How To Print, Pack, And Ship With FedEx Office

As an online seller, you’re a busy person. Between managing your website’s design and processing incoming orders, you barely have enough time to restock your packaging materials, much less create and print new marketing inserts!

If this is you, it might be time to look into FedEx Office. You know FedEx as a shipping carrier that helps you get your products to your customers’ doorsteps, but they also offer a range of other services that can help simplify your business operations. And if you’re already using FedEx for your shipping, these services should fit right into your current business model.

Take advantage of FedEx Office’s free shipping supplies and DIY design and printing services for marketing materials. If you need a few extra hands, look into FedEx’s packing and design services for assistance.

Read on to learn how you can order free packaging materials and design and print your marketing inserts at your local FedEx store.

Get Started With FedEx Office

Packing & Shipping Supplies

One of FedEx’s best services is their free-to-order shipping supplies.

If you are using FedEx Express for your shipments, you can order FedEx boxes and filler material for free online. Those packages will be delivered to your doorstep within 2-5 business days. Take a look at a list of available packaging materials below, or view this webpage which includes a bit more detail about each option.

Or, if you already have a FedEx account, you can go one step further and login to your account in order to start ordering packaging materials.

Here’s a selection of those supplies:

  • FedEx Envelope
    • Best for papers. Must not exceed 500 grams.
  • FedEx Pak
    • For larger papers. Must not exceed 2.5kg.
  • FedEx Padded Pak
    • Tear and water resistant, for heavier documents that need protection. Must not exceed 2.5kg.
  • FedEx Small Box
    • Self-assembly box, for small documents and items. Must not exceed 9kg.
  • FedEx Medium Box
    • Self-sealing box, for binders, books, and large documents. Must not exceed 9kg.
  • FedEx Large Box
    • Self-sealing box, for large stacks of paper, heavier items, etc. Must not exceed 13kg.
  • FedEx A4 Box
    • Self-sealing box for shipping internationally. Must not exceed 9kg.
  • FedEx Tube
    • Self-sealing tube for posters, photos, etc. Must not exceed 9kg.
  • FedEx 10kg Box
    • Fixed rate via the FedEx International Priority Service.
  • FedEx 25kg Box
    • Fixed rate via the FedEx International Priority Service.
  • FedEx Clinical Pak
    • For shipping noninfectious clinical material. Must not exceed 9kg.
  • FedEx UN 3373 Pak
    • For shipping potentially infectious clinical material. Must not exceed 9kg.

For step-by-step instructions on ordering your FedEx shipping supplies online, take a look at this video:

If you choose to go the DIY route for packing, FedEx also provides several pages of advice on how to best pack specific items. Take a look at FedEx’s Service Guide, Packaging Help Hub, and Express Packaging and Labelling Tips.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer FedEx did the packaging on your behalf, that’s an option too. Just take your shipments to a FedEx store nearby, and they will bubble wrap and box your products right there. Take a look at FedEx’s information on these packaging services and view their list of available boxes below:

  • Standard boxes
  • Specialty boxes
  • Bulk boxes
  • Packing supplies

In my opinion, if you’re shipping more than twenty items a week, it’s a better idea to go with the self-packaging options. The materials are free, and after a bit of practice, you’ll be a packaging expert just like the employees at FedEx.

Get Supplies From FedEx Office

Marketing Materials

In addition to their shipping services, FedEx also offers design and printing services for your marketing materials. Create custom marketing materials in-store at the FedEx Office or use an available template to design your materials online.

You’ll be able to create the following items:

  • Banners
  • Business Cards
  • Brochures
  • Direct Mail
  • Flyers
  • Mounted Posters
  • Postcards
  • Posters
  • Presentations
  • Resumes
  • Sell Sheets
  • Signs
  • Design Services
  • Use Design Templates
  • Canvas Prints
  • Invitations
  • Manuals
  • Backlit Prints
  • Photo Posters
  • Car Magnets
  • Decals

Follow the links above to view pricing for each item based on size and materials.

You can pick up your order at a FedEx Office location or have it shipped to you. FedEx offers free shipping on orders of $100 or more.

FedEx is also currently offering a coupon for their printing services. Get $5 on orders of $25 or more.

Start Printing With FedEx Office

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for an easy way to print your marketing inserts, posters, and business cards while getting your shipping done, FedEx Office might be the way to go.

Of course, you’ll need to consider that these FedEx printing services come with some cost, and though the prices are generally very reasonable, you may be able to find lower prices elsewhere. Shop around before you make your decision!

No matter what you decide on the printing services, one thing is certain: If you are using FedEx Express to ship your packages, you absolutely must take advantage of FedEx’s free shipping supplies. Just order the items you need online, and have those supplies delivered directly to your workspace in just a few days.

For more information on what FedEx can offer your business, take a look at their website. Or, for a comparison of FedEx’s shipping services with other major shipping carriers, head over to our article USPS vs UPS vs FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is Best?

Get Started With FedEx Office

The post How To Print, Pack, And Ship With FedEx Office appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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7 Shopify Dropshipping Apps

Dropshipping is the sweetest gig in eCommerce, and sellers and advertisers everywhere sing its praises. They claim all you have to do is select the most profitable dropshipping products, and the dollars will roll on in. And while we are skeptical of these claims (check out our article 7 Reasons To Rethink Drop Shipping), for some merchants — particularly those who have done their research, found a dropshipping niche, and sell products in a traditional way as well — dropshipping really does work.

Just run a quick search on YouTube, and you’ll find dozens of videos from bold teenagers who have made tens of thousands of dollars running dropshipping sites. If you look closer at some of these videos, you’ll find another commonality: most of these dropshipping success stories came about on the Shopify platform.

Shopify (read our review) is one of the most popular shopping carts in the eCommerce industry, especially for US and Canadian merchants. Shopify specializes in ease of use and simple, sleek design.

As a SaaS (software as a service) platform, Shopify manages the technical aspects of operating an online store, including the hosting and site security. You’re only responsible for designing your site, adding content, and fulfilling orders. Shopify users benefit from simple daily operations and 24/7 access to a support team.

And if you choose to dropship with Shopify, your business operations will be simplified one step further. By following the dropshipping model, you essentially outsource your whole fulfillment process to your suppliers. When a customer places an order on your site, instead of picking, packing, and shipping the product yourself, you place an identical order with your supplier. The supplier will then ship the product directly to your customer. The product never reaches your hands.

If you’d like, you can go about this dropshipping process manually. For every order on your site, you head over to your chosen marketplace–often sellers use AliExpress–and place the order again.

Or, you could make the process more automatic with an app from the Shopify marketplace. Shopify dropshipping apps let you connect your store to one or more supplier marketplaces. Products will be easier for you to add to your site, and the fulfillment process will be much simpler (in some cases, you just need to click “Place Order” to fulfill).

In this article, we’ll be covering seven of the best dropshipping apps for Shopify users. We’ve rated these apps based on their popularity and overall star ranking on the Shopify marketplace. Take a look at each individual app for more information on their pricing, features, and pros and cons.

To learn more about dropshipping with Shopify, take a look at the official Shopify dropshipping guide. This series includes plenty of great insights into how to start dropshipping on Shopify.

Get Started With Shopify

 

1) Oberlo

Oberlo is one of the most popular dropshipping apps for Shopify, which is why we’re including it first. The Oberlo app approaches dropshipping in two different ways. They allow users to link their Shopify accounts to AliExpress, and they provide their own product catalog from which merchants can select and sell products.

With this app, sellers are able to quickly add products to their Shopify stores and easily place orders with suppliers.

Pricing

Oberlo prices their services based on the number of orders you want to fulfill each month. The highest-level plan will also give you access to advanced features and multiple user seats. Take a look at pricing below:

Starter Plan: Free

  • Up To 50 Orders/Month
  • Shipment Tracking
  • Order Monitoring

Basic Plan: $29.90/Month

  • Up To 500 Orders/Month
  • Shipment Tracking
  • Order Monitoring

Pro Plan: $79.90

  • Unlimited Orders
  • Multiple Users
  • Multiple Sales Channels
  • Advanced Features

Features

Oberlo includes features that allow for automation of dropshipping fulfillment. Take a look at their full feature list on Oberlo’s website or view my abbreviated list below:

  • Import Dropship Products: Find and add products from AliExpress and the Oberlo Marketplace.
  • Fulfill Orders Automatically: All you have to do is click “Order Product” and then confirm.
  • Automatic Updates: Oberlo automatically transfers inventory and price updates from your chosen marketplace (Oberlo or AliExpress) to your Shopify store.
  • Edit Product Listings: Customize product titles, descriptions, and images.
  • Order Tracking: Find out where your shipments are in the delivery process.
  • Multiple Users: Available on the Pro plan. Let multiple employees access your Oberlo account at the same time.

The Oberlo app has received significant praise for its ease of use and ability to streamline the process of uploading new products to a Shopify page. Some users have reported difficulties with getting the app to transfer orders from their store to their suppliers. However, these complaints are very much the minority.

In Short…

Oberlo + Shopify is one of the most popular combinations for dropshipping merchants. If you haven’t looked into Oberlo yet, you should do so now. Check out Oberlo’s page in the Shopify marketplace and then take a look at Oberlo’s website for more information.

2) Spocket

Spocket is a dropshipping marketplace that lets you add products from US, European, and Canadian sellers. Spocket vets these dropship wholesalers to ensure that they offer quality products and customer service. You can benefit from discounts on niche products in the Spocket marketplace and features like automated order fulfillment.

Learn more about Spocket below:

Pricing

Spocket offers a free plan for merchants who choose to include dropship 25 or fewer products. If you’d like to list more products, you’ll have to subscribe to a paid plan.

Free Forever

  • Unlimited Orders
  • 25 Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing

Pro: $29/Month

  • Unlimited Orders
  • 250 Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing
  • Premium Products
  • Branded Invoicing

Empire: $199/Month

  • Unlimited Orders
  • Unlimited Products
  • Real-Time Inventory Update
  • Currency Exchange
  • Global Pricing
  • Premium Products
  • Branded Invoicing

Features

Take a look below at a few of the features that come included with every Spocket plan or view their webpage for more detailed information:

  • Products Ship Quickly: You can expect products to ship within 5-7 day (or 2-5 days locally). This may not seem fast in relation to Amazon Prime, but compared to many dropshipping suppliers, it is speedy.
  • One-Click Fulfillment: Place orders with your suppliers with just one click.
  • Discounted Products: Spocket offers a 30%-60% discount on all products to give you a higher profit margin.
  • Branded Invoices: Customize your invoices and add your logo.
  • Inventory Updates: Make sure you only sell products suppliers have on hand.

Merchants are big fans of those branded invoices; your customers will receive a branded insert in their shipments with your store’s logo. Merchants also like that Spocket is easy to use and features many desirable products. Some merchants, however, are discouraged by the amount of “Premium Products,” which you must pay to access. Spocket can also be difficult to contact at times, especially in their role as a supplier.

In Short…

If you’re looking to find good products quickly, look no further. Spocket has done much of the grunt work on your behalf. Sign up for a free plan to take a look at what they have to offer. Visit Spocket’s page in the Shopify marketplace or view Spocket’s website to learn more.

3) Spreadr

Spreadr is different from the above apps because, in addition to providing a connection to a marketplace, Spreadr allows merchants to bring in affiliate income.

Use Spreadr to import products from Amazon to your Shopify store, and either dropship those products or market them in exchange for a commission.

The best part of Spreadr’s affiliate program is that you don’t just get a commission on the products you market. You will also receive commision on all products visitors click on or purchase when they come through your site.

You should know, however, that you cannot use Spreadr to fill an entire online store. To qualify for this app, you must first fill your site with original content, whether that be products, posts, or reviews.

Pricing

Spreadr offers their application at one flat rate: $5.00/Month.

Try out the app for free with a 7-day Free Trial.

Features

Because Spreadr’s services are available at one rate, all merchants can expect to access the same features, no matter what. Take a look at Spreadr’s site for more info, or view my list below:

  • One-Click Upload: To upload a new product, just copy-paste the Amazon product URL and click “Add.”
  • Customize Product Descriptions: Make changes to product descriptions, optimize for SEO, and customize product titles.
  • Commissions: Make up to a 10% commission on all purchases (including purchases customers make on products you don’t list).
  • Use Amazon For Dropshipping: Instead of collecting commision, you can choose to use Amazon as a dropshipping source. Or, you can collect orders and fulfill them yourself.
  • Seamless Look: Amazon products appear on your site just like your own products. The only difference is that instead of an “Add to Cart” button there will be a “View on Amazon” button.
  • Locally Stored Product Information: Store product images and information on your Shopify website in order to resize images and display information faster.
  • Enable Auto-Sync: Automatically update price and inventory levels to match Amazon.
  • Bulk Import: Import thousands of Amazon products in minutes.

Spreadr users love that the affiliate program is quick and easy to implement. While some merchants have a bit of trouble setting up their site, the vast majority are able to get things working very quickly.

In Short…

Spreadr is a great way to start Amazon dropshipping on your Shopify store or to just make a buck from commissions. Try out a free 7-day trial by signing up on their page in the Shopify marketplace or read more on the Spreadr website.

4) AliExpress Dropshipping

This app from Appfreaker does exactly what you might anticipate. AliExpress Dropshipping for Shopify lets merchants easily import items from AliExpress and order those items through a semi-automated process.

The app also includes a Chrome extension that allows you to import products and edit product information as you browse.

Keep reading for more information on dropshipping with AliExpress, including pricing and features.

Pricing

AliExpress Dropshipping is available through a subscription plan, but you can try it out for free with a 7-day trial.

Take a look below at a breakdown of pricing for the application. Pricing is based on the number of items you list on your site, and each step up in pricing gives you access to more Shopify dropshipping suppliers:

Basic Plan: $5/Month

  • 5,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From AliExpress

Standard Plan: $10/Month

  • 10,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From AliExpress PLUS
    • Alibaba
    • DHgate
    • Banggood
    • Tmart
    • LightInTheBox
    • MiniInTheBox
    • Sammy Dress
    • GearBest

Pro Plan: $20/Month

  • 20,000 Items
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Products Imported From All Of The Above

Features

View all features on Appfreaker’s website or view a shorter list below:

  • Search Products: Search and import products within the application. Begin selling those products quickly.
  • Fulfill Orders: Take advantage of AliExpress Dropshipping’s semi-automated process. You just need to click “Order Product” and then enter payment information. Your customers’ shipping info will be imported for you.
  • Automatic Daily Updates: Update your products pricing and inventory levels as the information changes on AliExpress.
  • Chrome Extension: Take advantage of the single click import.
  • Edit Product Info: Edit product descriptions and images to better match your brand.
  • Pricing Rules: Set rules to update pricing in bulk as you import products.

Users comment frequently on how they’ve received good support from the platform. They often name specific representatives, which makes me believe they were encouraged to leave a review by the company. Nevertheless, these reviews seem to be genuine. Negative reviews include complaints that the user interface is outdated and that suppliers are slow to fulfill orders. Some customers also cite trouble with getting the app to autosync pricing information.

In Short…

AliExpress Dropshipping is not a perfect application, but it is a good one for those who want an easier way to import and sell AliExpress items. Take a look at the Shopify Marketplace for more information and to sign up for that free 7-day trial, or view their website.

5) Importify

Importify allows you to connect your Shopify site with the most popular marketplaces. These marketplaces include Amazon, Aliexpress, Etsy, Walmart, and DHgate.

You can use a Chrome extension to import products, and you’ll be able to customize product info like images, variants, and descriptions.

If you subscribe to Importify’s Gold Plan (see pricing info below), you’ll get access to semi-automatic fulfillment for Amazon, AliExpress, and DHgate.

Pricing

Importify is available on a subscription model. You can try out the software for free with a 1-day free trial. (A single day is the shortest trial period I have ever seen, and I can’t imagine you’ll get a good feel for the software in that time, but at least it’s something?)

Take a look at pricing information below. Note that the higher up you move in the pricing tiers, the more features you’ll be able to access.

Basic: $14.95/Month

  • Import Products From Less Popular Marketplaces
    • (Take A Look At Importify’s Supported Websites)
  • Shopify To Shopify Importer
  • Product Customization
  • Pricing Automation
  • Free Chrome Extension
  • 24/7 Customer Service

Premium: $27.95/Month

  • All Of The Above PLUS
  • Products Import From AliExpress & Amazon

Gold: $37.95/Month

  • All Of The Above PLUS
  • Semi-Automatic Order Fulfillment From Aliexpress, Amazon, DHgate, DropshipperUS

Features

As always, you can view a full list of features on Importify’s website. Take a look at my favorite features below:

  • Product Customization: Make products your own by editing product info like pictures, variants, product titles, and descriptions.
  • Price Automation: Set smart pricing rules so that your products are automatically priced at import.
  • Chrome Extension: Filter marketplaces to find the best products with fast delivery from trusted sellers.
  • Order Fulfillment: Available on the Gold Plan. Take advantage of semi-automatic order fulfillment.

Customers appreciate Importify’s responsive customer support. They also love that Importify gives you the ability to take your pick of multiple suppliers and marketplaces — particularly useful if you have fairly niche products that may be hard to find in one place. The biggest downside to the software is that in order to access AliExpress and Amazon, you’ll have to subscribe to a Premium or Gold Plan. What’s more, semi-automation is only available on the Gold Plan. This could make Importify one of the more expensive options, depending on your business’s needs.

In Short…

I have some concerns with Importify, mostly that you have to pay more to access AliExpress and Amazon, and only the highest level plan offers semi-automatic fulfillment. You can find these features available at a much lower cost with many of the applications I’ve already included in this list.

On the other hand, Importify allows merchants to list products from multiple marketplaces, which is a feature that’s a bit harder to find with other applications. So, if you are an eCommerce vendor who wants to include products from many different marketplaces, Importify may be the way to go. Visit the Shopify marketplace and Importify’s website for details.

6) Advanced Shipping Manager

Advanced Shipping Manager does just what its name implies. With this app, you’ll have advanced control over your dropshipping process.

Advanced Shipping Manager specializes in two areas: suppliers and shipping. Like other apps, Advanced Shipping Manager connects your Shopify account with many supplier and wholesalers. In addition, Advanced Shipping Manager gives you extensive control over shipping methods and markups.

Keep reading to learn how you can take control of the shipping aspect of your dropshipping business.

Pricing

Advanced Shipping Manager is available at one flat rate: $85/month.

Sound like a lot? I thought so too, but Advanced Shipping Manager guarantees that you will see a return on your investment within your first month on the software, or they’ll refund your first month’s subscription.

Features

Advanced Shipping Manager has quite a few features built into their software. I recommend you head over to their website for the full information. I have included a summary below:

  • Origin Zip Code For Items: Create specific shipping rules based on origin zip code, courier, and markups. You can also offer free shipping.
  • Dimensions: Set dimensions for your items to better calculate shipping rates.
  • Ship Individual Items Alone: Mark fragile items as “Ship Alone.” Set shipping costs appropriately.
  • Multi-Box Items: Set weights and dimensions for large, multi-piece products that ship in multiple boxes (like a sectional sofa).
  • Shipping Tables & Real-Time Shipping Rates: Calculate rates any way you’d like.
  • Dropshipping Markups: Set markups for products that are dropshipped.

Advanced Shipping Manager does its job well. Sellers report that the app gives them excellent control over shipping, and software is easy to set up and use. The only potential disadvantage is that the Advanced Shipping Manager’s flat rate is significantly higher than you’ll find elsewhere. (You should note, however, that that is my own personal concern. I have not seen any users complaining about price.)

In Short…

If you aren’t scared off by the $85 price tag, and you’re looking for a way to better manage your shipping, give Advanced Shipping Manager a shot. There’s a lot you can do with the application, and it just might solve your shipping woes. Learn more by going to the Shopify Marketplace and/or visiting Advanced Shipping Manager’s website.

7) Modalyst

Modalyst is a Shopify dropship integration that lets you upload products from three different marketplaces onto your Shopify site. You’ll have access to the Modalyst marketplace (which is the main purpose of the app), and you’ll be able to use a Chrome extension to upload products from Shein and Wish.com.

When you upload a product, you’ll instantly add inventory information, images, product descriptions, and pricing to your store.

Read on to learn if this app is a good integration for your store.

Pricing

Basic Plan: Free Forever

  • 25 Product Limit
  • Unlimited Orders
  • 5% Transaction Fee

Pro Plan: $45/Month

  • Unlimited Products
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Access To Shein.com, Wish.com, Modalyst Marketplace
  • 2% Transaction Fee

Premium Plan: $150/Month

  • Unlimited Products
  • Unlimited Orders
  • Access To Shein.com, Wish.com, Modalyst Marketplace
  • 1% Transaction Fee

Features

See Modalyst’s website for a full list of features. Read my own summary below:

  • Shein.com Integration: Get free standard shipping to the US on orders over $49. Learn more about the Shein.com integration.
  • Wish.com Integrations: Order forms are automatically filled out with customer info. Learn more about the Wish.com integration.
  • One-Click Add: Add products to your site quickly and easily.
  • Real-Time Product Updates: When your products are updated in your supplier’s website, they’ll be updated on your site too.
  • Customize Products: Edit product descriptions, pricing, variants, and images.
  • Pricing Rules: Set rules to price items as you add them.

Modalyst users appreciate that the app is easy to use, and they report having good experiences with customer support. The main complaint I’ve seen is that some customers have experienced inconsistencies with Wish.com, stating that there are occasional discrepancies between Wish.com’s price listings and what you actually pay.

In Short…

Before you make a paid commitment to Modalyst, I recommend you sign up for the free trial. That way, you can browse through Modalyst’s marketplace to get a better understanding of the selling potential for your site. Sign up for a free plan in Shopify’s app marketplace, or view the Modalyst website for detailed information.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to Shopify dropshipping, you have quite a few options to choose from, and each dropshipping app claims that it will help you get rich more quickly and easily than the next.

As you research Shopify dropshipping apps, take every developer’s claim with a grain of salt. Read customer reviews on each application, and sign up for any available free trial.

We recommend that you start your research with the apps we’ve included in this list. They have all been thoroughly tested by the Shopify community, and have emerged with high praise. Test one or two of these Shopify dropshipping apps, and see what a good extension can do for your ecommerce website.

Get Started With Shopify

The post 7 Shopify Dropshipping Apps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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International Shipping: Global eCommerce Rates And Shipping Carriers

There’s a whole world of business opportunities out there. I mean that literally. The entire planet is available to buy your products and services, and if you’re only selling domestically, you’re only tapping into a very small portion of it.

Perhaps you’re feeling the need to make a change. Maybe a few customers have reached out to you, asking if you could send your products internationally. Or perhaps you’re just looking for a new way to expand your business.

The global marketplace is awesome, but for eCommerce sellers, there is one major drawback: international shipping can be incredibly complex.

As an online seller, you already know that fulfilling orders within the States is hard enough. Now you have to deal with all the complexities of shipping, plus the added challenges of customs, duties, and international taxes.

In this brief guide, we will present a few of the initial steps you should take to start shipping internationally. We’ll go over the basics of shipping costs, shipping rates, and the shipping carriers you should consider. Keep reading to step into the world of international shipping.

How To Ship Internationally (From The United States)

This is why you’re here: to learn the basics steps of international shipping. Let’s get started.

Select Your Destination Country/Countries

As much as you’d like to ship your products across the entire world, for many merchants, major global expansion is not an immediate possibility. The best advice when it comes to international selling is to start small and gradually build.

As you choose your destination countries, you’ll need to keep in a mind a few factors. First, consider your current customer base. Who is buying your products now, and who has asked to buy your products from elsewhere? You should also factor in site translation and payment processing options. After all, international customers will need to read and understand your site and submit payment information for this all to work.

Evaluate Shipping Regulations

Next, you’ll need to decide which products to make eligible for shipping. Some of this may be based on logistics (it may, for example, be more trouble than it’s worth to ship a sofa to Guatemala), but some of it will also be based on product restrictions.

Each country has its own list of regulations regarding what can and cannot be imported and exported. Some of these restrictions may be surprising to you (for example, you are not allowed to send smoked salmon to Australia or playing cards to the Philippines).

Take a look at which products cannot be exported from the US on MyUs.com and USPS.com. Then, head over to this useful tool from the UPS to check the import regulations for your destination countries.

Learn To Manage Customs Forms

Filling out customs forms will soon become a part of your everyday life if you dive into international shipping, and you want to do it well. Take a look at general customs information from the US government, and then learn from Stamps.com’s advice for filling out a customs form.

Something to consider: Many shipping software solutions (like Shippo and ShippingEasy) include features for auto-filling these customs forms. If you aren’t using shipping software already, we absolutely recommend you take a look at a few of our favorite.

Decide On A Shipping Carrier

For many merchants, this step is the hardest. International shipping rates are complex, and what’s right for one shipment may not be right for another.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for shipping (domestic or international), and your shipping strategy will need to be flexible in order to be cost-effective.

We’ll discuss shipping carriers more a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at the costs you can expect as you enter international shipping.

International Shipping Costs To Consider

Shipping internationally inevitably comes with a bit of sticker shock. You may be used to the cost of shipping domestically, but all the extra expenses of international shipping can be overwhelming.

In order to ease some of that shock, we’re doing a quick breakdown of the added expenses you can expect. One key thing to keep in mind: Many of these expenses will be the customer’s responsibility.

  • Duties: Also known as tariffs, duties are customs charges on incoming shipments. Duties vary in price, depending upon the sending and receiving countries and the contents of the package. Paid by the customer.
  • Tax: Additional value added tax (VAT) or general sales tax (GST) charged by the destination government. Paid by the customer.
  • Fees: Some countries charge additional fees for processing packages through customs. These fees are in addition to duties. Paid by the customer.
  • Higher Shipping Rates: Shipping across longer distances comes with, of course, higher shipping rates. And not only are you shipping further, but also you’ll be shipping by air, and airmail comes with its own expenses. If you’re currently using UPS or FedEx, you’re already paying fuel surcharges for your ground shipments. International air shipments can come with slightly higher fuel surcharges. Take a look a UPS’s fuel surcharge rates (updated weekly) and FedEx’s info on fuel surcharges.

Make sure you clearly communicate these additional expenses to your customers. If customers refuse to pay the necessary fees, you may lose your product or have to pay to return it. Write a clear international shipping policy, and display it prominently on your checkout page.

Beyond the monetary costs of international shipping, another expense to consider is the time and effort required to make it all work. Make things a little easier with this pricing calculator from MyUS.com and Shipping Easy’s international seller’s shipping guide.

International Shipping Rates By Carrier

As we’ve said before, international shipping rates vary widely depending upon the product, the package dimensions, the destination country, and the shipping carrier. So, it’s impossible to summarize shipping rates, but I can provide you with a few helpful resources to calculate those rates for yourself.

Here’s a summary of the most popular shipping carriers, along with links to resources for each one:

Public Carriers: USPS & International Carriers

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a public carrier, which means that some shipping expenses are subsidized by the government.

Many merchants find the USPS to be the cheapest way to ship domestically, and some say it’s the cheapest way to ship internationally.

When you ship this way, the USPS will deliver your package to the public carrier in the destination country. The public carrier in your destination country (such as the Canada Post or Royal Mail) will then deliver your package to your customer’s doorstep. Beware, this exchange can slow the shipping process a bit.

To calculate estimated shipping rates, take a look at USPS’s resources.

Private Carriers

While the USPS passes shipments onto the next public carrier, private carriers handle a shipment from start to finish. Because one carrier manages the entire shipping process, there tends to be more security in the process. The private carrier is responsible for your package, and you’ll have just one service to contact if something goes wrong.

Here are the three most popular private shipping carriers:

FedEx

FedEx ships to 220+ countries and territories, and they offer freight shipment options as well as international package delivery options. Look into your potential expenses with FedEx using this rates calculator or by taking a look at FedEx’s overview of rates for international shipments.

UPS

UPS is another reliable international carrier. UPS manages a huge shipment volume, shipping 3.1 million packages and documents internationally each day! With UPS, you can ship to 220+ countries and territories, including every address in North America and Europe. Check into UPS’s brief guide, How to Ship Internationally, as well as their landed cost estimator, which includes price estimates for factors such as duties and taxes.

DHL

DHL is a private carrier that specializes in international logistics. They employ over 350,000 individuals in over 220 countries and territories. And beyond their regular international shipment options, DHL offers a special service for online sellers: DHL eCommerce. This service is intended for high volume shippers (those who send over 50 packages internationally each day), so it may not be the service you use initially. However, DHL eCommerce is a good logistics solution for those who meet the requirements. To learn more, take a look at our blog post on DHL eCommerce and visit DHL’s webpage.

A Great Alternative: FBA Export

If you’re an Amazon seller, you have another option available to you. Instead of choosing from the carriers I listed above, you can let Amazon handle international fulfillment on your behalf.

FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is Amazon’s in-house warehousing and fulfillment program. For a fee, you can send your products to Amazon’s many warehouses and have Amazon’s employees and robots pick, pack, and ship products for you. And with FBA Export, you can start sending those products to over 100 countries.

In order to use FBA Export, all you have to do is enable export functionality on your FBA account. There are no additional fees for merchants who are using FBA Export to ship their Amazon orders internationally. However, merchants who want to use FBA Export to ship products from their own online site will have to pay some additional fees. This type of warehousing plan is called Multi-Channel Fulfillment or MCF.

The great thing about FBA Export is that Amazon will handle all of the complexities related to international shipping. They will identify which of your products are eligible for export and fulfill your international orders. They also manage import duties and customs clearance for you.  Your customers will pay the shipping costs and customs duties, and all you have to do is determine which products you’d like to exclude from the program.

If you’re already selling on Amazon and using FBA for your fulfillment, FBA Export is an easy solution for your international shipping.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been considering international shipping, now is your time to act. You now have all the resources you need to assess your shipping options and decide what’s right for your business.

So, dive deep into your store’s analytics. Find out which products you should start selling internationally and which countries might want access to those products. Pick out a shipping carrier (or two), check into customs, and get shipping!

The post International Shipping: Global eCommerce Rates And Shipping Carriers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Stripe VS Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

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

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

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

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

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

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

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

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

Stripe’s additional tools include:

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

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

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

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

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

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

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

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

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

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

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

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

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

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

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

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

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

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

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Quickbooks Product Comparison Guide

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

Not sure which version of QuickBooks you should choose? Can’t decide if QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop or some other version of QuickBooks is right for your business?

With five different products to choose from, deciding on the best QuickBooks software can be intimidating. Not to mention the fact that QuickBooks isn’t always the most forthcoming with information about their products!

In this complete QuickBooks Comparison, we’ll explain what each software is capable of, what type of business is best for each version of QuickBooks, and the main differences between each product. We’ll also walk you through what questions to ask so you can pinpoint the perfect QuickBooks software for your business and choose the right QuickBooks accounting solution with confidence.

Don’t have time to read our full comparison post? The following chart breaks down the main differences between QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, QuickBooks Enterprise, and QuickBooks Self-Employed.

QuickBooks Online QuickBooks Pro QuickBooks Premier QuickBooks Enterprise QuickBooks Self-Employed
Not Yet Rated
Read Review Read Review Read Review Read Review
Visit Site Visit Site Visit Site Visit Site Visit Site
Pricing $15 – $50/mo $299.95 $499.95 $1,100+ $10 – $17/mo
Customer Support Good Poor Poor Good Poor
Ease of Use Easy Difficult Difficult Difficult Very Easy
Size of Business Small Small – Medium Medium Large Freelancers
Number of Users 1 – 25 1 – 3 1 – 5 1 – 30 1
Web-Based or Installed Web-Based Installed Installed Installed Web-Based
Mobile Apps Yes No No No Yes

Overview of QuickBooks Products

QuickBooks OnlineComplete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

Launched in 2004, QuickBooks Online (see our review) is a cloud-based accounting software that is used by over 2 million people. With strong accounting capabilities, impressive features, and fully-featured mobile apps, it’s no wonder this is one of our top 5/5 star accounting recommendations.

Best For…

Small businesses with no more than 25 users looking for easy to use, cloud-based accounting software and strong mobile apps.

Pricing

QuickBooks Online (QBO) offers three pricing plans ranging from $15/mo-$50/mo. The larger the plan, the more features you have access to and the more users are allowed. The largest plan includes only five users, though you can though you can add up to 25 users for an additional cost.

Payroll costs an additional $39/mo-$99/mo (plus $2/mo per employee). Luckily, Intuit is almost always running a sales promotion. Read our complete QuickBooks Online review for all the pricing details.

Features

QuickBooks Online offers an incredible number of features and automations. The software covers all the accounting bases as well as invoicing, expense tracking, accounts payable, contact management, project management, and more. Though there are occasional navigation difficulties, QBO is incredibly easy to use overall.

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

One of the things that really sets QuickBooks apart from other accounting products is its new lending feature — QuickBooks Capital (see our review). QuickBooks Capital uses the information already in QuickBooks Online to determine if a small business owner is eligible for a loan.

Some of our other favorite features include:

  • Invoice scheduling
  • Class tracking
  • Inventory
  • Time tracking
  • Print checks

QBO offers over 250 integrations, which is the most of any QuickBooks product.

QuickBooks is generally known for poor customer support, but QuickBooks Online has worked hard lately to revive their reputation by eliminating long wait times and redesigning their help center.

If integrations, ease of use, and mobility are important to you, QuickBooks Online is your best bet. If you want to see how QuickBooks Online stacks up against other QuickBooks products, continue reading.

View our comprehensive QuickBooks Online review for more information on this small business accounting software or sign up for a free trial if you think this version of QuickBooks is right for you.

Read our full QuickBooks Online review

Visit the QuickBooks Online website

QuickBooks ProComplete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

Launched back in 1992, QuickBooks Desktop Pro (see our review) is the software that put QuickBooks on the map. This 5/5 star software is locally-installed and offers highly developed features.

Best For…

Small to medium-sized business with three users or fewer looking for strong accounting or a locally-installed software.

Pricing

There are two pricing options for Quickbooks Desktop Pro. You can either purchase a QuickBooks Pro license for $299.95 or purchase a yearly subscription of Quickbooks Pro Plus for $299.95/yr.

If you go with the QuickBooks Pro license, it should last you three years, after which Intuit drops support for the software. Phone support costs extra. If you go with QuickBooks Pro Plus, updates and phone support are included. Additional users cost extra. For the full scoop on QuickBooks Pro’s pricing, check out our review.

Features

As we mentioned earlier, QuickBooks Pro has an unbelievable number of features. In terms of accounting, QuickBooks Pro is one of the most developed solutions, boasting a chart of accounts, journal entries, bank reconciliation, 200+ reports, and more. These highly developed features do have a steep learning curve, but for accountants, those with accounting experience, or the business owner who just wants to get their accounting right, taking the time to learn the software can pay off.

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

The best part is that QuickBooks Pro not only offers a lot of features, but each feature is highly developed. Intuit truly thought of everything with this one — even spell check.

Some of our other favorite QuickBooks Desktop Pro features include:

  • Invoicing
  • Project management
  • Job costing
  • Calendar and to-do lists
  • Accounts payable
  • Budgeting
  • Tax support

QuickBooks Pro offers over 175 integrations, which is an impressive number for a locally-installed software. Unlike QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Pro still suffers from poor customer support.

QuickBooks Pro can be a great option for businesses looking for strong accounting or in need of locally-installed software. The learning curve makes this software ideal for people who have previous accounting experience.

If you want to learn more about how QuickBooks Pro stacks up to other desktop selections keep reading. You can also read our complete QuickBooks Pro review for more details on this software option.

Read our full QuickBooks Desktop Pro review

Visit the OnDeck website

QuickBooks PremierComplete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

QuickBooks Desktop Premier is the next step for medium-sized businesses looking for the same strong accounting as QuickBooks Pro, but with more users and industry-specific features (and a lower cost than QuickBooks Enterprise). Desktop Premier is a robust, locally-installed software with plenty of features and a good number of integrations.

Best For…

Small to medium-sized businesses with 5 users or fewer in need of the strong accounting and industry-specific accounting features.

Pricing

QuickBooks Desktop Premier’s pricing structure is nigh identical to QuickBooks Pro’s. There are two pricing options for Quickbooks Premier. You can either purchase a QuickBooks Premier license for $499.95 or purchase a yearly subscription of Quickbooks Premier Plus for $499.95/yr.

If you go with the QuickBooks Premier license, phone support costs extra. If you go with QuickBooks Pro Plus, updates and phone support are included. For the full scoop, visit QuickBooks Premier’s pricing page.

Features

QuickBooks Premier is optimized for strong accounting. Like QuickBooks Pro, there is a steep learning curve here, but the software includes certain features Pro lacks, including business plans, inventory assemblies, and sales forecasting.

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

The real thing that sets QuickBooks Premier apart from QuickBooks Pro is the industry-specific features. You can choose the standard edition of QuickBooks Premier or you can choose one of five specialized editions: Contractor, Manufacturing & Wholesale, Nonprofit, Professional Services, and Retail.

Here are some other features to expect with QuickBooks Desktop Premier:

  • Industry-specific reports
  • Sales orders
  • Print shipping labels

QuickBooks Premier offers 173 integrations, and customer support is similar to that of QuickBooks Pro.

Before deciding on QuickBooks Premier, continue reading for more information. You don’t want to spend extra money if the features aren’t worth it.

If you want to learn more about QuickBooks Premier or are certain that your business does need industry-specific features, check out QuickBooks Premier’s website. QuickBooks doesn’t readily advertise a QuickBooks Premier free trial, but there is one available in the QuickBooks Community.

Visit the QuickBooks Premier website

QuickBooks EnterpriseComplete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise (see our review) has the same great accounting capabilities of Pro and Premier but allows access for up to 30 users and much more storage space. With six industry-specific versions, QuickBooks Enterprise has highly developed features to meet the needs of nearly any large business.

Best For…

Large businesses with 30 users or fewer looking for industry-specific accounting and advanced accounting.

Pricing

QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise features three annual subscriptions: Silver (starts at $1,100/yr), Gold (starts at $1430/yr), and Platinum (starts at $1,760).

Price is determined by the plan you select and the number of users you have. You can purchase Intuit Field Service Management at an additional cost. For the full scoop on pricing, read our complete QuickBooks Enterprise review.

Features

In terms of features, QuickBooks Enterprise is about as close as you can get to an ERP without making the switch to full-on business management software. In addition to the strong accounting you’d expect with a QuickBooks desktop product, QuickBooks Enterprise provides invoicing, expense tracking, contact management, project management, job costing, and more.

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

You can opt for the normal version of QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, or you can choose one of the six industry-specific editions for added features: Contractor, Manufacturing & Wholesale, Nonprofit, Retail, Professional Services, and Accountant. Read our post A Quick Guide To The 6 Industry Specific Editions Of QuickBooks Enterprise for a peek at what each edition has to offer.

Some other notable features include:

  • Lead management
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Business plans
  • Loan manager
  • Tax support

Like QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Enterprise also integrates with over 160 third-party apps.

QuickBooks support puts its best foot forward for QuickBooks Enterprise customers. Representatives are responsive and friendly, and there are tons of support resources to choose from.

That being said, QuickBooks Enterprise does have its drawbacks. The software is incredibly expensive, and for the price you’re paying, certain features — like invoicing, project management, time tracking, and importing — are fairly limited. Additionally, the software is more suited for large businesses rather than enterprises, making its name slightly misleading.

If this software still sounds like it might be the right choice for your business, read on to see how it compares to other QuickBooks products or check out our complete QuickBooks Enterprise review. You can also sign up for a free trial of any edition of QuickBooks Enterprise.

Read our full QuickBooks Enterprise review

Visit the QuickBooks Enterprise website

QuickBooks Self-EmployedComplete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

QuickBooks Self-Employed (see our review) is different from the other QuickBooks Products in that it isn’t quite accounting software. QuickBooks Self-Employed is a tax software created to help freelancers manage their finances, handle estimated quarterly taxes, and calculate deductions.

Best For…

Freelancers, contractors, and other self-employed individuals in need of basic bookkeeping and tax support.

Pricing

There are two pricing options for QuickBooks Self-Employed. You can either pay $10/mo for all of the features QuickBooks Self-Employed has to offer, or you can pay $17/mo, which will add a Turbo Tax integration to your plan.

Intuit is almost always running a sales promotion, so be sure to check any possible discounts before purchasing. To learn more, read our complete QuickBooks Self-Employed review.

Features

Like QuickBooks Online, Quickbooks Self-Employed is an easy to use, cloud-based software with strong mobile apps. The features are designed specifically for freelancers and address needs like tax support and deductions. You can easily separate personal and business expenses, which is ideal for freelancers who don’t have a separate business bank account.

Complete QuickBooks Product Comparison Guide

Not only does Quickbooks Self-Employed help freelancers navigate the scary waters of estimated quarterly taxes, it also gives them basic bookkeeping tools to track income and expenses.

Here are some other features you can expect with QuickBooks Self-Employed:

  • Invoicing
  • Fixed asset depreciation
  • Schedule Cs
  • Tax checklist

Quickbooks Self-Employed has very limited integrations, but the Turbo Tax integration is one the greatest parts of the software. When you’re ready to file taxes, you can pull all of your QuickBooks Self-Employed data directly into Turbo Tax to make filing easy.

Unfortunately, QuickBooks Self-Employed’s customer support is even worse than QuickBooks Pro’s. There is no phone support and additional support resources are limited. There is a live chat feature and help center if you need assistance.

There’s one other drawback users should be aware of: QuickBooks Self-Employed only offers federal tax support, so you’ll have to handle your state taxes another way.

That being said, QuickBooks Self-Employed is a great option for freelancers, contractors, or other self-employed individuals. If that’s you, you won’t find any other QuickBooks product that is more tailored to your specific tax needs.

If you want to learn more, read our complete QuickBooks Self-Employed review. If you’re already sold on QuickBooks Self-Employed, sign up for a free trial.

Read our full QuickBooks Self-Employed review

Visit the QuickBooks Self-Employed website

How To Choose The Right Version Of QuickBooks For Your Business

If you read the overview of each QuickBooks product, you may already have an idea of which version of QuickBooks is best for your small business. If not, don’t worry. These five questions will help you narrow down your search and find what you’re looking for.

Do You Want Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed Software?

The first major deciding factor is whether or not you want cloud-based or locally-installed software.

Cloud-based software operates entirely in the cloud (on the internet). Some perks of cloud-based software include:

  • Mobility
  • Access for multiple users in different locations
  • SaaS subscription-based pricing model
  • Security is handled by the software provider
  • Usually comes with mobile apps

Locally-installed software is downloaded and installed on a single, on-premise computer. Some perks of locally-installed software include:

  • No internet access required
  • More complex and feature-rich
  • Potentially more secure (you are responsible for security)

Most small businesses prefer cloud-based software as it is often more affordable, easier to use, and keeps up with our society’s mobile lifestyle. However, locally-installed software can be more secure and offers a level of feature depth that the cloud often can’t touch.

Deciding which type of software works best for your business model can make your QuickBooks choice a whole lot easier. If you want cloud-based software, there’s QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Self-Employed. If you want locally-installed software, you can take your pick from QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, or QuickBooks Enterprise.

Are You A Mac Or Windows User?

QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise are all designed for Windows. So if you’re a Mac user, you’re down to two options: QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise.

What Type Of Business Do You Run?

The type of business you run has a huge influence on which QuickBooks product is right for you. If you’re a freelancer, QuickBooks Self-Employed is the obvious choice. If you’re running a small business, you’ll be comparing QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Pro.

Larger businesses will be looking at QuickBooks Premier or QuickBooks Enterprise, depending on the number of users they need.

How Many Users Do You Need?

The number of users you need will also help determine which software is best for your business. Take a look at this chart to see which product suits your business’s size.

QuickBooks Self-Employed: 1 user
QuickBooks Pro: 1 – 3 users
QuickBooks Premier: 1 – 5 users
QuickBooks Online: 1 – 25 users
QuickBooks Enterprise: 1 – 30 users

Note: This chart shows the maximum number of users available with each version of QuickBooks, which may cost extra.

How Much Accounting Experience Do You Have?

If you don’t know much about accounting, you’ll want to shy away from QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise, unless you’re willing to put in the time to learn.

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Self-Employed are much easier options to grasp if you don’t have much experience or just want to keep balancing the books simple.

On the other hand, if you’re an accountant or someone with a great deal of accounting experience, you may like the complexity of the QuickBooks desktop options as they stick to more traditional accounting.

QuickBooks Product Comparison

Here is a more detailed QuickBooks comparison so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting with each software and can easily tell the differences between each version of QuickBooks.

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Pricing $15-$50/mo $299.95 $499.95 $1,100/yr+ $10-$17/mo
Extra Cost for Phone Support None $249.95/yr or $89.95/three months $89/three months None None
Web-hosted or Locally-installed Web-hosted Locally-installed Locally-installed Locally-installed Web-hosted
Number of Users 1-25 1-3 1-5 1-30 1
User Permissions ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ N/A
Support for Multiple Companies ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Size of Business Small Small to medium Medium Large Freelancers
Ease of Use Easy Difficult Difficult Difficult Very easy
Learning Curve Small learning curve Steep learning curve Steep learning curve Steep learning curve No learning curve
Customer Support Good Poor Poor Good Poor
Numbers of Integrations 250 160 160 160 4
Number of Payments Gateways 16 13 13 13 1
Invoices ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Number of Templates 5 9 8 5 1
Customizable Templates ✔ ✔ ✘ ✘ ✘
Invoice Customizations ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Recurring Invoices ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘ ✘
Autoschedule Invoices ✔ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘
Batch Invoices ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Invoice Reminders ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Invoice Discounts ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Online Payments ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Snail Mail Option ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Invoice Receipts ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Default Email Messages ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Default Invoice Notes ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Default Terms and Conditions ✔ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✔
Packing Slips ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Purchase Orders ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Estimates ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Convert Estimates to Invoices ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Accept Quotes Online ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Contact Management ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Lead Management ✘ ✘ ✘ ✔ ✘
Customer Credit Memo ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Refunds ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Map & Directions ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Expense Tracking ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Chart of Accounts ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Sales Orders ✘ ✘ ✔ ✔ ✘
Sales Receipts ✘ ✘ ✔ ✔ ✘
Accounts Payable ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Recurring Bills ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Automatic Bill Reminders ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Bank Reconciliation ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Automatic Categorization ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Custom Bank Rules ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Live Bank Feeds ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Manual Bank Statement Import ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Project Management ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Tasks ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Assign Tasks to Employees ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Job Costing ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Time Management ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Manually Enter Time ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Built-in Timer ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Bill Time to Customer as Invoice ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Payroll ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Direct Deposit ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Inventory ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Low Stock Reminders ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Inventory Bundles ✔ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘
Number of Reports 27-75 200+ 135 140 3
Budgeting ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Journal Entries ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Class Tracking ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Letter Templates ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Thank You Notes ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
To-Do-Lists ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Print Checks ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Calendar ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Mileage Deductions ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Home Office Deduction ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✔
Tax Checklist ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✔
1099-MISC’s ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
W-2’s ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
W-3’s ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
1096’s ✘ ✔ ✔  ✔ ✘
940’s ✘ ✔ ✔ ✘ ✘
941’s ✘ ✔ ✔ ✘ ✘
944’s ✘ ✔ ✔ ✘ ✘
Schedule C’s ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✔
E-file Tax Forms ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Sales Tax ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Multi-Currency Support ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
API ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘
Import ✔ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘
Export ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Upload and Save Documents ✘ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✘

Final Thoughts

Now you know exactly what to expect from each version of QuickBooks in terms of features, pricing, and usability. While the numerous options seem intimidating at first, each version of QuickBooks is designed to reach a certain business size and type.

If a specific version of QuickBooks stood out to you, we recommend taking the software for a test run to make sure you love using it.

If after reading this post, you aren’t convinced that any version of QuickBooks is right for you, or if you just want to consider all of your options, our comprehensive accounting reviews can help you find the perfect accounting software for your business. Take a look at these additional resources for more QuickBooks alternatives.

The Best QuickBooks Online Alternatives

The Best Alternatives to QuickBooks Pro

The post The Complete Quickbooks Product Comparison Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools

Shopify is a cloud-based, SaaS solution for online sellers. This ecommerce platform allows you to build a full website, add products, create promotions, and sell from your own site.

Shopify is an incredibly popular solution, hosting online stores for over 500,000 merchants; this popularity is due primarily to Shopify’s simplicity and ease of use. Sellers of all skill levels can set up and operate their stores on Shopify.

What’s more, Shopify is well known for its excellent web design. The platform offers a wide selection of modern and elegantly designed website templates.

Like everything this company does, Shopify’s responsive design is intended to be easy to use and accessible to merchants with little to no experience in web development. Keep reading to learn more about Shopify’s design templates, design tools, and best practices for your own designs.

How Do Shopify Designs Work?

Shopify uses a theme marketplace to provide design templates to their users. Every merchant has access to Shopify’s theme marketplace, which includes 63 themes made to fit a variety of industries and online stores.

When you find one you like, you simply download the whole package and enable it on your site (in some cases, you will have to purchase the theme). You can then tweak your site with a few of the available design tools. We’ll talk more about those design tools later. First, let’s talk about the kinds of Shopify templates available.

Types Of Shopify Templates

Free Shopify Templates

10 of Shopify’s 63 themes are free to download. Those themes are a bit simpler than their premium counterparts. However, many merchants will find that the free themes fit their needs just fine.

Here are a few of our favorite free Shopify templates:

Premium Shopify Templates

If the free themes don’t strike your fancy, take a look at Shopify’s premium themes. These themes are a little more complex, and they are typically priced between $140-$180.

Here are a few examples of Shopify’s premium templates:

Buying Shopify Templates

If you do choose a premium design, purchasing the template is a simple process.

Just go into the theme marketplace, and select the template you’d like to buy. Then, click the “Buy Theme” button located under “Try Theme.”

You’ll be redirected to your admin where you can confirm the purchase.

Then, you can enable your brand new template on your site.

Available Design Tools

Once you’ve found your template, it’s time to start customizing your store. Shopify provides a variety of tools for different levels of customization. Here are a few of the tools you can use to change up your site.

Easy-To-Use Tools

  • WYSIWYG Editor: Use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor to quickly update copy and add content to your site, without touching the code.
  • Theme Editor: Use Shopify’s built-in theme editor to make a few simple changes, and preview those changes in real time. You can use this tool to adjust the backgrounds, images, colors, and fonts of your online store.
  • Sections: Sections is Shopify’s new drag-and-drop block design tool. Sections lets you make large-scale changes to your site by adding content blogs and rearranging widgets. This tool is currently only available with select themes. However, Shopify is continually working to expand its availability. View the Sections editor below.

Advanced Customization Tools

While the above tools are great for merchants who simply want to tweak their existing designs, they do have their limitations. If you want to alter your templates more than these easy editors will allow, you’ll have to go deeper.

Here’s how you can best customize your website design:

  • Code Editor: In order to make dramatic changes to your site, you’ll need to really get into the code. Shopify uses the Liquid templating language (Learn more about Liquid). You can also edit your site’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Hire A Shopify Expert: If you want to make changes to your code, but you don’t have the skill to do it, look into outsourcing your customization to Shopify Experts.

Shopify Template Designs & Best Practices

When you select a Shopify theme, you get every template that comes with it. You will have a pre-designed template for your About Us page, storefront, blog, checkout page, etc.

As we’ve already discussed, while most of the design elements are determined by the theme you choose, you can edit a few elements of your online store’s design using available tools.

Here’s what you can do to make sure your site meets with industry best practices on every page:

Shopify Store Templates

Before we get into best practices for your storefront design, let’s take a look at one of Shopify’s preset storefronts. This image is taken from the free Brooklyn theme.

Shopify does a lot right with this preset. And, with a little work, you can make this design even better. Here are a few of the most important factors to keep in mind as you customize your design.

Prioritize Site Navigation

Excellent site navigation helps your customers locate the products they’re looking for, hopefully reducing your store’s bounce rates. One of the best ways to improve site organization is by implementing a navigation bar with a drop-down menu at the top of your site.

This navigation bar should include categories and subcategories (which you can display using a drop down bar). Everything in your navigation bar, from titles to promotions, should be clickable.

Not only does a navigation bar aid your customers, but also it improves your online store’s overall SEO. Listing your categories and subcategories on every page gives Google more keywords to grab onto, helping your site rank better on organic search results.

Focus On Images

Studies show that image-focused responsive design inspires more engagement. Design your homepage to feature your products and your brand with engaging, high-quality images.

Keep Information Above The Fold

Make sure your most important information is displayed at the top of your page, so customers will see it before they scroll. This includes contact information, promotions, shipping information, and your shopping cart icon.

Shopify About Us Templates

The About Us page is your space to shine. Share your story with your customers, and let your brand’s personality come through. Scroll down for a few more tips for your About Us page.

Connect With Customers

Your About Us page should be a place where you build a relationship with your customers. Make sure to welcome customers to your site and don’t be afraid to use flattery. (“You won’t settle for anything but the best!”)

Tell A Story

Every business has a story. Use your About Us page to put your history on display. Show your customers that you are regular people and demonstrate your business’s growth to date.

As you write your About Us page, be sure to use your brand’s own voice. Include all the personality of your brand.

Consider Including Alternative Media

Got a video you’d like to share? This is a great place to put it! Consider using videos, images, and testimonials on this page, as well as links to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.

Shopify Blog Templates

We love that Shopify offers built-in blogs with all their themes and designs. Maintaining an active blog is a great way to build your brand, promote your online store, and harness some extra SEO power. Here’s a look at Shopify’s blog template for the Brooklyn theme. See below for more information on blogging best practices.

Post Regularly

The most important part of having a blog is actually using that blog. Develop a publication schedule and stick to it! Posting frequently and regularly will show customers that your online store is still in business, and it will indicate to Google that your site is active.

Write Relevant & Useful Information

While your blog is an important part of your business’s marketing strategy, your articles should not read like advertisements for your products. Write articles that are interesting, useful, and entertaining to your customers. Each article should have some value for its reader. Keep in mind your customers’ needs and interests as you write.

Shopify Thank You Page Templates

The Thank You page is the page your customers will see after they finalize a purchase. Shopify gives you an excellent starting place with their predesigned Thank You page. However, you can still do more to optimize this page.

Think Upsell

Now that you’ve secured a purchase, it’s the perfect opportunity to encourage more purchases. Consider displaying related products in the sidebar of your Thank You page. You could even provide a discount code for future purchases at your store.

At the very least, make sure customers can easily return to browsing with the easy “Continue Shopping” button that Shopify has already included.

Final Thoughts

If you’re already a Shopify merchant, you’re only a few steps away from a beautiful baseline for your online store. Just take a tour through the theme marketplace, test out any responsive themes that pique your interest with a demo, and settle on one that fits your website design plans.

Then, customize, customize, customize, until your site works exactly the way you need it to!

Are you already using Shopify’s design tools? Do you have any favorite themes? Let us know in the comments below which theme you’re using and how web design is going for your online store.

The post A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best iPad POS Systems

iPads: “They’re not just a way for tourists to awkwardly take photos anymore!”

(That is just one of the hundreds of rejected slogans I’ve pitched to Apple over the years, but I’m still optimistic. One of these days, I’ll hit the sweet spot and retire on the marketing royalties.)

In all seriousness, the iPad has been an enormous technological breakthrough across multiple platforms and, when it comes to the world of point of sale software, the iPad completely changed the game. Now entire businesses can be run on a simple, portable, and surprisingly cost-effective tablet. It’s really no surprise that so many POS companies have developed apps either specifically designed to run on the iPad or that are at least compatible with iOS. While Apple will always have its critics, the iPad’s appeal to business owners and customers alike is undeniable. But in a landscape where new iPad POS software dominates the market, it’s tough to figure out the best option to meet your needs. Fortunately, evaluating SMB software is what we do best here at Merchant Maverick. Read on for a look at a few of our favorite Apple iPad point of sale systems.

ShopKeep

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail businesses and smaller restaurant establishments.

Pricing

$69 per month per first three registers.

Feature Overview

ShopKeep (read our review) remains one of Merchant Maverick’s most recommended iPad POS systems because it features nearly every element you would want in a good point of sale software, and does so in a highly palatable and efficient manner. ShopKeep is also competitively priced and routinely updates its software to improve on an already stellar product. And with its recent advances in features for the restaurant/foodservice industry, ShopKeep continues to live up to our 5-star rating.

ShopKeep is successful largely because it stays in its lane. It is designed for small to mid-sized businesses and caters to them in most aspects. After a comprehensive walk-through during set-up that can help you with as much or as little as your previous experience with POS systems dictates, ShopKeep is exceptionally easy to use in all facets. The inventory management feature is truly impressive, offering an unlimited number of products and a matrix inventory, which is an advanced feature for a small to mid-sized business.

The company’s multi-store function has also come a long way and you can view details across all of your locations on one device. ShopKeep’s customer service is excellent and, although the company suggests using its own payment processing plan, it is integrated with numerous other processors so you’re not locked in.

Takeaway

Like most of the best POS systems, ShopKeep continues to improve. In particular, ShopKeep is becoming a better and better option for restaurants. Already boasting an excellent interface and strong reporting and employee management, the modifier and check functions of this POS make it worth a look for any new business owner. ShopKeep is at the top of its field for user-friendliness, working well with most versions of the iPad, including the iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad Mini.

Read our complete review or check out ShopKeep’s website for yourself.

Vend

Best For…

Any sized retail establishment

Pricing

Four options, starting with a limited free version. Other packages are $69, $99 and $249 a month with discounts for being billed annually.

Feature Overview

Vend (read our review) is a terrific option for anyone looking for a tablet POS system. The company offers a Mac bundle, PC bundle, and an iPad bundle, all of which feature Vend’s easy-to-use software and fairly robust feature set. If you’re a retailer looking to keep costs down while not feeling like you’re missing out on any top-tier functions, Vend is worth a long look.

Like ShopKeep, Vend does a nice job catering to its specialty: small to mid-sized retailers. There is some basic foodservice functionality that makes Vend perfectly acceptable for small vendors like cafes or food carts but, to retail shops will get the most bang for their buck (or lack of buck if you take advantage of Vend’s limited but still generous free version). Although the software is geared to smaller, more independent retailers, Vend is more than capable of handling a multi-store operation. Its eCommerce platform (available in the Advanced and Multi-Store versions) is easy to set up and navigate.

Vend thrives in the area of customer management. It offers a built-in and comprehensive loyalty function and makes it easy to take and store customer information for future promotions. The inventory management tool offers everything a small business would need, with the ability to import via a CSV file and an option for creating purchase orders. Vend integrates with loads of other software apps and has strong customer service, although it charges extra for its premium support.

Takeaway

Vend is one of the most versatile and effective iPad POS systems for retail businesses. If you’re a small company just starting out, you can take advantage of its free package. And if you have a large-scale multi-store enterprise, Vend is robust enough to have your back as well. With an advanced eCommerce platform and great customer management, Vend is worth a long look.

Read our complete review or visit Vend’s website on your own.

Revel

revel systems

Best For…

Mid-sized to larger foodservice businesses, though it can be adapted to smaller restaurants as well.

Pricing

Revel has a flexible pricing structure depending on what features you need. The cost of the software is built into the monthly subscription.

Feature Overview

Revel (read our review) packs a ton into its relatively unassuming software. The company, which functions best as an Apple-based restaurant POS, has also expanded to suit certain retail establishments as well. Revel currently is only offered on Apple iOS devices, but it is a fully functional POS and is robust enough to suit large, multi-store restaurant chains. However, as long as you’re not overwhelmed by its wealth of back-end features and an interface that is slightly less intuitive than average, Revel is flexible enough to work with smaller retailers as well. It features a flexible pricing structure to suit multiple needs.

As you would expect, Revel offers real-time inventory management with a convenient matrix for importing mass items and tracking them across multiple locations. Revel also has a fantastic Kiosk option for iPads which allows customers to order and pay on their own with a number of different methods. The Kitchen Display System for cooks is a strong feature, helping to cut down on ticket times and increase communication between the front- and backend of a restaurant.

Where Revel really separates itself is reporting. Its comprehensive suite features a convenient layout and runs nearly any report you could think of. Combine that with a great QuickBooks integration, and Revel makes some of the minutiae and tedium of backend features simple.

Takeaway

Revel is a powerhouse of a POS that can handle large-scale restaurant establishments. The system boasts excellent real-time reporting and an extensive employee management system. Though it comes with a slightly higher learning curve than some systems, Revel’s wealth of integrations gives it a big edge in a very competitive market, and it’s one of our favorite POS solutions here at Merchant Maverick.

You can find our full review here or check out Revel’s website.

talech

talech POS logo

Best For…

Almost any type of food service establishment.

Pricing

$69 or $99 a month with an enterprise option as well.

Feature Overview

There are many nice things about talech (read our review), but what I really appreciate is that, depending on your size of business, you can really get what you pay for. The Standard package gives you everything you would need for a small retail store or quick serve restaurant, while the Premium package expands its features to serve larger retailers and full-service restaurants, meaning you’re generally not going to be paying for features you’re not using.

talech does plenty of things well, starting with a strong and functional inventory management system. You can generate your own barcodes and print them from any device, track product history and performance across multiple stores, and create complex inventory bundles. Employee management is another strength; talech makes it easy to track an individual’s sales and actions. There is also a function which makes it so that managers, via swipe cards, are the only ones allowed to make voids.

talech review

talech is constantly updating and adapting to stay on top of current trends. One of its most recent changes is its online ordering system, which is an add-on that can dramatically increase a business’s sales output. talech integrates with a handful of major companies, including QuickBooks, Xero, Shopify, and Magento. It also offers highly regarded customer service.

Takeaway

talech is exceptionally affordable and has options for small to large restaurants. Even with lower tier packages, you get terrific inventory and employee management. With its commitment to updating its software and the ability to set up online ordering, talech continues to impress.

Read our complete review of talech or check out their website.

ERPLY

erply-logo

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail businesses.

Pricing

$200 or $350 a month with enterprise options available.

Feature Overview

For ease of use, ERPLY, (read our review) continues to be at the top of the iPad point of sale class. Designed specifically for small to mid-sized retail businesses, ERPLY is another company that specifically seeks to alleviate recurring issues that smaller, independent business owners may be having with their software. ERPLY is remarkably user-friendly and comes with the ability to customize and print purchase orders — and it also connects with major shipping companies.

Inventory management is simple and customizable. You can set limits for stock to be automatically reordered. Tracking inventory across multiple stores is intuitive, and ERPLY’s inventory module makes it possible to determine pricing by location (or even by a specific promotion or sale that you may be running). Speaking of which, ERPLY offers a built-in function for promotions and it can store all kinds of information on customers, from their social media IDs to their loyalty points.

ERPLY comes with well over 100 reports, so if you’re into analytics, they’ve more than got you covered. You would think with that much to offer, the software would be a bit unwieldy, but ERPLY prides itself on its simple to use platform. Everything can be customized to suit your personal style.

Takeaway

ERPLY isn’t a bargain by any means, but if you’re looking for an iPad POS that’s pretty much hassle free and loaded with features, it might be worth the expense. ERPLY is easy to navigate right out of the box and does just about everything well. It is particularly useful if your business has multiple locations. You’ll have to shell out a bit more per month than you would for some other systems, but many merchants will find the convenience worth the cost.

You can find our full review here or visit ERPLY’s website on your own.

SalesVu

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail and restaurant establishments.

Pricing

Flexible, but generally ranging from $25 to $150 a month.

Feature Overview

Another one of our 5-star systems, SalesVu (read our review) can handle both small to mid-sized retail and restaurant establishments. The software isn’t flashy, but all of the functionality you would expect from an Apple-based POS is there. Food industry businesses can set up their menus to switch to Happy Hour prices at specific times, and a convenient kiosk function allows customers to order directly at the table. SalesVu’s simple eCommerce platform is ideal for online ordering, and creating your own website with back-end integrations built-in can be done in a matter of minutes.

SalesVu’s inventory management is excellent, allowing for mass imports via CSV files. You can also use your iPad or your iPhone as a scanner. When an item is getting low, SalesVu alerts you and gives you the option of pulling the item completely or allowing for sales to go through even when supplies are limited.

SalesVu is also a great option for spas, salons, or any service-based businesses, featuring a built-in function that connects employees to a scheduling calendar.

Salesvu review

There are also plenty of reports available, as well as a built-in loyalty integration that can store customer information for sales and promotions. Currently, SalesVu is limited in its integrations but it does pair with QuickBooks and a handful of different credit card processors. You also get highly rated customer service. SalesVu is a fairly affordable iPad point of sale system, but its pricing structure can be a bit convoluted, so you’ll want to speak with a representative to sort out the details.

Takeaway

SalesVu’s flexibility is refreshing and, even if you’re going with one of its smaller packages, you get a lot for your money. The inventory management is excellent and, for small food service businesses, its kiosk function is terrific. Built-in loyalty and integrations with multiple processors are also big pluses.

Read our complete overview of SalesVu or visit the company’s website.

Lavu

Best For…

Quick service or full-service restaurants.

Pricing

$79/month with enterprise option available.

Feature Overview

Designed specifically for iPads, Lavu (read our review) is an impressive POS that can fill the needs of most mid-sized food industry businesses (either quick service or full service) and some light retail establishments. The interface is sleek and modern and designed with servers in mind. Order taking is simple and table and menu layouts are all intuitive and customizable. Lavu has a very convenient system for creating and executing modifiers as well.

Keeping with its employee-friendly theme, employee management is one of Lavu’s strong suits. Servers can log in with a key code and their hours and overtime are easily tracked; permissions can be assigned with a simple click. The company has also recently bolstered its inventory management feature, allowing for bulk importing and automatic alerts when products run low. If you are operating multiple stores, inventory can quickly be transferred from one location to another.

Lavu’s gift card and loyalty plans are both available as add-ons, which isn’t ideal. However, once you’ve purchased these add-ons, they integrated seamlessly with the software. Lavu has some other nice integrations, including an impressive customizable kitchen display system and customer-friendly features for online ordering and pick-up. Lavu integrates with a wide range of processing companies as well, giving you flexibility.

Takeaway

Your employees should love Lavu — its interface is easy to learn and simple to navigate. And, as a manager, you’ll appreciate the customizable options and employee management functions. Lavu has recently beefed up its inventory management, which had been one of its few flaws in the past, and it is now an extremely well-rounded option.

Check out our complete review of Lavu or visit Lavu’s website.

iConnect

Best For…

Most retail establishments with a bent toward spas and salons.

Pricing

$75/month with a multi-store option available,

Feature Overview

With a name like iConnect, (read our review) you know you have a POS made specifically for iOS (although it recently updated to function on Windows as well). iConnect is a versatile system that is perfect for small or large retail establishments, depending on the plan you purchase. iConnect has some unique features that make it a particularly strong option for businesses that book appointments, like salons. With the ability to set up recurring billing, it’s also a useful system for gyms and other businesses that operate on monthly subscription plans.

Customer management is a big draw for iConnect. Each customer is assigned a code, storing their information and making it simple to create specific promotions with its built-in loyalty program. As with most Apple POS systems, the interface is intuitive and comes with a helpful set-up process. Some of the more advanced features come with a higher learning curve, but the front-end, in particular, is easy to navigate.

iConnect comes with 55 reports and you can customize how they appear, easily adding your most run reports to the top of the screen. It’s not the most robust reporting system around, but most businesses shouldn’t find it lacking. There is also eCommerce functionality that can help you create your own website at no extra cost. The system comes with a large number of impressive integrations and the option to purchase add-ons that could be helpful, depending on your specific business.

Takeaway

iConnect is another versatile option that can be customized to fit your business’s needs. This iPad POS features some unique features for gyms, spas, and salons. iConnect has strong customer management features, especially in terms of setting up promotions, and its interface is intuitive and easy to operate.

You can find our full review here or visit iConnect’s website on your own.

Final Thoughts

iPad users are notoriously loyal to their devices and, if you fall into this category and are hunting for a POS system, you’re in luck. Many of the best point of sale systems were specifically designed to run on iOS — there’s almost certainly an option that will meet your needs. And this is not an exhaustive list, by any means. For the full scoop on all the top-rated POS systems for iPad, be sure to check out our iPad POS software reviews. 

The post The Best iPad POS Systems appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Gym Equipment Financing: Is It Better To Rent Or Buy Fitness Equipment?

Gym Equipment Financing: Should You Rent Or Buy Fitness Equipment

Without weight machines, treadmills, exercise bikes, and barbells, your gym or fitness center is just a big, open room with a bunch of rubber mats. While there’s nothing wrong with calisthenics, you’ll probably want to lure in your fitness fanatics with some exercise equipment.

That leaves you with the question of whether to rent gym equipment, rent to own workout equipment, or buy gym equipment.

Below, we’ll look at some of the ways you can approach gym equipment financing.

Advantages Of Buying Gym Equipment

The cheapest way to own equipment — without considering external factors — is to buy it. Once you’ve purchased equipment, it’s yours for as long as you want it or as long as it lasts, whichever comes first. Ideally, pieces of equipment that you buy outright will last a long time with minimal maintenance.

Generally speaking, the less complex the item and the fewer the moving parts, the more sense it makes to buy it. For example, there’re only a few things that can go wrong with a dumbbell, and it’s unlikely to be obsolete years down the road.

Ways To Buy Equipment

If you want to completely avoid interest payments, you’ll have to buy gym equipment out of pocket. Of course, that requires that you have healthy working capital and a large amount of cash on hand.

Everyone else is looking at financing their equipment through a loan or a type of lease called an equipment finance agreement (or more broadly, a capital lease).

An equipment loan typically covers about 80% of the cost of your equipment. Like other term loans, it will accrue interest over time, so expect to pay more in aggregate the longer your loan lasts. Typically, the equipment you’re buying serves as collateral for the loan, although you may also be asked to give a personal guarantee or put up additional collateral.

If you don’t have the credit or capital to secure an equipment loan, you may want to look at an equipment finance agreement. While leases are generally thought of as a type of rental, this type of lease will transfer ownership to the lessee (you) either immediately or over the course of the lease. Most capital leases have small residuals (the remaining amount that you have to pay to formally own the item at the end of the lease), sometimes as little as $1, which means you can expect to pay the vast majority of the equipment’s cost (plus interest) over the course of the lease.

Generally speaking, loans are less costly than leases, but harder to qualify for. Leases, which can be offered by either a third party or a captive lessor, will usually cover the full cost of the item. Some lessors will even cover shipping expenses.

Advantages Of Renting Gym Equipment

It’s nice to own your equipment, but sometimes it’s not your best option.

Exercise fads come and go. The cutting-edge machines of several years ago may be obsolete hunks of metal now. Further, they may require more maintenance than they’re worth.

Do you want the option to easily return and upgrade? Would you like to be able to write your monthly payments off as operating expenses? If so, you may want to consider renting or equipment leasing.

Ways To Rent Equipment

Renting commercial gym equipment usually means getting an operating lease. Typically, this type of lease allows the lessor to retain formal ownership of the equipment while you are granted permission to use it for the life of the lease. Depending on the agreement, either you or the lessor may be responsible for upkeep and repairs.

Compared to capital leases, operating leases typically have lower monthly payments but a significantly higher residual. While you do often still have the option to buy the equipment at the end of the lease (usually for fair market value), you’ll generally return the equipment at the end of your term.

Note that not all operating leases are eligible to be written off as operating expenses. If your financial strategy depends on this, make sure to discuss the any prospective lease with your lessor and your financial advisor.

The Cost Of Financing Gym Equipment

In addition to the ticket price of your gym equipment, expect to incur some additional charges depending on the type of financing you go with.

Here are some of the more common costs to expect:

  • Interest: This is (usually) the APR of the loan or lease, although some lenders may use a flat rate instead. In either case, the longer your term length, the more money you’ll be spending on the item.
  • Origination Fee: This is a closing fee some lenders charge in addition to interest. It’s either a percentage of the amount you’re borrowing (1% – 5% is typical) or a flat fee. This fee is more common with loans than leases.
  • Administration Fee: This is a fee charged in addition to interest to maintain your account. It may be a percentage or a flat fee. It’s more common with leases than loans.
  • Downpayment: A payment you’re expected to make at the time of closing. This is either the portion of the cost that an equipment loan didn’t cover or, in the case of leases, the first (and sometimes last) month’s payment.
  • Residual: This is the amount of money you’d owe if you were to purchase the equipment at the end of the lease. In the case of capital leases, the residual may be a trivial formality ($1, for example). In the case of operating leases, it may be substantially higher, typically the fair market value of the asset.
  • Shipping: Depending on the type of financing you select, this may or may not be covered by your lease. Loans rarely account for shipping expenses.

Third Party Financers

If your equipment vendor has a captive lessor, they may offer deals especially suited to gyms. That said, don’t assume they offer you the best rates. Your local bank or credit union may offer competitive financing, especially if you have an established relationship with them — and don’t have bad credit.

You can also seek financing through online lessors. Here are some that finance gym equipment.

eLease

Types of Leases:
• $1 buyout; FMV; equipment finance agreement (EFA)
Visit the eLease website

Read our review

eLease finances gym equipment through one of three types of leases. In addition to normal interest rates, expect to pay an administrative fee, as well as your first and last month’s payment as a downpayment.

National Funding 

 

Types of Leases:
• Capital leases
Visit the National Funding website

Read our review

National Funding primarily deals in term loans and merchant cash advances, but they also offer capital leases to gyms looking to own their exercise agreement.

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose to rent or buy gym equipment for your fitness center, you’ll have numerous financing options. Remember to consider the life cycle of the pieces you’re buying (and the impact sweaty bodies pumping out reps will have on them) to decide whether it’s worth building equity in items.

Looking for more equipment financing options? Check out our equipment financing comparisons and reviews.

The post Gym Equipment Financing: Is It Better To Rent Or Buy Fitness Equipment? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Shipping Software For 2018

It’s 4:30 on a Friday and you’re knee-deep in packing peanuts and cardboard boxes. You’ve got twenty orders to pick, pack, and ship before the post office closes, and you keep misplacing your packing slips.

There must be a better way.

If your storage space is covered in packing materials and you record all your shipping information in spreadsheets and Post-It notes, it might be time to try something else.

In the era in which an app solves everything, it makes sense to turn to software solutions to soothe your shipping woes.

Shipping software solutions integrate with most popular eCommerce software programs and can help simplify your day-to-day operations. They let you calculate accurate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips in bulk. They can even grant you discounted shipping rates.

These programs are typically available as SaaS solutions that range in price from $25/month to $99/month — a small price to pay for the shipping issues they resolve.

It’s clear you should subscribe to a shipping software, but with so many options available, how do you choose?

We’ve tested out a handful of shipping solutions, examining price, ease of use, and customer service. Keep reading to learn more about the best shipping software for 2018.

1. ShippingEasy

With a near-perfect score of 4.5 stars, ShippingEasy (see our review) is our top-rated shipping solution for eCommerce businesses. This software is true to its name: it’s easy to learn and use and customer support representatives are ready to help with any potential hiccups.

Best For…

Businesses of all sizes. It works especially well for eCommerce merchants who run their own online stores.

Pricing

Pricing for ShippingEasy is simple and affordable; plans range from $29/month for 500 shipments to $99/month for 6,000 shipments. Each step up in pricing includes more monthly shipments and higher level customer support.

ShippingEasy has a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 shipments/month. For high volume sellers, ShippingEasy also offers enterprise options. Read more about ShippingEasy’s pricing in our full review.

Features

As I mentioned above, we found ShippingEasy to be highly user-friendly. You can easily import orders, create shipments, set shipping parameters, and buy and print postage, shipping labels, and packing slips.

We also like how many features come included with ShippingEasy. And we especially love the fact that ShippingEasy’s partnership with USPS lets you benefit from lower shipping rates. You can save up to 46% on shipping rates when you sign on for one of ShippingEasy’s paid plans.

Other features include:

  • A Free Endicia Account
  • Shipping Status Updates & Real-Time Tracking
  • Individual Or Batch Shipping

If you’re worried that ShippingEasy might not integrate into your eCommerce software, fear no more! ShippingEasy integrates easily with the biggest names in eCommerce, including 3dcart, Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion, and WooCommerce. View all of ShippingEasy’s integrations.

ShippingEasy also has a good record when it comes to customer service. Their support representatives are knowledgeable and helpful.

Takeaway

With so many positives to ShippingEasy, it’s hard to find any downsides. You should note, however, that ShippingEasy still has room to grow when it comes to simplifying their daily operations. In particular, users would like to see improvement in expediting the data entry process.

Otherwise, ShippingEasy is an excellent option. Take a look at our shipping software reviews to learn more about the software or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Read our full ShippingEasy review

Visit the ShippingEasy website

2. OrderCup

OrderCup (see our review) is one of our favorite shipping software solutions. OrderCup offers an easy to use interface, multi-carrier shipping options, and discounted shipping rates. And best of all, OrderCup provides users with reliable and responsive customer support, so you can get answers to your pressing questions quickly.

Best For…

Merchants who ship between 500 and 12,000 shipments a month and who only need up to 12 users on the platform. With five tiered pricing plans, OrderCup is accessible to many merchants.

Pricing

As I mentioned before, OrderCup separates pricing into five tiers. To add a little fun to the pricing, OrderCup has named each tier after a Starbucks drink size. Plans range from Short to Trenta, and each step up in pricing includes more sales channels, more monthly shipments, and more users.

The Short plan begins at $20/month for 500 monthly shipments, and Trenta costs $180/month for 12,000 monthly shipments.

For more information, view OrderCup’s pricing page.

Features

OrderCup’s dashboard is well-organized and quick to learn. During setup, you’ll be able to integrate your hosted shopping cart. Your online store’s orders will be automatically transferred to your OrderCup dashboard.

Then, you’ll be able to connect with your favorite carriers and start processing orders.

OrderCup’s feature list includes everything you’d expect from a multi-carrier shipping software. They have made arrangements with several carriers, including the USPS, DHL, UK Mail, and DX to offer their customers discounted shipping rates. You’ll also be able to integrate with worldwide shipping carriers across Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Here are a few more features you can expect from OrderCup:

  • Automate Your Shipping Process
  • Print Return Labels To Include With Shipments
  • Bulk Import Orders Using CSV Files
  • Schedule Shipment Pickups
  • Integrate With Third-Party Fulfillment

OrderCup integrates with many eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, WooCommerce, and Volusion. Integrated marketplaces include Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. Check the full list for more information.

Out of all these features, OrderCup users seem to be most enthusiastic about OrderCup’s support team. Support representatives are responsive and patient, often spending up to an hour on the phone with users to make sure everything is working properly. Users also praise OrderCup’s Canadian shipping options; it is easy to ship to and from Canada.

There are few negative comments about OrderCup online, though we have seen customers complain about having to pay extra in order to access phone support and get priority attention for their technical issues.

Takeaway 

OrderCup is one of our favorite shipping software programs, scoring an excellent 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you think this software might be the right fit for your business, we recommend you try it out. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial in minutes.

But if you’d like a bit more information before you proceed, take a look at our complete review. We include in-depth information about pricing, customer service levels, and more.

Read our full OrderCup review

Visit the OrderCup website

3. Ordoro

Ordoro (see our review) is a shipping and inventory application designed for SMBs. Known for its drop-shipping features, Ordoro is particularly popular among Shopify users.

Best For…

Small to medium-sized businesses. Merchants who are planning to dropship can benefit especially from the software.

Pricing

With Ordoro, you have two options. You can use Ordoro to handle just your shipping, or you can have Ordoro handle shipping, inventory management, and dropshipping. Ordoro sets up their pricing structure differently, depending on which features you choose.

In my opinion, it’s best to use Ordoro for shipping only. Paid plans for shipping begin at $25/month and go to $129/month. Each step up in pricing includes additional features and monthly shipments. There’s also a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 orders/month.

Pricing for shipping and inventory management is structured much differently. The lowest plan costs $199/month for 700 orders. This plan includes drop shipping features. Plans can go as high as $499/month for 4,000 orders. For more information, view Ordoro’s pricing page.

Features

Ordoro comes with a minimalistic user interface. You can easily link your shopping cart to your new Ordoro account during setup. Then you’ll be able to sync your inventory and push new orders automatically to Ordoro. You can create shipping labels and packing slips one-by-one or in bulk.

Ordoro’s best feature is without a doubt their dropshipping functionality (available with shipping + inventory plans). You can set select items to ship directly from your supplier, and you can automatically split orders to dropship from multiple suppliers.

Here are a few more features that come with Orodoro:

  • Process Orders From Multiple Sales Channels
  • Integrate With USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, Canada Post, & Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime
  • Best-In-Industry Shipping Rates (Up To 67% With USPS)
  • Tracking Number Automatically Sent To Customers Upon Shipment
  • Inventory Management (If You Choose To Purchase It)

Ordoro integrates with a wide variety of eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, FBA, 3dcart, Magento, WooCommerce, and more. See if your preferred vendor is on the full list.

Ordoro users have a lot of good things to say about the platform. In particular, they praise Ordoro’s technical support options. Customers report that a real person will be available to answer your support concerns. On the off chance you can’t reach anyone, Ordoro’s knowledge base is detailed and well organized. You might find the information you need there.

I’ve seen a few negative reports of Ordoro. Some customers cite trouble syncing their Ordoro account with other software programs (namely Shopify and FedEx). Other customers complain that while Ordoro’s interface is easy to navigate, that simplicity is due to a lack of features.

Takeaway

In our opinion, Ordoro is best suited to small businesses, especially those that engage in a lot of dropshipping. To learn more about Ordoro, read our full review, or try out the platform yourself by signing up for a free 15-day trial.

Read our full Ordoro review

Visit the Ordoro website

4. ShipStation

ShipStation

ShipStation (see our review) is arguably the best-known shipping solution, partly due to the company’s excellent marketing campaigns and partly due to the numerous integrations they offer with major eCommerce vendors.

Best For…

Small to mid-sized businesses, particularly those which sell online.

Pricing

Pricing for ShipStation is on par with industry standards. You can choose from six pricing tiers, ranging from $9/month for 50 orders to $145/month for unlimited shipments. ShipStation does not offer a free plan, but they do offer a free 30-day trial of their software.

Features

When it comes to ease of use, ShipStation prioritizes functionality over aesthetics, which is perfectly fine by me!

If you have any trouble learning your way around, ShipStation provides video tutorials to help you figure out the admin. In general, we think that ShipStation is highly usable, though it may take some time to get the hang of the advanced tools.

ShipStation offers the basic collection of features, including the following:

  • Integrations For USPS, UPS, FedEx, & DHL Accounts
  • Discounts On USPS Priority & Express Mail
  • Stamps.com Account Included
  • Batch-Print Hundreds Of Shipping Labels & Packing Slips
  • Print A Return Label To Include In Your Shipments

ShipStation really shines when it comes to integrations. Check out this full list to see which eCommerce platforms, shipping carriers, and payment solutions integrate easily with ShipStation. Happily, it integrates with the most popular eCommerce solutions, including BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Volusion, Miva Merchant, and PrestaShop.

ShipStation’s customer service is available by email. They also provide live webinars, a knowledge base, and a community forum.

We see only one potential issue with ShipStation: it’s lacking customer management features. You cannot add identifying characteristics to a customer’s account, and ShipStation does not always recognize a customer when they make a second purchase on a different sales channel. However, for most users, this difficulty is not a deal breaker.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for an efficient, reliable shipping solution, ShipStation may be the way to go. Once you invest some time into learning the system, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of a feature-rich shipping solution.

Learn more about ShipStation in our full review or take it for a spin with a 30-day free trial.

Read our full ShipStation review

Visit the ShipStation website

 

5. ShipRush

ShipRush (see our review) is an affordable software solution that is designed to make shipping selection efficient. ShipRush displays rates from multiple different carriers on the same page in your admin, allowing you to quickly and easily choose the most cost-effective shipping rates. What’s more, ShipRush offers support for many different types of shipping, including individual package shipping, freight shipping, and LTL shipping. Keep reading to learn more about the merits of ShipRush.

Best For…

Merchants who need to ship freight. I would recommend ShipRush primarily to smaller businesses, as the pricing model is designed for three users (though more can be added on at an additional expense).

Pricing

ShipRush’s pricing model is simple. It is divided into two options: Web and Desktop.

ShipRush’s web option is based on a monthly payment model and costs $29.95/month for up to three users (additional users can be added on three at a time for an additional $29.95/month).

On the other hand, the ShipRush Desktop version can be purchased annually for $795/year per workstation.

Features

You can test out ShipRush for 60 days by signing up for a free trial. Once you sign up, you’ll be presented with this dashboard.

The dashboard is a bit austere, but we don’t mind much as ShipRush has proved itself to be very functional.

Once I got over the initial learning curve, I was able to calculate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips easily.

Here are a few other features that ShipRush users benefit from:

  • Discounted Shipping Rates (Save Up To 60% On USPS Rates & 21% On FedEx Rates)
  • View Rates From Multiple Carriers On One Screen
  • Send Notifications To Customers When Orders Ship
  • Dropshipping Support
  • Print Scan-Based Return Labels

For the full list, head over to ShipRush’s website.

ShipRush integrates with over 75 eCommerce platforms, payment processors, shipping carriers, and accounting and CRM software apps. These integrations include 3dcart, Ecwid, LemonStand, Big Cartel, Shopify, FedEx, UPS, and USPS.

ShipRush has a lot of positives. Customers especially like the quality customer service and the relative ease of use. One downfall potential users should note is that merchants who maintain a large inventory (thousands of products) may have a hard time with the software. Creating shipping rules for all these different types of products could be more effort than it’s worth.

Takeaway

ShipRush is a great software for many businesses. It’s affordable, functional, and reliable, and you can test it out for yourself using their free 60-day trial.

For more information on ShipRush, take a look at our complete review of the platform. Otherwise, keep reading for more shipping options.

Read our full ShipRush review

Visit the ShipRush website

6. ShipHawk

ShipHawk (see our review) is a bit different than the alternative shipping software we cover above. While those software programs provide easy to use interfaces and hundreds of features, ShipHawk focuses its energy on one thing: an algorithm. ShipHawk is a complex shipping calculator, designed for large businesses and businesses that ship oversized or unique items.

Best For…

Larger businesses. ShipHawk’s cheapest plan is targeted at merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. ShipHawk is also good for merchants who ship uniquely shaped or oversized items.

Pricing

ShipHawk offers three pricing tiers. With each step up in pricing, you’ll be able to ship more parcels and freight and have access to more advanced features and technical support.

The Starter plan starts at $250/month and is for merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. Then there’s the Pro plan, which begins at $2K/month and is intended for annual shipping expenses up to $2M; finally, there’s the Enterprise plan, for an annual spend of up to $25M. Enterprise begins at $4,500/month.

As you can see, ShipHawk is not a cheap platform. It is designed for high volume shippers who need a high volume platform.

Features

In order to test out ShipHawk, you can sign up for a free demo of the starter plan. I didn’t find ShipHawk to be as intuitive as other shipping software apps I’ve tested. However, given time, I was able to figure out a few features. And as a whole, the dashboard seems well designed.

As I’ve mentioned before, ShipHawk works a bit differently than most shipping software when it comes to features. While ShipHawk does offer some of your typical features, they primarily advertise the calculator behind the software. ShipHawk will help estimate expenses for hard-to-ship items.

Here are a few of the more notable features:

  • Get Quotes From Multiple Carriers
  • Real-Time Tracking Updates
  • API: Integrate With Shipping Carriers & Shopping Cart Software
  • Set Up Automatic Shipping Rules
  • Provide Shipping Options To Customers

ShipHawk advertises that you can integrate with most software solutions through their API. You can expect to find pre-built integrations with a few shipping carriers and shopping carts, including DHL, FedEx, UPS, USPS, Magento, Shopify, and more.

Customer feedback regarding ShpHawk is very limited. However, after some time searching the web, I was able to find a few comments. Customers primarily love ShipHawk’s customer service and robust calculation abilities. I myself was a bit disappointed with ShipHawk’s support material. There did not seem to be enough tutorial information to help me set up the program.

Takeaway

ShipHawk is not the right fit for many of our readers. However, if you ship thousands of products each month and you need access to freight and individual shipments, ShipHawk may be right for you. Test it out with a free demo and read our review for more information.

Read our full ShipHawk review

Visit the ShipHawk website

Get Started!

If you’re tired of losing yourself in packing peanuts and misplaced notes-to-self, try out one of these software options. You’ll find that shipping is much less of a chore when order processing and fulfillment is automated, organized, and synchronized. With many solutions beginning at $25/month, shipping software is a small investment that could do a lot for your business. Click one of the buttons above to get started with a free trial, or search our site for more quality shipping software reviews.

Good luck, and happy shipping!

The post Best Shipping Software For 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!)

How To Promote Your Website

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

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

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

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

Start with Definitions & Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s break them down.

What You’re Promoting (Your Product)

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

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

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

Who You’re Promoting It To (Persona)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lay the Foundation

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

This is divided into three steps:

Website / Destination Set Up

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

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

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

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

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

Create Focused Pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set Up Analytics

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

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

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

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

Work on Getting Traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing with Direct Outreach

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

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

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

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

Friends & Family

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

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

Individual Brands / Influencers

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

Individual Bloggers / Site Owners

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

Journalists

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

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

Complementary Business Owners

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

Find businesses where you can co-promote.

Vendors

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

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

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

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

Find Like-Minded Communities

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

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

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

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

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

Industry Specific Forums

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

Facebook Groups

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

Website Forums

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

Blog Comments

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

Reddit & Crowdsourced Forums

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

Amazon Comments

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

LinkedIn & Business Groups

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

Guest Posting

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

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

Using Paid Traffic to Get Data

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Organic Search

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

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

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

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

SEO boils down to 3 components.

The first component is technical SEO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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