InMotion Hosting Website Creator Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Website Creator Review

Website Creator is a stand-alone website builder product built & sold by InMotion Hosting, one of the largest independent web hosting companies in the world.

See Website Creator Plans & Pricing here.

InMotion Hosting has been in the web hosting business since 2001. Unlike many hosting companies, they remain staunchly independent and focused primarily on website products for small businesses. They have an emphasis on customer support and raw performance.

While they still have a range of hosting products (my InMotion Hosting Review), they have also been quick to respond to changes in customer demand. Website Creator came out of that effort.

The big demand of the past 5 years has been for easy to use, bundled, drag and drop website builders. But popular website builders pose some risks for business owners investing in a long-term project.

Website Creator was created for small business owners who need to easily DIY their own website, but also are thinking seriously about how to best build their website for scalability, versatility, and long-term success.

Since I’ve been a user of InMotion’s hosting products for quite some time, I recently decided to give their new website builder, Website Creator, a try for a small, quick project.

Before I dive into pros and cons, let’s talk about some basics.

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

What Is Website Creator?

Imagine website builders on a spectrum of convenience and control.

On the maximum convenience end, you have Instagram. It’s super-easy to use. But you have zero control over how your account design or function.

On the maximum control end, you have a server that you own an operate. You hand write all the HTML & CSS. It offers maximum control, but zero convenience. Most people tends toward to the middle options.

Self-hosted WordPress is software that you install on your own hosting account. It has a learning curve, but offers a lot more convenience while still providing total control over your files & server.

Wix is a popular drag & drop builder that has much less of a learning curve & more convenience than self-hosted WordPress. But they also have to limit data exports & your server access.

Some small business owners don’t like either tradeoff – and that’s the slice that Website Creator is focused on. I’ll get to this in the Pros & Cons, but Website Creator is actually built on top of WordPress on a hosting account that you own. So even though it has the drag & drop and streamlined website launch of a popular website builder, it’s still creating actual files on an actual server that you can access and export should you ever need to grow or rework your website.

In other words, think about a single-family home, a condominium, and a townhome. Self-hosted WordPress is a single-family home where you own & are responsible for everything. Hosted website builders are like a condominium where you own everything within the walls but outsource the rest to the Condo Owner’s Association.

Website Creator tries to be like a townhome. You have contracted landscapers, plumbers, and a Homeowners’ Association, but when it comes down to it – you still own the land and the structure.

With all that said, here are some of the Pros & Cons of Website Creator as a general website solution.

Pros of Using Website Creator

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Website Creator, not just compared to Site123 and Gator, but as a website builder in general.

Convenience AND Control

Website Creator’s biggest pro is the fact that it combines convenience and control — which is typically where business owners have to make a trade off when it comes to website builders (even the best ones).

Website Creator is actually a bundle that combines hosting (on InMotion), a website software or CMS (WordPress), and a drag & drop tool (BoldGrid). Which means when you sign up for Website Creator, you’re actually getting a self-hosted WordPress website with an installed drag-and-drop website builder (and tons of base templates to use) that you fully own and that any developer or marketer can work with. You don’t have to go piecing all the elements together or put off getting started until you have the “right” web designer.

You can just DIY and rest easy knowing that when the time comes, you can upgrade your content, design & marketing as your business needs.

Ownership

Again, Website Creator does a great job of giving users control — and that includes ownership.

Now, when it comes to website builders, I generally think of website ownership in 3 ways.

The first point is brand asset & copyright ownership. There is no website builder that would ever be able to “own” your website. Not even Instagram does that. If you author the text, images, video, logos, etc. then you own the copyright.

But when it comes to the other two points of ownership, not all website builders are created equally.

The second facet of ownership revolves around “website look and feel”. Websites are simply files that a browser can render. The look and feel is inherently not only your content, but also the combination of actual files used to render your site. This is where ownership gets tricky. Some website builders do not give you access or copyright to the actual files that are generated with your content. Some give you copyright and limited access. Some give you full copyright and full access.

Why would you need full access? Well, let’s say you want to sell or move your website to another provider. If you do not have access to the actual CSS files or actual JS files, then you cannot sell or transfer the site exactly as it currently is.

And the third point is practical ownership. So even if you own your entire website – JS, CSS, HTML, images, text, etc – if you cannot download it to your computer or transfer it to another server… do you truly own it? This gets tricky. It doesn’t really matter, until it does.

If you have a 10 page website for your dental office, this point really doesn’t matter. But if you are building a reference site for your organization that will eventually have thousands of pages… then it could matter a lot.

In Website Creator’s case, your site’s files live on an actual server that can be accessed and downloaded. Which means you have full ownership in all three facets — a great feature if you think you’ll ever need to move or recreate your website elsewhere.

Simplicity

Another pro of Website Creator is that once you’re set up, it’s fairly easy to use. As I mentioned above, Website Creator uses BoldGrid, a website builder, to actually create your website.

Website Creator Bold Grid

BoldGrid isn’t technically drag-and-drop. You don’t actually “drag” elements and drop them where you want them. Instead, BoldGrid uses Inspirations, which serve as your base template.

BoldGrid Inspirations

From there, you can add or remove pages, customize the branding (i.e. colors and fonts), or even go so far to add widgets on individual pages.

BoldGrid Inspiration Customization

The range of customization here is extensive. Given Website Creator uses WordPress, you can also install plugins (pieces of software that “plug in” to your website to add functionality), so you essentially create anything you want – that includes things like ecommerce, SEO, appointments, and flying unicorns.

But if you’re trying to keep it simple, BoldGrid’s Inspirations (and customization options within them) provide enough flexibility that you can create something that feels custom without having to totally build something from scratch.

Integrations

And speaking of customization… the ability to add integrations through plugins is a HUGE pro for using Website Creator. Given WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there, the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done.

Additionally, since you have an actual hosting account running Website Creator, you can integrate with any business email service or analytics package that you need.

Sign Up + Customer Service

Depending on your needs, this could be a pro or a con. Signing up for Website Creator does take some time. They actively try to weed out spam users, which means they review accounts before granting access. Their sign up process says it should take a few minutes to get a confirmation email, but after about an hour, we had to reach out to support to get our account approved and up and running.

The pro here is that you’re dealing with a company that take its software seriously and actively tries to maintain the integrity of it. They don’t let spammers in, and their customer service department is more than willing to expedite the process if you reach out and explain how you plan to use your site.

Flexibility

It’s rare that you get so much flexibility in an all-inclusive website builder, but Website Creator certainly gives you more than any other. The best example of this?

Website Creator actually lets use WordPress themes / custom themes outside of BoldGrid.

Flexibility Website Creator

This essentially means that you have a totally customizable, self-hosted WordPress site with the *option* to use an all-inclusive website builder that has pre-built themes and easy-to-use customization options. It’s a win-win.

Onboarding/Training

Using Website Creator does require a bit of a learning curve (more on that in a bit). However, InMotion’s onboarding and training resources are amazing. With any piece of software, there’s always a moment of “What comes next?”

With InMotion, they cover all the bases. From the moment your account gets approved, you’re given instructions on how to finish your account set, start your website, and get up and running.

Website Creator Onboarding

The account dashboard is refreshingly simple.

Website Creator Backend

They also offer training inside WordPress, so you can learn how to use BoldGrid and customize various elements.

Training Website Creator

Cons of Using Website Creator

Like any piece of software, there are always trade-offs. So here are the cons of using Website Creator:

Slower Sign Up Process

Yep… it can be a con that Website Creator takes time to actively weed out spammers. Why? Because this means the sign up process is slower.

Cumulatively, it took about two hours for us to get our account up and running — which isn’t great if you’re looking for a quick and easy solution to get a website up ASAP.

Learning Curve

Once you get through the sign up and installation process, using BoldGrid is simple (plus InMotion offers a TON of resources to help you through the process). But that doesn’t change the fact that getting up and running with Website Creator isn’t very intuitive. The sign up process is more extensive than most all-inclusive website builders, as is the installation process.

For example, before even getting started, you must have a domain name. There’s no option to use a free subdomain to get you up and running like you can with WordPress.com.

After that, you have to install BoldGrid, which then brings you into WordPress to edit.

Website Creator Getting Started

Again, the training provided by InMotion is stellar — but you do need to take the time to read it. Popular pure-play website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify – and even GoDaddy GoCentral all have in-screen on-boarding to show you how to do things while you build it.

If you’re looking to just dive on in and figure it out without having any website building experience, Website Creator probably isn’t the best solution for you.

Website Creator Review Conclusion

Website Creator does come with a learning curve, but it offers a ton of customization, flexibility, and ownership for users. Plus, it gives you the best of both worlds: a self-hosted WordPress website without the hassle of tracking down your hosting, website builder, and CMS.

Check out Website Creator’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider here. If you’re looking for a quick, easy, intuitive website builder that you can use to throw up a quick project, Website Creator probably isn’t the best choice for you.

Instead, check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post InMotion Hosting Website Creator Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder

WordPress.com Review

WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 25% of the Internet and is famous for its versatility and ease of use.

Its is so well-known, that it’s common for people with some web design experience to generally say “just use WordPress” when referring DIYers and freelancers to a website solution.

But for those who are unfamiliar with the general WordPress world, there is a major point of confusion: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing WordPress.com as a website builder and general website solution for DIYers.

See WordPress.com’s Plans & Pricing here.

But before I dive into specifics, let’s talk about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can “power” your website on a server. So instead of uploading individual files to a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a “backend” where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images – any sort of content.

It’s a “content management system” in web development jargon. WordPress is also “open-source” – which means that a community maintains it. A for-profit corporation does not own it. A non-profit foundation technically manages the trademark while leaving the software open under a General Public License.

The software & open-source community live & function at WordPress.org – where anyone can grab a copy of the software.

Note that I still haven’t said anything about it running a website. The other two pieces needed to run a website are hosting (ie, a server to run WordPress and render your website) and a domain name, which allows people to navigate to your website.

WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on. You pay for hosting and domain registration fees separately. You can learn how to setup a self-hosted WordPress website here.

And then there’s WordPress.com. It is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg – one of the original developers of WordPress.

WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers websites / blogs powered by their install of WordPress software. They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. I refer it to as “hosted WordPress”, because you’re buying a hosted version of the software.

The renting vs. buying in real estate works well as an analogy.

WordPress.com = Renting a building for your living space (aka your website). You can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord (WordPress.com). That said – your landlord also has to pay to keep everything in working order.

WordPress.org = Owning a building for your living space. You own everything on your own hosting space. You do whatever you want. That said – you are responsible for everything.

If you want to get into the weeds, I wrote a whole post about the differences between WordPress.com and .org. But that analogy says it all.

The key tradeoff here is between convenience and control. WordPress.com is what we call an all-inclusive website builder. It competes directly with other hosted website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy GoCentral, etc. You sacrifice some control (like FTP access) to get a lot more convenience (like not installing security patches or crashing your own site).

Compared to its direct competition, WordPress.com focuses on scalability, support, and flexibility. Let’s dive further into my WordPress.com review to see how it really compares.

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

Pros of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using WordPress.com website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Sign Up Process

One of WordPress.com’s biggest pro is how easy it is to get started. To get your website up and running, you just follow a simple, 6-step process that includes creating an account, filling in your website information, and confirming your email address.

WordPress.com Sign Up Process

They also provide a ton of “onboarding” support (AKA the process of getting up and running with a website). I immediately received an email detail next steps, and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the set up.

There was really no part in the sign up process where I wondered, “What’s next?”. The steps were easy to follow, detailed, and included support once I got inside the dashboard.

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward, and speedy way to go from having no website to having a site ready to build, then WordPress.com is a great choice.

All-in-One Solution

Again, WordPress.com is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

WordPress.com Functionality

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since WordPress.com uses WordPress as it’s CMS (and WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there), the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done. Just know that on WordPress.com, your advanced customization capabilities, like installing your own plugins and themes, are limited to their highest priced plan (more on that in a bit).

You also don’t have full control over the website functionality, because you don’t have access to your hosting. You still don’t have direct access to your files or your database. So if you want to do something in bulk or something super-technical, then you are out of luck.

That said, compared to other website builders (like Site123 or Jimdo), WordPress.com is inherently more open and accessible because it runs WordPress software. All of your content is in RSS and XML format, so it’s very easy to leave WordPress.com for another service or bulk export your content.

Template Design

When you set up your website with WordPress.com, you have a ton of pre-made templates (“themes” in the WordPress jargon) to choose from, including premium themes that come with higher-priced plans.

WordPress.com also indicates which themes are best for beginners, which is helpful for those who don’t have extensive website experience and are looking for the easiest way to get their website designed and ready to market.

WordPress.com Themes

Inside these themes, you have a range of customization capabilities based on the plan you have. You also have significant customization abilities on the individual pages themselves— even with the free plan. Inside the page builder, you can change the format by adding columns, embedding elements, and even editing the page code if you know HTML / CSS.

WordPress.com Page Customization

WordPress.com Page Code

One thing to note here — you cannot edit/customize the pages on the same screen that you edit the theme. This means that you’re basically designing the pages in a bubble. You can’t see how they play out in the context of the design until you actually go in and edit the theme. If you’re not looking to do any advanced designing, this may not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to build lots of websites for clients.

Customer Support

WordPress.com has a robust knowledge base and easily accessible support. In fact, their help button floats in the bottom corner of the Dashboard (and when you’re editing pages), so you can see relevant guides and articles to help you no matter where you are in your website.

WordPress.com Support

You can also chat with another WordPress.com using their “Contact us” button on the floating help section, giving you an additional option if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for.

Cons of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

But of course, no website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints, because there is no website solution that is right for everyone. Let’s look at a few specific cons I found.

Pricing

WordPress.com is a bit pricier than its competitors when you take into account what features are available to you. WordPress.com limits the amount of storage space you get on your website (AKA the number of images, video, audio files, documents, etc. you can upload to your site).

WordPress.com Pricing

Now, there is one caveat. WordPress.com does have a free plan. You can’t use your own domain name. You have to use yourname.wordpress.com – and serve WordPress.com ads on your site. But – it’s free. This plan is certainly my favorite way to get a free, well built website online.

However, it’s not clear that there’s a free plan available unless you go through the pricing tab. For example, if you were to click “Get Started” and just start filling in your information, you’re kind of cornered into buying a plan. There’s no option there to select a free plan. It’s confusing, especially if you don’t know that there’s a free plan available (which technically, you’re automatically signing up for when you create your account).

WordPress.com Pricing No Free Plan

If you are trying to start just a basic informational website or blog and don’t want to deal with hosting, then WordPress.com’s Blogger and Personal plans are well-priced. But for a business or really any size (or website that is going to strive to make money), then it’s a bit hard to compete with running a self-hosted WordPress website or finding another solution like Website Creator (a website builder built on top of WordPress) or another drag & drop website builder.

Learning Curve

Based on your website experience, using WordPress as a CMS does come with a learning curve — and it’s no different when it’s bundled with hosting and DNS services through WordPress.com. Yes, you have various themes to choose from that guide your site customization experience… but even those can be more complicated to tweak than WordPress.com wants to let on. Check out the instructions on customizing this theme I selected.

WordPress.com Theme Customization

If you’re looking for the ease of a simple drag + drop website builder where you can literally drag elements onto the page, drop them in place, and customize your template that way, WordPress.com might not be the best choice for you.

Because here’s the thing. In many ways, WordPress is more than software. It’s like a whole platform / subculture. You know how Facebook has “Likes” and “Newsfeed” and “Groups” and all these other terms that make sense…but only once you’ve used Facebook? Ok – WordPress is like that. When you first start out, there’s all this jargon to figure out. It makes sense quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.

Limited Functionality + Control

WordPress is known for how flexible and adaptable it is as a CMS. It’s a great way to build a website that you plan on keeping for the long haul, because it’s so customizable and scalable. But here’s the thing — those benefits don’t really kick in until you have a self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org), or until you pay for the premium business plan on WordPress.com, and even then you don’t have full accessibility with your website.

If you’re not looking for a website that you can customize and scale extensively, then this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you are looking to create a website that you can scale, and you were drawn to WordPress as a CMS because of that, then going with “hosted WordPress” on WordPress.com probably isn’t your best option, because you’re giving up quite a bit of functionality and control.

WooCommerce & JetPack Addendum

At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com and their services.

First is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a software plugin for WordPress that brings a *ton* of amazing ecommerce functionality to any WordPress website. It is amazing. It has a ton of extensions and integrations only rivaled by Shopify. And it works on any existing website running WordPress. If you are using the WordPress.com, you can add it to your plan.

Since ecommerce has a lot more considerations than a publishing site, many ecommerce owners like to have a “hosted” solution. In this case, WordPress.com provides a great option for websites that are “content-first” but also want a large-ish online store.

Second is JetPack. You know how I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? Ok, so you can get most of that with JetPack. JetPack is a paid plugin software owned by Automattic that any self-hosted WordPress website can install and get automated backups, security scans, in dashboard support, remote management via the WordPress app and more.

In fact, this website uses JetPack. It costs between Free and $29/mo depending how many services / themes you want (security is free). Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.

WordPress.com Review Conclusion

WordPress.com has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks some pretty significant capabilities, like storage, pricing, and ease of use, but it does compete well on support, theme availability, design, technical aspects, and content publishing.

WordPress.com is a really good fit for anyone looking for a solid website builder that includes more advanced functionality and theme options but still takes the headache out of finding their own hosting and additional services. It’s a great option to just get started. And it’s great for content writers & publishers plus any businesses that have the budget for the Premium Plan.

Check out WordPress.com’s current plans & pricing here.

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

Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or on a budget and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out self-hosted WordPress and setting up self-hosted WordPress on your own server.

The post WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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What Is An Acquiring Bank?

Accept ACH payments online

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

What Is An Acquiring Bank?

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

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

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

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

The Acquiring Bank’s Role In Payment Processing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does An Acquiring Bank Charge Fees?

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

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

How Do Acquiring Banks Affect Merchant Services?

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

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

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

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

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Best Accounting Software For Freelancers

Best Freelance Accounting Software

There are over 55 million freelancers in the US. With perks like being your own boss, setting your own schedule, and the flexibility to work from anywhere, it’s easy to see why freelancing is becoming such a popular choice. Whether you are self-employed full-time or are freelancing on the side to earn some extra income, there are key software tools that can help you run a more effective and profitable business — the most important being accounting software.

As a freelancer, it’s easy to focus on growing your business, finding new clients, creating marketing campaigns — anything but accounting. However, having a strong accounting process and being in control of your business’s finances is the key to running a successful business.

Luckily, there are plenty of easy to use, affordable accounting solutions that will help you manage your freelance finances and taxes quickly so you can get back to doing what you love.

In this post, we’ll share the top accounting software for freelancers. We’ll also share some other great freelance tools that you should know about to help your business succeed, including everything from email marketing software to website builders to mobile payment apps and more. We’ve spent hours researching and testing software so that you can find the perfect software solutions to run your freelance business.

heading QuickBooks Self-Employed AND CO Wave

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

Pricing

$10 – $17/month

$0 – $18/month

$0/month

Size of Business

Self-Employed

Self-Employed

Small

Ease of Use

Very Easy

Very Easy

Very Easy

Customer Service

Fair

Very good

Poor

Number of Users

1

1

1

Number of Integrations

4

10

4

Cloud-Based or Installed

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Mobile Apps

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

Characteristics Of Good Freelance Accounting Software

In terms of accounting software, freelancers have very specific needs. Most traditional small business accounting software simply won’t fit the bill. Freelancers need an easy-to-use financial management solution designed specifically for the self-employed. Here are some of the key characteristics a good freelance accounting software should have:

  • Affordable: For freelancers, every penny counts. With a slim or nonexistent accounting budget, freelancers need a solution that is free or offers affordable, low monthly payments.
  • Easy To Use: Good accounting software should be easy to use as most freelancers don’t have time to spend hours balancing the books. Many also may have little to no previous accounting experience so they need something that is easy to learn and understand.
  • Time-Saving Automations: All accounting software should feature automations, but freelancers are in particular need of any way to save time. Standard automations include automatic receipt uploading, mileage tracking, and live bank feeds.
  • Manage Personal & Business Finances: While freelancers should open a separate business banking account to safeguard against tax audits, this simply isn’t the reality for many self-employed individuals. Because of this, many freelancers need to be able to separate their personal expenses from their business expenses using their accounting software
  • Good Organization: As a freelancer, it’s easy to put finances on the back burner, but knowing your exact income and expenses is key to running a successful business. Accounting software should help you stay organized, run key financial statements, and make more informed business decisions.
  • Tax Support: With estimated quarterly taxes and ever-changing deductions, freelance taxes can be overwhelming. The best freelance accounting software will include tax support to help you manage your self-employed taxes.
  • Support Resources: Good accounting software will also provide you with ample learning materials to help you better your business.

We weighed all of these factors when selecting the best accounting software for freelancers. Each of the top three accounting options displays many, if not all, of the features listed above to help make managing your freelance finances as simple as possible.

1) QuickBooks Self-Employed

Best For…Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Overall freelance accounting and tax support. Ideal for filing directly with Turbo Tax.

Created in 2014, QuickBooks Self-Employed was designed specifically to help freelancers manage their finances and file their taxes easily. QuickBooks Self-Employed is incredibly easy to use, offers great mobile apps, and has the best tax support of all three programs on this list. The software helps you calculate your estimated quarterly taxes, track your mileage, find other deductions like the home office deduction, and even has a Turbo Tax integration for easy filing. On top of tax support, QBSE also helps freelancers keep track of their income and expenses.

The software is ideal for freelancers looking for tax support, a way to separate personal and business expenses, and basic expense tracking.

Pros Cons

Suited for freelancers

Limited invoice features

Calculates estimated quarterly taxes

No state tax support

Easy to use

Turbo Tax integration

Pricing

QuickBooks Self-Employed offers two pricing plans ranging from $10 – $17/month. The difference between the two is that the larger plan includes a built-in Turbo Tax integration and the ability to pay estimated quarterly taxes online.

Features

Best Freelance Accounting Software

QuickBooks Self-Employed supports a good amount of features, especially where taxes are concerned. Here’s an idea of what QuickBooks Self-Employed has to offer:

  • Track income and expenses
  • Separate personal and business expenses
  • Invoicing
  • Record tax deductions
  • Fixed asset management
  • Calculate estimated quarterly taxes

Ease Of Use

QuickBooks Self-Employed is incredibly easy to use. It has a modern, well-organized UI that takes very little time to learn and offers strong mobile apps that are also easy to navigate.

Customer Support

QuickBooks Self-Employed’s customer support has its pros and cons. There’s no phone support, but there is a live chat feature if you want to get in touch with a representative directly. The good news is that QBSE provides a great selection of learning resources for freelancers including a comprehensive help center and a small business center chock full of business advice.

Takeaway

QuickBooks Self-Employed is one of the best accounting and tax support solutions out there for the self-employed. The software offers the most advanced level of tax support on the market, and while this isn’t a full-fledged accounting app, it allows freelancers to manage their income and expenses.

Read our full QuickBooks Self-Employed review to find out if this software is right for your business.

2) AND CO

Best For…
Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Freelancers looking for strong accounting, good customer support, and the ability to create and send contracts to clients.

Founded in 2015, AND CO is an up-and-coming freelance accounting software that was recently acquired by Fiverr, one of the leading freelance marketplaces. The software is easy to use, offers great customer support, and provides traditional accounting features like time tracking and project management. While the software does not offer tax support, it does have a one-of-a-kind contract feature that allows you to create legal contracts for projects that are compliant with the Freelancers Union. This allows you to dictate who retains rights to your work and accept signatures directly from clients.

AND CO is ideal for freelancers who don’t need the extra tax support of QuickBooks Self-Employed and would rather have more traditional accounting features, contracts, and better customer support.

Pros Cons

Suited for freelancers

No tax support

Easy to use

Unsuited for product-based businesses

Good customer support

Limited integrations

Strong mobile apps

Pricing

AND CO has a free plan for freelancers with a single client and a paid plan which costs $18/month. The larger plan includes unlimited reports and more advanced proposals and contracts.

Features

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

While AND CO may be lacking in tax support, the software has a lot of great features going for it. Here are some of the features AND CO has to offer:

  • Invoicing
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Time tracking
  • Project management
  • Proposals
  • Contracts
  • Subscriptions

Ease Of Use

AND CO is incredibly easy to use. The software was originally designed solely as an iPhone app so the mobile apps are also easy to navigate.

Customer Support

AND CO offers great customer support. Representatives are generally kind and quick to respond to questions. The company also offers great business tools and support resources for freelancers, as well as all of Fiverr’s extensive freelance resources.

Takeaway

AND CO is a great accounting and finance management tool for freelancers. The main drawback is that there is no tax support. However, you won’t find such developed proposal and contract features anywhere else.

Read our complete AND CO review to see if this freelance tool is right for you.

3) Wave

Best For…Best Freelance Accounting Software

Freelancers looking for a complete accounting solution for free.

Wave is a free accounting software solution that offers an incredible number of features for $0/month. While the software wasn’t designed specifically for freelancers like QuickBooks Self-Employed and AND CO, Wave is one of the best accounting programs to fit the needs of freelancers. It’s affordable, easy to use, and allows business owners to separate personal and business accounting.

The software is ideal for self-employed individuals looking for a full accounting solution or those who need an affordable way to manage their freelance finances.

Pros Cons

Free

Limited integrations

Easy to use

Poor customer support

Good feature set

Limited mobile apps

Positive customer reviews

Pricing

Wave only offers one accounting package and it’s completely free. There are no user limits or feature limits. You get all of the great features of Wave for $0/month. The only extra costs are payment processing, payroll, and professional bookkeeping services.

Features

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Of all three options on this list, Wave offers the most features. While you won’t find tax support, Wave does offer strong accounting and is full-fledged accounting software. Because of Wave is actual accounting software, it’s the only program on this list that will allow you to actually balance the books. Here are the features you’ll find with Wave:

  • Invoicing
  • Estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Reports

Ease Of Use

Wave is well-organized and its modern UI is easy to navigate.

Customer Support

Wave offers many great support resources; however, getting in touch with an actual representative is difficult. There is no phone support and response times are slow.

Takeaway

Wave is an affordable accounting program that gives you strong accounting and tons of features without breaking the bank. The software does not offer tax support, but it does offer payroll, making it a scalable solution if you plan on growing your freelancing business. The professional bookkeeping services are also great for freelancers who aren’t comfortable doing their own accounting or simply don’t have the time.

Read our full Wave review to see if this accounting software is right for you.

Other Great Freelance Tools

Your freelancing business is your baby, and as it takes a village to raise a child, it can also take an army of integrations to run a business. There are tons of great freelancing tools that can help you manage and grow specific areas of your business, like email marketing, invoicing, ecommerce, and more. Here are some of the top freelance software tools we recommend.

The Best Invoicing Software For Freelancers

If your freelance business relies heavily on invoicing and isn’t quite ready for all of the other features included with accounting software, invoicing software could be a simpler alternative to meet your business needs.

Zoho Invoice

Best Invoicing Software for Freelancers

Zoho Invoice is an easy to use, cloud-based invoicing program with incredible invoicing features. With over 15 invoice templates to choose from and international invoicing options, Zoho Invoice has a lot to offer. Read our complete Zoho Invoice review to learn everything this software is capable of.

InvoiceraBest Invoicing Software for Freelancers

Invoicera is also a could-based program with a good feature set and attractive invoice templates. A forever free plan and over 35 payment gateway integrations are just a few of the perks of this invoicing option. Read our complete Invoicera review to learn if this software is right for you.

Visit our invoicing software reviews for more options or compare our top favorite invoicing solutions for small businesses.

The Best Receipt Management Software For Freelancers

Business owners are all too familiar with the dreaded receipt shoebox. Receipt management software or expense tracking software can help freelancers get organized and handle reimbursements with ease.

ExpensifyBest Receipt Management Software for Freelancers

Expensify is a cloud-based expense management solution with mobile receipt scanning, expense approval workflows, and next-day expense reimbursements. The software also integrates with key accounting programs for a seamless expense tracking experience.

ShoeboxedBest Receipt Management Software for Freelancers

Shoeboxed is also a cloud-based expense management solution with receipt scanning, mileage tracking, expense reports, basic CRM, and even tax prep. Shoeboxed also integrates with key accounting programs.

The Best Payment Processing Software For Freelancers

Need to accept mobile payments from your customers? Mobile payment apps allow freelancers to accept payments anywhere — whether that be at a home show, a small storefront, or even a client meeting at Starbucks. If your freelance business could benefit from accepting payments on the go, mobile payment processing is a must.

SquareBest Payment Processing for Freelancers

Square is one of the most popular mobile payment apps. It offers affordable flat rate pricing and free tools for selling online, making it easy to accept payments from your customers in multiple ways. Read our complete Square review to learn how Square could benefit your business.

Take a look at our other mobile payment processing reviews or compare our top five payment processing solutions for businesses.

The Best Website Builders For Freelancers

A website is key for many freelancers who sell goods online or who need a professional online portfolio to showcase their work to clients. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable, easy to use website builders that can give your freelance business the edge.

WixBest Website Builder for Freelancers

Wix is an easy to use website builder that is ideal for ecommerce and blogging. Wix offers a compelling free version with unlimited pages and hundreds of customizable templates to choose from. Read our complete Wix review to learn more about this affordable website solution.

SquarespaceBest Website Builder for Freelancers

Squarespace is a website builder that is perfect for ecommerce and blogs While there’s no free plan, the software offers amazing templates with a huge degree of customizability. Read our complete Squarespace review to see if this website builder is right for you.

Read our other website builder reviews and ecommerce reviews to find the perfect solution for your business.

The Best Email Marketing Software For Freelancers

One of the most challenging parts of freelancing is finding clients. Email marketing software can be a great way to market your services and target clients so you can grow your business.

MailChimpBest Email Marketing Software for Freelancers

MailChimp is an easy to use email marketing software with affordable payments. The software offers email campaigns, email automations, and even analytics and reporting. Read our complete MailChimp review to learn how this software could help your business.

BenchmarkBest Email Marketing Software for Freelancers

Benchmark is another great email marketing option that is easy to use and offers good customer support. The software has hundreds of templates to choose from and the unique ability to send video emails and online surveys. Read our complete Benchmark review to see if this software is right for your business.

Read our other email marketing software reviews or compare the best email marketing solutions to find the right option for your business.

Picking The Perfect Freelance Accounting Software

Choosing Accounting Software

Running a freelance business can be difficult, but with the right tools, you can set your business up for success. With accounting solutions like QuickBooks Self-Employed, AND CO, and Wave, you can manage your finances and gain valuable insight into your business’s income and expenses.

QuickBooks Self-Employed is ideal for freelancers in need of tax support; AND CO is ideal for legal, professional contracts; and Wave is ideal for the complete accounting package. Identifying your freelance needs and examining your current financial process can help you decide which program is the perfect fit for your business.

Then ask yourself, what other tools could benefit my business?

Email marketing software could help you grow your clientele. A website builder could help you create a professional brand. A payment processing app could help you increase your sales. Here at Merchant Maverick, our goal is to help you find the best software to help your business succeed. We have hundreds of reviews across multiple software industries so you can find the perfect software combo. Check out our comprehensive reviews and our other freelance resources as well.

Top 10 Tax Deductions For Freelancers

Loans For Freelance Businesses: Your 13 Best Options

heading QuickBooks Self-Employed AND CO Wave

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

Pricing

$10 – $17/month

$0 – $18/month

$0/month

Size of Business

Self-Employed

Self-Employed

Small

Ease of Use

Very Easy

Very Easy

Very Easy

Customer Service

Fair

Very good

Poor

Number of Users

1

1

1

Number of Integrations

4

10

4

Cloud-Based or Installed

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Mobile Apps

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

The post Best Accounting Software For Freelancers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Your Business Plan

What Information to Bring Accountant for Small Business Taxes

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

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

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

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

Pick Your Niche

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Your Menu

KDS Kitchen Display System

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

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

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

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

Source Your Ingredients

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

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

Calculate Startup Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

Sole Proprietorship

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

General Partnership

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

Limited Partnership

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

Limited Liability Partnership

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

Limited Liability Company

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

Corporation

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

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

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

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

Get Permits & Licenses

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

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

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

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

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek Business Funding

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

Personal Savings

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

Friends & Family

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

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

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

ROBS

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equipment Financing

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines Of Credit

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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

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

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

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

Business Credit Card

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

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

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

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

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

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

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

Vendor Financing

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

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

Recommended Option: Behalf

behalf logo

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

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

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

Personal Loans For Business

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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

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

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

To qualify for a loan, you must:

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

Choose The Right Software

pos with raw ingredient tracking

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

Accounting Software

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

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

Catering Software

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

Payment Processing Software

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

Hire Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolster Your Web Presence

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

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

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

Launch Your Social Media Profiles

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

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

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

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

Build Your Website

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

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

Advertise Your Business

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

Fliers

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

Online Ads

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

Newspaper Ads

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

Attend Wedding Shows

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

Wedding & Event Websites

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

Word-Of-Mouth

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Jimdo Website Builder Review

Jimdo is known as an easy-to-use, all-inclusive website builder that is designed for people with no coding knowledge. They offer two options for website owners: a DIY builder that puts you in control of choosing a template and customizing it, or an AI website builder that uses artificial intelligence to build a template for you, then walks you through the various tweaks you can make.

See Jimdo’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Jimdo?

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

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

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

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

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on using AI to create done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus on plugging in your content and getting up and running quickly.

They also offer a more traditional drag-and-drop builder for those who have more experience, making Jimdo appeal to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience) and those who have a bit of website knowledge and want more customization abilities.

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

Pros of Using Jimdo Website Builder

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

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of Jimdo’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple process that involves creating an account, verifying your details through your email, and then choosing which website builder you’d like to use.

Jimdo Product Options

One thing to note here — if you’re looking for the easiest, most hands-off way to create your website, the AI web designer is probably your best option. It goes through a series of questions and then creates your website for you, but follows the process up with a detailed, step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your base template. It’s perfect for DIYers who are brand new to building a website.

Jimdo Tutorial

Simplicity

Jimdo is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template (or have one created for you with the AI builder), you’re pretty much locked in to the layout provided.

The DIY website builder is drag and drop, but it has it’s limitation — you can add new elements to the page, but only within the template structure you’re already given (and limited to the elements provided — but more on that in a bit).

Jimdo Editor

And if you’re using the AI builder, you’re given even more structure (with that comes limitations, but again — we’ll get there). With this option, you have less drag-and-drop and more choose from what they give you. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

AI Editor Jimdo

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

Website Builder Options

Part of what makes Jimdo unique is they offer two design routes — you can either use their AI website builder, which gathers information for you and creates a template based on your answers to questions like “what is your website for?” and “what is your preferred design style?”. From there, Jimdo walks you through a step-by-step tutorial for customizing your assigned website template.

Jimdo AI Set Up

Or, you can take the DIY-approach. In this approach, you select your industry and are provided with a selection of website templates to choose from. Then, you can customize the template with Jimdo’s drag and drop editor. This method is slightly more advanced, but still straightforward and controlled enough to keep newbies in check.

DIY Jimdo

One thing to note if you’re going the DIY route — I found that your industry selection doesn’t matter. I was given the same templates to choose from whether I chose business or healthcare or skipped the industry question all together.

*One additional note here. When using Jimdo for the purposes of this review, I created an additional Jimdo account through a new browser window to go through the sign up process again, and was automatically assigned to the AI website builder. Of course, there’s always a chance for user error, but as a brand new, inexperienced customer to the platform… it was confusing. It’s a potential con for using the platform, but not because of the actual user experience of the builder — it’s just a bit confusing and unclear when signing up.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Jimbdo is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Jimdo also offers ecommerce functionality with their paid plan (one thing to note — in order to get ecommerce functionality, you do need to choose between the two higher-priced tiers.)

Jimdo Ecommerce

We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

European Presence

For U.S. users, this isn’t really a pro or a con, but for those in the EU, Jimdo’s European presence makes it a strong competitor.

Jimdo is a German company and operates data centers in Europe. As a European company, this means that Jimdo’s data protection and privacy standards are much stronger thanks to the EU’s new laws on data and privacy.

Additionally, if you are a US company who needs an EU microsite for an EU audience, Jimdo makes GDPR a bit easier than some website builders focused on the US market.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Plans + Pricing

Jimdo’s pricing and plan structure is a bit confusing. When first signing up, You can see that paid plans start at $9/month paid annually, which includes your own domain, free hosting but only a 10 page limit.

Jimdo Pricing

However, if you choose a free plan and want to upgrade (which I did), the pricing options appear differently from inside your account.

Jimdo Pricing Part Two

Aside from the convoluted information, the actual competitiveness of the plans and pricing structure leaves something to be desired (err, actually a *lot* to be desired).

Compared to competitors like Wix, Gator, and Weebly, Jimdo is more expensive and has more restrictive limits.

Their free plan doesn’t even offer mobile-friendly site design (a pretty standard design feature in today’s world), and you can’t get basic Search Engine Optimization features until their mid-tier plans. Even the mid-tier Grow plans has hard limits on the number of pages and on bandwidth usage (which to me seems like a double-limit). And I’m all for over-delivering on low expectations, but the support options are seriously deficient.

Plus, there’s no option to may monthly, so you’re locked in for a year.

In short, using Jimdo is going to be more expensive than going with a competitor and more restrictive due to the design and technical limitations (more on that shortly), regardless of whether you’re using it for a year or just a few months.

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

And you can really see this trade-off with the Jimbdo website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing at all. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template and adding additional elements within the template that may enhance your design / user experience.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with Jimdo. In the DIY website builder, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’ of the design. You can also choose from a few variations of the template, which essentially just have different navigation styles.

Jimdo Template Variations

With pages, you can delete and add sections and move them around, but you cannot add a page unless you add it to the navigation. You can alter the layout, but you certainly cannot edit the CSS, much less add any other design element outside of the pieces they give you.

And if you’re using the AI website builder, you’re limited even further. As I mentioned above, you can add sections and elements based on pre-built blocks, but that’s about it.

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

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling.And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Jimdo website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

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

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Jimdo does give some integrations, like ecommerce and DNS/hosting services. However, there are a ton of technical features that Jimdo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Jimdo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title and description for individual pages, as well as assign noindex, nofollow, or noarchive settings. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have aside from editing the HTML in text sections on the page. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Jimdo SEO Options

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

Jimdo Analtyics

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

Jimdo Review Conclusion

Jimdo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization (just choose their AI website builder). They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor/customizer that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Jimdo’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Jimdo falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They’re severely limited when it comes to technical features and integrations, which means if you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over functionality and enhancements, Jimdo may not be the best option for you.

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

The post Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Gator Website Builder

HostGator is one of the best known brands in the website & hosting industry. They’re especially known for their shared hosting, building their reputation on good pricing, fast servers, and great service compared to other brands. While I’ve long used HostGator for website hosting, I recently gave their website builder software, Gator Website Builder, a try.

View Gator Website Builder Current Plans & Pricing.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my Gator website builder review, let’s dive into an overview of website solutions.

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

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

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

What Is Gator Website Builder?

The Gator Website Builder is HostGator’s hosted website builder. HostGator has traditionally only provided domain names & hosting for other website software (like installing WordPress). Gator is their move into providing domain, hosting AND software in a single subscription.

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

Using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner.

That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control. You can read more about what a website builder is and how it contrasts to web hosting here.

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

As far as competition, HostGator competes directly with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy’s GoCentral and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and convenience by offering everything you need to get your website up and running in just a few minutes. HostGator appeals to the non-developer community here (think DIY-ers who need to create a website without having tons of website experience or time to maintain self-hosted software).

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

Pros of Using Gator Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Onboarding Process

One of Gator’s best features is its onboarding process (AKA the process of getting up and running with Gator’s website software). There is typically a part of the onboarding process when you think, “okay… what do I do now?”

With Gator, onboarding is quick, simple, and straightforward. In just a few steps, you’ll have selected your plan, chosen your domain name, and picked a theme to create your website with — all without wondering, “Where the heck do I go now?”

Plus, Gator builds in education not only through email drip sequence, but through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your theme and add content to your website.

Gator Tutorial

All-in-One Solution

Again, HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

Analytics Integrations

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since Gator is associated with HostGator — a well known, trusted hosting provider — the platform has the flexibility and resources to provide things like unlimited storage, DNS & domains support (AKA buying and mapping your domain name to your website), and support to migrate to a self-hosted product if or when that makes sense.

Template Design

When you set up your website with Gator, you have to choose a template to start your design. One of the pros of HostGator’s website builder is their pre-built templates. They have hundreds of options to choose from, and each option can be edited and customized in their drag-and-drop website builder.

You could custom build a website on HostGator with software & themes of your choosing (ie, WordPress + themes), but part of Gator’s appeal is that they have a huge selection of well-designed templates that you can tweak for your own needs by adding / removing sections and customizing the colors, photography, fonts, and content — all without worrying about their learning curve or costs of addons.

Site Building Process

Speaking of design… one advantage of an all-inclusive website builder is that you don’t have to write HTML or CSS code — instead, you can just drag and drop elements. What you see in the builder is what you get on the website.

Add Pages Gator

HostGator’s drag and drop builder is simultaneously detailed and simple. It gives you plenty of options for customization, such as adding new elements, change colors and fonts, adding entirely new pages to build from scratch, etc. But it also is extremely easy to use (it’s literally drag and drop). It makes it very simple for someone with no website experience to customize their theme or even give it a major overhaul.

Sections Website Builder Gator

Overall Pricing

While HostGator doesn’t have a free option for a subdomain (like Wix does), their overall pricing is competitive not only compared to other all-inclusive website builders, but also to buying your own hosting.

HostGator

Notice how everything is bundled and unlimited. There are no caps on pages or storage space. In fact, the only difference between the plans is support (priority is “faster” support) and ecommerce functionality.

Compared to building your own website on your host and especially other website builders, Gator’s pricing is very competitive. And while pricing isn’t everything, it’s certainly a factor, especially if you’re looking to bundle price and convenience.

Cons

But of course, no Gator website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Apps, Extensions, and Advanced Marketing

While Gator’s all-in-one platform is a solid pro for the website builder, it does also give it a disadvantage in terms of lack of support and ability to add 3rd party apps, extensions, and advanced marketing tools.

Gator does offer some apps and extensions, like G suite integration and priority support on their platform, but they’re pretty limited.

apps and integrations gator website builder

And while Gator does allow you to edit the site HTML and insert HTML when designing a page, there isn’t a way to go in and edit specific sections of code. This, combined with not having 100% control over your site & server (ie, to FTP verification files), limits you to which marketing tools you can add to your website.

This tradeoff does ensure that everything works correctly (no WordPress white screen of death when adding Google Tag Manager), but the trade off is control and customization.

Pricing + Upsells

Yep — pricing is also a con. While Gator’s pricing options are extremely competitive, it’s worth noting that the 50% off promotion only applies for the payment period. For example, if you commit to the premium plan at the 2-year price, that price only lasts you two years.

pricing rules Gator

It’s also not clear from the initial pricing information that a free domain name is only included in the yearly billing. That information comes during the checkout process.

Yearly Billing

The overall upsell with the domain + the marketing apps is also a bit convoluted. When you’re checking out, it almost looks like you have to purchase a domain name if you don’t yet own one. In reality, you can use a subdomain and purchase a domain separately.

Gator domain registration

The domain add-on is one of a few upsells during the checkout process, which does clutter the onboarding slightly.

Blog Functionality

While Gator does have a blog integration that you can add on to your website, it doesn’t come as a part of your theme. It’s treated as more of an “add on”, and you can select how you want your blog to look. blog themes gator website builder

While it’s great to be able to customize the look and feel of your blog, having to choose a separate theme makes it a bit disjointed and seems like the blog is a secondary feature. If you’re looking to have a website for the sole purpose of blogging, this may not be the best fit for you*

*if you are primarily a blogger, but want the all-inclusiveness of a website builder, then you should check out WordPress.com – it’s powered by WordPress but is hosted and controlled so that the experience is better than self-hosting WordPress.

Review Conclusion

Gator has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks many advanced options & templates (ie, especially compared to Wix), but Gator has better usability and pricing than most.

Gator is a really good fit for anyone looking for a well-built, well-priced, straightforward website builder and doesn’t need many extra templates or advanced marketing features (ie, CRO and Schema plugins).

Check out Gator’s current plans & pricing here.

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

Working on a long-term project and need more freedom and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out and self-hosting WordPress.

The post Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet is an online platform that sells business insurance through its agency partners and helps keep all your policy information in one cloud-based location. The company prides itself on making business insurance purchasing simple for business owners.

Started in late 2015 by two start-up entrepreneurs based in New York, CoverWallet began as a way to create a seamless, easy to understand, and comprehensive website for business owners looking for commercial insurance. Now, the company partners with carriers for 30 different types of business insurance. The CoverWallet platform is a self-described “concierge” service that helps business owners understand what insurance they need, offers quotes, and provides a platform for businesses to manage their policies, claims, and payments all in one place.

CoverWallet’s online platform is very easy to use and intuitive. It’s designed with business owners in mind and is great for comparison shopping. The service is ideal for busy business owners or new business owners needing a quick way to compare the best business insurance options for their company. However, some policyholders express frustration with slow communication once a policy is purchased and a glacial response to sending out certificates. Instant free quotes aren’t always instant either and can take 1-2 business days depending on the level of business information required.

If you are a business owner looking to make a decision on business insurance, read further to see if CoverWallet might be a good fit for you.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Good support materials
  • Free quotes available
  • Comparison shops across a wide field of insurers
  • Keeps all policies organized in one location

Cons

  • Slow customer support
  • Quotes don’t always generate instantly

Services Offered

CoverWallet itself does not consider itself an insurance company. Rather, it is a tech company with resources to help the insurance industry — a business insurance aggregator if you will.

Its carrier companies are Liberty Mutual, CNA, AMTrust, Berkshire Hathaway, Progressive, Hiscox, Chubb, and others. Once a business owner chooses a policy with one (or multiple) of these carrier companies, CoverWallet provides an online platform to store all of your policies and payments in a single location.

CoverWallet matches employees with insurance providers offering 30 different types of insurance. Here are some of the main types of business insurance offered by CoverWallet’s carriers:

  • General Liability
  • Workers compensation
  • Business owner policy
  • Commercial property
  • Professional liability
  • Commercial automobile
  • Umbrella insurance
  • Product liability
  • Directors & officers
  • Business interruption insurance
  • Liquor liability
  • Medical malpractice

Visit CoverWallet’s website for a comprehensive list of insurance types.

Pricing & Purchasing Process

The cost of business insurance varies widely depending on all your business specifics. CoverWallet makes comparison shopping and shopping for industry-specific insurance very easy and user-friendly. How much money you make in a year, how many employees you have, your payroll information, your location, and what you sell all impact insurance premiums.

CoverWallet is not an insurance provider but it will match you with an insurance carrier. To receive a free quote from CoverWallet, business owners can select which type of business insurance policy they are looking for and will be asked to provide some basic business information, such as:

  • History of business earnings and losses
  • How long you’ve been in business
  • The type of employees you have
  • Your business assets
  • Details about your specific business industry
  • Tax filing information

CoverWallet may ask for your social security number and federal tax ID numbers. Once you’ve provided this information, CoverWallet will send you a quote from compatible carriers and a CoverWallet agent will reach out to you to go over the quotes. If CoverWallet did not receive enough business information to generate a quote, an agent will call you and ask for the necessary information. This process can take 1-2 business days.

If you’d like to skip the online portion entirely you can call CoverWallet directly and speak to an agent on the phone to receive a quote as well.

Specific Size of Business

Companies of all shapes and sizes with varying insurance needs could all use an interface like CoverWallet to assist with their insurance and compliance needs. CoverWallet is ideal for small business owners who want to save money by comparing insurance policies from multiple carriers. Larger businesses, or small business with multiple policies, can also benefit from having all of their insurance information centrally located on the CoverWallet platform. You can add multiple users to your online CoverWallet account if needed.

Features & Benefits

CoverWallet Review

CoverWallet helps small business owners control their insurance needs in one central location. Here are some of the features the company offers:

  • My CoverWallet Dashboard: When you become a client of CoverWallet, you receive a My CoverWallet account that keeps all of your policies in one place. You can access information, view policies, file claims, and make payments all from the My CoverWallet interface.
  • Certificates & Third-Party Compliance: You are a small business and you need to prove you are insured by submitting certificates or you are working with other vendors and are requesting for them to submit proof of compliance? CoverWallet will store all of that information in one spot on your account.
  • Claim Filing Support: CoverWallet was designed to be a one-stop shop for business owners. So, customers can file claims directly from their My CoverWallet dashboard. CoverWallet says that they can walk customers through filing a claim step by step, if needed.

Customer Service & Support

There are many opportunities to connect with CoverWallet employees. At various sections of the website, you are directed to speak to real representatives either through email, phone, or chat. The chat feature enables users to talk to people during the company’s hours (chats sent after 6 PM EST will be answered the next business day). One of the helpful features is the ability to schedule a time for a CoverWallet representative to call you back if you are not able to talk to someone on the phone at that moment. Users appreciate the support resources available, but there are some complaints about slow response times and poor support communication.

Negative Reviews & Testimonials

Many CoverWallet reviews end up being about individual insurance carriers rather than about CoverWallet as a company. For CoverWallet specifically, according to the consumer website eKomi, out of 448 total reviews, 91.74% were positive and 6.47% were negative (with the difference in neutral reviews). Out of the 6.47% of negative experiences, the biggest complaints were the following:

  • Poor Customer Support: Some of the insurance companies and agents brokering deals with CoverWallet are not as knowledgable as others. Some customers experience slow response times from agents after the initial purchase.
  • Difficulties Adding Coverage: Users say adding additional coverage is cumbersome.
  • Poor Communication: The communication between the various moving parts (the CoverWallet representative and the agents from individual agencies) is not seamless and can be frustrating for busy business owners to navigate.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

The Better Business Bureau gives CoverWallet an A- rating on its website. The positive reviews for CoverWallet are in the majority, with most people experiencing a seamless insurance experience. The biggest customer praise says:

  • Quick & Easy To Use: The platform is easy to use and easy to understand. Businesses in a time-crunch to show compliances can be up and running with coverage in less than a day.
  • Easy To Compare The Best Deals: Users enjoy how easy it is to compare insurance policies across multiple providers.
  • Good Support Materials: Despite the issues some users had with slow customer response time, users appreciate that access to CoverWallet agents and employees is easy with chat, calling, and email options. Many agents go above and beyond to secure the best insurance rates for your company and your industry. They are not happy unless you are happy.
  • Competitive Pricing: No brokers fees! This is a big plus for users as well as free quotes.

Company Reputation & Reliability

CoverWallet receives widespread praise for their user-friendly interface and their goal to make business insurance a streamlined process. The start-up is new and evolving. They currently launched a platform that adds more agents and insurance options to their customers by building a bigger bridge between providers and business owners. While the business might be expanding and learning, early feedback about the services CoverWallet provides is solid.

Final Verdict

If you are a small business owner who needs to insure yourself and your employees quickly — and you have no idea where to start — CoverWallet is a great fit.

The company is ideal for business owners who want to compare various insurance policies to get the best deal and want a single location to manage all of their policies and insurance information. Because of the company’s many support resources, using CoverWallet is easy no matter what level of knowledge you have regarding business insurance.

There are some complaints from users about slow response times as well as complaints about specific insurance providers. Additionally, the free “instant” quote isn’t always instant and can take up to 1-2 days to be completed. Despite these drawbacks, overall customer reviews rank CoverWallet favorably and highlight the easy interface as a major bonus.

Research what types of insurance you might need and then add CoverWallet to your list of places to check for comparison costs and quotes when you are ready to start the insurance buying process.

The post CoverWallet Review appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder

Site123 Review

Site123 is a fast-growing, independently-owned, website builder based in Israel focused exclusively on DIYers. They claim to be “the most intuitive and easy to use website builder on the market”.

Check out Site123’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Site 123 a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Site 23 review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

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

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

What Is Site123?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Site123 lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Site123 is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Site123, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

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

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease by providing done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus solely on content.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Site123 has you pick your niche and then customize a curated template based on that niche, which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience).

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

Pros of Using Site123 Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Site123 — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Site123’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple, three step process (hence the name Site123), and it’s straightforward, easy to understand, and efficient.

Site123 Set Up

Plus, Site123 builds in education through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your assigned theme and add content to your website, which is an excellent feature for users who haven’t customized / built a website before.

Site123 Tutorial

Simplicity

Site123 is also seriously simple to use. As I mentioned before, Site123 provides you with a template based on your selected industry and type of business/website within that industry.

Site123 Template Selection

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements to change the design within your selected theme.

Site123 Select Page Elements

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

The site layout is mobile-friendly and maintains an acceptable look/design no matter what you do to the design options.

Product Integration

Another benefit of Site123 is their extensive list of product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Site123 also offers several plugins (software that you can “plug in” to your website to get additional functionality). From advertising software to analytics tools to marketing + support, their library is extensive.

Site123 Product Integration

Site123 also offers ecommerce functionality. One thing to note here though — to use the integrations, you have to have a paid plan.

And to get ecommerce functionality, you have have to choose between the two higher-priced tiers. We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Site123

Pricing

Site123’s paid plans start at $10.80/month, which includes a free domain for a year/the ability to connect your domain, 10 GB of storage, 5 GB of bandwidth, and the ability to send 100 email messages (side note – who counts email messages?) to your mailing list per month. It also removes the Site123 branding that comes with the free plan.

Site123 Pricing

But compared to their direct competitors like Wix and Weebly, Site123 is much more expensive and offers much less. At each stage, Site123 doesn’t even allow unlimited bandwidth or storage.

And compared to self-hosting (piecing domains, hosting, and email separately) – it’s not a good value at all.

If you’re using Site123 for more than a few months, it’s going to be more expensive than going with a competitor (and more restricting due to the design and technical limitations – more on that shortly).

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

And you can really see this trade-off with the Site123 website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template by generating a curated template for you.

But here’s the thing — if you don’t like the template you’re given, changing it up is a pain. If you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are very limited with Site123.

For your theme, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’/structure of the design.

Site123 Theme editing

With pages, you can choose certain layouts from pre-made choices.

Site123 Page Layout Editing

But you cannot change the layout. You cannot drag and drop. And you certainly cannot edit the HTML and CSS, much less add any other design element.

Site123 Page Editing Example 2

It’s even difficult and near impossible to edit the menu without changing other design elements on the website.

Site123 Menu

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

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Site123 website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations. Technical limitations are features and functionality that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now as I mentioned above, Site123 does offer additional features through plugins and apps, but due to the control you give up with the website, you’re fairly limited in how much you can integrate, add on, or even edit within the tools provided.

For example, let’s look at simply editing SEO elements on a page. With the Site123, I can add in a meta description and site slogan, but that’s about all I can do aside from adding header tags inside the content editor. Even basic SEO needs more than that.

Think of it like the difference between cooking in your own kitchen and building your own burrito at a fast food restaurant.

With Site123, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant. Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Culture & Lock-in

After looking at a lot of companies across domains, hosting, VPNs, website builders, ecommerce, and more – I’ve noticed that company culture, structure, and policies can speak more about a customer’s long-term experience than a feature matrix.

A website builder is inherently a global business. Every Internet company has remote employees and worldwide data centers. But I’m never a fan of companies not sharing their story or what they are all about. Site123 is incredibly vague about their story, their policies and your relationship to them as a customer.

For example – here’s their about page.

Site123 About Page

It’s a sales page. Here’s a couple answers to FAQs –

Site123 Data Export

Site123 Moneyback

Now – I get that they are a free, hosted website builder. Most website builders have trouble with website export. But their messaging is quite stark with no offer of help scraping or downloading even image files and text.

And the cancellation policy is very odd because it conflicts directly with the purported difficulty of providing a website download. A hosted website builder service should be able to be cancelled at a click of a button. There should be no manual reviews of forms.

Again – this point isn’t meant to raise a potential non-issue for no reason. Site123 might provide a fantastic long-term experience. However, difficult cancellation policies and vague about pages tend to correlate with less than ideal long-term experiences.

Site123 Review Conclusion

Site123 certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Site123’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Site123 falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. If you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over design and functionality, Site123 may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Site123 fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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

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

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

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

Online Business Lenders For North Carolina Businesses

online loan companies

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

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

Fundera

Review

Compare

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

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

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

Fundera offers several financial products for small businesses, including:

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

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

Lendio

Review

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

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

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

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

BlueVine

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To qualify for invoice factoring, you must have:

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

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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

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

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

IOU Financial

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

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

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

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

P2Binvestor

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

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

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

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

Kabbage

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

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

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

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

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

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

LendingPoint

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

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

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

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

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In North Carolina

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

BB&T

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

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

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

Truliant Federal Credit Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Help Credit Union

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

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

Loan options available through Self-Help include:

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

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

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

Carolina Small Business Development Fund

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

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

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

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

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

Small Business Grants In North Carolina

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

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

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

NC IDEA

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

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

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

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

City Of Raleigh Office Of Economic Development Grants

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

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

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

National Association For The Self-Employed

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

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

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

Loans & Resources For Startups In North Carolina

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

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

SCORE

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

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

Thread Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Business and Technology Development Center

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

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

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

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

Small Business Center Network

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

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

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

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

Business Link North Carolina

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

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

  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Licensing
  • Training

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

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

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

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

Do I Qualify?

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

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

Does The Loan Amount Fit My Needs?

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

Can I Afford This Financing?

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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