FedEx’s details for more information about shipping freight internationally.

In addition, FedEx Freight offers two options for shipping within the US:

FedEx Freight Priority

Priority freight shipments offer fast delivery of time-sensitive LTL freight. The service delivers to the contiguous US and offers extensive service to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. The FedEx Freight Box is available for this service (more information on the Freight Box to come). Delivery times for Freight Priority are as follows:

  • A.M. Delivery: Delivery by 10:30 a.m.
  • Close of Business Delivery: Delivery by 5 p.m. on standard delivery date throughout contiguous states

FedEx Freight Economy

As you might imagine, FedEx Freight Economy offers more cost-effective delivery of LTL freight. You can use Economy to ship to customers throughout the contiguous US and to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Canada. The FedEx Freight Box is also available for this service (again, find more information on the Freight Box below). Here are FedEx Freight Economy’s delivery times:

  • A.M. Delivery: Delivery by 10:30 a.m.
  • Close of Business Delivery: Delivery by 5 p.m. on standard delivery date throughout contiguous states

About The Freight Box

FedEx’s Freight Box is their way of incorporating flat rate shipping into their freight services. If you choose to ship with a Freight Box, you will pay a predictable flat rate to ship your box, based on shipping zones and if you’re using Priority or Economy services. Those rates range between $126-$312.

View the chart below:

Only shipments below 1,200 pounds can qualify for the Freight Box, and shipping rates do not qualify for negotiated pricing, which may disappoint some high-volume sellers. The good news is if you choose to ship this way, there is no freight classification required!

FedEx’s Freight Box comes in two different sizes:

  • Standard (pallet not included)
    • 48” x 40” x 38”
  • Small (integrated pallet included)
    • 48” x 40” x 28”

You can order both of these boxes online, and after a bit of assembly, you can get to packing.

Final Thoughts

Shipping options can certainly be disorienting! We hope our breakdown above has helped you to untangle the number of options available through FedEx. If one or more of these shipping solutions catches your eye, be sure to look into the resources we’ve included to get a better idea of the details.

Or, if you’re still looking for general information about shipping with FedEx, check out our comparison article, USPS vs UPS vs FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is Best?

You’ll be a shipping expert in no time!

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