WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder

WordPress.com Review

WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 25% of the Internet and is famous for its versatility and ease of use.

Its is so well-known, that it’s common for people with some web design experience to generally say “just use WordPress” when referring DIYers and freelancers to a website solution.

But for those who are unfamiliar with the general WordPress world, there is a major point of confusion: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing WordPress.com as a website builder and general website solution for DIYers.

See WordPress.com’s Plans & Pricing here.

But before I dive into specifics, let’s talk about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can “power” your website on a server. So instead of uploading individual files to a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a “backend” where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images – any sort of content.

It’s a “content management system” in web development jargon. WordPress is also “open-source” – which means that a community maintains it. A for-profit corporation does not own it. A non-profit foundation technically manages the trademark while leaving the software open under a General Public License.

The software & open-source community live & function at WordPress.org – where anyone can grab a copy of the software.

Note that I still haven’t said anything about it running a website. The other two pieces needed to run a website are hosting (ie, a server to run WordPress and render your website) and a domain name, which allows people to navigate to your website.

WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on. You pay for hosting and domain registration fees separately. You can learn how to setup a self-hosted WordPress website here.

And then there’s WordPress.com. It is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg – one of the original developers of WordPress.

WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers websites / blogs powered by their install of WordPress software. They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. I refer it to as “hosted WordPress”, because you’re buying a hosted version of the software.

The renting vs. buying in real estate works well as an analogy.

WordPress.com = Renting a building for your living space (aka your website). You can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord (WordPress.com). That said – your landlord also has to pay to keep everything in working order.

WordPress.org = Owning a building for your living space. You own everything on your own hosting space. You do whatever you want. That said – you are responsible for everything.

If you want to get into the weeds, I wrote a whole post about the differences between WordPress.com and .org. But that analogy says it all.

The key tradeoff here is between convenience and control. WordPress.com is what we call an all-inclusive website builder. It competes directly with other hosted website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy GoCentral, etc. You sacrifice some control (like FTP access) to get a lot more convenience (like not installing security patches or crashing your own site).

Compared to its direct competition, WordPress.com focuses on scalability, support, and flexibility. Let’s dive further into my WordPress.com review to see how it really compares.

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 WordPress.com as a Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using WordPress.com website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Sign Up Process

One of WordPress.com’s biggest pro is how easy it is to get started. To get your website up and running, you just follow a simple, 6-step process that includes creating an account, filling in your website information, and confirming your email address.

WordPress.com Sign Up Process

They also provide a ton of “onboarding” support (AKA the process of getting up and running with a website). I immediately received an email detail next steps, and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the set up.

There was really no part in the sign up process where I wondered, “What’s next?”. The steps were easy to follow, detailed, and included support once I got inside the dashboard.

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward, and speedy way to go from having no website to having a site ready to build, then WordPress.com is a great choice.

All-in-One Solution

Again, WordPress.com is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options 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.

WordPress.com Functionality

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 WordPress.com uses WordPress as it’s CMS (and WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there), the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done. Just know that on WordPress.com, your advanced customization capabilities, like installing your own plugins and themes, are limited to their highest priced plan (more on that in a bit).

You also don’t have full control over the website functionality, because you don’t have access to your hosting. You still don’t have direct access to your files or your database. So if you want to do something in bulk or something super-technical, then you are out of luck.

That said, compared to other website builders (like Site123 or Jimdo), WordPress.com is inherently more open and accessible because it runs WordPress software. All of your content is in RSS and XML format, so it’s very easy to leave WordPress.com for another service or bulk export your content.

Template Design

When you set up your website with WordPress.com, you have a ton of pre-made templates (“themes” in the WordPress jargon) to choose from, including premium themes that come with higher-priced plans.

WordPress.com also indicates which themes are best for beginners, which is helpful for those who don’t have extensive website experience and are looking for the easiest way to get their website designed and ready to market.

WordPress.com Themes

Inside these themes, you have a range of customization capabilities based on the plan you have. You also have significant customization abilities on the individual pages themselves— even with the free plan. Inside the page builder, you can change the format by adding columns, embedding elements, and even editing the page code if you know HTML / CSS.

WordPress.com Page Customization

WordPress.com Page Code

One thing to note here — you cannot edit/customize the pages on the same screen that you edit the theme. This means that you’re basically designing the pages in a bubble. You can’t see how they play out in the context of the design until you actually go in and edit the theme. If you’re not looking to do any advanced designing, this may not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to build lots of websites for clients.

Customer Support

WordPress.com has a robust knowledge base and easily accessible support. In fact, their help button floats in the bottom corner of the Dashboard (and when you’re editing pages), so you can see relevant guides and articles to help you no matter where you are in your website.

WordPress.com Support

You can also chat with another WordPress.com using their “Contact us” button on the floating help section, giving you an additional option if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for.

Cons of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

But of course, no website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints, because there is no website solution that is right for everyone. Let’s look at a few specific cons I found.

Pricing

WordPress.com is a bit pricier than its competitors when you take into account what features are available to you. WordPress.com limits the amount of storage space you get on your website (AKA the number of images, video, audio files, documents, etc. you can upload to your site).

WordPress.com Pricing

Now, there is one caveat. WordPress.com does have a free plan. You can’t use your own domain name. You have to use yourname.wordpress.com – and serve WordPress.com ads on your site. But – it’s free. This plan is certainly my favorite way to get a free, well built website online.

However, it’s not clear that there’s a free plan available unless you go through the pricing tab. For example, if you were to click “Get Started” and just start filling in your information, you’re kind of cornered into buying a plan. There’s no option there to select a free plan. It’s confusing, especially if you don’t know that there’s a free plan available (which technically, you’re automatically signing up for when you create your account).

WordPress.com Pricing No Free Plan

If you are trying to start just a basic informational website or blog and don’t want to deal with hosting, then WordPress.com’s Blogger and Personal plans are well-priced. But for a business or really any size (or website that is going to strive to make money), then it’s a bit hard to compete with running a self-hosted WordPress website or finding another solution like Website Creator (a website builder built on top of WordPress) or another drag & drop website builder.

Learning Curve

Based on your website experience, using WordPress as a CMS does come with a learning curve — and it’s no different when it’s bundled with hosting and DNS services through WordPress.com. Yes, you have various themes to choose from that guide your site customization experience… but even those can be more complicated to tweak than WordPress.com wants to let on. Check out the instructions on customizing this theme I selected.

WordPress.com Theme Customization

If you’re looking for the ease of a simple drag + drop website builder where you can literally drag elements onto the page, drop them in place, and customize your template that way, WordPress.com might not be the best choice for you.

Because here’s the thing. In many ways, WordPress is more than software. It’s like a whole platform / subculture. You know how Facebook has “Likes” and “Newsfeed” and “Groups” and all these other terms that make sense…but only once you’ve used Facebook? Ok – WordPress is like that. When you first start out, there’s all this jargon to figure out. It makes sense quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.

Limited Functionality + Control

WordPress is known for how flexible and adaptable it is as a CMS. It’s a great way to build a website that you plan on keeping for the long haul, because it’s so customizable and scalable. But here’s the thing — those benefits don’t really kick in until you have a self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org), or until you pay for the premium business plan on WordPress.com, and even then you don’t have full accessibility with your website.

If you’re not looking for a website that you can customize and scale extensively, then this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you are looking to create a website that you can scale, and you were drawn to WordPress as a CMS because of that, then going with “hosted WordPress” on WordPress.com probably isn’t your best option, because you’re giving up quite a bit of functionality and control.

WooCommerce & JetPack Addendum

At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com and their services.

First is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a software plugin for WordPress that brings a *ton* of amazing ecommerce functionality to any WordPress website. It is amazing. It has a ton of extensions and integrations only rivaled by Shopify. And it works on any existing website running WordPress. If you are using the WordPress.com, you can add it to your plan.

Since ecommerce has a lot more considerations than a publishing site, many ecommerce owners like to have a “hosted” solution. In this case, WordPress.com provides a great option for websites that are “content-first” but also want a large-ish online store.

Second is JetPack. You know how I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? Ok, so you can get most of that with JetPack. JetPack is a paid plugin software owned by Automattic that any self-hosted WordPress website can install and get automated backups, security scans, in dashboard support, remote management via the WordPress app and more.

In fact, this website uses JetPack. It costs between Free and $29/mo depending how many services / themes you want (security is free). Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.

WordPress.com Review Conclusion

WordPress.com 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 some pretty significant capabilities, like storage, pricing, and ease of use, but it does compete well on support, theme availability, design, technical aspects, and content publishing.

WordPress.com is a really good fit for anyone looking for a solid website builder that includes more advanced functionality and theme options but still takes the headache out of finding their own hosting and additional services. It’s a great option to just get started. And it’s great for content writers & publishers plus any businesses that have the budget for the Premium Plan.

Check out WordPress.com’s current plans & pricing here.

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

Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or on a budget and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out self-hosted WordPress and setting up self-hosted WordPress on your own server.

The post WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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

Entropy is a powerful force. If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s that everything gets dirty sooner or later. If it doesn’t get dirty, it gets cluttered. Add in the increasing prevalence of two-income households, the pace of modern work, and long commutes and it’s not surprising that more and more people are letting their chores slide. And that’s not even taking into consideration the huge messes businesses make. The fields are ripe for the harvest — why not cut yourself a piece of the action and start a cleaning business?

Luckily, the overhead costs of starting a cleaning business are fairly low (at least up until you start adding staff). Still, you’ll want to have a good sense of what you’re getting into before you dive into the cleaning industry. It’s vital to have a plan to tackle the expenses and challenges you’ll encounter along the way.

Not sure where to start? We’ll break starting and funding a cleaning business into a step-by-step process below.

Make A Business Plan

What separates a business from a side gig? Well, a lot of stuff, but one of the bigger points of delineation is whether or not you have a business plan and a clear strategy.

Creating a business plan can be an intimidating prospect, but you don’t need to have a business degree to write one. You don’t even need to have taken a class.

A business plan is, essentially, an outline documenting what your business is, what it does, how it’s organized, its financial means, and a strategy for how you intend to grow.

There are a lot of resources online that can give you an idea of what a business plan looks like, as well as templates to help you get organized, but a typical business plan has the following parts:

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

Calculate Startup Costs

The good news about launching a cleaning business is that it’s possible to start one with relatively little overhead.

At a bare minimum, you’ll need cleaning supplies. This assumes you’ll be doing the cleaning yourself and aren’t taking on any additional employees right away. If you’re cleaning residential homes, these supplies will more or less be the same ones you use to clean your own home. If you’re getting into commercial cleaning right away, you’ll likely have to invest in equipment (and possibly personnel) that can handle larger volume messes and expansive spaces.

If you plan on cleaning as more than a side gig, you’ll also need to pay fees to register your business. This isn’t a very big expense if you’re content with running a sole proprietorship (or partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else) –usually less than $50. You can also file a DBA, which allows you to legally do business under another name (the name of your company). We’ll get a bit deeper into it in the next section.

Additionally, you should factor in any initial advertising costs, as well as transportation costs for getting yourself or your employees to the work sites.

Register Your Business

Registering your business may sound intimidating, but it can actually be one of the easiest parts of starting a business.

Why should you register your business? At minimum, it protects the name you’re using to do business so that no one else in your area can (legally) use it. It can also help you qualify for business-to-business services and services that require an EIN number.

Incorporating, on the other hand, is a more complicated and expensive process that comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the most common types of businesses you can register as:

  • Sole Proprietorship: By default, this is the type of business you’re running when you initially create one. You and your business are, for tax and liability purposes, considered the same entity. In fact, if you want to do business under a name other than your own, you’ll need to file a DBA (doing business as) with your local county clerk.
  • Partnership: Essentially the same as a sole proprietorship, except you started it with one or more other people. By default, you’re each considered to own an equal share of the business for tax and liability purposes.
  • 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 must 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.

Get Business Insurance

Depending on your local and state laws, business insurance may or may not be optional. However, given that cleaning involves a lot of physical contact with valuable items (not to mention the fact that you will be in the profession of making floors slippery), you may want to consider getting insurance even if you’re not required to have it.

General liability insurance can protect you in the case of lawsuits or accidents, including property damage and personal injury claims against your business. It can also make your business seem more professional to prospective clients.

Your own equipment is also subject to wear and tear, as well as accidents, so you may want to consider property insurance for any items that aren’t easily replaced.

While those are the big two worth considering, you may also want to consider other types of business insurance to help cover anything from worker’s comp claims to vehicle damage.

Seek Business Funding

Now that you have a sense of what your expenses will be, it’s time to see if you can cover them out of pocket and still pay your rent. If you can’t, and are unable to tighten your belt without sacrificing the tenets of your business plan, you may need to seek some source of external funding.

Where should you look?

Personal Savings

If you’ve saved up for a rainy day, the weather might start looking pretty stormy right about the time you’re starting a business. The nice thing about dipping into your savings is that you’re not taking on debt and all the expenses that go with it.

On the other hand, you are risking your own money, along with the lost-opportunity costs of not being able to invest that money in something else.

And, of course, you may not have been able to save enough to cover your expenses anyway.

Tap Your Support Network

If you don’t have the money handy, another option is to ask your family or friends for a small loan. Generally speaking, your support network will give you a better deal than even the most competitive bank will.

Asking your friends and family for money can be tacky and awkward if you don’t put their concerns at ease. You also may damage your relationships if you aren’t able to pay the money back within the expected period of time. It’s important to take a professional and organized approach.

If you do go this route, strongly consider formalizing any agreements you make so that all parties are fully aware of what they’re risking and stand to gain from the arrangement. Create and sign a contract, just as you would do with a traditional lender.

Credit Cards

For purchases you can pay off quickly, it’s hard to beat the convenience and incentives of credit cards.

Credit cards come in both personal and business varieties. You don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card, but their rewards programs are generally more geared towards business expenses.

If you’re going to use credit cards, be sure to use them wisely. That means paying them off within the interest-free grace period offered by your card’s provider. For personal credit cards, this is legally at least 21 days from the time you receive your bill. For business credit cards, there is no legal minimum, but most extend a similar one as a courtesy.

Just remember, if you fail to pay your card off with that window, carrying a balance on a credit card is an extremely expensive way to finance your business. And avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business

Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business


capital one spark cash select
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.74% – 22.74%, Variable

Spark Cash Select for Business is great for businesses that don’t have their expenses concentrated in a single area, or that don’t want to worry about complex reward programs. You’ll simply earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. There’s also no limit on the reward, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding a maximum threshold: whether you spend $20 or $500,000 in a year on your card, you’ll still get 1.5% back.

You will need to have excellent credit to qualify, however.

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 Spark Cash Select for Business, Capital One offers an equally versatile card that’s much easier to qualify for. Spark Classic offers a similar cashback reward program, but the rate of return is 1% rather than 1.5%.

While not the most exciting card, it’s a good one for repairing your credit.

Loans

Business loans are frequently out of reach for brand new businesses–even the more risk-taking lenders generally want to see that you can keep your business together for at least six months before they’ll lend to you. That said, there are exceptions to the rule, with some lenders focusing on new businesses.

And remember, when you’re starting out you don’t necessarily need a “business” loan; personal loans can leverage your personal credit for an early cash infusion even you need it. If you’re buying a specific piece of equipment, you should also consider equipment financing.

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 while you’re building up your business.

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

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Lendio takes some of the frustration out of applying for a loan by allowing you to apply to their entire network of lenders all at once. If you’re thinking about tapping the alternative lending market for the first time, it’s a pretty good place to start.

They can’t necessarily help every business, but a shotgun approach can sometimes be easier than finding that one special lender.

Recommended Option: Upstart

Review

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If you’re having trouble finding a lender who will work with you, take a look at Upstart. You’ll need to have at least fair credit and a regular source of income, but otherwise, Upstart’s way of evaluating potential borrowers is pretty unconventional (good news if you’re starting a business).

Better yet, Upstart’s rates are pretty reasonable and you’ll have three or five years (one or the other, not between) to pay your balance off. Unfortunately, they don’t currently lend within West Virginia or Iowa.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans. Need a vehicle for the business? Read our auto loans guide.

Choose The Right Software

As your business grows and becomes more complex, managing the logistics of your company can become quite labor-intensive. If you don’t want to sink too many man-hours into keeping track of all that stuff, you’ll want to delegate it to a software program.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enroll in a bunch of expensive SaaS platforms if it’s just you cleaning for a handful of clients, but it doesn’t hurt to know what kinds of options are available.

Types of software you may want to consider include:

Field Service Management 

This type of software centralizes processes and workflows for businesses that have employees who are dispatched to external sites for work. They often include features like scheduling, dispatching, and booking. Some also come with invoicing, payment processing, and customer notifications, so it’s quite possible to find an all-in-one service that meets your needs.

Scheduling Software

If field management software sounds like overkill, you can try scheduling software to manage your appointments and those of your employees.

Inventory Tracking

If your business is growing, and you no longer have time to run out to buy supplies every time you need them or use your clients’ stash, you may find it helpful to formally keep track of your inventory.

Accounting Software

It’s always a good idea to keep track of your expenses, accounts receivable, payroll and related issues, especially as your business grows and becomes more complex.

Data QuickBooks Online Xero Wave Zoho Books FreshBooks

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Pricing

$20 – 150/month

$9 – 60/month

Free

$9 – 29/month

$15 – $50/month

Customer Support Fair Poor Good

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Ease of Use Moderate Moderate Very Easy Very Easy

Very Easy

Accounting Method Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual
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Bolster Your Web Presence

A cleaning business can get pretty far on word-of-mouth and savvy networking, but expanding your reach in the digital age usually means you’ll want to bolster your web presence.

A website is still a very important way for potential clients to find out information about your business and what services you offer. Happily, for a cleaning service, it doesn’t have to be all that complicated. If you don’t want to contract the job out, there are plenty of services online that make it easy to build your own decent-looking website.

A spiffy website is only one aspect of an online strategy, however. You still need to get people to visit it. You’ll want to consider factors like search engine optimization (SEO) so that, for example, the phrase “kitchen cleaning Rochester” will return your website in the top results.

You may also want to use social media to build brand recognition, steer traffic to your site, and announce specials or changes to your services.

Delegate Work

If it’s just you and a cart full of cleaning supplies, you can skip this part. However, if you’re planning to grow beyond what one mere mortal can clean in a day, you may be taking on more people.

Employees

Taking on additional people as employees come with many advantages: you’ll be able to get significantly more work done, have a larger pool of expertise to draw from, and be more flexible with scheduling. This does come with some additional costs, as you’ll be paying some of the taxes on their salary as well as offering benefits (at least in theory), so be sure to grow your staff wisely and at a pace that fits the amount of business your generating.

In exchange, you’re allowed greater control over the parameters of how your employee works, where, and at what time. Setting a wage that’s fair and not abusing this relationship will generally improve morale and help you avoid the costly process of employee turnover.

Contractors

If you aren’t quite ready to take on employees but need additional help, you can hire contractors. Contractors are free agents who work for themselves even though they may be regularly and continuously used by a particular client (that’s you). Since they’re self-employed, you don’t have to worry about additional expenses beyond paying their fee.

Beware that many businesses make the mistake of treating 1099 contractors as employees, which can get you into pretty serious trouble. If you want to have employees, you have to hire them. As a general rule, you have no say over what jobs a contractor decides to take, the methods they use to complete the job, or the precise time they choose to do it.

Advertise Your Business

A strong web presence and social media campaign can get help get your name out, but we aren’t quite at the point where advertising is obsolete.

Since a cleaning business is constrained by geography, you have to physically send someone out to do the job. That means you can use your modest advertising budget to buy ads in your local market, which is usually cheaper than trying to grab eyeballs from several states away. Ideally, you’ll want to seek ad platforms utilized by the types of people who are likely to buy your services. Cash-strapped kids at the local state college campus probably don’t have a budget for cleaning services, for example (although some fraternities or sororities may), while busy soccer moms might.

Once you know who you’re advertising to, you can select a medium that fits your target demographic. Once you start getting new customers, ask them where they heard about your business so you can get a sense of which ads are working and which aren’t.

Even if you don’t have money to spend on advertising right away, put the word out to your own social network that you’re offering cleaning services. Word can spread fast, especially if you have a reputation as a trustworthy person.

Final Thoughts

We still haven’t invented self-cleaning spaces, so you have a potentially bottomless demand for your services. With relatively low overhead, a housekeeping or cleaning business is one of the more accessible industries to jump into, so if you have the skills and the inclination, why not give it a try?

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Cleaning Business 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



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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


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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

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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

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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

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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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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 Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look

no transfer fee credit cards

If you’re looking for a credit card that can help you claw your way out of debt, you might consider transferring your debt to a card with no balance transfer fees and a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers.

With a typical credit card, interest payments on your debt can keep you stuck in that debt hole. If you can transfer your balance to a card with a nice long 0% intro balance transfer APR, you stand to save money. And if that card charges no balance transfer fees, all the better!

Generally, credit cards with 0% intro rates on balance transfers are more common than cards with no transfer fees whatsoever. In fact, with business credit cards, it’s quite uncommon to find a card with no balance transfer fee. Nonetheless, when it comes to transferring a balance from another card, some business cards are better than others.

In this article, we’re going to look at the best credit cards for balance transfers, both business and personal. However, here’s something I should mention at the outset: Most credit card issuers don’t allow you to transfer a balance from one of their cards to another. For example, you can’t transfer a balance from one American Express card to another Amex card.

For more details on how balance transfers work, go read our handy guide on balance transfers for small business owners. (Non-business-owners can take advantage of these tips too!)

Credit Card Balance Transfer Fee Balance Transfer 0% Intro Rate
Spark Cash from Capital One 0% None
Amex Blue Business Plus 3% 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Ink Business Cash 5% 0% APR for 12 months
Amex EveryDay Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Slate 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
BankAmericard Credit Card for Students 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days Prime Rate (currently 5.50%) APR for 3 years

Best Business Credit Card With No Transfer Fees

Spark Cash from Capital One

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


19.24%, Variable

Spark Cash from Capital One is one of the very few business credit cards on the market that does not charge a transaction fee on balances transferred to the card. As such, it must be the best business credit card for balance transfers, right?

Not so fast. While the lack of transaction fees applied to balance transfers is beneficial to entrepreneurs trying to climb out of debt, the card doesn’t carry a 0% intro APR on balance transfers (or purchases for that matter). So while you won’t be assessed a fee for transferring a balance to this card, the monthly APR on your transferred balance will be 19.24% starting the first billing period. If you don’t envision being able to pay off your balance within a few months, you may be better served by Amex’s Blue Business Plus card despite that card’s 3% fee on balance transfers.

The Spark Cash business card offers a great cash back deal: 2% cash back on all purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn. It’s great for business owners who just want cash back without having to consider which category their spending falls into. On the downside, a $95 annual fee kicks in after the first year.

Best Business Credit Cards With 0% APR On Balance Transfers

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express might just be the best business credit card currently available for the purposes of transferring a balance. Why?

Two reasons.

First, the card offers a lengthy 15-month 0% APR period for balance transfers. (The card’s business competitors offer, at best, 12 months of 0% APR on balance transfers.) Second, the card applies a 3% fee (or $5, whichever is greater) to balances transferred to the card. While it’s true that there are plenty of personal credit cards that impose no balance transfer fees whatsoever, the Blue Business Plus’s 3% fee is lower than that of most competing business credit cards, most of which charge a 5% balance transfer fee.

Along with being a great business card for balance transfers, the Blue Business Plus also gives you 2 rewards points for every $1 you spend on your first $50,000 worth of purchases per year. What’s more, cardholders are able to purchase above their credit limit so long as they pay the full amount purchased above their credit limit each month (along with the minimum payment).

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card offers 0% APR on all balance transfers for 12 months. While this doesn’t quite match the Blue Business Plus’s 15 months, it’s still quite competitive as business cards go. In fact, many business cards offer an introductory 0% rate for purchases only (or not at all).

Unfortunately, the Ink Business Cash charges a 5% (or $5) fee on all balance transfers.

Apart from balance transfers, the Ink Business Cash is a top-of-the-line cash back business card. Here’s what your business spending will get you:

  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone purchases each year
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

Best Personal Credit Cards With No Transfer Fees

Amex EveryDay Credit Card

Amex EveryDay Credit Card


Amex EveryDay Credit Card
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 26.24%, Variable

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card is a uniquely valuable personal credit card for those striving to get out of debt.

The EveryDay card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee, provided you transfer the balance within 60 days of opening your account (a 3% charge will apply thereafter). You’ll also enjoy a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months and no annual fee.

While the Amex EveryDay card is a great card for cost-free balance transfers, you’ll also get a remarkable level of rewards for such a practical card. You’ll get 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent at a) US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases and on b) travel purchases booked through AmexTravel.com. Furthermore, if you make 20 or more purchases with your card in a billing period, you get 20% extra points on those purchases (minus returns and credits).

Of course, such inducements to spend may be said to run counter to the goal of helping you out of debt, but that’s an existential issue outside the purview of this article!

Chase Slate

Chase Slate



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Chase Slate card is a credit card specifically designed to help you manage your credit card debt.

It’s not an exciting card. There’s no cash back to earn and there are no fancy benefits to accrue. However, the card offers the debt-burdened cardholder three benefits. First, the Chase Slate card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee so long as you do so during the first 60 days your account is open. After 60 days, a 5% fee will be applied, so transfer those balances early.

Second, the Chase Slate features a 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases so you’ll have a decent amount of time to pay off that balance before any interest charges accrue.

Finally, the card carries no annual fee.

BankAmericard Credit Card for Students

BankAmericard Credit Card For Students



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The BankAmericard Credit Card for Students should be of interest to any student (yes, you must be a student to qualify) looking to consolidate credit card debt.

With the BankAmericard student credit card, you can transfer a balance to the card with no fees (provided you do so within 60 days of opening your account.) A 3% charge (or $10, whichever is greater) applies to balance transfers after the initial 60 days. You’ll also get an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account and on all purchases.

Additionally, the card has no annual fee and you’ll be able to check your FICO score for free with your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking. There are no rewards to earn.

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 23.49%, Variable

The SunTrust Prime Rewards credit card offers a unique deal to debt-addled consumers looking to consolidate credit card debt.

Like several other cards listed here, the SunTrust Prime Rewards card won’t charge you a balance transfer fee on any balances transferred within 60 days of your account opening. However, when it comes to paying off your transferred debt, all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account will be subject to a Prime Rate (currently 5.50% variable) intro APR for 36 months. Now, 5.50% interest isn’t as good as 0% interest, but you’ll have a full 3 years to pay off your debt at this low rate.

The card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, and you’ll get an unlimited 1% cash back on all qualifying purchases.

Final Thoughts

It may seem odd to use credit cards to work your way out of debt considering the fact that credit cards got you into debt in the first place. However, transferring your debt to the right card can, indeed, save you money on interest payments — provided you play your cards right. [Pause for laughter.]

Still looking for a credit card to fit your small business needs? Check out these helpful articles on the subject!

  • Top Business Credit Card Balance Transfer Offers
  • Best Credit Card Offers For Businesses: January 2019
  • The Best Free Credit Score Sites

The post The Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Florida Small Businesses

Does finding capital for your small business seem like an insurmountable task? While it may seem impossible on the surface, the secret is that there are lots of lenders willing to finance your business. The key is knowing where to look.

If you’re a small business owner in Florida, you’re in luck. There are many options to consider when it’s time to apply for small business financing. Whether you’re new to the game and need money for startup costs or you’re an established small business looking to expand, we’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll explore the financing options available to you. We’ll cover national lenders that offer easy online applications and take a look at local banks and credit unions. We’ll explore small business grants which give you free (yes, free!) money for your business. Finally, we’ll take a look at the options available to startups. Ready to get your financing? Let’s go!

Online Business Lenders For Florida Businesses

The internet has made our lives more convenient than ever. From online banking to communicating with family and friends to watching our favorite funny cat videos on YouTube, the internet has changed the way we interact with the world.

For small business owners, the internet has also opened up new opportunities in lending. Just a few decades ago, getting a business loan meant heading to your local bank, presenting your pitch, and waiting for that phone call approving your loan … or, more likely, turning you down. Today, you can apply for loans, lines of credit, credit cards, and other financial products from the comfort of your home or office.

Not only is the application process easier, but now, small business owners that wouldn’t qualify for bank loans have options as well. No matter your industry, time in business, annual revenue, or personal credit score, there’s an online lender that can help you get the financing you need.

Lendio

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Want to shop options without filling out a million applications? Give Lendio a try. Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator, connecting you with more than 75 financing partners with just one application.

Through Lendio, you can apply for all types of small business financing. If you need a large amount of capital to fund your expansion, apply for a low-interest, long-term Small Business Administration loan. Looking for a flexible form of financing? See if you qualify for a line of credit or business credit card. Need new equipment for your business? Try equipment financing.

Some of the financial products offered through Lendio’s network include:

  • Small Business Administration Loans: $50,000 to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Lines Of Credit: $1,000 to $500,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Equipment Financing: $5,000 to $5 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Term Loans: $5,000 to $2 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Short Term Loans: $2,500 to $500,000 with terms up to 3 years
  • Merchant Cash Advances: $5,000 to $200,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Commercial Mortgages: $250,000 to $5 million with terms up to 25 years

Borrower requirements, rates, and terms vary based on the type of loan you select, the lender you work with, your borrowing amount, and your creditworthiness. Applying with Lendio to receive offers does not affect your credit score. However, if you move forward with a lender’s offer, a hard credit pull may be required.

SmartBiz

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Have you tried to receive a bank loan, but your application was rejected? You’re certainly not alone. Most small business owners find that receiving a low-cost, long-term loan from a bank is difficult. This is because banks take a hard look at risk. Banks and credit unions want to work with low-risk borrowers — established businesses with solid business and personal credit profiles and high annual revenues.

For many new and growing businesses, meeting these requirements is impossible. But this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with only high-interest, short-term loan options. You can receive affordable financing with great terms by applying for a Small Business Administration loan.

These loans are backed by the SBA, so banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders feel more comfortable loaning to small businesses – even those with less-than-perfect credit or low revenues. The SBA takes on some of the risk for lenders, while small business owners get to enjoy flexible, affordable loan options.

You can apply for an SBA loan through your bank or credit union. Or you can do what many busy entrepreneurs do and apply through SmartBiz.

With SmartBiz, you can pre-qualify for an SBA loan in just minutes with no effect on your credit score. You may be eligible to receive funding as quickly as 7 days after completing your application — much faster than the weeks it may take through your bank.

SmartBiz offers two types of SBA loans. Working capital and debt refinancing loans are available in amounts of $30,000 to $350,000. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes including:

  • Refinancing Debt
  • Equipment Or Inventory Purchases
  • Hiring Employees
  • Business Expansions
  • Marketing Costs

To qualify for a working capital and debt refinancing loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 2 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 640 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow to support loan payments
  • No outstanding tax liens
  • No bankruptcies or forecloses within the last 3 years
  • No previous defaults on government-backed loans

Working capital and debt refinancing loans have interest rates between 8.25% and 9.25% with repayment terms of 10 years.

You can also apply for an SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan. These loans start at $500,000 and can go up to $5 million; they can be used to purchase commercial real estate or refinance your existing property loan. Funds can’t be used to purchase investment properties or to fund the construction of a new commercial building.

To qualify for an SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan, you must meet the following borrower requirements:

  • The property must be at least 51% owner-occupied
  • At least 3 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 675 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow to support loan payments
  • Property purchase price must be higher than $500,000
  • No outstanding tax liens
  • No previous defaults on government-backed loans

SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loans have interest rates of 7% to 8.25% with repayment terms of 25 years.

If you don’t want to apply for an SBA loan or need funding quickly, SmartBiz has also partnered with banks to offer competitive term loans. These loans are available in amounts from $30,000 to $350,000 with terms of 2 to 5 years. Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% to 26.9%.

OnDeck

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If you don’t qualify for an SBA loan or you need money fast, you could get the capital you need with an alternative online lender like OnDeck. OnDeck offers two financial products for small businesses: term loans and lines of credit.

With an OnDeck term loan, you could qualify to receive up to $500,000. OnDeck offers short-term loan options with terms of 3 to 12 months. These loans are best for purchasing inventory, paying marketing expenses, or seasonal hiring or inventory needs. Short-term loan options have a simple interest rate starting at 9%.

Long-term loan options are also available with terms of 15 to 36 months. These loans are best for larger projects including purchasing equipment or business expansion. Annual interest rates for long-term loans start at 9.99%.

For both loan options, fixed daily or weekly payments are automatically deducted from your business bank account. To qualify for OnDeck loans, you must:

  • Have a time in business of at least 12 months
  • Have at least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Have a personal credit score of 500 or above

If you want a more flexible financing option, you can apply for a line of credit up to $100,000. You can use your line of credit whenever you need it, including when you have unexpected expenses or gaps in cash flow.

The APR for an OnDeck line of credit starts at 13.99%. Fixed weekly payments are automatically taken from your business bank account. There are no draw fees, but a monthly maintenance fee of $20 is required. This fee is waived for 6 months if you draw at least $5,000 within 5 days of opening your account.

To qualify for an OnDeck line of credit, you must meet the following requirements:

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

Fundbox

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If a flexible line of credit seems like the best option for your business, consider giving Fundbox a shot. Fundbox is unique in that the performance of your business — not your personal or business credit score — is the most important qualifying factor.

With Fundbox, you can receive a line of credit up to $100,000. Your line of credit can be used for nearly any business purpose, from buying inventory and supplies to covering payroll or an unexpected emergency. You can make multiple draws from your line of credit, and funds can be transferred to your account as quickly as the next business day.

Fundbox fees start at 4.66% of the draw amount. You can choose from 12- or 24-week terms, and repayments are automatically deducted from your business bank account each week. If you repay your balance early, remaining fees are waived. No fees are charged if you don’t use your line of credit.

To qualify for a Fundbox line of credit, you must have:

  • A business checking account
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • A U.S.-based business
  • At least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account OR at least 2 months of activity in supported accounting software

A soft credit inquiry is performed during the application process, so your credit will not be affected just by applying. After you’re approved and draw funds for the first time, a hard credit inquiry will be performed.

BlueVine

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BlueVine is another lender that offers flexible lines of credit. However, this lender also offers an additional option for qualified borrowers: invoice factoring.

With a BlueVine line of credit, you could qualify to receive up to $250,000. Rates start at 4.8%, and you only pay for the used portion of funds. Your line of credit can be used for any business purpose. Weekly repayments are automatically taken from your business bank account.

To qualify for a line of credit, you must have the following:

  • A personal credit score of 600 or above
  • A time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

If you have unpaid invoices, you may qualify for BlueVine’s invoice factoring service. Factoring lines of up to $5 million are available for qualified borrowers. Rates start at just 0.25% per week.

With invoice factoring, you’ll submit an application to BlueVine. Once approved, you can automatically sync your invoices from a supported accounting software. You can also upload your invoices to the BlueVine dashboard.

Once your invoices are received, BlueVine pays you 85% to 90% of the invoice amount up front. Once the invoice has been paid, you’ll receive the remaining funds, less fees charged by BlueVine.

To qualify for BlueVine’s invoice factoring, you need:

  • A B2B business
  • A personal credit score of 530 or above
  • A time in business of at least 3 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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If you’re an American Express business cardholder, you may qualify for an AmEx business loan. The great thing about these loans is that no credit check is required since American Express already has your information on file.

With an Amex business loan, you can receive $3,500 to $50,000 for any business purpose. The only restrictions are that funds can’t be used to pay for personal expenses or to repay debts to American Express. Repayment terms of 12, 24, or 36 months are available. Fixed interest rates are 6.98% to 19.97%.

To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Have an American Express Business Card and be in good standing

Upstart

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If you’re a new business, meeting the time in business or annual revenue requirements of business loans may be difficult. However, if you have at least a fair credit score, you have a financing option: using a personal loan for business expenses.

With a personal loan, your personal information, including your credit score and annual income, are used to determine if you qualify. Since this isn’t a business loan, annual revenue, business credit score, and time in business requirements won’t be a consideration for approval.

Upstart offers a personal loan option that may work for you. When you apply for a personal loan, you may qualify to receive $1,000 to $50,000. Rates with Upstart begin at just 8.09% for the most creditworthy borrowers. Maximum APRs are 35.99%. Payments are made monthly over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Unlike other lenders, Upstart looks at more than just your credit score. While this is still a factor in qualifying for a personal loan, your credit history, education, and job history are also considered for approval.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must have:

  • A credit score of at least 620
  • A solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts
  • No public records
  • Less than 6 credit inquiries over the last 6 months
  • At least $12,000 in annual income

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Florida

If you want loan options with extremely competitive rates and terms, consider applying for financing through a bank, credit union, or nonprofit lender. We’ve compiled some of the top options in the state of Florida that offer everything from traditional business loans to commercial mortgages and SBA loans.

Florida First Capital Finance Corporation

Florida First Capital Finance Corporation has been licensed by the SBA since 1984. Since that time, this nonprofit Certified Development Company has helped small businesses through the SBA 504 loan program.

Funds through the 504 program can be used to purchase commercial real estate, machinery, or equipment. Funds may also be used to refinance qualifying debt. Through the 504 loan program, Florida First Capital Finance Corporation provides up to 40% of loan funds. A traditional commercial lender provides up to 50% of loan funds. The remaining project balance is paid by the borrower as a down payment.

To qualify for a 504 loan, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Own a small business that meets the size standards set by the SBA
  • Be a U.S. citizen or registered alien
  • Operate a for-profit business
  • The net worth of the business must be $15 million or less
  • Average net income of the business must be $5 million or less
  • Business can’t be engaged in rental real estate investment

Suncoast Credit Union

Suncoast Credit Union is the largest credit union in the state of Florida. Branches are located in and around the Tampa area, and online services are available to members.

Through Suncoast Credit Union, you can apply for multiple financial products for your small business. In addition to business checking and savings accounts, payroll services, and employee benefits, Suncoast Credit Union also offers:

  • Business Lines Of Credit
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Vehicle & Equipment Loans
  • SBA Loans
  • Business Credit Cards

Rates, terms, and borrowing amounts vary by product selected and your creditworthiness.

To become a member of Suncoast Credit Union and be eligible to apply for business financing, you must have an immediate family member that has joined, live in a qualifying county in Florida, or be a Florida College alumnus.

Chase Bank

Chase Bank is one of the largest banks in Florida, with over 300 branches located across the state. Chase offers a variety of financial products targeted at small business owners. Not only does the lender offer business checking and savings accounts, payroll services, and merchant services accounts, small business owners can also apply to receive:

  • Business Lines Of Credit: Up to $500,000
  • Commercial Lines Of Credit: At least $500,000
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans: Conventional or SBA loans starting at $50,000
  • Small Business Loans: Starting at $5,000 with terms up to 84 months
  • SBA Loans: 7(a), Express, and 504 loans
  • Equipment Financing
  • Business Credit Cards

Rates, terms, and maximum borrowing limits are based on the product selected and the creditworthiness of the borrower.

Small Business Grants In Florida

With most small business financing, you get the capital your business needs and repay your borrowing amount, interest, and fees over time. With grants, you receive capital without having to pay back the funds. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the one drawback is that grants are very difficult to receive. Competition is high for small business grants. Many grants also have very specific requirements and may be awarded only to businesses owned by a minority or businesses in a specific industry. If you don’t meet all requirements, you won’t be eligible to receive a grant.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply. There are several small business grants available to business owners in the state of Florida that you may qualify to receive.

Enterprise Florida Inc.

Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI) offers training, development, and financing opportunities to small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and entrepreneurs.

There are multiple funding opportunities available through EFI. This includes:

  • State Small Business Credit Initiative: This program reduces the risk taken by lenders by purchasing up to 50% of loan funds, making it easier for small businesses to qualify for affordable loans.
  • Microfinance Guarantee Program: This program provides a guarantee on loans, similar to the SSBCI program. This helps lenders feel more secure in lending money to small businesses.
  • Florida Opportunity Fund: EFI is a sponsor of the Florida Opportunity Fund, which offers funding to businesses through programs including the Fund of Funds Program, the Clean Energy Investment Program, and Florida’s Venture Capital Program.

EFI has also partnered with other organizations to provide additional resources and funding opportunities to small businesses.

WomensNet Amber Grant

Women-owned businesses in Florida and across the nation can apply for a small business grant through WomensNet’s Amber Grant Program. Each month, a $1,000 small business grant is awarded to a woman-owned business. At the end of the year, all 12 monthly winners will be entered to win a grant of $10,000.

One of the best things about this grant is that the application process is simple. There are no lengthy applications to fill out and no extensive documentation to submit. Instead, all women business owners can apply by answering a few short questions about their business. There is a $15 application fee to enter. Deadlines for applications are the last day of each month.

Palm Beach County Job Growth Incentive Grant

Businesses that are relocating or establishing a business in Palm Beach County, Florida, may qualify for the Job Growth Incentive Grant Program. This award is given through the Economic Development Office and is available to startups and established businesses that will create jobs in Palm Beach County.

Interested businesses can contact the Palm Beach County Department of Housing and Economic Sustainability or the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County to learn more about applying for this grant.

VISIT FLORIDA Targeted Marketing Assistance Program Grant

If your business is in the tourism industry, you may qualify for VISIT FLORIDA’s Targeted Marketing Assistance Program Grant. Through this program, marketing costs up to $5,000 are matched with a grant.

To qualify, a business must be an approved TMAP business and a partner with VISIT FLORIDA. Applications must include a marketing project overview, a marketing strategy and media plan, anticipated results, and a marketing budget.

All independently owned and operated businesses with gross revenues of $1.25 million or less that are in the tourism industry may apply to become a TMAP business. Some nonprofit organizations may also qualify.

Loans & Financial Resources For Startups In Florida

Even established businesses may encounter challenges when applying for business financing. So, it should come as no surprise that startup businesses — businesses that haven’t yet established a credit profile or aren’t bringing in revenue — may have a more difficult time getting needed funding and resources.

Luckily, though, there are resources available to new businesses and startups. In the state of Florida, there are a few good options to consider.

SCORE

SCORE has 300 chapters throughout the nation, with chapters located in the state of Florida. Through SCORE, you can tune in to live and recorded webinars and take courses on small business topics. You also have access to e-guides, articles, blogs, and online workshops.

One of the most beneficial features of SCORE is that you can be matched with an expert business mentor. You can get advice at no charge with your mentor either face-to-face or online.

Small Business Development Center

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers multiple resources to business owners in Florida. The SBDC has online and offline resources, including videos, in-person workshops, and low-cost training.

The SBDC also offers consulting at no cost. New business owners can work with a Capital Access Specialist to find, prepare, and receive business financing.

There are several locations throughout the state of Florida in cities including Cape Coral, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Miami, and Pensacola.

The Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center

A good online resource for business owners in Florida is the Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center. Through this website, you can find business resources by city. This includes links to your local Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Councils, forums, and more.

If you want to take advantage of offline resources, the website has a list of events taking place all over the state. These events are centered on topics such as business and personal credit, SBA loans, business planning, and cybersecurity for small businesses.

Find An Investor

If you need capital for your startup, where do you turn? One option is to find an investor. While you can certainly find these investors on your own — think a friend, family member, or colleague — you can also hop online and give crowdfunding a shot.

With crowdfunding, you’ll use an online platform to pitch your business to potential investors. In exchange for their investment, you can offer up a reward (such as a new product for free or a reduced cost) or equity in your business.

One of the best things about crowdfunding is that there are no credit score, time in business, or revenue requirements, which is ideal for businesses that are just getting started. However, you do have to perfect your pitch, share your campaign online, and work harder to bring in investors that are willing to back your company.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

5 C's of Credit: What Lenders Look For

Now that you’re aware of the loan options available to you, the next step is to choose your lender. Unfortunately, this is when having so many choices has its drawbacks. If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to selecting a lender, ask yourself the following questions:

How Will I Use The Money?

You want to select a lender that offers financial products that best fit your needs. Let’s say you need working capital for your business. A loan used to purchase commercial property won’t be a good fit, so you could scratch this lender off the list. Plan how you intend to use your funds, then choose lenders that don’t have restrictions that would prevent you from effectively using your capital.

How Much Money Do I Need?

Knowing how much money you need is a critical step before you even start filling out an application. This not only helps you plan and budget for your own business, but most lenders want to know how much you need to borrow. Having a number in mind can also help you decide which lenders work best for your specific needs. If you need $250,000, a line of credit that maxes out at $100,000 just won’t work for your business.

Do I Meet The Lender’s Requirements?

Save yourself the trouble of unnecessary rejections by understanding the borrower requirements of every lender that interests you. If a lender requires a time in business of 2 years and you’re just opening your doors, you won’t qualify. If you need a personal credit score of 700 but yours is just 620, it’s time to search for another lender. Start your search by checking your free credit score online, then make sure you meet all borrower requirements before applying. Also, keep in mind that meeting the minimum requirements is not a guarantee of a loan offer.

Do I Want A Lump Sum Or Flexible Financing?

If you have a specific financial need in mind — purchasing new equipment or buying a commercial property, for instance — work with lenders that offer lump-sum loans. If you’d rather have a more flexible financing option — making payroll or covering revenue gaps — find a lender that offers a flexible form of financing such as a line of credit or business credit card.

Can I Afford It?

Sure, you may want a million dollars to build your business, but can your business afford it? Consider your outstanding debts and obligations, your current and project revenues, and shop around your options. Understand the fees and terms of your loan to determine if it’s something you can handle … or if it could drag your business deep into debt. Learn more about calculating the affordability of your small business loan.

Final Thoughts

In the state of Florida, there are plenty of lenders and small business resources at your disposal. The only thing you have to do is find the right resources for your business and leverage them to successfully start and build your business.

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

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The Best Alternatives To Credit Karma

Credit Karma is one of the most well-known—if not the most well-known—websites for checking personal credit scores. The site offers one of the simplest and quickest ways to check your credit score—and it’s pretty accurate, too.

But it’s far from the only site. When it comes to checking your credit score before applying for your next loan or credit card, you want to make sure you have the most accurate score possible. This way, you’ll know if you can apply right away or if you need to improve your score before seeking a loan. Even though Credit Karma is fairly accurate, the best option is to hunt around and get second and third opinions as well, giving you a well-rounded view of your credit history.

Of course, with so many sites advertising credit score features, which ones stack up best against Credit Karma? Keep reading to find out the best alternatives to Credit Karma!

Site Name Price Credit Score Source Credit Score Update Frequency

Discover Credit Scoreboard

Free Experian Monthly

WalletHub

Free TransUnion Daily

Credit Journey from Chase

Free TransUnion Weekly

Credit Sesame

Free TransUnion Monthly

Credit.com

Free Experian Every two weeks

PrivacyGuard

$9.99 per month Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion Daily

What Is Credit Karma & What Does It Offer?

How Much Does Credit Karma Cost?

Credit Karma itself is free to use. In fact, we’ve named it one of our favorite free credit-checking sites. The site does not charge users a fee for signing up and using the site, nor does it require users to link a credit card.

Instead, Credit Karma uses “personalized offers” to make money. These offers are more-or-less targeted advertisements for various products based on your credit profile. Example ads could include credit card offers or loan refinancing options. It is not required that you accept any of these offers to keep using Credit Karma.

Services Offered By Credit Karma

Credit Karma’s primary service is providing users with estimated credit scores. In terms of credit reporting bureaus, Credit Karma draws information from both Equifax and TransUnion to calculate credit scores, but it does not use the third major bureau, Experian. To tabulate your results, Credit Karma uses data from VantageScore (like most free credit-checking sites), a scoring model that can be compared to FICO scores (what’s used by many creditors).

This part of Credit Karma also gives users the option to monitor their score, dispute errors on their credit report, and simulate potential changes to their score.

Credit Karma offers a tax service that lets you e-file your federal and state taxes for free. It also provides access to various financial articles, as well as loan finder tools for personal and auto loans. Additional tools include a search helper for credit cards, an unclaimed money finder, reviews, and a financial advice forum.

Top Sites Like Credit Karma

Discover Credit Scoreboard

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: Experian
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Monthly
  • Other Services Offered: Credit report breakdown.

Run by credit card and banking company Discover, this service does not require users to be Discover customers to sign up. As one of the few free sites that pull data from Experian, Discover also gives you access to your FICO score, a rarity for a free credit-checking site.

Note, however, that because FICO offers numerous types of scores, the score you see through the Discover Credit Scoreboard may differ from what a potential creditor might use. Still, this is beneficial knowledge from an educational standpoint — and makes for a great general credit monitoring tool.

WalletHub

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Daily
  • Other Services Offered: 24/7 credit monitoring, full credit reports, credit card offers, and credit improvement algorithms.

WalletHub’s big draw is that it is the only free credit-checking site to offer daily credit checks. This is a very nifty feature because most sites only update monthly and only a few check in weekly. WalletHub’s data is derived from TransUnion via VantageScore. This service is completely free and does not require a credit card.

The site also offers other robust credit history tools, from full credit reports to an algorithm that identifies ways for you to improve your credit score. You’ll get access to customized credit card recommendations and savings alerts as well.

Credit Journey from Chase

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Weekly
  • Other Services Offered: Email alerts, score simulator, and credit history tracker.

Even though Credit Journey comes from a credit card and banking company, it’s free to all users, not just Chase customers. You can expect the site to generate a VantageScore for you using a TransUnion report.

Chase also offers a credit simulator (like Credit Karma) within their Credit Journey service. This lets you estimate how various financial actions might affect your future score. On top of this, the service provides email alerts and a basic credit history tracker.

Credit Sesame

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Monthly
  • Other Services Offered: Credit monitoring, ID protection, credit report analysis, money-saving advice, credit card offers, and loan offers.

For Credit Sesame, you’ll get a TransUnion-based VantageScore. Like many other sites, Credit Sesame is completely free and you won’t need to hand over a credit card number.

Other features you can take advantage of with Credit Sesame include analytic tools to help find specific credit cards or loans that match your credit profile. You’ll also receive a full credit report analysis as well as monthly credit monitoring.

Credit.com

  • Price: Free ($21.95 per month option available)
  • Credit Score Source: Experian (plus options for Equifax and TransUnion)
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Every two weeks
  • Other Services Offered: Credit monitoring, personalized credit report card, credit repair service, and loan offers.

Credit.com is one of the few free sites to generate your score based on a report from Experian. The score they calculate is tabulated via VantageScore.

Your Experian VantageScore is always free with Credit.com, but if you want more details, the site offers a paid option to buy your FICO score, alongside reports from all three major bureaus. These additional features are offered in conjunction with Experian’s CreditWorks service. It costs $1 for a seven-day trial and then you’ll need to pay $21.95 per month afterward.

PrivacyGuard

  • Price: $1 for the first 14 days, $9.99 per month after
  • Credit Score Source: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Daily
  • Other Services Offered: Identity theft protection, 24/7 credit monitoring, credit score alerts, credit score tracker, credit dispute assistance, identity fraud support, and a toll-free credit hotline.

If you’re looking for one place to monitor all three major bureaus on a daily basis, PrivacyGuard is a great option. Unfortunately, they only feature a paid service that goes for $9.99 a month after a $1 two-week long trial. It’s worth noting that PrivacyGuard does not use VantageScore or FICO for their credit score calculations. Instead, this site uses CreditXpert as its primary credit score provider.

Beyond simply accessing your credit score, you can also take advantage of identity theft protection and credit dispute assistance if you notice an error on one of your credit reports.

Should I Pay For Credit Monitoring?

In most cases, paid options are unnecessary. While you won’t actually see what creditors might see when it comes to your credit score, free sites will still give you a reasonably accurate ballpark figure.

On top of this, getting your score checked at free sites should not negatively impact your score. This means you can compare scores across a range of sites for no cost. Doing so will enable you to get data from all three major credit bureaus while also finding out scores from both VantageScore and FICO.

However, if you want to take advantage of other fraud management tools, a paid service may be the way to go. Free sites will generally provide rudimentary features like a simple credit score, while paid sites (such as PrivateGuard) provide a more robust set of fraud protection options.

How To Get Your Credit Reports For Free

There is another way to get your credit report for free. By U.S. law, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are required to share a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. If you request a copy of your credit report, you’ll get the full report, not the limited version you’d get from a credit-checking site.

To request a free credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.

Note that these reports do not include actual credit scores. They’ll simply show your credit history, allowing you to check for potential errors. To access credit scores, you’ll need to sign up for either a free or paid website that pulls scores for you.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, credit-checking sites can only give you estimates of what creditors might be looking at when it comes to your credit score. While you might get fairly accurate estimates, it’s not always possible to see exactly what a potential credit card issuer or loan provider sees after you fill out an application.

As such, it’s rarely a bad idea to sign up for multiple credit-checking sites. There are numerous free options available and checking your history shouldn’t actually harm your score. By looking at different sites, you can access data from the three major bureaus and scores from both FICO and VantageScore. Getting this holistic view of your credit history will enable you to apply for your next loan or credit card with confidence.

The post The Best Alternatives To Credit Karma appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

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Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business

When opening an online store, one of your most important tasks is finding the right website builder. In truth, selecting the proper software fit for your needs can make or break your whole operation. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway, because it’s our job) that a small online shop offering its own home-based inventory has different software requirements than a large network of websites offering thousands of products sourced from all over the world.

To assist in your search, we’ve rounded up the top ecommerce software contenders. Two of our recommendations (Wix and Squarespace) began as traditional website builders for business or personal use, but have since added ecommerce capability. The others are ecommerce shopping carts at their core but have also made advanced online storefront-building capacity a major feature of the service. These include Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

In recommending these particular sitebuilders, we should note that our focus is on the DIY end of the website-building spectrum. If, on the other hand, you are confident in your coding skills (or can hire a dedicated developer) and prefer the infinite flexibility of an open-source platform for frontend design and content creation, you might try a CMS like WordPress to use in conjunction with a shopping cart plugin, such as WooCommerce or Ecwid.

However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one, fully-hosted, and simpler-all-around system for online store-building, you’ve come to the right place. The great news for you is that the online storefront creation and editing capabilities of the all-inclusive platforms we’ll highlight in this roundup have only improved over time.

How To Choose An eCommerce Website Builder

If you haven’t shopped for an ecommerce platform before, the first step is to become oriented with this type of software so you know what you’ll be examining in the first place. Fortunately, each sitebuilder we’ll cover here offers some sort of free trial, so you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experience with the software before making a final selection.

Here are the main things you should consider when choosing ecommerce software:

Cost

  • Monthly Subscription: Most DIY sitebuilders these days are SaaS (Software as a Service), so check for the monthly cost of each plan level, which features are included at each price point, and any plan limits such as number of products you can list, revenue caps, etc.
  • Per Sale Commission: Some ecommerce sitebuilders charge a percentage commission per sale under certain circumstances, so investigate if and when this extra fee might apply to your store.
  • Add-On Features: Many features may only come as add-ons from an app marketplace. While some add-ons are free, other apps you may want to integrate with your store (like shipping, marketing, or accounting software) are fully-fledged SaaS platforms with their own monthly subscriptions.
  • Payment Processing: You’ll need to connect an online payment gateway to your store — usually a third-party processor like Stripe or PayPal — to accept payments from customers, so check out the available options that work with the platform in your country, and the processing rates charged.
  • Design Template: Some website templates come free with the software, but premium themes typically have a one-time purchase cost.
  • Web Development: While most ecommerce sitebuilders are DIY when it comes to getting things up and running, you may still decide to hire a developer or designer to fine-tune your site at some point.

Website Design

  • Template/Theme Options: Browse the theme marketplace and get a feel for several templates you could see yourself using.
  • Customization Options: Go beyond admiring templates and work with a few yourself. In particular, explore the storefront editing tools that come with the software. Look to see if and how you can move elements within page layouts — there are varying degrees of flexibility in this area.

Features

  • Admin Features: Look at the options for configuring storewide settings such as shipping methods, currencies, languages, tax calculation, and sales channels. Also, consider the ways in which you’ll be able to manipulate the specifications for individual products (pricing, SEO data, discounts, product variants/attributes, etc).
  • Storefront Features: This includes how products are displayed, organized, and marketed to customers on your site, as well as all aspects of the checkout experience.
  • Quantity VS Quality: Just because a certain feature exists, doesn’t mean it’s very robust or will work well for your needs. Similarly, you don’t want to get bogged down with (nor pay for) a bunch of features you don’t need.
  • Fit: Do the available features cater well to your business type, size, location, etc?
  • Scalability: Online stores grow in different ways, so it helps to anticipate how your operation will most likely expand over time. Growth dimensions, like number of products and their variations, number of staff accounts, file storage, revenue, marketing needs, and traffic levels, are often handled differently by different platforms.

Ease Of Use

  • Onboarding & Store Setup: All the software apps we cover in this article falls under a larger umbrella of “easy to get started,” but pay attention in your free trials to exactly how self-explanatory each step is, and to any additional guiding resources that are available.
  • Dashboard Navigation & Feature Manipulation: Check your level of comfort with both finding and manipulating features like inventory and order management, discount creation, etc.
  • Simplicity VS Flexibility: User-friendliness is a good thing, but make sure that the tools you need aren’t so basic that they can’t accomplish precisely what you want them to.
  • Coding Skill Requirements:  In most cases, the basics of admin and storefront customization will be covered without coding, but advanced customization can require advanced knowledge. Do your best to push the limits of non-coding customizability during your trial.
  • Tech Support: Know what resources you’ll have if you get stuck or if something goes wrong with your site. Since online stores operate 24/7, you’ll probably want at least one support channel (email/web tickets, live chat, or phone) that’s open 24 hours.

Between your own testing experiences, perusing the software’s website, reading reviews (like ours!), and interacting with customer service to answer any lingering questions, you should have a very good handle on how a particular sitebuilder will work for your online store before coughing up a single cent in subscription fees.

Now, let’s take a look at some software! We can’t cover absolutely everything we’ve discussed above (check out our full reviews of the software for more info), but we’ll hit some key points to help guide your choice.

1. Shopify

Pricing & Payment Processing

While there is a $9/month Lite plan with Shopify, you’ll need to sign up for the Basic plan ($29/month) or higher to build a full ecommerce website using the software. As you continue upward in plan level, you’ll see a few added features and the option to increase your number of staff admin accounts. Here are the subscription options:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

You have over 100 gateway possibilities for accepting payments from your customers with Shopify, but note that if you don’t use the in-house option — Shopify Payments, powered by Stripe — you will be charged an extra Shopify commission per sale of up to 2% on top of the card processing fee from your payment gateway. On the flip side, if you do use Shopify Payments, you’ll receive a processing discount (i.e., pay less than the going rate for Stripe on its own) on the Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.

We’ve put together a complete breakdown of Shopify Payments, and I’d definitely recommend reading that before you sign up for Shopify. For now, just remember that you’ll face an extra transaction fee from Shopify if you don’t use Shopify Payments.

Shopify also has one of the most extensive app stores you’ll find among SaaS ecommerce platforms. This can be a great resource for your store, but be careful to take the added cost of the apps you might need under consideration as you evaluate pricing.

Ease Of Use

Shopify users appreciate how easy it is to jump right in and start selling with the software. Once you open your free 14-day trial, your dashboard guides you toward a few steps to begin setting up your store:

Our tests of both admin navigation and individual feature manipulation have demonstrated that everything is easy to find and use. If you do run into problems, Shopify offers phone, email, and live chat support 24/7 at all subscription levels — a rare support trifecta amongst ecommerce website builders. The company has also curated an impressive library of self-help articles, videos, and even full online courses. All in all, Shopify earns an A+ for user-friendliness.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Choose from 10 free themes (made by Shopify) or 60 paid themes for $140-$180, most with multiple style variations. Even the free themes are good quality, and I’m always struck by the pleasant experience of shopping in the theme store. When a shopping cart platform is good at showcasing its own products, this gives me confidence in its ability to serve the needs of ecommerce sellers who are trying to accomplish this exact same task with their own products.

Editing Tools: 

To move elements around on your site’s pages, you’ll have access to a drag-and-drop tool called “Sections.” It’s not as flexible as the visual editors from traditional sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace, which allow more freedom of placement, but you can at least add, subtract, and change the order of elements. You can also change fonts and colors under “Theme Settings.”

If you wish to further customize your theme, you’ll need to learn Shopify’s own templating language called Liquid. This open-source language is written in Ruby and is the backbone of Shopify templates. Of course, you may not need to further code your Shopify theme at all — we just always like to include the heads up in case.

Features

While Shopify has a strong, highly-capable core feature set, advanced features often come as add-ons (even free ones) to keep the base platform streamlined and easy to use. Here are some of the Shopify features we like:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage on all plans
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Extensive sales channel & marketplace integrations (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.)
  • Mobile store management via Shopify App

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Expedited checkout with Shopify Pay

Along with the features we’ve highlighted above, check individual templates for special storefront features such as parallax scrolling, customer testimonials, social media feeds, and more.

Best Fit

From an overall software quality standpoint, it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. This platform remains our default recommendation for the typical online seller who wants to quickly launch an attractive and functional store, but who also hopes for a scalable solution that easily accommodates growth in product listings and store revenue. As far as shopping cart software goes, it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.

Shopify not-so-subtly guides you toward using Shopify Payments as your processor by rewarding you with reduced processing fees if you do and punishing you with an extra commission per sale if you don’t. If you’re not in one of the 10 locales currently supported by Shopify Payments or don’t qualify to use the processor for another reason (such as risk level or type of products sold), you should probably take a closer look at some of the competing ecommerce platforms as well.

2. BigCommerce

Pricing & Payment Processing

Each bump in subscription level with BigCommerce gives you added features, but also implements annual revenue caps. Meanwhile, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale, regardless of which payment processor you choose. You’ll have around 60 payment gateway options, one of which is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Here are the plans, all of which allow you to create a full ecommerce storefront:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

BigCommerce also offers an app store with hundreds of connections to ecommerce-related software and feature plugins. While this platform attempts to include a few more native features than Shopify, you should still be aware of the cost of additional integrations purchased through the app marketplace.

Ease Of Use

BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (probably just to one-up Shopify by a day). The admin dashboard you’ll encounter upon signup is arranged in a standard ecommerce fashion — navigational menu on the left, tips to get started on the right:

I would qualify BigCommerce’s backend as quite intuitive to use, although you might find it slightly more complex and detailed than Shopify’s interface. Part of this comes down to personal preference and experience, though. If you happen to run into a snag, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels, as well as good documentation and community forums.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

With over 120 themes (and multiple style variations per theme) available at the BigCommerce theme marketplace, you’re bound to find a good match for your store. Seven of the themes are free, and the rest range from $145 to $235 each.

Editing Tools:

Theme editing with BigCommerce is more restricted than with Shopify. The visual editor (now called Store Design) lacks a drag-and-drop component, for example. In other words, you should carefully choose a template you really like, because you are stuck with its basic format. Alternatively, you can add a page builder app from the marketplace with drag-and-drop capability, but just be careful to factor in the added cost. You can also make customizations with HTML and CSS if you’re skilled in these areas.

Features

As always, check which features are included with each subscription level (and which come as apps), but take a look at a few of BigCommerce’s standout features:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, storage, & bandwidth
  • Unlimited staff accounts
  • Sell digital and service-based products without adding an app
  • Support for numerous product variations
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Square POS integration
  • Marketplace integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)
  • Shipping label printing (USPS) and discounts
  • Complimentary Avalara AvaTax account
  • Customer segmentation with loyalty program capability
  • Multiple SSL certificate options (shared, dedicated, custom)

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping quotes
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Faceted/filtered product search
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Public & private wish lists
  • Recently viewed products
  • Akamai Image Manager & Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)  for mobile-friendliness
  • Integrate consumer financing options at checkout

Best Fit

BigCommerce strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and powerful out-of-the-box functionality, which we think a lot of online sellers will appreciate. Individual feature quality is also quite robust. Like Shopify, BigCommerce works for a wide variety or catalog sizes and scales well. However, if you have a nuanced catalog with a lot of product variations or custom fields, and like being really hands-on with your product SEO, you might be drawn to BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is also a great option to consider if you want or need the freedom to choose a payment processor without the “threat” of extra transaction fees if you don’t select an in-house option. If you’ve already looked at Shopify but need more flexibility when it comes to payments, definitely check out BigCommerce as an alternative.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

Pricing & Payment Processing

3dcart shares pricing structure components with both BigCommerce and Shopify. Like BigCommerce, 3dcart subscription packages have revenue caps. Another similarity is that 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale (and over 160 compatible payment gateways are available, some with discounted processing rates at higher subscription levels).

Like Shopify, you get more staff accounts at each 3dcart level. And, like both Shopify and BigCommerce, each step in plan offers a few additional features.

Do also note that the Startup plan with 3dcart has an item limit of 100 products. Here’s a quick pricing summary:

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr and list 100 products.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

For building a complete online storefront with the software, 3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than both BigCommerce and Shopify (at just $19/month). You’ll also note that the 3dcart $29 plan accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce. For these reasons, 3dcart is often considered a less expensive choice.

3dcart boasts a lot of built-in features, but watch out for the ongoing monthly cost of software integrations for shipping, accounting, and other services available in the 3dcart app store.

Ease Of Use

3dcart also comes with a free 15-day trial (and if you think everyone’s just copying each other on this, 3dcart has been around the longest!). The dashboard functions just like those of the other two ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far, but some advanced features are built-in modules you must find and turn on to use.

While 3dcart is easy to use, it is definitely more complex and layered than Shopify or BigCommerce. You may find, however, that you appreciate the flexibility and advanced capability of 3dcart’s features. Tech support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat, and email, but note that you must be on the $29/month plan to access phone support. The community forums are also helpful, and the knowledgebase provides step-by-step articles on most of the important features.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

3dcart offers just shy of 50 themes in its marketplace, and close to half are free. The rest are $150-$200.

Editing Tools: 

If you want to customize your theme, you can make color, content, and some typography changes in the visual editor, but more significant changes require tweaking HTML and CSS. In other words, there is no drag-and-drop capability. My overall hunch is that 3dcart expects most users to eventually tinker with the code if they really want to hone their designs.

Features

Below is just a sampling of 3dcart’s features — be sure to check the website for the full breakdown by plan:

Admin

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Inventory & order management
  • Dynamic, unlimited product categories
  • Return management
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Create/print shipping labels from multiple carriers
  • Multichannel selling
  • Email marketing & drip campaigns
  • Unlimited email hosting
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in iPad POS software (or integrate with Square POS)
  • Built-in B2B selling features

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Gift certificates (on all plans)
  • Wide variety of discount/coupon types
  • Daily & group pricing deals
  • Make-an-offer pricing
  • Offer financing options
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Reviews & product Q&A
  • Waiting list & pre-orders
  • Gift wrap
  • Loyalty program & rewards points
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Best Fit

In some ways, we’ve been climbing up the ladder of built-in complexity as we’ve progressed through this software roundup so far. The tradeoff between simplicity and flexibility starts to lean more noticeably toward the flexibility side when we arrive at 3dcart. I think it’s safe to say that 3dcart works well for users who are perhaps not coding experts, but still fancy themselves on the generally tech-savvy end of the spectrum. While still easy to use in the grand scheme of things, this platform requires a bit of initiative on the part of the user to take full advantage of what it has to offer.

Starting at just $19/month, 3dcart is also a cost-effective option for sellers on a tight budget who still require workhorse-style ecommerce software underpinning their websites (versus a traditional website builder with added ecommerce capability). Speaking of budgets, 3dcart is also a great option for sellers who may feel Shopify’s software is a good fit, but are stuck with an extra transaction fee because they can’t use Shopify Payments. With well over 100 options at 3dcart, you’re bound to find a compatible processor that suits your needs.

4. Wix

Pricing & Payment Processing

To create an ecommerce website with Wix, you’ll need to sign up for one of the “Business” plans designed for online sellers. As is common with traditional website building software, Wix advertises a monthly price for plans when paid annually, rather than a true month-to-month price. We like to focus on with the month-to-month price, so you can better compare between platforms:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

If you decide to pay annually, the above prices drop to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. (To be fair, all the platforms in the article offer some type of discount for paying annually — it’s all a matter of advertising strategy). The package levels are defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included. 

Wix never charges an extra commission per sale, regardless of which of the close to 20 gateway options you select for accepting payments.

As we’ve mentioned with the other software platforms we’ve discussed so far, you may want to add some apps to expand what your site can do. Wix apps often have both free and premium versions, so just confirm which type will work for your store so you can accurately calculate your true monthly costs.

Ease Of Use

You can dive right in and start testing Wix for free as long as you’d like — you just can’t start accepting payments through your store until you sign up for a paid plan. At that point, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund on your subscription fee if you change your mind.

There are two ways to get a site started with Wix. You either let Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) create a website for you by asking you a series of detailed questions about your business, or you select a pre-made template and go from there. Either way, the ecommerce portion of your site is built on the Wix Stores app, which seamlessly integrates into the rest of your dashboard:

The backend ecommerce features of Wix are very easy to use, if sometimes not quite as powerful or flexible overall as the features of the other shopping cart software we’ve discussed so far. Wix actually takes user-friendliness to a whole new level by incorporating several visually-engaging interfaces that carefully hold your hand through important processes such as setting up email campaigns, creating discounts, configuring SEO for your site, and more. On a personal note, I really enjoy using Wix for this reason.

If you still need extra help, phone support is available Monday-Friday from 5AM-5PM PT on all plans, or you can submit an email ticket 24/7. Online self-help resources are good quality, but not as extensive in the ecommerce department as those you’d find for a platform like Shopify.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Approximately 80 templates offered by Wix are built upon the Wix Stores app, but it’s easy to add the app to any of the 500 or so templates offered. Happily, all templates are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. And, as you might expect from a platform that specializes in frontend design, your options are very elegant and modern.

Editing Tools:

While you can’t switch templates midstream with Wix, you have loads of flexibility in customizing what you’ve chosen. The drag-and-drop capability of Sections in Shopify pales in comparison to the “place anything anywhere” possibilities with Wix. Use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your site is mobile-friendly, and away you go:

If, on the other hand, you decide to have your base website constructed for you using Wix ADI, you’ll have access to a theme editor that’s more in line with Shopify’s drag-and-drop system:

I think one common path to design customization with Wix is to have Wix ADI create a base site to begin with, and then shift over to the more flexible Wix Editor for fine-tuning. You just can’t go back to Wix ADI and its simpler editor once you’ve made the switch.

Features

Once again, we’re just including a sampling of key features here. Most of those listed below are available on all three Wix Business plans:

Admin

  • Unlimited products & bandwidth
  • Sell physical, digital and service-based goods
  • Up to 6 options and 300 variants per product
  • Inventory & order management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • SEO tools
  • Track traffic with Google Analytics
  • Personalized email address that matches your domain/brand
  • 20 email marketing campaigns (100,000 total emails/mo) included in subscription
  • Customizable, automated email & chat responses
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Free stock photo library

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your own domain
  • Offer discounts & coupons
  • Customizable product sorting & filtering
  • Customer login/member area
  • Multilingual storefronts
  • Multifunctional sites (including bookings, event management, restaurants, etc)
  • Live chat with customers
  • Advanced frontend design features

Best Fit

We love Wix as a solution for stores with aesthetically-nuanced products. as well as for brands that highly prioritize visual quality and uniqueness overall. Those who feel boxed in by the somewhat limited design customization options of ecommerce platforms like Shopify will appreciate the freedom to fine-tune everything about the look and feel of their online storefronts, as well as their communication and marketing materials — all without touching a line of code. And, for those who want a visually-unique site with minimum effort, Wix ADI can hold your hand every step of the way.

If you are thinking of scaling to offer a very large number of products, or wish to significantly expand your shipping and fulfillment needs over time, Wix probably isn’t your best choice. Meanwhile, we think a lot of multifunctional businesses (like hotels, restaurants, photographers, artists, musicians, bloggers, etc.) who also want to sell a few products online will love the seamless integration of a native ecommerce app into their dashboards.

5. Squarespace

squarespace

Pricing & Payment Processing

Similar to Wix, Squarespace leads with pricing figures that assume you’ll pay for a complete year at a time. Adjusted for true-month-to-month costs, here are the Squarespace plans with fully-integrated ecommerce functionality:

  • Business: $26/month
  • Commerce Basic: $30/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $46/month

There’s a pretty big jump in the number of features between the Business and Commerce Basic plan, and a smaller jump in available features to Commerce Advanced. Another difference between the Business Plan and the two Commerce plans is that the Business plan comes with a 3% Squarespace commission per sale. If you’re serious about creating an ecommerce website with Squarespace, it will likely be worth it to have a Commerce package for the additional ecommerce-specific features and the elimination of the extra transaction fee. Meanwhile, you only get two payment gateway options with Squarespace (Stripe and PayPal), which will also charge their own transaction fees.

Squarespace doesn’t have an app store — any third-party integrations come already connected to your store. However, when activating one of these connections, you should be aware that some of them do have premium versions with ongoing monthly costs. ShipStation and MailChimp are two good examples.

Ease Of Use

Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial. If your trial expires before you upgrade and you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can simply create another trial site under the same registration email.

Before you reach the dashboard, you’ll need to select a template (but you can change it later). You’ll see a few ecommerce-geared options first if you enter “to sell” something as your site’s purpose. Unlike any of the ecommerce sitebuilders we’ve discussed so far, your admin dashboard incorporates a frontend preview on the right:

I find it a little difficult to start adding products with Squarespace — you have to create a separate product page first, and the software doesn’t do a great job explaining this. Once you conquer this initial hurdle, however, the overall learning curve for ecommerce functions is relatively small.

I also like all the direct links to applicable support articles within the dashboard that guide you directly to the right knowledgebase article if you become stuck. Squarespace email support responds 24/7 and is quite effective, but the tradeoff is that there’s no phone support offered. Meanwhile, live chat is available Monday-Friday 4AM-8PM Eastern time.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Squarespace offers approximately 90 themes grouped into 21 families. Since you’ll eventually be adding some sort of product page no matter what, any of them can be used for ecommerce, even though some are specifically suggested for online stores.

As far as traditional website builders go, the sheer variety of templates is low, but the quality is high. We’re looking at a carefully-curated selection of polished, classy, streamlined designs offered by Squarespace:

Editing Tools:

Squarespace lands somewhere in between Wix and Shopify when it comes to the amount of freedom you have to drag-and-drop page elements. You can add and arrange large sections up and down each page, insert various types of “content blocks” (including spacers and lines), and adjust the alignment of pieces within those blocks to a certain extent. Fonts and colors are also adjustable, but often exist as site-wide style settings in order to maintain a unified look.

In summary: Squarespace offers more no-code design flexibility than Shopify and less than Wix. However, if you’re comfortable adding CSS to your site, there’s an easy CSS editor available.

Features

Below are some Squarespace features that caught my eye. A handful of these features (i.e., abandoned cart recovery, gift cards, and subscription payments) are only available on the Commerce Advanced plan. Always check the full and most complete breakdown by plan on the company website!

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Sell physical, digital, and service-based products out-of-the-box
  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Set store manager permissions
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Logo creation software
  • Commerce analytics & reports
  • Advanced image/photo management & editing

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • Promotional banners & pop-ups
  • Offer gift cards
  • Offer subscriptions to products & services
  • Accept donations
  • Offer coupon codes and discounts
  • Real-time shipping rates from multiple carriers
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Express checkout for single-product stores

Best Fit

The target audience for Squarespace amongst ecommerce website owners overlaps significantly with Wix’s demographic. Both sitebuilders are great for smaller product catalogs with visual interest, but Squarespace is nice if you specifically want a posh, classy, or even minimalist vibe for your store. This sitebuilder is also great for those who enjoy the freedom to easily tweak a design but don’t feel hemmed in by a bit of built-in structure for ensuring a consistent style overall.

As far as standard ecommerce features go, it’s a tough call between Wix and Squarespace. The two platforms take a slightly different approach, so you’ll have to decide which features are a priority to you. For example, if you want an abandoned cart recovery tool and the ability to connect with popular third-party apps like accounting and shipping/fulfillment software, Squarespace will suit you better. I’d recommend skipping over the Business plan and going straight for one of the Commerce plans if you’re at all serious about selling.

Quick Pricing Comparison

Before I share my final thoughts on choosing the best ecommerce website builder for your store, here’s a quick rundown of the monthly subscription costs for each of the platforms we’ve discussed:

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Squarespace

Business: $26/mo.

Commerce Basic: $30/mo.

Commerce Advanced: $46/mo.

  • Available features
  • Squarespace’s commission per sale

Remember that traditional website builders like Wix and Squarespace typically lead with “when paid annually” pricing, so we’ve adjusted the figures to reflect the cost if you pay month-to-month. All five services offer some sort of discount if you pay for at least a year upfront.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited about test-driving one or more of these ecommerce website builders. My guess is that you’ll probably figure out if you’re in the Shopify/BigCommerce/3dcart or the Wix/Squarespace camp first, but there’s no reason you can’t check out both types of software.

That said, anyone planning to scale their product and sales numbers dramatically over time should probably stick with one of the three ecommerce workhorse platforms. There’s a reason sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace cap their ecommerce plan subscriptions at under $50/month, while platforms like 3dcart, BigCommerce, and Shopify can charge upwards of $200 per month for their best ecommerce packages. You’re usually paying for a larger quantity and better quality of features that help you manage the complicated logistics of selling online.

It’s a safe bet, in this case, to use pricing as a general guideline for the ability to shore up and scale your backend functions as your store grows by various dimensions. Still, Wix and Squarespace would not be included here at all if they weren’t both excellent options for smaller stores.

The thing that’s hard to nail down in a summary article like this is the quality and usefulness of the features you’ll need for your store. By listing a few highlights for each sitebuilder, we’re just giving you a flavor of the software. While we can confidently say that all the platforms in this article cover the “basics” of running an online store, that assurance is no substitute for your own experience. If you’re still stuck or confused after your research and testing, turn to the platform’s customer service and sales support for clarification. You need a good excuse to put those support systems to work before signing up anyway, so go for it!

Happy software testing!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android

Android alternative to shopkeep

 

It feels sometimes like Apple dominates the field as far as availability of credit card reader apps. After all, there are plenty of iOS exclusives, but I can count on one hand the number of Android-exclusive POS apps. It hurts my Android-loving heart, in some ways.

In part, the difficulty with Android-based mobile processing apps is how fractured the Android space is — there so many devices, and updates to the OS depend on both the device and the cellular carrier. But good Android-based mPOS apps for credit card processing do exist. You just have to know where to look! Happily, it looks like many companies are starting to understand the importance of accepting Android, and I’ve seen several POS offerings branch into the Android space recently.

Let’s talk about your best options for Android mPOS apps — which ones offer the best experience, the best hardware, and the best pricing!

Best Android-Based Credit Card Processing Apps

To be considered one of the best Android-based mPOS, the mobile app must be available for Android devices and include a mobile credit card reader, rather than a terminal. And obviously, it needs to be a highly-rated solution, too.

Without further ado, here are our favorite recommendations for Android users in need of a credit card processing app!

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Payline Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Payline Data Review Logo

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$10

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$25

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

CardConnect Mobile Device ($49)

Square

Square (read our review) features in a lot of my articles — and honestly, that’s because it’s one of the best options out there, period. As far as features, pricing, and hardware, Square is top of the line in each category. Square’s free mobile POS app, blandly named Square Point of Sale (read our review) has more features than your standard POS app, even if it doesn’t quite reach the abilities of a full-fledged POS system. Plus, Square throws in invoicing, a customer database, and intermediate inventory tools (including item counts) at no additional cost. Payments process at 2.75% for swiped, dipped, or tapped transactions using Square POS and a mobile card reader. Invoices process for 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, and keyed entry sales for 3.5% + $0.30 per transaction.

Square works on iOS and Android, though it’s worth noting that particular features aren’t always supported by Android tablets or smartphones. For example, you can run a cash drawer session on an Android tablet, but not on a smartphone, and you can’t track sales by employee at all on Android.

Until recently, the best way to get the most Square features on a single device was to use an iPad. However, Square Register (read our review) has changed that.

Register is an Android-based, all-in-one POS platform with a 13.25-inch touchscreen display and a 7-inch customer-facing display with built-in card readers. It runs Square Point of Sale and has many features that aren’t available on Android tablets or smartphones. Payment processing with Square Register is a departure from the standard 2.75% per transaction; instead, merchants will pay 2.5% + $0.10, which means merchants with an average ticket size of $40 or more will see the most savings with this processing rate.

If Register isn’t quite for you, Square still offers plenty of choices for affordable hardware; its Contactless + Chip Card Reader sells for $49 with financing available. You can also purchase additional hardware for Square directly from the company if you’re using Square for a register setup — including Android-compatible tablet stands!

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Shopify Lite

I honestly feel like more people need to be aware of the fact that Shopify POS is available as a standalone payment processing option for businesses that need a mobile app but maybe don’t want a full-fledged online store. The Shopify Lite plan (read our review) gives you access to the Shopify POS app (available on Android and iOS) as well as a few extra tools. That includes customizable website payment buttons if you have, for example, a WordPress site, as well as a Facebook shop and invoicing.

The Lite Plan goes for a very reasonable $9/month, with payments processing at 2.7% per swiped, dipped, or tapped transaction. Invoiced and keyed transactions process for 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Now, admittedly, the Shopify POS app isn’t as full-featured as Square. And the Lite plan doesn’t give you access to all of the features of the POS app, but you do get all the essential, standard mPOS features.

If you want something more resembling a traditional POS setup, with staff PIN access, register shifts, and so on, you’ll need to upgrade to the higher Shopify plan tiers. However, Shopify doesn’t charge any per-device subscriptions, so $79/month for the Shopify standard plan gets you a very powerful ecommerce plan, plus a POS that runs on unlimited devices with quite a few features that bring it on par with traditional POS apps. (Oh, and discounted processing rates, too!)

Finally, you should know that Shopify’s mobile card reader, the Chip & Swipe Reader, retails for $29. However, Shopify does offer a free card reader to new merchants. We’ve previously reviewed the card reader and were very satisfied with it, in terms of design and pricing.

Payment Depot Mobile (Swipe Simple)

Payment Depot has mostly operated as a wholesale merchant account provider, offering a whole range of merchant services, from ecommerce to mobile processing. However, we’re happy to say that Payment Depot is now offering an exclusive mobile processing plan to Merchant Maverick readers, one that’s targeted at even low-volume businesses. You can check out our Payment Depot Mobile review for more information.

Payment Depot’s mobile plan includes access to the Swipe Simple app, made by a company called CardFlight. CardFlight actually licenses its solutions to several providers and so pricing and terms vary according to which company you sign up with. Payment Depot is offering its mobile plan for $10/month, with payments processing at 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction. There are no monthly minimums and no other fees involved. And again, this is a Merchant Maverick exclusive, so you need to use our link in order to sign up for this plan! Also, high-volume businesses can still get access to PD’s standard pricing, which may be more cost effective for them.

The Swipe Simple app is an all-around solid offering, with the essential mobile POS app features, along with a customer database, intermediate inventory (including item counts), and a virtual terminal available for no additional cost. There’s even a free virtual terminal thrown in. While it won’t come close to replacing a full-fledged POS app, mobile businesses that need a reliable app and a stable merchant account will enjoy the flexibility that Payment Depot (and SwipeSimple) offer.

Payment Depot also offers a free chip card-enabled mobile reader, the Swift B200. If you’d like to also accept contactless NFC payments, you can upgrade to the EMV/NFC capable card reader, the Swift B250, for just $25, which is an excellent price for an all-in-one, future proof card reader.

Payline Mobile (CardPointe)

Payline Data Mobile was the first mobile processing solution I reviewed that offered the stability of a merchant account combined with pricing that’s competitive for low-volume businesses.  Obviously, we’ve added Payment Depot to that list as well, but Payline Mobile is also a great option if you need a mobile plan and you want transparent pricing and great customer service.

Payline Mobile’s plan includes access to the CardPointe mobile app, made by CardConnect. The app is pretty solid, with all the essential features you would need to run a mobile business. You can even mark items as tax-exempt in the app, which makes it a great option if you run a wholesale business or even just occasionally sell to business owners with sales tax exemptions.  You also get access to a virtual terminal for no additional cost.

As far as card readers, Payline offers the CardConnect Mobile Device, a magstripe reader that connects via headphone jack. It does have an EMV slot; however, chip card acceptance currently isn’t enabled for the reader, so you’re limited to magstripe only until CardConnect launches EMV support. Payline sells the reader for $49, though you can talk with your Payline sales rep about the pricing if it’s a concern.

Payline Data’s mobile offering is billed under the Payline Start plan, which means you’ll pay a $10/monthly fee and interchange plus pricing with a 0.2% + $0.10 markup. This pricing might not be the most competitive for small-ticket businesses, but if you have an average transaction of $50 or more, you should do well.

The other thing to note with Payline is that the company has a $25 monthly minimum — meaning you need to generate $25/month in processing fees, or Payline will charge you the difference between your processing fees and $25 (so if you process enough to generate $18.28 in fees, Payline will charge you another $6.72 to make up the difference). For most businesses, this works out to be about $1,000/month in credit card volume, but your exact break-even amount depends on your transaction size and average interchange.

I also need to mention that CardConnect is actually a First Data product — and if you prefer, you can get the Clover Go mobile app through Payline for the same contract terms and an additional $6/month fee (passed through by Clover). You can get Clover’s chip-card enabled Bluetooth reader for $120, but again, if you have concerns about the price, talk with your sales rep.

Honorable Mentions

Didn’t find quite what you were looking for? You won’t find a shortage of mobile processing apps here at Merchant Maverick — and a list of just 4 processing options seems a bit limited. So here are the honorable mentions — the solutions that didn’t quite make the top of the list but that I still like for various reasons.

PayPal Here

PayPal is a juggernaut of commerce, and if you want to sell online, accepting PayPal is an easy solution. If you want to accept payments in person, PayPal’s mobile POS app, PayPal Here (read our review), offers a solid range of features, including the ability to send invoices from the app or in the dashboard. PayPal Here is not as robust as Square, and PayPal generally recommends integrating with one of its POS partners if you need more advanced software features. But it’s great for pop-up events, tradeshows, conventions, and mobile businesses.

PayPal processes in-person transactions at 2.7% per swipe, dip, or tap, and invoices at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. You can get a chip and magstripe card reader for $24.99, or upgrade to the all-in-one Chip and Tap Reader for $59.99 (a bundled charger set is available for $79.99).

Wondering how PayPal Here compares to Square? Check out our Square vs PayPal article for a direct comparison!

Sumup

If you don’t process credit cards on a regular basis but you need a simple, straightforward option for mobile processing with a great credit card reader, SumUp (read our review) should be at the top of your list. I’ve previously described SumUp as Square’s sophisticated, minimalist European cousin because it delivers all of the essentials with a sleek, simple approach.

Payments process at 2.65% per swiped, tipped, or tapped transaction, which is lower than either Square or PayPal, with no flat fee per transactions. While you’re not going to save boatloads over the alternatives, SumUp does offer the lowest rates with no monthly fee, which is worth mentioning. But what I really like about SumUp is the card reader — which, even two years later, still one of the best designed and packaged card readers I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. At $69, it’s not cheap, but I still think it’s better than the Square Contactless + Chip Reader, and the similarly priced PayPal Chip and Tap reader.

Check out my Square vs SumUp comparison for a better look at how SumUp stacks up in terms of features and execution.

Clover Go

I’ve already mentioned Clover Go — it’s the mobile app linked to the Clover suite of POS products, owned by First Data, just like CardConnect. Clover is First Data’s flagship software, and has been for a few years now. If you’re already a Clover user and you want to go mobile with your POS, the Go app is the obvious answer because it’s built to be an extension of the full POS app. However, you can get Clover Go as a standalone product from First Data and many of its resellers. Check out our review of Clover Go for a better look at its features.

Pricing for the Clover Go app, payment processing, and hardware will vary by the reseller you choose. Payline Data is one option — you’ll pay $16/month in fees plus interchange plus 0.2% + $0.10 per transaction, and $120 for the card reader. We generally recommend Dharma Merchant Services for merchants processing more than $10,000/month in cards, and National Processing for businesses of all sizes. In both cases, you’ll pay a $10 monthly fee and interchange plus 0.2% + $0.10 markup per transaction.

Curious how Clover Go stacks up? Check out our Square vs Clover Go comparison!

Which Android Mobile Processing App Is Right For You?

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Payline Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Payline Data Review Logo

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$10

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$25

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

CardConnect Mobile Device ($49)

If you need a mobile POS app that’s compatible with your Android device, or you’re debating between an Android or iOS device, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of great Android-based credit card reader apps to choose from, with great pricing and great hardware. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which service is right for you — consider the features you get as well as the pricing. Not sure how to do that? Check out my article, Is Square the Cheapest Processor For Your Business? to learn how to figure out for yourself whether a rate quote is actually a good deal.

Still can’t decide? Square offers the best value in terms of features, and the flat-rate pricing works for all businesses, even low-volume and small ticket ones. Plus, there’s no monthly fee!

The post The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It

If you’re considering whether the Square payment processing solution is best for your business, it makes sense to ask about their customer service. For many of us, the customer service experience makes or breaks the way we feel about a company, even if we love everything else about the product. And the truth is that positive — and negative — interactions with customer service can have serious repercussions — especially when you’re trying to run an efficient, successful business and keep your own customers happy.

Not too long ago, Square suffered from a less-than-stellar reputation for customer service, but that is changing. Any company that can identify a pattern in user issues and beef up their service is one that values user experience and trust. And that is a good sign for current users.

For this post, we examined all the negative complaints about Square’s customer service in our complete Square Review and found that the biggest issue that has since been improved is Square’s phone support (more on that below).

We also dug deep into the Square customer service experience to form our own impressions. (Keep in mind that we are looking here at Square’s business products, not the Square Cash App, which has an entirely different support team. But if you’re looking for information on that, we have you covered there, too. Check out our Square Cash App Review.)

When it comes to Square Support, the user experience has clearly been well thought out. When you visit the Support page, you will immediately see a lot of ways to find the help you need, and the available material is straightforward to navigate and easy to understand.

Below, we break it all down for you so that you can make the most of Square’s help features and find what you need in a crunch.

Note: To keep things in perspective, the vast majority of Square users (over 2 million) are happy with their experience, including customer service. We spend a lot of time sifting through information (including reviews) and understand that negativity bias can affect any anyone. We talk a lot more about that and how we handle the phenomenon here at Merchant Maverick in our post, Understanding Negativity Bias. 

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Square’s Support Center

When you have a question, you can probably find what you need through the prompts and easy-to-digest information within Square’s troubleshooting articles. They provide a wealth of information on everything from setting up your Square account to tips for using your card reader, troubleshooting any issues, and changing settings.

Support material is laid out in a table of contents, and each section is expandable. You don’t have to wade through a ton of text or scroll to find what you need because everything is organized by topic. Already know exactly what you need? You can just type in what you are looking for and simplify your hunt even more. It’s also possible to enter a question or search keywords and topics from any page in the help section. The search feature is very intelligent and can auto-suggest articles for you to explore. 

Square Compatibility Checker

Wondering if your smartphone or tablet will work with Square? Rather than searching the knowledgebase for a list, you can use Square’s Compatibility checker. Just enter in the make and model of your device and Square will tell you which card readers and other pieces of hardware are compatible (and which aren’t). This is a great way to make sure you don’t unnecessarily buy new devices even before you sign up with Square, or you can check whether the new device you’re planning to buy will actually still work with your hardware.

Issue Tracking

Having trouble using one of Square’s products? If you are looking for a quick way to see if everything on Square’s end checks out, you can head to https://www.issquareup.com/ and see whether an issue is on your end or theirs. 

Square Community Forum

 

Square has set up an excellent and unusually active hub for sellers to collaborate, get ideas, and problem-solve with its community forum, known as the Seller Community. You need to be a Square user to join, but once you’ve signed in, you can post your questions. And you’ll probably get a response more quickly than you expect! The forum is organized by popular topics, and directly below the fold you can jump right in and view recent discussions. 

Within the Seller Community, you can also search by keyword or for specific community members. There are spots dedicated to those who are new to Square, as well as a general discussion page, a dedicated forum for questions, and a place just for Square staff to share product updates (so you can stay in the know about any new features).

You’ll see that the Square staff are quite active on the forum, answering questions and even encouraging members to submit feature requests to the development team. It’s a pretty happening place when you start digging in.

Email & Social Media

If you have a question that requires a bit more personalized assistance, of course, you can still send Square’s support team a message through email or social media. Square has a dedicated Twitter support page, @SqSupport, for technical questions, or you can message the company’s Facebook page.

You can email Square even if you aren’t a Square user, but if you do have an account, Square will ask you to sign in and then choose the reason for reaching out.

After signing in and connecting to the service that applies to you, they provide you with contact details to get you matched with the right person.  In the meantime, you still have the option of checking out the Seller Community or looking through the support topics Square has published on its site.

Phone Support

Square has made a smart move by having actual employees (who collaborate with Square engineers) handle customer service questions. Speaking to a customer service rep who has inherent knowledge about a product can make a big difference when it comes to technical or even workflow questions. A few short years ago that wasn’t the case at Square, but we are glad that they responded to give the people what they wanted. 

To get your more complicated questions answered, you can access live help when you need it. This live support is only available to existing customers, however. You’ll get a customer code on the Square help page which you can use to patch you through to a person. 

Square’s phone support is active between the hours of 6 am to 6 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday.

It’s comforting to know that phone support is an option, but thanks to the exhaustive help sections on their site, including the Square Seller Community, you’ll likely get the answers you need without having to call in.

Learn More About Square

If you already use Square, it might be a good idea to check out some of the resources in the help sections and even connect with other sellers in the community forum. Not only does ‘iron sharpen iron’ when it comes to running a business, but you might also discover how to take advantage of built-in features, like the Square Dashboard, to make your experience even better.

If you’re considering using Square to accept payments, you can sign up for a free account. With no monthly charges or hidden fees, chargeback protection, and full PCI compliance included, it’s easy to evaluate whether Square is right for you without external pressures influencing your choice.

Still not sure? Get more information by digging into Is Square a Secure Way to Accept Credit Cards or reading our full Square review.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”