SBA Franchise Loans: A Complete Guide

If you’re a franchise operator, you know that getting started can be tricky. Franchises offer flexibility and support for owners, but require capital to get started. Chances are, you’ll need an influx of cash at some point during your career as a franchisee. Whether you’re starting a new franchise or growing an existing one, an SBA Franchise Loan can be a helpful tool. As part of their larger mission, the Small Business Administration offers funding for small business franchises that need capital. Once determined eligible, franchises can enjoy the flexibility and low rates of a small business loan, backed by the SBA.

SBA Franchise Loan Eligibility

Applying for an SBA Loan is an arduous process, and for franchises, the process does have an additional step. Thankfully, the SBA has worked to make the extra step a bit easier for larger, more established franchised businesses.

What Franchises Are Eligible For Financing?

The SBA has a simple way for most franchises to determine their eligibility for a loan. The Franchise Directory is a list of all brands reviewed by the SBA. If you find your franchise listed on the directory, it pre-qualifies you for SBA financial aid.

If your franchise has not already been deemed eligible by the SBA, you can apply to be added in the directory by submitting an agreement. You may also be asked to submit a Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) and other applicable documents. The FDD will ask for information on your business, including its financial history and marketing strategies.

This process does add extra steps to your SBA Loan application, so it is much faster to acquire an SBA Franchise Loan if your franchise is already in the Franchise Directory. If you don’t wish to be added to the Franchise Directory, you have the option of simply applying for an eligibility review for your franchise.

What Eligibility Requirements Do Franchisees Have To Meet?

After your franchise is approved, you as a franchisee must also meet certain qualifications. Most borrowers are required to have management or direct industry experience. You must also have an acceptable personal credit history with no personal or corporate bankruptcies. The SBA has basic guidelines applicants of any loan must meet. This includes meeting size requirements, for-profit business status, and operations within the United States. You must have an acceptable personal background, a business plan, and financial statements. In most cases, you will be required to put up collateral and sign a personal guarantee.

The ideal borrower has an acceptable business history with a franchise of at least two years. Lenders want to know that your franchise will be a success, so the more successful locations your business already has, the better. Popular franchise types include retail, fitness, daycare, food service, and hospitality.

Ineligible For SBA Funding? Try These Lenders

Many businesses find it difficult to qualify for SBA loans, as the requirements are difficult to meet. If you find that you are ineligible for SBA funding, you can check out these alternatives to SBA funding, which are often easier to qualify for and can provide funding faster with less paperwork. Lenders like ApplePie Capital, Funding Circle, and SmartBiz offer some of the best online loans for franchises.

How Can Franchises Use SBA Financing?

To fund your franchise, you will probably need a 504/CDC Loan or a 7(a) Loan. 

General SBA 7(a) Loans

7(a) Loans are the most popular and versatile of SBA Loans. They are backed by the SBA in amounts up to 85%, making them a popular choice for businesses ineligible for traditional business loans. A 7(a) program offers long-term loans, favorable rates, and flexibility. Funds from a 7(a) can be used for short- or long-term working capital, furniture, fixtures, purchasing a pre-existing business, refinancing corporate debt, construction, refurbishment, and supplies.

SBA 7(a) Loan Base Rates (Plus Markup)

Loan Amount Less Than Seven Years More Than 7 Years

Up to $25,000

Base rate + 4.25%

Base rate + 4.75%

$25,000 – $50,000

Base rate + 3.25%

Base rate + 3.75%

$50,000 or More

Base rate + 2.25%

Base rate + 2.75%

SBA CDC / 504 Loans

504/CDC Loans are a more competitive loan product offered by the SBA and Certified Development Companies (CDC). These loans also offer long-term financing and small down payments, but have less flexibility in what buyers may purchase with funds. A 504 Loan can be used for heavy machinery, the purchase of existing buildings, construction, and refurbishment.

SBA 504 Loan Rates & Terms

SBA 504 Loans

Borrowing Amount

No maximum, but the SBA will only fund up to $5 million

Term Lengths

10 or 20 years

Interest Rates

Fixed rate based on US Treasury rates

Borrowing Fees

  • CDC servicing fee, CSA fee, guarantee fee, third party fees (however, most of these fees are rolled into the interest rate or cost of the loan)
  • Possible prepayment penalty

Personal Guarantee

Guarantee required from anybody who owns at least 20% of the business

Collateral

Collateral required; usually the real estate/equipment financed

Down Payment

10% – 30%

What’s The Difference Between A 7(a) Loan & A 504 Loan?

CDC / 504 Loans SBA 7(a) Loans

Loan Size

The CDC portion of the loan has a size limit, but the overall loan can be used to finance larger projects.

Offers flexibility for size projects, but are generally used for smaller sized projects.

Interest Rates

504 loans offer fixed-rate financing, which locks in low rates for the full length of the loan.

Usually has lower fees, but are variable, not fixed, and are adjusted quarterly. Rates typically rise over time.

Prepayment Penalty

High prepayment penalties

Prepayment penalties vary depending on loan

Loan Structure

  • 50% Bank Loan
  • 40% CDC Loan
  • 10% Borrower Down Payment

Varies depending on risk. Minimum 10% down payment for the borrower.

Loan Fees

Fees are negotiated per the 50% bank loan. Can be financed within the 504 loan.

Fees are based on the size of the loan. Can be financed within the 7(a) loan. An extra .25% of fees can be charged on portions of a 7(a) loan exceeding $1 million.

How To Apply For An SBA Franchise Loan

Applying for an SBA Franchise Loan is a similar process to applying for any other type of SBA Loan. Once your franchise has been approved or been confirmed on the Franchise Directory, the process of applying for a loan will remain the same. You will need the following information for your application:

  • Personal Credit History
  • Personal Financial Statement
  • Business Plan

These are all customary documents for an SBA application. You can get started with your application online and be connected with potential lenders within two days.

Final Thoughts

Operating a franchise can be a great way to become a business owner. Franchises offer the independence of a small business with the guidance and support of a larger corporation. If this sounds like a good option for you, an SBA loan program can be another supportive infrastructure to have on your side. While applying for an SBA Loan can be a difficult process, the benefits of flexibility and support are well worth the effort.

The post SBA Franchise Loans: A Complete Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps

It’s almost 2019, if you can believe it, and more than fall leaves or pumpkin spice lattes, tech fans like myself relish the smell of a freshly unboxed smartphone (thanks to Apple’s annual September unveiling). But it’s not just consumers who love mobile tech; businesses do too.  As mobile technology becomes more powerful, businesses — including restaurants — enjoy increasingly robust mobile hardware which can handle more powerful and nuanced software functions.

Indeed, restaurant managers, in particular, have an increasing number of mobile management applications at their disposal. From tablet-based POS systems that accept mobile payments to online reservation services that let customers reserve a table with an app, more restaurant management functions are being conducted online and on mobile devices. But with all the restaurant apps out there, how do you know which ones you should use? Think of it kind of like cooking: if you use too much or too little of an ingredient, it ruins the dish. Similarly, if you use too many management apps, there’s too much overlap in services (not to mention the fact that you’ll run out of bandwidth and money), and if you use just one or two services, you may miss out on critical features.

To help you out, I’ve put together this list of the top restaurant management apps in terms of both quality and popularity. From employee management to accounting to raw ingredient tracking, modern mobile restaurant software can help you with every restaurant management task you can imagine.

I’ve divided these top 10 best restaurant management apps into restaurant point of sale (POS) software apps—which are often complete restaurant management systems with few if any third-party add-ons required— and other restaurant management apps which offer more specific, targeted functionality.

Restaurant POS Systems

Toast TouchBistro Breadcrumb ShopKeep Lightspeed Restaurant

Toast

TouchBistro

Breadcrumb POS by Upserve

ShopKeep

Lightspeed Restaurant

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

Visit Site 

Review

Visit Site 

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Compare 

Review

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Review

Monthly fee

$79+

$69+

$99+

Get a quote

$69+

Cloud-based or Locally Installed

Cloud-based

Locally installed

Cloud-based

Hybrid

Cloud-based

Compatible credit card processors

Toast only

TouchBistro Payments, Square, PayPal, Moneris, Cayan, Chase Paymentech & more

Upserve Payments only

Shopkeep Payments & some others; contact your processor to see if they are supported

Cayan or Mercury in US; iZettle in Europe

Business size

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to medium

The awesome thing about today’s app-based restaurant point of sale systems is that they are often complete restaurant management systems. Or if they do not include essential restaurant management functions, they will typically have integrations that work together with other restaurant management apps (for accounting, staff scheduling, inventory management, etc.). As such, your restaurant POS system is a good basis on which to build any other add-ons to your restaurant application suite.

1. Toast

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Android-based restaurant POS
  • All-in-one restaurant management system
  • Advanced inventory management
  • Add-ons for kitchen display system, kiosk POS, online ordering, delivery management, and more

Try it out: Schedule a Toast demo

Toast is a complete, Android-based restaurant point of sale system and restaurant management system for restaurants of any size. With strong front-end and back-end features, Toast not only takes payments with integrated payment processing, but also tracks your sales, labor, and inventory, organizing that information into useful, internet-accessible reports.

With mobile POS tablets, servers can send orders directly to the kitchen and even process payments right from the table. Kitchen display system and kiosk ordering are some other high-tech add-ons available for purchase from Toast.

Useful Features:

  • Customer data management system
  • Menu creation with comprehensive modifier system
  • Labor management including employee time tracking
  • Inventory management system that includes a recipe costing tool, food cost calculator, and menu engineering chart that shows you your best-selling and most profitable menu items
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Online ordering (extra monthly charge)
  • Delivery management system (extra monthly charge)
  • Customer loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Gift cards (extra monthly charge)

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Compeat
  • PeachWorks
  • CTUIT
  • CrunchTime
  • PayTronix
  • Bevager
  • GrubHub (online ordering and delivery)
  • Samsung Pay
  • Kitchensync

Toast also has an open API which lets you create your own applications, should you be so inclined.

The Quick & Dirty:

Pricing for this complete POS and restaurant management system starts at $79/month. Overall, Toast is a good option for restaurants that want a complete restaurant POS and management system and prefer a non-iPad POS.

2. TouchBistro

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • iPad POS system for restaurants
  • Affordable
  • Locally installed
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Table management with reservations add-on

Get started with TouchBistro: Get a custom quote

TouchBistro is a bestselling iPad POS app for restaurants. While it isn’t an “all-in-one” restaurant management system like Toast, it’s cost-effective, easy to use, and very good at what it does. TouchBistro runs as an app on via one or more iPads, with multi-iPad setups keeping in sync via a local Apple server.

TouchBistro does have some online reports allowing you to view your restaurant metrics anywhere with an internet connection, but it does not require a WiFi connection to operate, other than to process credit card payments. TouchBistro integrates with multiple payment processors.

Useful Features:

  • Tableside ordering
  • Table management with visual layout
  • Menu management
  • Kiosk option
  • Employee management
  • Loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Reservations function with TouchBistro Pro

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • 7Shifts
  • Xero
  • Shogo
  • Square
  • Quickbooks
  • JUST EAT (for online ordering)

The Quick & Dirty:

In summation, TouchBistro a very capable iPad POS for small-to-medium restaurants that are budget-conscious and may not have a powerful internet connection. Pricing starts at $69/month.

3. BreadCrumb POS By Upserve

Review

Highlights

  • All-in-one restaurant POS and restaurant management system
  • iPad-based
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Fully integrated online ordering
  • Must use Upserve for payment processing

Compare: Compare Breadcrumb with other top-rated iPad POS software

Breadcrumb is an all-in-one restaurant management and iPad POS system which could perhaps be considered the iPad-based answer to Toast. Comprehensive restaurant-centric management features that let you manage tables, employees, and menu items with a few finger taps make this restaurant software application suitable for any full-service or quick-service restaurant, no matter the size.

Breadcrumb is fully cloud-based and requires no on-premise server. In-house payment processing is provided exclusively by Breadcrumb’s parent company, Upserve.

Useful Features:

  • Customizable interface
  • “Offline” mode allows you to continue using POS and taking payments if internet goes down
  • Table management with color coding and meal progression graphic
  • Choice between “Server” mode with table view and “Quickserve” mode for bartenders and other quick orders
  • Fully-integrated online ordering system
  • Detailed online reporting suite
  • 24/7 support

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Grubhub
  • Shogo
  • Restaurant 365
  • CTUIT
  • Peachworks
  • 7Shifts

The Quick & Dirty:

Breadcrumb pricing starts at $99/month. Again, it’s a solid all-in-one restaurant POS system for iPad with an array of restaurant features. When compared to Toast, however, Breadcrumb might come up slightly short in some respects, such as inventory management. However, Breadcrumb offers integrations with third-party restaurant apps to help fill in any functionality gaps.

4. ShopKeep

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Powerful retail and restaurant tools
  • Available on iPad (Analytics app on iOS)
  • Multiple hardware options available
  • Pricing based on custom quotes 
  • Loyalty program only as add-on

Excellent all-around POS: Get your custom quote

While it can be used for either restaurant or retail environments, ShopKeep is a great all-around POS software system that’s reasonably priced and extremely easy to use. Aimed at small businesses in particular, this iPad POS software has a pleasant, Apple-centric interface with convenient register buttons for the most popular menu items. ShopKeep uses a “hybrid” data storage system in which data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPads, and then syncs back to the cloud when there is an internet connection.

As with the other restaurant POS apps on this list, ShopKeep has integrations to make up for any restaurant management features it doesn’t have, such as advanced inventory management and online ordering.

Useful Features:

  • Integrated ShopKeep Payments payment processing
  • Comprehensive register functionality
  • Extensive back-office reporting suite
  • Raw ingredient inventory management
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Staff management tools
  • ShopKeep Pocket App to track restaurant metrics from iPhone or Android

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • MailChimp
  • ChowBot (online ordering and delivery)
  • Quickbooks
  • AppCard

The Quick & Dirty:

ShopKeep is an affordable and capable iPad POS that works well for small restaurants of any type. ShopKeep pricing is customized based on your individual business’s needs and is comparable to TouchBistro or Lightspeed Restaurant. Note that while Shopkeep does provide fairly priced in-house payment processing via Shopkeep Payments, you can also use an outside payment processor.

5. Lightspeed Restaurant 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Affordable iPad POS for restaurants
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Also works on iPhone and iPod touch
  • Best for small-to-medium restaurants

Try out Lightspeed Restaurant: Free trial offer

Lightspeed Restaurant is an app-based iPad POS system built specifically for—you guessed it—restaurants. Lightspeed is not the most complete restaurant POS out there, but it is highly mobile-friendly and certainly delivers a lot of bang for your buck.

The Lightspeed Restaurant app requires iOS 9.3 or later to operate and you can access the backend via any internet-connected web browser. In addition to iPads, Lightspeed can even be used on an iPhone or iPod touch, though using the app on those two devices is best for basic features such as clocking in and quick orders.

Useful Features:

  • Intricate employee management
  • Raw ingredient tracking
  • Tableside ordering lets servers show pictures of menu items to customers
  • Floor planner
  • 24/7 phone support excluding holidays
  • Ability to set up timed promotions
  • In-depth reports

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • Resengo
  • Orderlord
  • QuickBooks
  • Xero
  • MarketMan
  • AppCard
  • Multiple online ordering services

The Quick & Dirty:

Lightspeed Restaurant pricing starts at $69/month. This cloud-based iPad POS app is perfect for small-to-medium restaurants of any type.

Other Restaurant Management Apps

What follows are some more restaurant management apps. Rather than the complete restaurant management tool that POS systems provide, these apps have a limited, specific function — like reservations or email marketing — and may integrate with your POS system or be used separately.

opentable

6. OpenTable

OpenTable is an online reservation and waitlist system that’s convenient to use for both restaurateurs and customers. You can access the app on your smartphone or tablet to view or change reservations, and to see your waitlist in real time. OpenTable is a highly useful tool for restaurant managers and waitstaff alike.

Useful Features:

  • Guests can make online reservations from your website, the OpenTable app or website, or third-party
  • Monitor status of each table in your restaurant
  • Shift management tool

POS Integrations:

  • Aloha
  • Micros
  • POSitouch
  • Heartland Dinerware
  • Squirrel Systems
  • Toast (coming soon)

The Quick & Dirty:

OpenTable is online reservation software for restaurants of any type, especially favored by trendy, upscale bars and eateries. OpenTable’s “Connect” option has limited features but only costs between $0.25 and $2.50 for each booked guest. The “GuestCenter” option with more advanced restaurant management features and POS integration is $249/month + $1 per reservation.

7. Fivestars

fivestars logo

Fivestars is a mobile rewards program for local businesses such as restaurants. Customers sign up for Fivestars’ loyalty program either at your restaurant or via the Fivestars mobile app and start earning rewards and receiving promotional offers via text, email, or push notification. Your staff then redeems your customers’ rewards and offers from your POS or a mobile device.

Fivestars also has a lot of cool marketing features that vary depending on which plan you choose. Whether you want to encourage repeat business or gain a competitive edge on other restaurants in your area, Fivestars will help you do both.

Useful Features:

  • Automated rewards and promotions
  • Send one-time offer anytime your sales need a boost
  • Multiple options for setting up rewards system, e.g., customers could earn points per-dollar, per-visit, etc.
  • Social media integration
  • Customer data collection

POS Integrations:

  • Clover Station
  • Clover Mini
  • QuickBooks POS
  • Harbortouch
  • Aloha
  • Aldelo
  • Windows POS

The Quick & Dirty:

Fivestars online loyalty software is especially popular among cafes and coffee shops, but it’s also used by full-service restaurants, bars, bakeries, smoothie shops, and every other type of brick-and-mortar eatery. Fivestars’ starter plan—which includes two customer-facing tablets, POS integration, the Autopilot program, onboarding and three training sessions—is $279 per month.

Best Accounting Mobile Apps

8. QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks is essential accounting software for small businesses, and restaurants are no exception. In recent years, this quintessential business software has become has become more online and mobile-friendly, with the introduction of QuickBooks Online and excellent mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Besides making accounting tasks simple and affordable for independently owned restaurants, cloud-based Quickbooks Online also integrates with most modern restaurant POS systems.

Useful Features:

  • True double-entry accounting
  • Live bank feeds for easy bank reconciliation
  • Unlimited estimates and invoices
  • Accounts payable with ability to create purchase orders and convert them to bills
  • Easy-to-use payroll and other employee management features (for additional cost)

POS Integrations:

Quickbooks Online integrates with most restaurant POS systems. Usually, the question is not whether Quickbooks integrates with your POS, but rather, the quality of the Quickbooks/POS integration. A direct, seamless integration is ideal. Here you can read about 7 POS system that have direct integrations with Quickbooks.

The Quick & Dirty:

QuickBooks online is cloud-based accounting software for any internet connected device. Depending on which features you need, QuickBooks online will set you back between $15 and $50/month.

Xero logo

9. Xero

Xero is a QuickBooks alternative which many restauranteurs around the world use every day to manage their restaurant’s accounting tasks. Just like QB Online, Xero has both iOS and Android apps and can be accessed via any internet-connected device. Xero also integrates with many cloud-based restaurant point of sale systems.

Xero doesn’t have as many features as QuickBooks; for example, payroll support is limited to only 37 states and there is no job-costing feature. However, Xero also costs a lot less than QuickBooks.

Useful Features:

  • Accounts payable feature with recurring bills and purchase orders
  • Unlimited users with extensive user permissions controls
  • Double-entry accounting
  • Excellent customer service
  • Easier to use than QuickBooks (in most respects)
  • 500+ integrations

POS Integrations:

While Quickbooks is the most popular accounting software system, Xero is catching up and most major POS systems integrate with Xero as well as Quickbooks. Some of these systems include:

  • Square for Restaurants
  • Nobly POS
  • TouchBistro
  • Lightspeed
  • Vend
  • Shopify POS

The Quick & Dirty:

With pricing starting at just $9/month, online accounting app Xero is a more affordable QB alternative for restaurants that don’t need every advanced accounting feature.

10. MailChimp mailchimp logo

MailChimp is email marketing software you can use to boost the online marketing efforts of your restaurant. While most POS apps include some email features, they are usually somewhat lacking. With a fully featured email marketing program like MailChimp, you can set up automated email campaigns to build customer loyalty, advertise promotions, and grow your social media following.

MailChimp is entirely cloud-based; the company also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

Useful Features:

  • 23 basic templates and hundreds of theme templates
  • Easy list segmentation
  • Advanced email campaign reporting
  • Robust free plan includes up to 2,000 subscribers and sends up to 12,000 emails per month.

POS Integrations:

  • Revel Systems
  • Shopkeep
  • Lightspeed
  • Epos Now

The Quick & Dirty:

MailChimp has a very decent free plan and paid plans start at $25/month, scaling up depending on how large your list is (and how many features you want). This easy-to-use ESP supports both small start-ups and large corporations.

Final Thoughts

A successful restaurant business has the same basic ingredients it did 20 years ago or even 200 years ago: delicious food, happy customers, excellent service, and organized behind-the-scenes processes to keep everything running smoothly. However, the tools used to achieve restaurant success have changed with advances in technology. Everything from taking payments, to advertising, to bookkeeping, to employee management has been digitized.

One important job of restaurant management that can’t be replaced with automation is the restaurant manager herself. Being awesome at your job, I’m sure you will do a great job selecting the management apps that work for your unique restaurant business. Have fun with the selection process and make sure you utilize free trials of all of these apps so you can be sure the restaurant management software you choose works great for your needs before you commit.

The post The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Commercial Loans: Types, Rates, And Where To Find The Best

Have you seen the term “commercial loans” in an ad from a bank or alternative lender and wondered what, exactly, that meant? Or where you’d look for one? Or what the terms of a commercial loan might be?

We’re here to help!

What Are Commercial Loans?

A commercial loan is simply a financial agreement made between a financial institution or private lender and a business (as opposed to an individual) where the business takes on debt in exchange for capital. This money can then be used for business expenses, inventory, or operating costs. Though individual institutions may use the phrase a little differently, commercial loan is more or less a synonym for “business loan.”

Commercial loans aren’t specific types of loans but are rather a category of loans or loan-like products that lenders offer to businesses.

Who Offers Commercial Loans?

While they’re not the only game in town anymore, banks are still one of the best sources of lending available to businesses that fall within their territory. Lending standards are still fairly tight compared to those before the 2008 financial crisis, however, so bank loans may be out of reach for newer businesses or those with bad credit. Still, if you’re looking for the most competitive rates, you’ll probably find them at a bank.

Filling the niche missed by traditional lending institutions is the private, alternative lending market. These lenders tend to have easier qualifications and quicker applications. Additionally, most have more of a national focus, which is helpful if your business is located in an underserved area. The trade-off is usually, though not always, higher rates and stricter repayment regimens since these loans represent investment opportunities in the form of private capital rather than banking services.

What Types Of Commercial Loans Are Available?

This is where it gets interesting and more complex. If you’re entering the market just looking for a “loan” you may quickly be overwhelmed by the terminology, buzzwords, and marketing gimmicks. On top of that, individual lenders will brand their financial products, making it harder to make a 1:1 comparison between different company’s offerings.

The good news is, once you cut away all the gimmicks, there aren’t that many different types of products to wrap your head around.

Term/Installment Loans

Sometimes called medium or long-term loans, term loans what most people think of when they hear the word “loan.” In most cases, a business that successfully applies for a term loan will receive a lump sum of cash which can then be used for business expenses. In some cases, there may be restrictions on what the money can be used for. These loans will generally last between one and 10 years, accruing interest along the way. The longer the term, the more expensive the loan will be.

In most cases, you’ll make fixed, monthly payments to your lender. The loan is considered paid off when you’ve paid back the money you’ve borrowed plus interest.

Short-Term Loans

Isn’t a short-term loan just another type of term loan? You’d think so, but short-term loans are actually pretty different than their medium- and long-term cousins. Short-term loans don’t last that long,  as the name would suggest — usually less than a year — so they don’t have time to accumulate a lot of interest. Because of that, most short-term loans charge a flat fee rather than a true interest rate. This flat fee may be expressed as a percentage (18%) or as a multiplier (1.18). In either case, to figure out how much your flat fee is in dollars, simply multiply that number by the amount you’re borrowing.

Short-term loans are both faster and more expensive than other term loans, featuring expedited application processes. Unfortunately, your repayments are also sped up, with fixed payments made weekly or even daily. These payments are almost always automatically deducted from your bank account. As in the case of term loans, these payments are fixed (with some rare exceptions).

SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency tasked with promoting and assisting American small businesses. The term SBA loan is a little bit misleading because the SBA doesn’t usually originate their own loans. Instead, they work through banks and privates lenders, guaranteeing a percentage of the borrower’s debt. This reduces the risk to the lender and allows businesses to qualify for rates and terms they may otherwise be unable to get.

The two most popular programs are the SBA 7(a) and the CDC/504. The 7(a) loan is the more popular of the two. It covers typical working capital expenses as well as site improvements and business acquisitions. 504 loans are oriented more around economic development.

The major drawback to SBA loans is that they have a longer and more complicated application process than similar term loans. While SBA Express loans speed up the process a bit, don’t expect to have the money in your account right away.

Equipment Loans

If you plan on buying equipment with your loan, you may want to consider an equipment loan. Equipment loans look a lot like term loans, but rather than being open-ended are specifically used to cover a percentage (85% is typical) of the cost of a specific piece of equipment.

Why would you want this?

Equipment loans use the equipment you’re purchasing as collateral, meaning you get the benefits (lower rates, longer terms) of a secured loan without putting up any of your own assets.

Lines Of Credit

Not sure how much money you’ll need in the coming year? Do you anticipate needing to make a large number of small purchases over a period of time? Do you just want to have something to fall back on in an emergency?

When you get a business line of credit, your company is approved up to a certain credit limit (a line of credit is very similar to a business credit card in that respect). Let’s say you’re approved for $100,000. You can draw upon that line of credit any number of times, in any amount you want, until you’ve accumulated $100,000 worth of debt. You only pay interest on the amount of credit you’ve used. This makes lines of credit far more versatile than other types of loans.

If the line of credit is revolving, any balance you pay off becomes available for use again. If it’s a non-revolving line of credit, it’s a one-shot deal. You can still withdraw in increments, but once the credit is used, it won’t become available again.

This convenience tends to come at a premium. Lines of credit usually have higher qualifications than loans, and many come with annual or even draw fees. They usually feature variable monthly payments, although some offer no-interest grace periods.

Alternative Financing

These products aren’t loans, commercial or otherwise, but you’re probably going to run into them if you’re looking for commercial loans. Here’s a quick rundown so you won’t be caught off-guard.

Merchant cash advances (MCAs) are an alternative way to get working capital. Rather than lending you money, the funder buys a percentage of your future credit/debit card sales. MCAs fill a similar niche to short-term loans. You’ll still get a lump sum, be charged a flat fee, and make daily payments. But rather than imposing fixed payments, your funder will claim a percentage of your daily card sales. Because MCAs aren’t loans, they aren’t governed by laws affecting loans. This allows them to be offered to riskier “borrowers,” and at a higher rate.

Capital leases are an alternative to equipment loans. Though the word “lease” suggests renting, they’re actually designed with ownership in mind. In exchange for a higher interest rate, you’ll get the full cost of the equipment covered. Like you would with a term loan, you’ll pay a capital lease off monthly. At the end of the lease, there will be a small remainder (as low as a $1) you’ll need to pay to close the transaction. This is called a “residual.”

Invoice factoring is a way to get an advance on your accounts receivable by selling them to a factoring company at a small loss. That company then collects on the invoice in your place. You’ll be paid the majority of the invoice’s value as a lump sum up front, with the remainder paid out to you — minus a fee — when (and if) the factoring company collects on the invoice.

Qualifying For A Commercial Loan

An easy way to narrow down your options is to eliminate any options for which you do not qualify. This will save you time and, potentially, money. Qualifications will vary from lender to lender, but these are the main things you’ll want to consider.

Credit Rating

There’s no way to completely get around it: your credit rating matters when you’re looking for financing. The question is “how much does it matter?”

For the more conservative lenders, your credit rating is a line in the sand. If you don’t meet their minimum standard, they simply won’t work with you. For traditional banks and SBA loans, that line is usually somewhere in the mid-to-high 600s.

With alternative lending, the guidelines aren’t so hard and fast. Some lenders impose minimums below which they absolutely will not go, but others don’t use credit scores for rule-out criteria.

That said, pretty much every lender, traditional or alternative, will use your credit history to determine what kind of rates you’re offered.

Time In Business

Lenders are going to want to know that your business is real and has staying power. A business that’s been afloat for five years inspires more confidence that one that is three months out from opening.

That said, not everyone is looking for the same thing. A traditional bank may want to see two to three years in business before they’re willing to take a risk on you. An online short-term lender may only be looking for six months — or even three months, in some cases.

Revenue

Any reasonable lender is going to want to know that you’re capable of paying them back. Even alternative lenders with loose credit prerequisites, especially those dealing in unsecured loans, will want to see your bank statements to get a sense of your cash flow. The more revenue you regularly take in, the more credit your prospective lender will be willing to extend you.

Location & Industry

This one’s out of your control, but the lender you’re looking at may not lend to businesses in your industry or even to your state. Banks tend to lend mainly through their physical branches and may require you to have a business checking account with them. Alternative lenders operate primarily online, but due to differences in lending regulations between states may not be able to lend to you, or may not be able to offer all their products.

Collateral

If you’re seeking a secured loan or line of credit, you’ll need to be able to put up collateral to secure your funding. What qualifies as collateral varies between lender and product, ranging from cash deposits to inventory, equipment, or real estate. Make sure you can put up the necessary collateral.

What To Look For In A Commercial Loan

Qualifying isn’t enough. It’s important that a lender meets your standards as well. So what should you look for?

Borrowing Limits

Most lenders have minimum and maximum amounts they’re willing to lend to businesses. You’ll want to be certain the lender is capable of giving you the lump sum you’re seeking. Of course, your revenue will have to be sufficient to cover your debt.

Banks are capable of offering larger amounts of money than most alternative lenders. One of the easier ways for a small business to qualify large amounts of money is through an SBA loan.

Term Lengths

How long do you need to pay your loan off? This can be a complex question; there’s no “right” answer. For any individual product, a shorter term length usually means lower interest rates than a longer one. However, paying off a loan quickly may stress your cash flow in the short-term. Having a good sense of your business’s ebb and flow before applying for any financing.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking short-term lending products come with lower interest rates or fees than long-term loans. In fact, those products tend to be among the most expensive in the industry. That said, the speed with which short-term lenders or merchant cash advance providers can get money into your hands may make them the best choice if you have time-sensitive expenses.

Rates

It goes without saying that you want to get the lowest rate you can whenever you borrow money.

APRs serve as one of the easiest ways to make direct comparisons between different products. Even though short-term loans use flat fees rather than interest rates, there are tools available to help you make the conversion.

Remember that lenders don’t always mean the same thing when they say “interest.” The percentage you see may be annual or monthly. In some cases, a flat fee may even be described as an interest rate.

Fees

Not to be confused with interest rates or flat fees, these are costs associated with the loan beyond interest rates. Not all lenders charge fees for every product, and some may have promotions that waive fees.

The most common fee you’re likely to encounter is the origination fee. Usually ranging between 1% – 4% of the amount of money you’re borrowing, this is not a fee you pay out of pocket. Instead, it is deducted from the lump sum you receive from the lender, so you’ll want to take it into account if you’re counting on every cent.

Additional fees may be charged for setting up accounts from which to withdraw automated payments, for late payments, or even just miscellaneous “administration fees.” Approach any lender who charges anything beyond an origination fee with caution and factor those costs into the amount of debt you’re taking on.

Commercial Lenders

Hopefully, we’ve answered some basic, nagging questions about what commercial loans are and how they work. With so many potential options, finding a lender can be an overwhelming prospect. Not sure where to look? We can help get you started.

Loan Type What It Is Typical Rates Learn More

Traditional Term Loans

Loans in which you borrow money in one lump sum and repay in fixed installments. Term loans can be used for most business loan purposes.

4% – 36% APR

Our top picks

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans

Loans offered by the SBA in partnership with banks and other financers. SBA loans are backed by an SBA guarantee and originated by banks and other partners. 

6% – 12% APR

Our top pick

Commercial Real Estate Loans

Loans used to finance the purchase or commercial real estate.

4% – 36% APR

Our top pick

Business Lines of Credit

Credit lines used for business purposes. Borrowers can draw from their credit line at any time and only pay interest on the amount borrowed. 

8% – 65% APR

Our top picks

Short-Term Loans

Business financing with short term lengths, which normally have a one-time fixed fee instead of interest.

8% – 99% APR

Our top picks

Startup Loans

Loans used to finance the costs of starting a business.

4% – 36% APR

Our top picks

Equipment Loans

Loans used to purchase equipment. The purchased equipment is normally used as collateral to back the loan. 

5% – 24% APR

Our top picks

The post Commercial Loans: Types, Rates, And Where To Find The Best appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep

Ahh, the gift card. That classic capitalistic invention that makes every recipient say “Thanks?” Why give cash when you can give something that works exactly like cash…but only at one business (if you remember to bring it at all)?

But, in all seriousness, gift cards are an extremely valuable and important aspect for small businesses. It’s estimated that more than $100 billion is spent annually on gift cards, making it a quick and painless way to increase your profits and improve customer engagement.

ShopKeep, one of our highest-rated point of sale systems, has a highly intuitive gift card integration — one you should seriously consider adding if you’ve chosen ShopKeep as your POS.

Read on for a quick and easy guide to setting up your gift card integration with ShopKeep.

Get Started With Shopkeep

Why Use Gift Cards?

There are any number of reasons why you might want to offer gift cards in your retail store or restaurant. Maybe you want to increase engagement with your brand or make your store stand out from the competition. Or maybe you just want to demonstrate that there are concrete benefits to shopping at your business.

Whatever your justification for offering them, gift cards just make sense for most business models. According to ShopKeep, gift cards provide an easy way to attract new customers by serving as marketing tools. They are “mini billboards,” in essence.

How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep

You can call ShopKeep to set up gift cards and have someone talk you through their customization options. Please note that ShopKeep only offers gift cards with select pricing plans and they are currently only available in the United States.

Step 1: Activate Gift Cards for your POS

The first thing you’ll want to do once you’re ready is to add gift cards to your tender. To do this, you’ll need to log into your Back Office and click on Options. Then, select the Tenders tab on the left-hand side of the screen.

This will bring up a new page. Scroll down and check the box that says Gift Cards.

Next, you will want to create an item for gift cards that you can easily access from your POS system. Click on the Items option in the top left-hand corner and scroll down to select Items List. In the top right-hand area of the screen, there will be an option for you to add a new item. Give this new item a name (I would suggest Gift Cards or Loyalty). On the same screen, click on the Priced tab and switch the checkmark from Back Office to In Store. Also on this screen, you can switch the taxable tab to No. You will also want to make sure to check the box at the bottom beside Liability.

Right below that box will be a tab labeled Tender. Select Gift Card (or Loyalty, or whatever you may have named it). Make sure that you click the Save button at the bottom once you are finished with this process.

Step 2: Using the Gift Card Function

You should now be able to see a Gift Card button on your front screen, giving you the ability to sell gift cards or accept them for purchases. To add a gift card to someone’s ticket, simply click the button and then type in the desired amount.

Select the Cash button on the right-hand side of the screen when the customer is ready and swipe the physical gift card.

To accept a gift card as a method of payment, the process is simple. After the customer’s ticket is complete select More on the right-hand side by payment options, then select Gift Card. You or the customer will then swipe the card to apply the balance to the purchase. If the customer still owes money on their purchase, you will be prompted to take another method of payment to pay off the balance. If there is still money left on the gift card, the receipt will inform the customer of his or her balance.

If a customer would like to simply check his or her balance, open the Control Panel and click Gift Cards. Then swipe the customer card and you will be able to view the amount on the card.

It may seem like a slightly convoluted process — admittedly, there is a lot of button pushing required to set up ShopKeep’s otherwise convenient and intuitive gift card functionality. However, gift card setup should only take a couple minutes at the most. For more information, ShopKeep has created a helpful introductory video, as well as an FAQ page on its website specifically for gift cards.

Get Started With Shopkeep

The post How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Do High-Risk Merchant Accounts With Instant Approval Exist?

Instant approval

It all started with the telegraph. Invented in 1837, this technological advance enabled nearly-instantaneous communication across vast distances for the first time ever. Its introduction into commercial use disrupted a courier system that had been the only available method of communicating from one distant place to another for thousands of years. In 1861, the completion of a telegraph line connecting the west and east coasts of the United States rendered the fledgling Pony Express obsolete practically overnight.

Today, of course, we take instantaneous communication for granted. Thanks to computers and the internet (and the fiber optic cables that actually connect them), we can send huge amounts of data anywhere in the world in practically no time at all. Given all this wonderful technology, if you’re a high-risk merchant, you might be wondering why it takes so long to get approved for a merchant account. You might also be sorely tempted by claims of “instant approval” from merchant account providers who advertise directly to the high-risk community, especially if you’re running an eCommerce business and you absolutely need to be able to accept credit cards. In this post, we’ll explain what “instant approval” really means and why it’s usually not a good idea, no matter how desperate you are to get a merchant account. We’ll also delve into how the high-risk merchant account approval process works and what you can do to make it run a little smoother – and faster. Finally, we’ll recommend a few reputable high-risk specialists that can get you set up with a stable and fairly priced merchant account.

What Is “Instant Approval”?

We get it. It’s no fun trying to run your business with an “In God we trust; all others pay cash” sign posted next to your cash register because you can’t get a merchant account. It also means disappointed customers and lost sales. Under these circumstances, the temptation to sign up with the first provider who will actually accept your business can be pretty overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s also a really bad idea.

The simple reality is that it always takes longer to obtain final approval for a high-risk merchant account than it does for a low-risk business. While traditional low-risk businesses can expect to be approved within a day or two, high-risk merchant accounts require a minimum of three to five business days to be approved, and this process can sometimes take as long as three to five weeks. Why so long? Approving a high-risk business requires a far more extensive investigation into the credit history of both the business and the business owner. Poor personal credit on the part of the owner is one of several reasons why a business might be classified as high-risk in the first place. You’ll have to submit far more documentation and wait far longer for this process to be completed than a low-risk business would.

So, how can some providers even claim to offer “instant approval”? Well, for one thing, it’s not really instantaneous at all. If you see a provider advertising “instant approval,” there’s usually some fine print included with the offer specifying that approval actually takes 24-48 hours. While that’s a lot faster than the normal time-frame, it’s still not exactly “instant.” What these providers aren’t telling you is that approval for your merchant account is actually a two-step process. First, you must be approved by your merchant account provider. Second, you must be approved by the acquiring bank or backend processor that is actually going to underwrite your account and process your transactions.

Getting approved by your merchant account provider is actually pretty easy, but not for good reasons. The truth is that your merchant account provider’s business model is based on signing up as many merchants as possible in order to generate a profit. They’re also quite eager to have you sign a long-term contract, guaranteeing that you’ll be on the hook for three years or even longer. And if you close your account or go out of business, they’ll usually collect a hefty early termination fee (ETF). Because these early termination fees can run into the hundreds of dollars, it’s possible in some circumstances that your provider will make more money from the ETF than they will from your processing fees. High-risk businesses tend to fail at a higher rate than low-risk enterprises, and most of these providers will not hesitate to charge you the full ETF even if you’re going out of business. Although more and more providers are now offering month-to-month billing with no early termination fees to low-risk businesses, it’s still very unusual not to be required to sign a long-term contract – with an ETF – if you’re a high-risk business. Even the most reputable high-risk specialists almost always impose these terms, so be prepared for it and be sure to review your contract documents very carefully before you sign up for an account, even with a reputable provider.

The second step of the approval process, getting your acquiring bank or processor to approve you, is where the delays and difficulties come into play. The risk departments at these institutions really don’t like to approve high-risk merchant accounts due to the increased chance that you’ll run into problems later on. Every processor has their own criteria for determining whether you’re high-risk, and their own documentation requirements you’ll need to meet before they’ll even consider approving you for an account. While your merchant account provider is highly motivated to approve your account, your processor has every reason in the world not to approve it. Getting approved for a high-risk merchant account is an uphill battle, and the chance of being turned down is very high. Fortunately, there are some really good providers out there who specialize in getting high-risk accounts approved, and they’ll work with you to get your paperwork in order and find a bank that can approve you for an account.

Unfortunately, providers offering “instant approval” sometimes take some shortcuts with this process so they can get you on the hook for that long-term contract (and usually that ETF as well). What they advertise as “instant approval” (or being “pre-approved”) in most cases really means that they’re approving your account – and getting you to sign your contract – before your acquiring bank or backend processor has completed all the necessary steps to determine whether to approve your account. In some cases, your merchant account provider won’t even complete a credit check before approving your account.

This practice is all fine and dandy as long as your processor eventually approves your account. However, there’s a high chance that they won’t approve you, and by the time they make that determination you may very well be up and running with your credit card terminal or payment gateway. If this happens, you may suddenly find your account frozen and your funds being withheld. Even worse, you may have your merchant account closed altogether. (Note that in this case, you usually won’t be liable for an early termination fee since you aren’t the party deciding to close the account). In some cases, depending on the reason for your processor closing your account, you may even find yourself being placed on the Terminated Merchant File (TMF, also known as the MATCH List). Getting put on this list is really bad news, as it can completely prevent you from getting approved for a merchant account, even with another provider, for up to five years.

If you haven’t guessed by now, we highly recommend that you avoid any merchant account provider claiming to offer “instant approval” of your high-risk merchant account. This approval process is incomplete and can easily lead to your account getting shut down shortly after you start using it. No matter how inconvenient it is to wait for the approval process to run its course, in the long run, it’s a worthwhile trade-off to get a fully-approved account that will be stable and reliable.

How To Expedite Approval Of Your High-Risk Merchant Account

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

While the approval process is unavoidably a lengthy one, there are steps you can take as a merchant to move things along a little quicker. These actions mainly serve to avoid the kinds of problems that might lead to delays in getting your account approved. Here’s what you’ll want to do:

  • Work With A Reputable High-Risk Specialist: The signup process can be sped up by ensuring there is a good chance of approval beforehand. This means working with a partner that has a proven track record and experience in your industry. High-risk specialists such as Durango Merchant Services will work with you to ensure that your paperwork is in order and can also work with a network of acquiring banks and processors to find one that will approve your business.
  • Have Your Paperwork In Order: You’ll need to provide far more information when applying for a merchant account as a high-risk business owner. If you can present all of this information with your initial application, it will save a significant amount of time during the approval process. We recommend that you scan all required documents as PDF files so you can simply email everything you need to your provider as part of your application. See below for a discussion of specific documentation requirements.
  • Be Completely Honest About Your Business: Are you selling medical marijuana (in a jurisdiction where it’s legal)? Do you have a personal bankruptcy on your record? Have you previously had a merchant account shut down by your provider? High-risk merchants who are desperate to get approved for a merchant account are often tempted to misrepresent these and other facts that might lead to them being disapproved for an account. Don’t do it! Intentionally failing to disclose important information or getting caught in a lie will almost always lead to you being turned down for an account — or having your account closed immediately once the processor discovers your dishonesty. You’re much better off being completely honest about your background. In many cases, you can still be approved for an account despite a little negative information.

As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a lot of paperwork involved with getting approved for a high-risk merchant account. While specific requirements vary from one provider to the next, here’s a generic list of the most commonly requested information:

  • Completed Merchant Account Application (from your merchant account provider)
  • Résumé or CV of business owner
  • Photo ID or Passport
  • Business Plan
  • Personal Utility Bill (used to verify your address)
  • Processing statements for at least the last three months (if you’re switching providers)
  • Copies of supplier’s agreements (for retail merchants)
  • Copies of your personal banking statements (usually for the last three months)
  • Personal reference letter from your bank
  • Copies of your business bank account statements (usually for the last three months)
  • Articles of Incorporation (or sole proprietorship documentation)
  • Articles of Association (if applicable)
  • Screenshot of your business website’s home page (if applicable)

Final Thoughts

If you’re a high-risk merchant, we understand that merchant accounts are not easy for you. Okay, they’re not easy for anyone, but high-risk factors make them even more complicated (and expensive) than they are for everyone else. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get turned down a few times and start feeling like you have to sign up with any provider who will take you. Also, the inevitable delays in getting your account approved can make the possibility of “instant approval” seem very tempting. Resist that temptation. Instant approval isn’t what its promoters claim it is, and it’s a good way to set yourself up for much more serious problems down the road.

The difficulties that high-risk merchants encounter in getting a merchant account have, unfortunately, created a market opportunity for unscrupulous providers who use the lure of “instant approval” (or, sometimes, “guaranteed approval”) to lock you into a prohibitively expensive long-term contract with high fees, high processing rates, and an onerous early termination fee to discourage you from canceling your account on your own. Do a Google search for “high risk merchant” account, and you’ll quickly find ads from plenty of predatory merchant account providers looking to take advantage of your desperation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are reputable providers who specialize in working with the high-risk community and will go out of their way to get you fully approved for an account. While their prices and contract terms won’t be as great as what a low-risk business could obtain, they’re still reasonable and backed up by top-notch customer support. We’d also note that none of the high-risk specialists we’ve found offer “instant approval.” Instead, they’ll work with you and help you to get your documentation squared away so you can be approved by one of their partner processors for a stable account that won’t get shut down the moment you actually try to use it.

Of all the high-risk specialists we’ve reviewed, we’ve found Durango Merchant Services and Easy Pay Direct to be among the best of the best. They both have strong track records of providing high-quality service at reasonable prices. For more recommendations, check out our post The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers or see the chart below.

Durango SMB Global Host Merchant Services Soar Payments

Review Visit Site Review Visit Site Review Visit Site Review Visit Site
Specialities International, Offshore, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Fantasy Sports, Forex International, Offshore, Travel Businesses, Nutraceuticals, Multilevel Marketing, Kratom, CBD Oil Debt Collection, Life Coaching, Airlines, Loan Modification, SEO Services Antiques & Collectibles, Credit Repair, Debt Consolidation, Firearms & Ammunition, Precious Metals

The post Do High-Risk Merchant Accounts With Instant Approval Exist? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

If you’ve ever applied for a loan — whether it be for a car, a house, or even a small business — then I’m sure you’re well acquainted with the importance of credit scores. But what about credit reports?

Credit reports tell lenders about your credit history and indicate how reliable you are as a borrower. But more than that, credit reports help you understand your credit, improve your credit score, and prevent fraud and identity theft. So how do you get your credit report? That’s where credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion come in.

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about credit bureaus. Then we’ll break down the “big three” credit bureaus so you can confidently understand your credit report and score.

What Is A Credit Bureau?

Let’s start with the basics.

A credit bureau is a business organization that collects and sells data regarding the credit history of individuals. They typically collect data such as your credit card and loan balances, the number of credit accounts you have, your payment history, any bankruptcies, etc. Today, there are dozens of credit bureaus, but the “big three” are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Credit bureaus arose to help lenders quickly gauge the reliability of a potential borrower. In the past, you could go to the good ol’ general store and the owner would know you, your character, and whether or not putting your items on “charge” (or on credit) was a good idea. That method may have worked in the past, when communities were small and isolated, but there had to be a better way moving forward. Thus credit bureaus were born.

Credit bureaus collect data on potential borrowers and sell it to banks to help them make informed lending decisions. The oldest of the “big three,” Equifax, started capitalizing on this need all the way back in 1899.

Today, the credit bureaus have streamlined and computerized the whole process by compiling the data they collect into a credit report and credit score. While every credit bureau calculates credit scores differently, and every lender has different credit score requirements, credit reports and credits scores allow for a more universal measuring stick to judge potential borrowers by. Recently, credit bureaus also have branched out to providing dozens of additional products to help individuals and businesses alike, including identity protection, business marketing, and more.

How Do Credit Bureaus Collect My Information?

Okay, we admit it all sounds a bit creepy. Big Brother’s always watching, right? Well, yes, but it might comfort you to know how credit bureaus collect and share your information.

Credit bureaus mainly collect information from credit institutions with which you already have a relationship, such as:

  • Banks
  • Credit card companies
  • Student loan providers
  • Auto loan providers

Credit bureaus do not have access to these accounts; instead, the credit institutions share the information with the credit bureaus. Credit institutions are not obligated to share information and can give data to one, two, three, or none of the major credit bureaus. Typically, credit bureaus store data on your balances, available credit, payment history, and the number of open and closed accounts you have. Collection agencies and debt collectors may also report to the credit bureaus if you have any delinquent activity.

The rest of the information credit bureaus collect comes from public court records. They access these records in search of any possible bankruptcies, tax liens, repossessions, and foreclosures.

How Do Credit Bureaus Use My Information?

Now that you know how credit bureaus collect your information, you’re probably wondering how they use your information?

Credit bureaus use your information to create credit reports and credit scores. They then share your information with potential lenders, landlords, and employers for a number of reasons. Your credit report may be pulled up in the following scenarios:

  • When a lender is checking your credit to see if you qualify for a loan
  • When a landlord is deciding whether or not to accept your rental application
  • When a new employer needs to run a background check
  • When a utility provider is about to start a service contract with you

Credit bureaus also sell information for marketing purposes. Say a lender is looking for potential customers with poor credit who might need a credit card. The lender will reach out to a credit bureau, which will then sell the lender a prescreening list of qualifying individuals and their basic contact information. (If you’ve ever wondered how you end up with so many preapproved credit cards flooding your mailbox, this is it.)

However, there are rules that protect you and your data — particularly the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The FCRA is a law that states you have the right to know your credit report and the right to dispute any errors on your credit report. It also lays out what is a “permissible purpose” for a lender to pull your credit and what is an “impermissible purpose.”

If a potential lender, landlord, utility provider, future employer, insurer — you name it — wants to view your full credit report, they must have a permissible purpose and your permission first. In some cases, a potential lender will simply let you know that they will do a credit pull, and by following through with the application, you grant them permission to do so. In other cases, a landlord might have you use a tenant screening service like ExperianConnect, where you have to download your credit report and share it with them directly.

If you aren’t comfortable with credit bureaus prescreening your information and sending it to third-party lenders, you can use OptOutPrescreen.com to prevent this. Continue onto the “What To To Do In Case of Fraud Or Identity Theft” section to learn more ways to protect your credit report and personal information.

Credit Reports VS Credit Scores

Since credit bureaus use your credit history to compile both a credit report and a credit score, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Credit Report Credit Score

A report prepared by credit bureaus that shows an individual’s credit history, including payment history, loan balances, credit limits, and personal information (such as your social security number, birth date, and address).

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A number that indicates an individuals creditworthiness and is based on the individual’s credit history, payment history, and other data compiled by credit bureaus.

On a credit report, you’ll see detailed information about your credit history. A typical credit report will give you a full breakdown of all your open or closed credit accounts, bank accounts, loans, and payment history. Below, you’ll se an example of a credit report and what it might include (this is only page 1 of 4, so you can imagine how detailed your full credit report might be):

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

A credit score, on the other hand, provides much less detail. You’ll usually be given your credit score in tandem with a graphic indicator of whether your credit score is poor, fair, good, or excellent. You may be able to drill down to see the factors that affect your credit score, and you may not. Here’s an example of a credit score and how it might appear:

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Think of it like this: a credit report is a detailed report of what your credit history is, while a credit score is an interpretation of what your credit history means. Your credit score is one of the biggest factors lenders use when considering loan applications; the higher the score, the more likely you are to pay your loan back — at least, in a lender’s eyes.

It’s worth noting one more key difference between credit reports and credit scores. Credit bureaus are legally obligated to give you a free credit report once a year, whereas there is no law requiring them to provide a credit score. This means you’ll have to pay a fee to access your credit score through one of the “big three.” There are free credit score sites if you want to avoid this fee. Check out our post The Best Free Credit Score Sites to learn more.

Note: In certain situations — like unemployment, identity theft, and fraud — you can access your credit report multiple times a year without charge.

How Credit Scores Are Calculated

Credit scores are all based on similar data but can vary significantly depending on the credit score model. Credit scores are generally affected by the following:

  • Your payment history
  • How much credit you use versus how much credit is available in an account
  • The number of accounts you have open
  • How long your accounts have been open
  • The types of credit you have (such as credit cars, loans, mortgages, etc.)

How this information is transformed into a credit score depends on the credit model being used. There are two main types of credit models: FICO scores and VantageScore.

FICO Scores VS VantageScore

The FICO score model was created by Fair Isaac Corporation in 1989 (hence the name FICO). FICO credit scores range from 350 – 850 and are determined by these five factors, which are ranked in terms of importance by percentage:

  • Payment History: 35%
  • Amounts Allowed: 30%
  • Length Of Credit History: 15%
  • New Credit: 10%
  • Credit Mix: 10%

The VantageScore model was created by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion in 2006. This model also uses a 350-850 scale. Scores are determined by the following six factors that are ranked by level of importance rather than a percentage:

  • Payment History: Extremely influential
  • Percentage Of Credit Limit Used: Highly influential
  • Age & Type Of Credit: Highly influential
  • Total Balances & Debt: Moderately influential
  • Available Credit: Less influential
  • Recent Credit Behavior & Inquiries: Less influential

VantageScore claims that it is “the scoring model that is more accurate.” However, the FICO scoring model is used more predominantly in the lending industry.

Why Is My Credit Score Different With Each Bureau?

It makes sense that your credit score may vary depending on whether the potential lender is using the FICO or VantageScore model. But when the “big three” all use the VantageScore model, why do you get a different credit score from each credit bureau?

Remember earlier when we said that credit institutions aren’t required to share information with the credit bureaus? They can choose to share data with one, two, three, or none of the “big three.” This means that Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion don’t have access to exactly the same data, which accounts for the difference in credit scores.

This is why it’s important to treat your credit score as a “guesstimation” rather than an end-all number. Credit scores are ever-changing and lenders all have their own way of calculating and evaluating your credit score. Check your credit score so you have a general idea of what it is, and try to keep your score as close to 850 as possible, but don’t stress over-much about the exact three-digit number.

Reasons To Use A Credit Bureau

Now that you know what credit bureaus are and how they work, when should you use one? It’s simple: use a credit bureau anytime you want to know or need to know your credit report or credit score. Here are five of the most common scenarios for when you should use a credit bureau.

 

1. When Applying For A Loan

When applying for a loan, a potential lender is going to consider both your credit report and credit score, so it’s extremely important that you know your credit report and score beforehand. This way, you can correct any errors on your credit report and make sure you meet the lender’s minimum borrower requirements before you apply.

If there are errors, they can take a while to set right. Additionally, if you don’t meet the credit score requirement, raising your credit score can take time. Knowing the state of your credit before applying gives you the time to put your best foot forward and significantly increases your chances of being approved for a loan.

For more tips and tricks about increasing your chances of securing the loan you want, read our post on improving your loan application.

2. Before Renting An Apartment Or House

Potential landlords almost always run a credit report in order to decide if you’re trustworthy enough to make your monthly payments on time. Knowing your credit report beforehand is key. Again, if there are any errors, you can correct them before your future apartment or house is on the line. Or, if there is a missed payment or some other potential red flag on your credit report, you can try to explain the situation to your landlord in advance rather than being flat-out rejected.

3. To Improve Your Credit Score

If you are wanting to monitor and improve your credit score, you need to know your score first. Each of the “big three” allows you to purchase your credit score. They also offer credit monitoring subscriptions that allow you to regularly view your credit score and receive alerts when there are any changes to your credit score.

If you don’t want to pay for a monthly credit monitoring service, check out the best free credit score sites.

4. To Doublecheck For Credit Errors

As we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to be stuck with an error on your credit report right when you’re in the middle of the application approval process for a new loan or mortgage. Check each of the big three credit bureaus for errors as they all collect and maintain different information.

5. To Prevent Fraud & Identity Theft

Another benefit of using a credit bureau is fraud prevention and identity protection. If you stay on top of your credit report, you can pinpoint anything fishy and secure your information. When it comes to fraud and identity theft, the sooner you notice a problem, the better. One of the best parts about using one of the “big three” credit bureaus is that they all offer some form of fraud monitoring and extra security measures (which we will cover in more detail).

Bonus: To Help Run Your Business

As an added bonus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion all offer additional business services to help business owners manage, expand, and secure their small businesses. These services include everything from analytics to customer acquisition to risk management to fraud prevention and more.

What To Do If There’s An Error On Your Credit Report

If you find an error on your credit report, you’ll need to report and dispute that error with each individual bureau since each bureau collects and utilizes different information. Each bureau has their own process for disputing. You’ll need to go to their individual sites to find details on how to fix an error on your credit report.

One of the reasons it’s so important to check your credit report regularly is that it can often take months to properly fix an error on your credit report. For more details on common credit report mistakes and how to dispute credit report errors, visit the FICO website.

What To Do In Case Of Fraud Or Identity Theft

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

When it comes to fraud and identity theft, you don’t want to take any chances. If you suspect fraud related to any of your credit cards, bank accounts, or identity — or if your identity has been stolen — it’s important to take action right away. You can do so by submitting a fraud alert or security freeze (sometimes known as a credit freeze).

Both a fraud alert and security freeze are steps to secure your credit report and personal information, but they differ slightly.

Fraud Alert Security Freeze

A fraud alert warns credit bureaus that there might be fraudulent activity, so potential lenders will need to take extra measure to verify your identity before extending credit.

VS

A security freeze blocks lenders from accessing your credit report at all until the freeze is lifted by you (usually using a pin).

Fraud alerts usually last 90 days (unless you’re an identity theft victim, in which case you can extend the alert). To place a fraud alert, contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion and follow their instructions. You only need to contact one of the big three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert as they will notify the other two credit bureaus.

A credit freeze has the advantage of being much more secure. However, you will have to lower the freeze each you time you or a lender need to view your credit report, and you may be required to pay for the service. Unlike a fraud alert, you will have to place a security freeze with each of the three bureaus.

How Do The Big Three Credit Bureaus Compare

Now that you know the basics about credit bureaus and the reasons to use one, how do you know which credit bureau to use? How do the big three compare to each other? And what products do each credit bureau offer? Here’s a basic breakdown that compares Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Read on to learn more about each credit bureau.

Equifax Experian TransUnion

Free Annual Credit Report

✓

✓

✓

Credit Score

$15.95

$19.99

$19.95

Credit Monitoring

✗

Starts at $0/mo

$19.95/mo

Identity Protection

✓

✓

✓

Business Credit Score

✓

✓

✓

Number of Business Services

11

12

15

Equifax

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

Individuals looking to check their Equifax credit report and score and in need of a free credit lock service.

The oldest of the three credit bureaus, Equifax has been around since 1899. While the company has grown significantly over the years, the Equifax motto to “always focus on its customers” has stayed the same. Today, Equifax offers basic credit report and credit score services as well as several business products. The most notable aspect of Equifax is its free credit lock service that allows individuals to protect their data at no additional cost.

Products Offered

Equifax offers basic credit report and credit score services, as well as a free credit lock service.

  • Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free Equifax credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
  • Equifax Credit Score: You can purchase an Equifax credit score for $15.95. This score will be accessible for 30 days.
  • Lock & Alert: This free service allows individuals control over their credit report by locking and unlocking the report as needed. They even have a mobile app and send alerts every time your account is unlocked or locked.

Business Services

You can purchase a single business credit report from Equifax for $99 or a multi-pack for $399.95. You can use this to view your own business credit or to ascertain the credit health of a potential business partner, supplier, or new customer.

In addition to business credit reports, Equifax offers 11 products to help you run your small business. These products range from customer acquisition to risk mitigation to credit monitoring to fraud prevention and more. Visit the Equifax website to learn more about their business offerings.

Experian

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

Individuals looking to view their Experian credit report or to actively monitor their credit report and credit score from all three credit bureaus.

Equifax began as part of TRW Information Systems and Services INC. back in 1968, and has since had a long history of acquisitions and advancement. Of all three bureaus, Experian offers the most personal products for monitoring and protecting your credit. What really sets Experian apart is that you can monitor your credit report from each of the three bureaus, so you can have all your credit information in one place. Experian also offers a FICO score simulator, which is invaluable for seeing what your FICO score could be if you make changes to your credit.

Products Offered

Experian offers personal credit monitoring and identity protection products as well as loan matching and credit card matching services.

  • Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free Experian credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
  • Experian Credit Report & Score: You can purchase your Experian credit report and FICO credit score for $19.99. This purchase is only good for a one-time view.
  • 3 Bureau Credit Report & FICO Score: For $39.99, you can view your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit report as well as your FICO credit score. This purchase is only good for a one-time view.
  • Experian CreditWorks Basic: View your Experian credit report for free every month.
  • Experian CreditWorks Premium: For $24.99/month, you can view your FICO score and gain access to Experian’s credit monitoring, identity protection, and credit lock services. This service includes the 3 Bureaus Credit Report. This product lets you view your credit reports and credit score daily, and it includes a FICO score simulator as well.
  • Experian IdentityWorks Plus: Experian’s identity protection service starts at $9.99/month and includes dark web surveillance, identity theft insurance up to $500,000, lost wallet assistance, credit lock, and identity theft monitoring and alerts. Includes credit monitoring for Experian and FICO score alerts. You can add child identity protection as well.
  • Experian IdentityWorks Premium: Experian’s most expensive identity protection service is $19.99/month and includes dark web surveillance, identity theft insurance up to $1,00,000, lost wallet assistance, credit lock, and identity theft monitoring and alerts. Includes credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus and FICO score alerts. You can add child identity protection as well.

Note: For Experian CreditWorks and IdentityWorks products, you can receive a discount for purchasing an annual subscription rather than a monthly subscription.

Business Services

Experian does offer business credit scores, although they aren’t forthcoming about the cost. The credit bureau also offers Experian Connect (a tenant screening service) and Experian Mailing List Builder (a customer acquisition service).

In addition, Experian offers 11 other business services ranging from customer management to risk management to debt recovery to consulting services and more. Visit the Experian website to learn more about their business offerings.

TransUnionThe Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

Individuals looking to check their TransUnion credit report and score and to manage their business and its credit.

TransUnion started back in 1968 as a holding company for a railroad leasing organization known as Union Tank Car Company. Today, TransUnion is the smallest of the three credit bureaus but packs the biggest punch where business services are concerned. TransUnion also offers a credit score simulator — it is a great tool for improving your credit score as you can see how your credit could be affected if you made certain changes to your credit.

Products

TransUnion offers basic credit report and credit score products, as well as a free credit monitoring and identity theft service.

  • Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free TransUnion credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
  • TrueIdentity: This is TransUnion’s free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service. It includes unlimitedTransUnion credit reports, a credit lock service, and alerts.
  • Credit Monitoring: For $19.99/month, you can have access to unlimited TransUnion credit report and score views, as well as credit lock, credit change alerts, and a score trending and score simulator tool.

Business Services

TransUnion offers business credit scores, although they aren’t forthcoming about the cost. The credit bureau also offers SmartMove, a tenant screening service.

In addition, TransUnion offers business products covering 14 fields, including marketing, fraud detection, healthcare revenue protection, customer acquisition, and more. Visit the TransUnion website to learn more about their business offerings.

Which Credit Bureau Should I Use?

Now that you know a little more about each of the three credit bureaus, the question becomes: Which credit bureau should I use?

The answer is all three of them.

We promise this isn’t a trick answer. Since each credit bureau collects different data regarding your credit history, it’s incredibly important to check your credit report with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Luckily, you are legally guaranteed a free annual credit report from each bureau.

One recommendation is to stagger your annual free credit report. Check your Equifax report, then your Experian report four months later, and then your TransUnion report after another four months. This way you can always have a rough idea of what your credit report looks like without losing a penny. Another option is to use ExperianCreditWorks, which monitors all three credit bureaus and your FICO score for $24.99 a month.

If you simply want more control over your credit report and credit score, Experian offers the most bang for your buck in terms of personal credit monitoring and identity protection. However, TransUnion offers the most business-related products.

Ultimately, choosing which of the three credit bureaus’ monitoring services is right for you will depend on your budget and the level of control you want. The most important thing is to actually monitor your credit regularly. Take advantage of your free annual credit reports and know your credit score at the very least. Being proactive about your credit report can help ensure your credit report is accurate and can help catch any early signs of fraud, and knowing your credit score is the first step to improving your credit score.

Read our post 5 Ways To Improve Your Personal Credit Score and The Ultimate Guide To Improving Your Business Credit Score to learn more.

The post The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online

Best Products to Sell Online

You’ve probably landed here on this beautiful wall of text because you’re wanting to start an online store and are wondering, “What are the best products to sell online?”

The short version – it depends 🙂

The long version – keep reading for specific ideas to find the best product for you to sell online.

There are hundreds of articles out there talking about trending products for [insert year here], the best all-time products, rising products, etc., but these resources are typically 100% based on what’s happening now.

So, how do you know what the best products are in general?

Again, spoiler alert: there is no such thing as a best product to sell online!

Sure, there are basic principles to stick to, such as

  • products with a high average order value
  • things that can be drop shipped / don’t require a high-touch in store experience
  • products that can be shipped cheaply and easily, etc.

But with that said, if you look at the brands that are killing it online right now, like Native, Dollar Shave Club, and Tuft & Needle… they break all of those “rules”. Native sells deodorant, Dollar Shave Club built an entire business on super-cheap razors, and Tuft & Needle sells mattresses (a product that typically requires a high-touch in-store experience with high shipping costs).

I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as the “best” anything — instead, I operate from “best for your skills, knowledge, resources, and goals”.

So when it comes to starting your online store, the key is to move out of the “best product to sell online” mindset and into the “best product for ME to sell online” mindset. And that’s a product that fits your skill set, knowledge, resources, timeline, and market demand.

There are several approaches to finding the best product to sell online for you… and that’s what I’ll be breaking down in this post.

How to Find the Best Products to Sell Online (For You)

The Product Research Route (Amazon scraping, Adplexity, etc)

Thanks to platforms like Amazon, anyone can sell something online — and luckily for you, there is a giant trove of product data just waiting for you on the Internet.

One way to figure out what to sell is by looking at other products that are performing well and weighing those against your own wants and needs.

The goal here is to collect data on what’s working already, then reverse engineer an ecommerce strategy to sell it.

For example, let’s say you’re looking on Amazon for bestselling dog toys. You could look at niches within dog toys to niche-down into subcategories, look at best-selling products within those subcategories, see top sellers to identify competitors — the opportunities are endless.

Amazon Bestselling Dog Toys

The bonus here is you don’t have to do this manually — and you’re not limited to Amazon’s data. Spy tools like Adplexity and Jungle Scout can aggregate product data across several ecommerce platforms and even show you competitor’s ads so you can reverse engineer a marketing strategy that works.

With that said, keep in mind that everyone has access to this data, which means you won’t be the only one reverse engineering a successful product. What’s really going to set you apart is choosing a successful product that fits your own criteria and knocking your marketing strategy out of the park.

The Persona Research Route

People are constantly searching for things online. Think about your own behavior — where do you go when you’re looking for the “best swimsuits for speed” or “most durable dog toys for puppies”?

As a business owner, you can use this data to figure out what people actually want and give it to them. In marketing, this approach is known as creating a persona (marketing jargon for a description of your ideal customer).

An effective persona defines what your ideal customer actually wants. Who are they? What problems do they have? How can you solve these problems.

Use tools like Facebook Audience Insights, Pinterest, Google Display Planner, Trend Hunter, and basic keyword research (see here) to create 2-4 personas that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, pay scale, main frustrations & problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.

Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some insight on what products will fit their needs (and to get some initial sales and feedback on those products so you can polish what you’re offering).

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

The Sell What You Know Route

Perhaps the most self-explanatory method for finding the best product to sell online is selling what you know. What are you good at? Passionate about? Experienced with? Use that experience, channel it into a need, and sell it.

Take Quad Lock, a bike mount designed by a biker who was unsatisfied with the mounts on the market, so he designed one he wanted and sold it. The founder used used his own experience (biking) and pain point (ineffective mounts for his iPhone) to create a product that others love too.

Keep in mind though, it isn’t just about the product. Quad Lock leveraged reviews and Facebook and Google ads to get the right people to the product. You’ll need to have a proper and realistic marketing funnel behind whatever it is you’re selling.

The Build an Audience Route

Traditionally, ecommerce business owners take a “build it and they will come” approach to product development and selling online. This method takes the opposite approach. Instead of creating a product and finding an audience to sell it to, you’ll first build an audience and bring them a product they actually want.

Both approaches have advantages — again, there is no blanket “best” way or “best” product to sell online. Once again, it depends on your goals.

Building your product first and selling it to an audience could bring in revenue faster (as long as you build a product that actually sells). However, you do run a higher risk of creating a product that doesn’t fit the market as well as it might if you were to build an audience first, learn about them, and give them what you want.

The tradeoff here is time vs. money. If you have the time to build out an audience, nurture them, and build a minimally viable product to get feedback on, this route can save you the headache of launching a product that no one wants (see The $100 Startup). However, if you need to generate revenue quickly, this path might not be the best option.

The Rapid Product Testing Route

If you’ve ever donated to a kickstarter campaign, or if you know anything about Tim Ferris and the 4-Hour Work Week, then you know how successful rapid testing a bunch of product ideas can be.

Ferriss did it with different ads, headlines, and even book titles until he found what worked, and you can take the same approach with your own product development. The goal here is to get a ton of data quickly. What are people clicking on? What are they signing up to learn more about? What’s sticking? Once you have that info, keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Again, the tradeoff here is time and/or money. You have to give yourself enough of a runway to actually test and get the data, whether you’re starting a campaign on Kickstarter, offering email and social demos to find that one customer with a new idea, or running multiple Google Adwords campaigns to test which promotions get the most traction.

The Niche / Tailwind Route

Sometimes it’s worth sticking to what’s already working. Similar to reverse engineering products that are performing well and fit your criteria, you can also find a growing niche and/or company and build out products that complement them.

A classic example of this is the cell phone case industry. Before the iPhone blew up, cell phone cases were practically non-existent. But once the iPhone took off, an entire niche industry was born.

This is happening all the time. Think about Peloton — the at home spin bike that’s building an entire submarket that needs attention. There are constantly new opportunities to hop on board with what’s working and complement it with submarket products of your own.

The Supplier / Numbers Route

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to supply a product. Sometimes the best product to sell online could be one that someone else has created. In this scenario, you’d focus on building a killer marketing strategy for the product.

For example, let’s say you have a dentist friend who has a patented a new mouthguard that’s amazing, but he has no idea how to sell it. You could start an ecommerce business with exclusive access to the product at a price that makes sense. He’d be your supplier while you’d focus on getting sales.

Even if you don’t know someone directly who has an amazing product, you could always research suppliers on AliExpress or Alibaba, or connect to people who have great industry contacts in a niche you know well enough to navigate profit margins and create a marketing strategy that gets the products to move.

Alibaba

Either way, you’re removing yourself from the product definition. Instead, you’re looking at suppliers who have already created a killer product and need someone (AKA you) to sell it.

Next Steps / Takeaways

Finding the best products to sell online really has less to do with there being a “best” product and more to do with having a system and approach to finding a product that fits your own needs, skills, and means.

Instead of randomly brainstorming and endlessly searching online for that one big idea, take time to do an inventory of your own needs. Think about your skill set, knowledge, resources, and timeline to launch your product. Then, choose one of the methods above to find the product that best aligns with your defined criteria.

You also want to find the best way to sell – here’s how to choose the best ecommerce platform.

The post How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Should I Buy A Franchise & How Do I Start?

buying a franchise

Becoming a franchise owner is a career path some people look into when their life circumstances change. For example, recent retirees or veterans returning to civilian life often turn to franchising. But really, you don’t have to have any special circumstances or qualifications to become a franchisee. You do, however, need to know what you’re getting into before you make such a major decision.

While there are plenty of benefits to owning a franchise, there are some downsides too, and you’ll need to determine which things you can live with and which will be dealbreakers for you.

There are specific perks to purchasing an existing franchise, also sometimes called a “franchise resale,” as opposed to opening a new franchise location: you will start out with a cheaper initial investment and an established customer base, with minimal setup or hiring requirements, provided that equipment and employees are included in the sale.

However, when buying an existing franchise, you’ll also need to do careful pre-purchase research to make sure the franchise is a good investment—the owner could be selling because the franchise is underperforming due to a poor location, for example.

In this post, I’ll go over the pros and cons of buying a franchise to help you figure out whether you should make the leap of becoming a franchise owner. I’ll also give you some useful tips on how to start down the path of owning your own franchise business.

Pros Of Buying A Franchise

Buying a franchise is not for everyone. But there are some unique benefits to this career move, making it perfectly suited to the right type of entrepreneur.

1. Turnkey Business

A franchise can be considered a “turnkey business,” which means that it has pretty much everything you need to start operations immediately. All you need to do is “turn the key,” so to speak, to open up for business and start selling.

With a franchise purchase, the sale typically includes the facilities, equipment, and software systems (including the point of sale and accounting software), and even the (already trained) employees in most cases. Your raw materials suppliers, operating procedures, and advertising strategies are already in place as well, requiring only your capital investment and personal labor to get started.

Besides having all the ingredients to start operations, as a franchisee, you open for business on Day 1 with a proven and successful business model. This helps undercut the risks of owning your own business, especially if you are new to business ownership.

2. Minimal Startup Costs

Aside from the cost to purchase the franchise, and sometimes the franchise transfer fee (you should try to get the selling franchisee to pay this if you can), there are negligible startup costs to get your franchise resale up and running, since, well, it’s already up and running!

You will, of course, have to start purchasing your own raw materials to keep operations going, though you will need to invest less startup capital overall than you would if you opened a franchise from scratch.

While business acquisitions have lower startup costs in general compared to new businesses, this is especially the case with franchise acquisitions, as the uniform nature of any franchise brand allows for few, if any, significant changes in operations from one owner to the next.

Note that when you buy an existing franchise, most franchisors will not have you pay a franchise fee—the costly fee required to open a new franchise—but they may require you to pay for initial training.

3. Built-In Support

Technical support, customer support, and other assistance is an inevitable and potentially costly part of just about any business endeavor. A big benefit of being a franchise owner is that you don’t have to figure these things out for yourself. The parent company typically provides training, marketing campaigns, assistance with management, and customer support. And when purchasing an existing franchise, support channels such as technical support, employee support, etc., will already be open and readily accessible, so all you’ll have to do is learn them.

Aside from an initial training fee when you join the franchise, the cost of training and other support channels is included in the royalty fees you pay the franchisor from your gross sales.

As a franchisee, can also easily access a network of support and advice from other franchisees online. Even if you just want to vent or relate to other franchise owners, there are plenty of websites and message boards where you can do this.

4. Brand Recognition

Everyone already knows your franchise brand and you already have tons of fans on day one. A well-known product advertises itself, meaning you will need to devote very little time and energy to marketing.

Though you will be required by the franchisor to spend some of your profits on advertising, you can rest easy knowing that your personal efforts will not be the only way people will find out about your business. In many cases, you simply pay the franchisor an advertising fee and do not undertake any marketing efforts yourself.

There’s also always a chance your franchisor will come up with a new product or viral national marketing campaign that could make your product even more popular, with no blood, sweat, or even tears required on your part.

5. Easier To Get A Loan

It is typically much easier to get a loan to buy a franchise than it is to get a loan to buy an independent business. A franchise is seen by lenders as less risky, as there is an established business model; with a franchise acquisition, there is an established revenue stream as well.

Many franchisors provide their own financing programs for franchise owners, and there are also alternative lenders who specialize in franchise financing. You might even be eligible to get a low-interest loan through the Small Business Administration if your franchise is listed in the SBA Franchise Directory.

For quick capital at somewhat higher interest rates, you will find plenty of alternative online lenders willing to help finance your franchise purchase or provide you with working capital or line of credit, should you need a loan later down the road.

Cons Of Buying A Franchise

Okay, so now that you know the upsides of buying a franchise, it’s important that you understand the pitfalls as well. Whether or not you can live with these downsides will determine whether becoming a franchise owner is right for you.

1. Fees & Expenses

Although there aren’t too many startup fees involved in a franchise resale, there are still significant fees and operating costs involved in franchise ownership overall.

It is a general rule in the franchise world that after various fees are taken out, about one-third of pre-tax profits go to the franchise. Some one-time and ongoing costs of franchise ownership include:

  • One-time franchise transfer fee (if the seller does not agree to pay it)
  • Initial training fee when you first start working for the franchise
  • Royalty fees, which allow you to use of the franchise’s logo and proprietary assets; often calculated as a percentage of gross sales, e.g., 5% of all sales, but may also be a fixed amount that is charged periodically, irrespective of sales
  • Advertising fees to support franchise-wide marketing campaigns (even if you don’t have any say over how your advertising dollars are spent)
  • Proprietary product costs—usually, you’ll have to purchase your products and/or raw materials from the franchisor or from their dedicated distributor, even though you might be able to find the materials cheaper elsewhere
  • Audit fees for periodic financial audits of your franchise
  • Renewal fee charged to renew your franchise contract once the current contract expires

All of these ongoing expenses cut into your margins, and if you’re not meeting your sales goals, it’s possible that your franchise will lose money and not be profitable, at least not right away.

Because of the various costs and fees associated with running a successful franchise, it’s important that you have some money saved or another source of income that you can live off of and use to help pay these costs until your franchise starts making decent money.

2. Competitive Threat

As a franchise owner, whenever a new location of your franchise opens in your area, you will wince and worry about how much of your business will be lost to the competing location.

Franchisors do maintain strict control over franchise territories to prevent market oversaturation, but they will err on the side of opening more locations in a territory to squeeze every last dollar out of that region, even if an individual franchise’s profit margins suffer.

Thus, every time a new franchise location opens in your territory, your market shrinks, and you have no recourse against your competitor; it’s not like you can just decide to move your franchise in a place of your choosing, or change up your product offerings, as you could with an independent business.

3. Less Control Over Business

Running a business where all procedures and policies are mapped out for you can be easier, in some ways. You don’t have to figure out how to run your business effectively because business-critical decisions have been decided for you, and are typically based on significant market research.

However, if you are a creative thinker or are used to managing a business on your own terms, franchise ownership might make you feel trapped and frustrated. Individuals who love coming up with innovative business solutions or who excel at finding more efficient ways of doing things will likely have more success as independent business owners.

4. Possibility Of Contract Terminations & Changes

One of the areas you don’t have any control over as a franchise owner is your business’s future as dictated by your franchise contract.

At the end of your contract term, the franchisor might cancel your contract if they’re not impressed with your franchise’s performance, or they could amend the contract to terms you don’t agree with. In such cases, you could be forced out of business or see reduced profits due to contract changes such as higher royalty rates, territory shrinkage, or others.

Although it is possible to negotiate the terms of any franchise agreement with the help of a franchise attorney, it is inevitably a David vs. Goliath type situation when going up against a big corporation with a lot of money and resources at their disposal.

5. Negative Press Can Hurt Sales

Yet another aspect you have little control over as a franchise owner is the company’s overall reputation. Consider how the following events could affect your business:

  • The company makes a tone-deaf advertising campaign that offends a lot of people
  • Employees at another franchise do something shocking/illegal
  • A company executive says/does something controversial or offensive

All of these are potentially newsworthy and hashtag-worthy events — you can probably think of several recent examples just off the top of your head.

Through no fault of your own, any bad press that attaches to your parent company in the public eye could hurt your franchise’s sales and even cause people to boycott your business.

Tips On Starting Your Franchise Journey

If you think you might want to buy a franchise, you can start with some simple tasks today or whenever you have some free time to do some research.

1. Be Strategic When Choosing Your Franchise Sector

Food —  particularly fast food — is typically the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about franchises, but there are plenty of franchising opportunities even if you don’t want anything to do with food service.

In addition to quick-service and full-service restaurants, other major players in the franchise industry include:

  • Gas stations & convenience stores
  • Clothing/shoe stores
  • Gyms
  • Beauty salons
  • Janitorial services
  • Hotels/motels
  • Real estate agencies
  • Car dealerships
  • Vision centers/optical goods
  • Private postal centers
  • Children’s services (e.g., daycare, preschool, kids’ sports)
  • Pet stores and services
  • Medical services

When determining which type of franchise you’d like to purchase, it’s important to consider market trends in addition to your own personal preference.

  • Which franchise sectors are growing, and why?
  • Which sectors are shrinking?
  • Which franchise brands have been doing well in recent years? Which ones are suffering?

These are just a few quick market research queries you can answer with some targeted Google searches.

2. Talk To Other Franchisees

Of course, you will want to talk to the owner of any franchise you’re considering buying and ask them why they’re selling and other pertinent questions. But it’s also important to get feedback from other franchise locations so you can get a well-rounded view of the particular perks and pitfalls of owning that type of franchise.

You can find the contact information for other franchisees in the Franchise Disclosure Document (I’ll talk more about that document in a moment) and also check message boards and blogs to find whatever “dirt” you can about the franchise. This way, you can know more about what you can expect and decide for yourself whether you’re willing to risk having a similar experience as other franchisees.

3. Determine Your Budget & Financing Options

Before you get too ahead of yourself, you need to know all the costs involved in purchasing a franchise and what you can afford.

Besides the cost of purchasing the franchise, startup fees, and working capital, you also need to factor in your personal expenses. According to the FTC’s Consumer’s Guide to Buying a Franchise (a must-read for any potential franchisee), it could take a year for your franchise to become profitable. Potentially, it could take even longer to turn a profit if the franchise was not profitable at the time of purchase. As a buffer, it’s important to have access to enough capital to ensure you will be able to survive even if your franchise doesn’t!

Once you have a rough idea of how much money you need, you can look into franchise financing options, if necessary. My posts on the best loans for franchises and how to get business acquisition loans are required reading if you’re researching loans to acquire an existing franchise.

4. What Is The USP?

When it comes to any business, the USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, is crucial in determining the business’s success. This is especially true with franchises, as the brand’s uniform nature makes it difficult to differentiate one franchise from the next. With that said, there are still important differences between different franchises within the same brand, and you need to figure out if the franchise you’re considering purchasing has something that makes it unique. Some examples include:

  • Prime Location: Is the franchise right off a popular freeway exit? How close is the nearest location of this franchise?
  • Added Features: For example, some McDonald’s restaurants have play structures and others do not.
  • Unique Building Or Business Space: A building’s age, design, and layout can all affect how attractive it is to patrons.

It may also be possible to add your own USP to a franchise. When working within the confines of a franchise contract, it can be difficult or impossible to offer something unique in terms of your products or services. However, there are still ways you can make your franchise location outshine the rest.

For example, you can keep your gym franchise much cleaner than the other gym locations in your city. Or, if you read online reviews saying that the tax preparation franchises in your town have incompetent staff, you can take efforts to make customer service shine at your tax prep franchise. You may also be able to invest in structural improvements before your grand reopening, such as improved equipment or a new franchise point of sale system.

5. The FDD & Other Pre-Sale Due Diligence

Once you determine which franchise interests you, you’ll need to do various pre-purchase due-diligence, such as reviewing financial documents, performing a business valuation, and making sure the franchisor approves of the transfer (they may not approve in some cases). Assuming you don’t have a legal background, hiring a franchise attorney can help you with most of these pre-purchase tasks.

Another important part of the pre-sale process reviewing the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). This document contains important information about the entire franchise brand as well as individual franchise locations and franchisees. If you find out in the FDD that the franchise you want to buy has had a lot of owners in the past few years, this may indicate that the franchise location is not profitable or that the franchisor has not provided adequate support to this location.

Final Thoughts

Buying a franchise is not right for everyone. However, it might be right for you if …

  • You want to own a business but don’t necessarily have a specific skill or vision
  • Lack of control over how to run your business doesn’t bother you
  • You have savings or additional income to live on until your franchise opens and becomes profitable (for example, retirement income)
  • You are a hard worker by nature and good at following the rules
  • The franchise you’re considering purchasing is a successful one and/or you have something unique you can add to make it successful

If you follow all of the tips I’ve laid out in this post, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful franchisee.

Quickly compare franchise loan options:
Lender Borrowing Amount APR Req. Time in Business Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $5M

Varies

6 months

550

Apply Now

smartbiz logo

$30K – $350K

6.36% – 9.57%

2 years

650

Apply Now

applepie capital logo

$100,000+

Approx. 9% – 16%

N/A

N/A

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$25K – $500K

7.4% – 36%

2 years

620

Compare

For more information on lenders that will help finance your franchise purchase, contact us and we’ll be happy to suggest a suitable lending service to help you get that franchise loan.

The post Should I Buy A Franchise & How Do I Start? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Register.com Domain Registrar Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Register Review

Register.com is a domain registrar owned by Web.com (one of the largest and oldest website hosting/builder brands in the industry). They were one of the first give companies chosen by ICANN to participate in the initial test phase of the new competitive shared registry system, making them one of the oldest and most established domain registrar companies in the game outside of Network Solutions.

Aside from domain purchasing and management, Register.com offers a range of products, from marketing to hosting to web design. Their main pitch is that their services and solutions cover all ranges of business sizes and especially help small businesses build their web presence without the need for technical experience.

Given Register.com has a certain level of brand recognition and clout, I decided to try them out as a domain registrar. Here’s my Register.com review – structured with pros & cons based on my recent experience as a customer.

Skip to the conclusion & next steps here.

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

Pros of Register.com

There are a lot of Register.com reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine, but I take a different approach. There is no such thing as a “best” domain registrar. The “best” is the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience and expertise. Just because one company is not a good fit for you does not mean it’s not a good fit for someone else.

Register.com is different. Their only pro is their brand name and corporate history. They do offer domain registration & web services, but they simply do not excel at providing any value beyond the assurance of their brand name.

Based on my professional opinion, they are a classic case of a company coasting on their name while other companies out-compete on raw value.

Even for “meh” companies, I try to pull out some reasons to choose them over others. But I really could not find a single reason to use Register.com over someone else besides their brand recognition and positioning. I liken Register.com to finding a McDonald’s at an Interstate exit in the middle of Kansas. Even if you dislike everything about McDonald’s, if it’s the only recognizable option and you’re hungry, you’d probably choose them.

But the Internet is not a highway exit in Kansas. There are so many other choices that are just a click away. Which means while Register.com carries corporate clout, that clout doesn’t outweigh the lack of value.

If you’re curious about the details, I’ll cover more in the cons section below. If not, you can skip to the conclusion and next steps for alternative options.

Register.com Cons

Convoluted Domain Buying Experience

The actual process of buying a domain from Register.com is pretty horrendous, especially compared to the big leaps in UX that other companies have made..

For starters, when you search for a domain, Register.com automatically adds it to your cart if it’s available without showing any pricing information. Even if I search for just the root of a domain and don’t specify the TLD, the .com version is still automatically added without me knowing the price.

There also isn’t pricing information for suggested domains. This complete lack of transparency with pricing is one of the company’s biggest flaws (more on that in a bit).

register.com domain registration process

Next, I tried to see my cart to view pricing info, but I was forced to create an account first. Personally, this makes me uneasy. I’m already feeling iffy with the lack of pricing transparency and the auto add to cart… now I can’t even review my cart without signing up with Register.com? No bueno.

register.com account sign up process

Once I was able to finally see my cart contents, I learned my domain would cost $5, but I have to pay an additional $11 for private domain registration. There appears to be a discount applied, but to get details you’ll have to click through for more information.

register.com pricing discount

However, with the information provided, I have no idea how much it will cost me to renew my domain each year.

Register.com Renewals

Aside from the pricing issues, the checkout process was also littered with upsells. Which brings me to…

Upsells

When a domain registrar offers complementary products (like hosting, website builders, etc.), I expect some upselling. It’s not inherently bad or annoying — it’s an option for customers who want complementary products but also keeps prices low for those who don’t.

So when I see a registrar is upselling, I try to pay special attention to how. Is it subtle and user-friendly? Or does it stall what I’m actually trying to accomplish?

Register.com does two things wrong with upsells. First, they appear at nearly every opportunity instead of only when I’m looking (AKA at checkout or in an upgrade section). Plus, the upsells in checkout impede my progress (there were at least two upsells I had to click through before I could enter my payment information).

Register.com Upsell 1 Register.com Upsell 2

Second, their messaging for many upsells is so oversimplified, it’s misleading. Take this messaging about my online effectiveness score…

Register.com upsell messaging

The combination of oversimplified and frequent upsells is both annoying and makes me wonder who they’re really looking out for.

Pricing

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest cons of Register.com is their lack of transparency in their pricing. I couldn’t find a full list of prices for TLDs, and when I searched for domains, none of the options provided had prices listed.

register.com pricing info for TLDs

Unfortunately, the complications don’t end there.

When I purchased my first domain, I could get a few basic TLDs (.com, .org, etc.) for $5 with a first-time discount that applied to my first three domains.

However, if you log back in during a new session, you’ll have to manually enter the promo code, and if you try to create a new account, you may not get the promo — it appears Register.com aggressively tag new users with cookies to prevent promotions.

After that promo was up, my next .com domain was $38 plus an additional $11 for privacy.

register.com pricing after promo

This is outrageously expensive for a simple domain. Even a big brand like GoDaddy will sell a .com domain at $11.99 and renew at $14.99, while more up and coming brands like Namecheap will sell at $2.98 and renew at 12.98 for .com domains.

Transparency (Or Lack Thereof)

All of Register.com’s cons can essentially be summed up into one glaring issue: a lack of transparency. I couldn’t find a comprehensive list of domain pricing by TLD, nor could I find a comprehensive list of TLD options. I couldn’t check out without upsells, but it’s unclear which upsells I really need due to oversimplified messaging.

All in all, the experience made me very wary of Register.com. I’m all about information — I like to know what to expect and to compare options. When there’s such an obvious lack of information, it makes me wonder why that info isn’t provided.

Conclusion + Next Steps

Overall, I was throw by how bad Register.com was. I figured for a company that carries such brand recognition, surely there has to be some value… but I really couldn’t find anything besides their corporate name. If you are still sold on them, go check them out here.

But remember… this isn’t an interstate exit in Kansas with only one recognizable option! So with that said…

If you still want to purchase domains from a well-known brand but want some deep discounts, check out GoDaddy here.

If you prefer an overall excellent domain registrar with the best long-term pricing, then I recommend checking out NameCheap here.

And if you want to just get a domain with your hosting company to keep everything convenient, then take my hosting quiz to find the right company for you.

Register.com

Register.com is a domain registrar owned by Web.com (one of the largest and oldest website hosting/builder brands in the industry). They offer domain registration and complementary products such as hosting and website builders.
Register.com Review
Date Published: 08/28/2018
Register.com is a classic example of a company riding on its name while getting outdone by other companies who are competing on raw value. Their lack of transparency and high prices make them a poor choice for a domain registrar.
1 / 5 stars

The post Register.com Domain Registrar Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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