14+ WordPress Website Examples for Inspiration

WordPress Website Examples

So you’re WordPress as your website software, and you’re looking for WordPress website examples for inspiration and confirmation that you’re making the right choice.

WordPress powers more than 30% of the Internet. It’s famous for its versatility and ease of use (yes, there is a learning curve. No, it’s not insurmountable). In short, it’s an incredibly popular choice for your website software.

But before we dive into WordPress website examples in the wild, let’s talk about a few common misconceptions about WordPress.

WordPress is a content management system — web jargon for a place where you can log in to your website to create, edit, and manage your content.

It’s also “open-source”, which means a community maintains it. The software and open-source community live and function at WordPress.org. It’s where anyone can grab a free copy of the software. It’s also know was self-hosted WordPress, because you have to provide the server for the software to live on.

WordPress.org is like buying a house. You can make all the customizations you want, but you’re also in charge of the plumbing and electricity.

Learn how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site from scratch here.

And then there’s WordPress.com. This is a for-profit company and service that offers websites powered by their install of WordPress (the software). They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. WordPress.com is like renting an apartment. You can pay for upgrades, but really everything is up to your landlord… including maintenance.

To learn more about WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com and which you should use, check out my article here. 

So what does this have to do with WordPress website examples?

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

Looking at a website platform should be done in the same way. A website’s design is simply some HTML and CSS. It can be created anywhere. However, the functionality are more dependent on things like hosting, integrations, features, plugins, etc.

We collected the following WordPress examples not just to show you how they look, but how WordPress websites can function so you can be sure you have a website that fits both the style you want and the functionality you need.

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

General Website Examples

Let’s start with a general round up of solid WordPress website examples. We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Remember, WordPress is known for its flexibility. It’s incredibly customizable, which means you can accomplish almost anything with the website.

The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company

Want to know just how prolific WordPress is? Even The Walt Disney Company has gotten on board. This website is a great example of a solid, clean layout for businesses. The navigation is clear, the Recent News grid gives visitors a taste of what’s going on with the company, and the stock information is a solid addition to inform consumers on the company’s financial health (keep in mind that you don’t have to be a publicly-traded company to do something like this. What other information could you display here to help visitors learn more about you?).

Now – obviously the rest of us might not have the budget of Disney. You are currently reading a webpage that lives on WordPress. My small personal site lives on WordPress. The point is that your website is not limited in any way by WordPress.

With that in mind, here’s a few more examples.

Trefecta

Trefecta

Not all websites need to be design masterpieces — but if you’re going for a more visual feel, Trefecta’s website is a great place to start for inspiration. The header image is a carousel (which means it’s changes automatically) and features a separate call-to-action for each image, giving visitors the opportunity to dive deeper on each slide. We also liked the breakdown underneath the header, which serves as another navigation point for visitors in addition to the main menu on the left side of the page.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore Similar WordPress Themes via my industry-specific roundups.

Wedding Website Example

Wedding websites are a great way to give guests information about the big day, show off your personality, and post updates / pictures / anything else you may want to share with those who are involved with your wedding. Given this website has a shorter lifespan than say, a business website, you’ll want something that’s easy to customize, edit, and manage. Here’s a great example of what you can do with a WordPress wedding website:

Tyler and Tayler

Tyler and Tayler wedding website example

Tyler and Tayler’s wedding website is a great example of how a simple theme can be transformed into a fun, personalized website without having to custom-build something complex. Their story includes fun illustrations, and further down the page, they’ve embedded their engagement photos for everyone to enjoy. These are all elements that make their website unique to them without having to spend time or money on something completely custom-built.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from ThemeForest.

Photography Website Example

Photography websites are all about the portfolio of work. When looking for a WordPress website example to serve as inspiration for your photography, pay special attention to the layout options for your work. You want to be sure you’re showing off your photos in a creative way without sacrificing the user experience (AKA fast photo load speed, easy to navigate, high quality images, etc). Here are a few examples of WordPress photography websites we liked:

Jeremy Chou

Jeremy Chou photography website example

What stood out about Jeremy Chou’s website was the balance of photography and copy. Yes, a photography website is about showcasing your work… but that doesn’t mean you can’t use good copy to help tell visitors what you and your work are all about. If you’re looking for a photography website that balances text and imagery, this is a great one to use for inspiration.

OANA FOTO

OANA FOTO

On the opposite of the spectrum is this website example, which puts the focus solely on the photography. The entire homepage is a carousel of photos, as is the portfolio section, which features a nice interactive scroll feature. OANA FOTO’s website just goes to show that there isn’t a right way to have a WordPress photography website — it all depends on your needs and how you want to communicate with your visitors.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop)

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from Elegant Themes.

Ecommerce Website Example

Ecommerce websites are all about their products. A good ecommerce website should have high-quality product images, be easy to navigate, and keep the focus on what you have to offer your shoppers! You’ll also want to include strong product descriptions and an easy check out process. Here are a few of our favorite WordPress ecommerce website examples:

House of Whisky

 

House of Whisky

A great ecommerce website comes down to a few main things: high quality product photos, easy navigation, and easy check out. This website from House of Whisky checks all of those boxes. What stood out to us especially was how straightforward the homepage is. As soon as you get to the page, you have two main options: learn more about House of Whisky, or start shopping. The navigation is so straightforward, it makes it a no-brainer for visitors!

The product page is also a great source of inspiration:

House of Whisky Product Page

The different filters provide a highly-customized shopping experience, and the high-quality product photos tie it all together, making this a great example of an effective product collection page.

Sodashi

Sodashi ecommerce website example

Sodashi is a great example of creating something unique. The skincare company is using a custom-built design on WordPress, which means they’ve created a design that fits their exact specifications. We particularly liked the clean look, easy navigation, and use of copy to explain what Sodashi is all about.

But here’s the great thing about WordPress:

Not only can you use a WordPress theme to get the exact look a website has, but you can also create something completely unique if you want. It all depends on your needs, your budget, and what your goals for the website are.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore similar WordPress Themes from StudioPress.

Artist Website Example

Need to showcase your art? An artist website is a great way to create a digital portfolio of your work. These websites should be easy to navigate, keep the focus on your artwork, and allow prospective clients / commissioners to contact you easily. Here’s an example of a great artist WordPress website:

Amy Paul

Amy Paul artist website example

 

Sometimes, less is more… and that’s exactly what makes Amy’s website so effective. The clean layout draws your eye right to her artwork, which is featured front and center. We particularly liked how Amy only shows one piece of art at a time on the homepage. This is a great example of a WordPress portfolio website that is a good fit for a DIY-er who just needs a place to showcase their work in an easily digestible format.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop)

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from Elegant Themes.

Music Website Example

Similar to artist websites, music websites are all about the music. Which means if you’re creating a music website, you’ll need a player so visitors can listen to your work on your site. You’ll also want to give people the opportunity to connect with you by listing social media channels, tour dates, and places they can buy your albums! Here’s a strong example of a music website created with WordPress:

7th Ave Band

7th Ave Band

What stands out about 7th Ave Band’s website is the music page. The copy before the music player is a great way to give an introduction to the band and what they’re all about. We also liked how the music player includes social sharing options, so fans can share the album on social media while listening to it on the website. Last but not least, the site includes multiple place for fans to buy the album, from the official store to the button on the music player. If you’re looking for a straightforward site to showcase your music, this is a great one of inspiration.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from Elegant Themes.

Business Website Example

A strong business website showcases your services, gives customers the opportunity to contact you, and builds social proof. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and what you do when they land on their site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. Here are a few examples of strong WordPress business website examples:

Smart Chameleon

Smart Chameleon is a great example of a website that includes interactivity and is built around the brand. As a business that creates digital experiences, you’d expect their own website to be a great digital experience! From the interactive font, to the chat box in the bottom right corner, to the flip cards that showcase their projects, this site is great inspiration for those who want to implement more interactivity and creativity in their site (without having to build something completely custom — this website is built with a theme called Astra, FYI!

BS&A Software

BS&A Software

This WordPress business website is a great example of how to organize your content when you have a lot to offer your audience. BS&A Software has video tutorials, help documents, support, services, etc. Keeping all of that information organized in an intuitive way  is no small feat, and this layout does a great job of it. If you have a significant amount of content for your site and are looking at how other businesses organize theirs, start here for inspiration.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from StudioPress.

Personal Website Examples

Personal websites are exactly what they sound like… personal! Whether it’s a resume / portfolio website you use to get booked or a blog you use to create content, this type of site is all about getting your personal brand online and owning your space on the Internet. Personal website should be easy to edit, manage, and customize. Here’s an example of a WordPress personal website to use for inspiration:

Michelle Sanchez

Michelle Sanchez

It’s easy to get caught up in showcasing your personality and creativity on your personal website. And while adding in some flair is fine, you don’t want to sacrifice clarity in the name of creativity. Michelle’s website is a great example of a personal WordPress website that prioritizes getting the crucial information to visitors in a straightforward way. The headline is strong, the call to action is clear, and the navigation tells visitors exactly where to go for what.

Vladimir Strajnic

Vladimir Strajnic

We pulled Vladimir Strajnic’s website as an example of the versatility of WordPress. You can truly create anything you want — from a templated, easy to fill in website to a completely custom made, interactive website like this one. The key is to remember what your overall goals are. For Vladimir, a designer, he’d want to showcase his skills on his personal website. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for someplace to start blogging and sharing your thoughts with the world, you probably don’t need to create something custom. Define your needs first, then dive in.

Get WordPress hosting (w/ bundled themes & drag & drop).

Explore Similar WordPress Themes from JetPack.

Next Steps

At the end of the day, choosing your website platform goes far beyond design. Why? Because all web pages are made of HTML & CSS with a few scripts thrown in. This means that any website template can exist on any good web platform.

What YOU want to focus on is the design elements and functionality that are available on the platform you’re choosing.

Setup a self-hosted WordPress website step by step here.

Get a bundled WordPress.com subscription w/ free themes here.

If you feel like WordPress fits the design and functionality needs you have for your website, you can explore WordPress templates from ThemeForest, StudioPress, Elegant Themes or JetPack – all providers that I use for my sites & clients.

Not sure if WordPress is a right fit? Explore other WordPress alternatives here.

The post 14+ WordPress Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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SmartBiz VS National Business Capital

Smartbiz vs National Business Capital

SmartBiz National Business Capital

$30,000 – $5,000,000

Borrowing Amount

$10,000 – $5,000,000

Up to 25 years

Term Length

Up to 25 years

Up to 4%

Borrowing Fee

Unknown

While it’s nice to have choices, sometimes it can be difficult to narrow your search down to a single, best option. It’s no different when you’re looking for business financing. SmartBiz and National Business Capital both promise to save time and headaches by allowing you to effectively apply to multiple lenders with a single application. Note that neither directly originates loans.

But while they’re both loan aggregator services, there are some notable differences between the two that may help you decide between them.

SmartBiz is heavily specialized toward SBA loans. If you aren’t familiar, the Small Business Administration has a number of programs wherein they’ll guarantee a portion of a business loan for qualified applicants. This can help you access better rates and terms than you may otherwise be able to get without the SBA guarantee. The tradeoff is a longer and more complex application, as well as a longer time to funding. SmartBiz helps you navigate through the red tape while also connecting you to SBA-approved lenders.

National Business Capital can also connect you with SBA loans, but they’re a bit less specialized, also offering unsecured small business loans, lines of credit, merchant cash advances, equipment financing, and startup business funding.

So in this battle of depth vs. breadth, which lender is the better middle man?

SmartBiz National Business Capital

2 years

Time In Business

6 months

N/A

Minimum Sales

$15K per month

650 (personal)
150 (business)

Minimum Credit Score

N/A

Qualifying

Winner: National Business Capital

To qualify for an SBA loan through SmartBiz, you’ll need to have been in business for two years, and have a personal credit score over 650 and a business credit score of 150. You must be a US citizen or legal permanent resident. You also can’t have defaulted on any government-backed loans, have any tax liens, or had a bankruptcy or foreclosure within the last three years.

Since they aren’t dealing exclusively with SBA loans, it’s a lot easier to qualify for National Business Capital’s loans. You’ll only need to have been in business for 6 months and take in at least $15,000 per month in revenue. There are no explicit credit requirements. Even if you don’t meet that benchmark, National Business Capital may still be able to work with you through one of their alternative programs. National Business Capital can work with businesses in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the U.K.

Overall, it’s a lot easier to meet the minimum qualifications of National Business Capital, but if you’re looking for an SBA loan you’ll have to meet guidelines similar to those of SmartBiz.

Fees

Winner: SmartBiz

Since we’re talking about third parties, you’re going to want to know what the convenience they offer will cost you.

SmartBiz charges two fees, beyond those charged by those normally associated with an SBA loan (0 – 3.75 percent guarantee fee and around a $450 fee from the lender): a one-time referral fee, and a one-time packaging fee. Each can cost up to 2 percent of the loan’s amount.

National Business Capital doesn’t divulge much information about their fees, and it’s difficult to get a straight answer from a rep when you ask about them.

Loan Terms

Winner: Tie

The SBA itself sets the acceptable terms for SBA loans, so you won’t find a ton of variation between lenders. Since SmartBiz deals exclusively in SBA loans, there’s not much to compare here. If you’re looking for a non-SBA loan or other financial product, National Business Capital can offer that.

Application Process

Winner: SmartBiz

Both SmartBiz and National Business Capital promise an easy, simplified application process, and both companies deliver. I’m giving SmartBiz the nod here for one reason: their screening process will let you know ahead of time whether or not you’re qualified for their service. This saves you the time of filling out an application only to be rejected down the road. Since National Business Capital is less specialized, they’re more likely to be able to help you, but in rare cases, customers may be well into the process before they discover that NBC can’t help them.

Time To Funding

Winner: National Business Capital

SBA loans can only be funded so quickly. If you need money immediately, SmartBiz won’t be able to do much for you. On the other hand, National Business Capital’s versatility allows them to offer faster products, often within the span of a couple days.

Transparency

Winner: SmartBiz

When it comes to online lenders–and let’s be honest, the financial sector in general–transparency is in short supply. Signing up for a loan is risky. Even submitting your basic information can lead to a future full of annoying cold calls. If possible, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before you even make contact.

SmartBiz lays out most of what you need to know in a convenient FAQ on an easily searchable website.

National Business Capital, on the other hand, throws around lot of general information about financial products but comes up short on actual rates and fees. There are some calculators you can play with, but they’re not necessarily representative of the terms you’ll be offered.

Customer Service

Winner: SmartBiz

Customer service is usually one of the most divisive topics when it comes to alternative lenders. Satisfied customers will usually be very happy with the service they received, while angry customers will describe it in the most uncharitable terms.

While both companies seem to suffer from some communication issues, overall SmartBiz’s customers have fewer beefs with customer service.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

Both SmartBiz and National Business Capital receive generally positive reviews from customers and other review sites, usually within a point or two of each other. Complaints about both companies are typical for alternative lenders, including fees, rejections, and communication problems.

Complaints specific to SmartBiz include unhappiness with the amount of paperwork customers had to fill out. For National Business Capital, a common theme was aggressive marketing calls.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

You’ll find no shortage of satisfied customers for both companies.

Fans of SmartBiz liked the personal touch offered by their representative, the relative speed (for SBA loans) of funding, and the company’s transparency.

Happy National Business Capital customers appreciated the wide variety of options offered, the customer service, and the quick turnaround time on their loans.

And The Overall Winner Is…

smartbiz logo

Specialization has its advantages. When it comes to a third party service for SBA loans, it’s hard to do better than SmartBiz. They take a long, complex process and make it a little less grueling for small businesses while offering a refreshing level of transparency.

Of course, if you’re looking for something other than SBA loans, National Business Capital can help you in ways SmartBiz simply can’t. This is especially relevant if time is a factor.

If you want a deeper look at SmartBiz or National Business Capital, check out our comprehensive reviews.

Review

Visit Site

The post SmartBiz VS National Business Capital appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It

If you’re considering whether the Square payment processing solution is best for your business, it makes sense to ask about their customer service. For many of us, the customer service experience makes or breaks the way we feel about a company, even if we love everything else about the product. And the truth is that positive — and negative — interactions with customer service can have serious repercussions — especially when you’re trying to run an efficient, successful business and keep your own customers happy.

Not too long ago, Square suffered from a less-than-stellar reputation for customer service, but that is changing. Any company that can identify a pattern in user issues and beef up their service is one that values user experience and trust. And that is a good sign for current users.

For this post, we examined all the negative complaints about Square’s customer service in our complete Square Review and found that the biggest issue that has since been improved is Square’s phone support (more on that below).

We also dug deep into the Square customer service experience to form our own impressions. (Keep in mind that we are looking here at Square’s business products, not the Square Cash App, which has an entirely different support team. But if you’re looking for information on that, we have you covered there, too. Check out our Square Cash App Review.)

When it comes to Square Support, the user experience has clearly been well thought out. When you visit the Support page, you will immediately see a lot of ways to find the help you need, and the available material is straightforward to navigate and easy to understand.

Below, we break it all down for you so that you can make the most of Square’s help features and find what you need in a crunch.

Note: To keep things in perspective, the vast majority of Square users (over 2 million) are happy with their experience, including customer service. We spend a lot of time sifting through information (including reviews) and understand that negativity bias can affect any anyone. We talk a lot more about that and how we handle the phenomenon here at Merchant Maverick in our post, Understanding Negativity Bias. 

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Square’s Support Center

When you have a question, you can probably find what you need through the prompts and easy-to-digest information within Square’s troubleshooting articles. They provide a wealth of information on everything from setting up your Square account to tips for using your card reader, troubleshooting any issues, and changing settings.

Support material is laid out in a table of contents, and each section is expandable. You don’t have to wade through a ton of text or scroll to find what you need because everything is organized by topic. Already know exactly what you need? You can just type in what you are looking for and simplify your hunt even more. It’s also possible to enter a question or search keywords and topics from any page in the help section. The search feature is very intelligent and can auto-suggest articles for you to explore. 

Square Compatibility Checker

Wondering if your smartphone or tablet will work with Square? Rather than searching the knowledgebase for a list, you can use Square’s Compatibility checker. Just enter in the make and model of your device and Square will tell you which card readers and other pieces of hardware are compatible (and which aren’t). This is a great way to make sure you don’t unnecessarily buy new devices even before you sign up with Square, or you can check whether the new device you’re planning to buy will actually still work with your hardware.

Issue Tracking

Having trouble using one of Square’s products? If you are looking for a quick way to see if everything on Square’s end checks out, you can head to https://www.issquareup.com/ and see whether an issue is on your end or theirs. 

Square Community Forum

 

Square has set up an excellent and unusually active hub for sellers to collaborate, get ideas, and problem-solve with its community forum, known as the Seller Community. You need to be a Square user to join, but once you’ve signed in, you can post your questions. And you’ll probably get a response more quickly than you expect! The forum is organized by popular topics, and directly below the fold you can jump right in and view recent discussions. 

Within the Seller Community, you can also search by keyword or for specific community members. There are spots dedicated to those who are new to Square, as well as a general discussion page, a dedicated forum for questions, and a place just for Square staff to share product updates (so you can stay in the know about any new features).

You’ll see that the Square staff are quite active on the forum, answering questions and even encouraging members to submit feature requests to the development team. It’s a pretty happening place when you start digging in.

Email & Social Media

If you have a question that requires a bit more personalized assistance, of course, you can still send Square’s support team a message through email or social media. Square has a dedicated Twitter support page, @SqSupport, for technical questions, or you can message the company’s Facebook page.

You can email Square even if you aren’t a Square user, but if you do have an account, Square will ask you to sign in and then choose the reason for reaching out.

After signing in and connecting to the service that applies to you, they provide you with contact details to get you matched with the right person.  In the meantime, you still have the option of checking out the Seller Community or looking through the support topics Square has published on its site.

Phone Support

Square has made a smart move by having actual employees (who collaborate with Square engineers) handle customer service questions. Speaking to a customer service rep who has inherent knowledge about a product can make a big difference when it comes to technical or even workflow questions. A few short years ago that wasn’t the case at Square, but we are glad that they responded to give the people what they wanted. 

To get your more complicated questions answered, you can access live help when you need it. This live support is only available to existing customers, however. You’ll get a customer code on the Square help page which you can use to patch you through to a person. 

Square’s phone support is active between the hours of 6 am to 6 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday.

It’s comforting to know that phone support is an option, but thanks to the exhaustive help sections on their site, including the Square Seller Community, you’ll likely get the answers you need without having to call in.

Learn More About Square

If you already use Square, it might be a good idea to check out some of the resources in the help sections and even connect with other sellers in the community forum. Not only does ‘iron sharpen iron’ when it comes to running a business, but you might also discover how to take advantage of built-in features, like the Square Dashboard, to make your experience even better.

If you’re considering using Square to accept payments, you can sign up for a free account. With no monthly charges or hidden fees, chargeback protection, and full PCI compliance included, it’s easy to evaluate whether Square is right for you without external pressures influencing your choice.

Still not sure? Get more information by digging into Is Square a Secure Way to Accept Credit Cards or reading our full Square review.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

Website Builders Explained

Website Builders Explained

Website builders are a type of software that turns visual design elements into HTML / CSS files that browsers can show as a website. Modern website builders are usually bundled in some form with hosting to provide storage & server abilities for those files.

As an analogy, imagine a website is like a physical home. Website builders are a bit like pre-built houses or condominiums with infrastructure & services provided. Usually the land (hosting), address (domain) and services are bundled with the home. There are usually costs & limitations, but also much more convenience compared to building a home from scratch.

That’s the short version. But there’s more to website builders than the definition. I’ll cover common questions like –

  • What Are Website Builders?
  • How Do Website Builders Work?
  • Are Website Builders Worth It?
  • Are Website Builders Good for SEO?
  • What Makes a Good Website Builder?
  • What Website Builders Are Best?
  • What Website Builder Should I Use? & Next Steps

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.

What Are Website Builders?

Website builders are a type of software that turns design and content elements into valid HTML / CSS that can show up in an Internet browser. They have a long history, but have dramatically changed in recent years.

As long as the Web has been around, people have wanted to create websites without writing the underlying HTML & CSS programming languages. Back in the early days, website builders were actual desktop computer programs that you had to download and use (FrontPage FTW!!). They were called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software.

But as the Internet, software, and consumers developed, website builders started rapidly evolving and changing. Nowadays, very few people write HTML & CSS from scratch.

Everybody, including seasoned front end web developers, use some form of what used to be called a “website builder”. Everyone is looking to build websites faster with more features and better design elements. The “website builder” market has shifted so that now it’s much more common to hear people using templates, libraries, themes, theme frameworks, content management systems, scripts, etc to build faster and better.

Because of this shift, what we now call a “website builder” really refers to a web-based software that provides not only the actual HTML & CSS conversion but also the hosting, security, customer support, integrations, media storage, and marketing tools that most people want when they say “I want a website”. The technical term should be “hosted website builder.”

For an analogy, think about different housing types. Originally, a “website builder” was simply pre-cut construction material to help you build a house quickly. Nowadays, a “website builder” is more like a condominium or townhome development. You have way less say over what you want. But – you have a home that you can customize while simply paying a fee for garbage pickup, lawn care, maintenance, etc.

For the rest of these FAQs, we’ll be focused specifically on hosted website builders that not only build your website’s HTML & CSS but also bundle hosting, security, support, etc into a single subscription fee.

How Do Website Builders Work?

Website builders usually use proprietary software, so it’s hard to say *exactly* how they work, but they all work in broadly the same way.

When you sign up for an account, hosted website builders will carve out server space that runs proprietary software that provides both a “backend” where you can login and manage your design & content along with your actual website files that browsers will use to create the “frontend” that visitors will see.

Here’s a backend example from the Wix backend…

Wix MenuAnd what shows up on the front-end…

Double Arrow Vet

This setup is exactly the same as it would be if you bought your own hosting and installed your own software (ie, WordPress).

But – their software is built to have a drag and drop interface that allows you to literally drag and drop and edit your website. When you save your work, the software will convert your backend work into a combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript files that will render in an Internet browser. And – your hosting usage is automatically optimized and calibrated to their platform.

Are Website Builders Worth It?

It depends on your goals, need & knowledge.

If you are confident in your abilities to solve problems and you want to build a long-term project with lots of versatility, then I highly recommend that you stay away from hosted website builders, and learn how to set up a website on your own hosting account – that goes for a multitude of different types of websites.

If you value convenience and speed, have budget for the monthly fees, and want to DIY, then yes, website builders are absolutely worth it. They provide most everything you’d need in a single, predictable monthly price. They have tailored customer support and handle all the updates.

It really is like shopping for a house vs. a condominium. Homeowners may swear up and down about owning a home. But the thing about a house is that…like you are responsible. Even if you don’t cut the grass, you have to pay someone to. And you have figure out who to call. You can build a pool…but you have to maintain it.

Condo owners just cut a check to the Homeowners’ Association. But – they also have to abide by the HOA’s rules and are inherently limited to what they can do to their property,

Are Website Builders Good for SEO?

It depends on your goals, needs & knowledge. This question is a bit like asking whether a condo is good for hosting parties.

There’s a few variables to clear up – like, how hands-on are you with parties? Do you just want the place to look nice so that you can focus on the food or are you looking to build out the ultimate party pad over the course of a couple of years?

Website builders do have a bit of notoriety with SEO because of Flash. Back in the day, every website builder used Flash for their drag & drop functionality. They would also have some weird URL structures. Due to that the old school Googlebot had an impossible time crawling & indexing websites built with common web-based website builders.

SiteBuilder SEO Duplicate Content

Most of the big brand website builders do not have this issue any more, and Googlebot is much better than circa-2012. Some website builders do still have lingering issues, but general “SEO” is no longer the main purchasing concern in my opinion. The main concern should be what *you* want to do with SEO. Here’s some examples from past clients / readers of mine.

Client A wanted to build out a large presence in a sub-market of the senior housing industry. They wanted to rank for certain high-competitive terms and wanted to update & revise many pages with Schema markup and roll out a regular content strategy. They were using Wix. My first recommendation? Stop everything and leave Wix. Spend money to rebuild the entire site on self-hosted WordPress. Using a hosted website builder like Wix would simply not have the flexibility to run the type of content & integrations that we needed.

Client B wanted to build a website for a hyper-local deli & restaurant. They wanted to rank for specific local terms & brand names. They had no time or budget to keep the site updated – other than the menu, which they needed to edit every week via smartphone. They had used Wix in the past, and knew how to add food integrations. I told them to go with it – and they do very well with the SEO that they need (ie, Google Maps, local terms, and menu terms).

Client C launched a side-project on personal fitness. They didn’t have huge plans for it – and just wanted to get going. Due to time and simplicity, they just got going on Squarespace. It worked for a few years until all of the sudden, their blog took off. They need plugins & capabilities that you can only get with your own hosting account. So they bit the bullet and built their own site with WordPress on a self-hosted VPS account and migrated away from Squarespace. Organic traffic has since dramatically improved but mainly because they can easily manage the content – not because Squarespace’s SEO was “bad”.

As so on – see it depends on what “SEO” you need. Website builders are not “bad” for SEO. But they aren’t “good” for SEO unless they match what you want to do.

What Makes a Good Website Builder?

A good website builder is one that helps you succeed at your project. That’s all.

If the “BEST!” website builder has so many features or limitations or whatever that it keeps you from achieving your goals, then, well, it’s not the “BEST!”.

Sure, there are absolutely some website builders that are better than others. Some I wouldn’t touch with ANY project – no matter what.

But for yourself, write out some features that you want. Rank the features. Write out what your goals are. What you write is not as important as the fact that you are thinking through what you want.

For some people, drag and drop might not be as important as data export…which might not be as important as phone customer support.

A good website builder should, though, produce readable, crawlable, and indexable HTML & CSS that visitors can access. Beyond that – it’s up to you.

What Website Builders Are Best?

Again – the implied preposition here is “for you.” With that in mind, I created a little quiz and summary to help you find the best website builder for you.

I’ve reviewed some of the big name brands like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, GoDaddy and WordPress.com. But there are plenty of options out there – and even some hybrid options like BoldGrid which overlays a drag and drop functionality over a self-hosted WordPress install. There are brand new ones like GATOR and plenty of others. Read all my website builder reviews here.

What Website Builder Should I Use?

It depends! Go to these resources to figure out some ideas –

  • Best Overall Website Builder
  • Best Simple Website Builders
  • Best Online Store Builder
  • Best Wix Alternatives
  • Best WordPress Alternatives

Next Steps

Your next steps should be to go research based on your goals – and get started with your project! Most website builders offer a short free trial period. Take advantage of those to make a final call.

The post Website Builders Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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11+ Wix Website Examples for Inspiration

Wix Website Examples

So you’re considering using Wix as your website builder, and you’re looking for Wix website examples for inspiration and confirmation that you’re making the right choice.

Wix is one of the biggest names in the website builder product space. It’s a drag-and-drop website builder, which means users can “drag” different elements around  and “drop” them where they want to create a site that looks the way they want. It makes nice designs incredibly accessible for DIY-ers while leaving the heavy-lifting (AKA hosting, functionality, coding) to someone else.

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

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

Looking at a website platform should be done in the same way. We collected the following Wix examples not just to show you how they look, but how Wix websites can function so you can be sure you have a website that fits both the style you want and the functionality you need.

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

General Website Examples

Let’s start with a general round up of solid Wix website examples. We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, Wix works incredibly well for DIY-ers who want an easy-to-use website that they can throw up on their own without having to worry about the inner-workings. However, be aware that with this comes trade-offs (i.e. you give up some control, functionality, customization, etc.)

Bentop Events 

Bentop Events Website

Bentop Events’ website is a great example of how visual a Wix website can be. For businesses that rely on portfolios, the card layout is an easy way to organize and showcase your best work without making the page overwhelming. The website also allows visitors to “learn more” by clicking on a button over the image, which takes you to a full page on that specific project. If you’re needing a straightforward visual portfolio with basic click-through functionality, use this example for inspiration.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Integra

integra website

While the visual design of this site is rather simple, it’s part of what it so effective. Not all websites need to be a design masterpiece. Instead, this site focuses on what matters: copy that describes what the company is all about, and a video that showcases the service in action. If you’re looking for a basic website where you can throw up some text and basic images/video, this template should serve as a good example of what’s possible.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Wedding Website Example

Wedding websites are a great way to give guests information about the big day, show off your personality, and post updates / pictures / anything else you may want to share with those who are involved with your wedding. Given this website has a shorter lifespan than say, a business website, you’ll want something that’s easy to customize, edit, and manage. Here’s a great example of what you can do with a Wix wedding website:

Mary and Bill

Mary and Bill wedding website

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

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Photography Website Example

Photography websites are all about the portfolio of work. When looking for a Wix website example to serve as inspiration for your photography, pay special attention to the layout options for your work. You want to be sure you’re showing off your photos in a creative way without sacrificing the user experience (AKA fast photo load speed, easy to navigate, high quality images, etc). Here are a few examples of photography websites we liked:

Louiza Photographe

Louiza Photography

When you implement video into your photography services, showcasing that work on your website is crucial. That’s exactly what sets Louiza Nouari’s website apart from others. The homepage features a B-Roll style video, while each individual service page showcases work in the traditional portfolio style. It’s clean while still being multidimensional by incorporating different mediums.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Drew Sturge

Drew Sturge Website

What makes this Wix website a great example for photographers is the layout of the portfolio page. The use of a carousel of photos at the top of the portfolio page and grid style underneath give the website a unique interactive feel without overloading the functionality or making it too difficult for visitors to navigate. Drew’s given visitors an easy way to view his work in a way that’s sleek, visually coherent across the board, and is easy-to-use — all hallmarks of a great website.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Ecommerce Website Example

Ecommerce websites are all about their products. A good ecommerce website should have high-quality product images, be easy to navigate, and keep the focus on what you have to offer your shoppers! You’ll also want to include strong product descriptions and an easy check out process. Here are a few of our favorite Wix ecommerce website examples:

Wild North Kids

A great ecommerce website comes down to a few main things: high quality product photos, easy navigation, and easy check out. This website from Wild Kids North checks all of those boxes. What stood out to us especially was how straightforward the homepage is. The header image is a carousel that showcases the products, and new arrivals are listed immediately below. The collection page itself is also straightforward and clean:

Wild North Kids Collection page

Shoppers can sort by color and size, and each product is easy to see and click through too for adding to cart and checking out.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

The Jomu Co

The Jomu Co

The Jomu Co’s website stands out for a few reasons. First is the carousel at the top of the homepage. The use of the carousel to feature different products / categories is a great way to give visitors a quick look at what’s available on the site and dive deeper into those products.

Next is the blurb underneath the carousel and breakdown of product categories.

The Jomu Co website products

The Jomu Co does a great job of introducing what its shop is all about, which is crucial for first time shoppers who may not know what you’re actually offering. After introducing the brand, they then feature a breakdown of their product categories, giving shoppers several different ways to navigate all they have to offer. Plus, the chat in the bottom right hand corner of the page adds a layer of customer service that is perfect for ecommerce sites!

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Artist Website Example

Need to showcase your art? An artist website is a great way to create a digital portfolio of your work. These websites should be easy to navigate, keep the focus on your artwork, and allow prospective clients / commissioners to contact you easily. Here’s an example of a great artist Wix website:

Aly Dalrymple

Aly Dalrymple artist website

Sometimes, less is more… and that’s exactly what makes Aly’s website so effective. The clean layout draws your eye right to her artwork, and the simple navigation at the top of the page makes it easy to find exactly what you need on her website. This is another great example of a Wix portfolio website that is a good fit for a DIY-er who just needs a place to showcase their work in an easily digestible format.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Music Website Example

Similar to artist websites, music websites are all about the music. Which means if you’re creating a music website, you’ll need a player so visitors can listen to your work on your site. You’ll also want to give people the opportunity to connect with you by listing social media channels, tour dates, and places they can buy your albums! Here’s a strong example of a music website created with Wix:

Dan Bettridge

Dan Bettridge music website

What stands out about Dan’s website is how the structure keeps the focus solely on the music — which, for a music website, is crucial! As soon as you get to homepage, you have the option to play or buy his newest album. You can also scroll down to check out other updates and videos. The music page also has a great layout. It lists all of the songs on the newest albums, then has smaller modules for older albums below that link out to iTunes.

Dan Bettridge Music Page

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Business Website Example

A strong business website showcases your services, gives customers the opportunity to contact you, and builds social proof. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and what you do when they land on their site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. Here are a few examples of strong Wix business website examples:

Books Covered

bookscovered website

What stands out about Books Covered’s website is that while it uses a typical grid-style layout, the brand colors and imagery make this website look and feel completely unique. This site is a great example of how to take a simple website layout and make it look polished, professional, and creative without having to create something entirely from scratch.

Booth Harrington & Johns

Booth Harrington & Johns website

Have you ever been on a business’ website and felt frustrated because you couldn’t figure out how to contact them? This is something that Booth Harrington & Johns’ website does really well. There are multiple places where you can see contact information (i.e. at the top of the page and on the sidebar). It’s also easy to find where you can learn more about their services, which is another crucial component of a business website!

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Personal Website Examples

Personal websites are exactly what they sound like… personal! Whether it’s a resume / portfolio website you use to get booked or a blog you use to create content, this type of site is all about getting your personal brand online and owning your space on the Internet. Personal website should be easy to edit, manage, and customize. Here’s an example of a Wix personal website to use for inspiration:

Meghan Kreidler

Meghan Kreidler website

It’s easy to get caught up in showcasing your personality and creativity on your personal website. And while adding in some flair is fine, you don’t want to sacrifice clarity in the name of creativity. Meghan’s website includes the right balance of both. The navigation changes the main box content, making it easy to read about who she is, what she does, and what she’s done. If you’re looking for an easy way to put your work and experience out into the world, this layout does the trick.

Explore Similar Wix Templates!

Next Steps

At the end of the day, choosing your website platform goes far beyond design. Why? Because all web pages are made of HTML & CSS with a few scripts thrown in. This means that any website template can exist on any good web platform.

What YOU want to focus on is the design elements and functionality that are available on the platform you’re choosing.

If you feel like Wix fits the design and functionality needs you have for your website, you can explore more Wix templates here.

Not sure if Wix is a right fit? Explore other Wix alternatives here.

The post 11+ Wix Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How Does Customer Financing With Square Installments Work?

Square is best known by online sellers and brick-and-mortar shops for its secure credit card processing solutions. With a free mobile point of sale app — and free credit card reader–, Square has made it easier for the everyday small business owner to start taking credit cards. Card readers like Square’s also make it more convenient for shoppers to buy without carrying cash. That can be a win-win for everyone involved with the sale.

Because a business owner no longer has to purchase an expensive POS system to process credit card payments, it’s no wonder that the use of Square has rapidly grown over the last few years. In fact, a surprising number of businesses still did not accept credit cards at the time Square was launched. For a solo entrepreneur or a smaller shop, it used to be a lot more expensive and time-consuming to get started (not to mention more than a little intimidating, given PCI compliance and other regulations). Nowadays, you can find these portable credit card readers everywhere — from your favorite ice cream place to high-end boutiques, salons, and even consulting agencies. If you’re buying at a local shop, there is a good chance that Square is the company processing your payment.

In typical Square fashion, Square Installments provides a more accessible option for businesses that want to offer financing to their clients. If your company sells higher ticket items — from $250 to $10,000 — and you’d like to offer on-the-spot approval and financing to your customers, read on to find out more about Square Installments. But first — a little primer on customer financing.

What Is Customer Financing?

Before we dig too deep into Square Installments, let’s cover the basics of customer financing. By financing a purchase, customers can take home a product or use a service right away without paying for it in full at the time of purchase.

A common example of customer financing would be heading to the dealership and leaving with a new-to-you car — and a payment plan for the next three years to pay it off. Getting the newest version of your phone and rolling payments into your mobile phone bill is also another (more painless) way to finance an upgrade for your phone with less sticker shock.

Financing makes things a little easier on your customer, but it shouldn’t require you to wait for the cash. When you offer to finance through a third-party like Square Installments, you sell your product or service and permit payment to be settled directly between the lender (in this case Square Capital) and your customer. Square pays you in full at the time of purchase.

Financing customers is all about convenience and accessibility. For your customers, financing can make large ticket items easier to purchase with predictable monthly payments spread out over time. Instead of shelling out the entire lump sum, they have more time to pay. This makes for an easier sell for your salesperson and a more comfortable decision for your customer.

When a purchaser thinks about what they are buying in terms of monthly vs. the total amount of dollars, financing can significantly lower the “sticker shock.” Giving purchasing flexibility to your customers will make buying from you a more attractive and accessible option — and of course, that’s good for your business, too.

Companies that invoice monthly payments for ongoing services are also offering a financing option to their clients, in a way. Yet anyone who has a business model based on retainers or monthly agreements knows that sometimes when the bill comes due, it doesn’t always get paid — possibly because the person you invoiced has bad credit or is in financial trouble. These issues can be virtually nonexistent when you let Square Installments pre-screen and approve your clients — and take on the financial risk.

Read on to find out how Square Installments works and how much it costs so you can decide if Square Installments services are right for you.

How Does Square Installments Work?

There are two ways you can use Square Installments for your business: at the point of sale or via Square Invoices. Once you sign up for Square Installments, your business will get a custom URL. This web address is just for your business and is the link you’ll send to every customer who wants to apply for financing.

The Square Installments Process For In-Store Sales

Once you share the link with your customer, they’ll follow the instructions from their smartphone and fill out a short online application. In almost all scenarios, customer approval happens in real time, right when they’re ready to purchase at your shop.

If approved, they can accept one of the financing options on offer and will receive a one-time-use number for a digital card they use to pay you for their purchase. The number is valid for seven days, and your customer can only redeem it at your business.

When your customer is ready to buy, they’ll present you with the digital card number given to them by Square Installments; you will key that number directly into your Square Point of Sale app, online through Square API, or through your virtual terminal.

Square pays you in full for the amount at the time you process the approved application.

Square Invoices From Square Installments

Square Invoices allows you to send your customers invoices through Square as well. After you are approved and set up, the option for installment payments will appear on your invoice automatically. Once your customers receive your invoice, the process is similar to the one above — they fill out an online application, can pick a plan, and once approved, you get paid upfront and in full.

To spread the word, Square will also send you some free marketing material — both in print and in the form of a banner for your website so your customers won’t miss this new option for buying with you.

You Don’t Need To Be A Financing Expert

Worried about the fine print and fielding financing questions? Don’t be. If your customers have questions about Square Installments, they’ll contact Square directly. In fact, because this is considered a “highly regulated financial product,” it’s essential to pass any questions or concerns off to Square’s own customer service folks. And of course, this arrangement means you’re not burdened with the nitty-gritty details of financing or payment collection.

How Much Does Square Installments Cost?

If you’re a business owner considering whether or not the cost is worth the convenience of the service, here are some figures to help you crunch the math.

Square Installments for Square Invoices costs 2.9% of the purchase price plus $0.30 per transaction. Square Installments at your Point of Sale costs 3.5% of the purchase price plus $0.15 per transaction. If a custom rate applies to your business for keyed-in Square Invoices transactions, this rate also applies to any Square Installments transactions.

The good news is that there are no recurring monthly usage fees or long-term commitments. You can cancel the service any you time want with no fees or contracts for your business to worry about.

For a customer who is considering using Square Installments to pay for a purchase, the annual percentage rate will vary depending on a few different factors. However, every customer will have more three options when it comes to repaying the loan. Square makes things upfront and easy to understand for the borrower, with ease of use in mind.

Should You Use Square Installments?

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

The main benefit of Square Installments is that customers can pay over time — making them more likely to buy and making your business more likely to sell more inventory. Whether to break up payments for a big purchase that a customer normally couldn’t afford, or simply to offer a convenient option other than cash or checks, financing through Square Installments can be a valuable tool for your sales team to leverage.

When the average business owner thinks about customer financing, one of the biggest concerns is that the customer gets possession of the product or service without paying in full. While that may be a concern if you offer in-store financing and manage it yourself, in this case, Square takes on the financial risk entirely. You get paid right away and let Square manage the installments.

There are some important things to keep in mind when you consider whether Square Installments services are right for your business, however. As noted above, Square Installments isn’t free. Also, keep in mind that Square Installments is only applicable for purchases between $250 and $10,000 — so businesses that deal with higher ticket products or services will need to consider other options for financing.

When you make the final decision to use Square Installments, consider the benefits vs. the costs. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Would your target market and current customers likely make the purchase anyway? (In other words: How “warm” or “cold” are the people who come to your online sales page or place of business?)
  • Does opening up financing options also open up the possibility of a new target customer or a larger final sale?
  • If you send out invoices, will Square Installments give you a more convenient or secure option to take secure payments and prescreen users, despite the cost?

For any business owner, the benefits and conveniences should outweigh the cost of Square Installments per sale. Because you don’t need to sign any long-term contracts to use Square Installments, it might be worth it to try the service for a bit, see what you think, and compare sales over the next few sales cycles to be sure either way.

Learn More About Square

While you consider whether or not you want to jump in and offer Square Installments as an option for your customers, check out some of the other reviews for Square services. Find out how much Square charges for their primary services and get armed with more information about Square processing to see if these payment options are right for your business. If you want to see the service for yourself, sign up for a free Square account today and check it out!

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post How Does Customer Financing With Square Installments Work? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Domain Names, Explained

Domain Names

Domain Names are human-readable words (e.g., amazon.com) that directs Internet browsers to specific files on a specific server.

As an analogy, a domain is like a physical address but on the Internet. Like a physical address, they don’t really do anything on their own, but they are critical to understand when you are building an online project.

That’s the short version. But there’s more to domains & domain registration than the definition. I’ll cover common questions like –

  • What is a Domain Name?
  • What is DNS?
  • What is Domain Privacy?
  • How Domains, DNS & Privacy Work Together
  • How Much Does A Domain Name Cost?
  • Can You Just Buy A Domain Without Hosting?
  • I Bought A Domain, Now What?
  • Popular Domain Name Registrars & Next Steps

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.

What is a Domain Name?

The Internet is nothing but a bunch of connected devices with IP Addresses (usually a series of numbers like 192.168.0.1). IP Addresses are not only hard to remember, but they change frequently.

A domain name is a human-readable series of letters that gets matched with an IP Address so that a person operating a browser will find the device (usually a server with files) that they want to find.

In the physical world, the analogy is that Addresses are to Domain Names what Geo Coordinates are to IP Addresses.

Now – you can take this analogy pretty far, and it answers quite a few common questions. For example, like physical addresses,

  • Domain Names are mainly for convenience and memorability. You don’t have to have one…but it makes finding your work *much* easier.
  • Domain Names can have prestige based on neighborhood. Everyone knows 5th Avenue in New York City. But 5th Avenue only has prestige from the businesses that exist there.
  • Domain Names are regulated and structured by a central governing entity.
  • Domain Names are partly determined by country and availability.

Now, the central governing entity in this case is ICANN. They manage the structure of the domain name system while delegating responsibility for individual domain names to registrars.

ICANN has also approved a series of Top Level Domains (TLDs) that are meant to pair with specific devices / websites. Many are country pairs but many are also industry related. Domain Name Registrars literally register and lease your domain name on an annual basis for a fee.

We’ll get to providers & what to look for in a moment.

But what actually connects a domain name to a device / files / website? Well now we are talking about the Domain Name System (DNS).

What is DNS?

The Internet Domain Name System (DNS) is the protocol that translates a domain name request to an actual IP address request.

Every domain name requires you to set name servers. Name Servers do the work of the DNS. These name servers then allow you to define “records” for where each request will go.

You can tell a request for incoming email to look in a folder. You can tell website requests to look in another folder, etc.

Your domain name does not work at all without an attached DNS name server. It simply exists. And a DNS name server does not work with a domain name.

Now, access DNS name server is usually included when you buy a domain name or when you buy hosting (a place to put your website files). But it’s important to know that you don’t have to have your DNS name server in any specific place.

Namecheap DNS Setup

It’s usually simplest to set your name servers with your hosting company (rather than your domain registrar) since they are the ones actually routing your traffic to folders. However, if you are technically adept, many people use a DNS provider like Google, Cloudflare or others separate from their registrar and hosting company.

But the key part here is that no matter where your DNS name server lives, you still have to set it at your registrar. They are the ones who control all your registration data – and your privacy.

So let’s briefly touch on Domain Privacy and the products around that.

What is Domain Privacy?

Domain Privacy is a product that a domain registrar is authorized to sell under certain regulations. Under the ICANN license agreement, you *must* provide correct contact information with your domain name registration. Your contact information is stored in the public WHOIS database.

This requirement is to correct spam, abuse, and technical issues that can arise with domain names & DNS operation.

The side effect of a public WHOIS database is, well, you can probably guess. This is the Internet after all.

Scrapers, spammers, stalkers, and salespeople have a habit of helping themselves to the public contact information and misusing it. Although sometimes you can use it to find the spammers yourself 🙂

Public WHOIS

Domain Privacy is meant to solve that issue. Basically you pay for your registrar to act like a middleman in public. They publish their contact information in place of yours and promise to pass along any important information to you.

Domain Privacy comes at a cost, even though many registrars are starting to bundle it for “free” (i.e., including the base cost in the total cost).

Hover Bundle

Either way, it’s a good idea and a worthwhile upgrade, if only to reduce spam and random phone calls.

How Domains, DNS & Privacy Work Together

Here’s how all this works out in a real life example.

  1. This site’s domain name is shivarweb.com.
  2. The domain name is registered at NameCheap with the DNS name servers pointed to my host, InMotion Hosting.
  3. InMotion’s DNS name servers are set to direct web traffic to a folder on my VPS Hosting server that will deliver my website files (like this page, all of its images and design). They will also deliver any email sent to [email protected] onward to Google, where I receive my email.
  4. My registration information lives at NameCheap, where I have WHOIS Privacy Protection. NameCheap can get in touch with me, but no one else can.

That’s how a domain name, DNS, and WHOIS privacy all work together.

But there are still quite a few questions that come up. Here’s how I answer them.

How Much Does A Domain Name Cost?

A domain costs a flat annual fee depending on several factors including the base cost of the top level domain (TLD), the status of the domain, and your registrars’ business model & markup.

In other words, it depends 🙂

You can expect to pay $10 to $30 per year for an inactive generic top level domain (e.g., a .com, or .org domain that is not currently registered).

If you are buying a country TLD (e.g., .co.uk or .ca or .tv) or premium TLD (e.g., .ninja or .wedding or .movie) then you can expect to pay a base cost plus the registrar’s model & markup.

If you are buying a domain that is currently registered, then you will have to negotiate a private party price or wait to buy it at auction when it expires. Most big registrars either have their own marketplaces or participate in a domain marketplace.

GoDaddy Auctions

The quickest way to see how much a domain name costs is to simply search for it. Most of my readers use NameCheap (for their low annual renewal prices and user experience), so I’ve embedded their search tool below.

Find a domain starting at $0.88

powered by Namecheap

But you can also use the search tool at domain registrars like GoDaddy (cheap upfront) or Hover (focus on support) or even direct at hosting companies who usually offer a free domain (like Bluehost or InMotion).

Now, the big wild card with domain costs are your registrar’s business model and markup. I’ve written many reviews of different registrars. There is no “best” registrar. But there is one (or several) that match your goals.

Every domain registrar is out to make a profit. But they aim to make a profit in different ways. Your job as a consumer is to find one that matches your goals, and remember that if something is too good to be true, then it’s not true. If you get a super cheap domain upfront, then you will pay for it over time. If a company overpromises the world for an expensive domain…you’re probably going to just get an expensive domain.

I’ll cover different providers’ business models below.

Can You Just Buy A Domain Without Hosting?

Yes – you can absolutely buy a domain without buying hosting. In fact, there are a few good reasons to buy a domain without hosting.

  1. Your project is not ready, but you want to claim your domain name now.
  2. You want to redirect your domain name to an existing project (ie., on Facebook, Medium, Amazon, elsewhere).
  3. You want to speculate on a domain name idea. This practice is not as lucrative as in the past, but it is a thing.
  4. You want to protect trademark of phrasing.

There are of course plenty of other good reasons, but that is up to you. The point is that you can buy a domain without hosting. You’ll just need to pay the $10 to $20 per year to keep it registered.

I Bought A Domain, Now What?

Once you’ve bought a domain, there are a few things that you can / should do.

If you are setting up a new website, then you’ll also need hosting / website builder / ecommerce platform depending on what you are building. For diversity sake, I like to get hosting separate from domains. But, if your domain provider has a good deal (or you want convenience) then you can just follow their onboarding).

Once you’ve bought hosting / website builder subscription, then you’ll need to point your DNS to your hosting company / website builder.

Namecheap DNS Setup

After that, all the remaining steps will happen at your hosting company / website builder.

If you are setting up an email setup or other Internet project, then you can set DNS settings with the DNS nameservers that should be bundled with your registration subscription. You can set MX records for email (ie, Google Suite) or @ records to point to a live project.

If you need to redirect visitors to an existing project, then you’ll set the 301 records to the target with UTM parameters for tracking.

If you ware just leaving it alone for a while, then you can place limited advertising or a parking page.

Popular Domain Name Registrars

There are a lot of domain registrars on the Internet. They range from Big Brands like GoDaddy to hip upstarts like Hover to companies that do registration as a complement (like hosting or website builder companies).

They all have tradeoffs. I’ve listed a few of my favorites with a buying guide here. I’ve also reviewed many individually here and compared the two biggest brands here.

But the key to shopping is to ask yourself what you really prefer. Do you want a cheap first year only to pay more on subsequent years? Do you want phone customer support or is chat fine? Do you want an established brand or small upstart? Do you want a simple user experience or lots of complementary products? Do you want a wide TLD selection or no? Do you plan on buying a lot of domains or a single one? Do you want the convenience of buying a domain & hosting from one company or do you want the control of buying them separately?

My domains are hosted at either NameCheap (almost all of my long-term personal domains), GoDaddy (for quick ideas & some clients), or Google Domains (for experiments). But I have clients who use Hover (review) and bundle domains / hosting somewhere like Bluehost or InMotion or Shopify or Wix.

They all work fine in their own way, but you should find the one that fits you.

Next Steps

Domain names are very interesting. In many ways, they are a core ingredient to a successful website. In other ways, they don’t really matter (see thefacebook.com, basecamphq.com and all the other terrible original domains of now big businesses).

But if you have an idea, a project or a need for an online presence, then go grab your domain name and put it to use!

The post Domain Names, Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business

Selecting the best ecommerce platform for building your online store can be tough. I find it helpful to keep in mind that shopping for this type of software is similar to shopping for any other product (you just happen to be shopping for shopping cart software, which I’ll grant is slightly strange). You ultimately need your ecommerce software to do two primary things: to serve your particular online selling needs, and to accomplish this for an affordable price.

If you’ve heard of any ecommerce software up to this point, you’ve probably heard of a platform called Shopify. Shopify often receives top billing in this category, and with good reason. Still, it’s by no means the perfect solution for everyone. Along with Shopify, we’ve compiled a few other great options worth considering in your search for an online home for your store.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

From a bird’s-eye view, our main reasons for recommending these platforms are user-friendliness, a solid feature set, and an accessible price. Notice that they’re also all SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, meaning you are not responsible for downloading, installing, and hosting the shopping cart on your own server. Instead, you subscribe to the service (most often for a monthly fee), and all the hosting and software updates that underpin your online store are automatically handled for you. Easy! eCommerce software has been trending in this direction over the past several years, and the available SaaS options have only become more robust and customizable over time.

What To Look For In An Ecommerce Platform

Before we discuss the individual recommendations further, here’s a quick overview of the key factors we consider when evaluating ecommerce software:

  • Pricing: How does the monthly subscription system work (what factors determine the different pricing levels), and what are the options/costs associated with accepting payments from shoppers?
  • Features & Add-ons: How strong is the core feature set of the software, and how well can these features be expanded upon using the platform’s associated app marketplace?
  • Ease Of Use: How steep is the learning curve for ecommerce beginners (particularly those without any coding experience)? What is the balance between user-friendliness and the capability of the platform to accomplish both basic and advanced tasks?
  • Web Design: How attractive, modern, and functional are the available theme templates for designing storefronts? What customization options are available, and how robust/flexible are these tools?
  • Customer Support: What is the availability and quality of email, live chat, and phone support for the software, along with any other self-help resources provided by the company and user community?

And, of course…

  • User Reviews: What are real store owners (like you!) saying about the software, both good and bad?

That’s our basic guideline. Now, we’ll take a closer look at each platform, highlighting the main benefits and drawbacks of each one, along with the types of online sellers we think the software typically suits best. We’d definitely recommend reading our full review of each platform before making your final choice. We’ve also posted one-on-one comparisons for several of the platforms if you’d like to check out those in-depth articles as well.

1. Shopify

As mentioned, Shopify is our most commonly recommended ecommerce platform. The combination of strong core features, an exhaustive app marketplace, and high ease-of-use put Shopify at or near the top of most SaaS ecommerce platform rankings.

Pricing

There are technically five Shopify plans, but the three subscription levels in the middle are considered the standard options for most SMB owners needing an online store. The price jumps between the three middle plans are based primarily on additional features and the ability to set up more staff accounts. Here are all five levels:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

When it comes to accepting payment from your customers, you should note that this is the only platform on our list that charges an extra commission per sale. This goes above and beyond the normal processing fees you’ll need to pay to your credit card processor. Shopify’s commission decreases incrementally as you climb the subscription ladder: 2% on Basic, 1% on Shopify, 0.5% on Advanced.

You can avoid these extra Shopify transaction fees if you sign up for the in-house payment processor — Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) — but this gateway is only available in 10 countries. In addition to eliminating the extra transaction fee, Shopify struck a deal with Stripe to offer lower payment processing fees with Shopify Payments than if you were to use Stripe (or a similar processor) by itself. These discounts apply to your processing if you’re on the Shopify Plan or the Advanced Shopify Plan.

Shopify does provide over 100 alternative gateway options. You’ll just be saddled with that extra percentage Shopify charges per sale when you stray from Shopify Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

Shopify is defined by a quality core feature set that works well for a wide variety of sellers. Moreover, Shopify has a very large app marketplace (of around 2500 apps) that will provide virtually any additional feature you might need. If there is one disadvantage to this system, it is that these integrations can add to your monthly operating costs. Meanwhile, merchants appreciate how many of Shopify’s third-party apps are fully-fledged software platforms that are commonly used to support ecommerce, rather than just simple extensions that add a small feature or two (the app store does have those as well, though!)

Here are a few Shopify features we like:

  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards

Ease Of Use

Shopify has one of the easiest learning curves in the ecommerce software market. Simplicity is the name of the game for Shopify — it’s clear they’d rather offer the ability to expand the platform’s capability with optional add-ons than to overwhelm the newbie with a complicated dashboard or intricate customization options from the get-go.

The Shopify dashboard is clear and well-organized, and any built-in feature can be manipulated easily with zero coding knowledge.

Web Design

Shopify offers 10 free themes (made by Shopify), as well as 67 paid themes (made by third-parties) that range in price from $140-$180. Technically, the total theme count is a bit higher, because each theme has multiple style variations that swap out colors and whatnot. Shopify themes are some of the more elegant and functional options we’ve seen. As a nice bonus, the theme marketplace can be searched by desired theme features.

While the Shopify theme editor may not be as flexible as that of a top-notch website builder (like Wix), the drag-and-drop editor makes it easy to stack and rearrange page elements, called “Sections.” (Perhaps don’t go quite as far as I did with awkward colors and fonts — just showing you what can be changed):

Beyond the theme editor, you also have the opportunity for more customization with a combination of HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme templating language (called Liquid). Most novices won’t open that coding can of worms straight away, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Customer Support

Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all subscription levels. Although no customer support system is perfect, we’ve found Shopify’s responses helpful and timely in the grand scheme. On top of this, the strong community of users and developers currently working with Shopify makes finding resources, reviews, and feedback a breeze. The library of self-help articles, tutorials, courses, and videos produced by Shopify is also impressive.

Who Is Shopify Best For?

If this were a little kids’ recreational sports league, Shopify would receive the “Most Well-Rounded Player” award, if not the full MVP as well. Shopify is suited to the widest variety of store types and sizes. When Shopify works for merchants, it works really well. Store owners who benefit the most from Shopify will most likely be based in one of the 10 countries in which Shopify Payments is available, because that’s the only way Shopify’s extra commission per sale is avoided. However, the quality of Shopify’s platform is strong enough overall that many merchants are willing to accept those extra transaction fees, even if they can’t (or won’t) use Shopify Payments.

Of course, we can’t mention Shopify without also mentioning one type of merchant in particular: dropshippers. Shopify is definitely the dropshipper’s go-to platform.

2. BigCommerce

If you asked most experts at large, they’d probably tell you that BigCommerce is Shopify’s most direct ecommerce SaaS competitor. BigCommerce also has an enterprise solution (BigCommerce Enterprise) that’s comparable with Shopify Plus.

Pricing

Subscription levels with BigCommerce are organized by added features at each level, but also annual revenue caps. This means you’re automatically bumped to a higher subscription once you reach a cap. Here are the plans and their associated sales limits:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale. For payment processing gateways, you have about 60 options. One of these is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Features & Add-Ons

BigCommerce has a particularly strong set of native features, while also maintaining a sizable app marketplace for optional add-ons (ballpark 600 in total). The balance of out-of-the-box features versus add-on apps leans more toward the former, especially when compared to Shopify. Offered features include:

  • Faceted (filtered) search
  • Single-page checkout
  • Customer groups & segmentation
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Up to 600 product options/variants
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Square POS integration

Ease Of Use

Some may argue that the balance toward more features included from the get-go can make BigCommerce harder to use at first. Personally, I wouldn’t let fears about user-friendliness stop a beginner from using this software. Extensive out-of-the-box features don’t complicate BigCommerce dashboard beyond reason, and the included features are intuitively configurable without any coding knowledge.

Web Design

BigCommerce offers around 125 themes, along with close to 500 total variations (or “styles”) of those themes. Seven of these themes (25 styles) are free; the rest are available for $145–$235. Quality of design is always subjective, but BigCommerce definitely has a wide variety of elegant templates from which to choose.

It’s a good thing this variety and quality of templates pre-exists, because customization options without coding knowledge or adding a separate integration are somewhat limited with BigCommerce. The theme editor lacks a drag-and-drop element, and you’ll be stuck with the theme’s fonts and colors for the most part.

Customer Support

Like Shopify, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels. We’ve had mixed experiences with BigCommerce’s support, but find that more users praise the service than knock it. You can definitely make the argument (and we have) that BigCommerce support is just as good or better than Shopify’s. There are also active community forums and plenty of BigCommerce-produced support materials available online.

Who Is BigCommerce Best For?

The target market for BigCommerce overlaps significantly with Shopify’s. Much of your decision will come down to the appeal and specific fit-to-business of the extra features that come built-in with BigCommerce at your targeted subscription level. For example, I think B2B and wholesale merchants would do well to take close look at BigCommerce’s feature set. Support for more product variants or discount types will be interesting to other sellers. If you’re confident you’ll actually use most of the native features BigCommerce offers, you could definitely end up saving money and headaches. You’ll just need to be prepared for the automatic subscription bumps as your revenue grows.

Perhaps the most obvious appeal for BigCommerce is the freedom to choose your payment processor with no penalty of an extra transaction fee. That extra cut Shopify takes from your sales feels especially unfair if you’re not even based in one of the 10 countries where Shopify Payments is supported.

By the same token, maybe you already have a merchant account and/or payment processor that you like, or are looking for a specialized payment processor for your particular sales volume and/or risk profile. We often recommend merchants processing over around $100K per year look into credit card processors that offer your own dedicated merchant account with interchange-plus pricing. These accounts can provide more transparency and account stability (and often cost savings) than a standard flat-rate processor like Shopify Payments, PayPal or Square. With BigCommerce, your payment acceptance options are quite open.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

This platform has been around longer than any other on our list, and I’d actually heard of it before I’d even heard of Shopify. Over the years, 3dcart has developed a substantial and nuanced core feature set and continues to add and improve features at a steady clip. The software’s low monthly cost, extensive features, and plentiful payment gateway options make it worth a look when opening an online store.

Pricing

Subscription packages with 3dcart are delineated mainly by annual online revenue, number of staff accounts, and available features. You can sell up to 100 products on the Startup plan, while the other plans allow you to list unlimited items.

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than BigCommerce or Shopify (if you exclude the Shopify Lite plan that doesn’t let you build a standalone store website). At the same time, the $29 plan level with 3dcart accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce.

On top of this, 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale, regardless which of the over 160 compatible payment gateways you select. For US merchants, there also are several “preferred” processor options (e.g., Square, Stripe, PayPal, and FattMerchant) that may give you access to discounted processing rates at the Plus and Pro subscription level.

Features & Add-Ons

3dcart prides itself on a rich supply of native, built-in features. We can vouch that the feature set is robust, especially for the price. And, while it’s true that 3dcart has managed to avoid some of the excessive “app creep” from which Shopify suffers, you can still connect with lots of useful third-party software via the app store.

We’ve mentioned that packed-in features can result in sacrificed user-friendliness. 3dcart keeps some of its complexity at bay by offering advanced features and modules that can simply be turned on and off depending on whether you need them.

Here are just a few of 3dcart’s noteworthy features:

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Single-page checkout
  • Robust discount/coupon engine
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Create/print shipping labels in-dashboard
  • Gift certificates on all plans
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Customer reviews & product Q&A
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Waiting list & pre-orders

Ease Of Use

When it comes to actually working with all of 3dcart’s plentiful features, we’re still looking at a user-friendly platform overall. You should just be aware that the learning curve you encounter may be slightly steeper than it is for Shopify (and perhaps BigCommerce as well) depending on your experience.

Like many worthwhile endeavors, 3dcart simply requires you put in a bit more effort in order to get more out of it in the end. The menus go a little deeper, the dashboard screens are more complex, and some advanced functions can be a little tricky to locate and use at first. Still, the basic setup and navigation are comparable to the ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far. You won’t need coding knowledge to operate your store.

Web Design

3dcart recently streamlined its entire theme marketplace, resulting in less quantity and more quality. The revamp brought 3dcart into better stylistic alignment with the ecommerce competitors we’ve discussed so far, but we’re still missing a bit of variety and uniqueness amongst the remaining options.

Of the 45 total themes available, about half are free, and more than half were created by 3dcart. Premium themes range from $149-$249.

With 3dcart, you get a very basic theme editor to change out photos and font colors, but you can’t rearrange any page elements:

Beyond these simple changes, you must use HTML and CSS inside the template editor:

Customer Support

Another key reason 3dcart makes our “best” list is the availability of 24/7 phone, live chat, email support. The only subscription that doesn’t offer phone support is the $19/month plan, but you still have the ability to talk to someone in real time with live chat. Support quality and responsiveness receive mixed reviews, but this is typical of all the software apps on our list. No ecommerce solution has cracked the code for keeping 100% of customers satisfied, but we’ll let you know if any of them do!

You’ll also have access to plenty of online resources produced by 3dcart, as well as an active community forum. Just note that while the knowledgebase articles are helpful, they’re sometimes low on screenshots and high on text.

Who Is 3dcart Best For?

We think 3dcart is a solid option for small-to-midsize businesses owners on a budget who still appreciate lots of built-in features. If you’ve experimented with Shopify or BigCommerce and felt a little boxed in when it came to flexibility and customization, and as long as you’re not intimidated by a relatively detail-oriented system, 3dcart opens up options for you. Or, if you’re skeptical of jumping on the Shopify bandwagon just because “everybody’s doing it,” and you balk at feeling hemmed into Shopify Payments lest you pay a penalty, 3dcart may be just the alternative you seek. Not to mention, we appreciate your Maverick spirit!

3dcart has a tried-and-true and even somewhat old school vibe, but without feeling clunky or inflexible. It has managed to stick around amongst an onslaught of newer competitors by quietly improving the quantity and quality of its core offerings over time. Meanwhile, you can still add on plenty of extra features via the app market, or do a bit of template tinkering on your own with basic coding knowledge.

4. Ecwid

Ecwid diverges the most from the software options we’ve discussed so far. At its core, Ecwid is an ecommerce shopping cart plugin (or “widget,” as the name implies) you can embed into an existing website. In this way, Ecwid is similar to WordPress’ WooCommerce, except you can add Ecwid to any website, not just WordPress sites. Ecwid also allows you to create a very basic standalone website and sell up to 10 products — for free! The company claims over 1.5 million users, which is significantly more than Shopify’s 600,ooo. The availability of a free plan likely has a lot to do with that!

Pricing

Subscription levels are organized by several aspects: available features, number of listed products, file storage, customer service access, and number of staff accounts. We’ve described the details of each level in our main Ecwid review, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Free: $0/mo. (10 Products)
  • Venture: $15/mo. (100 Products)
  • Business: $35/mo. (2500 Products)
  • Unlimited: $99/mo. (Unlimited products)

Happily, Ecwid does not charge an additional commission per sale. Along with offering around 50 payment gateway options for your store, Ecwid also has a special partnership with a payments provider called WePay. Together, they created Ecwid Payments, which offers discounted payment processing rates for merchants in the US, UK, and Canada. And, if you accept ACH or direct bank payments at your store (which is cheaper than accepting credit cards), you also qualify for discounted rates on those transactions with Ecwid Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

With Ecwid’s freemium pricing model, you can expect several new features unlocked at each subscription level. The free plan will definitely get you started with a small online store, but we don’t see most serious sellers staying on this plan for long. Fairly basic features such as inventory management, discounts, SEO tools, and access to the Ecwid app store require a paid plan. The Ecwid app store is on the smaller side, but you’ll still find several ecommerce staples in the shipping, tax, and accounting categories. And, don’t forget that if you’re embedding the Ecwid shop widget into another website, you’ll have access to that sitebuilder’s integrations as well.

Noteworthy Ecwid features include:

  • Create & edit orders
  • Several POS integration options, including mobile POS
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Branded shopping app for your store
  • Automatic tax calculations
  • Wholesale pricing groups
  • Mobile store management app

Ease Of Use

Intuitive dashboard navigation and foolproof feature manipulation make Ecwid an extremely user-friendly platform. Ecwid’s ease of use closely rivals Shopify’s. The Ecwid backend was clearly designed with the ecommerce beginner in mind.

Web Design

Remember that Ecwid’s main purpose is to act as a shopping cart plugin for an existing website that already has an established look and feel. That said, Ecwid does provide one theme template for a standalone online store. Here’s my in-progress edit of the starter template:

There aren’t a lot of customizations you can make to this starter website besides adding your own main image, your store name, and your 10 products. If your store is embedded into an existing website, you can purchase a third-party theme that helps your shop tie in with the rest of the site. Basically, unless you’re using the Ecwid Starter Site, web design for your storefront is largely dependent upon whatever existing sitebuilder you’re using.

Customer Support

Availability of customer support with Ecwid depends on which plan you have:

  • Free: Email only
  • Venture: Email & live chat
  • Business: Email, live chat, & phone; 2 hours of custom development (annual plan)
  • Unlimited: Email, live chat, & priority phone support; 12 hours of custom development (annual plan)

Also, note that email and live chat are not open on the weekends, and phone support is on a callback system. Despite these limitations, most users rate the actual quality of Ecwid’s support quite highly. Knowledgebase articles and video tutorials are also good quality.

Who Is Ecwid Best For?

Generally, we think Ecwid is a great option for small-to-midsize sellers. We highly recommend Ecwid for newcomers to online selling — particularly those with an established online presence who simply need to add a store component. If you love the platform your current website is built upon, and you’re already nailing your brand’s image and following, there may be no need to rush off and migrate to an all-in-one “website + ecommerce” system like the ones we’ve covered so far.

If you don’t have a website but would like to dabble in selling a few products online, you could also get an Ecwid starter site going for free while you develop a full-blown website on the side. It’s hard to argue with free! If you’re really on a shoestring budget or you’re just starting out with ecommerce, I’d encourage you to compare Ecwid’s free plan to Shopify Lite (at $9/mo.) to see which system might work best for your needs.

5. Wix

So, Ecwid built an ecommerce shopping cart widget that goes inside other website builders, but Wix is a website builder that actually built its own ecommerce widget (called Wix Stores) to go inside itself. I know, it’s a bit confusing! The point is that Wix began as a traditional sitebuilder, but now has ecommerce capability built in as well. Combining new ecommerce tools with its existing popularity in the no-coding-required-website-design niche, Wix presents quite an attractive (both figuratively and literally) option for online sellers.

Pricing

You may have heard that Wix lets you create a website for free. While this is true, you need a paid plan to use Wix’s ecommerce features. Below are your ecommerce subscription options, defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

We’ve listed the true month-to-month price here, even though Wix advertises its monthly price if you pay for a full year. This drops the prices to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. All of the other platforms we’ve highlighted also offer discounts when paying annually — Wix just leads with these discounted figures in its advertising.

Regardless of which payment processor you choose (there are currently close to 20 options), Wix never charges an extra commission per sale.

Features & Add-Ons

If you choose to build an ecommerce website with Wix from scratch, the core of your site will be built upon the Wix Stores app. If, however, you already have a different type of Wix website (e.g., restaurant, hotel, photography site, etc.) and want to add an online shop, you simply switch to a Business subscription plan and add the Wix Stores app to your dashboard.

Wix is still working on adding some features that are becoming more standard amongst ecommerce platforms (like abandoned cart recovery), but we like a lot of what it has on offer so far:

  • Email marketing
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • Checkout on your own domain
  • SEO Tools
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Inventory & order management
  • Library of stock photos for your site

The Wix app marketplace includes hundreds of apps, but not all are ecommerce-specific. You may also notice limited pre-built connections to third-party integrations (shipping and accounting software, for example). These sorts of apps become more indispensable as a store grows, but are not as critical for a store that manages fewer products and orders.

Ease Of Use

Wix Stores integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Wix dashboard. eCommerce features and settings are simply added to the left sidebar menu, like in any other ecommerce platform. Further dashboards open as you explore each individual feature (like adding a product or creating a coupon). Wix is defined in the DIY web design market by its ease-of-use, and this extends to its ecommerce functionality as well.

Web Design

There are actually two ways to design an ecommerce storefront in Wix. The first begins in a familiar fashion — selecting a template.

Wix offers over 500 templates to choose from, with over 70 of these already built upon the Wix Stores app (although you can easily add the app to any template). A nice perk of Wix’s template system is that all are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. The only tricky part is that you can’t switch templates once get your store up and running!

Wix provides the most flexible no-coding-required theme editor of any ecommerce platform we’ve covered here. Rather than simply dragging and dropping elements up and down your pages, you can adjust and place page elements virtually anywhere.

The second (and even easier) method of creating an ecommerce website with Wix is via Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence). If you choose this option, you’ll be asked a series of detailed questions about your business, and Wix will use this information to draft a storefront for you.

Sites created with Wix ADI also have a theme editor available, but this editor’s flexibility is more limited than the standard WIX editor. Nevertheless, it’s comparable to Shopify’s drag-and-drop editor. You can stack and arrange elements up and down your pages.

If you decide you’d like to micromanage your design a bit more after creating your Wix ADI site, you’re welcome to switch over to the more advanced theme editor. You just can’t switch back to Wix ADI without losing your changes.

Customer Support

Here’s a quick rundown of Wix’s customer support channels:

  • Phone: Callback service open Monday-Friday, 5AM-5PM Pacific
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: None

As you can see, the phone channel is somewhat limited, but we like that you have access to this channel of support on all plans. The Business VIP plan also offers priority support, meaning your emails and callback requests jump to the front of the queue. Wix doesn’t have as thorough a set of self-help resources specifically for ecommerce as some of the other platforms, but the resources it does maintain are well done and useful.

Who is Wix Best For?

Wix may differ from the other ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed, but we see this variety as a very good thing. This platform is a great option for merchants who need a multifunctional (but still user-friendly) website — not just an online store. The way native apps like Wix Stores, Wix Bookings, Wix Restaurants, Wix Hotels, and others weave together to form a seamless dashboard on the backend, plus an elegant web presence on the front end, is really slick.

Speaking of elegance, the other (sometimes overlapping) group of store owners Wix works nicely for are those with a smaller number of visually-detailed products. You’re probably not going to want to run a massive fulfillment and shipping operation with Wix, but small shops with aesthetic priorities are perfect for Wix.

Quick Pricing Comparison

We’ve covered a lot of ground in our comparison of these five good options for building an online store. Before we wrap this baby up, let’s recap the subscription plans for each one, along with the main ways the levels are distinguished from one another. As you’ve clearly seen, pricing is just one component of your final choice, but it’s usually where people start.

eCommerce Platforms Pricing Summary

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Payment processing discounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Ecwid

Free: $0/mo.

Venture: $15/mo.

Business: $35/mo.

Unlimited: $99/mo.

  • Available features
  • Number of products
  • Storage
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Customer service

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Final Thoughts

Did you find your ecommerce match? We know it’s a lot to take in at once. The great news is that all of these platforms allow you to test the software before you buy. We’d suggest narrowing down our five suggestions to a couple that look like strong candidates for your store and starting a free trial of each. Test drive all the features you possibly can, work on customizing your storefront, and pepper customer support with questions at all hours. That’s the only way you’ll know which is the best fit, even with our attempts to simplify the decision-making process for you.

Generally speaking, the first three platforms we mentioned (Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart) are quite similar and will work for a lot of the same types and sizes of stores. 3dcart is probably the most complicated and detailed of the three out-of-the-box, and typically requires a bit more out of the user. This is not necessarily bad, though. BigCommerce may be a good middle ground between 3dcart and Shopify, combining ease-of-use with a dense set of out-of-the-box features. And, even with Shopify’s super annoying transaction fees (if you don’t use Shopify Payments), Shopify is still a very solid recommendation — it’s just good software.

Ecwid and Wix each have their own advantages as well, especially for smaller stores. Both are well-designed and user-friendly. Ecwid has an enticing free plan and can be embedded in any existing website, while Wix allows you to develop a particularly elegant and multifunctional storefront using your choice of not one, but two different methods.

We think most small business owners will find a good solution from among these five options. And, we’ll let you in on a rather little-known secret: it’s not the end of the world if you end up needing to migrate platforms. That goes for right now if you’re looking to make a switch, or later if you decide your software isn’t working for you anymore. Nevertheless, you can still head into your decision with the confidence that you’ve done your research and tested the software thoroughly before handing over your credit card. (You’re going to test them first, right? Promise? Good.)

Do you have experience with one or more of these ecommerce platforms? Let us know how you think they compare in the comments. We love feedback from real users like you!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Business Loans For HVAC Companies

business loans for hvac companies

It’s hard to imagine modern life without the benefit of the work done by the HVAC industry. HVAC companies (HVAC refers to heating, ventilation and air conditioning) are tasked with keeping us warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and breathing safely as we live our lives in the archipelago of enclosed spaces that comprises our indoor universe.

With the economy in a period of expansion, demand for new construction has risen, and where the construction industry goes, so goes HVAC work. After all, these new offices, homes, and transportation systems aren’t going to keep themselves ventilated and comfortable.

As with any industry, HVAC companies have their own particular financing needs. There’s no shortage of loan products out there, offered by banks, online lenders, credit card issuers, and even the federal government. But you probably knew that already. The question most relevant to you is: Which types of loans best fit the specific financing needs you’re going to have in the course of operating your HVAC business?

That’s where Merchant Maverick comes in. We’ll help make sense of the lending market for you and direct you to the loan products that best fit your specific needs. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and delve into how to get a business loan for an HVAC company.

Financing Need Best Loan Type Recommended Lender
Marketing & Advertising Medium-Term Loan Fundation
Equipment Purchasing Equipment Loan Lendio
Business Expansion SBA Loan SmartBiz
Emergency Funds Business Credit Card Chase Ink Business Unlimited
Working Capital Short-Term Loan PayPal LoanBuilder
Covering Payroll Line Of Credit OnDeck

Loans For Marketing & Advertising

business loans for HVAC

Whether your HVAC company is just finding its legs and seeking to generate new leads or is established but working to expand, marketing and advertising are integral to an HVAC business’s success. Of course, such a campaign costs money, and the funds need to come from somewhere.

While we’re not here to tell you how to run your marketing campaign, here’s a quick tip: Reach out to people just before summer and winter begin. It’s when your services will be most in demand — for obvious reasons!

Medium-Term Loans

A medium-term loan is an installment loan (a loan that is repaid periodically over a defined period of time with interest) with a term length of between two and five years. You can typically borrow more with a medium-term loan, but if your anticipated marketing campaign won’t cost that much, a short-term loan would be appropriate.

A medium-term loan can obviously be used for any business purpose. However, since you should be able to more accurately estimate the cost of your marketing campaign than many other types of business expenses, a loan in which you borrow a specific amount of money is particularly appropriate here.

Recommended Option: Fundation

fundation logo

Review

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Founded in 2011, Fundation has since become one of the leading “alternative” lenders, boasting competitive rates, a solid reputation, and fixed-rate pricing (the interest rate will not increase over the life of the loan). Fundation’s term loans max out at $500K; accordingly, Fundation’s borrower qualifications are stricter than those of many online lenders. Fundation also offers lines of credit of up to $100K.

Fundation’s installment loans are offered with terms of one to four years and are fixed-rate, meaning the assigned interest rate will remain unchanged over the life of the loan. Additionally, Fundation sports a rapid time-to-funding, typically between two and seven days.

Loans For Equipment Purchasing

business loans for hvac companies

The HVAC industry relies on heavy equipment — the bigger the building, the heavier the equipment. Of course, these heating and cooling systems don’t come cheap. While any loan products can be used to cover the cost of purchasing HVAC equipment, there’s one type of loan tailored for this purpose: Equipment loans.

Equipment Loans

In many ways, an equipment loan resembles a traditional installment loan — you’ll be paying down the principal plus interest with monthly payments. The advantage of the equipment loan is that the equipment you purchase with the funds serves as collateral. Equipment loans are therefore secured loans, and secured loans typically have better rates and terms than their unsecured counterparts.

With an equipment loan, the lender usually covers most of the cost of purchasing the equipment, leaving around 10% to 20% to be covered by you. On occasion, however, the lender might be willing to cover the entire cost.

Equipment Leases

An equipment lease is another means of equipment financing. Such leases fall into one of two categories: Capital leases and operating leases.

With a capital lease, you are considered to be the owner of the equipment in question, so the arrangement resembles a loan in many ways. You make your monthly payments throughout the course of the lease. Afterward, you pay a small residual to close your account.

An operating lease lets you essentially rent the equipment during the lease, making monthly payments. When the lease ends, you can either return the equipment or buy it at fair market value, giving you a nice degree of flexibility.

See our article on equipment loans vs equipment leases for more information.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio isn’t your typical lender. In fact, Lendio isn’t a direct lender at all. Lendio is a loan aggregator, which means that you submit a single loan application which Lendio then passes on to multiple lenders, saving you time and effort. Within about three days of submitting your application, you should be fielding multiple equipment financing offers.

Through Lendio, you can find an equipment loan as large as $5 million, with loan terms ranging from one to five years and interest rates as low as 7.5% for highly qualified borrowers.

Loans For Business Expansion

business loans for hvac companies

Let’s say your HVAC company has been thriving and is ready to expand to meet the challenges of our glorious future of relentless climate extremes. Without an infusion of cash, however, your expansion plans may not be feasible. If you’re looking for a sizable loan at a reasonable interest rate, consider an SBA loan.

SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is an agency of the federal government meant to assist small businesses in obtaining funding. For the most part, the SBA does not lend directly to businesses. Rather, it guarantees up to 85% of loans offered by SBA-approved lenders. These lenders are known as intermediaries.

While SBA loans feature competitive rates and terms, be warned that borrower requirements tend to be rather stringent.

Here’s a rundown of four of the main SBA loan programs with links to articles describing the programs in greater detail.

Loan Program Description More

7(a) Loans

Small business loans that can be used for many many business purchases, such as working capital, business expansion, and equipment, inventory, and real estate purchasing.

Review

Microloans

Small loans, with a maximum of $50,000, which can be used for working capital, inventory, equipment, or other business projects.

Review

CDC/504 Loans

Large loans used to acquire fixed assets such as real estate or equipment. 504 Loans are offered in partnership with Community Development Companies (CDCs) and banks.

Review

Disaster Loans

Loans used to rebuild or maintain business following a disaster. 

Review

Recommended Option: SmartBiz

Review

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There is no shortage of SBA-approved lenders out there. However, if you’re looking to grow your HVAC business with an SBA loan, you might find the complex SBA application process to be intimidating and fraught with peril. The beauty of SmartBiz is that the company helps simplify and streamline the application process for you so that you can make sense of it all.

SmartBiz is not a lender. Describing themselves as the “white knight in small business lending,” SmartBiz will match you with an SBA-approved lender after helping you through the onerous application process. You’ll need to have at least two years of business history behind you and a personal credit score of at least 650, but if you meet these and other requirements, you can get an SBA-backed loan of up to $350,000 with interest rates between 8% and 9%. Not too shabby!

Loans For Emergency Funds

business loans for hvac

Let’s say the construction industry takes a downturn, leaving you with less business. You still have employees to pay and expenses to cover. How should a company in your position deal with unexpected cash flow problems? When you need a flexible funding solution you can draw from on an as-needed basis, consider a business credit card.

Business Credit Cards

As business credit cards tend to feature higher interest rates than business loans, they aren’t an ideal funding mechanism in many instances. But when unexpected situations arise and you need a stop-gap measure to temporarily plug some funding holes, there’s nothing like the ease and convenience of a business credit card. With the right card, you can cover emergencies while earning rewards and/or cash back along the way.

A good credit history will help you get lower interest rates and a higher credit limit. However, even with a less-than-stellar credit history, there are options available to you, including secured credit cards, which require a security deposit.

If you’re unsure of your credit score, whatever you do, don’t pay for a credit check. Here are some websites that let you check your credit score for free.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


chase ink business unlimited
Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 21.24%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited card is a great way to cover those unexpected expenses while earning 1.5% cash back to boot. If you’re using a credit card to cover emergencies, you’re probably not looking for a card with rotating cash back spending categories or lavish travel benefits. The Ink Business Unlimited comes without these extraneous distractions so you can focus on getting your HVAC business out of a jam while earning cash back on everything you buy.

Keep in mind that you’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for the Ink Business Unlimited. If your credit doesn’t fit that description, check out these options for business owners with poor credit.

Loans For Working Capital

loans for hvac businesses

Working capital refers to the money you use to keep your business running on a day-to-day basis. When times are good, your cash flow should be sufficient to keep your company running smoothly. The problem is that without extraordinary luck, times will not always be good, particularly in a field prone to seasonal slow-downs like the HVAC industry.

When seeking a loan for this purpose, you’ll want something that affords you a high degree of flexibility in terms of what you can spend your funds on. For this reason, a short-term loan may be worth your consideration.

Short-Term Loans

A short-term loan is an installment loan that must be repaid within 12 months or less. Payments must be made on a weekly or even daily basis and are normally deducted automatically from your business account. If approved, you can usually get your funds within a few days. Short-term loans are all about fast money, both in terms of getting the money and paying it back.

Instead of charging interest on what you borrow, short-term lenders charge you a flat fee known as a factor rate. This factor rate is a multiplier that determines the lender’s fee. I’ll give an example: Take out a $50,000 loan at a 1.2 factor rate, and you’ll be paying $60K for the loan over the agreed-upon term length.

Recommended Option: PayPal LoanBuilder

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Check Eligibility

PayPal’s LoanBuilder is what the name suggests. You essentially build your own loan by customizing its elements to fit your particular situation. The loans offered range from $5K to $500K and term lengths run from 13 to 52 weeks.

LoanBuilder’s lender requirements aren’t terribly strict. Your business must have been running for at least 9 months. Your annual revenue must be at least $42,000 and your personal credit score must be at least 550. As ever, your credit history and your company’s overall health will determine your maximum borrowing amount and your rates.

Loans For Covering Payroll

 

Heating and cooling systems don’t install themselves. To ensure that our apartments, workplaces, and shopping centers don’t become unlivable nasty hellscapes, an HVAC business needs workers. Workers need to be hired, trained, and paid, all of which costs money.

If you need help hiring new employees (or paying the ones you already have), consider a line of credit.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit operates on the same principle as a credit card. Instead of receiving a lump sum of dinero all at once, you’re given a credit line you can draw from whenever you feel the need. As with a credit card, you’ll have a credit limit to contend with, and you pay fees and interest only on the funds you use, not the total amount of the line of credit.

Recommended Option: OnDeck

Review

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If you need funding quickly, consider a line of credit from OnDeck. Approval should come in a matter of days, and the credit requirements are not particularly strict. Your credit line can run anywhere from $6K to $100K.

One thing to keep in mind about OnDeck’s lines of credit is that they are a short-term funding mechanism, lasting only about 6 months.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

business loans for hvac businesses

For business owners seeking a loan, there has never been a wider array of funding options. To help narrow down your search, consider the following questions.

Why Do I Need A Loan?

Before you can even start looking at particular options, you need to be certain of the purpose of your loan. Whether you’re looking to expand your business or purchase new equipment, only by defining your precise need can you select a loan product that fits what you seek to accomplish. Otherwise, you’re flying blind without any point of reference.

No one lender or loan makes sense for every business need under the sun. Know what it is that you need and shop accordingly!

Am I Qualified?

There’s no need to examine a lender in detail if you won’t qualify for its loans in the first place. Try to find and examine a lender’s minimum qualifications before going through the terms and fees with a fine-toothed comb.

Vendors of business loans nearly always inquire about your time in business, credit rating, and revenue. On each of these measures, the lender may have a strict cutoff point where, if you don’t meet the benchmark, you don’t qualify. Alternately, they may just use this information to determine your rates. Either way, it’s information you’ll need to provide.

Do The Rates & Terms Meet My Needs?

It’s obviously important to consider a lender’s rates and terms when deciding on what loan to pursue. Make sure you can afford the funding; nothing will give you nightmares like taking out a loan you can’t repay. However, a lender’s reputation and business practices are equally important. To get a sense of just how a lender treats its customers, try to find user feedback on the company in question wherever you can. Read enough reviews (we do business loan reviews, you know!) and borrower feedback and you’ll get a pretty good idea as to whether the lender is an honest broker or a predator fixing to bleed you dry.

What You Need To Apply For HVAC Business Loans

The number of documents you’ll have to round up depends on the lender. Naturally, you’ll need the basics — name, business name, address, telephone number, email address, social security number, and federal tax ID number. Many lenders will require much more, however. Here are some documents you should be prepared to submit, depending on the lender:

  • Business & Personal Credit Reports/Score
  • Business & Personal Bank Statements
  • Business & Personal Tax Returns
  • Profit & Loss Statements
  • Balance Sheets
  • Income Statements
  • Business Licenses
  • Business Owner Resumes
  • A Business Plan

For a more thorough look at how to apply for a business loan, read our in-depth take on business loan requirements.

Final Thoughts

Now more than ever, we need the HVAC industry at the top of its game. As I write this, wind-driven fires have spread dangerously smoky air over large parts of my tinder-dry home state of California, and proper indoor ventilation is literally the last line of defense for many in the affected areas.

When seeking a loan for your HVAC company, do your due diligence, explore all your options, and get your documents in order. This should set you up nicely for getting the loan that paves the way for your success.

The post Business Loans For HVAC Companies appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles

 

Square made its name offering a free mobile credit card swiper, but the company has expanded so much in the past few years that there is now a massive array of hardware options, catering to all types of businesses. You can still get mobile card readers from Square if you don’t need more than just a phone or tablet and a swiper, but you can also get a countertop POS system complete with a customer-facing display, or a slim, portable credit card terminal with a phone-sized high-resolution screen and built-in receipt printer. And if you’d like to print paper receipts and have an automated cash drawer, Square offers a wide range of compatible hardware. You can even save some money by opting for one of Square’s ready-made bundles of hardware.

Let’s take a look at Square’s hardware options, including its mobile readers, POS systems, and POS kits. We’ll start with simplest options and move on to the most comprehensive kits. We’ll also talk about what you can do to control your costs and manage your cash flow with Square’s financing.

If you’re still curious about Square’s offerings, we also recommend checking out our complete, in-depth review of Square, which covers hardware as well as the software.

Square Mobile Card Readers

Square’s mobile card readers are meant to work with smartphones and tablets — unlike with some of the company’s “all in one” hardware solutions, if you go with a card reader it’s a “bring your own device” situation. Square’s mobile readers are ideal for businesses that are always on the go — farmer’s market stalls, service businesses, food trucks, etc. These card readers work with any of Square’s POS apps as well. However, compatibility with specific tablets or smartphones will vary — and you should check before you buy that a card reader is compatible with your device. Square has a helpful compatibility checker tool on its website for this purpose.

Square Magstripe Readers

Square has been offering free basic magstripe readers for years. The boxy design hasn’t changed significantly over the years and it’s simple to use. Recently, the company added a Lightning connector variant in addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack connector. Square used to sell a 3.5mm adapter, but that’s no longer available (because it’s no longer necessary). However, I will say that adapters from other makers will work for the same purpose.

New Square merchants get 1 free card reader; additional card readers sell for a very reasonable $10. Unlike PayPal Here, Square doesn’t impose any limits or restrictions on transactions processed with a magstripe reader — there’s no limit to the number of swiped transactions you can process before you trigger a hold. That’s a nice touch. However, if you do process large transactions or do a significant volume of credit card payments you should definitely look at upgrading to a chip card-capable reader.

Magstripe Reader Quick Facts 

  • Free for new merchants
  • $10 retail price
  • 3.5mm headphone jack or lightning port connectors
  • Supports magstripe transactions

Square Chip Card Reader

 

Square’s first chip card reader wasn’t particularly fancy, or even all that different from its elder sibling: it was boxy, with a headphone jack connector. And it has since fallen out of favor — partly thanks to Apple and its removal of the headphone jack on its iPhones. However, this entry-level chip card reader is still available at a reasonable price — ideal for merchants who want to accept chip cards but also save some money.

Square doesn’t offer a lightning connector variant for the Chip Card Reader, but as I mentioned, a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter would work for iPhone users. This reader also requires the occasional battery charge because of the addition of the chip reader.

Chip Card Reader Fast Facts 

  • $35
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack connector
  • Requires battery charging
  • Supports magstripe and chip card transactions

Square Contactless + Chip Reader

Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader is a departure from Square’s earlier mobile credit card readers. First, it connects via Bluetooth. Second, it doesn’t support magstripe transactions at all. Instead, Square includes one of its free magstripe reader in the box as well. (To be honest, this design kind of disappoints me, but I figure that the Contactless + Chip Reader was designed to add EMV support to the Square Stand, which already has an integrated magstripe reader. So building magstripe support into the Contactless + Chip Reader was a moot point. Still, for merchants who don’t have a Square Stand, this might prove to be a small annoyance if the chip reader can’t read a card properly.)

Square also sells a charging dock, which can be plugged into a wall, or into the Square Stand’s USB hub. It sells for $29 separately. You can use it in a countertop retail environment and let customers insert their payment cards themselves, or you can set the dock aside and grab the reader by itself whenever you need to make a transaction.

Contactless + Chip Reader Fast Facts 

  • $49
  • Charging dock sold separately ($29)
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Supports chip card and contactless transactions
  • Basic magstripe reader also included

Square Countertop POS Devices

If you’d like something a little bit more permanent and stationary in your POS setup, Square offer options tailored to different environments. The offerings here get a little more complex, so bear with me!

Square Stand

The Square Stand has been one of the company’s core offerings for a long time — it is a tablet stand with a built-in card reader, all for a reasonable price (at launch, it cost $99). It swivels, it has minimal cords, and it looks good. Square has improved it slightly with the bundling of the Contactless + Chip Reader. That brings the price to $169.

Square doesn’t include a receipt printer for the Stand, but a printer is available in hardware bundles. Likewise, Square doesn’t include an iPad with the Stand, but you can purchase one directly from Square for an additional $329. Keep in mind that the current edition of the Square Stand only works for the most recent iPad models. If you have an older iPad, you can order a legacy stand from Square for $99, but the Contactless + Chip Reader requires iOS 9.3.5 or higher, and that version of iOS isn’t supported on an iPad 2 or other earlier models.

Because the Square Stand runs an iPad, it can also support merchants using Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, or Square for Restaurants. There are an assortment of recommended hardware bundles for the Square stand, but if you prefer to build your own setup, you will be happy to know that the Square Stand supports USB, Ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth printers, as well as other devices.

Square Stand Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $169 (iPad sold separately)
  • Includes Contactless + Chip Reader (integrated magstripe reader in stand)
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale, Square for Restaurants, Square for Retail, Square Appointments

Square Terminal

Square Terminal (read our review), the newest addition to Square’s lineup of hardware, takes the concept of the Square Stand and the traditional credit card terminal and combines them into one portable machine. The display is large enough to be a fully functioning POS (it runs Square Point of Sale, the free app). It accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. It even has a built-in thermal receipt printer.

While you can operate Terminal by keeping it plugged in, Square promises the battery will last all day if you prefer to go wireless. You also get a cleverly-designed power brick and USB hub to connect accessories, such as the USB barcode scanner and cash drawer. Bluetooth accessories aren’t supported, so the USB hub will be important for some merchants.

While Terminal runs Square Point of Sale, it also offers some compatibility with the iPad-based premium POS app, Square for Restaurants. Specifically, Terminal can be used for tableside ordering and payments. It doesn’t support all of Square for Restaurant’s features, though, so it’s important that you make sure Terminal will really fit your needs.

Square Terminal Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $399
  • $300 processing credit for new merchants
  • 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (limited compatibility with Square for Restaurants)

Square Register

 

Square Register (read our review) definitely targets a higher-end market, with a price tag of $999 — not counting a cash drawer, receipt printer, or barcode scanner. However, for that price, you get a 13.25-inch screen running Square Point of Sale, as well as a 7-inch consumer-facing screen with integrated support for magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions.

Square Register runs an Android-based version of Square Point of Sale, which means it’s not compatible with Square for Retail. However, you can take advantage of the back-end features if you opt to subscribe to Square for Retail. Specifically, that means access to the reporting features, including cost of goods sold and profitability reports. Square Register also integrates perfectly with Square Loyalty and allows customers to see the status of their loyalty accounts.

All in all, Square Register is an absolutely gorgeous piece of hardware that would look great in a retail space. The addition of the customer-facing display, combined with all of the supported hardware, brings Register on par with more traditional countertop POS systems.

Square Register Fast Facts

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $999
  • 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (back end features compatible with Square for Retail)

Square POS Bundles

Square’s POS Kits are available for the Square Stand and Square Register — but if you’d prefer to use a different tablet stand for an iPad, Square also offers some alternatives. It would be a bit redundant and very overwhelming to go through every single bundle that Square offers, so let’s focus on what they offer, broadly speaking.

Square will first ask you to pick a category for your business. The options are limited — just food and beverages, beauty and wellness, or retail. However, those three categories cover a lot of industries. And honestly, you shouldn’t worry too much about picking the right category because the offerings will be similar. Check the options in each category and see which bundle you like.

After you’ve chosen an industry category, Square will also ask you about your Internet setup, specifically whether your business has a router. If you are relying on cellular data, obviously, there’s no router involved. But this question primarily affects what kind of printer Square includes in its bundles.

The biggest advantage to choosing a Square POS kit is the cost savings. Buying individual accessories from Square will cost more than buying a bundle. Square lists the prices as “starting at” for most bundles, but that’s usually because you have the option of purchasing an iPad direct from Square. (Note that you can only get the most recent model of iPad. Square offers POS bundles that support the iPad 2, for example, but you’ll have to acquire the iPad separately.)

Let’s start by looking at what the Square Register and Square Stand bundles look like, versus the alternative tablet stands.

Square Stand POS Kit

 

Square Stand on its own is pretty affordable, but if you opt for the bundle with the stand over buying individual components, you’ll save a small amount. Square suggests running the Stand with a router setup, which includes a USB hub for accessories, rather than wireless options. Your Square Stand Kit includes the following:

  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • 16 in. Printer-Driven Cash Drawer
  • Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

If you decide against the Square Stand Kit, keep in mind that you can use any piece of hardware that works with an iPad running Square Point of Sale, as well as USB-enabled devices. That includes barcode scanners and receipt and kitchen printers in addition to cash drawers.

Square Register POS Kit

The POS kit for Square Register will add $530 to the cost, but it will save you $67 over buying the parts individually. (Also take note: You can’t order just the hardware bundle separate from the Register.)

In addition to the Register itself, the kit includes:

  • 16 in. USB Cash Drawer
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • Square Register

Square only recommends the Register kit for businesses with routers, not mobile setups. That’s not too surprising because it’s clearly not a mobile setup. Register does support some USB and Ethernet printers (and one WiFi printer), but it does not support as many devices as the Square Stand or just a standalone iPad. Square also offers compatible kitchen printers, which aren’t included in the bundles for food and beverage businesses, surprisingly.

Other Square POS Kits

If you’d still like to use Square on a tablet — but without the Register or Square Stand — you can get a selection of Heckler brand tablet stands designed for iPads, as well as Galaxy Tab A devices. They contain the following:

  • A tablet stand
  • A printer (Ethernet or Bluetooth)
  • Cash drawer
  • Receipt printer paper
  • Card reader (Magstripe or Contactless + Chip)

Prices vary by the tablet stand model, as well as whether the kit includes an Ethernet or wireless printer. Which card reader Square includes depends on the model of iPad (remember, early models of iPad can’t upgrade to the iOS version required to support the Contactless + Chip Reader). And again, you can mix and match tablet stands and other devices to create a custom setup, though you will ultimately pay more than if you chose one of Square’s pre-made bundles.

Other Square Accessories

When you check out Square’s hardware shop, you can also browse standalone accessories for Square’s products. I like that the site has added the ability to filter compatible accessories by the POS device. The available accessories include kitchen printers, USB and Bluetooth barcode scanners, WiFi routers, and more. However, these are far from your only options. Square actually supports an extensive array of hardware in addition to the options available directly through its own shop. And it’s great about publishing that list of confirmed, supported devices.

Should You Finance Your Square Hardware Purchase?

There’s one last factor to consider when shopping for hardware from Square: the cost. If you are worried about the price of Square’s hardware, or the overall price of accessories, you’ll be glad to know that Square offers financing on purchases of $49 or more. Generally, the limit is $5,000, but you can apply for an increased limit. Depending on the total sum you’re financing, Square offers payback terms of 3, 6, 12 and 24 months.

Square will deduct your payments from your total processing volume before disbursing funds to your bank, so you don’t have to worry about making monthly payments. Eligibility depends on a credit check, and the financing program isn’t available in all U.S. states yet. However, if you are eligible, this could be a great option.

Square’s markup for financing is incredibly reasonable, and the program is managed by Square directly so you don’t have to worry about a shady third-party stepping in. If you can’t afford the upfront investment in hardware, Square’s financing can help you manage your cash flow better. And I like that it’s not a leasing program — when you’re done paying off the hardware, you own it.

Which Square Hardware Is Right For You?

If your business is primarily on the go, you can get a cheap, affordable mobile card reader. If you’d like a countertop setup, there’s Square Terminal with its very small profile, Square Stand for a good entry-level piece of hardware, and of course, Square Register. Plus, the bundled kits from Square allow you to easily add a cash drawer, receipt printer, and any other hardware you need. The number of options can seem overwhelming, but it really comes down to how portable you need your hardware to be and what you can afford.

One of my absolute favorite things about Square is that the company offers a huge array of very affordable hardware for all types of businesses. Some companies might only offer a few options, use expensive leases, or charge an arm and a leg just for a single terminal. You don’t have to worry about that with Square. The price is right and there are hardware options to suit every business that work with all of Square’s Point of Sale apps. That’s a very powerful reason to go with Square already. Throw in the affordable credit card processing and the great customer service, and it’s easy to see why Square is a favorite among small businesses.

If you’re still just learning about Square, be sure to read our complete Square Review! You can also check out our Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, and Square for Restaurants reviews to learn more about the point of sale systems.

Thanks for reading! Leave us your thoughts and your questions in the comments below!

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