How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Does serving delicious food to a crowd of partygoers sound like a dream? Do you want to take your love of desserts to weddings and other special events? If so, becoming a professional caterer could be the right career path for you.

Sure, you could search your local job listings to find a catering position, but wouldn’t it be great to be your own boss? If creating your own menu and serving up delicious food and beverages at events interests you, why not start your own catering business?

Maybe it’s been a lifelong dream to operate your own catering business. Or maybe you just love to cook and want to turn it into a career. Whether you’ve already taken steps to launch your own business or you don’t know quite where to start, this post is for you.

In this article, we’re going to explore exactly what it takes to start and fund your own catering business. We’ll start by discussing how to create a business plan and why a plan is a necessity for a successful business. Then, we’ll delve into the expenses you’ll encounter and how you can cover those costs. We’ll also talk about choosing your business structure, building your web presence, and advertising methods that can bring in new customers.

Ready to go? Let’s get started on your path to entrepreneurship!

Create Your Business Plan

What Information to Bring Accountant for Small Business Taxes

Starting a business without a detailed business plan is similar to taking a cross-country trip without a GPS or a map. In short, it’s not a wise move. Your business plan should not only include details about your business in the present — your management team and your mission statement, for example– but it should also serve as an outline for how your business will hit future targets.

Your business plan acts as a blueprint, outlining how your company will become successful and profitable. For that reason, your business plan won’t look exactly like the plan of another business — even one within the same industry. However, even though details may vary, there are a few common sections that can be found in all business plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: Describes the content of the business plan
  • Overview: Includes background of the business, legal structure, and other key details
  • Industry Analysis: Overview of the industry, including the size, nature, and any current trends
  • Competitive Analysis: Overview of your competition
  • Marketing: An outline of your marketing strategy and how you’ll reach customers
  • Operations Plan: Description of the operations of your business
  • Management: Bios and skills of your management team
  • Financials: An overview of current and future revenues

Your business plan not only helps you hit your goals, but it’s also critical when it’s time to obtain financing. Banks, nonprofit lenders, and even some alternative lenders may require a business plan as part of a loan application, especially for startup loans.

Pick Your Niche

While it may be tempting to try to cater for every event in your area, you’re going to stretch yourself thin … and likely set yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to offer services to everyone, pick a niche.

You may already have an idea in mind. For example, maybe it’s always been your dream to be a wedding caterer. Be sure to also consider the type of food you like to make. If you prefer to make salads, sandwiches, and other lighter fare, consider catering for business or school functions, luncheons, and other daytime events. If you prefer to serve fancier entrees, consider catering for weddings and special events.

Another step to take before selecting your niche is to do some market research in your local area. Where are there gaps in catering availability? What niche is overcrowded with the competition? You may find that there a large number of wedding caterers already in your area. Unless you can bring something new to the table (being the only caterer to serve Southern-style barbecue, for example), you might want to consider filling a different customer need.

There are a wide variety of catering niches to consider, including:

  • Weddings
  • Corporate Events
  • Adult Parties
  • School Events
  • Children’s Parties
  • Festivals
  • Sports Events

With an idea of your niche and the type of food you need to prepare, you can move into the next step: planning your menu.

Create Your Menu

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Once you have a niche in mind, you’ll be able to narrow down your menu choices. Let’s face it — if you’re planning to focus on children’s parties or school functions, you won’t exactly need filet mignon on the menu.

You also want to consider what type of food you’re experienced at making. While you can certainly test out new ideas in the future, you want to put your best foot forward when starting out. You also want to offer a variety of options while keeping your menu at a manageable size. Having a menu with too many items or items that contain ingredients that are difficult to source could cause unnecessary stress for you and your clients.

It’s also important to remember those with dietary restrictions. Consider adding a few options to your menu that are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free to help expand your customer base.

Performing a test run or two can help you further improve your menu. Once you have your menu in place, test it out on a few friends and family members. Get their honest feedback on where you excel, as well as where you fall flat. Tweak recipes as needed, change techniques to become more efficient, and be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t. Then, alter your menu accordingly.

Source Your Ingredients

After you create your menu, you’ll have a better idea of the ingredients needed to prepare your food. When you first get your business off the ground, you may be able to get the ingredients you need by purchasing from a wholesale club in your area. However, as your business grows larger and you have more events to cater, you’ll want to purchase your ingredients from other sources.

You can get fresh produce from local farmers. Start building these relationships by visiting your local farmers’ market. You can also build relationships with restaurant suppliers and food service vendors to purchase bulk ingredients at reduced prices.

Calculate Startup Costs

In many states, you will be unable to use a residential kitchen to prepare your food. If you plan to cater from home, you must contact the health department in your area to find out more about the regulations of home-based catering businesses, including inspection and permit requirements.

In most cases, you’ll need to rent space for your kitchen. There are two ways to go about this.

The first is renting your own commercial space. This is the more expensive option but is a necessity if you plan to cater full time.

If you only plan to cater events occasionally or on weekends, you may be able to rent a commercial kitchen for a few hours on the days when you need it. This is a more affordable option since you won’t have to invest in equipment, but it’s not ideal for full-time caterers.

If you aren’t renting space in a kitchen that’s already stocked, you’ll also need industrial equipment that is used to prepare your food. Some of the items you’ll need include:

  • Commercial Ovens
  • Stoves
  • Deep Fryers
  • Sinks
  • Refrigerators
  • Walk-In Freezers
  • Mixers & Blenders
  • Pots & Pans
  • Knives
  • Cooking Utensils & Tools
  • Storage Containers
  • Dishwasher

You’ll also need equipment that you’ll bring on-site for serving and keeping food at the optimum temperature, including:

  • Serving Dishes & Trays
  • Serving Utensils
  • Chafing Dishes
  • Carving Stations
  • Grills
  • Heat Lamps
  • Soup Kettles
  • Beverage Dispensers
  • Coffee Station

An additional cost to add to your list is a catering van. This van will be used to transport your food and equipment to venues. You may save money initially by purchasing a used vehicle. However, you need to ensure that you know the complete history of the vehicle. You may also incur additional costs if your used vehicle needs repairs soon after purchasing it.

Some caterers also provide table settings, glassware, and utensils, but this adds to your initial investment. You may also provide additional items for your events, including chairs and/or chair covers, tablecloths, and centerpieces, but again, this will add to your startup costs.

Before starting your business, sit down and make a list of your total expenses. You can tailor the list to your own business. For example, if you don’t serve fried food, you won’t have to invest in deep fryers. If you specialize in only desserts, you may have pastry tools, cake displays and stands, and bakeware sets on your list.

Once you’ve made your list, start shopping around to get an idea of costs. Check out prices online or visit local commercial kitchen equipment and supply stores. Once you have an idea of how much funding you need, it’s a smart idea to add about 30% to those costs to prepare for the unexpected. For example, if you’ve priced everything at $100,000, apply for a loan of $130,000 to make sure all of your bases are covered.

Register Your Business

Before you begin catering to clients, you need to register your business with federal, state, and local agencies.

First, you need to think of a business name. Brainstorm ideas to find a name that’s catchy and is a reflection of your brand. When you’ve come up with a great name, check your Secretary of State’s website to ensure that this name is not already being used by another business.

Next, you will need to select your business structure. This is an important step because your business structure determines how your business is taxed and your personal liability for debts incurred by the business. The types of business structures include:

Sole Proprietorship

This business is owned and operated by one person. This is the easiest business structure and does not require registration. Setting up a sole proprietorship is easy. However, this structure does not provide you with any protection against the debts and liabilities of your business.

General Partnership

This type of legal structure is made for businesses with two or more owners. These are the easiest to create, have a low cost of operation, and the fewest requirements. No state filing is required for a general partnership.

Limited Partnership

This is another type of structure for businesses with more than one owner. General partners in a limited partnership have unlimited liability. The remaining partners – limited partners – have limited liability. In most cases, the personal assets of limited partners are protected from being used to satisfy the liabilities and debts of the business.

Limited Liability Partnership

This type of structure is designed for professional service businesses. Personal assets of any partner can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business. However, all partners in an LLP are liable for their own acts, such as medical malpractice.

Limited Liability Company

An LLC is separate from its owners. This type of legal structure protects owners from personal liability without the higher tax rates and stricter requirements of corporations.

Corporation

Owners in a corporation are protected from personal liability for the debts of the business. Corporations are the most difficult to set up. However, it is necessary to choose this business structure if you plan to sell stock or raise large amounts of capital in the future.

The type of business structure you choose for your catering business will vary based on the number of owners and your plans for the future. Consult with an accountant or attorney to learn more about your options and which is best for you.

After you choose your business structure, you will need to register with the state where you will operate. You can register through your state’s Secretary of State website. Application and fee requirements vary by state. If you plan to offer services in more than one state, you will need to register with each state.

Another important step in registering your business is obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a necessary step if your business will have employees now or in the future.

Get Permits & Licenses

After registering your business, it’s time to apply for the permits that you need to legally operate your business. It’s necessary to do this early in the game, as it may take weeks or even months to receive your required permits.

State and local laws surrounding permit and license requirements vary. Some of the permits and licenses you may need to legally operate your business include:

  • Business Licenses
  • Health Permits
  • Food-Handling Licenses
  • Liquor Licenses

You can contact the local health department, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board, and other state and local agencies to learn more about the licenses required in your area, how to apply, and any applicable fees.

When working with food, you also face inspections from your local health department. The temperature of prepared and stored food, waste disposal, and the safety and condition of your cooking equipment are just a few of the things that will be inspected periodically.

Get Business Insurance

Protecting your catering business is important, and there’s no better way to protect yourself and your business than with business insurance. As a caterer, there are multiple insurance options to consider.

General liability insurance protects you from lawsuits that occur during events. This type of insurance covers physical injuries, property damage, and even damage to your reputation.

Another type of insurance to consider is errors and omission insurance, also known as E&O insurance. This insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed if a mistake is made. For example, if a client warns of an allergen and you include an ingredient that triggers an allergic reaction, this insurance would protect you from a potential lawsuit.

Property insurance should also be a consideration. This insurance protects your equipment, fixtures, and other property from damage or theft.

If you have employees, you will also need worker’s compensation insurance. This covers medical costs and lost wages from employees when they are injured or become sick. This also protects your business from lawsuits as a result of injuries.

If your business serves alcohol, you may also be required to carry liquor liability insurance, which protects your company from alcohol-related lawsuits.

Insurance requirements vary by state. Talk to your local insurance agent to find out more about the laws in your state and to create a personalized insurance policy for your new catering business.

Seek Business Funding

We’ve already reviewed many of the costs you’ll encounter when opening your own catering business. Now, it’s time to determine how to pay for those costs. Whether you have money in the bank or your bank account is looking a little slim, there are financing options available for you. Start your search with these options.

Personal Savings

If you’ve been putting away money into a savings account, now may be the perfect time to withdraw your funds. The great thing about personal savings is that you won’t take on debt with a lender. This means no payments, fees, or interest. The downside, though, is that if your business goes downhill, it may take your savings with it.

Friends & Family

Consider taking a loan from a friend or family member that’s willing to invest in a potentially lucrative new opportunity. Prepare your presentation, have your business plan in hand, and explain why your opportunity is worth investing in.

If you come to a mutual agreement, make sure to get everything in writing. It also goes without saying that this friend or family member should be treated like any other lender. That means paying back your loan as scheduled.

Instead of a loan, you may consider equity financing. In this scenario, your friend or family member would own part of your business. The major benefit is that you wouldn’t have to immediately start making loan payments. However, you would give over some ownership (and a slice of your future profits) and control over your business if you go this route. Undecided? Learn more about the pros and cons of debt vs. equity financing.

ROBS

If you have a retirement account, you may be able to leverage these funds for your new venture. Normally, if you withdraw before you reach a certain age, an early withdrawal penalty and income tax penalties apply. However, you can avoid these costs through a rollover as business startups (ROBS) plan.

A ROBS plan allows you to use your retirement funds for starting or expanding your business. Four steps are required to access your funds. First, a C-corporation is created. The next step is to create a retirement plan for the new C-corp. Then, you can roll over funds from your existing retirement account into your newly created plan. Finally, you will use these funds to purchase stock in your C-corporation, giving you access to the capital you need for your new business.

The process isn’t complicated, but there are rules you have to follow to ensure you maintain compliance. To take the guesswork out of ROBS, many aspiring business owners work with a ROBS provider. For a fee, ROBS providers will set up your ROBS account for you and will maintain it to ensure everything is done by the book.

Using your ROBS is a great way to fund startup costs. Other than a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee charged by your ROBS provider, you do not pay additional fees. After all, you’re using your own money. However, if your business fails, you put your retirement funds at risk.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial can help you roll over your retirement funds into capital you can use for your catering business. In about three weeks, you can have the funds you need to start or grow your business with Guidant Financial’s ROBS plans.

To qualify, you must have a retirement account worth at least $50,000. Most retirement plans qualify, including:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • TSP
  • SEP
  • Keogh

There are no credit score, time in business, or annual revenue requirements to qualify. However, you must have a business to fund, and you also must be an employee of that business in order to set up your ROBS plan.

Since you’re using your own funds, you don’t have to worry about monthly loan payments. However, you will have to pay a one-time setup fee of $4,995 followed by a maintenance fee of $139 per month to maintain your account.

In addition to ROBS plans, Guidant Financial also offers additional small business loan options including Small Business Administration loans and unsecured business loans.

Equipment Financing

As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of expensive equipment needed to start your catering business, from a catering vehicle to commercial kitchen equipment. A financing option to consider when you need new equipment is equipment financing.

With equipment financing, you can take possession of the equipment you need without paying the full cost up front. Instead, you’ll pay a down payment (typically 10% to 20% of the purchase price), then repay a lender in smaller, more affordable payments over time.

There are two main types of equipment financing to consider: equipment loans and equipment leases. With a loan, you’ll make a small down payment, then put the equipment into use immediately. You’ll make regular payments to the lender that are applied to the principal balance as well as interest and fees. Once you’ve repaid the loan as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, sell, or trade.

The other type of equipment financing is an equipment lease. You’ll also pay a down payment and regular payments. However, at the end of your lease, you return the equipment. At this time, you can sign another lease for new equipment. This is a better option if you plan to upgrade your equipment frequently, although this option can be more expensive over the long term.

With equipment financing, you typically do not have to put up collateral. Instead, the equipment being financed is the collateral and can be seized by the lender if you don’t make your payments as agreed.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio’s network of over 75 lenders can provide you with up to $5 million to finance your equipment. Loan terms are between 1 to 5 years with rates starting at 7.5% for the most qualified borrowers. With some lenders, you can get your funding in as little as 24 hours. Some applicants may even qualify for 0% down financing.

To qualify for equipment financing, you must meet the following requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If you have credit challenges, you may still qualify provided you have proof of solid cash flow and revenue for at least 3 months.

The funds can be used to purchase the equipment you need for your catering business, including but not limited to commercial kitchen equipment, office furniture and fixtures, software, appliances, and commercial vehicles.

If you don’t qualify for equipment financing through Lendio’s network, you can shop around for other financing options. Through Lendio, you can apply for financial products including SBA loans, business credit cards, lines of credit, and startup loans.

Lines Of Credit

Running your own catering business comes with its challenges. Some challenges are expected — rushing around to cater a big wedding, for example — while others come when you least expect it. Whether it’s a slow season that has impacted your incoming cash flow, equipment that needs repairs, or an unforeseen emergency, even the most successful business face the unexpected.

For these times, it’s great to have a backup plan, like a flexible line of credit. A line of credit is different from a traditional loan because you don’t receive one lump sum that you immediately start repaying. Instead, a lender assigns you a credit limit — much like a credit card — and you can withdraw money from your line as needed.

Your line of credit is ready to use whenever you need it. You don’t have to immediately draw funds if there’s no need, and most lenders don’t charge fees if you don’t use your line of credit. When you do use your line of credit, you’ll repay your balance plus any fees and interest charged by the lender. Since this is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished and available to use again as you pay off your balance.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit that can be used for any business purpose. One of the standout features of Fundbox is that the lender looks at the performance of your business — not just your credit score. Even if you’ve been turned down by other lenders in the past, you may still qualify for a Fundbox line of credit.

Through Fundbox, you may qualify for up to $100,000. Once approved, you can immediately make draws on your account. Repayment terms are 12 or 24 weeks, and rates start at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Weekly repayments are automatically deducted from your business checking account. There are no prepayment penalties, all remaining fees are waived if you pay off early, and there are never any fees if you don’t make a draw.

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Holder of a business checking account
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software OR at least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account

Business Credit Card

Another source of financing that’s great for covering unexpected expenses is a business credit card. A business credit card works just like your personal card. You can use your card online and in stores to make purchases anywhere credit cards are accepted. When you use your card, the lender charges interest on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your card, you aren’t required to pay interest. However, annual fees and other charges may apply.

Business credit cards are great for emergencies or for quickly resolving cash flow issues. You can also use your credit card for recurring expenses, such as gas for your catering van. If you go this route, apply for a low-interest rewards card that gives you cash back or other perks just for using your card.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

With Chase Ink Business Cash, you can earn rewards just for using your card to pay for your business expenses. Using this card gets you 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services. You can earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 used at gas stations and restaurants. These offers renew each year on your account anniversary. For all other purchases, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back.

New cardmembers can take advantage of a $500 cash back bonus offer when $3,000 is spent within 3 months of opening an account. This card also comes with additional benefits including purchase protection, extended warranty protection, and free employee cards.

There is no annual fee for the Ink Business Cash credit card, and it comes with a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 15.49% to 21.49%.

This card is recommended for borrowers with good to excellent credit scores.

Vendor Financing

As a caterer, you’ll establish relationships with vendors. You’ll purchase your ingredients, supplies, and other necessary items from these vendors. Many times, you’ll purchase these items up front. Other times, however, you may need a little help in the form of vendor financing.

With vendor financing, a lender will pay your vendors up front so you can get the supplies necessary for running your business. You’ll then be able to spread your purchase out over several smaller payments. Like other financial products, you’ll pay fees and/or interest for the convenience. While the cost of borrowing may be higher than making a purchase up front, the extra expense may be well worth the cost if you’re in a financial bind.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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You can pay your vendors immediately without putting up the money up front by working with Behalf. Through Behalf, you can get up to $50,000 to pay your vendors. Then, you have up to 6 months to repay the lender.

Monthly fees start at 1% of the borrowing amount and are based on your creditworthiness. There are no origination fees, membership fees, or other hidden costs to borrow from Behalf.

There are no time in business, annual revenue, or credit score requirements to qualify. However, Behalf will perform a hard pull on your credit once you submit your application.

Personal Loans For Business

You have a solid credit score, but small business lenders won’t even give you a second glance. What gives?

Many small business loans have time in business and annual revenue requirements. This is fine when your business is already operating, but what do you do when you need a loan before you even open your doors? Try applying for a personal loan for business.

As a startup, you may find it challenging to qualify for a small business loan. However, you can use your own personal credit score and income to qualify for a personal loan that is used for business expenses.

These loans don’t have time in business, annual revenue, or business credit score requirements, so you can qualify even if you’ve not yet catered a single event. Personal loans are available for a wide range of credit scores. However, having a high credit score can help you qualify for the best interest rates and terms.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint specializes in personal loans, offering qualified borrowers $2,000 to $25,000. Rates range from 9.99% to 35.99% with repayment terms of 24 to 48 months. An origination fee of 0% to 6% of the borrowing amount may apply. Payments are made twice per month.

You can quickly and easily qualify for a LendingPoint personal loan. To receive an offer in just minutes, you need:

  • Proof of employment & income
  • Bank statements
  • Voided check
  • Driver’s license or government-issued ID

To qualify for a loan, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a social security number
  • Have at least $20,000 in annual income
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Live in a state serviced by LendingPoint
  • Have a credit score of at least 585

Choose The Right Software

pos with raw ingredient tracking

From keeping track of events to accepting credit cards, the right software can help you do it all. As a caterer, there are several types of software you should consider investing in to keep operations running efficiently.

Accounting Software

This software allows you to perform functions such as tracking expenses, sending invoices to clients, managing payroll, and keeping up with inventory. With accounting software, you can keep up with your financials and run reports, which is especially helpful when you’re seeking financing from a bank or traditional lender. Accounting software also makes it easier for your business when tax time rolls around.

New to accounting? Download our free eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Catering Software

There are specific software programs designed to help caterers manage all aspects of their businesses. Features include invoicing, billing, employee scheduling, event bookings, and other tools to keep your catering business on track.

Payment Processing Software

Not all of your clients will have cash, especially when they’re paying off large bills for their catering expenses. To make payments easier for your clients, invest in payment processing software. This software acts as the communicator between your bank and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other methods of payment. Most payment processing software comes with monthly subscription fees, and some companies even offer free hardware that makes it easier than ever to accept multiple forms of payment.

Hire Employees

When you first start your business, you may be a one-man operation until you start bringing in revenue. However, you will eventually need to hire employees if you want to grow and scale. If you’re like many caterers, you may opt to hire an employee or two right from the start.

Employees that you may hire for your business — either now or in the future — include:

  • Chef: Your chef will be in charge of preparing the food. For large events, consider hiring sou chefs for additional assistance.
  • Servers: Bring food and drinks to guests
  • Bartenders: Serve alcoholic beverages to guests
  • Busboys: Responsible for clearing off tables
  • Host/Hostess: Help guests find their seats
  • Event Planner: Meets with the client to discuss details about the event
  • Supervisor: Ensures that other staff members are doing their jobs efficiently

Until your business grows and brings in revenue, you may opt to hire just a few staff members, such as a chef and a server. As your business gains more customers and becomes profitable, you can add additional employees to your staff.

Do your research to get an idea of the average pay range in your area for each position. It’s also important to remember that other expenses come with hiring staff, including workman’s compensation insurance, training costs, and benefits.

To find employees for your business, ask friends, family members, and colleagues for referrals. You may also post a job advertisement on online job boards. You can even contact local temporary agencies to find the help you need.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Your plans for a catering business are coming together, so now it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to bring in clients. There’s no better place to start than the internet.

Just think about it. If you’re looking for a local company to work with, where is one of the first places you look? The internet, of course.

You can quickly build your web presence with these easy steps.

Launch Your Social Media Profiles

Social media is a great way to reach new customers, and best of all, setting up your profiles is free! Create business pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Make sure to include critical details such as your contact information, service areas, and types of events catered. You can build up your profiles to include information such as menus, pricing lists, and photos of your food and past events.

An added bonus on social media is that you can communicate with potential customers through comments or direct messaging.

As you begin to grow your business, you can later invest in social media ads, but in the beginning, focus on getting your profiles up and running.

Want to get the most out of your social media profiles? Check out our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need to build a website. This doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact, there are lots of website builders that make it easy to choose a template, customize your font and colors, and drag and drop images, text boxes, and tools — no design experience required.

Make sure that the design of your website reflects your branding. You also want to include important details, including the name of your business and contact details. You can also add additional features and information, including a live chat option, photo galleries, and reviews and testimonials.

Advertise Your Business

Boosting your web presence is a great start to advertising your business, but make sure that you don’t stop there. There are several ways that you can advertise your business — both online and off.

Fliers

Pass out or hang flyers advertising your catering services throughout your area. Make sure that you understand the regulations in your area surrounding posting and/or distributing flyers.

Online Ads

Purchase ad space on Facebook, pay-per-click ads on search engines, or even post advertisements on local online forums and social media groups.

Newspaper Ads

This is an oldie but goodie: pay for ad space in your local newspaper.

Attend Wedding Shows

Many cities and towns have bridal shows where vendors can advertise their services. Research events in your area, rent booth space, and advertise your business in-person to newly engaged couples.

Wedding & Event Websites

Submit your business information to wedding and event websites to draw in new customers.

Word-Of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of advertising. Ask your past customers for testimonials and reviews, and always make sure to go above and beyond to provide exceptional service.

Final Thoughts

Starting your own catering business is exciting but venturing out on your own can also be a little scary, especially if you lack business experience. However, you can be on track to owning and operating a successful catering business with careful planning, preparation, and strategic borrowing. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Colorado Small Businesses

Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. Not only is its population burgeoning, but its economy is flourishing and only expected to grow into the future. Professional and business services, the tech industry, and agriculture are among the sectors that will continue to bring new jobs and contribute to the state’s economy.

It isn’t just big business that’s helping the economy grow, either. Small businesses play an extremely important role throughout the state. Unfortunately, these smaller businesses — businesses just like yours — may struggle to find the financing and resources they need to be successful.

The good news is that there are plenty of financing options available to small business owners. The key is knowing where to find them. Instead of spending hours wading through lenders, scratching your head over interest rates and terms, or struggling to get the capital you need, keep reading this post — we’ve taken the guesswork out of small business financing. From online and traditional lenders to grants and more, read on to learn about the resources available to Coloradans.

Online Business Lenders For Colorado Businesses

You probably already use the internet for business — from communicating with clients and suppliers via email to placing orders for inventory and paying utility bills. Why not use it to find financing for your business?

Online lenders make it more convenient than ever to apply for small business loans and financing. You can fill out your application, submit your documentation, and even receive funds in your bank account — all without ever leaving your home or office.

It’s possible to get the financing you need in as little as 24 hours by working with an online lender. Even if you’ve had trouble qualifying for financing in the past, there are online options available to you. Start by checking out these recommended lenders.

Lendio

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Lendio makes shopping around for financing easier than ever. A single application connects you with over 75 lending partners, allowing you to compare rates and find the most affordable financing options in just minutes. Applying with Lendio is free, there’s no obligation, and your credit score isn’t affected by checking your offers.

No matter what type of small business financing you need, you can connect with the right lender through Lendio. Financial products available through Lendio include:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans: $50,000 to $5 million
  • Term Loans: $5,000 to $2 million
  • Short-Term Loans: $2,500 to $500,000
  • Lines Of Credit: $1,000 to $500,000
  • Equipment Financing: $5,000 to $5 million
  • Commercial Mortgages: $250,000 to $5 million
  • Accounts Receivable Financing: Up to 80% of receivables
  • Startup Loans: $500 to $750,000
  • Business Credit Cards: $1,000 to $500,000
  • Merchant Cash Advances: $5,000 to $200,000

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary. You may receive your funds in as little as 24 hours based on the product you select.

SmartBiz

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If you don’t qualify for a low-interest bank loan, there may be an alternative: Small Business Administration loans.
The SBA guarantees a portion of the loans provided through its various loan programs, so lenders feel more confident in financing small businesses. Meanwhile, you’ll get the benefit of a low-interest, long-term loan, even if you’ve been turned down by banks and traditional lenders in the past.

Navigating the SBA application process can be a challenge, but SmartBiz has simplified it through its online marketplace. You can prequalify in minutes, receive funds quickly, and easily move through the SBA loan process by working with SmartBiz.

Through SmartBiz, you can apply for a loan used for working capital or to refinance debt. Loans are available for $30,000 to $350,000 with interest rates of 8.25% to 9.25%. Repayment terms are up to 10 years.

Funds for these loans can be used to refinance existing debt, purchase inventory or equipment, launch a marketing campaign, hire new employees, or cover operating expenses. Loan funds can’t be used to pay unpaid taxes.

To qualify for this loan, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • At least 2 years in business
  • U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Personal credit score of 640 or above
  • Cash flow to cover loan payments
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures within 3 years
  • No defaults on government-backed loans
  • No outstanding tax liens

If you want to purchase, expand, or refinance your commercial property, you can apply for an SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan. Through SmartBiz, you can apply to receive $500,000 to $5 million with interest rates of 7% to 8.25%. Repayment terms are up to 25 years.

These minimum requirements apply to all borrowers:

  • At least 51% of the property is occupied & used by your business
  • Time in business of at least 3 years
  • Personal credit score of 675 or above
  • Cash flow to cover loan payments
  • Purchase price exceeds $500,000
  • U.S. resident or legal permanent resident
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures within the last 3 years
  • No outstanding tax liens
  • No defaults on government-backed loans

Funds from these loans can’t be used to purchase investment properties or to fund new construction costs.

OnDeck

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OnDeck offers two loan options for small business owners in Colorado: term loans and lines of credit. Let’s start off by looking at the options for OnDeck’s term loans.

With a term loan, you can receive a lump sum in amounts up to $500,000. OnDeck offers short-term loans with terms of 3 to 12 months and simple interest rates starting at 9%. This means that your interest rate is a percentage of your loan amount. If you borrow $20,000 at a simple interest rate of 9%, you’ll pay $1,800 in interest — or a total of $21,800 before any additional fees are applied.

Short-term loans are best for projects with an immediate return, such as seasonal hiring, inventory purchases, or launching a marketing campaign.

OnDeck also offers long-term loans. These loans have terms of 15 to 36 months with annual interest rates starting at 9.99%. Long-term loan funds are best for expanding your business, making large-scale inventory purchases, or buying equipment.

To qualify for a term loan, you must have:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 500 or above

If you want a more flexible form of financing, apply for OnDeck’s line of credit. You can receive up to $100,000 with APRs starting at 13.99%. A line of credit is best for filling revenue gaps or paying unexpected expenses.

You only pay interest on borrowed funds, and payments are made each week through automatic deductions. A $20 monthly maintenance fee is required but will be waived for 6 months if you draw at least $5,000 within 5 days of opening your account. There are no draw fees for using your line of credit.

To qualify for a line of credit, you must meet these requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 600 or above

Breakout Capital

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Breakout Capital provides qualified small business owners with up to $250,000 with its small business loans. Daily, weekly, and monthly repayment terms up to 2 years are available. Breakout Capital loans have a fee of 1.25% to 3.5% of the borrowing amount each month.

To qualify for a small business loan, you must have:

  • A time in business of at least 1 year
  • A personal credit score of 600 or above
  • At least $10,000 in monthly revenue

If you need more capital, you may want to consider FactorAdvantage. This service combines invoice factoring and a business loan to provide qualified borrowers with up to $500,000. Fees start at 1.25% of the borrowing amount per month, and repayment terms are available up to 2 years.

If neither of these options seem right for you, Breakout Capital’s lending experts can connect you with other financing options including:

  • SBA 7(a) Loans
  • Equipment Leases
  • Merchant Cash Advances
  • Lines Of Credit

Fundbox

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If you want a fast, flexible line of credit that you can access in just minutes, take a look at what Fundbox has to offer.
You can qualify for a line of credit up to $100,000 when you apply with Fundbox. Repayments are made over a 12- or 24-month period, and payments are automatically withdrawn from your business bank account each week.

Fees for using your Fundbox line of credit start at just 4.66% of the draw amount and are based on the performance of your business. If you don’t use your line of credit, you never pay any fees. As you repay your line of credit, funds are replenished and become available to use again.

Fundbox has a fast and easy application process with minimum borrower requirements. To qualify, you must have:

  • Business checking account
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • At least 3 months of transactions from your business bank account OR at least 2 months of activity in accounting software

Amex Merchant Financing

American Express OptBlue

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If your small business accepts American Express, you may qualify for a business loan up to $2 million with American Express Merchant Financing.

One of the best things about Amex Merchant Financing is you don’t have to worry about confusing interest rates or fees. Instead, you pay one fixed fee for your loan. Fees are based on the terms you select and range from 1.75% to 20% of the borrowing amount. If you repay your loan early, you could receive a rebate of up to 25% of your fee.

Repayment terms of 6, 12, and 24 months are available. A fixed amount will be automatically deducted from your bank account each business day to repay your loan.

Borrowers must meet the following requirements to qualify:

  • Accept American Express Cards
  • Have at least $12,000 in annual credit & debit receivables
  • Have at least $50,000 in annual business revenue
  • Have a time in business of at least 2 years

Credibly

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Credibly is a lender that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for small businesses. Instead, this lender offers three products to give small business owners the capital they need: working capital loans, business expansion loans, and merchant cash advances.

A working capital loan is ideal for covering operational expenses and fueling business growth. Under this program, you may qualify for up to $400,000 that can be repaid over terms of 6 to 18 months. Automatic payments are withdrawn from your account daily or weekly.

Instead of a traditional interest rate, these loans come with factor rates that start at 1.15. Learn more about how factor rates affect the cost of your loan.

The requirements for a Credibly working capital loan are:

  • Personal credit score of 500 or above
  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $15,000 in average monthly bank deposits

If you’re ready to expand your business, consider applying for Credibly’s business expansion loan. You can receive up to $250,000 with terms of 18 or 24 months. Repayments are automatically deducted each week. Interest rates for these loans start at 9.99%.

For Credibly’s business expansion loans, you must have:

  • A personal credit score of 600 or above
  • Time in business of at least 3 years
  • At least $15,000 in average monthly bank deposits
  • At least $3,000 in average daily balances

The final option that may work best for you is a merchant cash advance, or MCA. Credibly purchases a percentage of your future receivables. Daily remittances are made until your loan plus any applicable fees are repaid. The estimated duration of this type of financing is 3 to 18 months.

With this type of financing, you can qualify for up to $400,000. Factor rates start at 1.15.

Requirements for a Credibly MCA are:

  • Personal credit score of 500 or above
  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $15,000 in average monthly bank deposits

Upstart

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Having trouble finding a low-interest loan option? Consider using your own personal credit score and income to qualify for a personal loan for business. Whether you’re operating a brand new business or you can’t meet the requirements of small business lenders, getting a personal loan could be the hassle-free, affordable option you’re looking for.

Upstart is an online lender that offers personal loans that you can use for your business expenses. You can borrow between $1,000 and $50,000 with APRs starting at 8.09% for the most qualified borrowers. Don’t have perfect credit? It’s no problem. You can still qualify for a loan with APRs up to 35.99%.

One of the unique things about Upstart is that the lender considers more than just your credit score when approving your loan. Upstart looks at overall credit history, area of study, job history, and education to determine if you qualify for a loan.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • A source of income
  • Personal credit score of 620 or above
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • Less than 6 inquiries within the last 6 months on your credit report
  • A solid debt-to-income ratio

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Colorado

If you’d rather work with a traditional lender, there’s no shortage of them in Colorado. Work with your own bank or credit union, or consider one of these options for your business financing.

Bank Of Colorado

The Bank of Colorado has branches located all throughout the state, including cities like Akron, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Denver. The Bank of Colorado offers multiple financial products for small business owners. In addition to business checking and savings accounts, you can apply for:

  • Business Credit Cards
  • Business Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Agriculture Loans & Lines Of Credit
  • Equipment Loans
  • Real Estate Loans
  • Livestock Loans

Bank of Colorado also offers merchant card processing, employee benefits, and other small business services. Visit your local branch to apply for Bank of Colorado’s small business banking services.

Ent Credit Union

Ent Credit Union was founded in 1957 and has grown to over 30 branches throughout the state with more than 330,000 members. Service centers can be found in cities including Aurora, Denver, Colorado Springs, and Parker.

You can apply for small business checking, savings, and money market accounts. If you need extra capital for your business, you may also qualify for one of Ent’s financial products including:

  • Business Auto Loans
  • Business Credit Cards
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Business Term Loans
  • Equipment Loans
  • SBA 504 Loans

To apply for any type of financing, you must be an Ent Credit Union member. To qualify for membership, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in one of the counties served by Ent
  • Be civilian or military personnel of the Colorado Air National Guard or Colorado Army National Guard
  • Be associated with Buckley Air Force Base
  • Have a family member that is a member of Ent

You can sign up for membership online, by phone, or through a service center.

Colorado Enterprise Fund

Colorado Enterprise Fund is a nonprofit lender that specializes in lending to small businesses that may not qualify for traditional financing. Since 1976, this lender has closed over 2,000 loans for small business owners in Colorado.

There are multiple financing options available through the Colorado Enterprise Fund, including:

  • Dream Big Microloans: Up to $50,000 with terms up to 7 years
  • Step Up Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 10 years
  • Healthy Food Loans: Up to $500,000
  • Valor Loans For Veterans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 10 years
  • SBA Community Advantage Loans: Up to $250,000 with terms up to 25 years
  • Just In Time Lines Of Credit: Up to $100,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • GAP Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 25 years
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 7 years

Startups and existing businesses may be eligible to receive funding. Colorado Enterprise Fund will evaluate several factors when determining whether to approve an application, including:

  • Personal Credit Score
  • Equity
  • Industry Experience
  • Payment History
  • Cash Flow & Profitability
  • Collateral

The online application and all requirements can be found on the Colorado Enterprise Fund website.

Small Business Grants In Colorado

startup grants

Nothing in life is free … or is it? If you qualify for a small business grant, you could get the financing your business needs without having to repay the funds. No interest rates, no debt, no problem, right?

Unfortunately, many small business owners find that the process of finding, qualifying for, and receiving a small business grant is extremely difficult. Even if you meet the stringent criteria, you’ll have to compete with many other small business owners.

This doesn’t mean that you should just forget about small business grants. If you qualify, you certainly should take the time to apply. However, just understand that you also need to consider other sources of capital for your business.
In the state of Colorado, there are several grant opportunities available to small business owners. Get started with these options.

LEADING EDGE For International Opportunities

Leading Edge for International Opportunities is a grant program administered by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The proceeds from these grants are used for covering the costs of export projects. Minority, veteran, and women-owned businesses are eligible to apply.

Through this program, grant recipients can receive up to $10,000 to pay for costs associated with international business development and marketing projects, including foreign trade show exhibition and conference costs, advertising in overseas industry trade publications, and foreign business-to-business matchmaking services.

To qualify, businesses must meet the following requirements:

  • Employ fewer than 100 employees globally
  • Headquarters in Colorado OR at least 50% of employees based in Colorado
  • Registered with the Colorado Secretary of State
  • At least 51% ownership by minorities, veterans, or women
  • Time in business of at least 1 year

All information and the online application are available through the Colorado Minority Business Office.

Colorado First & Existing Industry Customized Job Training Grant Program

The Colorado First & Existing Industry Customized Job Training Grant Program is open to new or existing Colorado businesses. Through this program, grant funds can be used for training permanent, full-time employees. Businesses can receive up to $1,400 per eligible employee.

There are several requirements a business must meet to receive this grant, including:

  • Contributions of at least 40% to the total costs of grant-funded training
  • Must pay at least $13 per hour in urban counties and at least minimum wage in rural counties
  • Must offer health insurance to employees

To learn more about this grant and to apply, you must contact a CFEI college representative through the Colorado Community College System website.

Colorado Creative Industries Grants

Colorado Creative Industries offers multiple grant opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. One of the most notable grant programs is the Career Advancement Grant. Through this program, you can receive matching funds up to $2,500 to stimulate a commercial creative business.

To qualify for this grant, you must meet these requirements:

  • A resident of Colorado
  • At least 18 years old
  • Have a creative sector business
  • Received no funding from CCI within 12 months of the application deadline

An online application for this grant and information on additional funding programs is available on the Colorado Creative Industries website.

Loans & Resources For Startups In Colorado

You have your business plan in place, you’re motivated and focused, and you’re ready to launch your new business. There’s just one thing missing from the entrepreneurial equation: capital.

Getting a loan through your bank or even alternative lenders can be a challenge for startup businesses. But don’t let that get you down because there ARE options available to you if you know where to look.

Start your search for funding with these organizations. In addition to funding, you’ll also have access to loads of resources including business training, one-on-one consultations, and educational materials to help you start and operate a successful small business.

Colorado Small Business Development Center Network

If you need business consulting, look no further than the Colorado Small Business Development Center Network. There are more than 80 centers located throughout Colorado that offer free one-on-one consulting on topics including:

  • Marketing
  • Financial Assistance
  • QuickBooks
  • Business Plan Writing
  • Certifications
  • Social Media Strategies

Workshops, scholarships, strategic planning courses, eLearning videos, and special events are also offered through the Colorado SBDC Network. Visit the official website or your local center for more information on the resources available to small business owners.

SCORE

Whether you need help starting your own business or advice for your existing business, check out SCORE to connect with a business mentor. You’ll receive free advice online, over the phone, or at a SCORE office near you.

Mentorships aren’t all that SCORE has to offer. You can also sign up for workshops, classes, and webinars. SCORE also has a large library of business resources to access. All services are available for free or for a low fee.

In Colorado, there are several offices throughout the state in cities including Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo. You can call or visit your local office or go online to request a mentor.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

As you can see, there are plenty of small business financing options and resources for Coloradans. However, narrowing down your choice to just one is still a daunting task. Whittle down your choices by considering the following:

Does The Lender’s Products Fit My Needs?

One of the first steps you should take before seeking financing is to determine what product works best for you. If you want capital that’s available when you need it, work with a lender that offers business credit cards or lines of credit. If you need a large amount of capital, find lenders that offer long-term, low-interest loan options. By determining what type of financing works for your business beforehand, you can eliminate lenders that don’t offer the financial products you need.

Do The Rates & Terms Work For Me?

Shop around to compare rates and terms of lenders that are at the top of your list. Would you rather make one monthly payment? Cross off the lenders that require weekly, daily, or bi-weekly payments. Have a good credit score? Avoid lenders that specialize in financing to less creditworthy borrowers, since interest rates will often be much higher.

Always take the full cost of financing into consideration, including additional fees charged by the lender. Then, analyze your other business debts. You should ensure that your business can comfortably afford to take on additional debt before signing on the dotted line.

Will The Funding Be Enough For My Business?

How much capital do you need for your business? Once you’ve determined the amount you’re seeking, you can narrow down your list of lenders. If you need $100,000 to purchase new equipment, a lender with loans that max out at $50,000 won’t cut it. Calculate how much you need to borrow, then select a lender that can meet your financial needs.

Do I Meet The Lender’s Requirements?

Before you apply for financing, check your credit score, understand any negative items on your credit report, and have a grasp of the financials of your business. Most lenders look at factors including personal and business credit scores, personal and business credit history, time in business, and annual revenue. If you fall short with one lender, find a lender with requirements you can meet.

One last thing to note is that if you’re unable to meet the criteria of multiple lenders, it may be time to evaluate if now is the right time for financing. Break down your finances, work to build up your credit score, and explore all financial options before signing on to a high-interest loan with unfavorable terms.

Final Thoughts

Building a business is never easy. However, with the many resources available to Coloradans, you can increase your chances for success whether you’re just getting started or you’re ready to expand your business. Always do your research, consider all options available to you, and take the time to determine what steps to take next to best benefit your business.

The post The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Colorado Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Jimdo Website Builder Review

Jimdo is known as an easy-to-use, all-inclusive website builder that is designed for people with no coding knowledge. They offer two options for website owners: a DIY builder that puts you in control of choosing a template and customizing it, or an AI website builder that uses artificial intelligence to build a template for you, then walks you through the various tweaks you can make.

See Jimdo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Jimdo a try for a full Jimdo review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Jimdo review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

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

What Is Jimdo?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Jimdo lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, you buy a domain, hosting, and website software separately.).

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

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Jimdo, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Jimdo competes with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on using AI to create done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus on plugging in your content and getting up and running quickly.

They also offer a more traditional drag-and-drop builder for those who have more experience, making Jimdo appeal to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience) and those who have a bit of website knowledge and want more customization abilities.

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

Pros of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Jimdo — not just in comparison to popular website builders like Weebly and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of Jimdo’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple process that involves creating an account, verifying your details through your email, and then choosing which website builder you’d like to use.

Jimdo Product Options

One thing to note here — if you’re looking for the easiest, most hands-off way to create your website, the AI web designer is probably your best option. It goes through a series of questions and then creates your website for you, but follows the process up with a detailed, step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your base template. It’s perfect for DIYers who are brand new to building a website.

Jimdo Tutorial

Simplicity

Jimdo is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template (or have one created for you with the AI builder), you’re pretty much locked in to the layout provided.

The DIY website builder is drag and drop, but it has it’s limitation — you can add new elements to the page, but only within the template structure you’re already given (and limited to the elements provided — but more on that in a bit).

Jimdo Editor

And if you’re using the AI builder, you’re given even more structure (with that comes limitations, but again — we’ll get there). With this option, you have less drag-and-drop and more choose from what they give you. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

AI Editor Jimdo

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

Website Builder Options

Part of what makes Jimdo unique is they offer two design routes — you can either use their AI website builder, which gathers information for you and creates a template based on your answers to questions like “what is your website for?” and “what is your preferred design style?”. From there, Jimdo walks you through a step-by-step tutorial for customizing your assigned website template.

Jimdo AI Set Up

Or, you can take the DIY-approach. In this approach, you select your industry and are provided with a selection of website templates to choose from. Then, you can customize the template with Jimdo’s drag and drop editor. This method is slightly more advanced, but still straightforward and controlled enough to keep newbies in check.

DIY Jimdo

One thing to note if you’re going the DIY route — I found that your industry selection doesn’t matter. I was given the same templates to choose from whether I chose business or healthcare or skipped the industry question all together.

*One additional note here. When using Jimdo for the purposes of this review, I created an additional Jimdo account through a new browser window to go through the sign up process again, and was automatically assigned to the AI website builder. Of course, there’s always a chance for user error, but as a brand new, inexperienced customer to the platform… it was confusing. It’s a potential con for using the platform, but not because of the actual user experience of the builder — it’s just a bit confusing and unclear when signing up.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Jimbdo is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Jimdo also offers ecommerce functionality with their paid plan (one thing to note — in order to get ecommerce functionality, you do need to choose between the two higher-priced tiers.)

Jimdo Ecommerce

We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

European Presence

For U.S. users, this isn’t really a pro or a con, but for those in the EU, Jimdo’s European presence makes it a strong competitor.

Jimdo is a German company and operates data centers in Europe. As a European company, this means that Jimdo’s data protection and privacy standards are much stronger thanks to the EU’s new laws on data and privacy.

Additionally, if you are a US company who needs an EU microsite for an EU audience, Jimdo makes GDPR a bit easier than some website builders focused on the US market.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Plans + Pricing

Jimdo’s pricing and plan structure is a bit confusing. When first signing up, You can see that paid plans start at $9/month paid annually, which includes your own domain, free hosting but only a 10 page limit.

Jimdo Pricing

However, if you choose a free plan and want to upgrade (which I did), the pricing options appear differently from inside your account.

Jimdo Pricing Part Two

Aside from the convoluted information, the actual competitiveness of the plans and pricing structure leaves something to be desired (err, actually a *lot* to be desired).

Compared to competitors like Wix, Gator, and Weebly, Jimdo is more expensive and has more restrictive limits.

Their free plan doesn’t even offer mobile-friendly site design (a pretty standard design feature in today’s world), and you can’t get basic Search Engine Optimization features until their mid-tier plans. Even the mid-tier Grow plans has hard limits on the number of pages and on bandwidth usage (which to me seems like a double-limit). And I’m all for over-delivering on low expectations, but the support options are seriously deficient.

Plus, there’s no option to may monthly, so you’re locked in for a year.

In short, using Jimdo is going to be more expensive than going with a competitor and more restrictive due to the design and technical limitations (more on that shortly), regardless of whether you’re using it for a year or just a few months.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Jimbdo website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing at all. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template and adding additional elements within the template that may enhance your design / user experience.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with Jimdo. In the DIY website builder, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’ of the design. You can also choose from a few variations of the template, which essentially just have different navigation styles.

Jimdo Template Variations

With pages, you can delete and add sections and move them around, but you cannot add a page unless you add it to the navigation. You can alter the layout, but you certainly cannot edit the CSS, much less add any other design element outside of the pieces they give you.

And if you’re using the AI website builder, you’re limited even further. As I mentioned above, you can add sections and elements based on pre-built blocks, but that’s about it.

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling.And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Jimdo website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Jimdo does give some integrations, like ecommerce and DNS/hosting services. However, there are a ton of technical features that Jimdo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Jimdo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title and description for individual pages, as well as assign noindex, nofollow, or noarchive settings. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have aside from editing the HTML in text sections on the page. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Jimdo SEO Options

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics.

Jimdo Analtyics

Ultimately, Jimdo leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Jimdo Review Conclusion

Jimdo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization (just choose their AI website builder). They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor/customizer that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Jimdo’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Jimdo falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They’re severely limited when it comes to technical features and integrations, which means if you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over functionality and enhancements, Jimdo may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Jimdo fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices

Subscription-based business models seem to be everywhere these days. Emerging wine clubs, personal care-in-a-box subscriptions, wardrobe-of-the-month sites — even supporting a favorite podcast! Clearly, these types of businesses are finding success as people jump into subscriptions to save money, time, or just for the fun of getting a box in the mail. And it’s not just cheese-of-the-month clubs anymore. Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions are booming in both business and personal markets. This environment is ripe for subscription business models, but you need the right tools to process recurring payments while protecting your business from security risks.

Of course, businesses that serve a local market with more traditional recurring products and services like gyms, childcare, or home improvement services also rely on recurring payments for their revenue stream — whether that’s automatically charging a credit card or manually sending an invoice.

Choosing a payment processor for this type of business is not a light decision, so let’s take a look at what Square has to offer in terms of solutions geared for the recurring payment model.

How To Set Up Recurring Payments With Square eCommerce

If you are about to launch an eCommerce subscription-based business or you are looking for a different payment processing setup than the one you have, Square should be on your radar. While Square doesn’t provide complete “out-of-the-box” solutions for eCommerce businesses, they offer three main options for you to get your shop live, with some flexibility under each.

Square Payment Form and Transaction API:

If you are a developer or have the in-house developer support, you can create a custom payment experience that resembles the rest of your site. That means you can save a card on file using the Square Payment Form and set up recurring billing using your own subscription logic. Square also has digital wallet support so you can add Apple Pay, Google Pay, or MasterPass for faster checkout. Here’s more information directly from Square if you opt to embed the payment form:

Square Payment Form provides secure, hosted components for payment data like card number and CVV, while enabling you to make it your own. It’s designed to help buyers enter their card data accurately and quickly. Card data is collected securely and tokenized, never hitting your servers, so you don’t have to worry about PCI compliance.

Pre-Built Workflow:

When you integrate Square Checkout, you can save a card on file safely, and you won’t need as much developer knowledge. This solution is a pre-built workflow that includes digital wallet support, and it’s all hosted on Square’s servers. You won’t have as much wiggle room in regards to customization, but it’s still going to give you a fast, streamlined checkout experience. Square provides a technical reference guide to assist you in building what you need, including setting up recurring billing.

Choose An Integration:

If you want a simpler solution that doesn’t require coding or technical expertise, a plug-in may be just the ticket for you to get up and running quickly. Of all the options available within the Square Dashboard, Chargify jumps out because it seems to offer everything a subscription service would need. According to Chargify:

Chargify bills your customer’s credit card on whatever schedule you define. In addition to processing one-time and recurring transactions, Chargify can handle free trial periods, one-time fees, promotions, refunds, email receipts, and even dunning (reminders for failed credit card payments) management.

Chargify plans start at $99 a month, but you can work your way up the scale when it comes to additional options. In general, Square plug-in selections abound, so you can shop to find the most promising solution for your business right from your Square Dashboard under Apps. Here’s a screenshot of a few options listed:

Square Integration Plug Ins

No matter which solution you decide on, you can rest assured that the burden of PCI compliance and security with payment processing sits on Square’s shoulders, not your own. And the free support you get from Square’s team if there is a chargeback issue also gives some much-needed peace of mind as well.

To find out more and shop eCommerce solutions, head to Square’s website and select eCommerce under the section, Software services to grow your business. If you want to learn more before signing up, read our post, The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments. And if you want to find out more about Square as an eCommerce solution in general, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

How To Set Up Square Recurring Invoices

When you’re ready to set up a recurring invoice for your customer, Square makes it easy. You can create an invoice through your Square POS app or from the Square Dashboard. You can then set up the scheduling frequency of your recurring invoice, though you will need your customer to approve their card on file.

Whether you send a one-time or recurring invoice, enable Allow Customer to Save Card on File so your customer can approve. Then you’ll be all set for repeat billing.

Note: If you need to manually save a card on file from your Virtual Terminal at your computer, you’ll need to print out the approval form so your customer can sign it first.

Here’s a screenshot of what the setup looks like for recurring invoices within the Square Dashboard.

Square Recurring Invoice

With Square Invoices, you can also request a deposit, either due immediately or within a specific time-frame. So for you business owners that charge a sign-up or other set-up fee, you can seamlessly add in a deposit request and cover all the bases.

Getting Paid with Square Invoices

When your customer makes a payment, credit card payments update automatically in their invoice. Your customer follows the Pay Now prompt to enter their details and can also approve saving the card on file.

Did your customer send a check or pay you by cash? You can also record payment manually when you open up the invoice. If your customer wants to pay over the phone, you can process the amount on your computer through the Square Virtual Terminal located within the Square Dashboard. And finally, you can process in-person payments and apply them directly to the invoice by swiping, dipping, or tapping your customer’s card to your connected Square Reader. Just make sure you go into Invoices and apply the payment to the existing customer invoice.

Square Invoices (read our review) also makes it easy to track when your customer saw your invoice and any activity within the account. You can quickly send a message to follow up or edit the invoice any time from your Square Dashboard.

How To Use Square Installments For Invoices

Another solution that may boost sales is offering payment plans through Square Installments. Square Installments for Invoices finances the cost for your customer, so there’s no need for you to invoice repeatedly; instead, you are paid upfront and in full by Square. Square Installments is currently only available to select businesses, however. You’ll need to apply, and if you are approved, the Installments option automatically appears as a payment option on your invoices and Square POS.

When your customer chooses Installments (either via their invoice or your Square POS), they’ll apply directly with Square Capital at the time of the sale. If they are approved, the balance is reflected in your account. Also note that after the sale, Square Capital takes on the liability of the charge, so you won’t deal with collecting or processing payments. In fact, Square instructs any merchant to direct all questions or issues your customer may have with their installment payments to Square Installments directly. Find out more about it on our post, How Does Customer Financing Through Square Installment Work?

How Much Do Recurring Payments Cost With Square?

What is cheaper than Square?

Below is a breakdown of Square’s payment processing per transaction. When you crunch the numbers, keep in mind that you are getting an all-in-one solution as far as payment security with PCI compliance and chargeback support. Square doesn’t charge monthly service fees either, so what you see is what you get as far as costs go.

  • Invoice paid with card by customer: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Invoice paid with card on file: 3.5% + $0.15
  • eCommerce processing: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Square Installments for Invoices: 2.9% of the purchase price + $0.30
  • Square Installments at your Point of sale: 3.5% of the purchase price + $0.15
  • Square online payment API and SKIs: Free for developers to use + eCommerce processing fee
  • Plug-in apps integrated with Square: Price varies with each software provider

Should You Use Square’s Recurring Payments Tools?

Setting up recurring payments for your customers takes a little bit more forethought and prep than a one-off charge. However, Square makes recurring invoices accessible by offering a range of solutions for both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar shops.

As far as third-party processors and eCommerce go, Square offers similar solutions as its peers. In other words, you’ll likely need the help of a developer with any option you choose, including PayPal or Stripe — unless you opt for a plug-in app. That being said, Square enables you to get eCommerce up and running safely — whether that is through a pre-built workflow, easy integration with a plug-in app, or API developer tools. (If you do have the developer expertise and a bit more wiggle-room in your budget, it’s worth mentioning that Stripe affords greater freedom to customize the whole process, add advanced reporting features, and a lot more. But you can’t be shy with code!)

Still curious about Square? Why not give them a try and see for yourself? There is no fee to sign up and no binding contract required, so setting up an account may be the next step for you. You can also head over to our Square Review and read how it compares to the other solutions out there.

The post How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time

If your business relies on paper-based invoicing, you don’t need me to tell you about the inconvenience of printing, mailing, and waiting to get paid. Despite the hassle, many businesses still rely on printing and mailing invoices — you’re not alone. However, more and more shops are switching to online invoicing platforms to eliminate the expense of paper, printing, mailing, and administrative costs — and get paid faster!

If you’re ready to try an easier invoicing process, one simple and popular new solution is Square Invoices — because yes, in addition to the free mobile card reader and mobile POS, Square offers a fairly robust invoicing platform that syncs seamlessly with the rest of Square’s features. 

We’ve already reviewed Square Invoices, so I recommend that you check out the review for a more detailed look at how Square stacks up against some other options.

In this post, we are going to dive into Square Invoices and show you how to use the platform! From setting up a one-time invoice to setting up recurring invoices and creating deposit requests and reminders, you’re going to find out everything you need to know about using Square to send and receive payments.

But first, I know the most important question will always be “how much does it cost?”

How Much Does Square Invoices Cost?

The good news is that Square Invoices is entirely free to use. You can send unlimited one-off invoices, recurring invoices, scheduled invoices, and any other type of invoice, and you’ll only incur payment processing fees at the time your customer pays you.

When your customer opens your invoice and pays you online with their credit card, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 for processing costs. If you use a saved Card on File from your Customer Directory to process an invoice payment, you’ll pay 3.5% + $0.15.

That’s it. Square doesn’t charge any monthly fees, service fees, or any other fees beyond the processing costs. A transparent pricing model and fully secure, PCI compliant payment processing are what makes Square a leading choice for businesses that need a simple, cost-effective solution.  

So let’s find out how to use Square Invoices to save time and get paid faster!

How To Send A Square Invoice

To send an invoice with Square, you’ll need to set up a Square account. The setup process doesn’t take long, and Square only asks for necessary personal information — no credit checks required! Once you’ve got an official Square account, you can access everything you need right at your dashboard. The same tools are at your disposal whether you access Invoices from your Square POS app or the Square Dashboard at your computer. Note that for this post, we are creating an invoice from our Square Dashboard — and here it is in the screenshot below.

Square Dashboard and Invoices

As you can see, I don’t have any outstanding invoices. If I did have outstanding invoices, the blue box labeled Invoices would display the dollar amount. From this tile, I can quickly send a new invoice by selecting Send an Invoice.

1. Fill In Customer Information & Invoice Details

When you first open the form to build an invoice, it’s very straightforward to plug in the details. Add your customer’s name, email address, and a message. The default message for the invoice is, “We appreciate your business,” but you can certainly start from scratch here and add a more dynamic message. The possibilities here are endless, from inviting them to consider a new service or promoting an upcoming event or discount. You know what they say, “Always Be Closing.”

Keep in mind that Square Invoices also syncs with your customer directory, so if you’re invoicing a past client, you can pull their name and information from the directory. If this is the first time you’ve sent this customer an invoice, this process will create an entry in your database.

I want to mention the Invoice Method line briefly. This line refers to the delivery method. Square Invoices send the invoice via email as a default, but you can also select Share Invoice Manually in the drop-down and Square will generate a link. You can send the link to your customer via text message, social media account, or any other type of messaging platform.

2. Set Payment Terms For One-Time Invoice

Working our way down the Invoice Details, let’s look at the Frequency. In the drop-down, you can choose One-time or Recurring. In the next section, I’m going to peel back the layers of recurring invoices. But first, let’s focus on a one-time invoice and the Send line in the image below.

This step is important for obvious reasons. When you think about customer behavior, remember that the fresher the value is in their mind, the more likely you are to get paid. Send the invoice as close to the deliverable as possible, and choose your due date carefully.

New Square Invoice

 

3. Set Up Recurring Invoice Schedule

As you can see in the image below, you have some flexibility when it comes to when and how you enable recurring invoices with Square. You can choose to send immediately, or choose a set time block such as in seven days or at the end of the month. You can also select a specific date.

Here, you can also select how often to repeat the recurring invoice. You can set the schedule for daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly invoice billing. Next, select when to stop your recurring invoices. Your options are never, after a specific number of invoices, or on a specific date. You can see in the example I set up below that I’ve ordered my recurring invoices for six months and requested payment due within seven days of receipt. I’ve also enabled Automatic Payments. If my customer approves automatic payments and saves their card, I’ve just made things even easier for myself (and them)! We will revisit the card-on-file situation and what that means for you in an upcoming section.  

Recurring Invoices can help you get paid on time for a service- or product-based subscription, of course, but you can also utilize recurring invoices to allow your customers to pay in installments. It’s all in how you set up expectations with your customer. Make sure to lay out what is expected as far as payment for the exchange of goods or services in the Line Item section.  

Whether you send a recurring or one-time invoice, the next steps are the same, so keep reading to find out how to fill in all of the upcoming invoice options, starting with Line Items.

4. Adding Line Items To Your Invoice

When it’s time to add items to your invoice, you’ll choose from the drop-down menu. If you don’t have inventory saved, you can simply type in the product or service and the price. I’ve added in ad-hoc services and prices to my Line Items in the screenshot below.

Need to add a note next to the service? Select Customize on the line item, and you can add a simple note next to the specific product or service in your invoice. Remember, the clearer you are here, the better. Avoiding confusion by adding descriptive notes can benefit you if there is a question later on down the road.

Filling out Invoice Square Line Items

Similarly, if you are allowing your customer to pay in installments, use the Line Item section to make clear what installment is being paid and the end product or service (e.g., Installment 2 of 4 for Vegan Suede LoveSeat Couch, Color: Coral)

5. Adding a Discount & Request Deposit

Under our Line Items, we can opt to Add Discount. In the example below, I applied a 25% new customer discount to this gift basket order by manually entering it into the discount fields.

Under the total, notice that you can also Request Deposit. You can request a specific percentage upfront by adding in details here. I’ve added a request for a 50% due immediately upon receipt. Whether the purchase requires you to special order materials or you are holding an item for a customer, requesting a deposit can help reduce risk to your bottom line.

Square Invoice Request Deposit

6. Fill In More Options

After you have all of the main parts of the invoice filled out, there is one last section: More Options. Here you can do even more to organize and keep on top of the invoices you send:

  • Set Reminders
  • Request a Shipping Address
  • Allow a Customer to Add a Tip
  • Allow Customer to Save a Card on File
  • Add Attachments

Square Invoice Options

Square Invoices automatically sets up reminders, but you can select Edit Reminders (as seen to the right) and edit the frequency around the due date. If you select Tipping, your customer will have the ability to manually add the tip amount or choose a percent to add to the total.

Store Cards on File For Faster Payments

Storing a card on file can save your customer time and streamline the process for everyone. When you process a payment with a card on file, it is going to cost you a little bit more in processing costs, however. To refresh your memory, processing a Card on File payment costs 3.5% plus $0.15. If your customer sets up recurring invoices and approves automatic payments, you can see how this could benefit your business over the long run, despite the extra charge.

There are a few ways to create a Card on File for Invoices. First, you can select Card on File on the invoice, as pictured above. If you select this, your customer does all the work on their end with approval. If you are at your Virtual Terminal or at the Square Point of Sale app and want to add your customer’s card to the customer director for future billing, you can do that, too.

To add a card on file, head to the Customer Directory and manually add their credit card information. Square prompts you to print out and have your customer sign their approval to save their card on file. Make sure you keep that piece of paper in a safe place!

7. Attach Files

In addition to selecting the option for your customer to store their card on file, you can attach additional files that pertain to the order. Square lets you add up to ten files (up to 25 MB worth, total). This includes JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, and PDF file types. Attaching files such as contracts, mock designs, or information about the sale may help support your case if there is a chargeback issue in the future, so it pays to add as much pertinent information as you can here.

Adding attachments to Square Invoice

Need help drafting an agreement or documents? Square provides free professional contract templates so that you can customize and attach to invoices. Use these to spell out the details in your contract, get ahead of customer expectations, and avoid payment disputes. Square provides downloadable templates including Completion of Services, Order Forms, Improvement Agreements, Sale of Goods, and more. Visit Square’s Build Your Contract page to find templates you may need and add to your invoices or keep on file.

8. Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances

After entering in all of the most important details of the invoice, let’s see how it will look for the customer. In the upper right-hand corner of the invoice screen, I selected ‘Preview.’ Here is what we have so far.

Square Invoice Tutorial

You’ll notice right off the bat that the Square Invoice has a pretty large banner that is currently completely unbranded. Square reminded me through the green tutorial prompt that I can update my logo, color, and business information by heading to Account & Settings.

Let’s head there next and update the banner to reflect the brand. Adjusting these setting and information is located at Receipt under Account. Note that the settings, branding, and contact information that you apply in Receipts is also reflected in the settings and branding applied in Invoices and Estimates.

Below, I uploaded a logo and chose a background color from the available colors.

Design Square Invoice Logo

After scrolling through the sample invoice preview, I also noticed that Square had my business name, address, and phone number in the footer. If you’re like me and don’t have a brick-and-mortar business location, you can adjust the details of your contact information, which is what I will also be doing in Account & Settings.

All you have to do to disable location display is toggle ‘Show Location.’ The only contact details displayed on my invoices now are my business name, and contact phone number. Just how I like it!

Hiding Location Square Invoice

9. Send Invoice

Here is our finished invoice. Note that we selected that the customer can save their card on file. Additional authorization is all ready for them to click right below Billing Information.

Square Invoices

As I scroll down in the invoice, you can see that I’ve added a short note, itemized products, and the discount. Also remember that for this order, I required a deposit before assembling the baskets. When viewing the invoice, the total balance and the due date for the deposit are laid out clearly, as seen in the screenshot below.

And that’s it! The invoice ready to send to the client.

Track Invoices & Follow Up With Customers

If you deal primarily in custom orders, or you have multiple clients, it’s quite likely you have several outstanding invoices at any given time. The good news is that with Square Invoices, you don’t need to hope you’ve remembered to enter an invoice in your spreadsheet so nothing slips through the cracks.

In the Square Dashboard, you have many options to sort and search for invoices. You can search for and view every invoice you’ve sent by customer ID, invoice ID, invoice title, or customer email. You can also sort invoices to only display sent, outstanding, paid, scheduled, draft, and unsuccessful invoices. The other way you can sort your invoice view is by a specific date or a date set.

Square Sorting Invoice

By selecting only to view outstanding invoices, you know who you may need to follow up with this week. Following up is easy — you simply select the invoice. As you can see in the screenshot below, a vertical screen appears to the right of your dashboard when you select the specific invoice. Here you can view the recent activity, and track when (or if) your client saw the invoice and any action taken with it.

At the bottom left, you can select Remind and draft a quick reminder message to send to your customer. Need to record a payment received by cash or check? No problem, you can manually add the amount by selecting Record Payment under the Payment Schedule section.

Square Invoices Recording Payment

Pay Off The Invoice With Square POS

If your customer is standing in front of you or will be heading in to see you, the free Square POS app is a great way to take their payment. For one, if you swipe, tap or dip the card with a connected reader, you can process the payment at 2.75% rather than 2.9% + $0.30.

Square Invoice POS

Here is the next payment screen. You can record partial or full payment or charge a swipe, tap, or dip a card on your connected device.

Square Pay Invoice on POS

While we are here, I want to remind you that the Square POS app has all of the same invoice functionalities as far as processing payments, tracking, and yes — even setting up and sending invoices.

Sending An Estimate

I’m happy to report that Square recently started supporting estimates. If you haven’t quite closed the deal yet with your customer, or you provide a service-based business, sending an estimate is an essential step. You can access Estimates within the Invoices section.

Square estimate

I filled in the details of a bathroom remodel estimate below. The same branding and delivery methods apply to estimates as they do to invoices, so if you’ve already set that up, you’re all set! Head back to the previous section in this tutorial, Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances, for a refresh on how to update logo and colors if you haven’t yet.

Creating an Estimate in Square

As you can see, the process is nearly identical to send an invoice and an estimate. 

Is Square Invoices Right For You?

As far as making your life easier as a business owner, Square delivers when it comes to simplicity and ease of use. As far as getting paid, invoicing a client is a bit more expensive when it comes to processing credit cards, but you can send an unlimited amount of invoices for free, record check or cash payments, and get the simple tracking and reporting tools with no added fees.

If you compare Square Invoice to paper printing, mailing, and waiting, it’s no contest — Square wins hands down. But Square does have its limitations. If you are looking for advanced reporting features, integrated expense tracking, and live bank feeds, you may want to shell out some more money for a premium solution like FreshBooks (read our review). Check out our Invoicing Software Comparison chart to see different options available.

That being said, I like that Square seems to be listening to their user base when it comes to improving functionality and offering more solutions, as evidenced by the recent addition of estimates this year. All in all, with Square you have everything you need to send an invoice or a deposit request and easily track activity for follow-up. If you are ready to give it a shot, set up a free Square account and start sending invoices!

Want to know more about Square? Again, don’t forget to take a look at our Square Invoices Review, and for a better look at everything Square can do for you, check out our complete, in-depth Square review!

The post How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business

The news cycle is full of hype about the “knowledge economy” but often light on details about how the average person can catch a piece of the tutoring action. Do you have a skill you’ve carefully honed over the years — or even one you have accidentally cultivated through repetition at your job? Don’t have state certification and six years of college handy? No worries; you don’t have to have an MA in education to be an effective teacher. One of the more accessible points of entry to a career in education is to teach those skills to other people via the increasingly lucrative tutoring industry.

Have you considered starting a tutoring business? Tutoring may be one of the easier avenues to make a little cash in the knowledge-selling economy, but expanding a part-time coaching gig to full-time, lucrative business can take a surprising amount of planning and resources. Not sure where to start? We’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for planning your tutoring business. We’ll also give you some ideas for where you can turn for funding when you need it.

Ready? Let’s go!

Pick A Tutoring Niche

Life is full of paradoxes, but one key part of thinking big is to narrow your focus. Creativity is as informed by limitation as it is by possibility.

As you would when starting any kind of business, think about where you can add value and what problems your skill set can solve. Are people in your area already doing what you’re planning to do? Is there an X-factor you could offer? A different spin on the familiar? Or is there a niche that’s unserved or under-served, particularly in your local area? For that matter, does your area have needs for specific skill sets?

Don’t have the skills or the local demand to create a flute tutoring business?

You can always fall back on subjects that are in high demand. Languages. Writing. Math. Science. And remember, each of these subjects can be broken down farther into sub-categories like algebra, chemistry, conversational Spanish, etc.

Another safe approach is to tutor students who are studying for standardized tests like the SATs, GREs, and LSATs or even trade certification tests like CompTIA A+ for IT technicians. The possibilities aren’t quite endless, but they are numerous.

Choose A Business Location

One of the great things about tutoring is that you can do it just about anywhere: at a dedicated business site, at a college library, at a coffee shop, at your home, or remotely over the internet.

Early on, your choice of location may not be critical–you can tailor your work environment to meet your own needs and the needs of your clients. Obviously, some of those options will disappear once your business gets large enough–your local coffee shop may or may not appreciate you using their space to run your business–so you’ll want to have a growth strategy in mind if you’re planning on turning your business into a tutoring empire down the road.

At the same time, you’ll want to avoid spending more on overhead than your business strategy requires. If you don’t need a brick and mortar space or a fancy interactive website right away, it may be best to hold off on those investments while you build your brand and reputation.

You’ll also want to consider the demographics of your clientele. Are they easily distracted teenagers who may have a hard time concentrating with a lot of background noise? Are they older adults who aren’t as tech-savvy as you are? Are they dependent on public transportation or parents to get to you? Does your subject matter require extra space for demonstrations? Are you working with clients with learning or physical disabilities? Are you going to need WiFi?

Keep all of these factors in mind when you’re considering a location for your tutoring business.

Create A Business Plan (If You’re Going Big)

If you’re going to be tutoring as a side gig, you can probably skip this part, but it’s not a bad exercise for anyone to try, even if they aren’t planning to incorporate anytime soon.

A business plan is simply a written, organized description of your planned business and business strategy. It’s your vision of how your business will develop, operate, and finance itself. It can also help show prospective financiers and grant-money sources that you’re organized and serious about your operation.

You can find a lot of guidance online about how to organize your business plan. Likewise, your local chamber of commerce and government economic development agencies (and similar organizations) often have resources you can tap.

A typical business plan includes the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Starting Costs

Once you have a basic idea of how your business will operate, it’s time to calculate your starting costs. Does your subject require materials, teaching aids, or similar items? Are you renting a workspace? Are you paying employees or subcontractors? Shelling out for a web host? Purchasing hardware or software? Buying insurance?

Some of these costs may be trivial enough to finance out of pocket, while others may require additional effort. As a new business owner, finding funding can be especially challenging. Many traditional sources of funding, bank loans in particular, usually aren’t available to businesses that are newer than two years old.

Funding Options For Tutoring Businesses

So what do you do if you need money? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

Obvious? Maybe, but tapping your personal savings has distinct advantages over going into debt. You may be accessing your rainy funds, but you won’t be losing additional money on interest payments.

Of course, you are taking a risk using your own money to finance your business. If your business fails, you’ve effectively lost that money. For that reason, and as a general best practice, it’s a good idea to separate your business finances from your personal ones.

Tap Your Support Network

Another option, especially if you don’t have much in personal savings, is to ask friends and family for a loan. Unlike a private lender, your support system probably isn’t trying to make a profit off of you.

Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.

Credit Cards

One of the easier–and riskier–ways to fund your startup expenses is with personal or business credit cards (you don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card). Credit cards offer a lot of flexibility and convenience when it comes to making purchases. Even better, many credit cards offer reward programs that can actually save judicious users money.

However, keep in mind that credit cards carry very high interest rates on any balances you carry from month to month. Most business credit cards — and all personal credit cards — offer a grace period of at least 21 days. Purchases that you pay off within that window do not accrue interest. This makes credit cards ideal for purchases you can pay off quickly, and problematic for ones that you can’t.

Note: Avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary. They come at a very high cost.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Business credit cards often have aggressive rewards programs, but rarely will you find one that offers 5 percent cash back on qualified purchases. And since that includes office supplies, the card’s not a bad fit for tutoring.

There’s a $25,000 cap on the higher rates of return, but with no annual fee, it’s quite a bargain.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for the Chase Ink Business Cash, Capital One’s Spark Classic is an easy-to-qualify-for, no-frills cash back card that can help you save money on purchases while building up your credit.

You’re only getting 1 percent back on purchases, but it’s not a bad place to start if you’re coming off a year or two of hard luck.

Personal Loans

Traditional business loans may not be an option for new businesses, but you can often use personal loans to cover some of your startup expenses. Since you don’t have to worry about business-oriented qualifying factors like the amount of time you’ve been in business, these loans can be easier to get when you’re first starting out.

The downside is you won’t have the liability protection you’d theoretically have if you applied as a business. You may also be more limited in terms of the amount of money you can take out.

Still, if you need a little money to get started and don’t have funds on hand, it’s not a bad option.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable when you’re first starting out.

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

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If you’re just entering the alternative loan market for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. Lendio takes some of that burden off of you by allowing you to effectively apply to their whole network of lenders with one application.

Recommended Option: Upstart

upstart logo

Review

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Another solid option for non-traditional borrowers is Upstart. So long as you have fair credit (620+), a stable source of income, and live in a state other than West Virginia or Iowa, there’s a pretty good chance Upstart will work with you.

Flexibility is the name of Upstart’s game. How so? They’ll use non-traditional means to get a picture of your credit worthiness and they’ll allow you to select between different payment schedules. And with three to five years to settle your loan, you won’t have to worry about paying it off right away.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.

Grants

Nothing’s better than “free” money, and grants might be the closest thing to that in the real world. Grants usually require a fairly involved application/writing process and, as you might expect, are often highly competitive. So while you may not have to worry about interest with grants, you do want to factor in the amount of time you have to spend trying to get a grant, especially considering there’s a high chance that you won’t be selected for the grant.

On the other hand, being awarded a grant comes with some prestige that you can then use in your marketing efforts. And it is “free” money, after all.

If you need some help figuring out where to look for grants, check out our feature on the topic.

ROBS

Not your neighbor-with-the-nice-car Rob, but Rollovers as Business Startups. If you haven’t heard of ROBS, don’t feel bad. They’re extremely niche products for entrepreneurs with retirement accounts like 401(k)s.

For a fee, a ROBS provider allows you to use money from your retirement account to pay for startup costs without incurring the tax penalty you normally would by tapping those funds early.

As is the case with personal savings, you are risking your own money.

ROBS will be overkill for most new tutoring businesses, but if your startup costs look like they’re going to pile up, keep them in mind.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

If you’re in the market for a ROBS, it’s worth checking out Guidant Financial. If your retirement account has at least $40k in it, you can roll over up to 100 percent of your funds.

Register Your Business

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This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your tutoring business into more than an occasional source of freelance income, you should probably register your business.

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name. Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same. While it won’t separate your personal and business finances, you should consider filing a DBA (Doing Business As) with your local county clerk. This will allow you to legally operate your business under its own name (Uber Math Works as opposed to Barry Holgram, for example).

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. This is where the business plan we talked about earlier will come in handy, because you’ll need one if you’re going to incorporate. Keep in mind that incorporation comes with costs and additional responsibilities, so make sure you’re at the point where it makes sense for your business.

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
  • C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
  • S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.

Separate Personal And Business Finances

Even if you’re going to run your tutoring business as a sole proprietorship, you should take steps to separate your business finances from your personal ones. A separate business checking and/or savings account can save you a ton of headache when it’s time to pay your taxes. And even for your own edification, it will make your profits and losses much easier to track.

Choose An Hourly Rate

Get your merchant funds fast. Image description: Clock with money underneath it

Figuring out how much to charge for your tutoring services can be one of the more challenging parts of getting your business up and running.

A good place to start is to do some research on the prevailing rate for similar services in your area and then figure out a strategy for your business. Are you going to try to undersell the competition? Charge more but offer something your competitors don’t? You can glean this information often from your competitors’ websites or by checking out third-party sites that do regional salary comparisons for different industries. You may also want to speak to local colleges and schools about how they handle independent tutors.

It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to charge so little that you’re breaking even, or even losing money, on your gig. Take into account the transportation costs of meeting your clients, any money you’re spending on coffee, etc. And be sure to deduct those expenses when it comes time to pay your self-employment taxes!

Bolster Your Web Presence

Word of mouth can still go a long way in the tutoring business, but these days there’s really no way to avoid the necessity of building a strong digital presence.

It never hurts to have a sleek, attractive website. Indeed, it can make your operation look professional as well as help build hype for your services. Luckily there are user-friendly and cost-effective ways to build a website.

That said, a website is not the only way to use the internet to build up your tutoring business.

Remember that the web is, itself, a medium for instruction and tutoring. You may want to consider offering some freebies on YouTube, for example, to build up your reputation. In addition, free services can function as advertisements for your paid services. Just make sure you don’t make your paid services extraneous.

Social media strategy is too complex to go into in great depth here, but making posts that are fun to read and interact with is a good place to start.

Advertise Your Business

In addition to what we covered above in web presence, you’ll also want to get your name out there in other ways. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not looking at expensive media buys on TV, radio, or even your local newspaper.

Let your network know what you’re up to so they can spread the word about your new tutoring. Make a Facebook page. Get yourself a Twitter account. Offer free consultations with curious parties. Even cheap, low-tech solution like flyers with tear-off tags can be powerful if you post them in the right places.

Final Thoughts

Does helping someone grow and learn while earning money sound like a dream job? Tutoring can be one of the more rewarding and flexible businesses you can get into. But while the demand for expertise is often high, you’ll still want to approach the industry with a strategic mindset. Take your time, narrow down your niche, and build your reputation and tutoring can turn into so much more than just a side gig.

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide To Disputing Errors On Your Credit Report

Worried that your credit history may have errors that could negatively affect your business? Luckily, the companies that produce credit reports offer ways to dispute errors.

While it might be time-consuming to correct a report, a successful dispute can only be advantageous in the long run. A little time spent now could save you and your business from a major headache down the road—especially when applying for loans or credit cards.

Want to know how you can dispute a problem on your credit report? We’ve got all the information you need below.

What Is A Credit Report?

A credit report details your credit history. It can include information regarding your past loan payments, current status of credit accounts, and other financial records, such as foreclosures or bankruptcies.

Credit bureaus compile credit reports by collecting and selling various data regarding individual credit histories. While there are numerous bureaus around today, three are the most well-known and influential: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. We’ve gone over credit bureaus in more depth before.

Credit reports play an important role when you are looking for a loan, a new credit card, or insurance. If you have a history of failing to make payments, or perhaps you have a lot of credit tied up already, potential creditors may think twice before working with you.

These reports also help calculate your credit score. A credit score is an important tool that summarizes the health of your credit history. Many potential lenders or credit card issuers will heavily consider your credit score when you apply. If your score is too low, you may need to work on improving it.

How To Get Your Credit Report

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Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much to request a credit report. In fact, in many cases, you’ll be able to ask for a copy of your credit report for free.

Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are legally required to issue you a no-cost credit report every 12 months. This free report will be your full credit report—although it won’t include credit scores. To request a report, you’ll need to visit annualcreditreport.com and select which of the three major bureaus you’d like to request a report from.

In addition, if you apply for credit and are denied, you’ll have the ability to request the credit report used in the decision. You’ll have 60 days to order this credit report from the bureau that supplied the report reviewed by the creditor. This type of report is known as an “adverse action credit report.” Going this route is free and does not count against your annual report tally.

On top of those free credit report options, there are websites dedicated to sharing details regarding your credit history. Some of the big websites include Credit Karma, WalletHub, and Credit Journey from Chase. Most of these websites are free and we’ve previously discussed our favorite ones. However, note that in many cases you can’t get a full credit report through these places; instead, they’ll likely share a credit score alongside some supplemental information.

How To Dispute Errors On Your Report

If you’ve spotted an error on your credit report—say you notice a misspelled name or an account that has been incorrectly deemed delinquent—the question comes up: how do you dispute errors on a report?

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

1. Contact The Credit Bureau

There are several ways to contact a credit bureau to submit a dispute.

Most commonly, you can send a letter. If you choose this path,  include all the necessary documentation that supports your dispute. Additionally, clearly outline which item or items you dispute, state why you dispute the information, and make it obvious that you wish for the information to be removed or changed.

If sending a letter, make sure to send it via certified mail. This way you’ll have a record once it’s received, giving you a paper trail. Plus, it’s also a good idea to keep a copy of the letter for your personal records.

The three major credit bureaus also offer online tools to submit a dispute. However, this process varies for each bureau so you’ll need to check the website of the bureau you plan to submit a dispute with.

In some cases, sending a fax may be another option. Bureaus also often let you call to start a dispute claim. However, it is generally recommended to leave a paper trail when possible, something that may not be possible with a phone call.

2. Wait For And Review The Results Of The Investigation

In most cases, the credit bureau will have 30 days to investigate after receiving your dispute. You’ll then want to give them up to two weeks before their response reaches you. As such, you may need to wait up to 45 days before you hear anything from the credit bureau.

When the investigation is finished, the credit bureau will send you the results in writing. Additionally, you’ll also receive an updated credit report if the dispute is found accurate. This updated copy is free and does not count towards your one free annual report. You’ll also receive a copy of the name, address, and phone number of the provider that reported the erroneous information.

You may additionally ask that notifications of any corrections be sent out to anyone who has received a copy of your credit report in the previous six months. For employment purposes, you may also request that anyone who received a copy in the last two years be sent the updated report.

3. Check Your Reports For Changes

Several months after your dispute has been fixed by the credit bureau in question, you’ll want to make sure your actual reports have been updated. Note that the time a report updates may depend on the specific credit bureau’s update cycle and when the provider sends information to bureaus.

If you don’t see any changes to your reports from other bureaus, it is possible the provider did not report the update to other bureaus. Should this happen, you’ll want to inform the provider that you disputed an inaccurate item on your credit report. If the provider continues sending disputed information to other bureaus, they must note that the information has been disputed. Assuming your dispute is accurate, the provider must tell bureaus to delete or update the information in question.

As long as the provider verifies the accuracy of your dispute, the credit bureau cannot continue to place that information in your credit report. This means that future reports should show the updated information. It just may take several months for an updated report to become accurate.

Final Thoughts

It’s important you get an error fixed promptly when you spot one on your credit report. If you leave the error untouched, you may have difficulty applying for loans or credit cards. This in turn may impact your business’s ability to run smoothly and efficiently. As such, a successful dispute can only mean good things for your business in the future—even if the process does seem a bit cumbersome.

The post The Complete Guide To Disputing Errors On Your Credit Report appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Deferred Interest: What You Need To Know

 

When hunting for a credit card, a loan, or another financing arrangement, you may come across offers advertising “no interest for 12 months” or “same as cash” financing. Take care, because often times, this arrangement will entail deferred interest. Deferred interest financing carries risks that are typically not well understood and often not explained clearly by the lender.

In this article, we’re going to tackle the murky subject of deferred interest.

What Is Deferred Interest?

Deferred interest is defined by Investopedia in the following way:

Deferred interest is the amount of interest added to the principal balance of a loan when the contractual terms of the loan allow for a scheduled payment to be made that is less than the interest due.

That’s the textbook definition of the deferred interest — interest that has accrued on a loan but hasn’t been paid. But how does deferred interest actually work in the real world? Let’s explore.

How Deferred Interest Works

Let’s say you purchased some exercise equipment with a store credit card offering deferred interest for 12 months in order to avoid having to pay the full cost up front. As the months go by without your balance being paid in full, interest will accrue on your card, but you won’t be responsible for paying it off — yet.

Now, if you pay off your balance within 12 months, this accumulated interest will not come due, and you will have paid for your purchase with what is essentially an interest-free loan. However, if you don’t pay off your purchase in its entirety within that 12 months, all the interest accumulated over that 12-month period (not just the interest on the portion of the balance you have yet to pay) is then added to the amount you owe.

One insidious aspect of this arrangement is that the kind of store credit cards that typically offer deferred interest financing normally have high APRs, thus increasing the interest charges you’ll be hit with if you don’t pay the balance in full within 12 months.

Deferred Interest VS 0% APR Introductory Rate

A credit card offering deferred interest financing under the sophistry of “no interest for 12 months” is not the same thing as a credit card offering an introductory 0% APR. I explained how deferred interest works in this particular context with the above example, but let’s say that instead, you purchased the exercise equipment with a newly-obtained credit card that sports a 12-month intro 0% APR period.

You’ll be able to pay off your balance over the course of your first 12 months without being responsible for any interest payments, just as with the deferred interest card. The difference comes after your first 12 months are up. After this point, you’ll become responsible for any interest that accumulates on the remaining balance of your card, but not for the interest you didn’t pay during your initial 12 months with the card.

If that sounds like a better, fairer, and safer arrangement, that’s because it is.

Pros & Cons of Deferred Interest

If everything goes right and you’re able to pay back the principal of a deferred interest loan in full before the period of deferred interest ends, congratulations! Your deferred interest loan has worked out for you and has not caused you any harm.

However, lenders bank (literally) on the increasingly high likelihood that everything will not go right for you during this period. Americans, particularly working-class families, face constant unexpected financial “challenges” from which they enjoy little to no protection. So if you lose your job or your child gets sick and you can’t pay your balance in full before the end of your deferred interest period, your lender will reap the financial benefits of your misfortune and you will be left high and dry.

Best Practices When Using Deferred Interest

Before signing up for a deferred interest loan or credit card, seek out all possible alternative financing arrangements first. If you’ve exhausted these alternatives and find yourself in the unenviable position of having to rely on a deferred interest loan to pay for an expense, make absolutely sure you can pay off the purchase before the deferred interest period ends to avoid being hit with retroactively-applied interest charges.

Additionally, if you use a deferred interest credit card to finance a purchase, avoid charging anything else to this card if you possibly can. That’s because if you ring up additional charges on your card after your initial purchase, the standard purchase APR may apply to those additional charges, and under the terms of the CARD Act (legislation meant to protect consumers in other contexts), any payments you make on your debt will apply first to these additional charges, not to your initial purchase (the purchase on which the unpaid deferred interest is accumulating). That’s because the CARD Act mandates that when you make a payment on your card greater than the minimum due, the amount beyond the minimum due must be applied to the balance with the highest interest rate first.

So while you might assume that your payments will first apply to your initial balance, this is not the case. To go back to my example, you might think that you’ve paid off that exercise equipment you purchased once you’ve made payments on your card equal to the amount of said purchase. But if you’ve made any subsequent purchases on that card, a portion of what you’ve paid will go towards those balances first, leaving a portion of your initial balance unpaid.

And remember, even if you have just one dollar of that initial purchase left outstanding at the end of your deferred interest period, you’ll become responsible for paying all the interest that has accumulated over 12 months on that entire purchase, not just on that one dollar left unpaid.

In short, if you make a purchase on a deferred interest card, don’t use that card to make any further purchases. It can only get you in trouble.

Final Thoughts

The parasitic purveyors of deferred interest loans know that the consumers their products are aimed at are overworked, harried, and dealing with an unholy myriad of escalating financial demands — housing, education, health care, etc. These consumers often don’t have the financial literacy required to make sense of deferred interest offers and can easily find themselves hit with large interest charges on purchases they believed to be interest-free, leaving the most vulnerable people in our society open to being fleeced by unscrupulous lenders.

As a result, the cosseted 1% benefits at the expense of the beleaguered 99%. It’s as if a familiar pattern were at play here.

The most direct advice I can give on the subject of deferred interest financial products: Get a traditional credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer instead. Many popular credit cards (both business and personal) are offered with a 0% intro APR period of 9-12 months, though there are other cards offering 15 or even 21-month 0% APR periods. With these cards, you’ll never have to pay retroactive interest, only interest that accumulates on your card’s balance after your 0% APR period ends.

Credit Card 0% Introductory Period Next Steps
American Express Blue Business Plus 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months Compare
Chase Ink Business Unlimited 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months Apply Now
American Express SimplyCash Plus 0% APR on purchases for the first 9 months Compare
Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business 0% APR on purchases for the first 9 months Compare
Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 9 months Compare

If such a credit card appeals to you, let Merchant Maverick help you out in your search!

  • Best Business Credit Cards For 2019
  • APR VS Interest Rate: Know The Difference
  • Top Business Credit Card Balance Transfer Offers
  • Credit Card Balance Transfers Demystified

The post Deferred Interest: What You Need To Know appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Gator Website Builder

HostGator is one of the best known brands in the website & hosting industry. They’re especially known for their shared hosting, building their reputation on good pricing, fast servers, and great service compared to other brands. While I’ve long used HostGator for website hosting, I recently gave their website builder software, Gator Website Builder, a try.

View Gator Website Builder Current Plans & Pricing.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my Gator website builder review, let’s dive into an overview of website solutions.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc.

The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

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

What Is Gator Website Builder?

The Gator Website Builder is HostGator’s hosted website builder. HostGator has traditionally only provided domain names & hosting for other website software (like installing WordPress). Gator is their move into providing domain, hosting AND software in a single subscription.

So, on the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Gator Website Builder lives on the end that is hosted, all-inclusive, provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, buying your domain name, hosting & installing software).

Using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner.

That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control. You can read more about what a website builder is and how it contrasts to web hosting here.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like HostGator, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, HostGator competes directly with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy’s GoCentral and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and convenience by offering everything you need to get your website up and running in just a few minutes. HostGator appeals to the non-developer community here (think DIY-ers who need to create a website without having tons of website experience or time to maintain self-hosted software).

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

Pros of Using Gator Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Onboarding Process

One of Gator’s best features is its onboarding process (AKA the process of getting up and running with Gator’s website software). There is typically a part of the onboarding process when you think, “okay… what do I do now?”

With Gator, onboarding is quick, simple, and straightforward. In just a few steps, you’ll have selected your plan, chosen your domain name, and picked a theme to create your website with — all without wondering, “Where the heck do I go now?”

Plus, Gator builds in education not only through email drip sequence, but through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your theme and add content to your website.

Gator Tutorial

All-in-One Solution

Again, HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

Analytics Integrations

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since Gator is associated with HostGator — a well known, trusted hosting provider — the platform has the flexibility and resources to provide things like unlimited storage, DNS & domains support (AKA buying and mapping your domain name to your website), and support to migrate to a self-hosted product if or when that makes sense.

Template Design

When you set up your website with Gator, you have to choose a template to start your design. One of the pros of HostGator’s website builder is their pre-built templates. They have hundreds of options to choose from, and each option can be edited and customized in their drag-and-drop website builder.

You could custom build a website on HostGator with software & themes of your choosing (ie, WordPress + themes), but part of Gator’s appeal is that they have a huge selection of well-designed templates that you can tweak for your own needs by adding / removing sections and customizing the colors, photography, fonts, and content — all without worrying about their learning curve or costs of addons.

Site Building Process

Speaking of design… one advantage of an all-inclusive website builder is that you don’t have to write HTML or CSS code — instead, you can just drag and drop elements. What you see in the builder is what you get on the website.

Add Pages Gator

HostGator’s drag and drop builder is simultaneously detailed and simple. It gives you plenty of options for customization, such as adding new elements, change colors and fonts, adding entirely new pages to build from scratch, etc. But it also is extremely easy to use (it’s literally drag and drop). It makes it very simple for someone with no website experience to customize their theme or even give it a major overhaul.

Sections Website Builder Gator

Overall Pricing

While HostGator doesn’t have a free option for a subdomain (like Wix does), their overall pricing is competitive not only compared to other all-inclusive website builders, but also to buying your own hosting.

HostGator

Notice how everything is bundled and unlimited. There are no caps on pages or storage space. In fact, the only difference between the plans is support (priority is “faster” support) and ecommerce functionality.

Compared to building your own website on your host and especially other website builders, Gator’s pricing is very competitive. And while pricing isn’t everything, it’s certainly a factor, especially if you’re looking to bundle price and convenience.

Cons

But of course, no Gator website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Apps, Extensions, and Advanced Marketing

While Gator’s all-in-one platform is a solid pro for the website builder, it does also give it a disadvantage in terms of lack of support and ability to add 3rd party apps, extensions, and advanced marketing tools.

Gator does offer some apps and extensions, like G suite integration and priority support on their platform, but they’re pretty limited.

apps and integrations gator website builder

And while Gator does allow you to edit the site HTML and insert HTML when designing a page, there isn’t a way to go in and edit specific sections of code. This, combined with not having 100% control over your site & server (ie, to FTP verification files), limits you to which marketing tools you can add to your website.

This tradeoff does ensure that everything works correctly (no WordPress white screen of death when adding Google Tag Manager), but the trade off is control and customization.

Pricing + Upsells

Yep — pricing is also a con. While Gator’s pricing options are extremely competitive, it’s worth noting that the 50% off promotion only applies for the payment period. For example, if you commit to the premium plan at the 2-year price, that price only lasts you two years.

pricing rules Gator

It’s also not clear from the initial pricing information that a free domain name is only included in the yearly billing. That information comes during the checkout process.

Yearly Billing

The overall upsell with the domain + the marketing apps is also a bit convoluted. When you’re checking out, it almost looks like you have to purchase a domain name if you don’t yet own one. In reality, you can use a subdomain and purchase a domain separately.

Gator domain registration

The domain add-on is one of a few upsells during the checkout process, which does clutter the onboarding slightly.

Blog Functionality

While Gator does have a blog integration that you can add on to your website, it doesn’t come as a part of your theme. It’s treated as more of an “add on”, and you can select how you want your blog to look. blog themes gator website builder

While it’s great to be able to customize the look and feel of your blog, having to choose a separate theme makes it a bit disjointed and seems like the blog is a secondary feature. If you’re looking to have a website for the sole purpose of blogging, this may not be the best fit for you*

*if you are primarily a blogger, but want the all-inclusiveness of a website builder, then you should check out WordPress.com – it’s powered by WordPress but is hosted and controlled so that the experience is better than self-hosting WordPress.

Review Conclusion

Gator has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks many advanced options & templates (ie, especially compared to Wix), but Gator has better usability and pricing than most.

Gator is a really good fit for anyone looking for a well-built, well-priced, straightforward website builder and doesn’t need many extra templates or advanced marketing features (ie, CRO and Schema plugins).

Check out Gator’s current plans & pricing here.

Not sure Gator fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

Working on a long-term project and need more freedom and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out and self-hosting WordPress.

The post Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet is an online platform that sells business insurance through its agency partners and helps keep all your policy information in one cloud-based location. The company prides itself on making business insurance purchasing simple for business owners.

Started in late 2015 by two start-up entrepreneurs based in New York, CoverWallet began as a way to create a seamless, easy to understand, and comprehensive website for business owners looking for commercial insurance. Now, the company partners with carriers for 30 different types of business insurance. The CoverWallet platform is a self-described “concierge” service that helps business owners understand what insurance they need, offers quotes, and provides a platform for businesses to manage their policies, claims, and payments all in one place.

CoverWallet’s online platform is very easy to use and intuitive. It’s designed with business owners in mind and is great for comparison shopping. The service is ideal for busy business owners or new business owners needing a quick way to compare the best business insurance options for their company. However, some policyholders express frustration with slow communication once a policy is purchased and a glacial response to sending out certificates. Instant free quotes aren’t always instant either and can take 1-2 business days depending on the level of business information required.

If you are a business owner looking to make a decision on business insurance, read further to see if CoverWallet might be a good fit for you.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Good support materials
  • Free quotes available
  • Comparison shops across a wide field of insurers
  • Keeps all policies organized in one location

Cons

  • Slow customer support
  • Quotes don’t always generate instantly

Services Offered

CoverWallet itself does not consider itself an insurance company. Rather, it is a tech company with resources to help the insurance industry — a business insurance aggregator if you will.

Its carrier companies are Liberty Mutual, CNA, AMTrust, Berkshire Hathaway, Progressive, Hiscox, Chubb, and others. Once a business owner chooses a policy with one (or multiple) of these carrier companies, CoverWallet provides an online platform to store all of your policies and payments in a single location.

CoverWallet matches employees with insurance providers offering 30 different types of insurance. Here are some of the main types of business insurance offered by CoverWallet’s carriers:

  • General Liability
  • Workers compensation
  • Business owner policy
  • Commercial property
  • Professional liability
  • Commercial automobile
  • Umbrella insurance
  • Product liability
  • Directors & officers
  • Business interruption insurance
  • Liquor liability
  • Medical malpractice

Visit CoverWallet’s website for a comprehensive list of insurance types.

Pricing & Purchasing Process

The cost of business insurance varies widely depending on all your business specifics. CoverWallet makes comparison shopping and shopping for industry-specific insurance very easy and user-friendly. How much money you make in a year, how many employees you have, your payroll information, your location, and what you sell all impact insurance premiums.

CoverWallet is not an insurance provider but it will match you with an insurance carrier. To receive a free quote from CoverWallet, business owners can select which type of business insurance policy they are looking for and will be asked to provide some basic business information, such as:

  • History of business earnings and losses
  • How long you’ve been in business
  • The type of employees you have
  • Your business assets
  • Details about your specific business industry
  • Tax filing information

CoverWallet may ask for your social security number and federal tax ID numbers. Once you’ve provided this information, CoverWallet will send you a quote from compatible carriers and a CoverWallet agent will reach out to you to go over the quotes. If CoverWallet did not receive enough business information to generate a quote, an agent will call you and ask for the necessary information. This process can take 1-2 business days.

If you’d like to skip the online portion entirely you can call CoverWallet directly and speak to an agent on the phone to receive a quote as well.

Specific Size of Business

Companies of all shapes and sizes with varying insurance needs could all use an interface like CoverWallet to assist with their insurance and compliance needs. CoverWallet is ideal for small business owners who want to save money by comparing insurance policies from multiple carriers. Larger businesses, or small business with multiple policies, can also benefit from having all of their insurance information centrally located on the CoverWallet platform. You can add multiple users to your online CoverWallet account if needed.

Features & Benefits

CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet helps small business owners control their insurance needs in one central location. Here are some of the features the company offers:

  • My CoverWallet Dashboard: When you become a client of CoverWallet, you receive a My CoverWallet account that keeps all of your policies in one place. You can access information, view policies, file claims, and make payments all from the My CoverWallet interface.
  • Certificates & Third-Party Compliance: You are a small business and you need to prove you are insured by submitting certificates or you are working with other vendors and are requesting for them to submit proof of compliance? CoverWallet will store all of that information in one spot on your account.
  • Claim Filing Support: CoverWallet was designed to be a one-stop shop for business owners. So, customers can file claims directly from their My CoverWallet dashboard. CoverWallet says that they can walk customers through filing a claim step by step, if needed.

Customer Service & Support

There are many opportunities to connect with CoverWallet employees. At various sections of the website, you are directed to speak to real representatives either through email, phone, or chat. The chat feature enables users to talk to people during the company’s hours (chats sent after 6 PM EST will be answered the next business day). One of the helpful features is the ability to schedule a time for a CoverWallet representative to call you back if you are not able to talk to someone on the phone at that moment. Users appreciate the support resources available, but there are some complaints about slow response times and poor support communication.

Negative Reviews & Testimonials

Many CoverWallet reviews end up being about individual insurance carriers rather than about CoverWallet as a company. For CoverWallet specifically, according to the consumer website eKomi, out of 448 total reviews, 91.74% were positive and 6.47% were negative (with the difference in neutral reviews). Out of the 6.47% of negative experiences, the biggest complaints were the following:

  • Poor Customer Support: Some of the insurance companies and agents brokering deals with CoverWallet are not as knowledgable as others. Some customers experience slow response times from agents after the initial purchase.
  • Difficulties Adding Coverage: Users say adding additional coverage is cumbersome.
  • Poor Communication: The communication between the various moving parts (the CoverWallet representative and the agents from individual agencies) is not seamless and can be frustrating for busy business owners to navigate.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

The Better Business Bureau gives CoverWallet an A- rating on its website. The positive reviews for CoverWallet are in the majority, with most people experiencing a seamless insurance experience. The biggest customer praise says:

  • Quick & Easy To Use: The platform is easy to use and easy to understand. Businesses in a time-crunch to show compliances can be up and running with coverage in less than a day.
  • Easy To Compare The Best Deals: Users enjoy how easy it is to compare insurance policies across multiple providers.
  • Good Support Materials: Despite the issues some users had with slow customer response time, users appreciate that access to CoverWallet agents and employees is easy with chat, calling, and email options. Many agents go above and beyond to secure the best insurance rates for your company and your industry. They are not happy unless you are happy.
  • Competitive Pricing: No brokers fees! This is a big plus for users as well as free quotes.

Company Reputation & Reliability

CoverWallet receives widespread praise for their user-friendly interface and their goal to make business insurance a streamlined process. The start-up is new and evolving. They currently launched a platform that adds more agents and insurance options to their customers by building a bigger bridge between providers and business owners. While the business might be expanding and learning, early feedback about the services CoverWallet provides is solid.

Final Verdict

If you are a small business owner who needs to insure yourself and your employees quickly — and you have no idea where to start — CoverWallet is a great fit.

The company is ideal for business owners who want to compare various insurance policies to get the best deal and want a single location to manage all of their policies and insurance information. Because of the company’s many support resources, using CoverWallet is easy no matter what level of knowledge you have regarding business insurance.

There are some complaints from users about slow response times as well as complaints about specific insurance providers. Additionally, the free “instant” quote isn’t always instant and can take up to 1-2 days to be completed. Despite these drawbacks, overall customer reviews rank CoverWallet favorably and highlight the easy interface as a major bonus.

Research what types of insurance you might need and then add CoverWallet to your list of places to check for comparison costs and quotes when you are ready to start the insurance buying process.

The post CoverWallet Review appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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