Lowe’s Credit Card Review: All The Business And Personal Credit Cards Offered By Lowe’s

Does your business buy at Lowe’s frequently? Or perhaps you require a lot of hardware store shopping? Then one of the home improvement store’s branded credit cards may work for you.

With five options — all sharing the promise of discounted purchases — Lowe’s has built a strong stable of cards. Depending on your business, one may be right for you while other owners might pick something different.

Curious which Lowe’s card is right for you? Keep reading to find out!

Card Name Best For
Lowe’s Advantage Card Businesses that don’t need employee cards
Lowe’s Business Account Credit Card Small businesses
Lowe’s Accounts Receivable Business Credit Card Medium to large businesses
Lowe’s Business Rewards Card Businesses looking for a full credit card
Lowe’s PreLoad Card Businesses that don’t want to undergo a credit check

Lowe’s Advantage Card

Lowe’s Advantage Card


Lowe’s Advantage Card
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

Technically a personal card, the Lowe’s Advantage Card is a simple store-branded card offered in conjunction with Synchrony Bank. This no-annual-fee card features a 5% discount on eligible purchases at Lowe’s. Note that the 5% discount cannot be used in tandem with coupons, price-matching, or various discounts, including military and employee.

If you’d rather have special financing instead of the 5% discount, Lowe’s offers two ways to opt out of the discount and into special financing. The first way lets you nab six months 0% APR on purchases above $299.

The second way enables you to receive special financing on purchases above $2,000. The APR changes based on how many payments you plan to make:

  • 36 fixed monthly payments at 3.99% APR
  • 60 fixed monthly payments at 5.99% APR
  • 84 fixed monthly payments at 7.99% APR

If you choose either financing option, the 5% discount will be voided. That means you’ll want to use a financing route only when necessary.

Beyond its benefits, this card can only be used at Lowe’s; you won’t be able to buy items from other stores. Additionally, its base APR is relatively high, which could be something to watch out for.

Lowe’s Business Account Credit Card

Lowe’s Business Account


Lowe’s Business Account
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.99%* or 21.99%**, Variable

Just like with the Advantage Card, Lowe’s Business Account Credit Card offers 5% off every eligible purchase you make at Lowe’s. However, unlike the Advantage Card, there are no financing options.

On the flip side, you do gain access to various cardholder promotions. There are also discounted delivery options for both in-store and online orders. As an additional bonus, you won’t need to worry about an annual fee.

Lowe’s further offers an online portal to view details about your account. This portal will let you pay online and view both prior statements and past activity. You’ll also be able to request credit line increases and download up to six months of account activity to Excel, CSV, QuickBooks, or Quicken.

Lowe’s Accounts Receivable Business Credit Card

Lowe’s Accounts Receivable


Lowe’s Accounts Receivable
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


5% – 18%*, Variable

Lowe’s Accounts Receivable Business Credit Card is very similar to the Business Account card; you’ll collect 5% off every eligible Lowe’s purchase without any special financing options. You’ll get some of the same benefits, too. These include cardholder promotions and discounted delivery on both in-store and online purchases. There’s also no annual fee.

Beyond the 5% discount, however, it does include a few more features. You’ll be able to establish and link accounts to one another in a secondary-parent relationship. You’ll further be able to request and manage authorized buyers, a solid extra for businesses looking to give cards to employees.

Lowe’s also sets you up with in-depth billing features. You’ll be able to track payments, view the details of transactions, and consolidate all statements for all linked accounts. The online portal further lets you request credit line increases and download up to six months of activity to Excel, CSV, Quickbooks, or Quicken.

Lowe’s Business Rewards Card From American Express

Lowe’s Business Rewards Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.99% – 26.99%, Variable

The only fully-fledged credit card on the list, Lowe’s Business Rewards Card from American Express offers a way to earn while spending at Lowe’s, as well as with other merchants. You’ll net three points per dollar spent at US restaurants and office supply stores, and on wireless telephone services purchased from US-based service providers. Lowe’s purchases collect two points per dollar while everything else scores one point per dollar.

Points earned with this card can be redeemed for either Lowe’s or American Express gift cards.

On top of the points scheme, you’ll still get the 5% discount when shopping at Lowe’s, discounted delivery, and bulk rate pricing. You’ll also net 5,000 bonus points when you spend $100 in your first 30 days. The card further offers no interest on purchases during your first six months.

There are standard credit card benefits, too. These include employee cards, extended warranty for up to two years, purchase protection against theft and damage, and travel insurance. This card comes with no annual fee, although foreign transactions tack on a 2.7% charge.

Lowe’s PreLoad Card

Lowe’s PreLoad Card


Lowe’s PreLoad Card
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


N/A (this is a pre-loaded card)

If you’re worried about a credit check, Lowe’s offers their PreLoad Card. This card requires no credit check when signing up. Note that this means it is not an actual credit card; instead, it’s a preloaded card that you top up by adding money to it via a debit, a credit, or a checking account.

Even though it’s not a credit card, you’ll still receive the 5% discount when you shop at Lowe’s. You can also issue cards to employees or subcontractors at any time. Money can be added to employee cards via an online tool that also tracks and allows you to budget employee spending.

While it doesn’t come with many of the standard credit card features, you will have access to Discover’s zero liability policy. This protects you against unauthorized charges when reported promptly.

How To Qualify For A Lowe’s Credit Card

For three basic store cards, you’ll likely want to have fair (also known as “average”) credit or better before applying. That means you’ll need to aim for a credit score of 580 or higher. The Rewards Card from American Express, meanwhile, likely requires a good score or better. For this card, shoot for a score of 680 or higher. The PreLoad card does not require a credit score.

Unsure of your credit score? Find out by visiting one of our favorite (and free!) credit-score-checking sites.

You’ll also need to be a US resident and at least 18 years of age. You can apply online and in-store.

Which Card Should I Get?

Lowe’s aims their cards at different types of customers. As such, what works for one business may not work for yours. Here’s a quick rule of thumb to help you decide:

  • If you are a very small business with no employees, then go with the Lowe’s Advantage Card.
  • If your business is slightly larger but doesn’t require your employees to have a store card, the Lowe’s Business Account Credit Card should be enough.
  • If your business is large enough that your employees need cards, then the Lowe’s Accounts Receivable Business Credit Card should work for you.
  • Businesses that are looking for a card that not only earns Lowe’s rewards but can also be used elsewhere will need to apply for the Lowe’s Business Rewards Card from American Express because that’s the only full-fledged card Lowe’s offers.
  • Businesses that want to avoid a credit check will need to sign up for the Lowe’s PreLoad Card.

The post Lowe’s Credit Card Review: All The Business And Personal Credit Cards Offered By Lowe’s appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is An Acquiring Bank?

Accept ACH payments online

Keeping all of the terms straight when it comes to processing payments can be a bit tricky. And there are so many entities involved in payment processing. So we’re going to start with one of the most important terms and players in credit card processing: the acquiring bank. We’ll start with a general definition of an acquiring bank, and then we are going to explore what it means for your business:

What Is An Acquiring Bank?

The acquiring bank is a financial institution that plays a crucial role for the merchant by creating and managing the bank account. Also referred to as an acquirer or a merchant bank, this financial institution is a licensed member of the card networks, including Visa and MasterCard. When you process a payment with a debit or credit card, the acquiring bank plays a role in approving the sale. The bank makes this determination based on the cardholder’s data (made available at the time of the sale from the issuing bank and the card network). Note that the issuing bank is the bank that provided customer’s credit card.

For instance, let’s say your customer pays you with a Visa card and taps their card to pay. Their card’s issuing bank makes information available about their credit card account to your merchant bank (acquiring bank). If there are enough funds on the card and everything else is copacetic, the acquiring bank approves the purchase and puts the funds in your account.

Now keep in mind that the term “acquiring bank” primarily refers to the specific role it plays in the whole credit card processing interchange. A merchant’s acquiring bank can be an actual bank, or it can be another type of financial organization. A large acquiring bank may also issue credit and debit cards to its customers, thus also acting as an “issuing bank” when a consumer pays with the card (this is the case with Bank of America). An acquiring bank is also sometimes referred to as a payment processor, and it might contract directly with merchants to provide merchants services. That said, not all payment processors are acquiring banks. 

There’s a lot to keep straight, but keep reading as we further de-mystify these terms and give you the tools to understand how money moves from your customer to you.

The Acquiring Bank’s Role In Payment Processing

The acquiring bank plays a pivotal role in processing credit card payments for merchants. When a merchant processes a payment, the acquirer’s purpose is to authorize the card transaction and connect with the issuing bank (the consumer’s bank) on behalf of the merchant.

In a nutshell, the acquiring bank acts as a go-between with the customer’s financial organization to ensure funds are transferred. In doing so, the acquiring bank assumes some financial risk (that’s where the acquiring bank fees come in.) We’ll talk more about security, disputes, and more in an upcoming section.

Want to know what happens to your funds in a transaction? Here is an overview to help you wrap your mind around the process itself:

  • 1st Step: A cardholder receives a credit card from their issuing bank and visits your shop. When they are ready to buy, they present you with their card to pay for your wares.
  • 2nd Step: The transaction information and the card information passes between the payment processor to the card network, and then to the issuing bank.
  • 3rd Step: The issuing bank charges your customer for the amount of the purchase.
  • 4th Step: The issuing bank transfers the amount to the acquiring bank.
  • 5th Step: The acquiring bank deposits the funds into your account.

Keep in mind that your payment processor may not be the acquiring bank. Read on to find out more about the difference in the roles and how you can find the right solution for your business needs.

Payment Processor VS Acquiring Bank: What’s The Difference?

When someone discusses payment transactions, the words payment processor and acquiring bank are sometimes used interchangeably. Some acquirers are themselves also payment processors and you can sign up for a merchant account with them directly. However, not all processors are acquiring banks. In this case, they contract with an acquiring bank to provide services. While they may or may not be two separate entities, the acquirer and payment processor roles are unique.

The payment processor plays more of a direct role with the merchant, as they are obtaining and processing the credit or debit card information during the transaction. Your payment processor handles the lion’s share of the data security as the card information moves from your customer to you. Processors are also the source of the hardware or software you may use. They provide connection to the payment gateway and thus are also integral to the authorization as well.

The acquiring bank is more of a go-between among the card networks, including the issuing bank and the merchant. For example, the acquiring bank essentially mediates any disputed transaction from the issuing bank. When an issuing bank reviews a dispute brought up by a customer, the card network passes the dispute to the acquiring bank, which then conveys the issue to the merchant. The merchant’s response gets passed back to the acquiring bank and so forth. This example is simplified but illustrates where the acquiring bank sits as it relates to you and your customer.

As mentioned earlier, though the role of an acquirer and a payment processor may be unique, sometimes the same organization fulfills both duties. In other cases, payment processors and acquiring banks have contract agreements with one another to perform their separate roles.

Why Does An Acquiring Bank Charge Fees?

As we’ve shown, the acquiring bank is the financial institution that’s involved in each sale and also assumes some financial risk when it comes to funds transfer during credit card processing. The other thing to keep in mind is that just like your payment processor, your acquiring bank is dealing with sensitive customer data and has to follow strict payment security standards. For these reasons, the acquiring bank also charges a fee to cover its own risks and financial investment in the whole process.

For more information on the different types of costs you may incur with processing credit cards, check out What Are Interchange Fees For Credit Card Processing?

How Do Acquiring Banks Affect Merchant Services?

Acquiring banks are essential players in the whole credit card processing landscape. As a merchant, it’s important to at least generally understand who the players are and how they may affect your business. It’s not always obvious who your acquiring bank is, as some processors and acquiring banks are separate entities, while sometimes you’re dealing with the same organization.

On a similar note, smaller processors that contract with acquiring banks often bring better customer service because of their specialization. They also may have different pricing and contract terms, such as month-to-month agreements. Keep the whole picture in mind when you are shopping around for a merchant account so that you can make the best decision for your business.

Wondering what companies are out there and which one is right for your business? You are in the right place here at Merchant Maverick. If you haven’t yet, visit our Merchant Account Comparison page and peruse our small business resources that cover the gamut when it comes to payment processing and you.

The post What Is An Acquiring Bank? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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

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

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

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

Make A Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Calculate Startup Costs

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

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

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

Seek Business Funding

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

Where should you look?

Personal Savings

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

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

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

Tap Your Support Network

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

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

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

Credit Cards

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business

Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business


capital one spark cash select
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.74% – 22.74%, Variable

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

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

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for Spark Cash Select for Business, Capital One offers an equally versatile card that’s much easier to qualify for. Spark Classic offers a similar cashback reward program, but the rate of return is 1% rather than 1.5%.

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

Loans

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

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

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

Recommended Option: Upstart

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

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

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

Choose The Right Software

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

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

Types of software you may want to consider include:

Field Service Management 

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

Scheduling Software

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

Inventory Tracking

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

Accounting Software

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

Data QuickBooks Online Xero Wave Zoho Books FreshBooks

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Pricing

$20 – 150/month

$9 – 60/month

Free

$9 – 29/month

$15 – $50/month

Customer Support Fair Poor Good

Very Good

Very Good

Ease of Use Moderate Moderate Very Easy Very Easy

Very Easy

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

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

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

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

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

Delegate Work

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

Employees

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

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

Contractors

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

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

Advertise Your Business

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Your Business Plan

What Information to Bring Accountant for Small Business Taxes

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

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

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

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

Pick Your Niche

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Your Menu

KDS Kitchen Display System

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

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

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

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

Source Your Ingredients

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

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

Calculate Startup Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

Sole Proprietorship

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

General Partnership

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

Limited Partnership

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

Limited Liability Partnership

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

Limited Liability Company

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

Corporation

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

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

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

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

Get Permits & Licenses

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

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

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

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

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek Business Funding

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

Personal Savings

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

Friends & Family

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

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

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

ROBS

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equipment Financing

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines Of Credit

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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

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

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

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

Business Credit Card

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

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

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

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

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

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

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

Vendor Financing

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

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

Recommended Option: Behalf

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

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

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

Personal Loans For Business

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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

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

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

To qualify for a loan, you must:

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

Choose The Right Software

pos with raw ingredient tracking

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

Accounting Software

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

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

Catering Software

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

Payment Processing Software

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

Hire Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolster Your Web Presence

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

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

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

Launch Your Social Media Profiles

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

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

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

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

Build Your Website

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

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

Advertise Your Business

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

Fliers

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

Online Ads

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

Newspaper Ads

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

Attend Wedding Shows

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

Wedding & Event Websites

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

Word-Of-Mouth

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Colorado Small Businesses

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

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

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

Online Business Lenders For Colorado Businesses

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

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

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

Lendio

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

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

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

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

SmartBiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These minimum requirements apply to all borrowers:

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

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

OnDeck

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

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

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

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

To qualify for a term loan, you must have:

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

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

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

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

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

Breakout Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundbox

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

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

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

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

Amex Merchant Financing

American Express OptBlue

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

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

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

Borrowers must meet the following requirements to qualify:

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

Credibly

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

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

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

The requirements for a Credibly working capital loan are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Requirements for a Credibly MCA are:

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

Upstart

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

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

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

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

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

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Colorado

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

Bank Of Colorado

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

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

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

Ent Credit Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Enterprise Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Business Grants In Colorado

startup grants

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

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

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

LEADING EDGE For International Opportunities

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

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

To qualify, businesses must meet the following requirements:

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

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

Colorado First & Existing Industry Customized Job Training Grant Program

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

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

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

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

Colorado Creative Industries Grants

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

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

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

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

Loans & Resources For Startups In Colorado

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

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

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

Colorado Small Business Development Center Network

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

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

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

SCORE

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

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

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

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

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

Does The Lender’s Products Fit My Needs?

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

Do The Rates & Terms Work For Me?

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

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

Will The Funding Be Enough For My Business?

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

Do I Meet The Lender’s Requirements?

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Does Square Invoices Cost?

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

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

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

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

How To Send A Square Invoice

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

Square Dashboard and Invoices

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

1. Fill In Customer Information & Invoice Details

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

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

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

2. Set Payment Terms For One-Time Invoice

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

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

New Square Invoice

 

3. Set Up Recurring Invoice Schedule

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

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

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

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

4. Adding Line Items To Your Invoice

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

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

Filling out Invoice Square Line Items

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

5. Adding a Discount & Request Deposit

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

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

Square Invoice Request Deposit

6. Fill In More Options

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

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

Square Invoice Options

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

Store Cards on File For Faster Payments

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

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

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

7. Attach Files

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

Adding attachments to Square Invoice

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

8. Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances

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

Square Invoice Tutorial

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

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

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

Design Square Invoice Logo

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

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

Hiding Location Square Invoice

9. Send Invoice

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

Square Invoices

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

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

Track Invoices & Follow Up With Customers

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

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

Square Sorting Invoice

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

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

Square Invoices Recording Payment

Pay Off The Invoice With Square POS

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

Square Invoice POS

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

Square Pay Invoice on POS

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

Sending An Estimate

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

Square estimate

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

Creating an Estimate in Square

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

Is Square Invoices Right For You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready? Let’s go!

Pick A Tutoring Niche

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

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

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

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

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

Choose A Business Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A typical business plan includes the following:

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

Calculate Starting Costs

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

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

Funding Options For Tutoring Businesses

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

Personal Savings

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

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

Tap Your Support Network

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

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

Credit Cards

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

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

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

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

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

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

Personal Loans

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

Recommended Option: Upstart

upstart logo

Review

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

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

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

Grants

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

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

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

ROBS

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

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

Separate Personal And Business Finances

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

Choose An Hourly Rate

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

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

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

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

Bolster Your Web Presence

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

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

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

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

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

Advertise Your Business

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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The Complete Guide To Disputing Errors On Your Credit Report

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

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

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

What Is A Credit Report?

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

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

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

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

How To Get Your Credit Report

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

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

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

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

How To Dispute Errors On Your Report

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

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

1. Contact The Credit Bureau

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

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

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

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

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

2. Wait For And Review The Results Of The Investigation

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

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

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

3. Check Your Reports For Changes

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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Deferred Interest: What You Need To Know

 

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

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

What Is Deferred Interest?

Deferred interest is defined by Investopedia in the following way:

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

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

How Deferred Interest Works

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

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

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

Deferred Interest VS 0% APR Introductory Rate

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

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

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

Pros & Cons of Deferred Interest

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

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

Best Practices When Using Deferred Interest

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For North Carolina Small Businesses

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation and has posted significant economic growth over the last 30 years in cities such as Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte. The city of Charlotte is one of the largest banking centers in the United States and the information and biotechnology industries are thriving thanks in part to the Research Triangle Park, Gateway University Research Park, and the Piedmont Triad Research Park. In 2018, North Carolina was ranked in the top ten on CNBC’s Top States for Business list.

With all this growth and opportunity, it’s no surprise that more people are considering entrepreneurship. Maybe you’ve thought about starting your own small business, or maybe you’ve already opened your doors. Either way, you’re here because you want to learn more about financing opportunities and resources for new and established businesses in North Carolina.

In this post, we’re going to look at the best opportunities for small business owners in North Carolina. From easy online loans to small business grants for new and innovative businesses, we’ll explore the many options available to North Carolinians. Let’s get started.

Online Business Lenders For North Carolina Businesses

online loan companies

If you need an easy and convenient small business loan, look no further than your computer. You can secure a business loan without even leaving your home or office by working with an online lender. Not being stuck in a bank for hours isn’t the only benefit to online lending, either. If you don’t qualify for a traditional loan for any reason (low credit score, new business, or low revenues, for example), you can find a lender that’s willing to work with your specific situation.

Finding an online lender isn’t difficult. Just typing search terms like “small business loan” in a search engine brings up thousands of hits. Unfortunately, though, not all lenders are cut from the same cloth. In your search for an online business loan, you’ll encounter lenders that aren’t reputable, charge ridiculously high fees, or have poor reviews from their borrowers. It’s easy to get caught up for hours just finding a lender, so save time and start with one of these options.

Fundera

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You want to shop around when it comes to financing options, but you don’t want to submit application after application. You also want to avoid having multiple hard inquiries on your credit — a move that could bring your score down or even disqualify you from receiving a loan. By working with Fundera, you can avoid these hassles.

Fundera allows you to fill out one easy application to see what financial products you qualify to receive. Fundera uses a combination of technology and experienced lending specialists to find the best financing options for your business. You’ll work with your lending specialist to evaluate all offers to determine which is best for you. Then, you select your funding and receive the money in your bank account. Your lending specialist will even continue to work with you to determine how you can receive even better options in the future.

Working with Fundera is free, and there’s no impact to your credit score just to shop around your options. However, it should be noted that once you accept an offer, a hard pull will likely be performed on your credit.

Fundera offers several financial products for small businesses, including:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Lines Of Credit: Starting at $10,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Term Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Startup Loans: Up to $150,000 with terms up to 4 years
  • Equipment Financing: Up to 100% of equipment value
  • Invoice Financing: Up to 100% of invoice value
  • Short-Term Loans: Up to $250,000 with terms up to 18 months
  • Personal Loans For Business: Up to $35,000 with terms up to 5 years
  • Merchant Cash Advances: Up to $250,000

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary based on the financial product selected.

Lendio

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If you want to compare lender offers, Lendio is another option to consider. This loan aggregator has over 75 financing partners you can reach through just one application. There’s no fee to apply, and submitting your application won’t affect your credit.

The application process takes just minutes, and you could receive funding in as little as 24 hours depending on the product you select. Lendio has a variety of financial options available to small businesses including:

  • SBA Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Term Loans: Up to $2 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Lines Of Credit: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Equipment Financing: Up to $5 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Commercial Mortgages: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Business Acquisition Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Startup Loans: Up to $750,000 with terms up to 25 years
  • Short-Term Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 3 years
  • Business Credit Cards: Up to $500,000
  • Accounts Receivable Financing: Up to 80% of receivables with terms up to 1 year
  • Merchant Cash Advances: Up to $200,000 with terms up to 2 years

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary by financial product.

BlueVine

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If you don’t want to work with a loan aggregator and want to dive in immediately with a direct lender, BlueVine is a reputable lender to consider. BlueVine offers two financial products for small businesses: lines of credit and invoice factoring.

If you want a flexible financing option, a line of credit could be the right choice for you. Instead of receiving one lump sum payment, you’ll have access to a revolving line of credit to use whenever you need it.

You may qualify for as much as $250,000 with BlueVine. You don’t pay if you don’t use your line of credit. When you do make a draw, rates start at just 4.8%. Payments are made monthly or weekly over 6 or 12 months. As you make payments on your line of credit, funds become available for you to use again for unexpected expenses, emergencies, purchasing inventory, or filling revenue gaps.

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

  • Personal credit score of 600 or above
  • At least 6 months in business
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

With BlueVine’s online application, you can be approved for a line of credit in as little as 20 minutes.

If unpaid invoices are plaguing your business, BlueVine offers a solution with its invoice factoring service. You can qualify for a line of credit up to $5 million using your unpaid invoices. You can receive up to 90% of the money upfront for your invoices. Fees start at 0.25% per week, and you can be approved for financing in as quickly as 24 hours.

To qualify for invoice factoring, you must have:

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

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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If you have an American Express Business Card, you may qualify for a small business loan. Not only will you receive a loan with competitive interest rates, but applying has no impact on your credit since the lender uses your information that’s already on file.

With an American Express loan, you can receive $3,500 to $50,000 to use for your business expenses. Interest rates are 6.98% to 19.97% with repayment terms of 1 to 3 years. You can be approved in just seconds and receive funds in your bank account in as little as 3 business days.

The only drawback to this product is that you must be a preapproved American Express Business Card member to receive the offer. You can find out if you’re preapproved by logging into your American Express account. To receive an offer, you must be a Basic Card Member in good standing, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and at least 18 years old. Please note that meeting these minimum requirements does not guarantee an offer.

IOU Financial

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IOU Financial offers flexible business financing that can be delivered to your bank account in as little as 24 hours. Through IOU Financial, you can receive up to $500,000 for growing your business. Even if you’ve faced challenges receiving funding in the past, you may qualify for an IOU Financial product, as the lender preapproves 85% of all applications.

IOU Financial offers financing with terms up to 18 months. Fixed daily or weekly payments are automatically taken from your business bank account. There is no early payment penalty if you pay off your loan early. If you need more capital, you may qualify for renewal once you’ve paid 40% of your loan. The lender doesn’t use a traditional interest rate but instead uses a factor rate between 1.15 and 1.31. Learn more about factor rates and how they affect the cost of your loan.

To qualify for a loan through IOU Financial, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Own at least 80% of your business OR at least 50% if owned with a spouse
  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least 10 daily deposits
  • Annual revenue of at least $100,000
  • Average ending balance of at least $3,000 per day in a business bank account

P2Binvestor

P2Binvestor P2Bi logo

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If you need access to a large amount of capital, look to a lender like P2Binvestor. You can qualify for asset-backed lines of credit from $500,000 to over $10 million. These funds are unrestricted and can be used for any business purpose, from purchasing commercial property to covering payroll. P2Bi’s lines of credit have 1-year revolving terms with interest rates in the high teens.

According to the lender, the ideal candidate for a line of credit should:

  • Have time in business of at least 1 year
  • Have at least 10 employees
  • Have an experienced management team
  • Be a B2B business
  • Have at least $10 million in revenue
  • Have at least 10% annual revenue growth
  • Have accounts receivables that pay within 90 days

Businesses in the construction, real estate, medical insurance billing, and cannabis industries do not qualify for funding through P2Bi.

Kabbage

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If you want a flexible line of credit without having to jump through hoops to get it, apply with Kabbage. This lender offers a quick, easy application process that can give you access to capital in just minutes.

Kabbage specializes in small business lines of credit up to $250,000. Repayment terms are 6 months or 12 months and are based on how much you borrow. Fees are between 1.5% and 10% of your loan balance. If you pay off your loan early, no prepayment penalties are charged and you can save on your monthly fees. Payments are made monthly and are automatically withdrawn from your business bank account. No fees are charged until you use your line of credit.

One thing unique to Kabbage is the Kabbage Card. You have the option to make a traditional draw on your line of credit. Your funds will hit your account typically within 1 to 3 business days. Or you can use the Kabbage Card anywhere Visa is accepted to immediately access your funds. If you go this route, a new loan with the same rates and terms will be created on your Kabbage Dashboard.

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue OR at least $4,200 per month for the last 3 months

There are no credit score requirements, as Kabbage bases its approval decisions on the performance of your business. However, a credit check for the business owner is performed.

LendingPoint

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If time in business requirements are holding you back, consider getting a personal loan for business. By going this route, you can qualify for funds using your own personal income and credit score.

LendingPoint is one option to consider for personal loans. This lender provides up to $25,000 for qualified borrowers. APRs start at 15.49% and go up to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 2 to 4 years with payments due twice per month.

To qualify for a LendingPoint personal loan, you must meet these requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a valid ID and Social Security Number
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have an annual income of at least $20,000

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In North Carolina

If going a more traditional route makes more sense for you and your business, there are plenty of banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders that serve business owners in North Carolina. If you have a business or personal checking account, you can check out the services available through your own bank. Or if you are shopping around for a specific product or lower rate, consider these picks.

BB&T

BB&T is one of the largest banks in North Carolina with branches in nearly 200 cities including Asheville, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro. In addition to business checking and savings accounts, BB&T offers multiple borrowing options including:

  • Small Business & Startup Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • SBA Loans
  • Business Credit Card

You can also take advantage of other business services provided through BB&T including merchant services, payroll services, and employee benefits such as retirement solutions. You can learn more about opening an account and the services provided by calling BB&T’s toll-free number or visiting a local branch.

Truliant Federal Credit Union

Truliant Federal Credit Union was first chartered in Winston-Salem, Burlington, and Greensboro in 1952. Since then, the credit union has grown to serve over 200,000 members in cities throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Truliant branches are located all throughout North Carolina in cities including Charlotte, Asheboro, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem.

In addition to business checking and savings, you can apply for:

  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Commercial Auto Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Construction Loans
  • SBA Loans
  • USDA Business & Industry Programs
  • Equipment Financing

You can begin the process online by downloading and completing a business loan application. Once complete, bring the application, your business debt schedule, and a personal financial statement to your local financial center.

Business accounts and financial products are available to Truliant members. To become a member, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in an area served by Truliant
  • Work at one of Truliant’s partner companies
  • Have an immediate family that is a Truliant member
  • Be a member of the American Consumer Council that lives in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, or Tennessee

Self-Help Credit Union

Self-Help is an organization made up of two credit unions, an advocacy group, and a nonprofit loan fund. Self-Help is a designated community development financial institution that provides opportunities to underserved communities.

Self-Help Credit Union provides financial services including checking and savings accounts to North Carolina residents. Self-Help also offers funding opportunities for small businesses, nonprofits, child care centers, and faith-based organizations.

Loan options available through Self-Help include:

  • Small Business Loans: Up to $250,000
  • Commercial Loans: $250,000 and up
  • SBA 504 Loans
  • New Markets Tax Credit Loans
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Environmental Loans
  • USDA Rural Development Loans
  • Specialty Loan Funds: NC Rural Center Small Business Loan Program and Golden LEAF Loan Program
  • Small Business Recovery Loans
  • Food System Finance Loans
  • Child Care Loans
  • Charter School Loans
  • Multifamily Housing Loans
  • Neighborhood Stabilization Program Loans

To apply for any of these loan programs, you must be a Self-Help member. To qualify, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in an eligible county
  • Meet family or employer affiliation criteria
  • Member of the Center for Community Self-Help

Carolina Small Business Development Fund

The Carolina Small Business Development Fund is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution that has served communities in North Carolina since 1990. This organization provides business loans and training to community-based organizations, startups, and existing businesses.

Through Carolina Small Business, you can apply for loans and lines of credit up to $250,000. Rates are typically 8% to 12%.

To apply for a loan, you must complete the online application. Along with the application, you must upload documentation including:

  • Personal & Federal Tax Returns
  • Business Plan
  • Resumes Of Managers
  • Financial Statements

Additional information may be requested by a loan officer throughout the application process. Businesses requesting less than $50,000 will receive a loan decision within 10 business days. If the loan exceeds $50,000, a decision will be given within 15 business days.

Small Business Grants In North Carolina

You’ve probably seen the advertisements while watching late night TV: “Access the secret to millions of dollars in business grants for the low, low price of $99.95!” Unfortunately, obtaining a business grant isn’t exactly easy — or even possible — for most small businesses.

This doesn’t mean that grants (financing you don’t have to repay) don’t exist. They do. But most are open only to specific industries and applicants, like veterans, women, or minorities. Even if you do qualify for a grant, competition is often fierce.

If you want to explore all financing options, here are a few grants that may be a good fit for your business.

NC IDEA

NC Idea is a private foundation that provides grants and other resources to entrepreneurs in North Carolina. Opportunities include:

  • NC IDEA MICRO: Up to $10,000 for the advancement of new business ideas
  • NC IDEA SEED: Up to $50,000 for innovative startups with a proven concept

Additional resources include leadership training through NC IDEA LEAD and mentorships for female entrepreneurs through NC IDEA SOAR.

Deadlines and requirements vary. Applicants can learn more by visiting the NC IDEA website.

City Of Raleigh Office Of Economic Development Grants

If your business is located in Raleigh, North Carolina, there are several grants available to small businesses. These grants include:

  • Business Investment Grant
  • Building Up-Fit Grant
  • JobsRaleigh Grant
  • Façade Grant Program
  • Downtown Raleigh Retail Up-Fit Grant
  • Impact Partner Grant

These grants are designed to help encourage growth, development, and job creation in the City of Raleigh. Requirements and deadlines vary by program.

National Association For The Self-Employed

Through the National Association for the Self-Employed, you could receive $4,000 through the NASE Growth Grant. Grant funds can be used to expand your business through advertising, marketing, hiring employees, or expanding your facilities.

To qualify for the grant, you must be an NASE member. Annual memberships are $120 for most entrepreneurs. Students can become members for just $25 per year, while veterans pay only $99 annually. A monthly membership plan is also available.

Grants are awarded each month, and you can apply through the NASE website.

Loans & Resources For Startups In North Carolina

Getting the capital you need to grow your business is difficult, but getting the financing you need to launch your business can be even tougher. Many of the loan options already discussed may be unavailable to you if you don’t have revenue or haven’t been in business for a specific period of time.

This doesn’t mean you’re down and out. There are plenty of business financing options and resources for startups if you know where to look. Unsure of where to start? We’ve rounded up some great options that can help you get your business off the ground.

SCORE

SCORE is one of the nation’s leading resources for startups and small businesses. Through its 300 chapters, it has helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs since it was launched in 1964. SCORE offices are located all throughout the nation, including the state of North Carolina and cities including Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro.

You can contact SCORE to be connected with a business mentor. There is no cost for this service. You can also lean on SCORE’s other business resources, including live and recorded webinars, online courses, and workshops.

Thread Capital

Thread Capital is a program launched by the NC Rural Center. This organization offers custom financing solutions for small businesses. Thread Capital also emphasizes helping underserved business owners, including women, minorities, low-income borrowers, and businesses located in rural areas.

Thread Capital offers small business loans from $500 to $50,000. Startup businesses with less than one year of documented revenue are eligible to receive up to $20,000. Established businesses with more than 12 months of documented revenue may be eligible to receive up to $50,000.

Loan terms are up to 72 months and interest rates start at 12.99% based on a number of risk factors. There are no prepayment penalties if your loan is paid off early.

To qualify for a startup loan through Thread Capital, you must:

  • Have at least 1 employee, which may include the owner
  • Have a business located in North Carolina
  • Put up all available assets as collateral
  • Have all individuals with more than 20% ownership co-sign the loan

As you become more established, Thread Capital offers additional loan options through its lending partners. Loans up to $5 million are available through these lenders.

Small Business and Technology Development Center

Since 1984, the Small Business and Technology Development Center has provided North Carolina small business owners with resources to help them grow and create jobs.

Whether you’re a brand new business or you’re an established business that has stalled on the path to growth, SBTDC offers business counseling and educational services to benefit you. These include:

  • Business & Management Advice
  • Financial Analysis
  • Marketing Assistance
  • Research
  • Financial Assistance
  • Strategy Development & Implementation
  • Leadership & Employee Performance

Most services are free and are always confidential. There are multiple SBTDC locations located throughout the state of North Carolina, serving areas including Boone, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Wilmington. You can visit the SBTDC website to learn more about the services offered and to submit an online request for counseling.

Small Business Center Network

The Small Business Center Network has 58 centers located throughout the state of North Carolina to support the growth and development of new and existing businesses.

Through the SBCN, business owners can receive confidential business counseling, access to resource libraries, seminars, and workshops. All services are available at no cost or for a minimal fee.

Business counseling is available on a variety of topics, including:

  • Business Plan Development
  • Marketing Assistance
  • Management & Human Resources
  • Sources Of Capital & Loan Preparation

Business Link North Carolina

If you’re ready to start a small business in North Carolina, check out the resources offered through Business Link North Carolina. Through this partnership with the NC Department of Commerce, you can receive free one-on-one phone consultations with a business counselor.

Business counselors can answer your questions on multiple business topics such as:

  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Licensing
  • Training

The toll-free hotline is available Monday through Friday. You can also submit an online request to have a counselor get in touch with you.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

Now that you’re aware of the financing options available to you, you’re one step closer to choosing a lender. There’s one problem, though: which lender is right for you?

Whether you’re spinning your wheels trying to narrow down your choices or you’re making the final decision between two lenders, ask yourself:

Do I Qualify?

This is an easy question that may immediately eliminate multiple lenders. Do you meet all the requirements of the lender? Is your credit score where it needs to be? Do you have enough revenue? Is your credit report free of anything that would disqualify you from receiving a loan?

If you don’t meet all minimum requirements, move on to another lender. If you find it difficult to qualify with most lenders, evaluate where you’re falling short. Get your free credit score, evaluate your credit report, and look at the financials of your business. If your funding need isn’t urgent, consider taking steps to resolve any issues that prevent you from qualifying for affordable loan options before submitting applications to lenders.

Does The Loan Amount Fit My Needs?

Before you seek funding, you should know how much capital you need. Maybe you need just a few thousand dollars to purchase new equipment. Maybe your financial needs are greater, and you need hundreds of thousands to renovate your commercial space. No matter how much capital you need, it’s important to find a lender that offers loans and financial products that have borrowing limits large enough to fund your project.

Can I Afford This Financing?

Before you submit applications and accept a loan offer, you need to make sure your business can afford to take on new debt. After determining whether your business can afford a loan, shop around to make sure you’re getting the best rates and terms for your business. High fees and interest rates, daily or weekly payments, or very short-term options could equal very expensive financing that could hurt — not help — your business.

Final Thoughts

Whether you apply for an online loan, a traditional bank loan, or a small business grant, there are plenty of financing options available to small businesses in North Carolina. Do your research, compare your options, and determine what opportunities are best to start or grow your business successfully.

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