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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Does Square Invoices Cost?

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

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

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

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

How To Send A Square Invoice

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

Square Dashboard and Invoices

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

1. Fill In Customer Information & Invoice Details

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

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

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

2. Set Payment Terms For One-Time Invoice

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

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

New Square Invoice

 

3. Set Up Recurring Invoice Schedule

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

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

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

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

4. Adding Line Items To Your Invoice

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

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

Filling out Invoice Square Line Items

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

5. Adding a Discount & Request Deposit

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

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

Square Invoice Request Deposit

6. Fill In More Options

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

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

Square Invoice Options

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

Store Cards on File For Faster Payments

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

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

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

7. Attach Files

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

Adding attachments to Square Invoice

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

8. Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances

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

Square Invoice Tutorial

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

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

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

Design Square Invoice Logo

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

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

Hiding Location Square Invoice

9. Send Invoice

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

Square Invoices

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

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

Track Invoices & Follow Up With Customers

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

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

Square Sorting Invoice

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

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

Square Invoices Recording Payment

Pay Off The Invoice With Square POS

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

Square Invoice POS

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

Square Pay Invoice on POS

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

Sending An Estimate

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

Square estimate

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

Creating an Estimate in Square

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

Is Square Invoices Right For You?

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Visit Site

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

The post Shopify VS Etsy appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce VS Shopify

WooCommerce VS Shopify

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Pricing

Tie

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Tie

Tie

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

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Ease Of Use

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Tie

Features

Tie

Tie

Web Design

Tie
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Integrations & Add-Ons

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Payment Processing

Customer Service & Technical Support

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Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Security

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Final Verdict

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Review

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Review

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WooCommerce and Shopify are both wildly popular software systems that can help you build a thriving online store. Behind-the-scenes, however, the two platforms work quite differently from one another. Before we jump into comparing these juggernauts of the ecommerce software realm, let’s quickly get oriented on the basics of each.

At its core, Shopify (read our review) is a SaaS (software as a service) online shopping cart platform. Starting at just $9/month, you can upload products to an online catalog and sell them on Facebook, or post them on an existing website of your own via embeddable “buy” buttons. You can even sell your products in-person with the Shopify POS app. Then, beginning at $29/month, Shopify facilitates the creation and hosting of a fully-fledged ecommerce website.

By contrast, WooCommerce (read our review), is a free and open-source ecommerce shopping cart plugin that was created specifically for installation inside the WordPress dashboard. The WooCommerce plugin turns a WordPress website or blog into an ecommerce storefront. In other words, WooCommerce has no actual website-building capabilities of its own — WordPress handles that part.

To understand WooCommerce and how it works, you need a little familiarity with WordPress itself. To put it simply, WordPress is a website builder/CMS (content management system) that exists in two forms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, whereas WordPress.com uses the same basic software as WordPress.org, but provides web hosting for your site as part of its services. Either WordPress version can actually be combined with WooCommerce, but each setup has different implications for cost, site maintenance, etc.

For the purposes of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison, we’ll focus on combining WooCommerce with WordPress.org, the self-hosted option. Most ecommerce sellers are attracted to WooCommerce because they already use WordPress.org for their websites, and/or they like the WooCommerce plugin’s “free” price tag in conjunction with WordPress.org. While the WooCommerce plugin itself is always free, you can only add plugins to the dot-com version of WordPress if you’re on the $25/month WordPress.com subscription.

Now that you know the basics, we’ll break down the two platforms into their various components — usability, features, comprehensive cost, and more. It’s basically the same old compare-and-contrast essay we were all forced to write in middle school. The stakes are a bit higher with this particular essay, however. By the time we’re done, you’ll hopefully have a good sense of which ecommerce platform (if either) is best for your online business.

Pricing

Winner: WooCommerce

You might be tempted to think WooCommerce immediately takes this category without contest. After all, both the WooCommerce plugin and the WordPress.org software download are free, whereas Shopify automatically involves a monthly subscription. In reality, you need to invest in a few services (e.g., web hosting) to get a WooCommerce + WordPress.org ecommerce store off the ground. The bottom line is, WooCommerce may be a bit cheaper at the outset, but it’s not 100% free. Just wanted to clear that up first!

Before we run a more detailed cost comparison of the two platforms, here’s a quick look at why WooCommerce wins this category:

  • You can launch an online storefront up for well under $29/month, which is the starting price for a full online store with Shopify.
  • All WooCommerce features are included with the free plugin. You don’t automatically need to jump to higher subscription levels for additional features or staff accounts (you just may need some add-ons as time goes on). In other words, you pay only for exactly what you need.
  • Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce charge any additional transaction fees per sale, beyond those charged by your credit card processor. Shopify only waives its extra transaction fees (that start at 2%) if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor, and not everyone is eligible for Shopify Payments.

WooCommerce is the budget option of the two, but only if you have the skills to run your own website and don’t need to hire extra help for web development, site maintenance, security, backups, etc. If you do need lots of extra help, you could still end up paying more with WooCommerce + WordPress in the long run. Fair warning.

That’s the summary explanation. Now, here’s a more detailed pricing breakdown if you’re interested:

Shopify Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: $9 (no standalone storefront), $29, $79 or $299/month.
  • Domain: Unless you want your store URLs to end in “myshopify.com” (and you probably don’t), you’ll need to purchase or connect a custom domain. Domains from Shopify start at $11/year, or there are lots of third-party options.
  • Web Hosting: Included
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Included
  • Additional Transaction Fees: 0.5%-2.0% depending on your Shopify subscription — unless you use the in-house payment processor (Shopify Payments), in which case these extra fees are waived. Note: these transaction fees are on top of regular credit card processing fees you must pay per sale with any processor.
  • Additional Cost: Primarily add-ons from the marketplace, and perhaps a one-time purchase of a premium theme.

WooCommerce + WordPress.org Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: None if you set up a free WordPress.org site. The WooCommerce plugin itself is always free.
  • Domain: Varies, but can start at less than a dollar per month from third-parties.
  • Web Hosting: Rock-bottom hosting can cost as low as around $3/month, but most people end up paying at least $10 per month, depending on the size and traffic levels of their stores.
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Often included with your hosting or domain provider, but may need to be purchased separately. Basic certificates cost just a few dollars per month.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: None. Neither WooCommerce or WordPress charge a commission per sale.
  • Additional Cost: Add-ons, themes, and any web development and ongoing site maintenance if you’re not taking care of all that yourself.

Sample WooCommerce + WordPress.org hosting

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

As we’ve mentioned, a major difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is that your Shopify subscription includes web hosting. No downloads or installations are required. To use WooCommerce, however, you first must download the WordPress.org software and install it on a web hosting server. Then, you add the WooCommerce plugin to that setup. Some web hosts do offer preloaded WordPress + WooCommerce packages or “one-click” installations.

Is the Shopify or WooCommerce method better? This one really comes down to personal preference and ability. The self-hosted setup of WooCommerce requires more hands-on involvement and skill from the user, but you may be just fine with that.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Tie

Both WooCommerce and Shopify are scalable, working for small to enterprise-level businesses.

Shopify has predetermined subscription brackets. While none of these put hard limits on your revenue, number of products, bandwidth, or storage, the implication is that you’ll increase your subscription as your store grows. The exception is the jump to Shopify Plus, which is required if your revenue reaches over $1 million per year. These plans cost a couple thousand a month to start, but it can be worth the investment in return for a service that’s tailored specifically for enterprise-level merchants.

You will also need to change your Shopify subscription as you add more staff accounts to your store. For example, the $29/month plan accommodates two admin seats in addition to the owner’s account, while the $299/month plan gives you 15 spots.

WooCommerce also has the potential to grow with your store, but the system is much more fluid. You have 100% flexibility to expand your operation (and perhaps employ more help with your site) in a piecemeal fashion, exactly when and how you see fit. As your site traffic increases, for example, you’ll want to adjust your hosting service accordingly to accommodate more bandwidth.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Shopify

As a fully-hosted, SaaS platform, Shopify takes care of nearly all technology requirements on your behalf. All you really need is an internet connection and an up-to-date web browser.

With WooCommerce and WordPress.org, most of the hardware and software requirements are functions of your hosting environment. Your server needs to support specific versions of PHP and MYSQL, for example. You’re responsible for staying on top of the evolving requirements for both WooCommerce and WordPress.org when you set up a WooCommerce store. This includes installing updates of both the Worpress.org and WooCommerce software as they are released. Plugins are available to help automate some of these steps for you, but you’re still ultimately responsible for finding and updating those plugins!

Because dealing with hardware and software issues with WooCommerce is more nuanced and requires more vigilance from the user than Shopify’s arrangement, we award Shopify the win.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

It’s hard to beat Shopify in terms of user-friendliness. Even compared with other all-in-one SaaS platforms designed with the complete ecommerce novice in mind, Shopify usually comes out on top. Open-source software like WooCommerce, on the other hand, is not generally known for its ease of use. You’re trading some degree of ease and simplicity for increased flexibility and customization.

It should be noted, however, that WooCommerce actually isn’t all that bad when it comes to ease of use, especially compared with most open-source solutions. For starters, many folks are already somewhat familiar with WordPress, which gives them a head start in navigating WooCommerce. (Keep in mind that the reverse will apply if you’re not already familiar with WordPress — you’ll be learning two systems at once.)  Once you get everything installed and up and running, day-to-day operations and manipulation of features are all pretty straightforward with WooCommerce.

Still, as we’ve already touched on, it can be quite overwhelming to stay on top of updates, extension compatibility, security issues, and the various tertiary systems underpinning your WooCommerce store. The cliché I’ve often read about WooCommerce is true — you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Shopify is a much more plug-and-play, hands-free system.

WooCommerce offers to install some additional free plugins (like Jetpack and WooCommerce Services) from the get-go that help bring the system more in line with a fully-hosted solution like Shopify, but you still end up with a sort of cobbled-together setup that is more difficult to manage than an all-inclusive platform.

Have a look at our full Shopify and WooCommerce reviews if you’d like more information on the topic of ease-of-use, but I’ve included just a quick peek at the dashboards of each platform, as well as what it’s like to add a product.

Shopify Dashboard:

After signing up for a free 14-day trial, you’re taken to a clean and easy-to-navigate dashboard, with all your major functions in the left menu, and a few tips to get started in the center:

Shopify — Add A Product:

Shopify has a super-simple product interface. All fields are completed simply by scrolling down the page.

WooCommerce Dashboard:

Below I’ve shown a WordPress dashboard with WooCommerce already installed. If you look closely at the left menu, you’ll see that WooCommerce is just one item of many. I haven’t even expanded its own menu yet, nor the “Products” menu right below. In the center of the dashboard, I’m faced with additional suggested configurations and plugin choices. Do I need them all? Should I set them up now? Just “Dismiss?” It’s certainly all doable, but I find it bit cluttered and overwhelming to get started. Plus, this is all after I completed the setup wizard.

WooCommerce — Add A Product:

Once you scroll past the plugin suggestions, adding a product is quite straightforward with WooCommerce. If you’ve ever used WordPress, it’s a lot like creating a blog post. You’ll just need to configure ecommerce settings like price and inventory levels.

Another aspect to consider is that you won’t be able to test WooCommerce (like you can test Shopify with its free trial) unless you have a host and server already set up to install WordPress.org. Ease of use is always a bit subjective, and it’s hard to get a good feel for usability without testing the software yourself.

Features

Winner: Tie

Although one is software-as-a-service and the other is open-source, both Shopify and WooCommerce actually take a similar approach to features. The basic components to get a store launched and managed on a day-to-day basis are included with the software, but you’re expected to add a few extensions and integrations to either platform in order to tailor your store to your exact specifications.

With Shopify, this occasionally even means bumping up your subscription level, whereas with WooCommerce, features are always expanded through separate add-ons. WooCommerce has also been known to test new features by treating them as extensions first, and then eventually incorporating the features into the core offering once all the kinks are worked out by users. It’s really a community effort with Woo.

However you slice it, a common complaint about both platforms is that extra plugins can cause extra cost and extra headaches. Each system is kept as simple (yet functional) as can be from the outset, so that new users are not immediately overwhelmed by all that’s ultimately possible with these powerful software programs.

Let’s do a couple of quick sample feature comparisons. WooCommerce lets you add unlimited product variations, sell digital products, and incorporate product reviews without separate extensions, while Shopify requires (free) add-ons for each of these functions. Meanwhile, Shopify already includes abandoned cart recovery, invoice creation, and pre-integrated shipping software (Shopify Shipping). You’ll need extensions for these features in WooCommerce.

I’m tempted to give Shopify the win because I feel it comes with a slightly more well-rounded ecommerce feature set out-of-the-box without any plugins. And yet I also don’t want to overlook the enormous capability that comes with an entire WordPress.org ecosystem at your fingertips, nor dismiss the potential to customize each feature to your liking in an open-source environment. There are just too many factors at play to declare a clear winner here. The best advice I can give is to check for the features you need, as well as how they are obtained with each platform.

Web Design

Winner: Tie

I know this makes our compare-and-contrast essay less exciting, but it’s difficult to call a winner in this category as well. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, and your own perception of what actually qualifies as an advantage or disadvantage will differ depending on your situation.

Below is a quick summary of each system’s approach to the design and customization of your storefront, along with some screenshots to help illustrate.

Shopify Overview:

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180
  • Built-in theme editor with drag-and-drop capability
  • Additional customization available with HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme coding language (Liquid)

Shopify Theme Marketplace:

Shopify Theme Editor:

The Shopify theme editor consists of two elements: “Theme Settings” (for changing fonts, colors, etc.) and “Sections” (for dragging and dropping widget blocks up and down your pages).

WooCommerce Overview:

  • Access to thousands of free and commercial/supported WordPress.org themes (over 900 show up when filtering for “ecommerce” in the marketplace)
  • WooCommerce recommends its free “Storefront” theme for foolproof compatibility and web ticket support
  • 14 Storefront “child” themes available (two free, premium are $39 each)
  • Theme editor allows color changes and placement of widgets (but without drag-and-drop)
  • Storefront expansion bundle ($69) allows further customization without coding
  • Theme modification also possible with HTML and CSS (no proprietary coding language involved)
  • Add a free plugin (such as Elementor) for drag-and-drop design editing of WordPress.org pages without code
  • WordPress.org’s new Gutenberg editor provides additional non-coding customization for your overall WordPress site

WooCommerce Storefront Themes:

WooCommerce Theme Editor:

Below, I’ve shown the portion of the built-in theme editor where you can choose widget blocks for various spots within your pages.

So, how do WooCommerce and Shopify stack up when it comes to web design? Does Shopify win for having a drag-and-drop theme editor and font tweaking built-in, or does it lose for making you learn a proprietary coding language if you want to do further template customizations? The new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress enhances your theme editing capabilities without code, and lets you easily place WooCommerce products wherever you’d like within your larger WordPress site — so that’s another factor to consider going forward. It’s issues like these that make this category a toss-up depending on your point of view.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: WooCommerce

Even though I’ve already spoiled the winner of this category, we need to highlight the fact that Shopify also has an amazing app marketplace with around 2500 integrations at your disposal. With Shopify, you have the opportunity to connect with many of the most popular third-party software platforms associated with ecommerce (think shipping, marketing, accounting, and the like). Thousands of developers have invested in creations for the Shopify extension ecosystem. In most ecommerce software battles, Shopify easily wins this category.

All that said, open-source systems like WooCommerce + WordPress.org typically offer more integration possibilities than even the most well-connected SaaS platforms. The whole point of an open-source platform is for users at large to jump head-on into the codebase to customize and build connections. In the open-source world, WordPress has a particularly enormous and active community of developers extending the platform. As a WooCommerce user, not only do you benefit from hundreds of WooCommerce-specific extensions, but also from the over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org marketplace. Even Shopify can’t fully compete.

Some argue that because many WooCommerce integrations are one-time installations, it works out cheaper in the long run, or point out that more WooCommerce plugins are free. In truth, integrations can add to your monthly cost with either Shopify or WooCommerce — especially if your integrations are to third-party software platforms with their own monthly subscription fees (and not just one-off feature installs). Be cognizant of the potential for ballooning add-on costs with either system.

Payment Processing

Winner: WooCommerce

The complete freedom WooCommerce offers to choose a payment processor and associated pricing model that best suits your particular store’s needs is the reason we award the open-source plugin the win in this category.

While Shopify technically offers more pre-built payment integrations than WooCommerce in its respective marketplace, you are actually penalized with an extra 0.5% to 2.0% Shopify commission on every sale if you don’t select the in-house Shopify Payments option. This percentage — 2% for most merchants starting out — is applied on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway itself. Trust me, that extra 2% adds up fast.

Shopify Payments has its own advantages and disadvantages, but for starters, some merchants don’t even qualify to use this processor in the first place. While Shopify Payments definitely works well when it works, a lot of merchants end up stuck in no-man’s land when it comes to payment processing with Shopify. Caught between an extra fee and a hard place, as it were. (Insert your own, better metaphor here.)

While you may need to pay a one-time fee to integrate your favorite processor with WooCommerce (Stripe and PayPal come as free, built-in options), you can ultimately select an option that fits perfectly with your risk level, sales volume, and transaction size. You can also select for any customer support and feature requirements you may have for your payments system.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify                                  

Both WooCommerce and WordPress have produced a plethora of self-help resources and documentation. Moreover, both boast thriving communities of developers and merchants working with the software who readily share problem-solving advice via forums. This is all very good and helpful.

WooCommerce can’t compete with Shopify when it comes to personalized support, however. A “help desk” is offered with WooCommerce from which you can submit a web ticket for specific purchased items, but a personal response is not always guaranteed.

Meanwhile, along with great self-help resources and community forums of its own, Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat avenues for contacting live representatives in real time. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the Shopify platform, and part of the reason you pay that monthly subscription fee.

Now, this is not to say you couldn’t potentially receive personalized assistance from your hosting provider if your site goes down, for example. The quality and availability of this sort of third-party tech support will vary widely by company, though. Not to mention, things can get complicated very quickly regarding exactly who holds responsibility for whatever’s gone horribly wrong with your online store in the middle of the night. Once again, our point is that neither WooCommerce nor WordPress.org has a team of service reps standing by waiting for your distress call. You’re largely on your own.

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Shopify and WooCommerce each have devoted followings of satisfied users, and both platforms tend to score very highly on user review websites. Shopify merchants love the user-friendliness of a powerful SaaS platform where most things are taken care of for you, while WooCommerce devotees appreciate that most things are not taken care of for you — it gives these users the flexibility and control they desire.

Of course, neither ecommerce platform is perfect. Here are a few of the complaints that arise most often:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

WooCommerce

  • Costly add-ons
  • Lack of personal customer support
  • Steep learning curve
  • Technical difficulties (i.e., extensions, themes, updates, etc.)

I’m still calling this one a draw. One platform does not dramatically outshine the other when it comes to real user feedback.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins this category because all Shopify stores are automatically PCI compliant out-of-the-box and come with a built-in SSL certificate. With WooCommerce, your store’s security falls more directly upon your own shoulders. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing a secure and PCI-compliant web host and payment gateway, obtaining an SSL certificate, performing Woodpress.org and WooCommerce plugin updates, and staying on top of the latest security patches. As WooCommerce reminds you in its own documentation, “a given WooCommerce site is overall exactly as secure as the WordPress installation itself.”

There’s no doubt that a WooCommerce store can be just as secure in as a Shopify store, as long as all the right pieces are in place and carefully managed. There’s just a higher chance for site security to go (horribly) awry due to mismanagement or innocent mistakes.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

This was a tight race, folks. Shopify and WooCommerce have both earned their popularity in the ecommerce world, even if for different reasons and for different segments of online sellers. Based on our experience, as well as our sense of the needs of our Merchant Maverick readership overall, we’re still more likely to recommend Shopify over WooCommerce.

The majority of online sellers will have an easier time with Shopify right out-of-the-box. Shopify is much more “foolproof” and all-inclusive than WooCommerce, with technical aspects like installation, hosting, updates, and security all handled on your behalf. This allows you to expand your focus beyond just building and maintaining your store, even as an absolute web-beginner. The opportunity for 24/7 personalized customer support with Shopify is also a huge factor in our verdict.

All Shopify gushing aside, we firmly maintain that this SaaS platform is not a magic bullet solution for all online merchants, and WooCommerce may be just the alternative you seek. As an open-source software plugin combined with WordPress.org’s vast ecosystem, WooCommerce offers a degree of ownership, control, and flexibility that isn’t possible with Shopify. It’s the perfect platform for the technically-inclined among us who have the time and skill to tinker with code, updates, and integrations to customize their stores at a finely-tuned pace. The freedom to select your own web host, as well as a payment processor that works best for your specific country and risk level without financial penalty (hello, Shopify’s extra transaction fees) is also a big draw for a lot of business owners using WooCommerce. The power truly is in your hands if you go this route.

As the old adage goes, however: with great power comes great responsibility. If you choose an open-source platform like WooCommerce, you should definitely heed this nugget of graphic novel-based wisdom.

Have you worked with Shopify or WooCommerce? Let us know if the comments — particularly if you have experience with both!

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Small Business Grants: Resources For Free Money

small business grants

From business loans to credit cards, it’s assumed that funding a growing small business necessarily involves taking on debt. No pain, no gain, right? Well, in the event that your business doesn’t turn a profit, you’ll be taking on the pain without seeing any resulting gain. Wouldn’t it be nice if there existed a way to fund your small business that relied on your capabilities, not on your willingness to go into debt?

As it happens, there is one way to get funding that doesn’t rely on your willingness to take on debt: small business grants.

What Are Small Business Grants?

A small business grant is a sum of money — issued either by a government agency or a private organization — awarded to a growing business. While it’s tempting to think of a grant as “free money,” that doesn’t quite capture the essence of a small business grant. For one thing, when a business receives money in the form of a grant, that money always comes with strings attached. The terms of a grant are usually quite specific about how the money can be used. It isn’t like getting a loan, where you get to decide exactly how to invest your funds.

Additionally, getting approved for a grant will likely involve lots of work on your part. Grants are difficult to qualify for and applying for them involves lots of jumping through hoops. Since time is money, grants aren’t exactly free of cost. Then again, these “costs” aren’t going to imperil your credit score!

Small Business Grant Pros & Cons

Grant Pros Grant Cons
“Free” money Long application process
Can lend prestige to your small business Funds must be used in the manner specified by the grant

Getting one grant makes it more likely you’ll get others

Most applicants for a grant won’t get it
Grant information is always publicly available Business grants are not always renewed from year to year

The nice thing about receiving a grant is that, because grants are generally awarded based on a company’s contribution to the public good, they come with a certain degree of prestige. In turn, getting one grant will make your business more attractive to other grant issuers.

Of course, when you pursue grants, you need to be aware of the harsh realities. The vast majority of grant proposals are not accepted, and even if you are ultimately successful, the application process can be rigorous and time-consuming. What’s more, the money will likely be earmarked for a certain purpose. You can’t treat the money received via a grant like any other funding — you must use the money exactly as specified (or exactly as you laid out in your grant application).

The downsides of business grants don’t hold a candle to the downsides attached to other forms of business financing, however, so don’t let these challenges discourage you!

How To Find Business Grants

Business grants can be found by checking the online offerings of every level of government (federal, state, local) and by seeking out directories of private grants that allow you to search for a program that fits your mission and your business.

When searching for grant programs, narrow your search to those that pertain specifically to your business type. Since grants are often meant to incentivize social responsibility, certain businesses will be more likely to find a grant than others. A company working on a new type of water filtration system stands a better chance of scoring a grant than a vape juice maker, for example. Likewise, certain grants may be aimed at specific segments of the population. An organization might award grants specifically for women-owned businesses or veteran-owned businesses.

What To Do Before Applying For A Grant

  1. Define your exact funding need: be ready to define the precise objectives a grant would help you meet.
  2. Create a detailed business plan.
  3. Gather and assemble all the business records you can from at least the last three years.
  4. Have your plan and records reviewed by experts, whether they be SCORE mentors or others with experience in guiding business owners through the grant-hunting process.
  5. Consider hiring a professional grant writer if you can.

8 Places To Look For Small Business Grants

startup grants

Grants.gov

Grants.gov is the place you should go if you want to search every grant program administered by the federal government. There are 26 grant-making agencies in the federal government, and although the website feels clunky and dated, you’ll at least get to search for the sort of grant program that your particular business could qualify for.

I should warn you, however, that most of the grants offered by the federal government are medical research grants, and these are typically awarded to nonprofit organizations and, in some instances, local and state governments. This blog post from the Small Business Administration details the limited instances in which private businesses may be eligible for a grant from the federal government.

Your State & Local Governments

This may actually be a better place to start your grant search than the federal grant database. That’s because grant programs initiated by your state government — or perhaps your city government — stand a better chance of aligning with your business mission than a federal grant program.

Check out your local Chamber of Commerce for grant opportunities as well as any city, county, and state websites that might have information about grant programs. Depending on where you live, selection may be limited, but you may well find a grant program that aligns with your mission. Most of these programs only accept grant applications at certain times of the year, so it pays to be vigilant and check the relevant websites frequently.

National Association For The Self-Employed

If a smaller grant for your small business is worth pursuing, the NASE provides grants and educational resources for small businesses owners. Through their Growth Grants Program, grants of up to $4,000 are awarded to small business for specific purposes, such as hiring employees.

To apply for a grant, you’ll first have to join the NASE. You’ll then need to detail exactly how you’ll use the funds and how the funds will fit into your overall business plan.

Along with grants, the NASE offers the following services to small business owners:

  • 24/7 expert advice
  • UPS discounts up to 32%
  • $10K included term life insurance
  • Medical emergency help
  • Office Depot discounts
  • LifeLock ID theft protection

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is a nationally prominent grant contest that has, since its inception in 2013, awarded over $500,000 in grant money to small businesses. Qualifying entities must be for-profit U.S.-based businesses with fewer than 99 employees and at least 6 months of time in business.

The contest is held annually, with applications typically accepted starting in late February. Keep a watch on FedEx’s website to find out when you can apply. Here is a closer look at the winners of the 2018 Grant Contest.

USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program

An endeavor of the United States Department of Agriculture, this grant program offers grants of between $10,000 to $500,000 to rural small businesses. If your business has fewer than 50 employees, takes in less than $1 million in annual revenue, and is located in a rural part of the US, it is eligible to apply.

Rural small business owners looking to apply should do so through their USDA Rural Development state office.

Amber Grant Program

The Amber Grant program is a grant set up by WomensNet to support female-owned small businesses. This is how it works: the program awards $1,000 to a woman-owned business every month. At the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly grant winners wins another grant for $10,000. All female entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada are eligible to compete, and there are no restrictions on the type of business eligible to receive a grant.

The program accepts applications year-round, and unlike some other grant programs, the Amber Grant program makes applying as easy as possible. According to WomensNet:

Applying for the Amber Grant is easy. Don’t try to “sound corporate.” Past grant winners are women who have simply shared from the heart. Our judges are looking for passion as well as business smarts.

Visa Everywhere Initiative

The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a multi-national grant program offering grants to companies meeting the following description:

When evaluating submissions for VEI, we look for startups that have ideas relevant to Visa’s business, a product in market, traction with early customers, and early funding from external investors.

Submissions for the 2018 program were accepted from March 19th until April 23rd, so if you’d like to submit your proposal for the coming year, keep an eye on the VEI website around that time of year and look for information on how to apply.

StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award

StreetShares is an online lender specializing in lending to veterans and veteran-owned businesses. The lender also has a grant program called the StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award. The program is open to any military veteran, reserve or active duty member of the Armed Forces, or a qualifying spouse.

The StreetShares Foundation is currently accepting applications for the upcoming cycle of the Veteran Small Business Award, so if you’re interested, apply now. StreetShares gives out three grants at the end of each contest. 1st place gets $15,000, 2nd place gets $6,000, and 3rd place gets $4,000.

Don’t Qualify? The Best Alternatives To Small Business Grants

Grants are awesome because you don’t have to pay them back. Naturally, this makes them popular, but it also means the vast majority of grant applicants are rejected. If you’re not successful in securing a grant, don’t despair! You’re in good company. Of course, you’ll still need funding to launch and grow your business. Two of the primary ways entrepreneurs launch and build their small businesses are personal loans and lines of credit. Here are some of the top lenders in each field, vetted by the fine folks at Merchant Maverick.

Personal Lenders For Business

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest Rate Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $25K 2 – 4 years 15.49% to 30% 600 Apply Now

$1K – $50K 3 or 5 years 8.16% – 27.99% 620 Apply Now

$2K – $35K 3 or 5 years 6.95% – 35.99% APR 640 Apply Now

lending club logo

$1K – $40K 3 or 5 years 5.32% – 30.99% 640 Check Rate

Lenders That Specialize In Lines Of Credit

Lender Borrowing Amount Draw Term Draw Fee APR Next Steps

$6K – $100K 6 months None Starts at 13.99% Apply Now

$2K – $5M Varies Varies Varies Apply Now

$5K – $5M 6 months 1.50% per draw 21% – 65% Apply Now

$1K – $100K 12 weeks None 12% – 54% Apply Now

Final Thoughts

Great business ideas can come from absolutely anybody. Unfortunately, startup capital is not so equitably distributed. Grant programs can help small business owners — particularly those who make an identifiable contribution to the grant-giving organization’s conception of the public good — with much-needed cash. Just be persistent, be undaunted by rejection letters, and be prepared to accept the strings that come attached to grant money should you be successful.

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The Best Business Grants For Veterans

Many veterans that have spent their lives protecting our nation and our freedom also own and operate small businesses. According to a Small Business Administration study, there are 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S. These veteran business owners continue to give back to the nation by providing jobs to 5.8 million employees.

Like any other small business owners, veterans face financial hardships on the path to entrepreneurship. Emergency expenses, cash flow shortages, and expansion are just a few situations where a business might need extra capital. Veteran-owned businesses may face even more financial challenges – for example, if a reservist that also owns a small business is suddenly deployed, money, time, and resources may become scarce quickly. While your incoming revenue should cover most of your expenses in theory, there will always be times when the current cash flow situation just isn’t enough.

If you’re a veteran who runs your own business and are facing a financial challenge, there are options available to you. One of the best options? Grants for veteran-owned businesses. With a grant, you can receive money to fund startup costs, pay for the research and development of new products, or support your established business. Best of all, grants don’t have to be repaid.

What’s the catch? Obtaining a grant is difficult for many business owners. You may not know where to even begin to find these grants. Once you find them, the application process can be confusing, and you’ll find the competition extremely stiff. Not only do you have to be a veteran to qualify for these grants, but you may also have to meet additional requirements, including the location of your business, the industry you’re in, and your time in business. Grants are available through the federal government, nonprofit organizations, and even corporations.

However, just because it’s difficult to receive a grant doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The first step is to understand what grants are available to you, learn the requirements, and move through the application process. In this article, we’ll explore the best grant options available to veterans, how to find your own grants, and other financial options available for your business. Ready to move one step closer to getting the business funding you need? Let’s get started!

StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award

StreetShares is an online lender that specializes in lending to veterans. In addition to financing products like loans and lines of credit (which we’ll discuss later in this post), small business grants are also available through the StreetShares Foundation.

As of 2018, the StreetShares Foundation awards grants to three winners. First place receives $15,000, second place receives $6,000, and third place wins $4,000.

The StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award is open to any military veteran, reserve or active duty member of the Armed Forces, or a qualifying spouse. Applicants must live in the U.S., be at least 21 years old, and own at least 50% of the business. All businesses must be legal entities and must have an impact on the veteran community to qualify. Award amounts and additional requirements may change from year to year.

To be eligible for the grant, all applicants must view educational content through StreetShares. Once qualifying content has been downloaded or viewed, the application is available. Applicants must write a summary of their business and submit a video. The Foundation will choose up to 10 finalists based on the business idea, how the award will be used, the history of the business, the product-market fit, and the social impact on the military and veteran community. Once the finalists are selected, their businesses will be presented to the public and put to a vote to determine the winners.

National Association For The Self-Employed Growth Grants

For businesses with smaller capital needs, the National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grant provides small grants up to $4,000. Like other grants, the funds must be used for a specific purpose, such as purchasing equipment or hiring new employees.

Applications are reviewed quarterly and awards up to $4,000 are distributed monthly. To qualify, you must submit an application outlining your business need and providing details of how you will use the grant to fund this need.

You must also be a member of the NASE to qualify. Annual fees are $120, but veterans only have to pay $99 for an annual membership. Once you’ve joined, you are eligible to apply, and your application will be reviewed based on the association’s quarterly review schedule.

FedEx Small Business Grant Program

The FedEx Small Business Grant program has awarded over $500,000 in grants since its launch in 2013. In 2018, FedEx awarded $120,500 to 10 U.S.-based small businesses. The top prize for the contest is a $25,000 grant and $7,500 worth of FedEx Office services. Other winners bring home smaller grants and money to be used toward printing and businesses services.

To qualify, all businesses must be for-profit and based in the U.S. All small businesses must have fewer than 99 employees and must have a time in business of at least 6 months. Participants must fill out an application, write a short profile for their business, and upload four photos. Participants may also submit a 90-second video for voting, although this isn’t required. Participants do not have to be military veterans to apply.

The annual program usually opens its entry period at the end of February, and interested small businesses can apply through the FedEx website.

USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program

Through the United States Department of Agriculture, eligible small businesses can receive grants from $10,000 to $500,000. To qualify, you don’t have to be in the agriculture industry, but your business must be located in an eligible rural area.

Other requirements include operating a business that has no more than 50 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenues. Grant proceeds can be used to purchase or develop commercial real estate, to cover expenses related to business planning, and for purchasing equipment.

All applicants can apply for the grant through their USDA Rural Development state office.

How To Find & Apply For VA Small Business Grants

small business loans for veterans

If you’ve missed the deadline for applying for the grants discussed in this article, don’t qualify, or are looking for more grant opportunities, there are additional resources you can use to find your own grants.

To find federal grant opportunities, check out Grants.gov. This searchable database of federal grants is easy to use. Through this website, you can search and apply for grants, use their educational resources to learn more about grants, and even track your submissions. A mobile app is now available for Android and iPhone, making it easy for you to search for grants on the go.

Another great resource is the SCORE Association. This nonprofit agency has counselors and mentors located nationwide. These volunteers can not only point you toward national and local grants, but also provide free business advice for starting or building your business. You can participate in online workshops as well, and take advantage of the other free resources available to small business owners.

Try using resources at your local library to find small business grants. Many library branches offer specialized tools, including search engines and databases, that provide information on available small business grants for startups and established businesses in all industries.

Once you’ve found grants, the next step is to begin the application process. Because grants are to be used for very specific purposes and are extremely competitive, take the time to adequately prepare.

Before getting started, make sure that you meet all requirements of the grants that interest you. Once you’re sure that you qualify for a startup grant, complete all required registrations. This may include registering on a website to fill out an application and/or applying for an Employer Identification Number or DUNS number.

The next steps vary based on the specific grant program. Some grant programs require you to create a short business profile or a short video giving information on your business and why you need a grant. Other grants have more extensive requirements, including writing a detailed business plan and in-depth summary of how you plan to use grant proceeds. Work through these steps very carefully. You don’t want to overlook a minor detail that could render you ineligible to receive the grant.

Your grant proposal should sound professional and include details. Your proposal should be well-organized, and you should do your research on details such as potential costs. Include supporting documentation and citation to back up your claims as needed.

If you’re new to the application process, consider hiring a grant writer. If this simply isn’t in your budget, there are free resources online that can help you through the process.

Other Financial Resources For Veteran-Owned Businesses

Whether you don’t qualify for a grant program or have greater financial needs than a grant can cover, there are more financing options available for your business. The Small Business Administration and StreetShares stand out by offering low-cost loan options to veteran-owned businesses just like yours.

VA SBA Loans

SBA loans have developed a reputation among small business owners for their low interest rates and great terms. Rates and terms are comparable to bank and credit union loans. The best part, though, is that even if you don’t qualify for traditional loan options, you may still receive an SBA loan. This is because these loans are backed by the government in amounts up to 85%, taking some of the risk away from the intermediary lender. What does this mean for you? Your small business can still be approved for an affordable loan, even if you’ve been turned down by other lenders.

One of the most popular loan options is the SBA 7(a) program. Through this program, you can receive up to $5 million for nearly any business purpose. The SBA sets the interest rates at the prime rate plus a maximum markup of 4.75%, so these loans are extremely affordable.

For military veterans, the SBA Veterans Advantage program is available. Through this program, you’ll receive the same high borrowing limits and low rates and terms of the 7(a) loan, with the added advantage of reduced guarantee fees.

To qualify for the SBA Veterans Advantage loan, your business must be a veteran-owned business that is considered a small business based on the SBA’s definition. You must demonstrate the ability to repay the loan and meet all criteria for receiving an SBA loan, including personal credit score requirements.

If you’re a military reservist or are in the National Guard, a deployment can throw your business off track. You shouldn’t have to worry about a pile of expenses that pose a threat to your business when you go on active duty. Luckily, the SBA has a financial solution.

The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides loans up to $2 million for military reservists or National Guard members during or immediately following deployment. Under this program, you can receive a loan with interest rates set at 4% and repayment terms up to 30 years. Loan proceeds can be used to cover operating costs but can’t be used to refinance debt, expand a business, or cover lost income or profits.

You may also qualify for other SBA loan options not specific to veterans. For example, if you need capital for your startup costs, you can apply for SBA microloans up to $50,000 through an SBA-approved nonprofit lender. Interested in learning more about SBA loans? Check out our post on SBA loans for veterans.

StreetShares

Review

Compare

We already touched on StreetShares earlier when discussing grants. However, if you missed the deadline to apply, don’t want to go through the hassle of applying for the program, or don’t qualify, StreetShares has traditional financing options for your business.

StreetShares was founded by veterans and was originally targeted only toward veterans. Today, however, any qualifying business owner can apply for StreetShares financing. There are some special concessions made for veteran-owned businesses, which we’ll discuss in detail a bit later.

You can apply for a StreetShares installment loan of up to $250,000 to be repaid over 3 to 36 months. The interest rates for these loans are around 6% to 14%.

If a flexible line of credit better fits your financial needs, StreetShares offers those, too. You can apply for a line of credit of up to $250,000 with repayment terms of 3 to 36 months. Interest rates are around 6% to 14% for a StreetShares line of credit.

To qualify for a loan or line of credit, you must be in business for at least 2 years. However, some businesses may qualify with a time in business as short as 6 months. You must also have a minimum personal credit score of 620. However, if you’re a veteran, this score requirement is lowered to 600. You must also have an annual business revenue of $100,000.

If you have federal, state, or commercial contracts, you could also qualify for contract financing. You can receive up to 90% of your contract in advance by paying a factor fee. You can apply for contract financing in addition to an installment loan or line of credit.

Final Thoughts

Grants for a veteran-owned small business are difficult to receive, but you can improve your odds by doing your research and taking your time throughout the application process. A grant is a great way to fund your business, and you don’t have to worry about repaying funds.

Even if you don’t qualify for grants, your veteran-owned business can take advantage of other affordable financing options to start or expand your business. Consider SBA loans or our picks for small business loans for veterans to give your business the financial boost it needs to be successful.

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The Best Business Grants For Minorities

business grants for minorities

Modern American capitalism is an ironic tableau of cruel contradictions. While cheap consumer goods are more accessible than ever and the price of large high-resolution TVs keeps going down, the things actually required for human beings to live and thrive — housing, health care, education, retirement security, etc — become ever less accessible to the exploited, over-policed masses by the day. This reality has all the more salience to minority groups whose access to these necessities was precarious at best to begin with.

Startup capital is another resource that has been made scarce to marginalized communities. 10 years after the financial crisis of 2008, banks still aren’t lending to those who could do the most good with the cash (never mind that all of us, both marginalized and privileged, were made to bail out these same banks after they ruined the world). For most minority small business owners, the prospect of getting free money to cover business expenses is going to sound rather far-fetched.

That’s where business grants come in. Small business grants are not easy to obtain, but they do exist and can be an invaluable source of funding for those who obtain them. We decided to compile a list of the best grants and grant-related resources for minority-owned businesses.

But first, here’s more information on getting funding for your small business:

  • Do I Qualify For A Startup Grant?
  • How To Find A Startup Grant
  • The Best Business Grants For Women
  • The Best Small Business Loans For Minorities With Bad Credit

Minority Business Development Agency

An agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the purpose of the Minority Business Development Agency, or MBDA, is to help connect minority business owners to federal contracts and other financial resources. The agency also periodically awards grants to minority-owned companies for specific purposes. In November, the federal government announced that the MBDA had awarded over $13 million in grants to 35 projects across the country.

From helping you find grants and loans to providing marketing and legal assistance, the MBDA’s physical business centers are set up to provide a range of assistance to minority business owners and entrepreneurs. Here’s a searchable directory of these MBDA business centers.

Grants.gov

Grants.gov doesn’t originate grants; rather, it’s a searchable database of every grant program from across all 26 grant-making agencies of the federal government. It’s a valuable resource, though the website is pretty clunky.

In order to apply for federal grants, you must do the following:

  • Get a DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet
  • Register to do business with the federal government through its System Award Management website
  • Create an account at Grants.gov

National Association for the Self-Employed

The NASE is a nonprofit trade association that gives grants and provides educational resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Their Growth Grants Program lets small business owners apply for grant financing for a particular small business need.

These grants are worth up to $4,000 each, so while you won’t hit the funding motherlode with the NASE, it’s a great resource for minority business owners with a specific, defined funding need. You’ll need to join the NASE to apply for a grant, and you’ll need to explain in detail how you’ll use the funds and how this funding will bolster your business operations.

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is a nationwide competition held annually to award grants in the form of cash and prizes (such as credits for FedEx services) to small business owners and entrepreneurs. The amount awarded to contest winners and the number of grant recipients varies year-to-year. The details of the 2019 competition have yet to be unveiled, but these specifics will be unveiled when the 2019 competition is announced early in the new year.

For reference, here is a series of features on the winners of the 2018 Grant Contest winners.

Dare To Dream Grant Program

The Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream grant program is a prominent program based at the University of Michigan offering business development seminars and $500-$5,000 in grants to individuals and/or student teams. Prospective entrepreneurs in the upper midwest, take note!

USDA Rural Business Development Grant

For minorities in rural areas, this grant, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture, is an attractive prospect. In the words of the USDA:

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

Program applications vary by state, so you’ll need to find the specifics of what’s on offer in your state through the USDA’s RBDG website.

Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI) Grant

This grant program is funded by the U.S. Department of Indian Affairs and is intended to support Native American and Alaskan Native business owners. Currently, they don’t have a great deal of information posted on the grants being offered, but you can always contact the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development to learn how the program stands to benefit your business.

Office of Minority Health Grant Programs

A division of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Minority Health (OMH) offers grants to businesses whose mission is to eliminate health disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations. Keep an eye on the OMH website to learn about grant opportunities when they are announced.

How To Find & Apply For Small Business Grants For Minorities

startup grants

Finding the right grant program, applying for it, and actually getting the grant in question can be a daunting prospect. That’s why it may be a good idea to simultaneously look for alternate sources of funding, such as personal loans or lines of credit. We recommend the following reputable funder to minorities who are looking for business financing:

Personal Lenders For Business

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest Rate Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $25K 2 – 4 years 15.49% to 30% 600 Apply Now

$1K – $50K 3 or 5 years 8.16% – 27.99% 620 Apply Now

$2K – $35K 3 or 5 years 6.95% – 35.99% APR 640 Apply Now

lending club logo

$1K – $40K 3 or 5 years 5.32% – 30.99% 640 Check Rate

Lenders That Specialize In Lines Of Credit

Lender Borrowing Amount Draw Term Draw Fee APR Next Steps

$6K – $100K 6 months None Starts at 13.99% Apply Now

$2K – $5M Varies Varies Varies Apply Now

$5K – $5M 6 months 1.50% per draw 21% – 65% Apply Now

$1K – $100K 12 weeks None 12% – 54% Apply Now

Remember that unlike with loans and the like, the money that comes with grant programs has strings attached. It must be used in precisely the way specified by the grant giver. That’s why it pays to know the details of the grant you’re applying for, as there’s no reason to apply for grants that would disburse money for a funding need you don’t even have.

I should reiterate that in order to qualify for any federal grants, you need to register at sam.gov. Unfortunately, the registration process isn’t as straightforward as it should be, as the government agencies in question seem to be in the middle of shifting their small business assistance materials between agencies and websites. As things stand, sam.gov lays out the steps required to register your small business here.

One organization that can get you pointed in the right direction in your quest for business funding is SCORE. It’s a partner of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and provides mentoring services to small business owners and entrepreneurs from over 300 chapters across the country. They also provide online webinars and business courses.

What To Do Before Applying For A Grant

  • Define your exact funding need: be ready to define the precise objectives a grant would help you meet
  • Create a detailed business plan
  • Gather and assemble all the business records you can from at least the last three years
  • Have your plan and records reviewed by experts, whether they be SCORE mentors or others with experience in guiding business owners through the grant-hunting process
  • For a large grant, consider hiring a professional grant writer if you can

Final Thoughts

Entrepreneurial talent can be found in every community across this land. Sadly, social and structural barriers to equality persist. Small business grants are but one means by which minority small business owners can get some ever-elusive funding. For other such means, check out our article on the various types of alternative financing available for small businesses, or look into one or more of the alternative funders below:

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest/Factor Rate Req. Time in Business Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$5K – $500K 13 – 52 weeks x1.029 – x1.1872 9 months 550 Apply Now

$5K – $300K 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 months x1.15 – x1.31 1 year 600 Apply Now

$5K – $500K 3 – 36 months x1.003 – x1.04/mo 12 months 500 Apply Now

$2K – $5M Varies As low as 2% 6 months 550 Apply Now

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The Best Free Credit Score Services

free credit score monitoring service

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

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

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

Read on for the details!

What Are Credit Scores?

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

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

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

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

VantageScore VS FICO

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Free Credit Score Services

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

Credit Karma

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

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

Discover Credit Scorecard

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

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

WalletHub

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

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

Credit Journey from Chase

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

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

Free Annual Credit Reports

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

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

Annual credit reports can be requested at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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Stripe VS Square

Stripe VS Square
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✓ Compatible Hardware ✓
✓ Fees and Rates ✓
✓ Sales and Advertising Transparency ✓
Customer Service and Technical Support ✓
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✓ Positive Reviews and Testimonials ✓
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Overview

Spend a little bit of time reading up on Stripe (read our review) and Square (read our review) and you’ll start to see the similarities. They’re both giants in the payment industry, media darlings that have transformed the way people pay for things and the way merchants accept payments. They’re both on the leading edge of technology and rely heavily on machine learning to drive their payment processing systems.

Most importantly, both Square and Stripe offer huge assortments of commerce tools that make it easy for merchants to run their businesses. With the various APIs and integrations available, there are almost limitless possibilities for creating a custom system with everything from invoicing to email marketing and more.

But that’s where I stop pointing out the similarities. Once you get past that point, it becomes harder to draw apples-to-apples comparisons because Square’s offerings are much more varied. Square really is an all-in-one processor that can handle in-person and eCommerce payments, as well as inventory management, customer databases, and more. Stripe is more limited to eCommerce, both for websites and for mobile apps, but it has powerful tools for global enterprises, subscription-based businesses, and other online companies.

To keep things fair and within a manageable scope, we’re going to limit the scope of this comparison to each companies’ online and mobile commerce tools. That means, for the most part, we’re not going to look at mPOS apps, POS integrations, appointment booking, or email marketing…except to say if you need them, Square is the better choice.That also means we’ll be ignoring Stripe Atlas, the company’s service for helping international merchants establish themselves in the US.

If you want to sell online and Square and Stripe have made your shortlist, you should start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What features do you absolutely need? Which features aren’t essential, but would be very nice to have?
  • What percentage of your transactions are from outside the US?
  • Do you have a developer or advanced coding knowledge yourself?
  • Do you have limited tech knowledge and need an easy solution?
  • Are you looking for specific integrations?
  • What industry is your business part of?
  • How advanced are your subscription tool needs?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can sit down and look at each company in more detail. Read on for our comparison of Stripe vs. Square!

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

It’s so important to have a list of must-have features before you set about choosing any sort of payments or eCommerce software because you don’t want to make the decision and then find out that you’re missing a very important function. But it’s also important to think about where you want your business to go and what tools you want to invest in as your business scales up. If you pick the right service, it could mean you never need to switch. But if you don’t think about growth, you may wind up having to make a complicated switchover later in the future once you’ve outgrown a solution.

The good news is that for the most part, Stripe and Square are both very good solutions that scale up as a business grows. It just comes down to in which direction a business wants to grow.

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Square initially stood out among mobile competitors by offering a free webstore to its merchants. Since then, the company has branched out considerably to include eCommerce integrations as well as developer tools. For a more in-depth review of all of Square’s offerings, check out our full review.

  • Online Store: Square’s free online store is very basic. There are only four templates to choose from, and you can only customize portions of the site (such as filling in your business name and address in the footer) in addition to loading your products. This is not a good solution for anyone with a large and diverse inventory, especially if your shipping costs vary significantly or if you’re looking for a particular visual aesthetic.
  • eCommerce Integrations: When you first take a look at Square’s eCommerce offerings, you’ll see that Square very conveniently groups everything by a merchant’s level of technical expertise. I think this is a really helpful approach.

    The easiest integrations are listed on the site and Square lets you know that you can choose from an assortment of templates.

    The intermediate level includes eCommerce integrations that require a bit more work and technical knowledge to get set up.
    Square’s list of integrations includes some of the best shopping cart options, and the list keeps growing. That makes me happy, but if your preferred integration isn’t on the list yet and you do have the technical knowledge (or an eager developer on your payroll), there are more tools at your disposal. You can check out the list of Square integrations in the app marketplace.
  • Developer Tools: Square’s dev tools make it possible for you to create almost any custom integration you could need. For eCommerce, there are two APIs, Checkout and Transactions.  Square Checkout is a premade form that can be dropped into a site with minimal fuss. Using Checkout means merchants are eligible for some perks, like next-day deposits and chargeback protection. The Transaction API, combined with Square’s payment form, is more customizable. Square has other APIs to handle other aspects of commerce, but you’ll find that Square doesn’t readily support in-app payments.
  • Dashboard Reporting: Square’s reporting tools are fairly advanced, especially for a company that started as an mPOS. They’re very popular with merchants who want to know what’s selling and how much they’re processing and need standard business data. The dashboard is actually quite intuitive, as well. However, Square doesn’t allow for a huge amount of customization in reports unless you get into the Reporting API, which allows you to create real-time notifications using webhooks.

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

  • Advanced Inventory: Square will reconcile online and in-person sales and give you an up-to-date count on your inventory, including low-stock alerts when you hit a specified threshold. Plus, you can bulk upload products and generate SKUs, create variants, and more.
  • Fraud Protection Tools: Square uses machine learning to analyze transactions and identify and flag possible fraudulent transactions.
  • Customer Database: Save customers’ contact information and build a database with records of their purchases so that you can market to them later.
  • Invoicing: Create invoices from within the Square dashboard or from within the mPOS app. Square also allows customers to store their cards to automatically pay invoices (using this Card on File will cost you a bit more). You can also create recurring invoices. However, if you want extensive subscription management tools, you’ll need an integration with a service like Chargify, which will add to your costs.
  • Free Virtual Terminal: If you want to process payments over the phone or you don’t have access to the mPOS, you can use Square’s virtual terminal. Transactions will be processed at the manual entry rate (3.5% + $0.15) rather than the eCommerce rate, but the solution is PCI compliant and is designed for regular use.

All in all, while it’s worth noting that Square really is an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to sell anywhere without needing to build a complicated system of integrations. But it has some shortcomings, especially for digital merchants. Subscription tools are nearly nonexistent, and fraud protection doesn’t compare to the tools Stripe offers. If you want advanced, custom reports, you’ll be better served by Stripe. However, Square’s tools and overall design are incredibly easy to use, especially for business owners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise or a large budget to hire someone. And it has very strong tools for merchants who sell physical products in particular.

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Stripe has earned its name as a developer-friendly option, but you can also integrate with a host of third-party apps to accept payments with ease. The company focuses on internet and mobile commerce, but developers have extended Square’s power to include mobile payments and more. Just take note, there’s no free storefront option here. For a more detailed look at different features, check out our complete Stripe review.

  • eCommerce Integrations & Plug-Ins: Stripe outclasses Square in terms of shopping cart integrations by virtue of sheer numbers. In addition to integrations with major eCommerce software providers, developers have created an assortment of plug-ins for businesses operating on WordPress, Magento, and other websites. If you’re not really sure where you start, you might end up doing a lot of research to decide the best course of action, but you can at least take heart in knowing that there’ll be something that will meet your needs. You can check out the full list of eCommerce integrations on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
  • Developer Tools: Stripe is much loved by developers for its flexibility, its extensive documentation and its support for multiple programming languages. Its APIs allow you to create invoices and subscriptions along with many other features.

    Stripe Elements will let you create an entirely custom form with pre-built components; Stripe Checkout generates a pre-built form you can just drop into the site with a few lines of JavaScript. With Stripe, it’s very easy to accept payments on a desktop computer, a mobile site, or within a mobile app. Stripe now even supports 1-touch payments on mobile
  • Stripe Sigma: Stripe offers your standard user dashboard with some general sales reports at no charge. But if your business is heavily data-driven, Sigma’s customizable reporting is the perfect solution for you: you can generate reports based on SQL queries. This is pretty cool, and it’s a great way to make sure that anyone on your team can get the reports they need without creating an information bottleneck. Pricing is based on a sliding scale rather than a set additional monthly see.

Stripe’s additional tools include:

  • Stripe Billing: Stripe’s subscription tools are industry-leading, with the ability to charge clients based on a recurring quantity or metered usage, to set free trial periods, and much more. You can also create invoices or set up recurring billing tools. However, new businesses will pay a small additional charge per transaction to use these tools.
  • Stripe Radar: Stripe makes a big deal of its fraud monitoring tools, bundled under the very-apt name Radar. The system uses machine learning and a host of criteria to analyze every transaction and decide whether it is legitimate or possibly fraudulent. Radar also lets merchants set custom criteria for rejecting transactions and review flagged transactions to decide whether to accept or reject them.
  • Marketplace Tools: Merchants who want to operate a marketplace can use Stripe to build the platform. Stripe’s marketplace tools are grouped under the moniker “Stripe Connect.”
  • Multiple Currency Displays & Dynamic Currency Conversion: These tools are a major reason why Stripe is such a powerful tool for global businesses. Whereas Stripe will automatically convert transactions to USD (usually at the cost of a fee to the cardholder), Stripe will allow you to display prices in local currencies based on where the customer is located. Stripe then automatically converts them for the merchant, charging a small markup over the exchange rate. This makes a business more appealing to international customers.

There’s no doubt that Stripe is very powerful. It can handle all sorts of payments, from digital subscriptions to retail goods. It’s one of the best solutions for global businesses with its currency tools. But it does have some limitations. If you plan to sell across multiple channels, there’s no option for in-person payments unless you have an integration like Flint Mobile (read our review), but it’s still more costly than other mPOS options. There’s no virtual terminal, either. While Stripe does allow you to manually enter a transaction if all else fails, it’s a last resort rather than a tool to be used on the regular because of PCI compliance issues.

Stripe’s inventory tools aren’t on the level of Square. They’re powerful, but if you want advanced inventory management, you’ll need to tack on an integration. I also don’t think that Stripe’s inventory tools are even half as intuitive as Square’s. But I think part of that is Stripe’s focus on online payments and tools for digital merchants, compared to Square’s omnichannel approach.

All in all, it’s really hard to say one of these companies is inherently better than the other. Both have a good assortment of integrations for shopping carts and other tools, though Stripe has a greater number of supported integrations. If you want ease of use, especially if you sell physical goods,  Square is the standout option. But if you need flexibility, robust tools, and advanced data, Stripe is the better choice. So it ultimately comes down to your business’ needs.

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

I am happy to say that pricing for both Square and Stripe is mostly straightforward:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

There are no monthly fees, no monthly minimums, no statement fees. That’s very nice to see.

I do want to point out that Square charges different rates for its card-present and keyed transactions (2.7% and 3.5% + $0.15, respectively). However, invoices process at the same rate as eCommerce transactions unless you’re using Card on File, which process at the keyed transaction rate.

Square also has no chargeback fees, which is very unusual. Not only that, but the company has rolled out Chargeback Protection, which will cover the actual chargeback costs on qualifying disputes up to $250 per month. This doesn’t apply to merchants who use the Transactions API, but it is available for those who use Stripe Checkout.

You can get volume discounts if you process above $250k per year AND have an average ticket size exceeding $15. That’s a mark in Square’s favor for large businesses. However, nonprofits don’t get any sort of special discount, which you can often find with other processors.

Stripe’s pricing has become a tiny bit more complicated. In addition to card transactions processed at 2.9% + $0.30, you can also accept ACH transactions for 0.8%, capped at $5 maximum.

The base fee per transaction is simple. And for each chargeback, Stripe will assess a $15 fee, unless the chargeback is decided in your favor. In that case, you’ll pay absolutely nothing.

Stripe’s subscription tools, lumped under the name “Stripe Billing” along with invoicing, will cost you a small percentage fee (between 0.04% and 0.07%) on top of your transaction.

Existing Stripe merchants are grandfathered out of this new pricing. Large businesses will actually pay the higher 0.7% markup, but it seems Stripe has compromised by offering lower transaction fees.

You’ll also pay a monthly fee for access to Stripe Sigma. The cost is a sliding scale based on the number of transactions you process each month, which is a great way for very small businesses to still get crucial data. But for a company that built its reputation on not charging any fees beyond transaction processing, it’s a little bit disappointing to see that model disappearing. You can estimate your cost with Stripe’s tool.

Stripe does offer enterprise pricing for very large businesses, and some nonprofits may be eligible for a special rate. Stripe doesn’t make any promises about nonprofit pricing apart from “let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” So you shouldn’t assume it’s guaranteed.

With Stripe, you may also be able to negotiate for micro-transaction rates. Whereas per-transaction fees like the $0.30 Stripe and Square charge can eat up fees from small transactions (less than $10 in particular), micro-transaction rates typically include a higher percentage and a lower per-transaction fee that can save merchants money. This is ideal for anyone who sells digital goods and other low-cost items.

Because it’s something offered as part of a custom package, Stripe may not offer this deal to everyone. If you’re unable to get a micro-transaction plan from Stripe, it might be worth looking at a third option — PayPal (read our review) — instead. The 5% + $0.05 fee could save you quite a bit of money in the long run.

All in all, Stripe and Square are fairly evenly matched in pricing. Some merchants might enjoy the lack of chargeback fees and included chargeback protection that Square offers. But Stripe might be a bigger draw for other companies, despite the additional charges for using its subscription tools or Sigma reporting.

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

Both Stripe and Square offer pay-as-you-go processing with no locked-in contracts or early termination fees. It really is that simple. Stripe will even help you transfer your customer data to another processor in a PCI compliant way.

If you’re using any of Square’s monthly services in addition to eCommerce processing, you can get a free 30-day trial, and then if you choose to continue with the service, you can cancel at any time. Square doesn’t bill annually for those services the way many SaaS providers do. (Conversely, you also don’t get any discounts for paying annually, either.)

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

One of the reasons I like pay-as-you-go processors is that they are, on the whole, very upfront and transparent. They tend to not have extensive sales teams, and if they do have a sales team, they’re all in-house. They’re very clear about their pricing and terms, and they’re applied fairly to all merchants.

Square and Stripe both fit this pattern to a T. You won’t see reports of misleading sales pitches or rates not as promised here, which is always nice to see. You can find Stripe’s terms of service on the site, both the general user agreement and the Stripe Payments agreement. Like Stripe, Square has separate agreements applying to general use, payments, and other services. I do recommend you be cautious and check that your business doesn’t fall on either list of “prohibited businesses,” because that’s an easy path to account termination.

Overall, I’m really happy with both companies in this category, and you shouldn’t have any worries about whether you’re being told the truth or whether you’ll pay what you were quoted.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

I think it’s fairly clear that Square outshines Stripe in terms of its customer support — both in quality and in the number of channels available.

Square offers merchants phone and email support, as well as an extensive knowledgebase. That’s pretty typical of any processor, but on top of that, Square operates the Seller Community, a community forum about all-things Square.

 

You can get answers from other Square merchants as well as from Square support reps. It’s a pretty powerful tool. But on top of that, Square’s team monitors Stack Overflow for questions about Square products and responds to them.

And that’s not even talking about Square’s dedicated Twitter support handle (@SqSupport), or the developer portal and documentation.

I can’t say that Square customer support is all sunshine and rainbows, because I do see customer complaints about the quality. However, without a doubt the biggest complaint about the quality of customer support comes from merchants whose accounts have been terminated. In that case, Square cuts off access to phone support and will only communicate via email. This is unfortunate and I don’t know if it’s actually a good solution. But I am sure part of the reason to reduce the odds of a customer support rep saying something they shouldn’t, and to prevent support resources from being tied up dealing with complaints from terminated merchants whose accounts won’t be reinstated.

Stripe is more limited in its support options. Its primary support channel is email. However, Stripe also operates an IRC Freenode chat (#Stripe) that developers may find useful. There’s no dedicated social media support with Stripe, but you can follow the general @Stripe twitter feed.

Stripe also maintains a self-service knowledgebase, though I don’t think it’s as extensive or detailed as Square’s. But I will say that Stripe’s documentation is pretty legendary, and so it’s going to be one of the best resources you can get.  You can also find questions about Stripe on Stack Overflow, but I am not able to ascertain whether Stripe’s team is active on the forum at all the way that Square is.

I do see comments from merchants that the support is pretty good. But I also see a lot of complaints from frustrated merchants about the lack of phone support. That complaint has actually become one of the biggest marks against Stripe. I’ve seen one mention that Stripe might be rolling out phone support to “select merchants” (presumably high-value clients). However, take this with a grain of salt. I wasn’t able to verify it through any sort of authoritative source.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

As far as complaints go, the single biggest issue for both Square and Stripe is a common one:

  • Account Holds And Terminations: This is unsurprising (understatement of the year, right there) because it’s a common issue with any third-party processor. Because these payment systems are usually open to almost anyone right away and they are all lumped into one large merchant account, there’s a greater risk that some of those accounts will be terminated for risky behavior. There’s very little scrutiny done before a sub-account with one of these processors is approved, which stands in contrast to merchant accounts, where the processing company will do a lot of underwriting and investigation before approving your application. Both Square and Stripe use a lot of machine learning to analyze transactions and flag suspicious behaviors. This potential for account holds or terminations is universal — you will encounter it with any third-party processor. If you want to avoid it, your only alternative is to seek out a traditional merchant account.

The other big complaint that I see with both is also a pretty common one:

  • Poor Customer Support: If I’m honest, reports about the quality of customer service conflict. But because of how common the complaints are, I’m listing it here. With Stripe, the most common issues are the lack of phone support and slow response times for email. With Square, a lot of the complaints about poor customer service come from terminated merchants, but I’ve seen a few complaints about slow or unhelpful email responses.

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

  • Lack Of Fraud Protection: I want to be clear: Stripe does have fraud management tools and a system to help merchants fight chargebacks. But I have seen complaints from merchants who don’t think these are adequate. Chargebacks are not settled by Stripe, so there’s not much the company can do beyond pass the requested documents on. But for fraud prevention, merchants need to make sure they have the appropriate tools enabled.
  • Not User-Friendly: There’s a lot of testimonials from users (especially developers) who really like Stripe and find it simple to set up. There are plenty of others who disagree with that idea. I’m inclined to think most people with a decent technical backing will get along fine with Stripe, but for some people, especially those with less technical knowledge, it’s not going to be a good choice.

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

  • Lack of advanced features: It’s not that Square doesn’t have enough features, or that it’s missing anything important. The complaints about Square often focus on the lack of very particular advanced features that you typically find in full-scale POS systems. In this case, I think Square’s lack of extensive subscription tools would fit the bill. Some merchants have been upset for quite a while over the lack of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reporting. Square added this feature with its Square for Retail app, but not for online sales or its free POS. Square has some very powerful reporting tools, but in the end, they won’t hold a candle to Stripe’s Sigma offering.

I think, yet again, that the two companies are pretty evenly matched in this category. The largest complaints are identical, and that’s because they’re the same complaints we see with third-party processors. To be entirely honest, poor customer service is a common complaint across the entire payments industry. It’s frustrating, for sure. But you can take steps to better inform yourself — read our article on how to prevent holds, freezes, and account terminations. And please take reports of poor customer service with a grain of salt, because I see conflicting accounts there.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

As media darlings, both Stripe and Square have gotten lots of press. They’re both lauded for the way they’ve transformed payments.

I usually feel a little bit silly comparing two businesses in this category because it almost feels like a bit of a popularity contest. But in this case, we’re dealing with two companies who have both gotten a LOT of positive press over the years, not to mention high-profile clients. And the bits of each service that merchants love most are pretty similar, too.

Square merchants love how easy the service is to use. And I tend to agree — Square is one of the most intuitive options out there as far as payments and using the dashboard. Merchants also really like the predictable pricing and lack of fees. Other than that, the integrated invoicing feature and the seamless omnichannel commerce experience are big draws.

Stripe also wins merchants over with its pricing, and its tools are very much loved by developers. While if you don’t have a lot of technical knowledge, Stripe may feel foreign to you, developers say it’s incredibly easy to use. Also on the dev side of things, it seems like the quality of customer service is great, even if business owners don’t always like the lack of phone support. And unsurprisingly, merchants really seem to love Stripe’s robust subscription tools. The predictable pricing and lack of monthly fees are also appealing.

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

Stripe and Square have some very important core similarities: they’re both third-party processors with an assortment of tools that allow merchants to sell online. Neither one is suited to high-risk industries, and there’s a lengthy list of businesses neither company can work with. But despite that, both Stripe and Square offer tools that cater to a huge assortment of industries. They’ll both grow with your business, making it easy to scale up.

But despite their similarities in terms of business model, it’s also pretty clear that what each company does best is completely different.

Square is a spectacular all-in-one processor. You can sell in a store, on the go, and online and get all of your information and payments and orders collected in one simply, intuitive dashboard. There’s a huge array of add-on products that allow you consolidate a host of business functions under one name, and they’re guaranteed to work together perfect. eCommerce support is really the newest branch of Square’s offerings, and it’s a work in progress as the company establishes more partnerships and integrations with other major players.

If you have limited technical knowledge, Square is going to be much easier to get started with and to navigate through the different features. It’s free advanced inventory tools are also very well suited to retailers and other businesses that sell primarily physical goods.

Stripe focuses only on Internet payments (both on the web and in-app), but its tools make it possible for businesses to cater to customers all over the globe. The international appeal — from the local currency displays to the sheer breadth of payment methods accepted — make it clear that Stripe is already a global player.Not only that, but with Stripe’s APIs and documentation, a savvy developer could create all kinds of payments platforms for a business. Business owners who don’t have a developer on staff, and who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge themselves, might struggle with understanding how to use Stripe, especially if you want to do anything more than integrate it with some sort of shopping cart software.

You also get a far more limited scope of features. There’s no native support for omnichannel commerce. No mPOS app, no POS integration to support card-present pricing, no invoicing. If you need more than online payments on a regular basis, Stripe isn’t a suitable choice. But if that’s all you need, Stripe isn’t just a good option — it’s one of the best out there, period. If your business has a global reach, again you’ll find that Stripe once again tops the lists of best solutions.

I’m not comfortable saying that one of these solutions is better than the other because it really comes down to what your priorities are. Do you need something easy to use? Do you want to embrace multiple sales channels? Or are you limited to online sales and want best-in-class tools to reach a global audience, manage subscriptions, and even drive mobile commerce? Square can get the job done, and it’ll be the easier solution, but Stripe offers far more tools.

Sit down, think about what features are absolutely mandatory for you to have — and then look at which ones you’d like to have, but aren’t necessarily required. From there, it should be fairly clear which solution is right for you! Don’t forget to check out our complete reviews of Stripe and Square for more insights into how they function.

Have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll help! Have experience using either of these tools? We’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading!

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How To Find A Startup Grant

business grants

Startups are inherently risky endeavors. According to Fortune Magazine, close to 60% of new startups fail. Because new businesses are so risky, it is notoriously difficult to obtain startup financing — most banks won’t lend to you unless you’ve been in business at least two years. While some online lenders offer startup loans, startup grants are another option for new business financing. A startup grant is even harder to get than a startup loan, but grants are more desirable because you don’t have to pay the money back.

Want a shot at a startup grant? Follow these steps to find a business grant you might qualify for.

1. Determine Whether You’re Grant-Worthy

Generally, only certain types of businesses qualify for startup grants. If your biz doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it’s unlikely you’ll qualify. For example, while there may be grant money for an innovative hardware manufacturer, when it comes to a run-of-the-mill hardware store…eh, not so much. Then again, if you face the significant hurdles of having a female-owned hardware store opening up shop in an economically distressed region, it’s a lot more likely that a private or public entity might want to give you some free money.

Read my post Do I Qualify For A Startup Grant? to determine if your business falls into one of the industries likely to qualify for startup grant funds. If not, you might want to start considering other alternative financing options, such as crowdfunding.

2. Start Local

City and township governments, business associations, and nonprofits in your immediate region are good places to start looking for grants. Even if you determine that your business doesn’t fit into one of the “grant-worthy” categories I mentioned above, you might be eligible for a grant if you’re starting a business in a certain city or region. For example, the Arch Grants organization awards grants to new businesses in the St. Louis area. There are not too many of these sorts of grants, but it’s always worth checking.

Be sure to scan city, county, and state websites for grant opportunities, as well as your local Chamber of Commerce. If you’re willing to relocate, you can also check local business grant opportunities in the city or cities you’d consider moving to.

3. Search Your Niche

If you can’t find any grant opportunities for businesses in your area, you can search grants by niche; that is, by your particular industry or business type. Your startup may fall into multiple niches — for example, your business may be veteran-owned and also a clean-energy business. Simply searching a phrase like “business grants for green construction” or “grants for home daycare” may deliver results tailored to your specific business niche.

Sometimes grants are for a particular niche and also a particular region. A couple examples of niche business grants include the Halstead Grant for new silver jewelry designers living anywhere in the US, and the Green Technology Business Grant Program for green technology startups in Cleveland, Ohio.

4. Go Corporate

Several large corporations offer business grants or host some kind of small business contest where the best businesses can win free money. These grant programs are highly publicized and thus highly competitive, but they might be worth looking into. FedEx, Miller Lite, and Visa are a few corporations that award business grants; Miller Lite’s grant contest is especially aimed at startups.

Even some popular business lenders offer business grant contests. Veteran-owned businesses, for example, should look into StreetShares‘ annual business contest for veterans.

5. Look At A Federal Level

Small businesses can potentially find grants they are eligible for on Grants.gov, the one-stop-shop for government grants. However, you should know that the vast majority of these are medical research grants. Also, even if you’re eligible for one of these prized federal grants, you’ll likely be competing with nonprofit organizations, and even city and state governments. The reason I listed federal grants last is that there are few, if any, federal grants a typical startup business would be eligible for.

However, at least a couple federal grants are aimed at innovative small businesses, and these are Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants for high-tech businesses involved in scientific research & development. The InnovateHER grant contest is for businesses that benefit women and children.

This blog post on the SBA website explains a little more about US government grants and how most are not really aimed at for-profit businesses. If you want some government help in funding your small business, you might want to look into a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. These loans are low-interest and relatively easy to apply for if you use an online SBA lender like SmartBiz.

Final Considerations

Once you find a list of startup grants you’re eligible for, the next step is to start preparing your grant application package. The application process is slightly different for each type of grant, but usually you will have to submit a business plan and Request for Proposal (RFP). For a large grant, you might even consider hiring a professional grant writer, though this probably wouldn’t be feasible or necessary for a grant contest where you only stand to win $2,000-$5,000, even after beating out thousands of other applicants.

The last thing I’d recommend to anyone searching for startup grants is to review startup grant alternatives, such as small business loans or alternative business financing options like P2P loans or equipment financing. If you have any questions about startup loans or alternative business financing, feel free to email us or ask in the comments!

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The Best Business Grants For Women

business grants for women

Do an online search for “business grants for women” and a slew of articles will come up. But when you click to read the articles, you’ll find that there is scant, if any, information on actual grants. Often, when you do find the name of a specific grant for female-led businesses, like the “Huggies Mom Inspired” grant, there will be no link to apply, because the program has been discontinued. Most of these articles will also toss you a link to Grants.gov — which does not offer any grant expressly for women-owned businesses.

The truth is that while there is a lot of demand for business grants, i.e., free money to help start or continue your business, there are hardly any such programs in existence. While both government and private grants do exist, most of that money goes to not-for-profit organizations, and the majority of these programs do not give preferential treatment to female applicants.

However, there are a select few grants offered specifically to female owners of for-profit businesses. This article includes real grants for women entrepreneurs only. Meaning, there will be an actual link to apply in most cases. Woohoo! Hopefully, this will save you some time scouring the web. I could only find a handful of legit, worthwhile business grant opportunities for women, but if you know of any others, feel free to mention them in the comments!

1. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant

About

Eileen Fisher is a socially conscious clothing brand that emphasizes sustainability. The clothing brand offers a yearly grant to women-owned businesses, particularly those that focus on using their businesses to bring about environmental and/or social change. Each year, Eileen Fisher awards Women-Owned Business Grants totaling $100,000 to up to 10 recipients, with a minimum grant amount of $10,000. Additionally, grantees are invited to New York City in the spring following their reward for two days of business collaboration with Eileen Fisher.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for an Eileen Fisher grant, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • At least 51% woman-owned
  • Have been in business at least 3 years
  • Revenues not exceeding $1 million
  • Business founded on principal of creating social and environmental change

Franchises, startups, and past award winners are not eligible to receive the grant.

How To Apply

Visit the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant website to find more information about the grant and apply.

 

Visit the Eileen Fisher website

 

2. Amber Grants

About

Amber Grants began in 1998. After a young woman named Amber died before being able to fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams, WomensNet started offering grants for women in Amber’s name. These are smaller grants, but they are very accessible and easy to apply for. Amber Grants awards $500 to a woman-owned business every month, and at the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly qualification winners wins another grant for $2,500.

Eligibility Criteria

Amber Grants do not have any particular qualification criteria, other than that recipients must be female entrepreneurs (age 18 and up) living in the United States or Canada. Amber Grants are open to any type of business.

How To Apply

Simply fill out the application template on the Amber Grant Application Page and pay a nominal $7 fee. Amber Grants recommends that rather than trying to “sound professional” in your application, you focus on conveying the passion you have for your business.

Amber Grants receive between 200 and 600 applicants every month. Visit the website for information about application deadlines.

 

Visit the Amber Grant website

 

3. Cartier Women’s Initiative

About

The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, a joint partnership created in 2006 by Cartier, McKinsey & Company, and INSEAD business school, awards annual grants to support projects by women entrepreneurs. This is one of the largest and most prestigious business grants for women, but the competition is steep. The first-place prize in this international business competition is $100,000; second place comes with a $30,000 prize.

Eligibility Criteria

Women entrepreneurs in the initial stages of development (2-3 years old), in any country, of any nationality, and operating in any industry can apply for this grant. The business must have an original concept and the business must have a for-profit model.

You can download the official Cartier Women’s Initiative rules of participation for more details.

How To Apply

When applications are open (which is only during certain times of year), you will be able to apply using the online Cartier Women’s Initiative application form.

From the Cartier Women’s Initiative website:

The call for applications for the 2018 edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is now closed. The call for applications for the 2019 edition of the competition will open in May 2018.

Before applying, be sure to read up on the grant application process. In addition to filling out the application form, you’ll need to supply supporting documentation including your resume, scanned copy of your business registration, proof of patent (if applicable), and detailed financials. Optionally, you can also include three additional attachments, such as your logo, images of your product, press articles, etc.

 

Visit the Cartier Women’s Initiative website

 

4. Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program

About

Fashion designer and philanthropist Tory Burch created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to help empower female entrepreneurs. The Foundation has been quite successful in this goal, and today runs one of the most preeminent business grant competitions.

Each year, up to 10 finalists of this grant competition receive a $10,000 grant for business education, a 1-year Tory Burch Fellowship, and a 3-day business workshop at Tory Burch Headquarters in NYC. Note that the $10,000 grant cannot be used for purposes other than business education. Fellows will also participate in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition before a panel of judges to choose one winner of a $100,000 award, of which 50% is a grant and 50% is a “recoverable grant” (fancy way of saying 0%-interest loan).

Eligibility Requirements

Applicants to this business grant must be female business owners who meet the following criteria:

  • Own a majority stake in for-profit business, from any industry, in early-stage growth (minimum of 1 year and no more than 5 years of operations), generating minimum revenues of $25,000 and maximum revenues of $500,000 per year
  • Manage said business on a day-to-day basis
  • 21 years or older as of the application due date
  • Legal resident of the United States
  • Proficient in English

Read more about Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Grant eligibility.

How To Apply

Here is the application page for the Tory Burch grant. The application period is pretty short — it opens in early fall and closes in November. But that’s okay; in the meantime, you can download the application help guide to start perfecting your business plan and application essay so you will be ready to go when the next round of application opens.

 

Visit the Tory Burch Foundation website

 

5. Girlboss Foundation

About

Launched in 2014, The Girlboss Foundation funds female entrepreneurs pursuing creative endeavors. Specifically, these grants are for women in the fields of art, fashion, design, and music. Every six months, one grant beneficiary receives $15,000 to be used for a creative project within the following 12 months, in addition to online media exposure.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible, Girlboss applicants must be US-based female creative business owners who are 18 or older. Note that the Girlboss Foundation only awards grants to individuals; GB can award the grant to an individual representing a business, but not to a business as an entity.

How To Apply

Fill out the online Girlboss Foundation grant application. First, however, read the information on the selection process so you’ll get a better idea of what to include and how you’ll be judged.

 

Visit the Girlboss website

 

6. Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition

About

The WFN is an organization that provides both capital and mentorship to women business owners. The organization’s Fast Pitch competition awards $20,000 in free grant money to a female-led business each year; runners-up receive $7,500, $5,000, and $2,500 respectively. If you make the top 10 finalists, you’ll pitch your business at a live in-person event in Los Angeles.

Eligibility Criteria

These are the criteria for this women’s business grant competition, from the WFN website:

  • Founder/CEO must be a woman or business must be majority-owned by women.
  • Must attend in-person to present in Los Angeles at the Fast Pitch Event.
  • Business must be past the idea stage (revenue preferred)
  • Must have raised no more than $1M in outside funding, excluding research grants.
  • Seeking early stage businesses based in USA with high-growth potential.

How To Apply

You can apply for this grant on the Women Founders Network Fast Pitch website as of May 1, 2018. The next round of applications will be accepted from May 1 – June 10, 2018.

WFN has posted grant application guidelines with detailed information about the contest and tips for applying, but note that these guidelines are for the 2017 contest.

 

Visit the WFN website

 

7. InnovateHER Challenge

About

The InnovateHER Challenge, est. 2015 under the Obama administration, is a national women’s business grant contest hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. Each year since 2015, InnovateHER has given out three grants to especially worthy women-owned businesses, including a first-place prize of $40,000, a second-place prize of $20,000, and a third-place prize of $10,000. InnovateHER is the only federal grant money earmarked specifically for women-related businesses.

To arrive at the top 10 finalists for this nationwide competition, organizations such as universities and economic development associations run their own local competitions throughout the year. Then, from all of the local winners, 10 national finalists are chosen to pitch their businesses to an expert panel in Washington D.C.

Eligibility Requirements

This contest is for innovative entrepreneurs whose products and services create a measurable impact on the lives of women and families. These business solutions must also “have the potential for commercialization, and fill a need in the marketplace.”

Further eligibility requirements from last year’s InnovateHer Challenge page are as follows:

  • Citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are at least eighteen (18) years of age at the time of their submission of an entry (or teams of such individuals)
  • Private entities, such as corporations or other organizations, that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States. Individuals submitting on behalf of corporations, nonprofits, or groups of individuals (such as an academic class or another team) must meet the eligibility requirements for individual contestants. An individual may belong to more than one team submitting an entry in this Challenge.

Note that the rules don’t say this grant is only for women (even though it’s all about solutions that improve women’s lives). However, all of the past grant winners and finalists have been women, so perhaps this is an unspoken rule.

How To Apply

I assume that once the competition opens for 2018, there will be information about how to apply to any local InnovateHer competitions posted on the official InnovateHer Challenge website.

As of February 2018, this website had no information on the 2018 InnovateHER competition, despite the fact that if things were to follow the same schedule as last year’s and the previous years’ competitions, the contest would have kicked off this past December. I emailed the SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership about this and they told me that they will get back to me as soon as they have any information regarding the 2018 InnovateHer Challenge; I’ll update this post if/when I hear back from them.

 

Visit the InnovateHER website

 

Runner-Up: Halstead Grant

About

Halstead Grants are given to new jewelry designers who work primarily in silver. While this grant is not strictly for women, I’m including it as a runner-up, as the jewelry industry is mostly female-dominated, and most (but not all) of the past winners of this grant have been women. Plus, there is an actual link to apply for the grant. Score!

The grant consists of $7,500 in start-up capital and $1,000 in Halstead merchandise. Finalists receive $500 cash for Top 5 placement, or $250 for Top 10 placement.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Applicant must have opened business within the past three years.
  • Applicant must be pursuing jewelry design as a full-time career, not as a hobby or part-time job.
  • Applicant must be a US citizen.

How To Apply

Download and fill out the Halstead Grant Application. As part of the application, you must submit a jewelry collection along with answers to 15 questions that form the basis of a business plan.

 

Visit the Halstead Grant website

 

Final Thoughts

Grants represent a viable form of free funding for select, exceptionally talented women business owners. If you can present an especially impressive application, essay, business plan, and in some cases an in-person pitch, you might come away with some free cash to help bring your entrepreneurial dreams to fruition. However, such grants are extremely competitive, and in most cases even if you win a prized spot, you won’t receive a large amount of capital. There are some select grants available to small businesses in general, including grants for startup businesses, but these grant programs are similarly competitive. Generally, there just isn’t a lot of grant money to be had for for-profit businesses.

More attainable small businesses funding options for women include online loans, personal loans, or even alternative financing options such as crowdfunding. If you’re a female entrepreneur reading this article, I strongly recommend you also check out my article on the best loans for women. For more guidance on how to get financing for your women-owned business, feel free to contact us!

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