What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

We all know and love our Short Messaging Service (SMS) — better known simply as the text message. But did you know that you can start taking SMS payments for your business? And that it is relatively easy to get started?

In the United States, we are just now warming up to the idea of sending and receiving payments by text, but businesses throughout the world have already adopted SMS payments for everything from mass transit tickets to lattes.

While Americans are less likely to pay by text for everyday purchases, text payments are still an undeniably growing trend. You may already be familiar with payments by text when it comes to charitable donations, but home service providers (e.g., AT&T) are starting to offer SMS payments for their customers as well.

Text payments offer potential growth for many other types of businesses, too. Pizza shops, salons, or any business that has ‘regulars’ could benefit from text payments. SMS payment services are probably not for everyone, however, so let’s take a look at how text-to-pay works and if it’s right for your business.

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of how SMS payments work, it’s pretty simple, really. While there may be some variations with each company that offers text messaging payment services, generally you can expect the following elements when it comes time to pay:

  1. A business sends a text to their customer’s phone number or the customer texts a shortcode number to the business to initiate the sale.
  2. After communicating what product or service the customer wishes to purchase, the business sends the customer a link to a secure, mobile-friendly payment form.
  3. The customer enters their payment information and can typically approve saving the card on file for recurring payments or a future purchase.
  4. The customer may get a unique code to complete the purchase.

The customer may also get another verification text from the payment processing company to confirm their intent to buy. As stated above, the exact process may vary by company, but you can expect a similar procedure to complete the sale.

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

Many people associate text message payments with charity donations (often the amount is added to their phone bill). What is lesser known is that phone carriers generally only allow organizations to accept donated amounts in $5 or $10 increments. By setting up these limits, phone carriers reduce their own risk from non-paying customers. While the phone carrier setup can work great for flash-giving campaigns and allow an organization to avoid paying some payment processing fees, it isn’t a viable solution for businesses.

Enter companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar. These companies, and those like them, support SMS payments by integrating their messaging services with secure, PCI-compliant payment processing.

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

To get started accepting SMS payments, you’ll need to choose the company with the services that fit your needs best. There are some differences between the ways companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar price their services. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these three examples.

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

Relay charges $50/month for 250 “tickets” which refers to completed conversations. With that, you also get 1000 free SMS texts. All plans include automated responses, unlimited contacts, customer segmentation, and other engagement tools. Don’t forget about the actual credit card processing fees, however! Relay integrates with Stripe, and you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful transaction. You can accept every major card at the same rate with Stripe processing. (If you aren’t familiar with Stripe, check out our Stripe Payments Review.)

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

Pagato integrates with Stripe, Braintree (read our review), and Quickbooks Payments (read our review). In addition to the payment processing fees of your merchant account, you’ll pay 1% per transaction with a minimum of $0.20 per transaction. With Pagato, you can accept payments through SMS and social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, too. You won’t have additional setup, monthly, or hidden fees.

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

Sonar offers packages starting at $24.67/month and $0.025 per SMS message. You can send automated messages, track customer data, set up campaigns and even A/B test them as well. Sonar integrates with Stripe, and your payment processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

SMS Sonar

These are examples of some lesser-known companies, but the more prominent players like Square and PayPal allow you to send a text with a link to pay individual customers, too. The Square Cash App and PayPal don’t have the muscle to do much beyond sending a link to pay, however. You can’t A/B test marketing campaigns for an offer that you send out with Square or PayPal, for instance.

Keep in mind that most of the SMS messaging platforms mentioned above offer a free trial period and a demo to learn more about the exact features. So don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to meet with your team and discuss the benefits of each platform, and of course, determine if your sales team has the bandwidth to have multiple open text conversations with customers. Text can be a powerful way to connect to your customers, but it is definitely not suited for every business model.

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

Without a doubt, there is value in using SMS messaging to build a marketing campaign and nurture those ongoing relationships with your customers. When you consider that the global average open rate on a text is more than 90%, it makes sense to start building your phone list and reaching out that way.

As far as what businesses benefit from adding SMS payments to the mix, consider this:

If your business model provides delivery, your revenue depends on recurring payments, or you target a “repeat” customer base, SMS payments can make a lot of business sense. However, you need to have the staff and time to support the nurturing of customers via text. Text conversations can be a bit longer than a phone call if there is a specific issue, so training your team on escalation procedures can help you both save time and money with SMS texts.

All this connection can be great, but not all customers are going to love texting or getting “salesy” texts from you. While SMS texting and payments can help your sales team if you use it the right way, some may find automated sales messages impersonal. Keep in mind who your customers are and what supports their journey with you when you set up your SMS services.

Another significant benefit to SMS payments is the secure and compliant payment processing services that you can integrate with, such as Stripe. Because you don’t transmit the credit card data or store it on your servers, you can significantly reduce your liability when it comes to fraud risks. Not to mention that your customer has a fast and easy way to pay you, and all of it happens from their phone!

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

Being able to take payments by text offers potential — as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Features vary by company, so do compare service packages before making a decision. One company may find a lot of value in the extra capabilities to target and segment lists, while another may be more focused on cutting down telephone orders. What services you choose mainly depends on your business model. Because text messaging offers a clear path to your customers’ hands, it may be worth finding the right balance to connect, engage, and encourage your customers to pay by text, too.

If you are discovering what else is out there in payment processing, be sure to check out our resources here at Merchant Maverick. Our Merchant Account Comparison Chart is a great starting point for payment providers! 

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

Do you have a tendency to share your knowledge and experience with others? Do you enjoy giving advice that helps others better their businesses … or their lives? Did you know that you could get paid just for sharing your expertise?

While it may sound too good to be true, that’s exactly what a consultant does. A consultant is an expert that provides knowledge, expertise, and training to others for a fee. Consultants advise their clients on a variety of topics, from how to implement the latest technology to how to create a successful marketing campaign.

Becoming a consultant does not require special training, credentials, or education. You simply need to be an expert in your field. You also need to have passion — not just for your industry but for helping others truly find the right solutions for their problems.

Consultants are organized, know how to network, and are always willing to learn more about their field to provide the best services to their clients.

If this sounds like you, becoming a consultant may be your new career path. The great thing about consulting is that anyone with knowledge and expertise can do it. Starting your own consulting business has low overhead costs and doesn’t require a lot of capital from the get-go. In fact, you can even start your own business from your home office.

But maybe your goals are much bigger. Maybe you want to have the top consulting firm in your area. It doesn’t matter if you want to simply be your own boss and make a decent income or if you want to grow your business to epic proportions — this guide is for you.

We’ll explore the steps you need to take to get your business off the ground. From finding your niche to funding expenses and spreading the word about your business, this guide explores what it takes to open and operate a successful consulting business. Let’s jump in and get started!

Pick Your Niche

business loan reasons

We’ve all heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” When clients are seeking a consultant, they don’t want someone that knows a little bit about everything. Instead, they want to work with a consultant that knows everything about one thing. This is why it’s so important to pick your niche.

To get started, consider your skills and knowledge. What industry are you familiar with? Clients are looking for an expert in their field, so identifying the industries you already know is important when selecting your niche.

Next, you need to consider what problems and pain points your chosen industry is facing. You can do online research to find out what challenges are common in this industry. Check out blogs and industry forums to get an idea of common complaints and problems. You can even talk directly with people in the industry to find out what obstacles and setbacks they face.

Once armed with this information, you need to identify your own skills and knowledge that could be applied to this field. For example, let’s say you’re knowledgeable about the construction industry. One of the common pain points in this industry is a lack of communications. Are you familiar with mobile and cloud-based software? Great! You could use this knowledge to help businesses streamline communications and improve efficiency.

When you start your consulting business, your goal shouldn’t just be something generic like, “I want to help other business owners.” Instead, you should have a more specific purpose in mind. “I help businesses in this industry find and implement the newest and best software solutions to grow their business in just 3 months.” This also serves as your value proposition. In other words, this is the value you offer; something that sets you apart from other consultants. Remember to effectively communicate to your clients what you can do for them.

Still unsure of where to get started? Consider one of these niches for your consulting businesses:

  • Biotech
  • Cannabis Business
  • College
  • Construction
  • Customer Service
  • Dental
  • Financial
  • Food Safety
  • Grant Writing
  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Information Technology
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Medical
  • Nutrition
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Safety
  • Sales
  • Security
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supply Chain
  • Technology

After you’ve selected your niche, do your research to find out what certifications and licenses you need to legally operate your business. In most instances, you’ll find that a business license in your state of operations is all that you need to open your consulting business.

One last thing to remember is that even if you’re knowledgeable about your niche right now, industry trends and changes can occur in an instant. Make sure you stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry to ensure you’re always qualified to assist your clients.

Make Your Business Plan

Even if your consulting business seems pretty straightforward, it’s still necessary to have a business plan. There are a few reasons you need a business plan. The first is that your plan maps out your goals and how you plan to reach those goals. A business plan is also necessary when you seek funding through banks or other lenders.

Because every business has a different vision, no two business plans are exactly alike. However, there are a few common components that should be included in all business plans. Those components are:

  • Executive Summary: Highlights what will be discussed in your plan and summarizes what your business hopes to accomplish
  • Company Description: Includes key information about your business and the customers that you will serve
  • Competitive Analysis: Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Organization & Management: An outline of the setup of your organization and names and summaries of the job responsibilities of your management team
  • Market Analysis: An analysis of your industry now and in the future
  • Marketing Plan: An outline of the marketing strategies you will use to draw clients to your business
  • Financial Projections: Your expectations for future revenue based on market research

Register Your Business

Before you launch your business, you have to register with federal, state, and local agencies. You will need to register your business name with the state in which you operate. In addition, you must register with the Internal Revenue Service to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you ever plan to hire employees. It’s imperative to obtain licenses and permits to operate your business based on state and local regulations. You must register your business if you plan to seek business funding now or in the future — or if want to open a business bank account. Establishing a business is legally required, but it also makes you look more professional and legitimate to your clients.

One important step to take when registering your business is choosing your business structure. Your business structure will be important in determining what you’ll pay in taxes. Your business structure may also offer protection from personal liability for the debts and obligations of your business. The different types of business entities include:

Sole Proprietorships

This structure is the easiest to form and does not require filing with the state. With a sole proprietorship, profits and losses from the business are reported on the business owner’s personal tax return. The major drawback of this business structure is that the business owner – you – are held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Partnerships

A partnership is established by businesses with two or more owners. There are three common types of partnerships: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.

  • General Partnership (GP): This type of partnership has the fewest ongoing requirements. These are also the easiest to form and don’t require state filing. The drawback is that partners in a GP are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
  • Limited Partnership (LP): In a limited partnership, only the general partner(s) has unlimited liability. The other partners — known as limited partners – have limited liability. This simply means that personal assets can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): In a limited liability partnership, all partners have limited liability. However, partners may be held liable for their personal actions. This structure is reserved for professional service businesses.

Limited Liability Companies

A limited liability company, or LLC, is independent of its owners. The personal assets of the owners are kept separate from business debts. An LLC is taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and partnerships.

Corporations

If a corporation is the right structure for your business, there are two options to consider: C corporations and S corporations.

  • C-Corporations: C-corporations are independent of their owners. There is no limit on the number of shareholders in a C-corporation. C-corporations are taxed on shareholder dividends and corporate profits.
  • S-Corporations: An S-corporation is also independent of its owners. Owners report their share of the profits and losses on their own personal income tax returns. There are limitations to the number of shareholders with this structure.

When choosing your business structure, you need to keep a few considerations in mind. If you have multiple owners, a partnership is a good route to take. If you want to protect your personal assets but don’t want a higher tax rate, consider establishing an LLC. If you plan to raise large amounts of capital in the future, a corporation might work best for you. You can learn more about what business structure best fits your needs by consulting with an attorney or accountant.

Get Business Insurance

Do I need business interruption insurance

Business insurance is critical for the protection of your business. From property insurance that protects your office building to liability insurance that safeguards you from lawsuits, there are a few different types of business insurance to consider for your consulting business.

General Liability Insurance

If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you need general liability insurance. This protects your business in the event that something happens to a client on your property. For example, if a client slips and falls in your office, they could file a lawsuit against you. With general liability insurance, you won’t have to pay all associated costs out-of-pocket.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance is also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. This type of insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed by clients. Let’s say that you consult with a client on a project, and the project ultimately ends up failing. The client believes that the failure of the project was your fault and files a lawsuit. If you have E&O insurance, attorney’s fees, settlement expenses, and court costs will be covered up to the full amount of your policy.

Worker’s Compensation

If you have employees, worker’s compensation is another type of insurance your business needs. Worker’s compensation covers the medical expenses, wages, and legal fees of an employee that is injured on the job or suffers a work-related ailment. Most states require all W2 employees to be covered under worker’s compensation insurance, but laws vary by state.

Commercial Property Insurance

If you have a commercial property for your consulting business, consider getting commercial property insurance to protect your assets. This type of insurance protects you from losses that may occur from burglary, fire, or natural disasters.

Separate Personal & Business Expenses

It may be tempting to simply use your own personal bank account and credit cards for your business. Since the business is yours, there’s no harm in mixing your business and personal finances, right?

Actually, the wisest move is to keep your business and personal finances separate. One of the most important reasons for doing this is because it will make filing your taxes much easier. Imagine that the deadline is ticking to file your return with the IRS, and you (or your accountant) are stuck spending hours separating business and personal records. If you’re audited after filing, having separate records for business and personal income/expenses will make the process go much more smoothly.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate is also helpful in limiting your liabilities from creditors. If there is no clear separation between you and the business, creditors could potentially use your personal assets for unpaid debts and obligations, even if your business is structured as a corporation or LLC.

Separation of personal and business expenses is also important for building your business credit. If you’re using your own personal credit cards, you may increase your personal credit score. However, this won’t affect your business credit history. If you plan on applying for business loans in the future, boosting your business credit profile is critical to qualifying for higher loan amounts and the best rates and terms.

The first step to separating your business and personal finances is to open a business checking account. This bank account can be used for depositing money, writing checks to vendors, making online payments, and keeping an eye on the expenses and income of your business. To open an account, you will need your EIN, Social Security Number, business address, and business license. You may also need other documentation, such as a copy of the articles of incorporation on file with your state.

Even though you can keep an eye on your finances through your business bank account, it’s also important to set up a dedicated accounting system for your business. This will allow you to closely keep track of the money coming in and going out of your business. You may opt to hire a bookkeeper for this task, or you can use accounting software to track everything yourself. We’ll go into more details on this type of software a little later.

Finally, you can apply for a business credit card to cover recurring expenses for your business, such as your lease or utility payments. Using and paying off your business credit card responsibly will help strengthen your business credit profile.

Unsure of which card is right for you? Start with these recommendations.

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card rewards you just for using your card on business expenses. You can receive 5% cash back on internet, cable, phone services, and purchases from office supply stores. However, this is capped at the first $25,000 spent each anniversary year.

You can also earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations and restaurants. This is also capped at the first $25,000 spent per anniversary year.

For the rest of your purchases, you can take advantage of unlimited 1% cash back rewards. As a new cardholder, you can receive a bonus of $500 cash back if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

This credit card has a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, interest rates are 15.49% to 21.49% based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee associated with this card.

Additional benefits for Chase Ink Business Cash cardholders include free employee cards, purchase protection, and extended warranty protection. You must have excellent credit to qualify for this credit card.

Spark Cash Select For Business

Spark Cash Select From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Cash Select for Business is designed for borrowers with excellent credit scores. One of the standout features of this card is the unlimited 1.5% cash back you receive just by using your card. You can cash out your rewards at any time.

If you become a new cardmember and spend $3,0000 within the first 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive a $200 cash bonus.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a 0% introductory APR for the first 9 months. After the introductory period, your APR will be from 15.24% to 23.24% based on creditworthiness. This card does not have an annual fee, and you can receive employee cards at no cost.

Seek Business Funding

One of the best things about setting up your consulting business is that you may be able to get started with very little capital. Ultimately, though, this depends on the goals of your business. For example, if you plan to only consult with clients online, you can work right out of your home office. This eliminates the need for a dedicated commercial office, which comes with expenses such as monthly rent and utility payments.

On the other hand, you might want to open a brick-and-mortar business immediately. This would require more capital from the start. Even if you start small, you may later expand your business by purchasing or leasing a larger building and hiring employees.

Whether you start off big or you plan to grow in the future, you’ll need capital. In some cases, you may be able to use your revenue to fund your expenses and growth. In other instances, you’ll need a financial boost from a business lender.

Fortunately, there are many financing options out there if you know where to look. Let’s explore the types of funding available to you, along with our lender recommendations.

Personal Savings

If you would prefer to not work with a lender, using personal savings is an option available to you. If you use your own money, you don’t have to worry about making payments to a lender. You’ll also save money because you won’t pay interest or fees that are charged by a lender. On the downside, if your business isn’t successful, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

Have a friend or family member with cash to invest? Pitch them your business idea and let them know why investing in you is a great idea. Have your business plan in hand and present your ideas to them just as you would any other lender. If they decide you’re worth the investment, make sure to get everything in writing to protect all parties.

There are two ways to get loans from someone you know. You can choose debt financing, which means that you’ll make payments toward your principal balance plus interest on a regularly scheduled basis, just like a traditional loan. Or you can receive money in exchange for ownership in your business – also known as equity financing. While you won’t have to repay immediately, your friend or family member will collect a share of the profits over time. Depending on your agreement, they may also have some level of control in the decision-making process of your business.

Unsure of which route to take? Learn more about debt vs. equity financing to determine which option is best for your business.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

What if there was a way to get the capital you need to start or grow your business without taking on debt? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But with a rollovers as business startups (ROBS) plan, you can do just that. The only catch? You have to have a qualifying retirement plan.

Early withdrawal of your retirement funds results in penalties. However, a ROBS plan allows you to leverage your funds without having to pay these penalties.

With a ROBS plan, you set up a new C-corporation. Then, you create a retirement plan for your newly created corporation. Next, you roll over funds from your existing retirement plan. These funds can be used to purchase stock in your new business, providing you with the capital you need to start or expand your business.

The best part of a ROBS plan is that you’re using your own funds. This means no debt, no interest or fees, and no repayments to a lender. However, you are putting your retirement funds at risk if your business fails.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Many small business owners that get capital through a ROBS plan hire a ROBS provider to do the heavy lifting. Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you get started.

To set up a ROBS plan with Guidant Financial, you need to have a retirement plan or pension account with at least $50,000. Most plans qualify, including:

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

Guidant Financial can help you roll over up to 100% of your account balance. In addition to having a qualifying plan, you must also meet these requirements:

  • Must be an employee of the business
  • Must have a business to fund

You can use your funds for any business purpose, whether you’re buying an existing business, funding startup costs, or paying expenses related to expansion.

To get started, you must pay a $4,995 startup fee. Since this isn’t a loan, you won’t have to make debt repayments. However, you will have to pay a monthly administration fee.

If you don’t qualify for a ROBS plan or you’re seeking other types of funding, Guidant Financial offers other options including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, unsecured business loans, and equipment leases.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is one of the most flexible forms of financing. This is a type of revolving credit (similar to a credit card) that allows you to make multiple draws. As you repay your principal balance (plus fees and interest), funds will become available to use again. Fees and interest are only charged on the borrowed portion of funds.

With your line of credit, you can initiate draws as needed. Once you draw funds, they’ll be transferred to your bank account and are available to use in 1 to 3 business days in most cases.

You can spend up to and including the credit limit set by your lender. Most lines of credit can be used for any business purpose but are particularly useful for unexpected expenses, filling revenue gaps, or covering extra expenses due to a seasonal increase in business.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a lender that has lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified small business owners. The lender charges set draw fees starting at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You can choose to repay Fundbox over terms of 12 or 24 weeks, and payments are automatically deducted from your linked business checking account.

You can be approved instantly and put your line of credit to work for you immediately. Once you initiate a draw from your account, funds will hit your bank account within 1 to 3 business days.

Qualifying for a Fundbox line of credit is easy. The minimum requirements are:

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

Your credit limit will be based on the performance of your business.

Equipment Loans

Whether your consulting business is home-based or you operate out of a commercial property, you will need some equipment to get started. Some equipment you may need for your business includes a computer, printer, office furniture, and computer software. If you don’t have the funds available in your bank account, consider applying for equipment financing.

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment, furniture, and fixtures for your business. Equipment loans can also be used to purchase a commercial vehicle if one is needed to drive to meet your clients if you don’t want to take out an auto loan. There are two types of equipment financing available: equipment loans and equipment leases.

With an equipment loan, you’ll make regularly scheduled payments to a lender over a set period of time, such as five years. Each payment will be applied to the principal – the amount you borrowed – as well as fees and interest charged by the lender. Once you’ve made all payments as scheduled, the equipment belongs to you. You can continue to put the equipment into use or sell it.

With equipment leases, you also make scheduled payments to a lender. However, your lease terms are typically a few years shorter. Once you’ve made all scheduled payments, you return the equipment and sign a new lease for new equipment. You never truly own the equipment, but this is a good option for anyone that wants to update their equipment every few years.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator that can connect you with its financing partners to help you get the best financing offer for your situation.

One of the financial products offered through Lendio is equipment financing. You may qualify for funding of $5,000 to $5 million for the purchase of your equipment. Loan terms are 1 to 5 years with interest rates starting at 7.5%.

Your funds can be used for almost any equipment purchase, including software, furniture and fixtures, and even appliances and HVAC units for your office.

To qualify, you must meet these minimum requirements:

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

If you don’t meet these requirements, Lendio may still have an option for you. Just fill out a quick application to find out what you can qualify to receive. Lendio also offers additional financial solutions, including SBA loans, lines of credit, term loans, and startup loans.

Personal Loans For Business

If you’re a brand-new business, you may not qualify for other financing options. This is because lenders look at annual revenue, business credit profile, and your time in business to determine if you’re a risky borrower. If you don’t meet these qualifications, you won’t be able to get affordable small business funding.

However, there is an alternative solution. You can apply for a personal loan to use for business purposes. With this type of financing, a lender considers your personal credit history and income to determine if you qualify.

In most cases, you can use a personal loan for business for any purpose, from purchasing needed equipment to hiring new employees, using as working capital, or paying startup costs.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart personal loans are available in amounts from $1,000 to $50,000. APRs range from 7.54% to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 3 or 5 years.

Upstart’s lending partners consider more than just your credit score when determining whether to approve your loan. Your years of credit, education, area of study, and job history are also considered during the application process.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must have:

  • Personal credit score of 620 or above
  • Solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts or accounts in collections
  • Less than 6 inquiries in the last 6 months

Business Credit Cards

We’ve already discussed business credit cards earlier as part of keeping your business and personal accounts separate. Business credit cards are great to have on-hand for unexpected expenses or recurring expenses for your business.

You can even score rewards just for using your credit card. Look for a rewards card that offers cash back or points to use toward perks like travel to get the most out of your card.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business card is available to business owners with average credit. This card offers a 25.24% variable APR and no annual fee. Using your card responsibly helps build your business credit profile so you can qualify for other cards and financing offers in the future.

You can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases with no minimum required to redeem. Other benefits include fraud coverage and alerts and employee cards at no additional cost.

Choose Business Software

card-not-present online shopping

Choosing the right business software can help you run your consulting business more efficiently. The first type of software you should invest in is accounting software or an online bookkeeping system. This allows you to keep track of your income and expenses, run financial reports, send invoices, and access your financials for tax purposes. As your business grows, you may opt to hire a bookkeeper or accountant, but in the beginning, you may be able to tackle this task yourself using the right accounting software.

New to accounting? Download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting, to get a handle on the basics.

You’ll also need software that’s used for managing clients — from keeping updated contact information all in one place to setting and tracking appointments. There are programs designed specifically for consultants that offer client management, project management, tasks, and other features.

To accept payments other than cash, you’ll also need payment processing software. This software communicates between your bank and the bank of your client, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other forms of payment. If your business is going to be based solely online, you can sign up for an online payment solution.

Finally, if you plan to do online consulting, you must invest in video conferencing software. There are multiple options available — some at no cost and others that charge a monthly fee.

Set Your Rates

In order for your business to be successful, you have to have revenue. Without revenue, you won’t be able to pay your expenses or the salaries of yourself or your employees. Without revenue, you also won’t be able to grow your business.

To make sure your business is successful and profitable, you need to set your rates. This can be a balancing act for most consultants. If you set your rates too high, it may scare away potential clients. If you shortchange yourself and set your rates too low, clients may not take you seriously or you might not bring in enough revenue to cover your expenses.

To set your rates, first decide how your pay structure will look. You have three options: per project, hourly rates, and retainers.

If you charge per project, you will need to figure out how long the project will be, what expenses may be incurred, and other factors. You may choose to bill for the entire project or break it down into monthly payments.

You can also charge an hourly rate. Take a look at your expenses and determine how much you would need to charge to be profitable. Also, be aware that the higher your rate is, the more your clients will expect from you. If you have the credentials, training, and education to justify charging $500 per hour, your clients will have high expectations of what you’ll provide.

Finally, you can also work on a retainer basis. With a retainer, you will work a specific number of hours for one set monthly fee.

When calculating your rates, make sure to list all of the expenses of your business. You will need to make at least enough revenue to cover these costs.

You also need to find out what your competitors are charging for their services. You can do this by going online to their websites, checking out their brochures, or making a quick phone call. Unless you have an obvious advantage over other consultants in your area, you want to make sure that your fees are competitive.

Bolster Your Web Presence

webbased

Prospective clients are going to have a difficult time finding you if you don’t have a web presence. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest thousands of dollars in setting up a fancy new website. However, you do need to have at least a basic website and social media profiles to provide clients with critical information about your business.

You can get started by setting up free social media pages on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Your pages should include your contact information, the services you offer, and office hours. As your business grows, you can post news and updates, videos, photos, and other media to draw in clients.

You also need to set up a company website. You could pay a web designer, but at this stage, you can certainly tackle the task yourself. Easy website builders make it simple to set up your website in just minutes, even if you’ve never created a website before. Make sure that you include your contact information, areas served, and the services you offer. If you have any credentials or training, add that information to your website, as well.

Later, you can add additional features to your website, such as videos, online appointment scheduling, and client testimonials.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks, check out our article on creating and maintaining your online presence.

Market Your Business

business loans for HVAC

Building your web presence is one way to get your name out to the public, but you should also implement a marketing and advertising campaign to further boost your business. The strategy you choose is based on a number of factors, including your marketing budget and your goals for the campaign.

One great way to market your business is through Facebook ads. You can easily set your budget and select your target audience. It only takes a few minutes to get your Facebook ads up and running. Learn more about social media marketing for your business.

Another advertising method you can use is a newsletter. Your newsletter doesn’t need an over-the-top design. Instead, a simple newsletter with important information is most effective. Use your newsletter to discuss current industry trends, current news about your business, and other relevant information. You can send a physical newsletter by mail, but this comes with costs including paper and envelopes, printing, and postage. A more affordable option is to offer an email newsletter. Make sure to include a sign-up option on your website and social media pages.

Another idea is to print up brochures for your business. Your brochure should include your services, your value proposition, the industries you serve, and biographical information, such as your credentials or training.

You can also take your knowledge and leverage it as a guest speaker at an event. You can speak at dinners, luncheons, and other functions for industry events or service organizations. If you don’t want to be a public speaker, you can attend industry events and network with potential clients. Networking is key to running a successful consulting business.

Cold-calling is also a way to attract new clients. Prepare your script before calling local businesses that could use your services. The goal of cold-calling is to get a meeting with the decisionmaker to sell yourself and your services to gain a new client.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the easiest ways to bring in business. Satisfied clients that tell their friends, family, and colleagues about you or who take the time to write a referral or testimonial that you can use on your website can help drive more clients to your business.

Final Thoughts

Sharing your knowledge and expertise with others can be extremely lucrative if you know how to set up your consulting business. With careful planning — selecting your niche, setting your fees, and effectively marketing your business — you’ll have a better chance of reaching new clients and meeting your financial goals. Good luck!

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

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7+ Best Event Website Design Examples for Inspiration

7+ Best Event Website Design Examples for Inspiration

So you’re creating an event website, and you’re looking for event website design examples for inspiration and guidance. You’re also wondering which website platform is best to use for your event website.

But before we dive into examples of what event websites look like in the wild on a variety of website builders and hosting platforms, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too.

Think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at a event website examples should be done in the same way. We collected the following event website examples not just to show you how they look on different platforms, but how they can function, so you can be sure you create a website that fits both the look and functionality you need!

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgement as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Best Event Website Examples

We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, when you’re looking to build an event website, remember that you’re not just thinking about making the site look good. You want to think about what your site actually needs to do, and find a platform that supports all of your needs.

Bonnaroo Music & Art Festival

Bonnarro

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Amazon

What stands out about Bonnaroo’s site is how much the design captures the essence and atmosphere of the festival. It’s creative, loud, and a bit in your face (in a fun and playful way). In terms of functionality, this event website also has all of their bases covered. You can buy tickets, see event details, explore the lineup, and even ask their help bot a question.

We especially liked how easy the website is to use. Even though there’s a lot of content packed into the site, the navigation is straightforward, and we didn’t have to spend time digging to find what we needed.

Bonaroo Info Navigation

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: GoDaddy

On the other side of the spectrum is this local events website for an Atlanta art festival. What we liked about this site is the simplicity. The design is straightforward, but it still includes all of the information you need about the festival (including built-in map functionality!). It just goes to show that your event website doesn’t have to be some masterful designed site… it can be simple and straightforward and still get the job done.

Atlanta Sport and Social Club 

Atlanta Sport and Social Club

Software: League Lab

Hosting: Amazon Web Services

Atlanta Sport and Social club is a really interesting example of an event website that uses a niche software provider (League Lab) to get very specific functionality. Take a look at their Schedule and Standings page.

Atlanta Sport and Social League Lab Functionality

You can filter by spot, date, location, and even neighborhood! They also integrate social events, corporate events, and photos. This is a great example of building a website that requires very specific functions for your niche. Remember that your event website isn’t just about what it looks like… it’s about what it does.

Mary and Bill

Mary and Bill wedding website

Software: Wix

Hosting: Wix

Another type of event website? Weddings!

Mary and Bill’s wedding website is a great example of how a simple event theme can be transformed into a fun, personalized website without having to custom-build something complex. Their “getting there” page has a cool designed map image, directions, and fun fonts and colors — all elements that make their website unique to them without having to spend money on a custom designed website that you’ll only update for a year or two.

The Mirage

The Mirage

Software: Adobe CQ + MGM Resorts

Hosting: Self-hosted by MGM

While technically The Mirage is more than an event website (it’s primarily a hotel website), it does serve as a great example of a site that needs extensive event functionality. We particularly liked how this event website example uses a card layout to display upcoming events directly on the homepage. Each card has its own call to action (like buy tickets), so it’s really easy for site visitors to see what’s coming up and then take immediate action on the events they want to attend. It’s simple, but incredibly user-friendly.

Digital Summit

Digital Summit

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: GoDaddy

If you’re looking for an event website that can display information for multiple events (i.e. several conference dates), Digital Summit’s website is a great example to use for inspiration. Notice how clear the navigation is — you can either view all events, or you can download resources (another great piece of functionality if you have educational materials to go with your event). Plus, the design is clean and polished, which is right on par with the audience they’re attracting.

Makers to Merchants

Makers to Merchants

Software: Weebly

Hosting: Weebly

Makers to Merchants is another solid example of an organization that uses a single website to promote several events. This event website uses dynamic elements (like a video header) to add some advanced design and functionality to the site. Notice how this site implements photos from previous events to give readers a feel for what to expect.

Makers to Merchants PhotosMakers to Merchants Photos

The design is straightforward, and the list of events makes it easy to see what’s coming up and RSVP quickly.

Event Details Makers to Merchants

All in all, this is a great example of a straightforward event website that gives readers all of the details they need, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at what the events look like!

Next Steps

Now that you have some inspiration in terms of the design, colors, and functionality you may want in your event website, where do you go from here?

Well, it really depends on where you are in your event website building journey!

If you’re ready to decide on a website builder, check out my guide to choosing a website builder here.

If you’re looking to go DIY with a specific template to match your design and functionality needs, check out my Build an Event Website: Templates, Design, and Setup Guide.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how to market your event website, check out my guide to creating a local marketing strategy!

The post 7+ Best Event Website Design Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Zenfolio Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Zenfolio Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives(1)

Zenfolio is a photography portfolio website builder that includes ecommerce functionality, so photographers can “showcase and sell your photography”.

Check out Zenfolio’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Zenfolio a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Zenfolio review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

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

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

What Is Zenfolio?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Zenfolio lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your photography website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

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

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

As far as competition, Zenfolio competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com, and photography website builders like Smugmug, Format, and Carbonmade.

Compared to their competition, they focus on providing an all-in-one solution that includes everything photographers need to grow their business, from modern templates that are easy to customize to ecommerce features that allow you to sell photos directly from your site.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Zenfolio has you select from a menu of options around what type of photography you do, then gives you a selection of recommend themes that you can switch out later.

This structure which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience and who want an easy way to get their photos on a good-looking website ASAP.

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

Pros of Using Zenfolio Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Zenfolio — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution for creating a photography website.

Straightforward Setup Process

One of Zenfolio’s best features is how easy it is to get your photography website up and running, even if you have zero website experience. Zenfolio offers a 14-day free trial for those who want to give the platform a test run, or you can select the features you need, and Zenfolio will recommend a plan for you.

Zenfolio plan selection based on features

Once you create an account (either free or paid), Zenfolio prompts you to select what type of photography you shoot most and the features you’re going to be using on your website so they can recommend a template that fits your needs.

Zenfolio Photography Templates

From there, it’s just a matter of selecting the template you like best, then adding your photos. Voila! You have a website.

Zenfolio Website Completed

Functionality + Integrations

Perhaps the biggest benefit of Zenfolio is that it truly is an all-inclusive website builder *for photographers*. They offer a ton of built-in functionality and features that covers everything from selling your photos to seeing website statistics to sharing private galleries with clients to marketing your website through emails, coupons, etc.

Zenfolio Features

One thing to note here, however  — a lot of this advanced functionality comes with Zenfolio’s higher-priced plans (Pro and Advanced).

Pricing

Speaking of pricing, Zenfolio’s pricing is fairly competitive when compared to other website builders, especially when you take into account all of the features you get with their plans. Their mid-tier plan, Pro, has a ton of advanced functionality like payment processing, watermarking, and marketing features, and is just $10/month, while their Advanced plan offers even MORE and is just $15/month.

When you compare that to general website builders like GoDaddy GoCentral, Website Creator, Wix, or Squarespace, you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck with Zenfolio.

But something to keep in mind when thinking about pricing — it’s not just about the price, it’s about how you want to use your site.

If you’re looking for more customization, or a simple portfolio website with no advanced features, you may want to consider another option. It makes no sense to overpay when you don’t need the features that bring Zenfolio a lot of their value.

Cons of Zenfolio

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Zenfolio.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

And you can really see this trade-off with the Zenfolio website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your photos into a premade template.

But here’s the thing — if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of the template, you’re pretty limited.

You can choose different layouts and themes (which are essentially fonts/color schemes), and edit elements like logo and menu position, but when it comes to editing the actual template, you’re locked in.

Zenfolio Layout Editing

With pages, you can add custom-built pages, but it’s in a separate text editor and is pretty basic in terms of what you can actually do with the page.

Zenfolio Pages

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

If you wanted to create something more custom to showcase your photography, the design limitations can be pretty crippling.

In an ironic way, you could end up showcasing your truly unique art on a website that looks decidedly like other photographer’s Zenfolio websites.

Onboarding / Ease-of-Use

I mentioned earlier that getting set up with Zenfolio is incredibly simple — and it is. But Zenfolio leaves much to be desired when it comes to learning how to use the platform to its fullest.

One of Zenfolio’s best features is how extensive the website builder is. There is so much you can do with it. The only problem? It’s not really clear how to use all of the great features.

As soon as I signed up, I received an email with three steps to get started, but the instructions were pretty basic.

Zenfolio Onboarding

If I wanted to learn more about how to use Zenfolio, they do offer a one-on-one session with a “Zenmaster”… but for a platform that offers so much convenience in terms of their built-in features and all-inclusive templates, this extra steps feels inconvenient.

If you’re looking for a platform that’s intuitive and easy to get the most out of, the onboarding process for Zenfolio really leaves a good bit to be desired.

Limited Feature Set – Future Growth

This disadvantage has been hinted at throughout this review, but I’d like to call it specifically here. And that is – there is a huge upside to purchasing software *for photographers* but it can also a serious handicap for businesses that grow in different ways (ie, with courses, content, sponsorships, other business models, etc.

Zenfolio’s engineering team focuses exclusively on photographer features – not business features. While they will always be better at gallery uploads, client viewings, and print purchases, they might not grow with *your* photography business.

If you find general use products that have good enough photographer features but focus on general use cases, then I would look closely at that solution (ie, with other builders).

However, if you are decidedly a pure-play photographer, then this con is really a pro since Zenfolio will only make the features that you like, even better.

Zenfolio Review Conclusion

Zenfolio certainly makes getting your photography website up and running easy, despite the learning curve that comes with their advanced features. Their extensive functionality makes the platform a true all-inclusive solution for photographers who want an advanced portfolio website.

Check out Zenfolio’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically customization and control. And this is where Zenfolio falls shorts compared to other website builders, especially those that aren’t specific to photographers. If you’re looking to create a portfolio website where you have more control over the design of the site, you’re better off elsewhere.

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

The post Zenfolio Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Yahoo! Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Small Business Website Builder is known as an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping small business owners get up and running online quickly and easily. They’re also known for offering responsive websites, which means the site fits on any device (i.e. a tablet, phone, computer).

See Yahoo’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Yahoo! Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Yahoo! lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

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

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

As far as competition, Yahoo! competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed, ease of use, and responsive design (again, web jargon for making your website mobile device-friendly). Yahoo! offers several website templates you can customize, and it also allows you to build your own pages from scratch using their premade sections that you can drop onto the page.

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

Pros of Using Yahoo! Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Yahoo! website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of the biggest pros of using Yahoo! Sitebuilder is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just two steps — pick your theme, enter your information to create your account, and you’re in! Yahoo! automatically sets you up with their free plan, so you don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

Yahoo Sign Up Process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Template Design / Functionality

Yahoo! also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). There are a wide variety of options to choose from, and all of the templates are really well designed.

Yahoo Website Options

Yahoo! Site Builder isn’t technically drag-and-drop (you choose from premade sections and “drop” those onto your page), but it is fairy intuitive to use. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

I did like how the software automatically matches a new “section” to your overall theme for you, so you don’t have to worry about changing the fonts and colors to match what you already have.

Yahoo Apply Website Style

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options. It makes Yahoo! Site Builder a great option for small business owners / DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend much time tweaking the design themselves.

Free Starter Plan

Another benefit Yahoo! Site Builder is their free starter plan. In comparison to their direct competitors, Yahoo!’s free plan is fairly extensive.

While some website builders cap your pages or even your access to support with a free plan, Yahoo! offers unlimited pages, support, and even built-in SEO functionality on a page-by-page basis.

Yahoo SEO Elements

There are some cons with the free plan, such as limited storage, having to use a subdomain (ex: yourname.yahoosites.com), and extremely limited integrations — but if you’re looking for a simple site for a short-term project, this could be a solid option.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Yahoo! Site Builder is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Yahoo! also offers email functionality in their paid plans.

Yahoo Plan Options

You can also get ecommerce functionality, but Yahoo! separates ecommerce websites into an entirely different category (“stores” instead of “websites”) with their own unique pricing plans — which we’ll touch more on in a bit!

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Yahoo! as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Yahoo! is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and small businesses, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with storage caps, which means you’re limited to the photos, documents, files, etc. you store on your website.

It’s confusing to having ecommerce websites in an entirely different category. These websites come with different pricing plans, functionality, and specifications.

On the one hand, this is fine if you know that you want to build a shop from the get-go. But if you wanted to start with a website then add on ecommerce functionality, this structure makes it more complicated.

Yahoo Ecommerce

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

And you can really see this trade-off with the Yahoo! website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and sections based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder. You can’t add anything within the premade sections, you can’t create your own sections, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited.

Yahoo Design Functions Limited

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Yahoo! website builder website (in fact, it reminds me a bit of Google Sites).

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

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

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Yahoo! does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email on their paid plans. They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking (even on their free plan).

Yahoo Site Header Code

However, there are a ton of technical features that Yahoo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Yahoo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title, description, and keywords for the site, as well as edit the visibility. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Yahoo SEO Limits

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

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

Ownership & Company Structure

My team, my clients and I have seen and worked with a lot of different software companies. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that companies have to follow not only the demands of their current customers, but also the demands of their business model. A company might be “good” or “bad” right now, but to know how they’ll be in a few years, it pays to spend a couple minutes thinking about their business model and how they’ll evolve to meet customer and market demands.

For example, anyone who understands that Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users, can understand how & why they do the things they do. There is no inherently “bad” or “good” business model. Every model has tradeoffs. It just pays to know where you, the customer, fit in the picture, especially when you are building something as critical to your business as your website.

Yahoo! Small Business is a division of Oath, now called VerizonMedia. During the break-up and sale of Yahoo! in 2017, Yahoo! Small Business was bundled with other Yahoo! properties like Tumblr, Yahoo! Mail and bought out by Verizon, the American telecommunications giant.

In other words, Yahoo! Website Builder is a product of a division of a subsidiary of one of the largest corporations in the world.

That makes the 5 year outlook of Yahoo! Website Builder…complicated.

The potential upside is that if Verizon gives Yahoo! Small Business budget, resources, autonomy and a super-smart leader…Yahoo! Small Business could have the best products and best pricing on the Internet.

The huge downside is that if Yahoo! Small Business gets lost in the shuffle of corporate bureaucracy, then they could end up like Tumblr (another VerizonMedia property) where they’ve bled engineers, killed brand equity, and sent users fleeing for other solutions.

But in all likelihood, Yahoo! Small Business will probably end up like Blogger. A fine product, but one that is treading water within a much larger organization, especially compared with direct competitors who are either publicly-traded & focused on the SMB market (like Wix or Gator) or private & founder-driven like WordPress.com or Website Creator.

Yahoo! Review Conclusion

Yahoo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, and given how intuitive it is to use, it makes the platform an okay choice for small business owners who need something that’s simple.

Check out Yahoo’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Yahoo’s pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

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

The post Yahoo! Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Accept Online Payments With Square

When you are ready to start selling online, Square (read our review) offers a wide variety of options depending on your skill level and needs. For example, if time is of the essence or you don’t want to fuss with code, build a free online store from Square’s templates and get up and running by the end of the day.

Already have a site? Choose a plugin integration from the Square Dashboard that solves your problem — without the need for code.

But those aren’t all of your options. If you do have developer expertise, you can build your checkout flow with Square Transactions API and start accepting all major credit cards with digital wallet support, too.  Square Checkout is yet another developer option that requires less coding with a pre-built payment form and digital wallet support.

In this post, we’ll explore each path so that you can get the facts and navigate to the choices right for you. Before you know it, you’ll have launched your own online store and can move on to more exciting business matters.

Note: If you’re also curious about in-store payments, check out our related post, How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person.

Webstore Integrations Developers

Build Your Webstore Quickly & Easily

Integrate With Popular eCommerce Software

Developer-Friendly Tools For Customization

Get Started

Get Started

Get Started

Highlights:

  • No coding required
  • Free personalized URL
  • Premade customizable themes
  • No hosting fees
  • Manage from your Dashboard
  • Mobile-ready storefront
  • Integrate with your in-person store

Integrate with:

  • WooCommerce
  • BigCommerce
  • Ecwid
  • 3dcart
  • OpenCart
  • Zen Cart
  • Weebly
  • WordPress.com
  • Wix
  • +More

Highlights:

  • API for custom solutions
  • In-person solutions
  • Online solutions
  • Card reader SDK
  • Customer management solutions
  • PCI and EMV compliance
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Dispute management
  • Fraud detection

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

How Much Does Square Charge For Online Payments?

The cost question can be a very loaded one when it comes to payment processing. The great news is that Square offers a transparent pricing model.

To process credit cards online with Square, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. The significant thing to note is that this flat fee encompasses much more than is typical with traditional merchant accounts. For instance, you don’t need to worry about a payment gateway (and the expenses that go with it) when you process through Square. Read on below to learn the differences between Square and a traditional merchant account — and why they matter.

Traditional Merchant Account Vs. Square

Square’s hardware and services encompass an end-to-end processing system that captures payment information and encrypts it through the payment chain with no need for a separate payment gateway.

What this means for you is cost-savings compared to a traditional merchant account. You won’t be paying initial set-up fees, PCI compliance fees, monthly account fees, batch fees, or higher rates for processing cards like American Express. Square also doesn’t assess any chargeback fees and offers merchants up to $250/month in chargeback protection. All of this is a pretty big deal because Square spares business owners from the laundry list of itemized charges that can come with traditional merchant accounts.

So if Square isn’t a traditional merchant account, what is it? Square is a third party processor. This means that instead of opening a merchant account directly, you are basically a sub-user on Square’s giant merchant account, along with all of Square’s other customers. Square acts as a payment processor and also assumes the financial risk associated with your business to do so. The whole premise behind Square is that it makes setting up a shop very easy for the busy entrepreneur. In fact, you can get an account set up and running to take payment the very same day. The Square sign-up process doesn’t even require a credit check!

While you don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops to open up an account with Square (as you would working directly with a bank), Square is more apt to terminate or put a hold on an account if certain red flags are raised. While the overwhelming majority of businesses will never have a problem with an account hold, it can be disconcerting if it happens to you. Check out our post How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations to find out more. Again, most merchants will likely never have to face this issue, but it helps to cover your bases.

Now that we have covered Square Payments as a third party processor and the cost of processing, let’s dig into Square’s offerings when it comes to going live and selling online.

Option 1: Build A Free Square Online Store

Square Store Template

As I said in the introduction, you can get a free Square store up and running today with no technical expertise needed. This whole process is powered by Square Payments and Weebly (read our review). After creating a Square account, you can go back into your dashboard and select “Online Store” in the menu. Then, Square leads you through the process of selecting the categories that most closely apply to your business. You’ll get a suggested template, but you can choose a different one if you fancy another one better. You can also add your logo, choose from limited fonts, and have some color choices, but overall the design freedom here is limited to the template itself.

Again, for being free, there isn’t much to complain about. A Square store is the simplest solution to get your shop up and running. All you need to do is add your products — your eCommerce shop syncs with Square POS and all of the other Square software and tools. Your inventory automatically updates when you sell an item, too.

One potential drawback to the freemium option, however, is that you are bound to the Weebly logo in your domain name and the footer of your website, and your shipping options are minimal. The screenshot below shows the shipping options available when setting up the free Square store with Weebly. Note that you must upgrade your Weebly plan to calculate real-time shipping rates:

Square Free Store Shipping Setup

If you want a bit more customization and dynamic shipping calculations (among other upgrades), you can purchase a domain and upgrade to a professional or premium account through Weebly.

Square Online Store Upgrade Options

Square and Weebly

The free online store option, although robust in its own way, limits you a bit. As you can see from above, for example, if your company relies heavily on shipping items with large size or weight ranges, it may be worth it to you to go to the Premium eCommerce plan for the real-time shipping rate calculator and accurate rates for UPS, FedEx, or other third party carriers.

The free store also has a 500 MB storage space limit, which could limit the number of photos on your site. The paid tiers give you a considerable upgrade with unlimited space, along with website analytics and insights.

As far as accepting payment goes, you can accept all major credit cards. Digital wallets like Apple Pay are not supported at this time, but I suspect they will be soon. For more about the pros and cons of this solution, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

Option 2: Connect Square To An eCommerce Platform

Square eCommerce Apps

Whether you already have your site up and running or you are building your site from the ground up (or somewhere in between), you can probably find what you need in the Square App Marketplace. Square integrates with many eCommerce platforms, including:

  • 3dcart (read our review)
  • Wix (read our review)
  • BigCommerce (read our review)
  • WooCommerce (read our review)
  • Ecwid (read our review)

And of course — let’s not forget that Square also integrates with Weebly, as well as WordPress and WP EasyCart.

On the topic of app integrations and Square, it’s worth noting that Square can easily integrate with a range of different types of apps that you can shop for right from your dashboard. You can find everything from accounting to invoicing, employee management, loyalty and rewards, and marketing, to name a few. Pricing depends entirely on the apps themselves, but the Square App Marketplace is set up to compare costs easily.

All of Square’s basic eCommerce features integrate with these apps, so you’ll be able to enjoy the same payment processing rates, security protection, and inventory updates as you sell. Of course, each app platform has specific features and benefits, so the finished product (and look) varies depending on the integrated solution you choose. Check out The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments for our top picks!

Option 3: Build Your Own Checkout With Square APIs

If you already have your own site and you have developer expertise, then you have two more options thanks to Square API: Square Checkout and Transactions API. The most significant difference between the two is that Square Checkout is much closer to an out-of-the-box solution. With Square Checkout, Square is actually hosting the payment form, and the UI is already done for you. If you want more freedom in the checkout and payment UI and you want to host the payment form on your site with customized branding, you can opt for Square Transactions API.

Here is a handy side-by-side comparison chart to give you an overview of what you can expect with each solution. Note: All Square APIs and SDKs are free to use. As always, you pay only the payment processing fees.

Square Checkout Feature Square Transactions API
Yes Requires Developer Support Yes
No Can Customize Yes
Yes Square Hosted No (You host)
Yes Store Customer Data Yes (With integration)
No Card on File & Recurring Payments Yes (With integration)
Yes (Customer data
& itemization)
Detailed Dashboard Reports No (Transaction
amount only)
Recommended,
not required
SSL Needed Yes, with
separate integration
Yes Eligible for Chargeback Protection Yes (with conditions)
Yes Data Encryption Yes
Yes PCI Compliance Included Yes
Yes Itemization Yes, with Orders API
No Dynamic Shipping Calculations No
Yes Accept Google Pay Yes
Yes Accept Apple Pay Yes
No Accept MasterPass Yes
Yes Accept All Major Credit Cards Yes
Yes Inventory Syncing Yes, with Inventory API

The choice between Square API and Transactions API largely depends on your particular needs and what you find most important in the customer journey.

Other Ways To Accept Online Payments With Square

Square Developer In-App

Though we have explored several options in Square payments, there are yet a few more to keep in mind. Before we go on, it’s worth mentioning that you can’t add an embeddable “Buy Now” button to any site like you can with PayPal or even Shopify. However, there are still ways to take payments online — even without a website! Let’s check out the last two ways you can take payments via Square from your customer online — through invoices and in-app payments.

Invoices

Square Invoices

You don’t need an online store to send and collect payment from your customers if you use invoices. Square allows you to send one-off invoices for single orders, or to set up recurring invoices for subscriptions or even installments. It’s easy to track the status of invoices and follow up right from your Square Dashboard, too. Want more info on invoices? Check out How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time so you can leverage this option for your business.

In-App Payments

With all the cash being exchanged through in-app purchases, it was only a matter of time before Square decided to join the party. That’s right; now Square offers in-app payment support with a few lines of code! You can update elements to match your app’s style and have the freedom to customize the look and feel however you want. It’s all in Square’s Transaction APIs and completely free for you to use with your Square account.

Is Square Online Payments Right For You?

Square offers solutions for both the tech-savvy and those who want something ready to run out of the box. With that being said, the more appropriate question is, “Which of Square Online Payment solutions are right for you?” And that answer comes down to your needs. From a quick-to-set up Square Store to Transaction APIs that are customizable and free to us, or plug-ins apps that add eCommerce to your existing site, there are many solutions to choose.

Keep in mind that you can add or subtract Square’s services and other integrations to scale up or down with you as needed, so you don’t have to make a final decision today. Setting up a Square account is the first step to get the ball rolling and see the options along the way. With no sign-up fees, binding contracts, or credit checks, Square is one of the least intimating companies to deal with if you are just checking things out.

The post How to Accept Online Payments With Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business

In the world of fashion, trends come and go, but a few select pieces stand the test of time. One piece of clothing that’s found in almost any wardrobe is the t-shirt. From comfy shirts made for the gym to shirts with trendy designs worn for a night out with friends, t-shirts are a staple for men, women, and children.

T-shirts are here to stay, so why not capitalize on this fashion staple? Whether you have a degree in fashion design or you just want to become an entrepreneur, starting your own t-shirt business could be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what it takes to get your own t-shirt business off the ground. We’ll start with basics such as designing and printing your shirts. We’ll discuss the importance of registering your business. Then, we’ll look at startup costs, as well as how you can get the capital you need to start your business and keep it operating. Finally, we’ll look at ways you can advertise your business to bring in customers and revenue.

Ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship? Read on to find more.

Design Your Shirts

Before you begin selling t-shirts to the masses, you have to create designs that people want to buy. The first step is identifying your target market. Are you going to sell t-shirts to men, women, children, or a combination of the three? Are your t-shirts going to be more fashionable, or are they better suited for lounging around the house or hitting up the gym?

Once you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to think about the designs you’ll use. Let’s say that your t-shirts are aimed at the active man or woman. Your designs should incorporate fitness or motivational graphics. You can also determine other features of your shirts based on your target audience, such as the type of material used. If your shirts are designed for the fitness-minded consumer, for example, select a moisture-wicking fabric.

Your t-shirt designs don’t have to be overcomplicated as long as they appeal to your target audience. The key, though, is to make sure your designs are completely original. Not only does ripping off other designs make you look like a copycat, but you could face some serious legal issues if you use the artwork or designs of others without permission.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes a design may be a complete flop. Even the most well-known fashion designers in the world have released items that weren’t a hit with their devoted fans. If one design isn’t doing the job, try something else until you find what works best for your target audience.

Also, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have any design experience. As long as you have some ideas, you can hire a designer to bring your visions to life.

Decide How To Print Your Shirts

Once you have your designs, it’s time to think about how you’re going to bring the design from your computer or tablet screen to the front of a t-shirt. In other words, you need to decide how to print your shirts.

First, you’ll need to determine the method you’ll use to print your shirts. Screen printing is one option; it is a tried-and-true method that allows you to add long-lasting graphics to t-shirts. Screen printing is best for creating large batches of shirts since the initial setup is so time-consuming. Printing smaller batches is not cost-efficient with this method.

Another thing to note is that screen printing is best for very simple designs. Complex designs or multiple colors in one design can be problematic. If you have a more complicated design or pattern, consider direct-to-garment printing.

Direct-to-garment printing works similar to your color printer at home or at the office. The DTG printer prints directly on the t-shirt. With this method, you can use multiple colors and print complicated designs and patterns. Shirts printed with a DTG printer can be extremely detailed.

Setting up a DTG printer isn’t difficult or time-consuming. However, the actual printing process does take some time, so this method is best for smaller batches of t-shirts.

Another option to consider for printing your t-shirts is using a heat transfer machine. These machines transfer designs from heat transfer paper to the t-shirt. Full-color images can be printed using the heat transfer method, and you can easily print shirts on-demand. However, the quality is often lower and the design far less durable than using the other printing methods.

Regardless of which method you choose, there are two ways you can go about printing your shirts. You can use a third-party printing service or you can purchase the equipment and do it yourself. Let’s review the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Hiring A Third-Party Printer

Many t-shirt businesses do not do the printing themselves. Instead, these businesses hire a third-party service to handle the printing for them. There are a few benefits to hiring a third party to print your shirts. The first is that you won’t have to make an upfront investment in expensive printing equipment. You also won’t have to learn how to use the equipment or spend time running it.

However, there are some drawbacks to using a third party. You’ll have to shop around to find a printing company that provides high-quality workmanship. You don’t want your customers receiving t-shirts with graphics that fade or crack or that fall apart after the first wash. Many companies offer low-cost samples so you can check the quality before placing a larger order.

You also need to shop around and compare the pricing of different t-shirt printing companies. Some companies only fill bulk orders, which could put you at a disadvantage if you want smaller batches.

If you plan to only sell your designs online, you can work with an on-demand dropshipper. Once an order is placed on your website, the dropshipper will print and ship out the order to your customer. Before choosing a dropshipper, it’s necessary to place your own order to check out the quality of the shirts. You also need to evaluate pricing to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. The major disadvantage to using a dropshipper is that if an order is wrong, slow to ship, or not printed correctly, the blame will fall on your shoulders, even if you don’t have control over any of these issues.

Purchasing Your Own Equipment

The alternative is to purchase equipment and print your own t-shirts. The advantage of this is that you have total control over both the quality and the number of shirts that are printed.

The major drawback, of course, is that t-shirt printing equipment is very expensive. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars for a heat transfer machine. If you want a DTG printer, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars. You will have to pay for ink and maintenance of your machine. In some instances, you may be able to lease equipment to save on upfront costs.

You also have to take the time to learn how to properly use the equipment or train someone else to take on the job.

Decide How To Sell Your Shirts

Now that you’re closer to getting your shirts designed and printed, it’s time to decide how you plan to sell your items. You can set up an online shop, open your own brick-and-mortar store, or bring your designs to local stores in your area. You may also maximize profits by combining these selling tactics.

One of the easiest sales methods is to open an online shop. Customers can browse your designs and make their purchases directly online. You can ship out the orders yourself, or you can work with a dropshipper to make t-shirts on-demand when an order is placed. This option has low startup and overhead costs.

You can also open your own brick-and-mortar store. While you’ll be able to reach customers in your local area, this option has much higher startup and operating costs. Expenses may include rent for your commercial property, utilities, fees for business licenses and permits, and equipment. You’ll also have to purchase inventory to keep in stock. If you go this route, make sure to consider your local area. For example, if you live in a remote area, you may not have a large customer base. However, if you live in a thriving city or popular tourist destination, opening your own brick-and-mortar store may be a profitable venture.

The third option is to print out smaller batches of your t-shirts and network with local boutique and business owners in your area. With this method, you won’t have to pay for your own commercial space, but you will have to give the business owner a cut of your profits.

To determine what is right for your business, keep a few things in mind. Is this going to be your full-time job, or are you just trying to make a little extra money on the side? If you don’t plan on devoting yourself full time to your t-shirt business, stick to an online shop or sell your t-shirts through other businesses and boutiques.

Calculate Startup Costs

Once you have an idea of the direction you want your t-shirt business to take, you can start thinking about startup costs. The route you’ve chosen with your business will determine how much your startup costs will be.

If you plan to open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll have expenses including a rent or lease payment, equipment and furnishings, utilities, a point-of-sale system, and inventory. Unless you plan to do all of the work yourself, you also have to hire employees. If your business will be based solely online, your costs will be much lower — think shipping costs, plus the price of a website, software, and ecommerce platform subscription fees.

Startup costs vary significantly based on the goals of your business. You can start big with a brick-and-mortar shop and may pay tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to launch your business. Start a smaller online shop, and you can get started for as little as a few hundred dollars to launch your website and register your business.

Register Your Business

You’ve started laying the groundwork for your t-shirt business, and now it’s time to make everything legal. The first step is to determine what type of business structure you will form. The business structure you select will determine how much you pay in taxes, as well as whether or not you will be personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietorships have one owner. These are the fastest and most inexpensive business entities to form and do not require registering with the state. The drawback is that sole proprietorships are not separate legal entities, so you will be personally responsible for the liabilities of the business. It may also be difficult to obtain a loan or raise capital as a sole proprietor.

Partnership

A partnership has two or more owners. A general partnership is the simplest form and does not require registration. General partners will be held liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.

You may also consider starting a limited partnership, which has a general partner and limited partners. Limited partners are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Finally, you may choose a limited liability partnership, where all partners are limited partners and are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Corporation

A corporation is the most complex business structure. As a corporation, you will pay taxes at the corporate rate. Shareholders also pay taxes on dividends, resulting in double taxation. Corporations have ongoing requirements, such as electing a board of directors and holding annual meetings.

While a corporation is more expensive and complicated to form, this is the best structure if you see a large expansion in your future. As a corporation, you can sell stock to shareholders to raise large amounts of capital.

Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company, or LLC, combines benefits of different business entities. Like a corporation, business owners in an LLC are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. However, LLCs do not have to pay corporate tax rates or face double taxation. LLCs also do not have ongoing requirements like corporations.

The type of business structure you select ultimately depends on the needs of your business and your future plans for growth. If you want to build a clothing brand that’s known around the world, choose a corporation or LLC structure. If you just want a smaller online shop that helps pay your bills, a sole proprietorship may be the way to go.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you may be required to register with your state. Sole proprietorships and partnerships may file for a DBA (“doing business as”) under a fictitious name known as a trade name.

Depending on the type of t-shirt business you plan to operate, you may be required to obtain business licenses and/or permits from state and local agencies. Fees and requirements vary by state. You can contact local agencies including your City Clerk, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and state Department of Revenue to learn more about the business licenses and permits required for your business.

Finally, you also need to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. This is required if you plan to hire employees now or in the future. Many business lenders may also require an EIN when you apply for funding. If you’re a sole proprietor, you may opt to use your Social Security Number in lieu of an EIN.

Seek Business Funding

“It takes money to make money,” as the old saying goes. As the owner of a t-shirt business, the amount of money you need to start and operate your business will vary according to your business model. If you have a small online shop, for example, your funding needs won’t be as great as if you’re operating a brick-and-mortar store.

Even if you have startup costs covered, there may come a time when you need additional capital for emergencies or operating expenses. If you can’t fund these costs out-of-pocket, it’s time to apply for small business funding. Whether you turn to someone you know or apply with an online lender, there are several financing options available for your business.

Friends & Family

Know a friend, family member, or colleague looking to invest in a new business? Pitch them your business idea. Prepare your presentation carefully to let them know why your idea is a winner. In general, you have two options for getting funded by someone you know. The first is to take out a loan. Your friend or family member provides you with a set sum of money that is repaid over a period of time — along with interest. This is known as debt financing.

The next option is a strategy known as equity financing. With equity financing, an investor provides you with the capital you need to cover startup costs or operational expenses. In exchange, the investor receives ownership in your business. While you may not be required to immediately pay back the investor’s capital, they will be able to take a portion of the profits over time. They may also have some level of control when it comes to important business decisions.

No matter which route you take, always make sure everything is in writing and signed by all parties. Then, uphold your end of the bargain. Nothing can make a good relationship go south faster than a business deal gone wrong.

Small Business Loans

With a small business loan, you can receive a lump sum of money that you repay over time. In addition to repaying your principal loan balance, you’ll also pay the lender interest and/or fees. You’ll make regular payments to the lender, which may be daily, weekly, monthly, or on another schedule.

Small business loans can be used for any business purpose, including funding an expansion, purchasing equipment for your business, or for use as working capital.

Recommended Option: LoanBuilder

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You can fully customize your small business loan when you work with LoanBuilder. The LoanBuilder Configurator allows you to adjust your repayment terms and borrowing amount to create the right loan for your business.

Through LoanBuilder, you may be eligible to borrow up to $500,000. All loans come with one single fixed fee of 2.9% to 18.72% of the borrowing amount. Your fee is determined by the performance of your business and your credit history. Loans are repaid weekly over terms of 13 to 52 weeks.

To qualify for a LoanBuilder loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 9 months
  • At least $42,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 550 or above

Vendor Financing

As you build your t-shirt business, you’ll establish relationships with vendors and suppliers. In an ideal world, you’d always have money in your bank account to cover the costs of your inventory and supplies. However, this isn’t always the case. An emergency expense that depleted your account, a seasonal uptick in sales, or some other challenge may leave you struggling to pay your vendors upfront.

Many vendors do not offer their own credit programs, but there are lenders that offer vendor financing. With vendor financing, your vendors will be paid the full amount for their products or services while you’re able to pay off the expense over time. This prevents you from having to pay the full cost out-of-pocket for the inventory, supplies, and services you need to keep your business running smoothly.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf provides vendor financing of up to $50,000 to qualified borrowers. You can repay your loan on a weekly or monthly schedule for up to 6 months.

Behalf charges a monthly fee for its service. Fees start at 1% and are based on the creditworthiness of the borrower. There are no additional fees to receive financing through Behalf.

There are no minimum credit scores, annual revenues, or time in business requirements, although a soft inquiry will be performed when you apply. You must have a U.S.-based business and a U.S. business bank account to qualify. Funds from Behalf can’t be used to fund existing debt, such as credit card bills or payroll.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a flexible financing option that allows you to access capital on demand. Instead of receiving one lump sum, a lender sets a credit limit. You can initiate multiple draws up to and including this credit limit. Once a draw is initiated, the lender will transfer the funds to your business bank account. Then, you will repay the money over time, along with any fees and/or interest charged by the lender.

Since a line of credit is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished as you pay off your balance. This allows you to have continuous access to capital when it’s needed. A line of credit can be used for any business purpose, including funding emergency expenses, purchasing inventory, or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that gives you access to over 75 small business lenders with just one application. One of the financing options available through Lendio is a business line of credit.

Through Lendio, you may qualify for a line of credit from $1,000 to $500,000. Rates range from 8% to 24%. You could receive funds in as little as one week after you submit your application.

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

  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 560 or above

If a line of credit isn’t what you’re looking for, Lendio offers additional financing options, including:

  • Short-Term Loans
  • Equipment Financing
  • Business Credit Cards
  • Commercial Mortgages
  • Merchant Cash Advances
  • Startup Loans

Merchant Financing

If you need working capital and you use a service like PayPal to receive your payments, you may qualify for merchant financing.

Merchant financing is a short-term loan option for ecommerce businesses. Typically, qualifying is based on the performance of your business. The lender will provide you with a loan that is repaid over time with interest and/or fees.

Funds can be used for nearly any business purpose, from covering an emergency expense to buying more inventory or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: PayPal Working Capital

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If you accept payments through PayPal, you may qualify for the PayPal Working Capital program. Through this program, you can receive up to 35% of your annual PayPal sales as a loan. Your first loan can be up to $125,000.

PayPal Working Capital charges one set fee based on your sales history, the repayment percentage of your choice, and the loan amount. On days when no sales are made, no payments will be deducted. However, you must pay at least 5% to 10% of your total loan amount every 90 days.

To qualify for PayPal Working Capital, you must meet these requirements:

  • Have a PayPal Business or Premier account for at least 3 months
  • At least $20,000 in annual PayPal sales for Premier accounts or at least $15,000 in annual PayPal sales for Business accounts
  • No more than $20 million in annual PayPal sales

Business Credit Cards

Business credit cards work exactly like personal credit cards. The lender provides you with a set credit limit. You can use your card anywhere credit cards are accepted up to and including the credit limit.

The lender charges interest and fees on your balance until it is paid off. You do not have to pay off your balance in order to continue using the card provided you haven’t met your credit limit. A business credit card is a revolving form of credit, so as you pay down your balance, funds become available to use again.

Business credit cards give you on-demand access to capital whenever you need it. You can use business credit cards to pay for an emergency, purchase inventory, or buy equipment. You can also use your credit card to pay for recurring expenses, such as utility bills or software subscription fees.

Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus

SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The American Express SimplyCash Plus card puts a new spin on credit cards. This is because this card allows you to spend over your credit limit without any fees. You can also receive cash back on all purchases – even if you’re over your limit.

The amount you can spend over your credit limit is based on your usage of the card, payment history, credit profile, and other factors. If you go over your limit, you simply need to pay the amount over the credit limit each month as part of your minimum payment. There are no fees for exceeding your credit limit.

With the SimplyCash Plus card, you can receive up to 5% cash back on your purchases. Wireless phone services and office supply store purchases yield 5% cash back on the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. You can also choose one category to receive 3% cash back on, such as advertising, shipping, hardware, or software purchases for the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. All other purchases receive 1% cash back.

There is no annual fee associated with this card. You’ll also receive a 0% introductory rate for the first 9 months. After that, variable APRs range from 14.49% to 24.19% and are based on creditworthiness.

To qualify for the American Express SimplyCash Plus card, you must have excellent credit.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic For Business

Spark Classic From Capital One


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Don’t have perfect credit? Consider applying for Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business credit card. This rewards card gives you unlimited 1% cash back on all of your business purchases. There is no annual fee, and the card has a variable APR of 25.24%.

Additional benefits of Spark Classic for Business include free employee cards, fraud coverage, and extended warranty protection. This card also allows you to build your business credit so you can qualify for additional financing options in the future.

Applicants must have a fair credit score to qualify for the Spark Classic for Business card.

Choose Business Software

You’re one step closer to launching your business. Now, it’s time to choose the software you need to run your business effectively and efficiently. Some of the business software programs you may need for your t-shirt business include:

Bookkeeping Software

Bookkeeping software allows you to keep an eye on the financials of your business. With this software, you can easily track your business expenses, accounts receivable, and payroll. Many bookkeeping programs also allow you to track other aspects of your business, such as inventory.

With bookkeeping software, you’ll always know where your business stands financially. You’ll be able to run and print reports as needed, which may be required when you apply for business financing. Having all transactions reported in bookkeeping software can also help you prevent headaches when tax time rolls around.

No accounting experience? No problem! Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Payment Processing Software

If you plan to accept credit cards or other methods of payment, you will need payment processing software. Your payment processor will act as the communicator between your bank and the bank of your customers, allowing you to process credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment.

Point-Of-Sale System

If you want a more sophisticated way to manage your sales, you’ll need a point-of-sale (POS) system. A POS system not only includes credit card processing, but it also offers additional features including barcode scanning, inventory tracking, printing receipts, and reports and analytics.

Mobile POS systems allow you to use your app or smartphone to accept payments and keep your business running efficiently. There are also more advanced systems that include hardware such as monitors, keyboards, printers, cash drawers, and scanners.

Advertise Your Business

You’re almost to the finish line and ready to open your doors … or your online business. Before you launch, though, it’s time to think about advertising. After all, if no one knows about your t-shirt business, how are you going to make any sales? Don’t wait until after you launch to spread the word about your business — start right now with these advertising tactics.

Social Media

From middle schoolers to your own grandparents, it seems like everyone is on social media these days. Use this to your advantage to let potential customers know about your t-shirt business.

The great thing about social media is that setting up your profiles is absolutely free. You can also get started in just minutes. Set up pages for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Include critical information about your business on each profile including your contact information, website and/or online shop link, and photos of your t-shirts. Later, you can use your profile to share news about your business and new products, advertise sales, or host giveaways.

You can also look into advertising on social media. You can purchase ads for any budget and customize your target audience to get your name out to potential customers.

Another option to consider is talking to social media influencers. Social media influencers recommend products to thousands of followers, helping companies drum up new business. If an influencer wears your shirt and links to your website, you could see an influx of customers.

Some businesses will send a free sample of their products to social media influencers. While this does mean some out-of-pocket costs for you, the exposure you could receive could be well worth the small expense.

Want to learn how to take your social media marketing to the next level? Learn more in our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need a website to build your web presence. Website builders make it easier than ever for you to create your own professional website. You can also easily build an online shop with today’s modern ecommerce platforms.

When you build your website, make sure that it is designed to appeal to your target audience. Don’t forget to include information on your website such as contact info, details on your products, and clear photos of what your business offers. As you build up your website, you can include additional information and features such as online chat options, FAQs, news and updates, and reviews and testimonials.

Word Of Mouth

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The trick to this one is simple: provide high-quality products and exceptional customer service. If someone buys one of your t-shirts and is pleased with the quality, they’ll be proud to wear it and tell others about your business. If the shirt was poorly made or customer service was lacking, they’ll also tell others.

Word of mouth advertising is an easy and free way to get the word out about your new business. And don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If someone gave a great review, share it on social media and your website. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to give their feedback, but don’t be pushy. Also, learn to accept criticism. Not all of your reviews and feedback will be glowing. Instead of taking offense, learn from it. Where is your business lacking? How can you make sure that each customer that purchases your t-shirts is fully satisfied? Never stop trying to improve your business, and always provide the best products and customer service to keep your customers coming back for more.

Final Thoughts

Owning and operating your own t-shirt business can be fun, exciting, and lucrative, but don’t be fooled … a lot of hard work is necessary to make your business a success. Don’t rush the process. Instead, take the time to plan out your business, create unique designs, and provide high-quality products and service that will draw customers to your business.

Want to learn more about starting your own business? Download our small business guides for the information and tips you need to launch your business venture.

The post How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop


opening a coffee shop

Coffee shops are vital places. Not only do they sell brewed happiness, without which I could not function, but they are important for communities as well. A coffee shop is where people meet up, whether to catch up with friends, go on a first date, or conduct a casual business interview. Thanks to the WiFi revolution, coffee houses have also become destinations where remote workers and freelancers can connect from their laptops and students can study for exams.

Coffee shops these days even have significance in the culinary world. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could go to a coffee shop to get a coffee and a muffin. No one had heard of third-wave coffee, latte art, single-origin pour-overs, acai bowls, or even avocado toast, but today, these are probably standard fare at the most happening coffee shop near you.

The high customer demand for an enhanced coffee house experience means lucrative opportunities for local business owners who want to enter the coffee shop business. By opening a coffee shop, you have the potential to create a unique business that could become one of the hottest destinations in your city. But first, you’ll need to do your research on how to establish a successful coffee shop, and perhaps most importantly, figure out how you’ll fund your business venture.

In this post, I describe the main steps for opening a coffee shop. I also outline the best ways to finance a new coffee shop business, with suggestions for recommended lenders in each category.

Preparing To Start A New Coffee Shop Business

If you’ve decided you want to open your own coffee shop (or are at least pretty sure), here’s what you need to do to get started.

1. Decide Whether To Buy A Franchise

Becoming a franchisee isn’t for everyone, but it might be right for you. There are a lot of benefits to purchasing a turnkey business where most of the elements you need to run the business are already in place. You might want to at least consider which coffee shop franchises you could potentially open in your area, and the costs associated with franchise ownership vs. the costs of opening and operating an independent coffee shop.

2. Determine What You’ll Sell

What do you envision your coffee shop’s menu looking like? Do you want to sell only coffee/espresso drinks and pre-made pastries, or have a larger offering that would require a kitchen where food is prepared onsite? Will you serve lunch or just snacks? What about mugs, t-shirts, or other non-food merch? It’s important to have at least a general idea of what you’ll sell early on in the process because this will determine what type of business space you’ll need, as well as your overall vision for your business.

3. Choose A Name & Theme

Next to your menu, the overall vibe and branding of your coffee shop will play a huge part in determining your success. A lot of thought must go into your business’s name and logo, both of which should reflect your theme. If you want to set your business apart from other offerings in your area, it will need to have a unique appeal. In marketing, this is called your business’s “unique value proposition” or “unique selling proposition.” Determining your UVP now will also help you down the road when you’re applying for financing — and also when marketing your business with signage, on social media, etc.

4. Create A Business Plan

Your business plan is essential in guiding the development of your business. In fact, it’s a document that most lenders will require when you apply for financing. Your plan will describe your UVP, and will also have information about how you intend to run your coffee shop. The plan might include specific information about how much financing you need, projected profits, information about ownership and management, relevant market research, competitors in your area, and other details. You should be able to find some sample business plans for coffee shops online to help you get started.

Some more things to consider when creating your coffee shop business plan include:

  • Business hours
  • Floor plan, including the layout of outlets for laptops, whether you’ll have community tables, etc.
  • Decor—Will you go eclectic hodgepodge or streamlined/modern? Keep your theme in mind.
  • What type of music you’ll play
  • Whether you’ll appeal to kids with offerings such as board games and kids’ drinks
  • Community events you might host—For example, open mic night, family board game night, jazz night, etc.

5. Find A Location

An essential component of starting any business is finding a place to set up shop. Maybe there is a vacant business space in town that you’ve already been eyeing, or perhaps you aren’t sure where to look yet. The design of the space itself needs to meet your needs, while the location in relation to other places of interest is just as important. Foot traffic, proximity to competitors, and convenience for university students are all aspects to consider. You should also consider whether you want to have the sort of space where people can feel comfortable working all day, or if you’d rather have minimal seating so people will be on their way shortly after making their purchase. Depending on your budget and theme, you might consider choosing a former coffee shop or restaurant space so that you won’t have to do extensive remodeling.

Funding Your Coffee Shop

business line of credit loan

Assuming you don’t have personal savings to open your business, you’ll need to get creative in order to secure financing for your brand-new business—traditional lending institutions such as banks and credit unions will usually want to see that you have at least two years in business. However, once you have a solid business plan and prospective location for your coffee shop, it will be easier to find parties who are willing to lend to you. Prospective business owners with good credit and business experience will have the most options, but there are even options for startups with bad credit.

1. Family & Friends

While most of us aren’t blessed enough to have a wealthy aunt willing to fund our wildest dreams, if you do have such an aunt, now is the time to hit her up. You can even hire a lawyer to draw up a contract for a loan between you and your aunt (I’m starting to feel like I know her now—let’s call her Aunt Judy), or use a service like LoanBack that formalizes loan contracts between friends and family.

If you don’t have an Aunt Judy but have personal and/or business contacts that might be willing to invest smaller amounts in your business, you might consider using a platform like Kiva. Kiva lets you crowdfund a small business loan up to $10K, provided you meet their terms and have a certain number of friends/family members from your personal network willing to back your loan.

2. Short-Term Business Loan

Most traditional business loans, which are repaid in installments over a number of years, require you to have at least a couple of years in business. An alternative business lending option available to newer businesses (and sometimes even startups) is a short-term loan. These loans can potentially carry high interest rates and you could be required to repay your loan in a matter of months, or sometimes even weeks. However, STLs can be a viable lending option for businesses that don’t have much time in business or business revenue, and many such lenders don’t even require you to have good credit.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is an online loan marketplace where you can apply for and compare multiple business loans at once — including short-term loans — potentially up to $500,000. Lendio offers terms as long as 1–3 years, which is a more comfortable repayment frequency compared to many of the predatory short-term lenders you’ll find online. If you don’t have much business experience and aren’t sure what business loans you might qualify for, Lendio is a good place to start. When you can compare multiple loan offers as you can with Lendio, it is much easier to choose the best loan you qualify for.

Lendio Borrower Requirements:

Lendio’s borrower requirements vary depending on which of their lender partners you’re applying with, but the majority of loans in Lendio’s marketplace have these minimum requirements:

  • Time In Business: 6 months
  • Credit Score: 550
  • Business Revenue: $10K/month

3. Personal Loan

A personal loan can be used to fund a business startup such as a coffee shop, as long as the terms of the lender allow you to do so. Personal loans typically have an upper borrowing limit of $30K–$50K and carry higher interest rates than a business loan. You also usually need to have good personal credit. You do not need to have good business credit or any particular business credentials.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint is a reputable online lender offering personal loans that can be used for business. These loans are quick and easy to apply for, and you can qualify even if you have a fair personal credit score in the 600s. These are smaller loans—the upper borrowing limit is $25K—but they are accessible to almost anyone with decent credit. You will have between 2–4 years to repay, which is pretty good for an online loan.

LendingPoint Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 600
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Personal Income: At least $20K/year

4. Short-Term Line Of Credit

Like short-term loans, short-term lines of credit are also open to young businesses that are just getting started. With this type of business financing, you only have to repay what you borrow, similar to a credit card. The downsides are that you’ll have to pay back the principal pretty expediently, with potentially high interest rates and other fees. Nevertheless, a line of credit can be an important source of working capital or expansion funds for a new business. It’s also a smart choice if you don’t know exactly how much money you’ll need.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a short-term LOC you might want to consider once you’ve opened up shop and have at least a couple months of coffee-brewing under your belt.

Fundbox offers one of the quickest and easiest business lines of credit with Fundbox Direct Draw. The main requirement for this revolving line of credit is to have been using Fundbox-compatible accounting software for at least two months. Fundbox will use your software account information to evaluate the health of your business, but there are no time-in-business requirements or specific credit score requirements. They will want to see that you’re on course to make at least $50K/year, however. You can borrow up to $100K (depending on how much they approve you for) and will have 12–24 weeks to repay the principal.

Fundbox Direct Draw Borrower Qualifications: 

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: $50K/year
  • Other: Use of compatible accounting software for 2+ months

5. Startup Loan

A startup loan is a loan specifically for startup businesses with 6 or fewer months in operation. Often, these loans do not have any time-in-business requirements. Similar to a personal loan, a startup lender will want to look at your personal track record as far as credit history, and may possibly even delve into your job history and education level. It is pretty difficult to get this type of loan from a bank, but there are several online lenders that cater to startups.

Recommended Option: Upstart

upstart logo

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Upstart is an online lender aimed at younger borrowers, though applicants of any age can apply. Upstart helps fund startup businesses, as well as personal expenses and debt refinancing. Through Upstart, you can borrow up to $50K to finance your coffee business, with up to 5 years to pay back the loan. The main criterion Upstart cares about is your personal credit score, but having a strong job history and/or a college degree will also help you secure a loan with a good interest rate.

Upstart Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 620
  • Business Revenue: N/A

6. Vendor Financing

Some popular coffee shop POS systems offer vendor financing. That is, a POS vendor may offer users of their point of sale system or payment processing service a business loan. These financing products usually have a low barrier to entry and are suitable for coffee shops that have recently opened. Typically, the main requirement is that you are an active user of the vendor’s product.

Recommended Option: Shopify Capital

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If you use Shopify Payments at your coffee shop, you may be eligible to get a short-term loan or merchant cash advance through Shopify Capital. You cannot apply for this loan; rather, Shopify will let you know if you are eligible. You can borrow a maximum of $500K, and Shopify will deduct a portion of your sales each day until the cash advance is fully remitted (paid off). With a STL from Shopify Capital, you have up to a year to pay it off. We like Shopify POS system a lot, but if you use another POS system, you will not be eligible for Shopify financing.

If you use Square as your coffee shop POS, Square Capital is a similar financing product you may be eligible for. Or, if you let customers pay with PayPal, PayPal Working Capital is an option.

Shopify Capital Borrower Requirements:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Other: Have a US-based Shopify Payments account, with a low-risk profile, and process a certain amount per month

7. ROBS

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS) is a strategy to leverage your retirement account to start a new business. Because this method is technically a rollover, you won’t be penalized for removing funds from your 401(k), IRA, or another retirement account prematurely. Also, since you’re not borrowing money, there is nothing to pay back and no borrowing fees. The downside is that if your business fails, you could lose your investment, and potentially your chance to retire comfortably if you don’t have any other savings. A ROBS is a somewhat complicated transaction, but a ROBS provider will help you set up the new account to fund your business in exchange for a setup fee and a monthly service fee.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends’ financing options include ROBS as well as loans. Benetrends’ popular ROBS “Rainmaker” plan has financed more than 15,000 small business owners to date and is one of the top ROBS plans out there. Benetrends has clear, fair terms and excellent customer service. This ROBS provider charges a one-time $4,995 setup fee, and an ongoing monthly service fee of $130/month.

Benetrends Rainmaker Borrower Qualifications:

The only borrower requirement is that you have an eligible retirement account with at least $50,000. Eligible accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
  • Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
  • Keogh

Ineligible plans include Roth IRAs, 457 Plans for non-governmental agencies,  and distribution of death benefits from an IRA other than to the spouse.

8. Purchase Financing

Similar to purchase order financing, purchase financing is an alternative lending product that allows you to repay your vendors for business purchases in installments. The purchase financing company pays your invoices upfront, and then you repay the financing company in installments. Purchase financing lets newer businesses, such as a coffee shop startup, acquire the materials and equipment needed to open up shop, without having to pay for their supplies all at once. You can think of purchase financing as somewhere between a line of credit and a credit card.

Recommended Option: Behalf

behalf logo

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Behalf is a purchase financing company that offers financing for business purchases, at interest rates of 1%–3% per month. Behalf pays your merchants, and then you repay Behalf in weekly or monthly installments over a period as long as 6 months. This service has a very simple application, with transparent terms and no hidden fees. You can borrow up to $50K, depending on how much you are approved for.

You can use Behalf to fund purchases for most inventory or services, such as coffee beans or business consultant fees, but you cannot use the service for things like paying off existing debt or covering payroll.

Behalf Borrower Requirements

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A

Note that even though there is no stated credit score minimum, Behalf does do a hard pull on your credit during the application score, and will evaluate your business finances as well.

9. Credit Card

A business or personal credit card has its limitations, as your credit limit probably won’t be high enough to pay for all your startup costs. However, a credit card is a lot easier to get than a business loan, and if you play your cards right (ha ha) you might not have to pay any financing fees at all. Credit cards offer more cash-back and other rewards than ever before, particularly for business cards, and many cards also offer a 0% introductory APR for the first year. Moreover, opening a business credit card will help your new businesses establish and build your business credit profile.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


chase ink business unlimited
Compare 

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

There’s a lot to like about Chase’s newest business card, Ink Business Unlimited℠. This card offers unlimited 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, combined with no annual fee, a $500 credit if you spend $3K in the first 3 months, and a 12-month 0% introductory APR. This card also carries other useful benefits such as purchase protection against damage and theft, and additional employee cards at no extra cost.

Ink Business Unlimited℠ Eligibility

To be eligible for this card, you need to have good to excellent credit.

If your credit score isn’t your strong suit, no worries. Check out this list of Business Credit Cards For People With Bad Credit.

Opening Your Cafe

Now that you have your business vision, location, and funding in place, it’s time to get ready to open to the public. If you take all of these steps, you should have everything you need to run a successful business, including a demand for your product.

1. Assemble Your Professional Team

Starting a business usually requires you to hire professionals such as accountants, attorneys, architects, and business consultants. At the very least, you will want to have an accountant you trust, as this person can also act as your business consultant in many ways. Professional fees can be high, but can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road.

2. Begin Remodeling

Unless you are building from scratch, you will most likely need to do at least some remodeling to your coffee shop business space to make it fit your needs and vision. At the very least, you’ll need to add signage and repaint. Be thoughtful when choosing the decor, from floor to ceiling. If you need to do extensive remodeling, an SBA 504 Commercial Construction loan might help you finance the renovations. Of course, if you are renting, there will likely be limitations on what changes you can make to your business space.

3. Acquire Equipment & Materials

Before you can start brewing, baking, and all that, you’ll need the proper equipment and raw ingredients. This will require careful consideration, particularly when choosing vendors for coffee beans and other food and drink materials. Make sure you do your research and do plenty of taste tests, because the worst thing a coffee shop can have is yucky-tasting coffee. When selecting vendors for your coffee beans and other raw ingredients, be sure to consider things that your customers might care about, such as whether the coffee comes from sustainable farms or is organic.

In terms of coffee shop equipment, you may have the option to lease or buy. Equipment financing is one way a lot of restauranteurs acquire kitchen equipment, and one you might consider also. Proceeds from SBA 504 loans can also be used to purchase kitchen equipment.

4. Create A Buzz With Marketing

There are so many innovative ways to start creating a buzz around town before your coffee shop even opens. Some of these include:

  • Giving out samples of your coffee at local events
  • Updating your building’s exterior with signage and other eye-catching improvements
  • Setting up a direct mail campaign in targeted regions
  • Alerting the media to your grand opening
  • Social media marketing (more on that in a minute)

Essentially, you want people to be excited about your coffee shop before it even opens. Fortunately, social media and the internet makes this easier than ever.

5. Bolster Your Web Presence

Your business website and social media profiles need to be in place before your coffee shop opens. If you don’t have the time or budget to hire a web designer, you can still create a functional and attractive website using a website builder such as Squarespace or Wix. Posting to Instagram and other social sites before the grand opening will also help you create a buzz and establish an online presence.

Here are a couple of resources that will help you build your online presence for your coffee shop:

  • Guide to creating/maintaining a web presence
  • Guide to social media marketing

6. Hire & Train Employees

Your employees and the level of customer service they provide will ultimately make or break your coffee shop. You will need to be smart and careful in your hiring process, and train the employees thoroughly so they know not only your processes but also the atmosphere you are trying to create. It’s important to value your employees and offer competitive wages and perks, even if that means cutting costs somewhere else; if you pay minimum wage, employees will ultimately be grumpy with one foot out the door. By establishing a positive corporate culture and showing employees you value them, you will create an awesome team that will take your business to the next level.

7. Choose A POS System

Your point of sale is where you make all your money, so it’s super important that you choose a good one! You do not want a system that is unreliable or only pairs with a crappy merchant service provider that charges exorbitant swipe fees. Thus, you will need to test out multiple systems and read reviews before selecting a system. You’ll also need to figure out which features you need and which you can live without. Many modern cloud-based POS systems are essentially complete business management software programs, with built-in inventory management, employee management, accounting integration, loyalty software, and even more functions. You also have the choice to go all out with POS hardware add-ons such as digital menu boards and self-order kiosks, or keep it simple with a single iPad register.

More important than having a POS with all the bells and whistles, it is essential that the POS system you select integrates with a high-quality merchant services provider (or choice of merchant service providers). Your merchant service provider will determine what percentage of your credit card sales you’ll hand over, how issues such as chargebacks are handled, and how much you’ll pay to exit the contract if you’re not happy with the level of service.

To start your POS research, I recommend reading our article on the best POS systems for coffee shops.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things to consider when starting any business, particularly a business in the restaurant industry. However, as long as you have a solid business plan and financing in place, the rest is really just details. Opening a coffee shop is a practical choice for a lot of prospective business owners, as there will always be demand for good coffee and a place to drink it. Not only that, but it’s also a choice that will allow you to express your individuality and become a vibrant part of the local community in a way that many business types aren’t suited for.

If all this sounds good to you, I encourage you to get started so you can open the go-to coffee shop in your city before someone else does.

Oh, and don’t forget the free WiFi!

The post How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

When you think of Vistaprint, you probably think of business cards — which is what the company is known for and has been since their founding in 1995. But did you know Vistaprint offers other marketing materials for small business owners — like a website builder?

Actually…

You probably do know that, because you are likely in the middle of checking out and got their website builder offer. And you thought “is the Vistaprint website builder actually good?” And so, you stumbled on this post.

Well I thought the same thing while buying a few business cards. So, I went ahead and gave Vistaprint a try for a small project for a full Vistaprint Website Builder Review.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s get a bit of background on building a website in general.

Check out Vistaprint’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Vistaprint Website Builder?

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

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

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

As far as competition, Vistaprint competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like GoDaddy, Site123, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, WordPress.com, and others.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease-of-use to cater to small business owners with little website experience, and rely heavily on their existing customer base when promoting their website builder product through customized marketing (more on that in a bit!).

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Vistaprint uses website “blocks” that you can drag and drop into your template to customize it.  They also offer a “done-for-you” service where they’ll handle creating your website for you. It’s an incredibly intuitive platform, making it a great choice for DIYers who need to create a website quickly without having any website experience.

Continue reading “Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives”

Duda Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Duda Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Duda is known as an all-inclusive website builder that was originally created as an easy-to-use mobile website platform for DIYers. It has sinced evolved to help agencies, digital publishers, and hosting companies scale with an quick and easy website platform that helps their clients get up and running ASAP.

Duda is also known for making responsive websites, which means the site fits on any device (i.e. a tablet, phone, computer).

See Duda’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Duda?

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

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

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

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

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed, ease of use, and responsive design (again, web jargon for making your website mobile device-friendly). Duda offers several website templates you can customize, but it also allows you to build your own sections from scratch, making it a solid solution for both DIYers with zero website experience and those who consider themselves a bit more advanced.

Duda also skews its marketing toward agencies, digital publishers, and hosting companies with features like content import, PageSpeed optimization, site personalization, and more (but we’ll get to that later!).

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

Pros of Using Duda Website Builder

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

Free Trial Plan

One of Duda’s biggest pros is that they let you try the platform, risk-free, for 30 days. You don’t even have to put a credit card when signing up — you just create an account and get building.

Duda Free Trial

Duda doesn’t restrict your access to any of the features they offer when using the free trial option — it’s as if you’ve bought a plan and are already up and running with them.

This is a great feature if you’re looking to test out a website builder before committing. The thing to keep in mind here though is that the free trial gives you the features of Duda’s mid-tier plan, which includes things like team functionality, content import functionality, etc.

Duda Free Trial Functionality

If you were to downgrade after your 30 days, you would lose those features. Not a big deal if you’re not using them, but could also be time wasted if you do use them and then have to make drastic changes to accommodate the new plan.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

Another pro of using Duda is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just one step — enter your information to create your account, and you’re in! Again, if you’re using the free trial, you don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Simplicity + Flexibility

Duda is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template, entering your own content is super straightforward.

Duda Website Editor

But Duda also combines ease-of-use with flexibility by offering pretty extensive design options. For example, by clicking the “plus” sign, you can add new, pre-made sections to the templated pages you’ve selected.

Duda Add Section

Or, you can create your own section from scratch.

Duda Section Design

This makes Duda a great option for both DIY-ers who want something that’s easy to customize and those who want to add their own design elements without having to hire an experienced designer and developer to make it happen.

Product Integration + Functionality

Another benefit of Duda is their integrations. First, Duda offers hosting on AWS (Amazon Web Services), which can be both a pro and a con depending on where you fall on Amazon.

The pros are that your site can and will still go down (it’s inevitable), but if you’re down, then big brands like Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, Reddit, etc. are down too… which means whatever is causing the downtime is likely to be fixed very quickly. Your site also has access to the best security and storage and speed people in the world.

But the cons are that since your hosting is bundled with Duda, you can’t actually access your files except through Duda (*although Duda does provide a data export). There’s also a chance that pricing changes on the AWS side will affect pricing with Duda. And of course, there’s some people who just don’t want to buy from Amazon… so if you’re in that boat, Duda probably isn’t for you.

Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Duda also offers some pretty advanced functionality built in to its platform, like access to your website’s HTML and CSS, eCommerce functionality, content import, etc.

Duda Customization

This additional functionality gives Duda a unique edge, because it builds in more control while still giving customers the convenience of an all-in-one platform. Typically, these types of website builders see a tradeoff between convenience and control, but Duda does a good job of giving you a decent dose of both.

Just remember that not all of these features are available with all plans, so make sure you do your research.

Team Integration

While this pro is only available with the mid-tier plan and higher, it’s a pretty solid benefit. Duda features the ability to work with your team on your website, which means you can leave comments on the design of the website for your team to review.

Duda Team Functionality

This is functionality is pretty nifty if you’re a small agency, business owner with a team, or even a solopreneur who wants a designer to build your site in Duda but YOU want an easy way to leave comments.

Cons of Using Duda

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

Pricing + Plans

While Duda has a lot of amazing features, they are on the pricier side, especially when you start comparing features across their plans. For example, if you wanted a basic plan, you only have access to email support, and if you were creating an ecommerce store with a basic plan, you could only have ten products.

Duda Pricing

When you dig a bit deeper, you can see that a good bit of functionality is reserved for Team and Agency plans, especially when it comes to Team Collaboration. And when it comes to Duda’s features that give you the most control over your website, like widget builder, website export, and API, those are reserved only for the Agency plan.

Free Trial

Related to pricing, another con of Duda is its free 30-day trial. Don’t get me wrong — having the ability to use Duda’s awesome features for 30 whole days is great! But as I mentioned above, the trial uses the Team plan… which means if you don’t want to pay a higher price point, you’re going to lose a few features and functionality when you move your website to the basic plan.

There also isn’t a free plan for those who just want a basic, short-term website that uses a subdomain. This isn’t a make-or-break con, but it just depends on what you’re looking for. If you need an ultra basic website builder for a short project, you may be better off with a different website builder that’s either less expensive or offers a free plan, no strings attached.

Company Structure

My team, my clients and I have seen and worked with a lot of different software companies. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that companies have to follow not only the demands of their current customers, but also the demands of their business model. A company might be “good” or “bad” right now, but to know how they’ll be in a few years, it pays to spend a couple minutes thinking about their business model and how they’ll evolve to meet customer and market demands.

For example, anyone who understands that Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users, can understand how & why they do the things they do. There is no inherently “bad” or “good” business model. Every model has tradeoffs. It just pays to know where you, the customer, fit in the picture, especially when you are building something as critical to your business as your website.

Duda is a private, venture funded company. They are based in Silicon Valley with venture capital partners. They’ve done several fundraising rounds since 2010.

Duda Financials

Venture-funded companies typically want 1 thing – growth. Sure, they want to make money at some point, but that will usually be at the “liquidity event” (ie, a stock market IPO or company purchase) – not with quarter by quarter profits.

In fact, most venture-funded firms will deliberately lose money if that means growing their customer base. So what are the tradeoffs?

The huge upside is that Duda’s customers will probably get more features, better support, and cheaper pricing than they would otherwise get. The venture capitalists are subsidizing your awesome product.

The huge downside is that Duda’s business model could change (e.g., “pivot”) at any moment. They want customers and revenue – but they want to follow the growth of customers more than anything else.

A publicly traded  is solidly committed to their market strategy. A non-investor funded but private builder like InMotion’s Website Creator is responsive to the founder’s vision and customer demands.

Right now, Duda is serving all markets, including DIYers. But they say right on their homepage who they *really* want to serve –

Duda Market

If you are an agency or hosting company – this is great. And if you are building a short-term project, it’s great. But if you are planning a long-term site, you should keep in mind that their product development might shift away from DIY features and more to project management features.

Duda Review Conclusion

Duda certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, and when you factor in their advanced features that give you more control, it makes the platform a pretty solid website builder for small agencies and even DIYers who need something that’s easy-to-use but can also scale.

Check out Duda’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Duda’s pricing (and market positioning) leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans.

If you’re looking for a website platform that has that many advanced features that allow you to control more of your site, you’d probably be better off with something like Wix for a drag & drop builder or using a self-hosted website builder like Website Creator or Weebly if you want an ecommerce component.

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

The post Duda Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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