Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Finding accounting software is never easy. Finding nonprofit software is no walk in the park either. But finding nonprofit accounting software that you can actually afford can seem downright impossible.

Sure there are plenty of fund accounting nonprofit options, but if your organization is looking for something easier to use and more affordable, QuickBooks Online may be the perfect way to go.

While QuickBooks Online doesn’t have features that are specifically designed for nonprofits, it does have several key nonprofit integrations. With QuickBooks Online covering the accounting and a nonprofit software covering your nonprofit management, you may be able to find a great alternative to traditionally expensive, convoluted fund accounting.

In this post, we’ll cover the top four nonprofit integrations for QuickBooks Online and how to choose which nonprofit software is right for you.

Overview Of QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online (see our review) is one of the most popular accounting programs on the market — and for good reason. The software offers strong accounting, tons of features, and is completely mobile. This cloud-based accounting software has been giving other programs a run for their money since 2004, and since then, QuickBooks Online has grown to support over 2.2 million users.

What makes QuickBooks Online such a popular choice? It’s easy to use and requires very little previous accounting knowledge. It has a large feature set at an affordable price — and what features it doesn’t have are covered by 200+ integrations. While the customer service has left users wanting in the past, QuickBooks Online is working hard to improve their support.

In terms of nonprofits, QuickBooks Online doesn’t offer nonprofit-specific features. When you create your QuickBooks Online account, you can mark your company as a nonprofit, which will create a customized nonprofit chart of accounts, but that’s about it. Instead, the main benefit of using QuickBooks Online for nonprofits is the strong accounting (and the nonprofit integrations, which we’ll cover in this post).

Features

For the most part, QuickBooks Online is intuitive and its features are easy to use. QuickBooks Online covers all of the features you’d expect from an accounting software, like invoicing, estimates, contact management, expense tracking, project management, time tracking, and then some.

Best Integrations For QuickBooks Online

You’ll also find key accounting features like accounts payable, bank reconciliation, reports, and a chart of accounts.

Some of our favorite additional features include:

  • Inventory
  • Budgeting
  • Printing checks
  • Tax support
  • Client portal
  • Multi-currency support
  • Class tracking

It’s also worth noting that QuickBooks has one of the best invoicing features out there. Not only are the templates customizable and attractive, you can also autoschedule invoices to automate your billing process.

The only downside of QuickBooks Online is that some of these features are only available with the most expensive plan, and the software doesn’t support more than 25 users. See our full QuickBooks Online review for details.

Pricing

QuickBooks Offers three pricing plans ranging from $15/mo – $50/mo. Each tier gives you access to more user and features. There is a free 30-day trial if you’d like to test the software before buying.

The highest plan only supports 5 users, so you’ll have to pay extra for additional users. Payroll is also an additional $39-$99/mo depending on your plan. Luckily, QuickBooks Online often offers a discount on the Intuit website. Be sure to take advantage of this, especially because you’ll have to pay for QuickBooks Online and the nonprofit integration of your choice.

Now that you have an idea of what QuickBooks is capable of and how much it costs, let’s see how your nonprofit organization can benefit from one of the QuickBooks Online nonprofit integrations.

1) SumacBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofit organizations looking for a highly customizable nonprofit software and CRM solution.

Sumac is a locally-installed nonprofit software founded on the motto “do more good.” The software offers everything from basic CRM to pledges, course registration, auditions and submissions, and more. The best part about Sumac is that the software is incredibly customizable and can be tailored to fit your organization’s specific needs. Well, maybe the best part is that the basic CRM package is completely free. We’ll let you decide.

Features

Sumac has an incredible number of features that are relatively easy to use. The design of the locally-installed version of Sumac is less attractive than the other nonprofit software options in this post, but if you can look past the outdated UI, you’ll find that Sumac is easy to navigate.

The software begins with basic CRM features: invoicing, contact management, reporting, email marketing, donation management, event management, and time tracking. These features are included in every plan.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

You can then add these additional modules to Sumac:

  • Memberships
  • Volunteers
  • Grant management
  • Pledges
  • Ticketing
  • Reminders
  • Course registration
  • Forms
  • Tour booking
  • Proposals/prospecting
  • Auctions
  • Sales
  • Auditions and submissions
  • Job search
  • Collection management
  • Awarding grants

In general, users seem incredibly happy with the number of features they receive from Sumac. They also praise Sumac’s customer support, how easy the software is to use, and how customizable it is.

Pricing

Sumac offers four different pricing plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Each plan varies in the number of add-ons, contacts, and users available. Each plan integrates directly with QuickBooks Online to connect all of your data.

  • Bronze: The Bronze plan is free and includes all basic CRM features, email support, 1 user, and up to 500 contacts.
  • Silver: The Silver plan is $20/mo and gives you the basic CRM features, 2 add-ons, phone and email support, support for 1 user, and up to 1,000 contacts.
  • Gold: The Gold plan is Sumac’s custom pricing option where you can add the exact number of add-ons that your organization needs. It also includes the Basic CRM features, phone and email support, unlimited users, and up to 30,000 contacts.
  • Platinum: The Platinum plan is $400/mo and includes the basic CRM features, 5 add-ons, phone and email support, unlimited users, and unlimited contacts.

If you prefer cloud-based software over locally-installed software, you can upgrade to the cloud version of Sumac for an additional $25/mo.

Takeaway

Sumac is a great option for nonprofits who need a customizable software with ample features. Sumac has the only free nonprofit software option on this list and is also the only locally-installed option. If you are looking for a cheap nonprofit CRM, you can’t beat Sumac. Pair Sumac with QuickBooks Online and you may have a winner on your hands.

To learn more about Sumac, visit their website and take the software for a spin with their free trial. You can also schedule a demo of Sumac.

Get Started With Sumac

2) KindfulBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofits in need of a cloud-based nonprofit software with ample integrations. 

Kindful is a fully-featured, cloud-based nonprofit software that is used by organizations like the Special Olympics, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Habitat for Humanity. Kindful has been helping nonprofits since 2011. Their motto is “your mission is our mission” and they offer tons of features to help nonprofits succeed. The software is intuitive with a beautiful design and offers the most integrations of any nonprofit program on this list.

Features

Kindful’s UI is both appealing and easy to use. While Kindful doesn’t have quite as many unique features as Sumac, the features it does have are done well. Kindful offers contact management, donation management, event management, pledges, letters, and more.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Kindful is well-suited out to meet the needs of real nonprofit organizations. You can accept online donations and recurring donations, create contact groups, enter gifts, and email receipts automatically. There is also an unlimited number of customer donation pages, and donors receive their own Kindful login where they can view and manage their pledges and donations.

Some other great Kindful features include:

  • Donation campaigns
  • Scheduled reports
  • Activities
  • Donor analytics
  • Tax receipts
  • Activity trail

For the most part, Kindful has positive customer reviews. Users appreciate how easy the software is to use, which saves them time so they can focus on their nonprofits.  They also find the customer support team helpful and enjoy the 30+ integrations Kindful offers.

The only downside is that the software can be a bit spendy for smaller nonprofits with a large number of contacts.

Pricing

Kindful offers four different pricing plans. Each plan comes with all of the same features; the only difference is the number of contacts available. Each plan integrates with QuickBooks Online as well.

  • Up To 2,000 Contacts: $150/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 5,000 Contacts: $200/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 15,000 Contacts: $300/mo (billed annually)
  • Up To 25,000 Contacts: $400/mo (billed annually)

There is no additional charge for tech support and the only payment processing fees you pay are those charge by your specific payment processing company (i.e. Stripe, PayPal, etc.).

Takeaway

Kindful’s UI and customer donations pages make it a great choice for nonprofits. The software offers great CRM features and good donor management, as well as a unique donor login feature. If integrations are important for your organization, Kindful has the most offerings out of all four programs in this post.

To learn more about Kindful, visit their site and schedule a demo. You can also see how other real-life nonprofits are using Kindful in their customer stories.

Get Started With Kindful

3) BreezeBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Small to medium-sized churches in need of church-specific nonprofit software.

There are plenty of nonprofit programs out there that churches could make work, but Breeze wanted to make a software specifically create with churches in mind. This church management software is ideal for small to medium churches. The software is cloud-based, easy to use, and — best of all — it’s affordable.

Features

Breeze offers an impressive number of features designed specifically for churches. It allows you to manage contacts, tithes, and events, as well as online giving and volunteers.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

One of the features users love most about Breeze is the children’s ministry check-in feature. Breeze allows parents to check in their children to Sunday school and even lets you print name labels. You can also create custom forms to suit your church’s needs.

Church members get their own Breeze login where they can view their statements and donate online.

Other Breeze features include:

  • Event registration
  • Contact groups
  • Built-in emailing and texting
  • Donation tracking
  • Reports
  • Year-end statements
  • Pledges

Existing Breeze users praise the software for being so easy to use that everyone in their church can learn it, no matter what level of tech experience. Users also praise the customer support and the low cost of the software.

The only potential drawback we see with Breeze is that larger churches may outgrow the software’s capabilities.

Pricing

Breeze has a single cost of $50/mo. This includes every Breeze feature, unlimited users, phone support, email support, upgrades, and even data transfers.

Takeaway

When it comes to churches, there are very specific needs and requirements that a software must meet. Breeze offers the key features churches need, all while maintaining an affordable price. The software is easy to use and has a beautiful UI, and you can’t top unlimited users.

To see if Breeze is right for your church organization, schedule a demo or sign up for a free trial on Breeze’s website.

Get Started With Breeze

4) NeonCRMBest Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

Best For…

Nonprofits in need of a comprehensive CRM solution.

NeonCRM is a cloud-based nonprofit software founded back in 2004. Over 85% of NeonCRM’s staff has a nonprofit background, so they know exactly what nonprofits need. With several pricing plans and a nice selection of features, there’s a little something for everyone with this software.

Features

NeonCRM has an attractive UI that is well-organized and highly developed. A few users have complained that the software is unintuitive at times, but the majority find NeonCRM easy to use.

The software offers a good number of features, including contact management, volunteer management, donations, event planning, and more.

Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online

If you go with the smallest NeonCRM pricing plan, you’ll have to choose between either the fundraising or membership module, though with any other plan you get access to both. NeonCRM has good automations like automatic receipting and batch donations. You can also create custom fundraising pages and can even indicate the relationship between contacts.

Like Kindful, users get their own contact login where they can view their history and manage donations.

In addition, NeonCRM offers:

  • Campaigns
  • Thank yous and gifts
  • User permissions
  • Volunteer project management
  • Prospects
  • Grants
  • Event registration
  • Reports
  • Letters

In terms of customer reviews, NeonCRM receives relatively high praise. Users appreciate the software’s ease of use and praise the customer support team. The software also offers a handy MailChimp integration.

The only drawback of the software is that it can get a bit expensive.

Pricing

NeonCRM has three different pricing plans: Essentials, Impact, and Empower. The exact cost of each plan varies depending on how many contacts you need and if you need data entry assistance.

  • Essentials: Starts at $50/mo. Must choose between fundraising or membership. Includes event management, campaigns, automatic receipts, reports, contact management, and volunteer management. Does not include a QuickBooks Online integration.
  • Impact: Starts at $110/mo. Includes both fundraising and memberships. Includes all of the features from the Essentials plan, plus web forms, online store, customer survey builder, peer-to-peer fundraising, and a QuickBooks Online integration.
  • Empower: Starts at $200/mo. Includes all of the features form the Impact plan, plus donor search, live chat, and visual phone support.

Customer support may cost extra depending on the plan. Download NeonCRM’s pricing .pdf for all of the details.

Takeaway

NeonCRM is a comprehensive CRM solution with a few great nonprofit additions. The software is beautifully designed and is a great choice for organizations seeking to build an appealing online presence and brand. While Neon CRM can get expensive (especially considering that the QuickBooks Online integration is limited to the two higher plans), it may still be worth it for some medium to large-sized nonprofits.

Learn more about NeonCRM on their website, or contact NeonCRM directly for a free trial or demo.

Get Started With NeonCRM

Which Nonprofit Software Is Right For Me?

When it comes to choosing the perfect nonprofit software to integrate with QuickBooks Online for your organization, think carefully about your nonprofit’s needs. Which features do you need? How many users need to use the software? Do you need cloud-based software or mobile apps? All of these factors, as well as your budget, will determine which nonprofit software is right for.

QuickBooks Online does have two other donor management integrations — Method:Donor and Donor Receipts — if you need an even simpler solution. That said, Sumac, Kindful, Breeze, and NeonCRM are your best bets if you want to integrate fully-featured nonprofit software with QuickBooks online.

If you’re still not certain if QuickBooks Online is the best choice for your nonprofit, take a look at our Top 10 Best Nonprofit Accounting Apps For 2018 for more options.

The post Best Nonprofit Integrations For QuickBooks Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know In 2018

At the outset, email marketing can seem like an overwhelming prospect. There are so many things to do — building your subscriber base, designing attractive messages, tracking click-through rates, following anti-spam laws, and more than anything else, writing actual emails for your readers. The good news is that these jobs don’t have to be your responsibility alone. Nearly all email marketing software options available today come with some form of automation, allowing users to create pre-made email campaigns and messages and automatically send them when certain conditions are met.

If your time is being consumed with email work, you aren’t getting the most from your software. There are several email marketing best practices you can employ to make your life easier.

Let’s dive in and explore some ways you can make your email marketing app do the work for you!

Level 1 Automation: Welcome Messages

If you are thinking of email marketing purely as a newsletter service that will send out updates to subscribers, I want to encourage you to expand your thinking a bit. Yes, you can use your email service provider (ESP) to write and send newsletters, but most email marketing software can be and do so much more! To move out of the newsletter comfort zone, let’s take a look at one of the most basic forms of automation that comes standard in nearly every app out there: welcome messages.

The idea here is simple. As soon as an interested person creates an account or joins your mailing list, they get an automatic message from you welcoming them to the group. It’s a great chance to introduce yourself, tell them more about your work, and win them over with general charm. Is this email marketing tactic a bit basic? Sure. But it is also a great opportunity to win the loyalty of customers from the outset. (You can also get pretty creative with your welcome messages if you want to spice things up.)

Automated welcome messages come standard with such industry leaders as MailChimp (read our review) and Emma (read our review), but you can also find it in simpler ESP’s like Mad Mimi (read our review). Basically, in a world dominated by AI and machine learning, it would be a surprise if an email marketing developer did not include this capability in their app. But where do we go from here? Further up and further in!

Level 2 Automation: Abandoned Cart Notifications

The next level of automation in email marketing is conceptually quite similar to the welcome message but involves a bit more set up. This email marketing strategy is only useful if you have an online store. If you do run an online store, you are almost certainly familiar with the frustration of abandoned shopping carts. Most of the time, those customers never return to buy their goods and pay you some hard-earned cash. But this is an area where your ESP can help you out. Automated abandoned cart reminder messages!

The gist of this feature is that your ESP keeps track of all the customer activity in your eCommerce store. When someone on your email list adds an item to their cart and then leaves, it will send a message out reminding them about your product. Some email marketing software providers allow you to set up a whole yes/no chain of possible emails, tracking click-through rates and offering discounts, special offers, and more as an enticement to return. But all operate on the basic principle of keeping a digital eye on your customer and sending tactical pre-determined prompts to (hopefully) bring them back into the fold. As a committed internet shopper myself, I can attest to the effectiveness of this strategy!

Though many ESPs offer this level of automation, I have been most impressed by Emma, which I mentioned earlier, and GetResponse (read our review). Both offer advanced chain-of-event automations designed to bring customers back to your store over the course of several interactions, all of which are handled automatically.

This is pretty advanced stuff, but it’s time to take this thing to the top.

Level 3 Automation: Dynamic Content Creation

The highest level of automation available in email marketing is what several ESPs term “dynamic content.” The idea behind this is that you sit down and create a wide spectrum of content, attach a definition to each type, then allow your ESP to sort out the best way to deliver the content (in the form of emails) to individual subscribers. Obviously, you will need to spend some significant time creating compelling content (and strategic subject lines) for advanced email campaigns in the first place, but the upshot is that your customers and subscribers will get customized, personalized messages tailored just for them. Your open rates will be so much better if the folks on your email list are receiving high-quality, custom content.

The ability to create dynamic content is considerably less common in email marketing software than either of the prior two forms of automation. Notable exceptions include the ever-present Emma, as well as Active Campaign (read our review). Keep in mind, though, that dynamic content is often locked behind a paywall: you need to subscribe to top-tier payment plans in order to get access to it.

Final Thoughts:

When using email marketing software, the goal is to save time, not waste it. Fortunately, most ESPs offer some level of automation. Knowing what your software can do is key to saving as much time as possible. Whether you are starting with simple welcome message emails or working all the way up to dynamic content, a little effort spent on email marketing best practices at the outset will pay off in the end, saving you time while your email software does the work for you.

Want even more advanced email marketing tips? This article explores 40 ways you can write better emails. ESP blogs can also be excellent resources for detailed email marketing tactics. MailChimp has written a comprehensive email marketing field guide, and Constant Contact has written a complete guide to becoming a better email marketer.

Looking for a good ESP for your business? Our independent email marketing software reviews explore the pricing, customer service, features, and integrations of all the top ESPs. For a quick overview of the industry, check out Merchant Maverick’s email marketing software comparison table.

The post Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know In 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Stripe VS Square

Stripe VS Square
✓ Products and Services ✓
✓ Compatible Hardware ✓
✓ Fees and Rates ✓
✓ Sales and Advertising Transparency ✓
Customer Service and Technical Support ✓
✓ Negative Reviews and Complaints ✓
✓ Positive Reviews and Testimonials ✓
Tie Final Verdict  Tie
Read Review Read Review
Visit Site Visit Site

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

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

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

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

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

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

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

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

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

Stripe’s additional tools include:

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

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

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

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

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

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

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

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

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

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

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

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

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

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

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

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

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

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

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs

There is a myth making the rounds on the wide world of the internet that email marketing has outlived its usefulness, but that is simply untrue. The data is in, and email marketing campaigns can have a wide variety of positive effects on your business:

Having said that, some of the software providers in the email marketing world charge a crippling price for smaller businesses. Before you hang your heads in defeat, though, take heart. There are a number of free email marketing software apps that might suit your needs without ever costing you a cent. With a free email marketing tool, you’re not going to have access to unlimited emails and templates, and you’ll be restricted to a certain number of email addresses. Marketing automation tools may also be limited or non-existent with a free plan. But if you need to send out a simple email newsletter to your contacts and want basic access to click-through rates and other simple analytics, free email marketing services can be a godsend.

Compiled here for your reading pleasure is Merchant Maverick’s favorites in the free email marketing software world. A quick word about criteria: Each of these apps were evaluated based on their feature set, ease of use, and pros vs cons. With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Benchmark

Serving upwards of 73,000 users around the globe, Benchmark (read our review) has not moved on from its original mission of serving small businesses. With a reputation for great customer service and ease-of-use, this is one of the most widely recommended email marketing apps out there. And, as you might expect since it is on this list, there is a free version!

It should come as no surprise that the free version of Benchmark is less powerful than the versions you actually pay for. With a subscriber cap of 2,000 members and a limitation of 14,000 emails per month, the free version of Benchmark will be best suited to the email campaigns of very small businesses and nonprofits. It is the other features, or, rather, lack of them, that might make the final decision for you. Non-paying users of Benchmark will find that they have access to an email builder and little more. You’ll get the “insanely simple drag-and-drop editor,” a wide library of templates, and an automated signup form, as well as Google analytics, several campaign styles (drip and RSS), and a few other handy items. What you don’t get, however, are unlimited emails, basic features like A/B testing and more advanced tools like cart abandonment automation and other automated behavioral tracking features.

As I mentioned above, Benchmark is generally considered to be extremely easy to use. Most comments in user reviews agree that navigating the app, building emails, and implementing new campaigns are all done with a minimal learning curve. Based on these user reviews, as well as my own test of the product, I have to agree with Benchmark’s marketing claim: “No design experience required.”

Generally speaking, Benchmark has far more pros than cons. Beyond the ease of use I mentioned above, this company also maintain some of the best customer service in the industry, with 24/7 phone, live chat, and email support. As for cons, the major downside for free users will be the limitations placed on free accounts regarding Benchmark’s more advanced features. Some users have also complained that their experience with the app was plagued by bugs, though I should note that those affected seem few and far between.

SendinBlue

SendinBlue (read our review) is best known for the accessibility of its software. With a focus on simplicity in both features and pricing, this is an app that aims to get new users in particular up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible. Generally speaking, SendinBlue is a good choice for anyone looking to get great bang for their buck, especially if you are willing to work with a simplified interface. Indeed, as an ESP (email service provider), SendinBlue is clearly not intended for experienced marketers, but rather for single proprietors and small LLC owners. Appropriately, then, the free version of SendinBlue offers an interesting alternative to the other apps we will discuss here.

Unlike Benchmark, SendinBlue does not limit how many subscribers or contacts their free users can have. Likewise, there is no limit in place for monthly emails. Rather, there is a daily limit of 300 emails. From one perspective, this limitation may seem an opportunity to reach significantly more subscribers than would be possible with Benchmark’s plan. From another perspective, it means someone at your (presumably) small company will be spending at least some time every day working on emails; isn’t that why you wanted an email marketing app anyway? Fortunately, SendinBlue does make it easy to design attractive emails with a nice email editor and template library. Free users also get real-time reporting, phone and email support, and customizable sign-up forms. As with Benchmark, you lose access to many features by choosing to use SendinBlue for free, though since SendinBlue is a simpler app in the first place, the limitations seem less important.

The biggest pro for using SendinBlue is the all-around simplicity of this app, as well as the template library, which is varied and diverse. Like Benchmark, SendinBlue tends to impress customers with their support options as well. In terms of cons, there are only a few integrations available, and some users complain of an outdated interface as well. On the whole, SendinBlue is widely liked by those who use it, though it does not inspire the same superlative-laden user reviews of some of its competitors.

MailChimp

best ecommerce apps

MailChimp (read our review) is pretty much synonymous with email marketing. Maybe it is the quirky name, maybe it is the goofy grin on the face of their mascot, but this app just sticks in the mind, making it one of the first examples I think of when discussing email marketing. Fortunately, if your budget does not have space for an ESP among so many other important expenses, you are in luck. There is a free version of MailChimp, widely regarded as one of the best in the business.

To start things off, if you want to use MailChimp for free, you are looking at a subscriber cap of 2,000 users and an email limit of 12,000 per month. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Benchmark allows more emails per month, but where this email marketing platform sets itself apart is in the features free users gain access to. The standard email editor and template library are in place, as expected, but MailChimp also provides an automated email campaigns features that most of their competitors keep locked behind paywalls. These automations allow you to pre-write messages and determine triggers that will prompt the app to automatically send follow-up emails based on the behavior of individual subscribers. Whether it is a welcome message for new contacts, a notification of an abandoned shopping cart, or even a gentle reminder that your business still exists to customers that have been away awhile, if you are trying to build an ecommerce business, these tools can be invaluable to you.

The pros of using MailChimp should be readily apparent. With powerful features, a user-friendly interface, and a minimal learning curve — for the low monthly cost of $0, it may seem that there is no reason to not set up a MailChimp account this very second. However, unlike the other two apps discussed above, MailChimp does not have a spotless customer service record, with some users finding communication slow and unresponsive. Fortunately, there are more satisfied customers than disgruntled ones, but it remains a concern.

Final Thoughts

Basically, what we have here are three email marketing apps that would leave nearly any subscriber satisfied. Having said that, I think there is a definite winner here: MailChimp. Especially if you are working in e-commerce, the automation tools included in this free email marketing software may prove indispensable to growing your business.

Having said that, I can think of a few reasons for using the other software programs I described above. If your needs exceed the 12,000 emails offered by MailChimp, Benchmark might be the better choice for you. If you need an extra-simplified feature set, SendinBlue’s free plan may be more attractive. On top of that, both these alternatives have higher reputations for customer service, certainly more so than Mailchimp.

In the end, the best way to figure out which free email marketing software app is best for you is to give one or all of them a try. Considering they are free, there is really not much to lose. Your email newsletter is just begging to be sent, and this month is as good a time as any! Start generating contacts, write that opt-in email, create some sign-up forms, and get out there!

If you’re looking for a little more bang for your buck, you might consider doing a free trial of another email marketing platform like AWeber, Constant Contact, Mad Mimi, or Active Campaign, or simply using the paid version of any one of the programs above. With a premium service, you’re going to get more templates, unlimited emails and contacts, advanced marketing automations, social media integration, and better all-around email marketing tools. Read our full selection of email marketing software reviews for more information, or check out our ESP comparison chart.

The post The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!)

How To Promote Your Website

So you want to promote your website online…for free, preferably.

By now, you probably know from experience that the “build it and they will come” philosophy is flawed. You can have great content — in fact, you need at least “good” content — but unless you know how to promote it, your site is a ghost town. But you also don’t have the budget to go straight to advertising online.

You don’t need a grab bag of tips and tricks. You don’t need best practices to “go viral”. Instead – what you need is an actual process to follow that you can consistently do – to create a “flywheel effect“.

Here is an exact, step-by-step strategy that I recommend to anyone who wants to promote their website online. The specific details vary, but it’s a pretty tried and true path for anyone who wants to promote their website.

Start with Definitions & Goals

Before you do anything, you’ve got to start with the foundation: what are you trying to achieve?

Aside – “making money” or “getting customers” does not count. The key is to get specific. Quantify your marketing in other words.

This is the part so many people either get stuck on or skip entirely. Usually, website owners just want to dive in and start doing, doing, doing.

While getting your site out there and testing is great, you need a balance. It’s just as important to test with the right methods as it is to collect a ton of data and learn from it

There are three things you need to figure out before you dive in:

  • what you’re promoting
  • who you’re promoting it to
  • how much you can actually spend on promotion

Let’s break them down.

What You’re Promoting (Your Product)

What is it that you’re actually offering/promoting on your website? A product? A service? Valuable content?

Whatever it is, you need to be able to define it and sell the value. What makes you different from the million and one others out there?

Remember, this doesn’t need to be your life’s mission. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You need to define your product in a clear and concise way. Keep it simple and to the point  — and make sure you emphasize why you’re different.

Who You’re Promoting It To (Persona)

A persona is marketing jargon for a profile of your target audience and having one is crucial to your marketing.

Before your start promoting your website, you’ve got to know who you’re actually promoting it to. What do they want? What problems do they have? How do you solve those problems?

Create 2-4 personas for your brand that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, payscale, main frustrations and problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.

Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some sales and feedback to polish what you’re offering (your product/website/brand).

Nearly every business started this way (think about how Facebook started by targeting college students).Here’s a podcast episode explaining this concept[skip to the ~11 minute mark].

How Much You Can Spend on Promotion (Time & Financial Budget)

Thinking there’s no overhead online is lethal. You’ve got to put real numbers behind what you’re doing. Marketing costs money or time… so put real goals in place.

Outline your budget, even if it feels arbitrary. Define your product/services costs, profit margins, and what kind of marketing spend gives you a positive return. Here’s a more extensive post on quant-based marketing.”

Lay the Foundation

Once you have your goals and definitions laid out, it’s time to lay the foundation. While “build it and they will come” is a flawed philosophy, once you start getting them to come, you need to be sure what you’ve created is decent and captures data.

This is divided into three steps:

Website / Destination Set Up

To promote anything online long-term*, you need a decent website. Whether you’re an ecommerce business who needs an online store, a local business with a brick and mortar store, or an educational website that needs a place to publish content, a decent-looking website will put you ahead and allow you to do more with your brand and marketing.

*Aside – when I say long-term – I mean that you don’t want your project compromised by the whims of a platform (I’m looking at you, Facebook Pages and Google My Business). For short-term projects, plenty of people do well with marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy while content publishers do great with a good email marketing platform.

If you don’t have a website yet, I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here. There is some learning curve, but it will provide maximum versatility.

For ecommerce shops, I recommend either using a high-quality hosted ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce or set up an ecommerce website with WordPress and WooCommerce.

If you have a website and know it’s a mess, use this guide to help you clean it up.

Create Focused Pages

Depending on what you’re goals are, creating focused pages can be an essential part of conversion.

Focus pages are landing pages that target a very specific need, but they don’t have to be complex. They are simply pages that visitors can land on and take a specific action (buy your product, sign up for your service, etc.)

Why use landing pages? Because nobody cares about or even sees your homepage. Your homepage is for people who already know who you are and are just navigating around to find what they already know exists.

Landing pages, on the other hand, are for new (or returning) visitors to land and convert (AKA take whatever action you want them to take). These pages should target what your audience is searching for on a granular level.

For example, if you’re an ecommerce business, you’d want to create product pages targeting specific product information (i.e. Blue Swimwear) or a specific audience (i.e. Swimwear for Women Distance swimmers).

For service-based businesses, you’d want to create service pages targeting what your customers are searching for (i.e. Atlanta Dentist or Root Canal Services)

For sites that are focused on content creation, think about pages that can organize your posts into broader topics and orient readers who land deeper into your site and encourage them to take additional actions (like reading more or subscribing). Use this guide to using category and tag pages in WordPress to accomplish this.

If you have way too many idea – then think about how to organize your site by topic / keyword.

Set Up Analytics

Before you start promoting your website, you need a way to capture data through an analytics platform. There are tons of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).

If you’re unclear on what Google Analytics actually does, start here.

Depending on what you’re promoting (see above), you’ll want to set up specific goals. For example, if you’re an ecommerce website, you’ll want to make sure you have Ecommerce checkout set up. If you’re a local business, you’ll want to track thinks like clicks to call and contact form completions. Use this guide to set up call tracking in Google Analytics.

You should also link Google Analytics to Google AdWords and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics. And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website.

Work on Getting Traffic

Now that you have the foundation down, it’s time to get people to your website. This where a lot of people get way too detailed… way too fast. Why?

Because not all marketing channels operate at the same speed. They’re also not all used the same way — they have different strengths and weaknesses. They complement and supplement each other instead of compete, and it’s all about how you use them together.

For example, the US Navy’s main war-going unit is the Aircraft Carrier Group. But it’s not just made up of an aircraft carrier. Instead, it’s a grouping of different types of ships that all do different things at different speeds so that the whole group together is nearly invincible.

A lot of business owners want to start with SEO or with a fully fleshed out social strategy. To keep to the analogy, that’s like sending your battleship and aircraft carrier to scout out for the rest of the group.

Bad idea. Battleships (aka SEO) and Aircraft Carriers (Social) take forever to get going and to turn. Save those until you know where you’re going. You do not want to invest hours and hours and tons of resources and thought into SEO and Social if you have no idea if they will pay off.

Start with channels that can speed up, slow down and change direction at will. That means 3 things: direct outreach, community involvement, and paid traffic, specifically AdWords Search Network.

Testing with Direct Outreach

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of promoting something because you think it’s amazing. But here’s the thing — what if no one wants it?

Too often, we make assumptions for our audience. So before you go into a full-blow promotion plan and start running ads, emailing everyone on your list, and working on your SEO tactics, it’s good to get some validation.

Start by soliciting feedback from a small, targeted group. These should be people who are active in your niche, would ideally collaborate with someone like you, would give you some feedback and maybe even promote your website for you.

What we’re really doing here is finding complementary marketing “parents” — think of other bloggers and businesses your target audience also visits. There are infinite ways to do this process. The key piece is to find someone who shares your interests or has a need that you can fill. Here are some examples.

Friends & Family

Ok – friends and family will often be interested by default. They won’t be able to provide useful feedback. But here’s the thing – you are probably friends because you share interests. Additionally, you might share interests with your family.

Those family and friends are a great place to start with your outreach. It doesn’t mean spamming your Facebook page. It does mean not being afraid to show off your work personally to interested friends and family.

Individual Brands / Influencers

I hate the term “influencers” – and I don’t think that you can or should compete with big brands for social media celebrities. Instead, you should use your own advantage as a DIY website owner (rather than social media manager) to find people that you respect and listen to. Figure out what they need / want. Do they need co-promotion? Topic ideas? Reach out and pitch.

Individual Bloggers / Site Owners

A blogger of any size & influence will be deluged with pitches from big companies. Again – use your advantage as an actual site owner to go around the social media managers to reach small and up and coming bloggers. Use your agility to solve problems that agencies cannot quickly solve.

Journalists

Journalists have an infinite black hole of content that they need to fill. They are always looking for a story (not a product). If you can create a story based on your insider expertise, then you should pitch them. Keep it short, keep it relevant. Start with small sites and use successes to pitch bigger publications.

The good example is a local package delivery service pitching a story about “porch pirates” to news outlets in Philadelphia.

Complementary Business Owners

Your product probably pairs with other companies’ products. Swimwear pairs with beach resorts. Festivals pair with beverage companies. Wood refinishing pairs with historic preservationists. The list is infinite.

Find businesses where you can co-promote.

Vendors

Your vendors want you to succeed…because your success means more sales for them. Pitch your vendors on co-promotions.

Then, get to emailing and messaging. Send them to your landing pages or content piece to buy, subscribe, or review. Ask for feedback and referrals and keep notes!

Keep in mind that you are emailing people. It’s easy to get into a spammy quantity mindset. But remember that that a single, quality connection is worth way more than you can measure right now. Your goal is to get feedback and access. You cannot and should not make this a primary sales channel. Your goal is feedback to promote more effectively and more broadly.

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail.

Find Like-Minded Communities

To expand your direct promotion efforts means finding groups of individuals. And that means finding communities.

Communities can not only provide a lot more feedback – but you can also find opportunities to get sales.

The issue with a community is that you need to be a part of it. Nobody likes someone who shows up to promote rather than participate.

Even though you might need sales right now – you absolutely must set aside that need and look to the long-term.

Figure out what the community likes & needs. Provide that. Focus on being overly helpful rather than promotional. Here are some examples.

Industry Specific Forums

Whether it’s ProductHunt / HackerNews in tech or Wanelo for trendy shopping – there is an industry specific forum for everything. Find it and get involved.

Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups are super-accessible and cover topics on everything under the Sun. They are a great way to build an organic presence on Facebook now that business newsfeed organic reach does not exist. Use creative Facebook Open Graph searches to find the non-obvious ones.

Website Forums

Yes – website forums still exist. And yes, they can be extraordinarily powerful. Do your research and get in touch with moderators.

Blog Comments

Yes – people still read these. Set up alerts via Google or via RSS feeds and stay involved in relevant discussions on high-traffic blog posts.

Reddit & Crowdsourced Forums

Reddit is the world’s largest general forum – but everything from Kickstarter to Pinterest could technically be considered a forum. Again, find where your target audience hangs out. Focus less on teh actual platform and more on the people using it.

Amazon Comments

Ever noticed the “questions about this product” or the discussion sections on Amazon product? Yep – those have insane engagement…and provide an opportunity to piggyback on Amazon’s traffic. Look for complementary products / services to yours that your target audience is purchasing. Use your expertise to answer questions.

LinkedIn & Business Groups

This angle is similar to crowdsourced forums – but for B2B and vendor relationships. Discussions happen all over the place on the Internet. Everything from Slack to LinkedIn Pulse to IRC are open. They are all tools for people to connect. Think about who your people are and find where & how they talk.

Guest Posting

Do you know of high-traffic blogs that your target audience reads (not simply blogs in your industry)? Find out guest post requirements and go there.

Once you’ve found a channel that you feel comfortable with and “get” – focus on expanding your presence and being as helpful as possible. People will notice and talk.

Using Paid Traffic to Get Data

Jumping right into ads isn’t always the best approach for promoting your website. It can get expensive, especially for the return on investment. However, our goal here is a bit different.

Using some (even on a small budget) search advertising can be a great way to get data faster. Instead of relying solely on direct outreach and a content strategy that takes a few months to grow, we can get lots of data in a short amount of time by doing some advertising.

For a full breakdown of different paid advertising channels, see this guide about how to advertise your website online.

You should be doing a few different things with this data:

  • Looking at what keywords are driving conversions. AdWords gives you this information.
  • Looking at which landing pages (or content pieces) perform best based on your goals. How can you optimize those pages and use those findings to improve the ones that aren’t performing?
  • Determining which ad copy performs best
  • For ecommerce, identifying which types of offers do people find most enticing (i.e. free shipping, 20% off welcome discount, etc.)
  • Setting up retargeting campaigns – not generic “buy, buy, buy” campaigns but interesting retargeting ads that you can afford to do when your traffic is small. If you want to divert some paid budget to Facebook, follow this guide.
  • Once you have retargeting campaigns going, you should be looking at where your audience goes online. We covered this topic on this podcast episode.
  • Improving your ad campaigns in general

Understanding Organic Search

The world of organic traffic sources is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.

For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.

You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for commercial keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.

When you’re setting up your website promotion strategy, you’ll just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

SEO boils down to 3 components.

The first component is technical SEO.

Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. Here’s “Technical SEO for Nontechnical Marketers”

The good news is that you are using WordPress or an HTML-based website builder (aka not Flash or Wix), you have the big barriers taken care of. THe same applies to ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce or a self-hosted store with WordPress + Woocommerce.

If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the one SEO thing worth paying for. Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”

If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.

If you are using Shopify or Bigcommerce, then your technical issues are 90% solved if you have it set up by the book (Shopify’s guide and Bigcommerce’s guide). You should just be sure to use their SEO-related toolset to implement your on-page content, which happens to be the second component of SEO.

The second component of SEO is on-page content and optimization

It is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website.

I wrote about the concept of keyword mapping and some basic on-page SEO concepts (like keyword research, title tags and meta descriptions, and using Google Search Console) previously.

Depending on what your goals are, there are a ton of different pieces of content that can bring in visitors. The goal is to bring in new people AND support sales. Don’t create keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision. Make the authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market.

The great part about creating the absolute best content that you can find about everything your target market cares about related to your product is that it will naturally drive the third component of SEO – off-page factors.

“Off-page factors,” is the third component of SEO

This is SEO-speak for getting links, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.

Sketchy links, the type that you buy for $5, can harm your website. However, quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in search results.

There are a lot of ways to get links. But the best ways that I’ve found for website promotion are:

  • Creating content that no one else has done well, and then promoting it. I wrote this guide to creating prequalified content. I’m a fan of this guide for the promotion angle as well
  • Hustle PR promotion – Find the blogs they read. Find the news websites they follow. Find the social media feeds they are involved with. Research and stalk every single one until you can craft a manual email pitch (see direct outreach above)
  • Get even more ideas in my guide to Ahrefs

Using Social Media

If SEO is your giant battleship, I think of social as your aircraft carrier. It’s easy to burn a lot of energy flying planes for no reason, but nothing gives you a tactical edge and far reach like your aircraft.

Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.

The key is to realize that you don’t have to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.

So with that said, go ahead and claim your branding across all the various social networks, but focus on one or two that will generate an outsize of impact on your goals.

This is particularly effective for getting feedback on what you’re promoting. Similarly to direct outreach, you can use social media to solicit public feedback through forums like Reddit, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, etc. Just remember — it’s not about blasting your message out there for everyone and their mother. It’s about targeting the right audience. Find where they are and go there.

For the other profiles, learn how to automate them so you can have a presence without actually interacting. Set up alerts so you can “listen” even when you aren’t actively participating.

Lastly, remember you can make the process faster by paying to jump ahead. Just as you used AdWords or alternative channels to collect data on what works and what doesn’t for your website promotion goals, you can use social ads to test networks.

Next Steps

That’s the website promotion strategy I would map out for any website. It’s a long post, but it’s a plan you can implement quickly by breaking each section into small, doable steps.

Immediate next steps: start by defining your goals, personas, and revenue/budget. Then, put a plan in place that takes you through each phase of the process outlined above in a methodical manner. Go one section at a time and break each down into smaller steps you can follow without getting overwhelmed.

I’ve also written versions of this post for both local businesses and ecommerce websites.

The post How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!) appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Top 3 Project Management Apps For Construction Firms

 

Project managers are often stereotyped as office stiffs with permanent stacks of Stick It notes in their back pockets, quietly and heroically keeping the wheels on the bus going round and round. However, real humans do not fit easily into stereotypes — and this one is simply too narrow to stand up to even mild scrutiny. After all, all kinds of fields have projects to manage, and many projects take form far from an office building.

For example, project managers based in the construction industry need a powerful suite of tools at their disposal: communication with contractors and clients, document storage, scheduling apps, and more. Beyond that, individual construction workers need features for time tracking, task management, schedule reminders, and communication. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the three best project management apps for construction workers.

But first, some criteria. To work well for construction projects, task management apps need scheduling and document sharing features, a simple and flexible UI that works well on the go, and, of course, an affordable monthly cost. Read on for a comprehensive look at the following three apps — the best of the best when it comes to construction project management.

Monday.com

Unlike the other two apps we will be covering, Monday.com (formerly dapulse) is not a bespoke project management app. It does, however, meet all of our criteria handily. Let’s start with the price.

Monday.com is not the cheapest project management app I have ever covered. It is, however, entirely competitive and reasonably priced when compared with other, similar applications. There are a number of pricing plans ranging from “basic” to “enterprise.” The lower-priced plans (especially the “standard” plan, which grants 50 GB of storage) all provide the most valuable features of this product and come down to less than $10/user/month if you have 50 or more employees. If you don’t want to worry about managing your storage space, you might want to spring for the “Pro” plan, which comes with unlimited file storage. You do, of course, pay extra for the storage, with the price coming down to around $12/user/month on that plan.

In terms of features, Monday.com ticks all of our boxes for construction. You get file storage (how much depends, of course, on your subscription level), scheduling, and communication with both team members and clients. The Gantt chart (or timeline) is particularly good; adding items to the chart and assigning them to team members is easy and making modifications to the schedule is as simple as clicking and dragging. If I had one complaint or reservation about Monday.com’s feature set, it would be that the timeline has no dependencies; the addition of this feature would make this app incredibly well-suited to construction work.

Monday.com boasts an extremely well-designed, highly unique, UI. That said, I test a lot of project management programs, so I was thrown off for a moment by the one-term-for-everything philosophy of this app. Basically, everything you do in Monday.com comes down to ‘Pulses.’ You can assign team members or clients to a pulse, add deadlines, send messages, and even create hashtags for pulses. This methodology required an adjustment period for me, accustomed as I am to the more common “task-list” format of Monday.com’s competitors. Fortunately, I think that users that are new to project management applications will not find pulses as flummoxing, especially with the help of some good onboarding training.

Overall, If you are looking for a flexible, simple, and robustly-featured solution to your construction project management needs, I would encourage you to check out Monday.com and give the free trial a shot.

CoConstruct

CoConstruct, unlike Monday.com, is a custom-built app for construction firms. Everything about this brand is construction-focused, from the name of the application itself to the marketing and support materials on the company’s website. And this seems to be a winning formula. In fact, CoConstruct is most highly reviewed construction project management app on Capterra.

Unfortunately, CoConstruct does not make their pricing options transparent. The closest thing they have to a standard price “list” is a short reference to the fact that prices “start at only $99/month.” There are references to other plans, but you must contact CoConstruct directly to get concrete details. Fortunately, with prices starting out relatively low (assuming you have 30+ employees), it seems likely that you will be able to get higher-level plans without breaking the bank.

CoConstruct is a very full-featured program. The company breaks down its feature set into three categories: COmmunicate, COordinate, and COntrol. It is a pretty snazzy way to describe what this application can do.

The COmmunicate field deals with internal communications between employees and clients. This section of the application can handle estimating, bidding, proposals, and expense tracking. Crew members can even upload pictures from job sites to confirm completed work or detail potential issues.

The COordinate section of the app handles scheduling, task lists, time tracking, and more. I want to particularly highlight the time-tracking features, which function similarly to those of Tsheets (read our review) and Timely (read our review). It is cool to see features from other apps folded into this one; that represents saved money and time for you, the customer.

The final section of CoConstruct, COntrol, is all about financials. This covers, of course, the proposals, bidding, and estimates I mentioned earlier, but also long-term budgeting and an excellent Quickbooks (read our review) integration.

Most importantly, CoConstruct is easy to use. I have to admit, when I first looked through some of the screenshots from this app, I was worried. A few parts of the UI are pretty outdated, which in my experience can translate to a steep learning curve. Fortunately, in CoConstruct’ case, I was wrong. Yes, certain elements of CoConstruct’s UI are not exactly breathtaking, but most of the app is well-designed and solid. I especially like the mobile apps, which allow crew members and foremen to easily keep track of their tasks, communicate with clients and subcontractors, and more.

While it is a little annoying that CoConstruct keeps some things hidden until you reach out to them directly (like their pricing), in the end, their high customer satisfaction rate is entirely justified. If you are looking for a comprehensive project management solution for your construction business, this may be the one for you.

Buildertrend

Considering the fact that it has users in over 40 countries, awards from reviewers, and over one million projects completed from within the app, it’s easy to see why Buildertrend refers to itself as an industry standard for construction project management. With features that cover commercial construction, remodeling, and homebuilding, this app is designed to be your one-stop-shop for managing tasks, projects, and more.

Buildertrend’s pricing system, funnily enough, reminds me of CoConstruct’s. Like that program, Buildertrend starts at $99/month. We get a few more details with Buildertrend, however, including confirmation that this price includes unlimited users. That is fantastic, and it means that larger companies will find greater value using this app. On a less positive note, the baseline price only includes one project; if your firm handles multiple sites at one time, you will need to shell out the extra cash for more projects. Having said that, Buildertrend takes pains to assure users that adding another project does not double the price; it seems that the more projects you buy, the less you pay per project. Just like it should be! Note that there is no free trial; if you choose to buy Buildertrend, you will have to do so without directly testing it first. Fortunately, there are plenty of in-depth videos to help give you an idea of exactly you will be paying for.

Buildertrend’s extensive feature set is divided into four categories: “Pre-Sale Process” features, “Project Management” features, “Financial Tools” features, and “Customer Management” features. There are 21 individual items within these categories, so rather than trying to explain everything here in this limited space, I want to point out some of my favorites.

First things first: One of those pre-sale features includes email marketing. I love it when apps combine features from other kinds of software into one place because it means that you, the user, are getting a more streamlined experience for a lower price. While the email builder is definitely less snazzy than some of the dedicated email marketing apps out there, it does the job well.

In terms of project management features, one of my favorites is the document markup tool. Need to make a change to a blueprint? Mark it in the document. Want to make sure a particular detail gets noticed? Highlight it in the document.

The last thing I want to highlight in terms of features comes from the customer management section. When decisions about color, style, and more need to be made, you can send your customers their options so they can quickly and easily get back to you.

Buildertrend is surprisingly simple to use, considering the number of features available. The best part of this is the full-featured mobile app. And I do mean full-featured– all 21 features are directly accessible from within the app and can be used on the go. Very few project management platforms make everything usable on the go, and it says a lot about the priorities of the team behind Buildertrend that they have gone that route. In an industry that is all about being out in the field, it seems like a wise choice indeed.

If you are looking for a full-featured, flexible, and easy-to-use project management app for your construction firm, I highly recommend heading over to Buildertrends website and checking them out.

Final Thoughts

If I had to pick one of these three apps, I think it would have to be Buildertrend. I like that they focus on serious, thorough, construction-focused project management without losing accessibility. CoConstruct is very similar, but I think Buildertrend is just a bit more usable. Having said that, it may just come down to personal preference regarding which one of these three you choose.

If you are working with a small team, Monday.com might be your best bet. If you represent a larger company, CoConstruct or Buildertrend might be better fits for you. Regardless, one of these apps will certainly provide you the tools you need to get out there and get building.

The post Top 3 Project Management Apps For Construction Firms appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses

small-business-credit-card-processing-app

Say you have a small retail business. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in a super-complicated POS, and you don’t want to deal with a multi-year processing contract. Frankly, the idea of trying to narrow down the options in both categories at the same time is a little bit daunting. But enter another option: an app for a tablet (or even a smartphone) that bundles payment processing and POS software all in one go, with no contract or commitment. A single app with all (or at least most) of the features a brick-and-mortar storefront could want. But what are the best credit card processing apps for small retail businesses?

Cost is definitely part of the consideration, but more than that you need to make sure any software you use actually delivers the features you need to run your business. Most processing apps tend not to be as full-featured as a full POS, but they are capable of delivering on core needs. After we go over which features should be a priority, we’ll get into the most promising apps that let you process credit cards and run your business together.

Credit Card Processing Apps For Small Retailers

In addition to choosing apps based on the most useful features, we had two other criteria in choosing the apps: first, they had to be mobile apps for tablets (and preferably smartphones). Second, they must offer a bundled payment solutions. A couple of the options on the list allow you to bring your own processor if you want, but they do offer their own payment option as a default.

In no particular ranking, here are my favorite picks for retail-focused credit card processing apps:

Square

Square business model and mobile credit card processingSquare does have a specialty POS app for retailers, called Square for Retail. That one doesn’t actually make the cut because it’s designed for larger businesses and it actually lacks many features found in the basic free app, Square Point of Sale.

Point of Sale has definitely come a long way from just a basic mobile POS app, and it’s absolutely a solution that will grow with your business. Its clear, transparent pricing strategy (2.75% for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions) and robust app make it an attractive option for retailers. But then there’s the assortment of add-on services (email marketing, appointment scheduling, loyalty, payroll and more) that all integrate seamlessly. Combined with the huge assortment of supported phones and tablets, and the wide mix of supported hardware, and it’s hard not to see the appeal.

While Square does offer payroll and employee management, these features will cost you more — $5 per employee per month for each.

Something I do want to point out: Square does have many iPad-only features, but much of its hardware is equally compatible with Android devices as it is iPads, which is a major departure from most apps that favor the Apple ecosystem.

PayPal Here

PayPal Here review: One of the top Square alternativesPayPal is an obvious choice for a lot of retailers, especially those who sell online as well as in person. If you’re not interested in eCommerce, PayPal is still a good option because it does integrate with some very well known POS systems. PayPal also has its own credit card processing app, PayPal Here.

While PayPal Here is not quite as robust as the other options on this list (especially regarding inventory), it’s a very stable app with great pricing (2.7% per swipe/dip/tap) and a wide array of supported devices and compatible hardware. It’s the only app on this list to support Windows devices at all, and the phones on your tablet or phone doubles as a barcode scanner for both Android and iOS. Plus, you get up to 1,000 free employee accounts.

Plus, near-instant access to funds through your PayPal account is a pretty awesome deal, especially if you get the PayPal Debit card. Add in free sub-user accounts with restricted permissions (something Square will charge you monthly for), and you can see why PayPal makes the cut.

Shopify

Shopify started as an eCommerce offering but these days it’s added a powerful POS app that also works on smartphones as well as tablets. Everything syncs up nicely for a seamless experience whether you’re selling online, in a store, or even on the go, and while the smartphone version of the app is more limited, it’s still quite functional. Shopify’s features definitely line up more with a full-fledged POS than just a mobile POS.

Unsurprisingly, that means it’s a bit more expensive than the two previous options on this list. Shopify’s plans start at a very reasonable $29/month for its online store. If you want the countertop retail solution, that’s a $49 add-on per month, but you don’t need to purchase additional licenses to add more devices, which definitely ups the value.

You can also create staff PINs without creating staff accounts — which means if only a few of you need admin privileges but you do have a large staff and want to track who is running the register, you can get PINs without paying for additional accounts.

However, I do want to call attention to an underplayed solution Shopify offers: its Lite plan. For $9/month, you can sell on Facebook and other social media platforms, add a buy button to your blog, and use the POS app. The caveat is that you can’t add the retail package to it — which means while you have the app, you don’t have support for the receipt printer or cash drawer.

ShopKeep

Like Shopify, ShopKeep is more of a full-fledged POS than a mobile unit. But unlike Shopify, it’s not an eCommerce solution. It’s an iPad POS targeting all kinds of small businesses: retailers, yes, but also restaurants and quick-service environments. ShopKeep specifically targets small and medium-sized businesses, whereas many of these solutions are happy to tout that they work for businesses of all sizes.

ShopKeep’s user interface is highly intuitive, but also feature-rich, which is a major contributor to its popularity. In addition to its advanced inventory tracking tools, you get employee time-keeping, customizable reporting, and more. It also has a record for excellent (unlimited) customer support via email or live chat.

Sadly, there’s no smartphone app support for processing, but ShopKeep does offer integrated payments. Merchants get an interchange-plus plan based on their volume, which is pretty awesome considering there’s no contract involved, either. Everything is on a month-to-month basis. There’s also an additional $69 monthly charge per register.

Honorable Mention: SumUp

While SumUp has a few limitations — it lacks, for example, the ability to process simultaneously on multiple devices — it is overall a solid credit card processing app. The app supports a solid item library and variants, plus convenient tax settings. While there’s no offline mode and no invoicing, SumUp does have an interesting feature in its SMS payments. The app allows you to send a text message to a phone, with a link embedded. Customers can open the link, enter their payment information and complete the transaction.

Pricing is identical to Square for retail transactions: 2.75%. There is no keyed entry option within the app, but the low-priced virtual terminal (at 2.9% + $0.15, even below Square’s rate) is a workaround, though not one you should use for the bulk of your processing.

While new to the US market, SumUp has been operating in Europe for a few years, so it definitely has experience in the processing industry, and so I expect it to see fewer growing pains than other new solutions.

Must-Have App Features for Retailers

It’s safe to say what app features a business needs tends to vary from one business to the next. But there are definitely commonalities — solid inventory management or the ability to print receipts, for example. Check out our comprehensive comparison chart below to see how these systems compare to one another. 

Square for retail review logo imageSquare PayPal Here Shopify Shopkeep SumUp
BASICS
Integrated Processing Yes Yes Yes (Other options available) Yes (other options available) Yes
Processing Rates (for Most Swiped/Dipped Transactions) 2.75% 2.70% 2.70% Interchange-Plus based on volume 2.75%
Monthly Fee $0 $0 Plans start at $9/month $69 per register $0
Number of Devices Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 1 (additional registers $69/month) 1
Tablet Support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android Apple Apple, Android
Smartphone support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android N/A Apple, Android
Email/SMS Receipts Email/SMS Email/SMS Email Only Email Only Email/SMS
Receipt Printer Connectivity Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB Bluetooth, LAN, Wireless Bluetooth, USB, LAN Bluetooth, Ethernet Bluetooth, LAN
Cash Drawer Connectivity Yes (Tablet Only, With Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Star Printer Connectivity) Yes (iPad Only, with Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Printer Connectivity) Yes (with Printer Connectivity)
Barcode Scanner Yes (Bluetooth for iPad only; USB for Android) Yes (USB for windows, device camera for iOS/Android) Yes (Bluetooth) Yes (Bluetooth) No
FEATURES
Split Tender Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Offline Processing Mode Yes No Very Limited No No
Full and Partial Returns Yes Yes Yes (including store credit) Yes (Check store credit) Full Only
Sub-User/Employee Accounts Yes (monthly fee) Yes (free) Yes (PINS/accounts) Yes Yes (Limited)
Discounts by $ or % Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Customizable Receipts Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Generate Invoices Yes Yes Yes No No
INVENTORY
Bulk Item Upload Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Counts Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Variants Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Item Photo Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Create Item From App or Dashboard Yes Yes Yes Yes No (App Only)

It’s worth mentioning that many of these systems have FAR more features that we don’t cover in this chart (think: virtual terminals, eCommerce support, supported integrations, etc.). If you really want to learn what a system is fully capable of, I recommend checking out our complete review of each credit card processing app.

Processing with Square or PayPal Here? Up Your Inventory Game with Shopventory

With retail environments, inventory is usually a major concern. Shopventory is a monthly add-on that works with Square, PayPal Here, and the Clover system (except Clover Go). It allows for inventory tracking and reporting, bundling, variants, and more. The biggest difference will be that you’ll no longer be using your credit card processing app for inventory reports or management. Everything will be done through Shopventory’s dashboard. Check out our Shopventory review for more information.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to software and processing, there isn’t a good one-size-fits-all solution for merchants. Every business’s needs are unique, so what works best for one business may not be good for another. Many of the credit card apps we’ve listed here have no monthly fees, and others offer free trials or a free pricing quote. They are all top-rated offerings, as well. The biggest difference you’ll find is the feature sets and little differences in the user interfaces.

If you’re on the fence about which to choose, I recommend checking out our full reviews of each product. Got questions? We’re always here to help, so please leave us a comment!

As always, thanks for reading!

The post The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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13 New Year’s Resolutions For Your Business

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Why Small Businesses Need New Year's Resolutions

The beginning of a new year is a good time to think about what has passed and what is to come, but this time shouldn’t be limited to personal reflection alone.

As a small business owner, give yourself an opportunity to reflect on your business and its finances. What worked last year? What didn’t work and why? Where do you want to be a year, two years, five years from now? What will it take to get there?

Once you’ve spent some time reflecting, start creating new goals to strive for. There’s no better time to reevaluate your business strategy or implement new financial processes than at the start of the new year. Build on what you learned in 2017 and make 2018 even better by creating financial and business resolutions.

Table of Contents

Business Resolutions To Consider

Here are some possible financial resolution ideas to help get you thinking about how to make this year a success for your business…

Create A Budget & Stick To It

This could be the year to create, implement, and stick to a reasonable budget. Most accounting software programs make it easy to create yearly budgets, and some even allow you to use last year’s data as inspiration.

Increase Sales

Who doesn’t want to increase sales? Begin by considering practical ways to make this happen, like creating specific motivations for your sales staff or expanding your clientele. Use your existing accounting software to drill into your sales records and analyze the trends in your business. What sells well? What type of customers buy your products? Leverage this data to make informed decisions going forward.

Go On An Expense Diet

It might be time to cut back on the expenses. Use your existing accounting software and purchases records to pinpoint unnecessary spending. Find ways to automate processes so you can save time on projects and avoid paying excess wages. When it comes to the overall profitability of your business, this is one diet that isn’t so hard to stick with.

Reinvest Money In Your Business

Did your business make a decent profit in 2017? This year, make it a point to reinvest in your company. Increase your company’s assets, or buy those new computers everyone has been needing to boost productivity. Incentivize your employees to stay by providing more benefits or increasing wages. The more you invest, the more return you’ll see.

Try A New Marketing Strategy

Marketing is always changing and adapting. The New Year is a great time to evaluate your current marketing strategy to see what’s paid off and what hasn’t. Continue practicing the strategies that work, dump the ones that don’t, and don’t be afraid to experiment with some new strategies during 2018.

Pay All Bills On Time

A New Year’s Resolution doesn’t have to be grand and impressive. Your resolution could be as simple as paying your bills on time. If you struggled to get all of your bills paid on time in 2017, make it a priority to stay on top of that this year. Use your accounting software to set reminders and automate your billing if needed.

Stay On Top Of Invoicing

It’s easy to get backed up on invoicing. But when invoices are your company’s bread and butter, it’s important to follow through. Fortunately, almost all accounting software allows you to set up invoicing automations and automatic late-payment reminders. QuickBooks Online even has an invoice scheduling feature when you can schedule invoices to be sent at a later date.

Keep Better Tax Records

If tax time is looming large for you right now, a good New Year’s Resolution would be to keep better tax records for next year. Use your accounting software to keep financial records and check out what tax support your accounting software offers.

Switch Accounting Software

There’s no better time to switch accounting software than at the beginning of a New Year. If your software isn’t cutting it, maybe this year should be about finding a program that actually works for your business. Check out our accounting software comparison chart and read our comprehensive accounting software reviews to see which software is right for you. If you need extra help, read our Complete Guide to Choosing Online Accounting Software.

Update Existing Accounting Software

Even if you don’t want to switch to a new accounting software program, it might be time for an upgrade. This could definitely be the case if you use an old locally-installed program. Read 5 Signs It’s Time to Update Your Accounting Software and start your new year right with the best-performing accounting software.

Add A New Software Integration

Integrations are a great way of adding extra features to your accounting software. Integrations can cover everything from project management to time tracking, email marketing, analytics, scheduling, and much more.

Reconcile Your Bank Accounts Every Month

Were you overwhelmed last year when closing your books? Make things easier on yourself by striving to reconcile your bank accounts each month. Not only will this help you to be less stressed, it will help you to be more proactive with your business’s finances.

Automate Your Business Processes

Perhaps, when looking back on last year, you realized how many day-to-day business processes could be streamlined. This year, choose to automate your business as much as you can. Use your accounting software to automate invoicing and billing. Or take advantage of software integrations like MailChimp to automate your email marketing.

Make Resolutions A Reality

We all know how resolutions go. You are oh-so committed at the beginning of the year, but come March, the diets have been forsaken, the gym memberships are wasted, and nothing is accomplished like you thought it would be. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

There are several tricks you can employ to make your financial resolutions last.

First of all, break the resolution up into smaller, manageable tasks. Resolutions often involve worthy but intangible ideas. Take ‘increasing sales,’ for example. This is a great idea, but how do you achieve it? Break it into achievable components. You could start by running a sales rep competition for the most sales, breaking out a new social media marketing strategy, or implementing a loyalty program to encourage buyers to come back.

Second of all, don’t go at it alone. Bring your whole team in on your business resolutions. Let them know what your goals are for the year so you can all work together to achieve them — and hold each other accountable. Your team may even have a few ideas of their own.

Now that you have a few potential financial resolutions for your business, run with them or come up with new ideas all your own. Whatever you do, don’t let this precious time of reflection and new beginnings go to waste. Seize the opportunity to regroup and create new business goals for yourself and your team. 2018 is yours for the taking!

Chelsea Krause

Chelsea Krause is a writer, avid reader, and researcher. In addition to loving writing, she became interested in accounting software because of her constant desire to learn something new and understand how things work. When she’s not working or daydreaming about her newest story, she can be found drinking obscene amounts of coffee, reading anything written by C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury, kayaking and hiking, or watching The X-Files with her husband.

Chelsea Krause

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Prepare Your Books For 2018 With Accounting Software

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How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018

Watch the ball drop in New York City on New Year’s Eve, but don’t drop the ball with your small business in the new year! After holiday celebrations wind down and before tax season begins, take the time to reflect on your last year of business and make vital preparations for the year ahead. Learn how to make the most out of your accounting software by using it as a tool to plan for 2018.

Table of Contents

Reflect On Last Year

How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018

Before you can move on to planning a successful 2018, it’s important to reflect on what happened with your business in 2017. Luckily, your accounting software makes this easier than you think. Now’s the time to grab a journal, a cup of coffee, and a few key accounting reports.

The following common accounting software reports can provide great insight into your business:

  • Profit & Loss (or Income Statement): The Profit and Loss report (or Income Statement) shows your total net profit (or loss) for the year. Use this report to see how your company performed overall.
  • Balance Sheet: The Balance Sheet shows your company’s assets, liabilities, and equity. It’s good to know these totals in general, but you can use this report to apply for funding as well.
  • General Ledger: The General Ledger report shows all transactions from all accounts during the year. This report is helpful for a more detailed analysis.
  • Statement Of Cashflows: The Statement Of Cashflows report shows all transactions affecting cash accounts. Use this to learn how much cash your company has gained.
  • Statement Of Owner’s Equity: The Statement Of Owner’s equity shows owner’s equity at the end of the year
  • Budget Overview: The Budget Overview report compares your yearly budget with the actual money you spent. Use this both to see how you performed and to plan your 2018 budget.
  • Sales By Customer: The Sales By Customer report is self-explanatory and can be helpful for gauging your biggest clientele.
  • Sales By Item: The Sales By Item report is helpful for learning which items did well and which didn’t sell as successfully.
  • Sales By Employee: The Sales by Employee (or Sales Rep) report shows which employees have been most successful so you can use their methods to create a successful sales strategy.

In analyzing these reports, ask yourself:

  • What worked this year and what didn’t?
  • Where did my business succeed?
  • Where could it still improve?
  • Did we meet our goals? Why or why not?

I recommend filling a journal with notes. Not only will you be able to see your successes and the areas that need improvement clearly on paper, you can also refer back to these notes in the future to follow your business’s journey through the years.

Consider encouraging your managers and employees to do the same — or even make a day of it in the office!

Create New Goals For 2018

How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018Now that you’ve taken some time to consider what happened in 2017, start creating goals for 2018. Start with the big picture. Ask yourself:

  • Where do I see my business by the end of next year?
  • Do I want to increase sales? By how much?
  • Do I want to increase employee focus? In what ways?
  • Do I want to expand my business? If so, how?

Think of general goals for the business as a whole and personal goals for yourself as a business owner. Ask your managers or employees to weigh in on their goals and ideas for the company as well.

Now that you have a few big goals jotted down, start thinking of smaller, practical steps that can lead you toward those bigger dreams. Big projects — like improving sales — can be daunting (which I’m sure I don’t have to remind you). But when you break a goal into many smaller, achievable checkpoints, the big projects can be completed with relative ease.

Take the time to parcel your goals for 2018 into manageable, practical baby steps, and you’ll stand an excellent chance of having a banner year. You can record these in your business journal to look back on later, or you can create tasks for these goals in several accounting programs.

If you need some extra inspiration, create a 2018 goals list on your office bulletin board, or keep a copy on your desk to stay motivated. Send a company goal list to each of your employees so that the whole business is on the same page, working toward the same goals.

Make A Budget For The Year

How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018While budgeting can be incredibly daunting, accounting software makes the process easy. Most accounting software programs even have a built-in budgeting feature.

For example, with QuickBooks or Xero, you can create yearly budgets from scratch or generate them automatically based on last year’s data. If you created a 2017 budget using your accounting software, make sure to also take advantage of that software’s budgeting reports, which can help you analyze last year’s income and expenses and better plan for 2018.

Brainstorm A New Sales Strategy

Now is the time to update or create a brand new sales strategy for the next 12 months. Consider what’s working about your current sales plan and what could stand improvement. Which processes and marketing strategies were successful last year? Are there any sales tactics or marketing strategies that you haven’t tried yet?

I recommend taking a look at the sales reports your accounting software provides. Reports like Sales by Item and Sales by Customer can help you see what products are successful and give you a better idea of how to reach your target audience. It can also be very useful to look at Sales by Sales Rep reports with your sales team and have each member share which sales methods have been successful for them. Don’t be afraid to ask for input. Your employees may have terrific new ideas to implement or ways to improve current processes.

It’s nice to create a formal, written sales plan that you can then distribute to your sales team and refer back to this time next year.

Consider Integrations

How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018Integrations may be the answer to achieving your 2018 business goals. Integrations are software add-ons that connect directly with your accounting software to bring you more features. Integrations vary, and may involve anything from CRM to email marketing to scheduling to project management to time tracking to analytics and more.

When should you use an integration?

  • If you need features that your accounting software doesn’t have.
  • If you spend too much time on tasks and need to automate processes.
  • If you want to offer more payment gateways for customers to pay you faster.

Go back to your list of 2018 goals and your analysis of 2017. Consider whether an integration could be the answer to fixing an area that needs improvement or achieving a brand new goal.

Update Contact Information

If you read our Small Business: How To Close Your Books At The End Of The Year post, then you’ve already updated your employees’ information. Now is a great time to take a break and make sure the rest of your contact information is accurate. Ensure that the contact information for your customers and vendors is completely up-to-date. Mark customers or vendors as inactive if needed, to clean up your software.

This is a great time to check up on customers as well. Send consistent customers a thank you card or reach out to old customers to see if they are interested in your products or services once more. Not only will you feel better having everything organized, you could potentially start the year off with some new sales and happy customers.

Get Organized

How To Prepare Your Small Business for 2018The start of a new year is a great time to get organized.

We’re talking about more than cleaning your desk, folks. Evaluate your current filing system to see how efficient and up-to-date it is. Maybe create a better way to store online accounting records and reports. Upload your receipts directly to your accounting software to store them in the cloud and save some paper. Whatever this looks like for your company, you won’t regret starting the year off with a clean, organized slate.

Give Your Invoices A Face-lift

If you want your company to get off to a fresh start this year, consider updating your invoice template. It seems like a small thing, but having an appealing, modern invoice is a huge plus for businesses. Say goodbye to boring black and white, Times New Roman templates or Excel monstrosities, and ring in the new year with a new look. Don’t be afraid to use color, be bold, and show off your company logo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Invoice templates are more than a means of getting paid — they’re a reflection of your company’s professionalism and brand. Start off 2018 with a template that you’re excited about.

Final Thoughts

Taking a little time to reflect on 2017 and plan for 2018 can make all the difference if you want to run a successful business this year. We hope that these suggestions inspire you to think deeply about your business’s goals and act practically to achieve them.

From our company to yours, we wish you a very happy New Year!

Chelsea Krause

Chelsea Krause is a writer, avid reader, and researcher. In addition to loving writing, she became interested in accounting software because of her constant desire to learn something new and understand how things work. When she’s not working or daydreaming about her newest story, she can be found drinking obscene amounts of coffee, reading anything written by C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury, kayaking and hiking, or watching The X-Files with her husband.

Chelsea Krause

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5 Patreon Alternatives

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patreon alternatives

For a wide array of podcasters, YouTubers, writers, journalists, artists, comedians, and other creatives, Patreon (see our review) has provided a convenient means of monetizing output that was previously unavailable. Patreon’s conception of crowdfunding, based as it is on ongoing donations from patrons in exchange for exclusive content, is well-suited to those who produce works that people enjoy but who previously had no means by which to get compensated for their toil.

However, if you’re on the lookout for an alternative to Patreon (as are many Patreon creators ever since Patreon introduced — and then rescinded — their unpopular new fee policy), there are several other good options. Let look at some of them!

Table of Contents

1. Kickstarter

I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you what Kickstarter is. You’re also likely aware of the fact that Kickstarter (see our review) crowdfunding campaigns do not operate on Patreon’s recurring subscription-like model. However, if you’re a creator whose focus is on putting out, say, a few major works per year — as opposed to a continuous stream of content — Kickstarter may work for you. You can always launch a new Kickstarter campaign after your old one runs its course.

Kickstarter vets crowdfunders fairly strenuously, so not everyone gets in. It’s a more exclusive platform than most of its rewards crowdfunding peers, which is a factor to consider if you’re a small-time creator. But with nearly $3.5 billion in dollars pledged to Kickstarter campaigns — and over 136K successfully-funded projects — Kickstarter’s track record is nothing to sneeze at.

One thing to keep in mind about Kickstarter campaigns is that the funding is all-or-nothing. If you don’t raise your goal amount within the time frame you specify (anywhere from 1 to 60 days), you get nothing — no soup for you. Launching a Kickstarter campaign requires a certain degree of confidence in your ultimate success.

As for fees, Kickstarter and Patreon don’t differ a great deal in this respect. Both Kickstarter and Patreon take a 5% cut of what you earn, with payment processing fees taking upwards of 3% of the rest.

2. Indiegogo

Indiegogo (see our review) is another alternative consider, and while it has a lot in common with Kickstarter, there are some key differences.

Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns are not continuous and have concrete start and end dates. Unlike Kickstarter, however, Indiegogo doesn’t pre-screen the campaigners who sign up to crowdfund, making it a less exclusive platform for creatives. Indiegogo also gives you the choice of whether you want your campaign to be all-or-nothing or keep-whatever-you-raise in its structure. With the latter, you won’t be left with nothing if your campaign fails to reach its funding goal.

The maximum campaign length with Indiegogo is 60 days. Indiegogo’s fee structure is nearly identical to that of Kickstarter and Patreon — 5% to the platform, ~3% to the payment processor.

Think of Indiegogo as a slightly more relaxed Kickstarter.

3. Donation Buttons

Here’s a crowdfunding solution that ensures you won’t have to pay a 5% platform fee to anybody: You can just directly solicit donations from those who enjoy your work. Payment providers like Stripe (see our review) and PayPal (see our review) have buttons you can place on your site for just this purpose.

These payment providers allow people to make recurring payments, so your fans can sign up to support you on a continuing basis (just as with Patreon). Of course, you won’t be getting any of the extra crowdfunding services you’d get with Patreon (reward distribution, patron management, analytics, etc.), so this funding solution will require more of your time and energy than Patreon. Then again, you’ll get more of every pledge made to you. If you have an existing fanbase motivated to pay up for your content and the ability to manage everything manually, this may be a crowdfunding route worth exploring.

Now, let’s take a look at a few crowdfunding sites that share Patreon’s subscription-based crowdfunding model.

4. Podia

Formerly called Coach, Podia isn’t one of the better-known crowdfunders out there — in fact, they’re new to the crowdfunding game, having just launched their new Patreon-like Membership service a few weeks ago (I’m writing this in December 2017). Prior to this, the site — then known as Coach — was simply a service with which people could sell online courses and digital downloads as standalone purchases.

Podia is keen to invite comparisons between themselves and Patreon — in fact, they’ve put up a page on their site devoted to showcasing themselves as a superior Patreon alternative. Their main selling point is this: Podia charges no fees on the donations your contributors make. Instead, you pay a flat monthly fee to use the service. You’ll have to pay $79 per month for the Membership package and $39/month if you just want to sell online courses/digital downloads and use Podia’s email marketing services. If you can draw a significant monthly income from selling access to your work, you’ll be paying less in fees with Podia than with Patreon. However, if you pull in just a few hundred bucks a month or less, Podia is clearly not a more cost-effective crowdfunding service than Patreon. It all depends on the level of support you get from your followers.

5. Memberful

Memberful is a decidedly different way to make money from your work. It’s not a crowdfunding platform, but rather a plugin you install on your website through which you sign people up for subscriptions to receive exclusive content. You can set up the application to accept subscriptions for different lengths of time (monthly, yearly etc.) and for different subscription plans that give access to varying levels of content.

If you sign up for Memberful’s Starter plan, you won’t pay any monthly fee, but Memberful will take a whopping 10% of what you earn — and that’s before you get to the payment processing fees. Memberful’s Pro and Enterprise plans cost $25 and $100 per month (respectively) while cutting the platform fee down to 2% and 1% (respectively). Both give access to features like coupon codes and newsletter integrations. Memberful isn’t a funding solution for everybody, but for the right sort of creator, it may be worth checking out.

Coming Soon: Drip

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kickstarter’s new Patreon-like subscription-based crowdfunding platform, Drip. Drip is still invitation-only at this point, so we’re still waiting for a proper release. However, given that it has the weight of Kickstarter behind it and is clearly Kickstarter’s response to Patreon’s popularity, I expect it to become Patreon’s main rival when it becomes open to everybody. Details are scarce at this point, but Drip promises to integrate with Kickstarter so the 13.7 million backers currently on Kickstarter can use their login details and payment info to start backing Drip projects without having to set up a new profile. They also promise that Drip campaigns will feature a “founding membership period” during which backers will be designated “founding members” and get special perks for jumping in early. It’s an intriguing way to get people motivated to support you during your campaign’s early days.

Few details are available, but when Drip is released to the general public, I’m going to try to be the first person to post a review of it. Stay tuned!

Final Thoughts

Monetizing your work online has long been a challenge. Thankfully, platforms like Patreon and its various alternatives have arisen to plug this market inefficiency and help creators make money from the very people who consume and enjoy their content. No single solution is right for everybody, so check out these platforms (heck, check out other ones too if you want!) to determine which funding model makes sense for your particular needs.

Now go forth, create, and get paid!

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is a writer, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from San Diego. A native Californian who enjoys the beach, Jason nonetheless prefers to do his surfing on the World Wide Web, the raddest wave of them all. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers

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