The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs

There is a myth making the rounds on the wide world of the internet that email marketing has outlived its usefulness, but that is simply untrue. The data is in, and email marketing campaigns can have a wide variety of positive effects on your business:

Having said that, some of the software providers in the email marketing world charge a crippling price for smaller businesses. Before you hang your heads in defeat, though, take heart. There are a number of free email marketing software apps that might suit your needs without ever costing you a cent. With a free email marketing tool, you’re not going to have access to unlimited emails and templates, and you’ll be restricted to a certain number of email addresses. Marketing automation tools may also be limited or non-existent with a free plan. But if you need to send out a simple email newsletter to your contacts and want basic access to click-through rates and other simple analytics, free email marketing services can be a godsend.

Compiled here for your reading pleasure is Merchant Maverick’s favorites in the free email marketing software world. A quick word about criteria: Each of these apps were evaluated based on their feature set, ease of use, and pros vs cons. With that out of the way, let’s get started!


Serving upwards of 73,000 users around the globe, Benchmark (read our review) has not moved on from its original mission of serving small businesses. With a reputation for great customer service and ease-of-use, this is one of the most widely recommended email marketing apps out there. And, as you might expect since it is on this list, there is a free version!

It should come as no surprise that the free version of Benchmark is less powerful than the versions you actually pay for. With a subscriber cap of 2,000 members and a limitation of 14,000 emails per month, the free version of Benchmark will be best suited to the email campaigns of very small businesses and nonprofits. It is the other features, or, rather, lack of them, that might make the final decision for you. Non-paying users of Benchmark will find that they have access to an email builder and little more. You’ll get the “insanely simple drag-and-drop editor,” a wide library of templates, and an automated signup form, as well as Google analytics, several campaign styles (drip and RSS), and a few other handy items. What you don’t get, however, are unlimited emails, basic features like A/B testing and more advanced tools like cart abandonment automation and other automated behavioral tracking features.

As I mentioned above, Benchmark is generally considered to be extremely easy to use. Most comments in user reviews agree that navigating the app, building emails, and implementing new campaigns are all done with a minimal learning curve. Based on these user reviews, as well as my own test of the product, I have to agree with Benchmark’s marketing claim: “No design experience required.”

Generally speaking, Benchmark has far more pros than cons. Beyond the ease of use I mentioned above, this company also maintain some of the best customer service in the industry, with 24/7 phone, live chat, and email support. As for cons, the major downside for free users will be the limitations placed on free accounts regarding Benchmark’s more advanced features. Some users have also complained that their experience with the app was plagued by bugs, though I should note that those affected seem few and far between.


SendinBlue (read our review) is best known for the accessibility of its software. With a focus on simplicity in both features and pricing, this is an app that aims to get new users in particular up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible. Generally speaking, SendinBlue is a good choice for anyone looking to get great bang for their buck, especially if you are willing to work with a simplified interface. Indeed, as an ESP (email service provider), SendinBlue is clearly not intended for experienced marketers, but rather for single proprietors and small LLC owners. Appropriately, then, the free version of SendinBlue offers an interesting alternative to the other apps we will discuss here.

Unlike Benchmark, SendinBlue does not limit how many subscribers or contacts their free users can have. Likewise, there is no limit in place for monthly emails. Rather, there is a daily limit of 300 emails. From one perspective, this limitation may seem an opportunity to reach significantly more subscribers than would be possible with Benchmark’s plan. From another perspective, it means someone at your (presumably) small company will be spending at least some time every day working on emails; isn’t that why you wanted an email marketing app anyway? Fortunately, SendinBlue does make it easy to design attractive emails with a nice email editor and template library. Free users also get real-time reporting, phone and email support, and customizable sign-up forms. As with Benchmark, you lose access to many features by choosing to use SendinBlue for free, though since SendinBlue is a simpler app in the first place, the limitations seem less important.

The biggest pro for using SendinBlue is the all-around simplicity of this app, as well as the template library, which is varied and diverse. Like Benchmark, SendinBlue tends to impress customers with their support options as well. In terms of cons, there are only a few integrations available, and some users complain of an outdated interface as well. On the whole, SendinBlue is widely liked by those who use it, though it does not inspire the same superlative-laden user reviews of some of its competitors.


best ecommerce apps

MailChimp (read our review) is pretty much synonymous with email marketing. Maybe it is the quirky name, maybe it is the goofy grin on the face of their mascot, but this app just sticks in the mind, making it one of the first examples I think of when discussing email marketing. Fortunately, if your budget does not have space for an ESP among so many other important expenses, you are in luck. There is a free version of MailChimp, widely regarded as one of the best in the business.

To start things off, if you want to use MailChimp for free, you are looking at a subscriber cap of 2,000 users and an email limit of 12,000 per month. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Benchmark allows more emails per month, but where this email marketing platform sets itself apart is in the features free users gain access to. The standard email editor and template library are in place, as expected, but MailChimp also provides an automated email campaigns features that most of their competitors keep locked behind paywalls. These automations allow you to pre-write messages and determine triggers that will prompt the app to automatically send follow-up emails based on the behavior of individual subscribers. Whether it is a welcome message for new contacts, a notification of an abandoned shopping cart, or even a gentle reminder that your business still exists to customers that have been away awhile, if you are trying to build an ecommerce business, these tools can be invaluable to you.

The pros of using MailChimp should be readily apparent. With powerful features, a user-friendly interface, and a minimal learning curve — for the low monthly cost of $0, it may seem that there is no reason to not set up a MailChimp account this very second. However, unlike the other two apps discussed above, MailChimp does not have a spotless customer service record, with some users finding communication slow and unresponsive. Fortunately, there are more satisfied customers than disgruntled ones, but it remains a concern.

Final Thoughts

Basically, what we have here are three email marketing apps that would leave nearly any subscriber satisfied. Having said that, I think there is a definite winner here: MailChimp. Especially if you are working in e-commerce, the automation tools included in this free email marketing software may prove indispensable to growing your business.

Having said that, I can think of a few reasons for using the other software programs I described above. If your needs exceed the 12,000 emails offered by MailChimp, Benchmark might be the better choice for you. If you need an extra-simplified feature set, SendinBlue’s free plan may be more attractive. On top of that, both these alternatives have higher reputations for customer service, certainly more so than Mailchimp.

In the end, the best way to figure out which free email marketing software app is best for you is to give one or all of them a try. Considering they are free, there is really not much to lose. Your email newsletter is just begging to be sent, and this month is as good a time as any! Start generating contacts, write that opt-in email, create some sign-up forms, and get out there!

If you’re looking for a little more bang for your buck, you might consider doing a free trial of another email marketing platform like AWeber, Constant Contact, Mad Mimi, or Active Campaign, or simply using the paid version of any one of the programs above. With a premium service, you’re going to get more templates, unlimited emails and contacts, advanced marketing automations, social media integration, and better all-around email marketing tools. Read our full selection of email marketing software reviews for more information, or check out our ESP comparison chart.

The post The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs appeared first on Merchant Maverick.


GoFundMe Alternatives: 10 Sites Like GoFundMe For Business Funding

gofundme alternatives

In terms of raw numbers, GoFundMe (see our review) stands atop the crowdfunding industry. With over $5 billion in crowdfunded dollars raised from over 50 million donors since its founding in 2010, no crowdfunding platform has been able to match GoFundMe in terms of transferring money to those who need it. What’s more, since late 2017, GoFundMe has started eliminating their 5% platform fee for individual crowdfunding campaigns (the 0% platform fee now applies to campaigns started in the US, UK, and Canada).

However, there are plenty of reasons why an entrepreneur looking to crowdfund a startup or a small business might look for an alternative to GoFundMe. While people can and do use GoFundMe to fundraise for businesses, the vast majority of campaigns on the site are personal campaigns for charitable causes, often to cover medical expenses. Facilitating commerce isn’t the focus of GoFundMe’s brand.

Let’s go through some of the GoFundMe alternatives you can use to fund your business.


Kickstarter (see our review) needs no introduction, but I’ll write one anyway out of habit. Between Kickstarter’s 2009 birth and today, the company has become synonymous with crowdfunding. Kickstarter has raised over $3.5 billion in funding pledged to its campaigns (more than any crowdfunding site besides GoFundMe), boasts more than 140,000 successfully funded projects with over 14 million total backers. You might say the folks at Kickstarter have hit the big time.

Kickstarter embodies the concept of rewards crowdfunding: crowdfunding in which backers support campaigns and receive rewards in return, typically in the form of the product being produced.

Best For…

Kickstarter helps artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and other creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality.

Thus reads Kickstarter’s About page. It sums up Kickstarter’s target audience: those in the business of creating things to share with others. For instance, Kickstarter almost single-handedly spawned the current “golden age” of tabletop games. Game makers found Kickstarter to be the ideal platform from which to launch their passion projects. Tech startups have hit paydirt on the platform as well.

How Does Kickstarter Work?

Kickstarter’s product on offer is its rewards crowdfunding platform. The details of the platform are as follows:

  • Campaigns can be open for 30 to 60 days
  • Campaigns are all-or-nothing — you either meet your funding goal by the time your campaign ends, or you get no funds whatsoever
  • A 5% platform fee is taken from what you raise
  • A 3% + $0.20 payment processing fee is taken from each pledge made to you

Kickstarter Rules

Kickstarter has five rules for projects:

  • Projects must create something to share with others
  • Projects must be honest and clearly presented
  • Projects can’t fundraise for charity
  • Projects can’t offer equity
  • Projects can’t involve prohibited items

Pay special attention to the first rule. In order to host a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, you must offer rewards to your potential backers. It’s not optional. Furthermore, these rewards must be of your making and must relate to your project. They can’t just be whatever you have sitting around the house.

How To Start A Kickstarter Campaign

Go to the website, choose a category, enter the basic details of your project into the form, and confirm your identity. When you submit your project for review, you might pass the automated check and be able to start immediately, or your project might be flagged for additional screening, which can take up to three days. Kickstarter estimates that about 80% of submitted projects are accepted.


Hobbyists, tech geeks, and superfans continue to demonstrate their willingness to spend money on crowdfunding projects in order to get in on The Next Big Thing, and Kickstarter is the best-known place to do just that. Their track record of crowdfunding success is second to none. It’s very competitive, though, so you best have done your due diligence prior to launch. If you have, who knows? Your project could take off on social media and become the next great cultural phenomenon; the next viral dream that captures the imagination of a generation; the next RompHim.


I only pray you experience such spiritual validation in your lifetime. Kickstarter: Catch the fever!

Read our full Kickstarter review

Visit the Kickstarter website


Indiegogo (see our review) was launched at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. It was originally conceived as a crowdfunding platform for independent films. Soon thereafter, Indiegogo expanded its mission, and is now a leader in the crowdfunding industry. Indiegogo’s rewards crowdfunding platform is more flexible and less exclusive than that of Kickstarter, as Indiegogo doesn’t prescreen projects prior to launch. Many startups have found success on Indiegogo after being rejected by Kickstarter.

Indiegogo also hosts equity crowdfunding campaigns through a joint venture with MicroVentures (see our review). Equity crowdfunding means your backers are purchasing shares in your company — they aren’t just backing you to get a t-shirt or a board game. Because equity crowdfunding involves investing, it is much more heavily regulated than rewards crowdfunding. Unlike Indiegogo’s rewards crowdfunding campaigns, the requirements to launch an Indiegogo equity crowdfunding campaign are fairly stringent. The bulk of Indiegogo’s business is on the rewards crowdfunding side.

Best For…

Indiegogo appeals to a lot of the same entrepreneurs and creators as Kickstarter. Tech, games, and the arts (particularly movies, no surprise) are well represented in Indiegogo’s campaign listings. But because Indiegogo doesn’t curate its campaigns the way Kickstarter does, a broader array of businesses can fundraise successfully with Indiegogo.

How Does Indiegogo Work?

Indiegogo’s rewards crowdfunding platform carries the following conditions:

  • Campaigns can last up to 60 days
  • You can choose a keep-what-you-raise campaign (you keep what you raise whether you meet your funding goal or not) OR an all-or-nothing campaign
  • 5% platform fee
  • 3% + $0.30 payment processing fee (per pledge)

Indiegogo Rules

Indiegogo doesn’t restrict entry to its platform — you can start a campaign for just about any non-charitable purpose. Unless you’re later found to be operating a fraud or otherwise violating the terms of service, you’re good to go. And unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo doesn’t mandate that you offer rewards. They do highly recommend it, however. Campaigns that don’t offer rewards have a tendency to fail.

How To Start An Indiegogo Campaign

Just go to Indiegogo’s website, click “Start A Campaign,” detail your campaign, and launch it!


Indiegogo’s welcoming approach and flexible campaigns make it an excellent crowdfunding choice for businesses and artists of all stripes.

Read our full Indiegogo review:

Visit the Indiegogo website


Patreon (see our review) may be a rewards crowdfunding site, but compared to the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Patreon is a beast of a different nature. Launch an Indiegogo campaign, and it’s a one-time deal. Once your campaign ends after 30 or 60 days, you get what you get, and that’s that. But with Patreon, your campaign is continuous. It doesn’t end unless you end it. Patrons sign up to support you on a recurring basis (either per-month or per-creation), somewhat akin a subscription service. In return, you provide your patrons exclusive content. Founder and musician Jack Conte discussed his motivations in a 2013 article:

“I’m releasing new things on a monthly basis. I have friends releasing material weekly,” Conte said. “They’d have to almost invent an excuse to raise money after going on Kickstarter once. We’re saying, ‘No, no. Don’t make up a new endeavor. Keep doing what you do best and let people pay you each time you do that.”

Best For…

Those in the business of creation will find Patreon an ideal crowdfunding platform. Game designers, journalists, musicians, comic book artists, and YouTubers are all to be found, though podcasters have had particular success on the platform. From Chapo Trap House to Sam Harris to everything in between, Patreon has been a boon to podcasters.

One thing Patreon has allowed in the past that most crowdfunding sites haven’t is a certain degree of adult content, though that has been changing as of late.

How Does Patreon Work?

These are the terms of using Patreon:

  • Funding duration is unlimited
  • Can charge patrons per month OR per creation
  • 5% platform fee
  • ~5% payment processing fee

Patreon Rules

As long as you don’t violate the terms of service (which are more relaxed than those of many competitors), you should be fine.

How To Start A Patreon Campaign

Sign up online, fill in the form fields, and poof, you’re in!


If creation is your business and GoFundMe doesn’t quite fit what you do, Patreon and its innovative brand of continuous rewards crowdfunding provide a means of monetizing your work.

Read our full Patreon review

Visit the Patreon website


FundRazr (see our review) refers to itself as “Canada’s leading crowdfunding platform.” Though that places it well behind the likes of Kickstarter in regards to total money raised, FundRazr distinguishes itself by having an exceptionally good reputation for a crowdfunding site among both donors and campaigners. I had a hard time finding comments from user upset with the product. This is most definitely not the case with most of the competition!

FundRazr hosts a wide variety of personal and charitable crowdfunding campaigns, though they host business campaigns as well (and not just in Canada).

Best For…

Pretty much any business with something to offer backers can make use of FundRazr.

How Does FundRazr Work?

This is what a FundRazr crowdfunding campaign entails:

  • No mandatory time limit for campaigns
  • Keep-what-you-raise OR all-or-nothing funding — your choice
  • 5% platform fee
  • 2.9% + $0.30 payment processing fee (per pledge)

FundRazr Rules

FundRazr doesn’t prescreen campaigns, nor does it have any particular bent as to what sort of businesses it favors. And while business campaigns should offer rewards, it isn’t mandatory.

How To Start A FundRazr Campaign

Create an account, fill in the details, and you’re on your way.


FundRazr isn’t the most high-profile crowdfunding service in the business, but its exceptional reputation for treating people well makes it worth considering for the startup in need of funding.

Read our full FundRazr review

Visit the FundRazr website


The name resembles FundRazr, but this is a very different platform. Ohio-based Fundable (see our review) is a crowdfunding platform exclusively for businesses. Fundable hosts both rewards and equity-based funding campaigns. Rather than charge a platform fee to users, Fundable charges a monthly fee of $179 to all campaigners. It’s a system that favors serious startups and early-stage companies over small-time artists and creators.

Fundable has sent $411 million in crowdfunded dollars to businesses thus far. Not too shabby at all.

Best For…

Fundable hosts crowdfunding campaigns for a wide variety of businesses, though tech, food service, and healthcare companies are particularly well-represented.

How Does Fundable Work?

Fundable lets you launch both rewards and equity crowdfunding campaigns, though not both simultaneously. Some businesses start with a rewards campaign and, once successful, use the campaign’s success to demonstrate the product’s viability in the market to investors, thus laying the ground for an equity campaign.

Here’s how Fundable campaigns work:

  • No mandatory time limit for campaigns
  • All-or-nothing funding
  • $179 monthly fee
  • 3.5% + $0.30 payment processing fee (rewards campaigns only)

Given the monthly fee and all-or-nothing funding, if your campaign is unsuccessful, you won’t just have raised nothing — you’ll have spent money in order to raise nothing. Try not to fail!

Fundable Rules

Though just about any business can apply to use Fundable, the company prescreens every campaign profile submitted before allowing it onto the platform. A poorly-resourced startup may have better luck using a site with no barrier to entry, like Indiegogo, to crowdfund.

How To Start A Fundable Campaign

Fill out the online application, submit it, and wait for an answer from the company.


Fundable’s terms and fees make it tough for the little guy, but a startup with high growth potential stands to benefit from the absence of the 5% platform fee many crowdfunding sites impose. After all, if you raise $50K, well, 5% of $50K is a lot more than Fundable’s $179 monthly fee!

Read our full Fundable review:

Visit the Fundable website


Wefunder (see our review) has been an innovator in the equity crowdfunding space. A purely business-oriented crowdfunding platform. Wefunder hosts equity campaigns in which non-accredited investors can invest (this is known as Regulation Crowdfunding). The term “accredited investor” basically just means “rich person,” so by allowing non-accredited investors (i.e. everyone) to invest, you’re casting a wider net in your hunt for investors, so to speak.

Equity crowdfunding with non-accredited investors has only been legal since May 2016, but so far, Wefunder holds 50% of the market share in Regulation Crowdfunding. It’s a new field, but Wefunder has it figured out more than anybody.

Best For…

Wefunder hosts funding campaigns for many different business types (particularly craft breweries), but as equity crowdfunding is harder to pull off for unless your project already has some resources behind it, Wefunder is best for startups whose high-profit potential is apparent to investors. In fact, Wefunder states that of the 174 companies that have hit their funding goal on Wefunder’s site, “most are alumni of Y Combinator.” The cream of the crop, in other words.

How Does Wefunder Work?

Wefunder offers equity crowdfunding under the following terms:

  • 1-year funding limit
  • All-or-nothing funding
  • $195 one-time fee
  • 7% platform fee
  • No payment processing fees (all funds are transferred offline)

The 7% platform fee seems a bit high, but consider that with most crowdfunding sites, an additional 3-5% goes to the payment processor, making that apparent 5% platform fee more like 8-10%. Wefunder doesn’t handle online payments, so there are no processing fees to be paid.

Wefunder Rules

Wefunder allows just about any applying company onto its site. The company doesn’t do the heavy vetting that other equity crowdfunders engage in. Wefunder recommends having at least one experienced investor endorse your campaign and set the terms of your raise, but that’s not a requirement.

How To Start A Wefunder Campaign

Just apply online on the website.


Wefunder is one of the few crowdfunding companies with a track record of success in Regulation Crowdfunding. Startups with high growth potential have reason to take a closer look.

Read our full Wefunder review

Visit the Wefunder website


The forgettably-named Crowdfunder (see our review) is unapologetic about being an equity crowdfunding platform for “high-impact ventures” only. Crowdfunder’s equity campaigns are open to accredited investors only, meaning that you’ll be drawing from a smaller, richer, and likely more selective pool of investors than with Wefunder. (Note that the British rewards crowdfunding site named Crowdfunder is an entirely different company)

$160 million in investment commitments have been made via Crowdfunder.

Best For…

Crowdfunder has specific ideas about the identity of its target audience:

Crowdfunder is designed for early-stage startups and more mature businesses raising seed stage, Series-A & Series-B funding. Our offering does not cater to inception stage companies at this time.

Tech, software, and investment companies comprise many of the businesses using Crowdfunder

How Does Crowdfunder Work?

Here are the details of Crowdfunder’s platform:

  • No mandatory time limit for campaigns
  • Keep-what-you-raise funding
  • $449-$749/month subscription fee (depends on your subscription package)
  • No platform fees or payment processing fees (funds are transferred offline)

Crowdfunder’s monthly subscription fees are high. No getting around it.

Crowdfunder Rules

You can set up a profile for free, but in order to actually start your equity campaign, Crowdfunder will have to approve your plans.

How To Start A Crowdfunder Campaign

Sign up and apply through the website, silly.


If your startup company has boundless potential in the eyes of investors, Crowdfunder is a very intriguing prospect. Though the monthly fees are high, they’ll be worth it in the end if you raise a significant sum, as Crowdfunder campaigns don’t carry a percentage platform fee.

Read our full Crowdfunder review

Visit the Crowdfunder website


Headquartered in Paris, Ulule (see our review) is one of Europe’s largest rewards crowdfunding platforms. It’s not widely known in the US, but if you’re in North America and your project appeals to the European market, it’s definitely a crowdfunding site to consider.

Ulule distinguishes itself with what it claims is the highest rate of successful campaigns for any crowdfunder: 65%. The company attributes this to its focus on personalized coaching, which it provides to all campaigners. Indeed, Kickstarter’s success rate is approximately half that of Ulule!

Best For…

Any sort of business can campaign on Ulule, though art-related startups seem to do particularly well.

How Does Ulele Work?

Ulule’s crowdfunding campaigns are structured like so:

  • Campaigns can last up to 90 days (45 is recommended)
  • All-or-nothing funding
  • Platform fees: 6.67% of all funds received via credit card, 4.17% of funds received via check or PayPal
  • ~3% payment processing fee

Ulule’s fee structure could stand to be less complex.

Ulele Rules

Launching a Ulule crowdfunding project requires passing two validation stages. Ulule really wants to make sure your plan is solid before letting you loose on the platform. If you are ultimately accepted, you’ll be assigned a “success manager” to help you with every stage of your campaign. Compared to most of the competition, particularly in the rewards crowdfunding space, Ulule is quite hands-on in its approach to campaigners.

How To Start A Ulele Campaign

Write Ulule an essay explaining why you think you’re worthy of their platform and send it to them in the mail.

I kid, I kid. Just apply online.


Ulule does things differently than most of the crowdfunding sites on this side of the pond. More consultation, more guidance. Does this approach jibe with your needs? If your company produces things that have Continental appeal, give Ulule a closer look.

Read our full Ulule review

Visit the Ulule website

Republicrepublic review

Republic (see our review) is, like Wefunder, a Regulation Crowdfunding platform — an equity crowdfunding outfit open to any and all investors.

Founded by AngelList alumni and considered to be an AngelList spinoff, Republic stands out for its public commitment to social justice. The company’s About page details their intention to help level the playing field when it comes to capital by prioritizing women, minorities, and others who the investing world has historically overlooked.

Best For…

Republic may have egalitarian aspirations, but equity crowdfunding is nonetheless best suited to companies with uniquely high-profit potential.

How Does Republic Work?

Republic’s equity crowdfunding campaigns are structured as follows:

  • 1-year funding limit
  • All-or-nothing funding
  • 7% platform fee
  • 3.5% payment processing fee for payments made via credit card

Republic Rules

Companies applying to Republic undergo a thorough evaluation before being allowed to raise funds. The following factors will be taken into consideration:

  • Experience of founders and management team
  • Products, services, and market
  • Revenue and growth
  • Customer base and demographics
  • Fundraising needs
  • Offering terms
  • Business plan
  • Financial health
  • Recordkeeping procedures

How To Start A Republic Campaign

Just apply online through the website.


Being an AngelList spinoff, Republic is already making waves in the equity crowdfunding world. Does its idealistic outlook match reality? The years to come should give us our answer. In the meantime, if you run an exceptional startup and you come from a historically-underserved community, Republic wants your attention.

Read our full Republic review

Visit the Republic website

Kiva USkiva logo

And now for something completely different.

Kiva US (see our review) doesn’t offer rewards crowdfunding or equity crowdfunding. What the heck do they do, then? They offer debt crowdfunding, otherwise known as crowdfunded loans. Kiva US is a nonprofit entity, and the crowdfunded loans it offers carry 0% interest. Not bad, eh? It may be the only platform in which lenders stand to make no profit whatsoever. Kiva’s mission is to open up the lending world to businesses that would otherwise struggle for funding. If you need $10K or less for your business and are willing to wait a bit for your money, Kiva’s crowdfunded loans just might be for you.

Best For…

Absolutely any sort of business can apply for a Kiva US crowdfunded loan.

How Does Kiva US Work?

Here are the details of Kiva’s crowdfunded loans:

  • Borrowing amount: $25 – $10K
  • Term length: 6 – 36 months
  • 0% interest
  • Time to funding: 1-3 months

Kiva US Rules

The only requirement to receive a Kiva US loan is that you put the money towards business expenses.

How To Apply For A Kiva US Loan

Yes, you apply online, but that’s only the first step to getting a Kiva loan. The entire process is as follows:

  1. Fill out an application online
  2. Enter the approval stage
  3. Enter a 15 day private funding period
  4. Enter a 30 day public funding period
  5. Get funds within 5 – 7 days

The process takes a while — certainly longer than with other lenders — but then again, crowdfunding with rewards/equity is hardly an instantaneous process either.


If you own a business, you need less than ten grand, and you want a loan you won’t have to pay interest on, Kiva US is your only funding option. Assuming you can wait a while before seeing any funds, there’s no reason whatsoever not to give it a shot.

Read our full Kiva US review

Visit the Kiva US website

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself looking for a crowdfunding site with more business-specific features than GoFundMe, the ten companies I’ve mentioned are all solid possibilities, depending on the nature of your business, its potential, and whether you want to offer rewards, equity, or debt payments with interest to your potential backers. Consider what makes sense for your business, then make the jump while you can! Your ideas won’t stay ripe indefinitely. Don’t wait too long!

The post GoFundMe Alternatives: 10 Sites Like GoFundMe For Business Funding appeared first on Merchant Maverick.


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 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.


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.


The Best Business Credit Cards For Travel

It can be really hard to be a road warrior. Frequent business travelers have to constantly endure the hassles of modern travel, including security lines, flight delays, and cramped airline seats, but they do it because it’s necessary to build and maintain client relationships or to further other company goals.

If there’s one tool that can make business travel a lot easier for you and your employees, it’s a small business card. The right small business credit card can offer travelers incredibly valuable benefits. For example, some cards will offer credits towards the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications, allowing you to skip the lines at security and immigration. A small business credit card can also grant you priority boarding, a free checked bag, and other airline perks. Finally, small business credit cards can offer you valuable points or miles that can be redeemed for travel rewards by you, your family, or even your employees.

Choosing The Right Small Business Card For Travel

The credit card industry is competitive, and there are many cards targeted at business travelers. To select the right card for your needs, you have to decide which features and benefits will be most valuable to you.

Travelers who are loyal to a particular airline will certainly appreciate the brand specific perks offered by hotel and airline credit cards. However, the reward miles you earn can only be redeemed for flights on that airline and its partners. And unfortunately, airlines have a habit of regularly adjusting their award charts to make their miles less valuable. Likewise, a hotel rewards credit cards can offer benefits such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and even free breakfast. But once again, the rewards you earn can only be used within that hotel chain.

Those who consider themselves “free agents” will often prefer the non-affiliate credit cards. Many of these travel reward cards offer points that can be transferred to airline miles or hotel points with several different programs, or can be used to book travel reservations directly with the card issuer’s designated travel agency.

Co-Branded Business Cards

Credit cards that are co-branded with airlines and hotels can offer the best travel benefits. For example, airline credit cards offer benefits — like priority boarding, free checked bags and credit towards elite status — when you travel on a certain carrier.


JetBlue Business Card from Barclaycard
Annual Fee $99
APR Variable, 17.24% or 21.24%
Signup Bonus 30,000 points
Rewards 6 pts./$1 spent on JetBlue purchases
2 pts./$1 spent at restaurant and office supply stores
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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JetBlue has attracted a loyal following among business travelers who appreciate its low prices, great service, and strong rewards program. This card offers new applicants 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening. You also earn 6x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and office supply stores and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Rewards don’t expire, and there are no blackout dates with this program.

Benefits include 10% of your points back every time you redeem, and the first bag checked free for yourself and up to three companions. You’ll be given 5,000 bonus miles each year on your account anniversary. You also receive TrueBlue Mosaic elite status when you use your card to spend $50,000 or more in a calendar year and a 50% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases. There’s a $99 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card from American Express
Annual Fee $450
APR Variable, 16.99% 25.99%
Signup Bonus 40,000 miles
10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for Delta purchases
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers several exclusive benefits when flying on Delta. You start with the chance to earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $3,000 in purchases on your new card within three months of account opening. This card also offers you 2x miles on all Delta purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. The Miles Boost gives you the chance to earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $30,000 within a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles once you reach a total of $60,000 in spending during the same year.

Other benefits include complimentary Delta SkyClub access, priority boarding, and a 20% savings on in-flight saving purchases. You also receive a companion certificate each year (upon renewal) that’s good for a free companion ticket (not including taxes) on a round-trip flight in economy or business class within the contiguous 48 states. Finally, this card offers you upgrade priority over other travelers with the same Medallion status who aren’t cardholders. There’s a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

United MileagePlus Club Business Card from Chase
Annual Fee $450
APR Variable, 17.24% – 24.24%
Signup Bonus 40,000 miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for United purchases
1.5 pts./$1 on all other purchases
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This premium travel rewards card offers both impressive rewards and benefits when traveling on United. New applicants receive a $100 statement credit after their first purchase and earn 2x miles on all United Airlines purchases. But one of the things that makes this card truly remarkable is the 1.5x miles earned on all other purchases — 50% more than you’ll get from any other airline credit card.

This card also comes with a variety of cardholder benefits that are equal to or better than most other airline cards. First, you receive a United Club airport lounge membership that’s valid for yourself and your immediate family, or up to two guests. When traveling, you also receive Premier Access travel services, which includes priority check-in, security screening, boarding and baggage handling. You’ll get two free checked bags for yourself and a traveling companion, as well as expanded award availability, a waiver of close-in award booking fees on United tickets, and the ability to receive Premier upgrades on award tickets.

Other travel benefits include Discoverist Status with Hyatt and President’s Circle Elite status with Hertz car rentals. There’s a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 16.99% – 24.99%
Signup Bonus 60,000 miles
Rewards 2 pts./$1 for American Airlines purchases, gas stations, and some phone and car rental services
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business card offers strong benefits when traveling on American Airlines. You start with the chance to earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 2x miles on all American Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.

Benefits include preferred boarding, a free checked bag, and a companion certificate each year when you use your card to spend $30,000 or more. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 16.49% 20.49%
Signup Bonus 25,000 points
Rewards 5 pts./$1 spent at eligible SPG hotels
2 pts./$1 spent at eligible Marriott hotels
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business card has a loyal following among award travel enthusiasts, primarily due to the strength of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. New cardholders can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. This card offers up to five points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels, 2x points at participating Marriott Rewards hotels, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Points can be redeemed for free nights at Starwood and Marriott Rewards properties or can be converted to miles with over 30 different frequent flyer programs. When you redeem four consecutive award nights, you get the fifth night free, and if you transfer 20,000 points to miles, you get a 5,000-mile bonus. Other benefits include free access to the Sheraton Club lounges and a chance to earn Gold Elite status by spending $30,000 on your card in a calendar year. There’s a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Hilton Honors American Express Business card
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 16.99% – 25.99%
Signup Bonus 100,000 points
Rewards 12 pts./$1 spent at Hilton hotels and resorts
6 pts./$1 spent on gas stations, wireless phone services, shipping, restaurants, flights booked via, and car rentals
3 pts./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers up to 100,000 Hilton Honors points as a sign-up bonus, and complimentary Gold status. New accounts can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening, and another 25,000 points after spending an additional $1,000 within the first six months. You also earn 12x points for purchases from Hilton hotels and resorts, and 6x points for purchases at US gas stations, on wireless telephone services from US service providers, and on US purchases for shipping. You also earn 6x points at US restaurants, on flights booked through, and on rental cars booked directly from select rental car companies.

Benefits include complimentary Gold elite status (room upgrades, points bonuses, and even free breakfast at some properties). You can upgrade to Diamond status after using your card to spend $40,000 in a calendar year. You also get a free weekend night reward when you spend $15,000 on your card during a calendar year, and a second weekend night reward when you reach 60,000 in purchases within the same calendar year. You’ll receive 10 free Priority Pass airport lounge visits valid at over 1,000 locations around the world. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

Unaffiliated Business Cards

Credit cards that aren’t affiliated with specific travel providers offer much more flexible travel rewards and benefits, while lacking perks with specific airlines and hotels.

Ink Preferred Card from Chase
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 17.24% – 22.24%
Signup Bonus 80,000 points
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone; and social media and search engine advertising (up to $150,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This card offers you valuable Ultimate Rewards points and numerous cardholder benefits. New accounts can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 3x points on your first $150,000 spent each account anniversary year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. You also earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Points are earned in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and can be redeemed for 1.25 cents towards travel reservations booked through Chase. Or, you can convert your points to miles with nine different airline programs or points with four different hotel programs. Other benefits include trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, cell phone protection, purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

American Express Business Platinum
Annual Fee $450
APR Charge card, no interest
Signup Bonus 75,000 points
Rewards 5 pts./$1 spent on flights and prepaid hotels booked via
1.5 pts./$1 spent on purchases of $5,000 or more
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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The business version of American Express’s premium rewards card offers many valuable cardholder benefits. New applicants receive up to 75,000 bonus points, including 50,000 points after spending $10,000 within three months of account opening and another $25,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 during the same three month period. You also earn one point per dollar spent on all purchases, with a 50% bonus on purchases greater than $5,000. Points can be redeemed for travel reservations with a 35% bonus on airline reservations. You can also convert your points to miles with 16 different frequent flyer programs.

Benefits include a $200 annual airline fee credit and a $100 credit towards the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications. You also receive access to the Delta SkyClubs lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, and American Express Centurion lounges. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

American Express Blue Business Plus
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 20.49% (0% APR for the first 15 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 2 pts./$1 spent on all purchases (up to $50,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on purchases after $50,000
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This is a simple card that substitutes superior rewards for other cardholder benefits. You earn 2x rewards on all purchases up to $50,000 per calendar year. Points are earned in the same Membership Rewards program that the Platinum card offers, but this card has no annual fee. It still comes with cardholder benefits such as extended warranty coverage and a purchase protection plan. However, it does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Spark Miles Card from Capital One
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 18.24%
Signup Bonus 50,000 miles
Rewards 2 miles/$1 on all eligible purchases
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This is a straightforward travel rewards card, offering miles you can redeem for any travel reservation. New accounts receive 50,000 bonus miles, worth $500 in travel, once you spend $4,500 on new purchases within three months of account opening. You earn 2x miles on every purchase, with no limits. To redeem your miles, simply purchase travel the way you normally would, and then use your miles for one cent each as statement credits.

Benefits include purchase protection and extended warranty coverage as well as numerous travel and shopping discounts offered by the Visa Signature program. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees.

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6 Platforms That Do Crowdfunding For Nonprofits

nonprofit crowdfunding

The crowdfunding industry continues to grow and expand as a means of soliciting donations, product sales, and investment, so it’s only natural that nonprofit organizations are looking to get into the crowdfunding game. In taking advantage of a crowdfunding platform’s fundraising and social media tools, nonprofits can bring their message to a much wider (not to mention younger) swath of the population than would otherwise be possible.

However, it’s not a simple matter of picking from a list of interchangeable platforms and getting started. Not all crowdfunding websites are created equal. Some crowdfunders are purely for creative/business projects and cannot be used for nonprofit fundraising, while other platforms specifically cater to the nonprofit market. Some platforms don’t let you collect the money you raise unless you hit your funding goal amount, while others let you keep whatever you raise regardless. Some platforms charge a percentage of what you raise as a fee (and some charge more if you fall short of your funding goal), while others charge a flat monthly fee to use their services. Some platforms facilitate the giving of rewards to your donors, while others do not.

Point being, your choice of a crowdfunding platform matters. We here at Merchant Maverick want to help you cut through the dizzying array of crowdfunding sites available by highlighting the crowdfunders best suited for nonprofit fundraising.

A Warning Before You Begin

It’s vitally important that you familiarize yourself with the laws regulating nonprofit fundraising in the state or states in which you will be operating. You may well have to register your charitable nonprofit with the state before you begin soliciting donations. If you’re looking to crowdfund for your nonprofit and you’re confronting these questions for the first time, I recommend starting by checking out the information provided by the National Council of Nonprofits and going from there.

It’s easy to find yourself unwittingly running afoul of fundraising laws if you’re unaware of them, so take caution!

1. GoFundMe

GoFundMe (see our review) is best known for hosting campaigns related to personal medical expenses and other tragedies. That’s what has propelled GoFundMe to become the world’s top crowdfunding platform in terms of dollars raised (more than 5 billion and counting). What’s less well known is that GoFundMe hosts nonprofit crowdfunding campaigns as well. On the subject of nonprofit campaigns (referred to as Certified Charity campaigns), GoFundMe states the following:

Certified Charity campaigns can be created by anyone, whether you’re a good samaritan wanting to support your favorite charity or an employee of a non-profit. A ‘Certified Charity‘ badge will appear on the campaign to give your cause an extra layer of verification.

Donations made to Charity campaigns are processed through PayPal Giving Fund, a 501(c)3 public charity (Federal Tax ID: 45-0931286). The Campaign Organizer doesn’t have to touch the money at all, and donors will automatically receive a tax-deductible receipt.

In order to launch a Certified Charity campaign, the outfit you’re fundraising for must be a 501(c)(3) US-based nonprofit organization. It must also be registered in PayPal Giving Fund’s database. If your 501(c)(3) nonprofit isn’t in this database, GoFundMe outlines how you can rectify that here. And if your nonprofit is based outside the US, GoFundMe asks you to contact them to discuss your options.

GoFundMe’s Certified Charity campaigns carry with them a 5% platform fee on the money raised. While GoFundMe eliminated their 5% platform fee for their US-based personal campaigns in late 2017 (and has subsequently expanded that policy to Canada and the UK), the platform fee still applies to nonprofit campaigns. Now, given the current trend in crowdfunding (and with GoFundMe in particular), I wouldn’t be surprised if GoFundMe eliminated the platform fee for its Certified Charity campaigns sometime in the future. For now, however, the 5% platform fee remains.

In addition to the platform fee, a 2.9% + $0.30 processing fee will apply to each donation made. Therefore, a total fee of 7.9% + $0.30 will be taken from each donation.

GoFundMe provides the following primer for those interested in starting a crowdfunding campaign for a nonprofit organization. Check out our full GoFundMe review for more information.

2. YouCaring

YouCaring is another crowdfunding site specializing in personal and charitable fundraising campaigns. Having facilitated over $900 million in donations since its founding in 2011 — and having recently acquired Indiegogo’s charitable crowdfunding spinoff Generosity — YouCaring’s profile is rising as a cause-oriented crowdfunding platform. Thankfully for you, they host nonprofit crowdfunding campaigns as well as campaigns for individuals.

YouCaring has one big advantage going for it vis-à-vis GoFundMe. Unlike their larger competitor, YouCaring charges no platform fees to the crowdfunding campaigns it hosts, including nonprofit campaigns. That’s 5% more funds going to your charity — not too shabby. Just keep in mind that you’ll still be paying 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction to the payment processor. You can use PayPal (see our review) or WePay (see our review) for payment processing, though YouCaring recommends WePay.

One drawback of using YouCaring compared to GoFundMe, however, is the fact that with YouCaring, your donors won’t automatically get tax-deductible receipts. The nonprofit in question will have to do this themselves by collecting their donors’ contact information through YouCaring.

While YouCaring doesn’t have as much nonprofit-specific information on their site as does GoFundMe, they do include this guide for setting up a WePay account under your nonprofit organization.

3. Razoo

Since its founding in 2006, Razoo (see our review) has been something of an all-of-the-above crowdfunder, hosting crowdfunding campaigns for nearly any cause under the sun: business crowdfunding, personal crowdfunding, team crowdfunding, and, yes, nonprofit crowdfunding. Recently, however, they seem to be paying special attention to capturing more of the nonprofit crowdfunding market.

In order for your nonprofit to directly raise funds on Razoo, it needs to be registered as a 501(c)(3) public charity in the US. However, if your organization doesn’t yet have 501(c)(3) status or is based outside the US, you may still be able to use Razoo for fundraising. To do this, you’ll need to find an organization willing to act as your fiscal sponsor. Razoo provides information as to how to do this here.

Razoo charges a standard nonprofit crowdfunding campaign 4% off the top as a fee, with an additional 2.9% + $0.30 per donation going to the payment processor. A standard Razoo nonprofit campaign will be paying slightly less in fees than a GoFundMe campaign. However, Razoo has recently unveiled a new feature exclusively for nonprofits: premium subscription plans that eliminate the 4% Razoo transaction fee and give your nonprofit unique fundraising software through which your organization can run a totally branded crowdfunding campaign.

Here are Razoo’s three nonprofit premium plans and their respective details:


  • $99/month, billed annually
  • No platform fees
  • Unlimited P2P & Team pages
  • Priority support
  • Donor analytics
  • Advanced CRM tools
  • Donor data collection
  • Data Connect integration
  • Branded donation page, donation receipts, and donation widget
  • Volunteer management


  • $249/month, billed annually
  • All of the above, PLUS:
  • Pro CRM tools
  • Advanced donor data collection
  • Email messaging
  • Branded P2P fundraising
  • Advanced white label controls
  • Custom subdomain


  • Contact Razoo for pricing
  • All of the above, PLUS:
  • Domain masking
  • Custom events
  • Dedicated project manager
  • Fundraising coaching

These aren’t cheap packages, so if you’re considering going this route, it’s best if you have some experience with nonprofit fundraising and have a reasonable expectation of funding success. If you do, these premium nonprofit packages offer a pretty compelling deal. Your organization will be able to host its own crowdfunding campaign — one operating under its own brand, not that of Razoo. Plus, you’ll have access to the advanced campaign features listed above.

Donors who contribute to nonprofit campaigns will immediately be emailed a receipt which can be used to claim a deduction on their taxes.

Read our full Razoo review to learn more.

4. FundRazr


Declaring themselves “Canada’s leading crowdfunding platform”, FundRazr (see our review) has facilitated the raising of over $116 million USD in their near-decade of existence. FundRazr hosts crowdfunding campaigns for personal causes, business causes, and, yes, nonprofit organizations. The company also has a great reputation among both campaigners and donors. In fact, FundRazr is one of the few crowdfunding outfits that proudly links to its Trustpilot page. That should tell you something.

FundRazr goes into exactly who can raise money on their site for a nonprofit organization here. Essentially, if you’re not an Authorized Officer of the organization in question, you’ll need to submit a Letter Of Subordination that expressly authorizes you to fundraise on behalf of the organization.

A nonprofit fundraising campaign on FundRazr will have to contend with fees equal to those of GoFundMe. There’s a 5% platform fee and a 2.9% + $0.30 payment processing fee. Sorry!

FundRazr doesn’t give a great deal of guidance for nonprofits looking to use their platform, so if you represent a nonprofit, you’ll want to get in touch with the company to iron out the details. One thing I can tell you, however, is that PayPal and WePay (available in the US, UK, and Canada only) are your options for payment processing.

Read our FundRazr review to get the full story.

5. CrowdRise

For most of its existence, following its founding in 2010, CrowdRise was a crowdfunding platform for both personal causes and charity/nonprofit fundraising. However, in early 2017, CrowdRise was acquired by GoFundMe. CrowdRise now directs all would-be personal campaigners to GoFundMe while focusing solely on crowdfunding for nonprofit organizations.

CrowdRise details the following requirements for using their services:

In order to become a CrowdRise nonprofit, [an organization] must first be a registered 501c3 in good standing with the IRS or a Canadian charity in good standing with the CRA, and have a valid listing on GuideStar (US) or Canada.Ca (Canada).

CrowdRise is somewhat similar to Razoo in that you can set up a crowdfunding campaign for free and pay a transaction fee on what you raise or you can spring for a paid subscription that reduces (or eliminates) the transaction fee and gives you access to special fundraising features. Here are the details on CrowdRise’s offerings:

Starter (the free-to-start no-subscription package)

  • 6% platform fee, 2.9% + $0.30 payment processing fee
  • Essential fundraising tools
  • Two active campaigns
  • Registration integrations
  • Recurring donations
  • Basic campaign theming
  • Email support
  • On-demand training resources


  • Contact CrowdRise for subscription pricing
  • 3% platform fee, 2.9% + $0.30 payment processing fee
  • All of the above, PLUS:
  • Unlimited active campaign pages
  • Custom branded URLs
  • Registration and ticketing
  • Custom transactional emails
  • Configurable donate forms
  • Text-to-donate
  • API access
  • Google Analytics integration
  • Salesforce integration
  • Fundraising minimums
  • Phone support with 24-hour response time
  • Success strategist and annual review
  • Live, web-based setup and training


  • Contact CrowdRise for subscription pricing and fees
  • All of the above, PLUS:
  • Complex campaign structure
  • Parent/child level campaigns
  • Adjustable donor fees
  • Phone support with 4-hour response time
  • Premier account management
  • Live setup, training and success planning
  • Success resources w/ live assistance
  • Quarterly success review

It’s unfortunate that CrowdRise doesn’t just list the pricing for premium plans on the website. Still, you get the idea. Pay a monthly fee, and you’ll get the platform fee reduced and gain access to special features you can employ in the course of your crowdfunding campaign.

At first glance, CrowdRise’s standard nonprofit crowdfunding campaigns don’t look too appealing, what with that 6% platform fee and the payment processing fees. However, when a donor pledges to a campaign on CrowdRise, they’re given the chance to cover these fees themselves — and, according to CrowdRise, most donors do just that. CrowdRise states that on average, 98% of funds donated to causes go to the campaigner due to this policy. If true, this is a very competitive rate indeed!

6. FirstGiving

FirstGiving is a fundraising platform wholly devoted to nonprofit crowdfunding. It’s somewhat similar in structure to CrowdRise in that you can fundraise for a nonprofit freely without a subscription or get a subscription which gives you access to more advanced features.

According to FirstGiving:

All donations made through FirstGiving are processed through our charity partner Global Impact, a 501c3 nonprofit, and are fully tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

No word on whether donors get sent a tax-deductible receipt or not.

Without a subscription, one can launch a crowdfunding campaign for “any of the 1.5 million nonprofits in the US” A “performance fee” of 5% and a credit card processing fee of 2.5% apply to what you receive; however, as with CrowdRise, donors are given the option of covering these fees when they donate, and FirstGiving estimates that 45% of donors do so.

As for the paid subscription packages, here’s what FirstGiving has to offer. Unfortunately, you’ll have to contact FirstGiving to get pricing estimates.

FirstGiving Pro

  • For small- to medium-sized nonprofits
  • Branded fundraising pages
  • P2P and event registration
  • Event management
  • Corporate gift matching
  • Comprehensive reporting
  • GiftWorks Cloud integration

Artez Enterprise

  • For large nonprofits
  • Fully customized fundraising and event pages
  • Built-in coaching tips
  • Predictive suggested donation amounts
  • Mobile optimized donation forms
  • Monthly giving programs

A Note Regarding Indiegogo

If you’ve cruised the internet looking for crowdfunding platforms that cater to nonprofits, you’ve probably seen Indiegogo (see our review) listed as one such platform. However, this was before Indiegogo sold its charitable crowdfunding division, Generosity, to YouCaring. As of March 2018, you can no longer launch a nonprofit crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo.

Final Thoughts

Crowdfunding for nonprofits isn’t as straightforward as crowdfunding for a business or for a personal cause. Thankfully, modern crowdfunding platforms make it easier than ever to navigate the legal complexities to help nonprofits raise money, whether you’re an officer of the nonprofit or not. Just be careful and make sure you’re doing everything by the book!

The post 6 Platforms That Do Crowdfunding For Nonprofits appeared first on Merchant Maverick.


The Best Cash Back Business Credit Cards

A business credit card is an incredibly valuable tool for small companies. It allows you to keep your business spending separate from your personal charges, and to extend purchasing power to your employees. Furthermore, the right small business credit card can offer you valuable rewards in the form of points, miles, or cash back.

The ability to earn points and miles has its benefits, but many business people still prefer to receive cash back rewards from their credit card. Cash back can be used for anything and is never subject to the whims of the airlines and hotels, which frequently change the terms and conditions of their loyalty programs to make points and miles less valuable. And with cash back cards becoming increasingly competitive, now is the time to look for a card that can offer you the most rewards for your business spending.

Which Kind Of Cash Back Card Should You Choose?

Cash back cards for small businesses can be divided into two different categories. First, there are the cards that offer a single rate of return on all purchases, typically between 1% and 2%. Then there are the small business cards that offer bonus cash back on specific qualifying purchases while earning just 1% on everything else. To make this more complicated, many cards restrict the total dollar amount of purchases each year that qualify for the bonus, and you’ll earn just 1% back on all subsequent purchases. These limits can be imposed based on the calendar year or the cardmember year.

Here’s a list of the best cash back business credit cards. First, we’ll look at the ones that offer strong rewards on everything you buy, followed by those that feature bonus rewards on some purchases.

Cards That Offer The Same Cash Back Rewards On All Purchases

Some small business owners are content to use the same cash back rewards credit card for all purchases and want to earn the highest rate of return they can without having to worry about bonuses. In the past, it was common for small business cards to offer a mere 1% cash back on all purchases, but that is no longer considered to be a competitive rate of return.

Today, the best small business cash back cards that offer the same rewards on all purchases will give you at least 1.5% cash back. Some of these cards will do so with no annual fee, but you should expect to pay more for cards that offer higher returns. It also makes sense to look at the benefits offered by these cards, as well as other possible fees, such as those for foreign transactions.

Capital One Spark Cash

Capital One Spark Cash
capital one spark cash select
Annual Fee $95 ($0 the first year)
APR Variable, 18.24%
Signup Bonus $500 cash back
Rewards 2% cash back on all eligible purchases
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Capital One offers a full line of small business credit cards under its Spark brand, which includes cards that offer points towards travel or cash back. The Capital One Spark Cash small business card offers you 2% cash back on all purchases, with no limits. New cardholders can also earn $500 in cash back after using their card to spend $450 within three months of account opening, one of the best cash back sign-up bonuses offered anywhere. Other benefits include free employee cards as well as quarterly and annual spending reports. Your purchases are also covered by damage and theft protection policies for their first 90 days, and an extended warranty that can add one year to your manufacturer’s warranty.

As part of the Visa Signature program, the Capital One Spark Cash also offers a range of travel and shopping benefits and discounts. For example, you can receive a third night free and premium benefits at luxury hotels around the world as part of the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel collection. The $95 annual fee for this card is waived the first year, and as with all Capital One cards, there are never any foreign transaction fees.

Capital One Spark Cash Select

Capital One Spark Cash Select
capital one spark cash select
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 14.24% – 22.24% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $200 cash back
Rewards 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases
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This card is very similar to the standard Capital One Spark card, but it offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee. Therefore, this card makes the most sense for those who have more modest spending requirements that don’t justify the annual fee of the standard Spark Cash card.

With this version, new cardholders can earn a $200 cash bonus when they spend $3,000 on their card within three months of account opening. It includes many of the same benefits as the standard Spark Cash card, such as purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. It’s even part of the Visa Signature program, which is rare for a card with no annual fee.

The Plum Card From American Express

The Plum Card from American Express
Annual Fee $250 ($0 for the first year)
APR No APR — charge card
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 1.5% discount when you pay early
60 days to pay purchases that you put on your card
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This small business card offers you cash back in a unique way. First, the Plum Card from American Express is a charge card, not a credit card, so you are required to pay your entire statement balance in full, every month. But when you make your payment within 10 days of your statement closing, you’ll receive 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases. Alternatively, you can take up to 60 days to pay your balance, but without receiving any cash back. This card makes sense for small business owners who may prefer to earn rewards some months and help manage their cash flow and extend payment at other times.

New applicants can earn up to $600 in cash back, but with a large minimum spending requirement. You will earn a $200 statement credit after each $10,000 you spend on the card, up to $30,000, within the first three months of opening your account.

Other benefits include extended warranty coverage and a purchase protection program. The card also comes with an account manager feature that lets you delegate a trusted individual that can manage your business card.

American Express small business cards participate in the OPEN Savings program, which offers discounts on purchases from FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, Hertz®,, and others. The $250 annual fee is waived the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card

Wells Fargo Business Platinum
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 22.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $500 cash back
Rewards 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases
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This card features 1.5% cash back on all purchases and has no annual fee. New accounts can earn $500 in bonus cash back after spending $5,000 within three months. Cash back can be applied automatically as a credit to your account or deposited to your eligible checking or savings account each quarter. Or, you can receive your rewards in the form of points that can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, or airline tickets, with a 10% bonus when you redeem your points online.

This card also features cash management tools and spending reports that are available online. There’s no annual fee, and you can add up to 99 additional employee cards at no extra cost. There are also no foreign transaction fees.

Cards That Offer Bonus Cash Back Rewards On Some Purchases

When you have a small business rewards card that offers you the same amount of cash back for all purchases, the most you can possibly get is 2%. But when your small business card offers you bonus rewards for buying certain items, it’s possible to earn as much as 5% cash back on some of the purchases you make the most. As a trade-off, you’ll only earn 1% cash back on all purchases that don’t qualify for a bonus.

Other factors you should consider when choosing one of these reward cards are which purchases will qualify for the bonus and any annual maximums on eligible rewards. For example, some credit cards will offer bonuses that are limited to qualifying purchases in the United States only, while others don’t have any restrictions transactions made in other countries. Furthermore, many of the most generous bonuses come with annual limits, after which you’ll only receive 1% cash back. These limits can be relatively large, such as $250,000 in annual purchases, or they can be limited to as little as $25,000 in qualifying purchases each year. 

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card By Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card By Citi
Annual Fee $0 (but must have a Costco membership)
APR Variable, 16.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 7 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 4% cash back at gas stations (max $7,000 per year)
3% cash back on restaurants and travel
2% cash back on purchases from Costco in-store and online
1% cash back on all other purchases
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Costco stores are known for their low prices on bulk goods, and this model also appeals to small business owners. The Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card from Citi is one of the strongest cash back small business cards that offers bonuses on many purchases. With this card, you can earn 4% cash back on your first $7,000 spent each year on gas purchases, including those from Costco, and 1% after that. You also earn 3% cash back on all restaurant and travel purchases worldwide, 2% cash back from all Costco purchases and 1% cash back everywhere else.

This card includes damage and theft protection that covers your eligible purchases for 120 days (90 days for New York residents) as well as an extended warranty policy that can add a year to your manufacturer’s warranty. You also receive worldwide auto rental insurance, travel accident insurance and access to a travel and emergency assistance hotline. There’s no annual fee for this card with your paid Costco membership and no foreign transaction fees.

Simplycash Plus from American Express

Simplycash Plus from American Express
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 13.49% – 20.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus None
Rewards 5% cash back on office supply stores and wireless telephone services (up to $50,000 per year)
3% cash back on a category of your choosing – see below (up to $50,000 per year)
1% cash back on all other purchases
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This small business card offers a high level of bonus rewards on some of your most frequent business purchases, and with no annual fee. You’ll get 5% cash back at US office supply stores and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers. You can also receive 3% cash back on the category of your choice from a list of select categories, including:

  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • Hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels
  • Car rentals purchased from select car rental companies
  • US gas stations
  • US restaurants
  • US purchases for advertising in select media
  • US purchases for shipping
  • US computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers.

The 5% and 3% cash back offers only apply to your first $50,000 in purchases each calendar year, and you’ll earn 1% thereafter. Note that the cash back earned is automatically credited to your statement each month.

This card also includes 9 months of interest-free financing on new purchases before the standard interest rate applies. Other benefits include a roadside assistance plan, a baggage insurance policy, and car rental insurance. Your purchases will be covered by an extended warranty policy as well as a damage and theft protection plan. There’s no annual fee for this card, but there is a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the United States.

Ink Business Preferred Card From Chase

Ink Business Preferred from Chase
Annual Fee $95
APR Variable, 17.24% – 22.24%
Signup Bonus 80,000 points
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone; and social media and search engine advertising (up to $150,000 per year)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This premium small business card from Chase offers Ultimate Rewards points, and you have the option of redeeming them for cash back or other options. New accounts can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn three points per dollar on your first $150,000 spent in each account anniversary year in combined purchases on travel, purchases, internet service, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. You can earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Points can be redeemed for one cent each as cash back or statement credits. Other options include transferring your points to miles with nine different frequent flyer programs or using points with four different hotel programs. Notably, your points are worth 25% more when you make travel reservations through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center. Finally, points can be redeemed for approximately one cent each towards merchandise or gift cards.

Also included in this card’s benefits are trip Interruption and trip cancellation insurance, and a cell phone protection plan. You’ll receive accidental theft and damage insurance, as well as an extended warranty policy that can add up to a year of coverage to your manufacturer’s warranty. This card has a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

The Ink Business Cash Card From Chase

The Ink Business Cash from Chase
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 14.49% – 20.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 12 months)
Signup Bonus $300 cash bonus
Rewards 5% cash back on office supply stores and internet/phone/cable purchases (up to $25,000 per year)
2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (up to $25,000 per year)
1% cash back on all other purchases
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This entry-level small business card offers you 5% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. You’ll earn 2% cash back on your first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Benefits include purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. When traveling, you also have access to travel and emergency assistance services, as well as a roadside dispatch hotline. There’s no annual fee for this card, but a 3% foreign transaction fee is imposed on charges processed outside of the United States.

The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard From Bank Of America

The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard from Bank of America
Annual Fee $0
APR Variable, 12.49% – 22.49% (0% introductory APR for the first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $200 cash back
Rewards 3 pts./$1 for gas stations and office supply stores (up to $250,000 per year)
2 pts./$1 on restaurants
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
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This small business credit card can offer you up to 3% cash back on some of your business purchases. You’ll earn 3% cash back at gas stations and at office supply stores on up to $250,000 spent each year, and 1% cash back after that. You also earn 2% cash back on purchases at restaurants and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

New accounts can earn $200 in cash back after spending $500 within 60 days of account opening. New accounts will also receive nine months of 0% APR financing on new purchases before the standard interest rate begins to apply.

Points are available for cash back after earning $25, and you can choose to redeem your rewards as a statement credit or have cash deposited into a Bank of America small business checking or savings account. There’s no annual fee for this card, but it does have a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Final Thoughts

For a concept as simple as cash back, there are actually quite a lot of different small business credit card offers available. It’s important to do your research and select the one that will offer you the most benefits. While some small business owners will need to choose between cards with bonus offers and those without, others may be able to maximize cash back by carrying at least one of each. Closely examine the features and benefits of each of the cards above, and you’ll have all the information you need to find the card that best meets the needs of your business.

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The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses


Say you have a small retail business. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in a super-complicated POS, and you don’t want to deal with a multi-year processing contract. Frankly, the idea of trying to narrow down the options in both categories at the same time is a little bit daunting. But enter another option: an app for a tablet (or even a smartphone) that bundles payment processing and POS software all in one go, with no contract or commitment. A single app with all (or at least most) of the features a brick-and-mortar storefront could want. But what are the best credit card processing apps for small retail businesses?

Cost is definitely part of the consideration, but more than that you need to make sure any software you use actually delivers the features you need to run your business. Most processing apps tend not to be as full-featured as a full POS, but they are capable of delivering on core needs. After we go over which features should be a priority, we’ll get into the most promising apps that let you process credit cards and run your business together.

Credit Card Processing Apps For Small Retailers

In addition to choosing apps based on the most useful features, we had two other criteria in choosing the apps: first, they had to be mobile apps for tablets (and preferably smartphones). Second, they must offer a bundled payment solutions. A couple of the options on the list allow you to bring your own processor if you want, but they do offer their own payment option as a default.

In no particular ranking, here are my favorite picks for retail-focused credit card processing apps:


Square business model and mobile credit card processingSquare does have a specialty POS app for retailers, called Square for Retail. That one doesn’t actually make the cut because it’s designed for larger businesses and it actually lacks many features found in the basic free app, Square Point of Sale.

Point of Sale has definitely come a long way from just a basic mobile POS app, and it’s absolutely a solution that will grow with your business. Its clear, transparent pricing strategy (2.75% for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions) and robust app make it an attractive option for retailers. But then there’s the assortment of add-on services (email marketing, appointment scheduling, loyalty, payroll and more) that all integrate seamlessly. Combined with the huge assortment of supported phones and tablets, and the wide mix of supported hardware, and it’s hard not to see the appeal.

While Square does offer payroll and employee management, these features will cost you more — $5 per employee per month for each.

Something I do want to point out: Square does have many iPad-only features, but much of its hardware is equally compatible with Android devices as it is iPads, which is a major departure from most apps that favor the Apple ecosystem.

PayPal Here

PayPal Here review: One of the top Square alternativesPayPal is an obvious choice for a lot of retailers, especially those who sell online as well as in person. If you’re not interested in eCommerce, PayPal is still a good option because it does integrate with some very well known POS systems. PayPal also has its own credit card processing app, PayPal Here.

While PayPal Here is not quite as robust as the other options on this list (especially regarding inventory), it’s a very stable app with great pricing (2.7% per swipe/dip/tap) and a wide array of supported devices and compatible hardware. It’s the only app on this list to support Windows devices at all, and the phones on your tablet or phone doubles as a barcode scanner for both Android and iOS. Plus, you get up to 1,000 free employee accounts.

Plus, near-instant access to funds through your PayPal account is a pretty awesome deal, especially if you get the PayPal Debit card. Add in free sub-user accounts with restricted permissions (something Square will charge you monthly for), and you can see why PayPal makes the cut.


Shopify started as an eCommerce offering but these days it’s added a powerful POS app that also works on smartphones as well as tablets. Everything syncs up nicely for a seamless experience whether you’re selling online, in a store, or even on the go, and while the smartphone version of the app is more limited, it’s still quite functional. Shopify’s features definitely line up more with a full-fledged POS than just a mobile POS.

Unsurprisingly, that means it’s a bit more expensive than the two previous options on this list. Shopify’s plans start at a very reasonable $29/month for its online store. If you want the countertop retail solution, that’s a $49 add-on per month, but you don’t need to purchase additional licenses to add more devices, which definitely ups the value.

You can also create staff PINs without creating staff accounts — which means if only a few of you need admin privileges but you do have a large staff and want to track who is running the register, you can get PINs without paying for additional accounts.

However, I do want to call attention to an underplayed solution Shopify offers: its Lite plan. For $9/month, you can sell on Facebook and other social media platforms, add a buy button to your blog, and use the POS app. The caveat is that you can’t add the retail package to it — which means while you have the app, you don’t have support for the receipt printer or cash drawer.


Like Shopify, ShopKeep is more of a full-fledged POS than a mobile unit. But unlike Shopify, it’s not an eCommerce solution. It’s an iPad POS targeting all kinds of small businesses: retailers, yes, but also restaurants and quick-service environments. ShopKeep specifically targets small and medium-sized businesses, whereas many of these solutions are happy to tout that they work for businesses of all sizes.

ShopKeep’s user interface is highly intuitive, but also feature-rich, which is a major contributor to its popularity. In addition to its advanced inventory tracking tools, you get employee time-keeping, customizable reporting, and more. It also has a record for excellent (unlimited) customer support via email or live chat.

Sadly, there’s no smartphone app support for processing, but ShopKeep does offer integrated payments. Merchants get an interchange-plus plan based on their volume, which is pretty awesome considering there’s no contract involved, either. Everything is on a month-to-month basis. There’s also an additional $69 monthly charge per register.

Honorable Mention: SumUp

While SumUp has a few limitations — it lacks, for example, the ability to process simultaneously on multiple devices — it is overall a solid credit card processing app. The app supports a solid item library and variants, plus convenient tax settings. While there’s no offline mode and no invoicing, SumUp does have an interesting feature in its SMS payments. The app allows you to send a text message to a phone, with a link embedded. Customers can open the link, enter their payment information and complete the transaction.

Pricing is identical to Square for retail transactions: 2.75%. There is no keyed entry option within the app, but the low-priced virtual terminal (at 2.9% + $0.15, even below Square’s rate) is a workaround, though not one you should use for the bulk of your processing.

While new to the US market, SumUp has been operating in Europe for a few years, so it definitely has experience in the processing industry, and so I expect it to see fewer growing pains than other new solutions.

Must-Have App Features for Retailers

It’s safe to say what app features a business needs tends to vary from one business to the next. But there are definitely commonalities — solid inventory management or the ability to print receipts, for example. Check out our comprehensive comparison chart below to see how these systems compare to one another. 

Square for retail review logo imageSquare PayPal Here Shopify Shopkeep SumUp
Integrated Processing Yes Yes Yes (Other options available) Yes (other options available) Yes
Processing Rates (for Most Swiped/Dipped Transactions) 2.75% 2.70% 2.70% Interchange-Plus based on volume 2.75%
Monthly Fee $0 $0 Plans start at $9/month $69 per register $0
Number of Devices Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 1 (additional registers $69/month) 1
Tablet Support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android Apple Apple, Android
Smartphone support Apple, Android Apple, Android, Windows Apple, Android N/A Apple, Android
Email/SMS Receipts Email/SMS Email/SMS Email Only Email Only Email/SMS
Receipt Printer Connectivity Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB Bluetooth, LAN, Wireless Bluetooth, USB, LAN Bluetooth, Ethernet Bluetooth, LAN
Cash Drawer Connectivity Yes (Tablet Only, With Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Star Printer Connectivity) Yes (iPad Only, with Printer Connectivity) Yes (With Printer Connectivity) Yes (with Printer Connectivity)
Barcode Scanner Yes (Bluetooth for iPad only; USB for Android) Yes (USB for windows, device camera for iOS/Android) Yes (Bluetooth) Yes (Bluetooth) No
Split Tender Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Offline Processing Mode Yes No Very Limited No No
Full and Partial Returns Yes Yes Yes (including store credit) Yes (Check store credit) Full Only
Sub-User/Employee Accounts Yes (monthly fee) Yes (free) Yes (PINS/accounts) Yes Yes (Limited)
Discounts by $ or % Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Customizable Receipts Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Generate Invoices Yes Yes Yes No No
Bulk Item Upload Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Counts Yes No Yes Yes No
Item Variants Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Item Photo Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Create Item From App or Dashboard Yes Yes Yes Yes No (App Only)

It’s worth mentioning that many of these systems have FAR more features that we don’t cover in this chart (think: virtual terminals, eCommerce support, supported integrations, etc.). If you really want to learn what a system is fully capable of, I recommend checking out our complete review of each credit card processing app.

Processing with Square or PayPal Here? Up Your Inventory Game with Shopventory

With retail environments, inventory is usually a major concern. Shopventory is a monthly add-on that works with Square, PayPal Here, and the Clover system (except Clover Go). It allows for inventory tracking and reporting, bundling, variants, and more. The biggest difference will be that you’ll no longer be using your credit card processing app for inventory reports or management. Everything will be done through Shopventory’s dashboard. Check out our Shopventory review for more information.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to software and processing, there isn’t a good one-size-fits-all solution for merchants. Every business’s needs are unique, so what works best for one business may not be good for another. Many of the credit card apps we’ve listed here have no monthly fees, and others offer free trials or a free pricing quote. They are all top-rated offerings, as well. The biggest difference you’ll find is the feature sets and little differences in the user interfaces.

If you’re on the fence about which to choose, I recommend checking out our full reviews of each product. Got questions? We’re always here to help, so please leave us a comment!

As always, thanks for reading!

The post The Best Credit Card Processing Apps for Small Retail Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.


Crowdfunding For Startups: 8 Tips For Launching

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startup crowdfunding

For a people who revere startup culture and the idea that one can bootstrap one’s way to business success, we seem to prefer the TV version to the real thing — especially as of late. It turns out that new business creation recently approached its 40-year low. Banks are retaining their Great Recession-era tight-fistedness and the costs of education, housing and healthcare continue daily to expand beyond the ability of most Americans to keep pace. Frankly, our veneration of the entrepreneurial spirit does not appear to extend to supporting policies that would actually increase people’s ability to take the financial risks required to start their own business.

Due to these factors — along with the legalization of equity crowdfunding accomplished via the passage of the JOBS Act in 2012 — crowdfunding has arisen as a means of raising startup funds. You may only be familiar with crowdfunding in the context of all the medical- and disaster-based campaigns that have been making the news lately, but crowdfunding is a viable way to raise money for businesses as well.

The fact is, for the right kind of new enterprise, a crowdfunding campaign can be a great way to raise a much-needed initial infusion of capital. The biggest crowdfunding site for startups, Kickstarter (see our review), has seen over $3.4 billion USD raised by product-oriented business projects. To be fair, this money didn’t just fall into the laps of the startups in question. Crowdfunding takes some work to get right. However, it’s hard to imagine that the campaigners who raised that $3.4 billion could have raised that same sum via conventional means.

Just know that you’ll have a lot of competition for those crowdfunding dollars. You need to go into it with more than just a good story (not to discount the value of a good story!) — you’ll need to tailor your campaign to suit your particular enterprise, and you’ll need to give your potential backers a personal stake in supporting you with the promise of rewards, profit, or both.

Here’s what you should do to prepare before you begin.

Table of Contents

1) Learn Which Type Of Crowdfunding Suits You Best

If you know anything about non-charitable crowdfunding, you’ve likely heard of Kickstarter and its rewards-based crowdfunding model. What you might not be aware of is that Kickstarter is but one method of crowdfunding available to startups.

Rewards Crowdfunding

Rewards crowdfunding is what most people think of when they hear the term “crowdfunding.” Along with Kickstarter, Indiegogo (see our review), Patreon (see our review), and GoFundMe (see our review) are examples of popular platforms offering rewards crowdfunding. I’ll get into the differences between these platforms later on, but suffice it to say, these platforms generally involve raising money from The Crowd in exchange for rewards that are directly related to your startup’s mission. The platform will then take a cut of what you raise (except in the case of GoFundMe).

Equity Crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding is a different beast entirely. The field of equity crowdfunding is a new one. It was legalized by the JOBS Act, which was signed into law in 2012 and whose provisions have gradually taken effect over the last few years. The JOBS Act was seen as a way to facilitate greater access to capital in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Equity crowdfunding differs from traditional rewards crowdfunding in that instead of backing a project in exchange for exclusive illustrations or a gadget or tickets to a performance, backers become investors who receive an ownership stake in the company. Investing is much more heavily regulated than rewards crowdfunding, so it’s a more legally complex way of raising funds than using Kickstarter. What’s more, the JOBS Act provides for two similar yet distinct forms of equity crowdfunding: the type in which you raise money from accredited investors only (which basically means rich people) and the type in which you can raise money from non-accredited investors (everyone else). Most equity crowdfunding platforms, including Crowdfunder (see our review) and Fundable (see our review), offer equity crowdfunding for accredited investors only, while a few upstart companies like Wefunder (see our review) offer equity crowdfunding for all (sometimes referred to as Regulation Crowdfunding).

Debt Crowdfunding

Debt crowdfunding, like equity crowdfunding, involves investing in a security of the company in question. However, with debt crowdfunding, the investor is a lender who gets paid back on a fixed schedule with interest. From the perspective of a startup, getting into debt crowdfunding means you’re borrowing money — not from a bank, but from a crowd of investors. Kiva U.S. (see our review), Lending Club (see our review) and Prosper (see our review) are all prominent debt crowdfunding outfits.

If you’re wondering which of these three types of crowdfunding best fits your startup, here’s a quick rundown for you:

  • Rewards crowdfunding is best suited to startups in the business of producing content for people to consume. Artists, gadget makers, podcasters, filmmakers, and board game producers have all made good use of rewards crowdfunding.
  • Equity crowdfunding makes sense for startups with exponential growth potential that do not produce a singular product or experience to share with a crowd of backers.
  • Debt crowdfunding is for startups that need cash for a defined purpose and that have the ability to pay back the loan.

For more information on the subject, I recently wrote an article comparing and contrasting these three types of crowdfunding. Check it out!

2) Research Different Platforms To Understand Their Differences

Simply knowing the difference between the three varieties of crowdfunding doesn’t provide enough information for you to settle on a platform. For one thing, crowdfunders like Indiegogo and Fundable offer both rewards and equity crowdfunding. For another, the terms, fees, content policies, and even the structure of the crowdfunding campaigns themselves differ from platform to platform.

For instance, you might be trying to raise funds to build your own board game company and have your sights set on Kickstarter. However, Kickstarter is a more exclusive platform than most rewards crowdfunders — it might not accept your campaign proposal. What’s more, you might find Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing funding policy intimidating. With all-or-nothing funding, if you raise less than your stated goal amount during the length of your campaign, you get nothing at all. You might find a platform like Indiegogo more to your liking, as Indiegogo accepts any campaign that doesn’t violate its rules while allowing you to collect whatever you raise with your campaign regardless of whether you’ve hit your goal.

Let’s say you’re an artist collective seeking to put on monthly art exhibitions. The Kickstarter/Indiegogo fundraising-for-a-one-time-event model of crowdfunding may not be for you. You might find Patreon to be a better fit. With Patreon, backers (or “patrons”) sign up to support you on an ongoing basis, either per month or per creation. You won’t have to gin up a new crowdfunding campaign every time you want to start a big project.

Likewise, equity crowdfunders vary greatly in their policies — SeedInvest (see our review), for example, boasts of only accepting 1% of those who apply to crowdfund on its site, whereas EquityNet (see our review) accepts any startup applying to use its services.

3) Check Out Other Crowdfunding Campaigns To See What Works (And What Doesn’t)

When you’re raising money via crowdfunding, you have one big advantage over those trying to raise money via other means. If you’re applying for a bank loan, you don’t get to browse through every loan application ever submitted to the bank or view the result of every application. But with crowdfunding, in most cases, the data is there for everyone to see!

Kickstarter is typical for a crowdfunding site in that every campaign ever posted to its website is left up permanently, regardless of whether the campaign succeeded or not. For the creator whose ridiculous campaign never really got off the ground, this permanent record of failure may not seem like such a boon. However, if you’re a startup looking to identify patterns in past crowdfunding campaigns that correlate with success — as well as patterns that correlate with not-success — this data is quite valuable indeed. I would strongly advise you to make use of it! Don’t be too proud to emulate what has been shown to work.

4) Be An Intensive Self-Promoter

If you’re the modest, retiring sort who spurns self-promotion, get ready to change your approach  — that is, if you want your campaign to succeed. Spend some time promoting your startup’s cause before taking the crowdfunding plunge (Indiegogo recommends at least two months of prep time before launch).

Do the legwork necessary to build up your social media following before starting your crowdfunding campaign, so that when you launch your campaign, you’ll have a built-in audience that is already receptive to your message. Contact journalists who cover your field. Build an email list. Consider buying ads on Facebook or Twitter to promote your campaign. Unfortunately, with crowdfunding as with so much else in our fallen world, you have to spend money to make money.

Remember to tailor your self-promotional efforts to fit your audience. If you’re looking to conduct business with accredited investors, a hard-nosed, data-focused approach may bear more fruit than a flashier look-how-cool-we-are campaign.

5) Create A Professional Video

I suppose I could have included this point in the previous section, but I think it deserves to be emphasized on its own. According to Kickstarter, posting a video to go along with your campaign increases your likelihood of ultimately succeeding from 30% to 50%.

Here’s another example of “spend money to make money” — a professional video with decent production values will make your potential backers more confident in the potential of your enterprise than something produced on the cheap. I’d love to live in a world where one could devote all one’s energies towards their true passions and not have to set aside time and resources for salesmanship, but we don’t live in that world. So, make a video. Keep it to just 2-3 minutes. You can get personal, but make sure to hit all your main points about your startup and its potential. Don’t forget to mention the benefits backers stand to earn!

6) Get Commitments From Backers Before Launching Your Campaign

It might not be fair, but it’s not easy to attract backers when your campaign first launches. An adverse first impression can easily dissuade someone from contributing to your campaign, and seeing “$0 pledged” next to your project can be enough to cause a prospective backer’s wallet to close. That’s why it’s important to line up commitments from backers before your campaign launches.

Time to make your family and friends prove their love to you by securing their backing before your campaign goes live! Gather commitments from your followers as well. Remember how I mentioned that you should build an email list of potential backers? Here’s where you can put that list to good use. Email your followers immediately when your campaign goes live. Get some pledges early and it will be all the easier to get subsequent commitments from backers. Data provided by Kickstarter backs this up — while their overall project success rate is just a hair under 36%, projects that raise over 20% of their goal have a 78% success rate.

7) Don’t Be Afraid To Use Analytics

The use of analytics is the only way you’ll be able to tell just what kind of traffic to your campaign page is converting to pledges. Use whatever analytical tools are available to see where your pledges are coming from and how you can boost them.

For instance, Kickstarter’s Project Dashboard gives you access to a trove of data regarding exactly where your backers are coming from. This data is invaluable when determining where you should focus your marketing.


8) Stay In Touch With Your Backers

Show your backers that you respect them by staying in touch with them. Keep them updated on your progress. After all, these are people who made a financial commitment to you knowing that there’s no guarantee that your plans will come to fruition.

Monitor social media chatter related to your campaign to see if particular concerns pop up repeatedly. If so, do what needs to be done to address these concerns. After all, you’ll want to stay in their good graces if you want to launch another crowdfunding campaign in the future!

Final Thoughts

Crowdfunding doesn’t work out for every startup that tries it. If you do your due diligence, however, you greatly increase the likelihood that your campaign will reach its funding goals. Follow these tips, and you’ll have a fighting chance to get the funding you need so that you can ultimately focus on growing your startup, not on fundraising!

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is a writer, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from San Diego. A native Californian who enjoys the beach, Jason nonetheless prefers to do his surfing on the World Wide Web, the raddest wave of them all. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers


Thank You Page Best Practices, Ideas & Examples

A visitor has taken some sort of action on your site… hurray!

Before you celebrate too much, let’s talk about your Thank You page.

The Thank You page is one of the most underrated pages on a website. We often focus so much on getting someone to take an action (like purchasing a product, signing up for a webinar, downloading a whitepaper) that we forget how valuable a Thank You page can be, or the effort we should put into it.

A Thank You page, when used correctly, can be a crucial part of nurturing your audience.

But before we dive into some best practices, let’s cover the basics.

What is a Thank You Page?

A Thank You page is where a visitor is taken after completing a desired action on your website. It’s also sometimes referred to as a “confirmation” page because it confirms an action was taken.

A Thank You page can follow up any desired action on your site, from filling out a contact form to subscribing to an email newsletter or purchasing a product on your site.

Do I Need a Thank You Page?

If you have some sort of action you want visitors to take (also known as a “conversion” in marketing speak), then you absolutely need a Thank You page on your website.

This page not only serves as a way to confirm the action was taken successfully, but it also allows you to continue to engage your visitors, especially while they’re still “warm” (sales jargon for they’re more likely to want to interact/do business with you).

A visitor who has just taken an action on your site is incredibly valuable because they’re indicating they’re interested in you and what you have to offer. An effective Thank You page is a way to further that relationship and keep that interest growing.

Plus, saying thank you after your audience does something on your site is just plain polite.

Thank You Page vs. Thank You Message

A lot of forms and landing pages include built-in functionality to display a confirmation message once an action is completed. This functionality generally keeps users on the same page and simply replaces the form/download button/purchase area with a thank you message.

While showing this message is enough to confirm the action, in most cases, it doesn’t do much for continuing to engage with your audience. This is where a dedicated Thank You page can do wonders for your post-conversion opportunities.

By leveraging an individual page instead of a message on the existing page, you have more flexibility and opportunities to increase engagement, share relevant content, and provide additional opportunities to convert.

For more about thank you pages vs. thank you messages, check out this article by Hubspot.

Thank You Page Best Practices

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the details. Here are seven Thank You page best practices you can implement on your own site.

Give Confirmation

The first thing your Thank You page should do is confirm whatever action your visitor just took was completed successfully. For example, if they’ve just subscribed to your weekly newsletter, your page might say something like, “Thank you for subscribing to our weekly newsletter.”

Your Thank You page should also confirm any relevant details relating to the conversion, such as how long it will take you to respond after they’ve filled out a contact form, or when they can expect to receive the whitepaper they’ve opted-in for.

ShivarWeb Thank You Page

Ex: ShivarWeb

Remember, this is someone who has indicated interest in your business. You want them to feel valued right off the bat and to know that the action they took actually worked. The best way to do that is to confirm all of the details as soon as they finish the conversion.

Include Navigation

One of the worst things you can do on your Thank You page is keep your audience stranded there. These are people who have just indicated they’re into what you have to offer, which means this is the perfect time to keep them hanging around your site!

At the very least, your Thank You page should include your website’s navigation to allow your audience to stick around and explore your site some more.

The Skimm thank you page

Ex: The Skimm

Provide Related Content/Actions

Aside from using your navigation to give your audience an opportunity to stick around, your Thank You page is also a great place to provide related content or additional actions your lead may find interesting.

For example, if they’ve just opted-in to a whitepaper, you could provide related content on the same or a similar subject. This is a great way to continue to “warm up” your visitors (AKA make their interest in you grow) without being overly sales-y.

You could also use this opportunity to lead your users further “down the funnel” (the next step closer to purchasing) by offering another relevant action. For example, Hubspot offers a free session to learn more about their software after you opt-in to download one of their guides.

Hubspot Thank You Page

Ex: HubSpot

If your Thank You page shows when a visitor has already taken a purchasing action, you can still use related content to keep them engaged. The easiest way to do so is to display related items they may also be interested in — Amazon is renowned for doing just that!

Amazon Related Items

Ex: Amazon

Add an Offer/Promotion

Did a customer just enter to win a free product? Why not offer a coupon code to encourage them to purchase something sooner?

Adding an offer or promotion can be an excellent way to encourage warm visitors to convert, or to increase the value of a converting customer by enticing them to purchase additional items.

Keep in mind that your offer should be something relevant to their action and worthy of their attention. You don’t want to come across as spammy over overly sales-y. You want to provide something that feels uniquely valuable to your audience and relates to whatever action they just took.

Get Social

Encouraging people to connect with you on social media is a great way to further connect with a warm audience.

Instead of just leaving links to your social profiles, take it a step further and tell visitors why they should follow you. What can they expect to see if on they follow you? News about your business? Tips and tricks related to the action they just took? Spell out the value and make it clear it’s worth it.

katelyn dramis thank you page

Ex: Katelyn Dramis

You can also use your Thank You page as an opportunity to spread the word about your business. This works particularly well for actions like webinar registrations and offer redemptions.

If your Thank You page is confirming an offer redemption or webinar sign-up, include social share buttons to encourage your converters to spread the word on social media with their friends. They obviously think what you have to offer is worth signing up for! There’s a good chance they’ll spread the word for you, too.

Show Off Testimonials

Even if your visitor has just completed a purchase, your Thank You page can still be a place of reassurance that you’re as great as you say you are.

Use your page as an opportunity to show off social proof, whether it be customer testimonials, the number of social media fans you have, or a quick stat or case study.

Your Thank You page should continue to warm your visitors and encourage them either to purchase down the road or to purchase again. Using social proof to help reassure them that you’re the real deal can help this process significantly.

Encourage Opt-Ins & Account Sign-Ups

A Thank You page is the perfect time to ask your audience to become a regular part of your community and an ongoing converter.

For e-commerce businesses, asking your purchases to create an account after converting can yield far more results than asking prior to purchase (and can reduce cart abandonment).

If your business doesn’t include the opportunity for customers to create accounts, you can still invite converters to be regulars by asking them to opt-in to your email newsletter on your Thank You page. Make sure you specify why your audience would want to subscribe to your newsletter — what is it you’ll be offering that makes it worthwhile?

Conclusion & Next Steps

Your Thank You page can be an amazing tool in your sales arsenal if used correctly. Don’t let all of your focus go toward the conversion — spend adequate time on your confirmation page and yield the benefits time and time again.

Start by taking a look at your own Thank You page. Does it confirm the action your visitor took? Does it offer opportunities to stay engaged with your business? If it doesn’t, start by introducing one way for users to continue to interact with you.

Remember, like all pages on your website, your Thank You page isn’t set in stone. Test one approach to adding some meat to your page (like adding related content or a call-to-action to follow you on social media) and see how it works. Then, adapt!


Top 3 Project Management Apps For Large Businesses

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Earlier this year I wrote a blog post describing the top three project management apps for small businesses. In the interest of fairness, I figured I should round things out and post a similar list, this time focusing on apps that can handle the demands of a larger business. I actually thought it might be a simple task, but it wound up being more complicated than I expected. Whereas small businesses might appreciate ease of use and simplicity, these things are potentially less of a priority in a larger company (though I would argue that good design lends itself to ease of use). Instead, comprehensive features that include time tracking, scheduling, and even invoicing are the order of the day here.

With that in mind, my criteria for selecting the following apps were price, breadth of features, and finally, of course, that “X-Factor” that makes these choices stand out from the crowd. I also considered whether or not the program has an open API, allowing you to develop your own apps and fully customize your experience.

Okay, enough of the intro! Let’s dive into our analysis of the top three project management apps for large businesses.

Table of Contents


Smartsheet review

Smartsheet (read our review) is one of the oldest kids on the project management app block, founded way back in 2006. Affordable and powerful, Smartsheet’s biggest strength is its scalability. It will feel immediately familiar to employees with knowledge of other spreadsheet programs (like Excel) and can be used in many similar situations. It’s not easy to use in a broad sense, but this is not an overly complex program and it has only a relatively small learning curve.


While not the cheapest project management app, Smartsheet is also by no means the most expensive. With an upper limit (for the “business” subscription) of $25/user/person, Smartsheet’s pricing scale ends where other, more expensive apps begin. There is also an option for Enterprise pricing, but you’ll have to contact Smartsheet to hash out the details on that one.

Breadth of Features

Smartsheet is far more than just a spreadsheet program or budgeting tool. Offering portfolio management, scheduling functions, and more, this is an app that covers almost the whole range of standard and advanced project management features. Importantly, Smartsheet also offers an advanced suite of reporting features to analyze every level of your companies inner workings.


Smartsheet has two major attractions for me. First, it looks and feels like a spreadsheet. If you have employees trained in Microsoft Excel or its competitors, Smartsheet will not provide a completely alien experience. That right there might be enough to counteract the fact that this is not exactly a gorgeous piece of visual design. The other big draw is the level of automation you can achieve with Smartsheet. Scheduling, task assignment, and more can be handled automatically, which reduces the chances of human error mucking up the works.

Open API



Podio (read our review) is a project management app that, though it could be shoehorned into a mom-and-pop style business, is really intended for use in enterprise-scale environments. At once user-friendly and complex enough to handle more large-scale requirements, Podio is designed to feel like a social media platform that also houses your daily schedule and task list.


Starting with a low-end price of nine dollars/user/month and topping out at $24/user/month (with enterprise pricing available), Podio is unlikely to break the bank relative to the competition, much of which starts in the $30/user/month region. I will say that, whereas with Smartsheet you could probably get away with at least some users subscribing to a lower level of service, with Podio, you may find it valuable for a larger percentage of users to work with the most expensive version. The advanced workflow and interactive dashboards alone would be worth the extra cost.

Breadth of Features

Offering time tracking, scheduling, and reporting features, Podio also pays more attention than most large-business-focused project management apps to communication. Using the aforementioned social media DNA to drive the look and feel of the app, Podio provides dedicated communication services, meaning that if your offices or employees are spread out over large distances, this might be the perfect app for you.


For me, the most pleasant surprise in Podio is the level of communication tools available. As I said, it is relatively rare to come across a developer that includes this kind of feature on an enterprise-focused project management app. Podio’s collaborative features are not just limited to in-company chat either; you can bring your clients into the conversation from within Podio itself. Neat!



Genius Project

Designed originally as a project management option for IBM systems, Genius Project (read our review) is an SaaS app clearly intended for large companies with multi-tiered teams working on several projects in tandem. Some project management apps (including a few on this list) are designed in such a way that pretty much any user can figure out use them, but many of Genius Project’s features are pretty clearly intended for only trained project managers to use.


While somewhat complex, Genius Project’s pricing scheme is intended to help you better tailor your subscription to your specific needs. Most employees accessing the app will need the Timesheet subscription, which currently costs around $20. Some may need the Team Member level, which runs in the $35 range. Finally, a few will need the more pricey, $45-ish subscription. It is worth noting that to acquire more accurate pricing, you will need to contact Genius Project directly.

Breadth of Features

If you can name a project management feature, Genius Project likely has some version of it available. From document management to workflows, from portfolio management to cost and resource tracking, from communication to reporting, Genius Project has covered just about everything. Importantly, though, not all users will have access to these features, so you will need to anticipate what each employee needs when deciding on what exactly to buy.


For me, the biggest attraction of Genius Project is that it is basically a one-stop shop for project management. You won’t need time tracking, chat, or even invoicing apps if you buy Genius Project. That might make the slightly higher price tag worth it.



Final Thoughts

Large businesses have different needs than smaller ones, especially when it comes to project management. The three solutions listed above provide enough scalability, advanced features, and API access to make them invaluable to a large or enterprise level organization.

Looking for something for a smaller team? Check out the Top 3 Project Management Apps For Small Businesses. Have you used and liked any of the solutions mentioned above? Let us know in the comments!

Wesley Kriz is a writer from the misty peaks of the Pacific Northwest, or as he prefers to call it, the Best Coast. He is willing to debate on almost any topic, but he is admittedly very stubborn, so beware. When not writing for Merchant Maverick, Wesley is likely thinking about Star Wars, or reading Lord of the Rings.