Should I Use Yelp for Business Owners?

We’ve all heard of Yelp. You might think of it simply as a helpful website that advises you to steer clear of that new Asian-Fusion place on Main Street (the service is terrible and you will get food poisoning). Based on how fellow customers rate restaurants and other businesses on a five-star scale, you can make decisions about whether various establishments are worth your time. You can even see pictures of locations, plates of food, menus, hotel rooms, and more.

But there is more to Yelp than just customer reviews of local services. On the other side of the curtain is a whole array of business tools designed to bring more customers through your doors. Functioning much like a social media account, Yelp for Business Owners lets you post pictures, interact with customers, and even buy targeted advertising to help grow your business. Ranging from free options that allow you to “claim” your business to paid subscriptions providing advertisements and high-quality video support, Yelp for Business Owners might be just the thing you have been looking for to give your business a boost.

But is it worth the expenditure? What can Yelp for Business really do for you? Read on to find out.

Do I Have To Pay To Create A Yelp Account For My Business?

Yelp for Business is free on the most basic level, but there are paid options if you want more features. Let’s take a closer look at the costs involved.

Free Tools:

The basic concept behind the free tools is that you can claim your business and establish a greater presence through Yelp. In many cases, your business will already be on Yelp, with positive and negative reviews, photos, and traffic already present. By claiming your own business, you will be able to gain some control over that content, including the ability to respond to reviews and add your own photos. In most cases, and especially if your business is already rated and reviewed on Yelp, there is no reason not to at least check this version of Yelp for Business out.

Self Service:

If you want to take advantage of Yelp’s proven popularity with consumers, you may find it advantageous to try their advertising service. The self-service option allows you to set your own budget for ads and will target people searching similar services to yours within your area. Yelp does not post their prices publically, but I found a general consensus among small business owners that pricing starts at $350 per month. Opting for this plan also allows for an “upgraded slideshow,” and removal of competitor ads when potential customers are looking at your Yelp page.

Full Service:

Signing up for the Full Service option gives you the opportunity to add a video to your Yelp profile, as well as a “call to action button” on your page. Both of these make your Yelp page stand out from competition, which could be valuable if there are lots of similar businesses to yours in your area. The Full Service package also includes support from Yelp’s own team of marketing experts, who will be on hand to help you craft your ads and deal with bad reviews and difficult customers.

How Easy Is It To Use Yelp For Business?

By all accounts, Yelp for Business Owners is very straightforward to use. It is easy to add photos and respond to customers on Yelp’s web platform. Designing an ad campaign is a little more difficult, but that mostly comes down to your own marketing decisions. So far, so good. However, if you do decide to sign up for Yelp’s advertising (hoping to take advantage of Yelp’s high trust rating with internet users), be aware that some things just aren’t possible. Hoping to set geographic boundaries for your advertisements? No can do. Want to specify particular keywords to direct traffic your way? Big nope there. So while the actual operating of Yelp for Business is pretty easy, the lack of things to do does not bode well for the app.

Are There Downsides To Using Yelp?

Well, we have partially answered that question already. The limitations on your advertising potential are a huge drawback for a platform that is supposed to be all about advertising for local businesses. Unfortunately, the bad news does not end there. In addition to being a little opaque in terms of usability, Yelp for Business is expensive. With prices starting at $350 per month and only increased from there, you will be paying exponentially more for Yelp than you would for Google, Facebook, or other ads. On top of that, I read reports from several users (read: most that I saw) claiming that it can be hard to determine just how effective those ads really are. Proponents of Yelp talk about the excellent reputation the site has with consumers and how often users visit an establishment once they look it up on the site. But actually finding how those statistics apply to small business owners can apparently be rather difficult.

On top of that, Yelp’s customer service reps can be charitably described as… persistent. I ran across more complaints about this aspect of Yelp for Business Owners than any other. Once you make it known to Yelp that you might be interested in an advertising contract, they push for it hard, even to the point of insisting that a higher price will be so beneficial to your business that you can’t afford not to give in and sign up. As a small business owner myself, I can’t imagine the frustration of continually having to defend my own decision to limit my budget below what a sales rep thinks is wise. After all, the business is mine.

Final Thoughts

Yelp is a proven platform that users–your future customers–trust almost implicitly. That said, Yelp for Business can be expensive, on the opaque side, and possibly less effective than advertised. My own take on it is this: signing up with Yelp for Business Owners is worthwhile if you already have a significant following on the platform. If your business already has positive reviews and has a decent history, you may as well at least claim your business on Yelp and upload some official photos. It might even be worth it to give in and pay for some ads. Just make sure you have a strategy in place for using Yelp for your business marketing.

If your business is brand new and has little to no Yelp presence, you may not want to go beyond confirming your business. At the very least, you should wait for a more established footprint on this review site before paying at all for their advertising; your money will just be better used elsewhere.

Get Started With Yelp For Business Owners

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Stripe VS Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

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

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

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

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

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

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

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

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

Stripe’s additional tools include:

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

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

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

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

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

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

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

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

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

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

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

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

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

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

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

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

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

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

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use GoFundMe To Fund A Business In 8 Steps

go fund me for business start up

With over $5 billion raised on the platform since its inception in 2010, GoFundMe has a reputation for helping to cover the costs of personal emergencies in a world where most of us are just one missed paycheck away from ruin. But while the company has become synonymous with charitable crowdfunding, you might not realize that GoFundMe can be used to fund a business as well. Want proof? Here are the categories you can choose from when creating your GoFundMe campaign:

 

go fund me for business

Now, don’t get me wrong: If your entrepreneurial venture is a high-tech startup with exponential growth potential, or if you’re creating the next tabletop gaming sensation, you’re going to be better off going with a more commercially-oriented crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter (see our review) or Indiegogo (see our review), or perhaps one of the new equity crowdfunding sites that have popped up in recent years.

However, for the right kind of startup business — preferably one with a local/community focus and with a compelling story to tell about overcoming adversity — GoFundMe is an attractive fundraising option. One big reason? GoFundMe charges no platform fee to individual campaigns launched from the US, UK, and Canada. The typical crowdfunding site takes 5% of what you raise.

I’ll give three real-world examples of people using GoFundMe to fund a business and finding success.

  • Two Detroit students raised $3,000 to fund their socially-conscious waffle cookie company
  • Owners of a San Francisco restaurant raised $50K to get out of debt
  • A veteran raised $2,000 to start his own motorcycle repair shop

Read on for the eight steps you should follow to get money from GoFundMe to start your own business.

1) Make Sure Your Business Is Right For GoFundMe

Before you go about using GoFundMe to start a business, consider whether your startup is a good fit for GoFundMe. Many of the startups currently using crowdfunding to great effect are in industries that thrive on platforms like the aforementioned Kickstarter: makers of apps, gadgets, and games who typically don’t have an offline presence in the form of a restaurant or shop. Likewise, Patreon (see our review) has become a leading crowdfunder for podcasters, musicians, graphic artists, and other creatives whose work is easily disseminated online.

Crowdfunding with GoFundMe is a different matter, however. Donors tend to contribute to GoFundMe campaigns not to get in on the latest tech trend or trendy tabletop game, but to make a positive difference in the life of people in need or to benefit their community as a whole. Look at the sort of businesses that have had successful GoFundMe campaigns and you’ll note that they typically feature some combination of a) a business that has a positive impact on public life in a community and b) an entrepreneur/business owner with either a sympathetic and compelling personal story to tell or a mission related to charity or social justice.

If neither a) nor b) applies to you and your business, you’d be better off seeking funding from one of the other crowdfunding outfits I’ve mentioned. If at least one of the two does apply to your efforts, you stand a decent shot at making GoFundMe work for your business.

go fund me for business

2) Develop A Business Plan & A Realistic Funding Goal

Have a business plan ready before you start publicly campaigning for money. In particular, make sure you set a funding goal that you expect to actually be able to meet. Define exactly what it is that you plan to do with the money you expect to raise so that in the event you reach your funding goal, you know what to do next.

Of course, all the best-laid plans on Earth won’t help you if you don’t actually raise any money. One way to increase your chances of crowdfunding success is to offer cool rewards to people who donate to your campaign.

3) Offer Multiple Reward Tiers

Remember when I said that GoFundMe donors are motivated mainly by the desire to do good? This may be the case, but you’re still competing for the limited attention of donors with all the other campaigns listed on the site. This is when rewards come into play.

With GoFundMe, as with Kickstarter and many other crowdfunders, you can offer multiple levels of rewards to those who contribute to your campaign. This means that you can offer increasingly higher-value rewards to people who donate larger amounts of money. My advice would be to take advantage of this crowdfunding feature and offer multiple reward tiers to your would-be donors. Give people a reason to feel invested in your success!

While branded trinkets and t-shirts might draw some people in, rewards that give people a taste of your product or service are even better. Offer discounts, coupons and/or gift cards for whatever you have to offer. Get people in the habit of frequenting your business and they’ll be more likely to give you their business on an ongoing basis.

4) Refine Your Campaign Pitch

When creating your GoFundMe campaign page, you’ll obviously want to make it as appealing as possible.

  • Post A Fun Campaign Video: Keep it to around two minutes so you don’t lose viewers’ fickle attention, but don’t be afraid to show a personal touch, as people prefer authenticity and humor to slick sales pitches. You should at least allude to the personal challenges you’ve faced in growing your business. After all, this is GoFundMe, where tugging at the ol’ heartstrings is expected.
  • Make Your GoFundMe Campaign Page As Attractive As Possible: Use high-resolution images to promote your campaign. Preferably images that feature both you and your place of business. Remember: the personal touch is key.
  • Write A Descriptive Title: Try to summarize what your campaign is all about with one phrase. Don’t just write “Business Needs Help” — that doesn’t tell anyone anything or capture their interest. A good, catchy title can help distinguish your campaign from the thousands of others like it!

5) Seek Support From Friends & Family Before Launch

Not to diminish the importance of marketing your campaign to the public at large, but your most important source of support is likely to be your personal network: friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. Not only are they likely to contribute a significant proportion of what you raise, but it’s essential to secure their support before your campaign goes public. That way, when you launch your campaign, strangers who come across it won’t see “$0” as the amount raised. Success breeds success, and it’s easier to attract public support when you’ve already secured a decent chunk of funding.

You can have family members donate anonymously if you don’t want people knowing how much of your support comes from relatives!

6) Market Your Campaign Via Social Media & Email

To build buzz around your GoFundMe campaign, you’ll need to market it on your social media channels. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like to spread the word about your story and your campaign. If you can, try to collect the email addresses of those interested in your campaign in order to build a mailing list in which you can give updates on your business’s progress and whatever other behind-the-scenes material you like. You can use services like MailChimp (see our review) to keep your followers updated with attractive template-based emails in which you can detail your progress.

Try to develop some press contacts as well. This way, when you’re ready to launch, you can alert them ahead of time.

7) Keep Everybody Updated After Your Campaign Launches

There’s a reason it’s called a campaign — you have to work hard to keep the contributions flowing! The uncomfortable truth is that most crowdfunding campaigns, whether they be for business or personal causes, don’t reach their funding goals. If you want to beat the odds, a compelling story and a nifty video won’t be enough. You’ll need to work on your campaign continuously as if it were your job.

Once your campaign is in full swing, keep everyone informed with frequent updates. Don’t just post updates to your GoFundMe page — make sure to send out updates through all your social media channels as well. Go ahead and get personal with your updates. Don’t just rattle off a list of statistics. Document your continuing personal involvement in your campaign for business funding. Be sure to respond to anyone with questions about what you’re doing, both on your GoFundMe page and on social media.

8) Stay Engaged With Your Backers Post-Campaign

Let’s say you overcome your challenges and meet your funding goal. Fantastic! Now, what are you going to do with the contacts you’ve made, the followers you’ve attracted, and the mailing list you’ve started? If you want your business to thrive, you won’t just let them drift away.

Consider an email drip campaign to keep your contacts appraised of your latest doings and to offer special promotions. Stay active on the social media channels you used to such great effect during your campaign. Maintain the relationships you developed with your first customers, as these people will be your most important evangelists, spreading the good word about your business and the friendly, personable owner who treated them so nicely.

In this lonely, atomized world we unconscionably created, people long to experience community. Provide them with one, and they will reward you.

Final Thoughts

Crowdfunding is hard. As I mentioned at the start of this article, most crowdfunding campaigns fail. There’s a reason why crowdfunding hasn’t solved the problems of startup undercapitalization or bankruptcy-inducing medical expenses. However, if you prepare beforehand, build a community of supporters, and approach the task like a job, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success when using GoFundMe to start a business.

Check out the links below to learn more about GoFundMe.

Read our full GoFundMe review

Visit the GoFundMe website

The post How To Use GoFundMe To Fund A Business In 8 Steps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Credit Card Reader For Your Small Business

So you want to use your cell phone or tablet to start accepting payments for your business. Whether this is your first time around or you’re just wondering if it’s time to update that old credit card reader you’ve had for four years, there’s certainly a lot to consider. What kind of technology is out there? How much does a cell phone credit card reader cost? Should I get a credit card machine and POS instead? Which are the best credit card readers?

I’ve seen a lot of mobile card readers in my time. And the first thing to understand is that the card reader is tied to the mobile processing app (mobile point of sale, or mPOS for short). Sadly, we can’t just mix and match one card reader with another app. So before anything, you need to look at the software and make sure it’s a good fit for your needs. You should also check the processing rates and the cost of the hardware.

Apart from aesthetics, the reality is there aren’t a lot of differences between one card reader and the next. They all have the same core features, and they all use the same sort of security. Reliability is as much a product of the app design as it is the hardware design, sometimes moreso. So while you do want a good, affordably priced credit card reader, you should first narrow down the list of potentials using the software as your main criteria. Once that’s done, you can take a closer look at all the hardware.

If you are curious about what your hardware options are, read on! I’ve compiled a list of the most popular credit card readers and their specs. Make sure you read our reviews for each mobile app so that you understand the drawbacks and shortcomings of each as well as all the advantages.

But first, let’s set the record straight.

Credit Card Reader vs. Credit Card Machine: Know Your Terms

So what’s the difference between a credit card reader and a credit card machine? While it’s certainly possible that you might encounter some people who use the terms interchangeably, “credit card reader” is generally the term for small mobile devices that connect to smartphones and tablets and process transactions through a mobile app. This connection can be physical or wireless. However, the smartphone or tablet typically has to also have either cellular signal or a Wi-Fi connection.

A credit card machine (also called a credit card terminal) is larger, not mobile, and generally connects to a full-fledged POS. They may or may not have an integrated receipt printer or a PIN pad device for customers. Credit card machines require a connection to either a phone line or the Internet to function. Some machines are capable of wireless Internet connections, but they do add to the cost.

The biggest difference between a credit card reader and a credit card machine is price, though. A mobile card reader can cost anything from $10 to about $80, whereas the typical entry-level price for a machine is about $120. However, depending on what features are included, a credit card terminal can cost $600 or more.

Types of Credit Card Readers for Phone & Tablet

When categorizing credit card readers, you need to consider two criteria: how the device connects to your phone or tablet, and which payment methods the device accepts (we’re not talking about manual entry options just yet).

Phone Connection Options:

  • 3.5mm/Headphone Jack: Most of your entry-level credit card readers will connect to a phone or tablet via the 3.5mm headphone jack. However, it’s worth noting that this design is slowly fading out. Part of the driving force is Apple’s removal of the headphone jack from its iPhones, but I think it’s also a result of our overall shift toward wireless. It’s worth pointing out that both Square and PayPal have Lighting to 3.5mm headphone jack adapters that will allow you to continue to use their magstripe readers.
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth readers are becoming increasingly common. They’re compatible with both iOS systems, they’re secure, and they allow for some sophisticated card reader designs. The one downside to Bluetooth readers is that they can run low on power quickly if they’re always connected without a “sleep” mode.

Generally speaking, credit card readers for smartphones and tablets support one of these connection methods, but not both. There’s always an exception to the rule, however. With Apple moving toward Lightning ports for everything, it’s worth getting a Bluetooth device, which will ensure that no matter what smartphone or tablet you get in the future, the card reader will be able to connect.

Supported Payment Methods

  • Magstripe: Until 2015, magstripe transactions were the only form of credit card payment commonly accepted in the US. Magstripe transactions (also referred to as swipe transactions because they are made by swiping the card through a terminal or card reader) are still supported, but becoming superfluous as other, more secure payment methods become available.
  • EMV: In October 2015, a major liability shift occurred, shifting responsibility for fraudulent swipe transactions onto merchants, if that card had an EMV chip and the merchant did not have an EMV-enabled credit card reader. As a result, you probably saw a surge of chip cards appear, and payment processors rushed to introduced new hardware capable of processing chip card transactions. Chip cards are more secure and can help reduce in-person fraudulent transactions.
  • NFC/Contactless: Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and all of the other “Pay” apps you’ve seen rely on NFC (near-field communication) technology. Transactions are often called contactless or “tap” transactions.

All mobile card readers on the market accept some combination of these three payment methods. As a merchant, it’s important that you are able to process EMV transactions to protect yourself against liability for fraudulent transactions.

Card Readers for iOS vs. Card Readers for Android: Is There a Difference?

Generally speaking, mPOS apps tend to offer more features to tablet users, especially iPads. But apart from enhanced features for tablets, there usually isn’t much difference between apps for iOS vs. apps for Android.

The same goes for mobile card readers. Unless the app itself is built to function only on one operating system, a card reader for iPhone or iPad works with an Android phone or tablet. So if your business has a mix of Android and iOS devices, you can use your hardware on both. You’ll just have to worry about pairing and re-pairing any Bluetooth devices as needed.

Now that we’ve identified the defining traits of credit card readers, let’s look at the mobile card readers from the most popular mPOS systems: Square and PayPal.

Square Credit Card Readers

Square (read our review) is definitely a leader in the mPOS industry, both for its software and hardware. It was one of the first mobile systems to embrace chip cards and it seems to put a high priority on keeping its hardware affordable.

The one piece of Square hardware that we haven’t included here is the Square Register, which is more of a full-fledged POS than a mobile system. Check out our full review of Square Register for a closer look at the system.

Square Magstripe Reader

If I wanted to be extremely hyperbolic, I would say that Square’s magstripe reader is synonymous with mobile processing. Instead, I’ll just say that the white and boxy device certainly is iconic. The overall design hasn’t changed in years. Available for free if you order directly from Square or $9.99 at retail stores such as Staples (Square will reimburse you later), this entry-level device connects via the headphone jack, and as the name says, handles magstripe transactions only.

  • Cost: Free ($9.99 reimbursed if bought at a retail location)
  • Connection: 3.5mm
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe

Square Chip Card Reader

If you just glance at the Square Chip Card Reader (read our unboxing review), you might not notice any immediate differences between the magstripe reader and the chip card reader. That’s because Square didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. The Chip Card Reader is slightly thicker than the original, with an extra slot for inserting the chip end of a credit or debit card. Unlike the magstripe reader, you need to periodically charge this model. Square sells the Chip Card reader for $29, which is, all considered, a pretty good price for a device that can handle magstripe and EMV transactions.

  • Cost: $29
  • Connection: 3.5mm
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

Square Contactless & Chip Card Reader

The Contactless and Chip Card Reader from Square doesn’t exactly break the mold as far as design: White, boxy, with Square’s logo set into it. What’s that expression? If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it?

Unlike the previous two card readers, the contactless and chip card reader relies on a Bluetooth connection to process transactions. And it doesn’t support magstripe cards at all. To get around this, Square includes a magstripe reader in the package as well.

The contactless and chip reader sells for a very reasonable $49, but if the upfront investment makes you cringe a bit, Square also offers an installment plan that will allow you to pay off a portion of the cost each week. Expect to pay a little bit more in the long term as a trade-off for the convenience of the installment plan, but it’s nowhere near as bad a hardware lease program from a traditional merchant account.

The contactless and chip reader is a slim, slick little device and you can certainly use it in a handheld mobile situation. But Square also sells a clever little dock to charge the device and still allow you to use it. The dock goes for $29 on its own, but it is optional.

  • Cost: $49 (dock available for additional $29)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: EMV, NFC/Contactless (separate magstripe reader included)

Square Stand

The Square Stand isn’t really a card reader — it’s an iPad stand with an integrated magstripe reader. But it was one of the devices that helped make Square so popular with merchants. These days Square sells the stand with a contactless and chip card reader plus the dock. But it merits a mention here because it shows that mobile card readers can also be used in countertop/retail setups. Square even sells bundles and kits with everything you need to get set up.

The Square Stand plus the card readers will run you $169, which is less than you’d pay for all the individual components — the stand ($99 originally). The contactless and chip card reader ($49), and the dock ($29). Bundles that include a cash drawer and receipt printer start upwards of $500, not including the iPad.

  • Cost: $169
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: EMV, NFC, Magstripe (integrated into tablet stand)

PayPal Credit Card Readers

The other major name in the mPOS space (and commerce in general) is PayPal. The company’s mobile processing app, PayPal Here (read our review), isn’t quite as full-featured as Square, but you’ll find a lot of similarities between the two, especially as far as business model.

PayPal Mobile Card Reader

PayPal’s mobile card reader is a standard magstripe reader with a headphone jack connector. While the color has changed from PayPal blues to black, the overall shape hasn’t: it’s still a simple and quite stable triangle that connects via a headphone jack. There’s no frills or fuss here.

PayPal used to offer the mobile card reader for free through its website, but that’s no longer the case. It’ll cost you $14.99 to get started, though it’s worth the extra money to upgrade to at least an EMV reader.

  • Cost: $14.99
  • Connection: 3.5mm
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe

PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader

PayPal’s Chip and Swipe reader is a step up from its Mobile Card Reader, with a sleek rectangular design. It’s about the size of a credit card and slim at just half an inch thick. Plus, $24.99 for a Bluetooth device that accepts both EMV and magstripe, makes it one of the more affordable options for card readers, especially if all you need is mobile support.

  • Cost: $24.99
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

PayPal Chip & Tap Reader

If you want more than just magstripe and EMV support, PayPal also sells a Chip and Tap reader that allows you to accept Apple Pay, Android Pay, and other contactless methods. The Chip and Tap reader looks quite a bit different from the Chip and Swipe reader. Though it’s still black, it’s boxy and measures 0.75 inches in depth.

I actually hate to say this, but the PayPal reader reminds me a bit of Clover Go’s all-in-one reader, just more refined. And unlike the Chip and Swipe reader, this design is meant for both mobile and countertop use — and PayPal offers a charging dock for those who are interested in a countertop setup.

Alone, the reader sells for $59.99, but a bundled kit with the reader and dock sells for $80 (PayPal indicates that’s a markdown from $89.99 on its website). I don’t see the dock listed for sale separately, but I would assume it would sell for $30 on its own.

  • Cost: $59.99 (bundle available for $79.99)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

PayPal Chip Card Reader

PayPal’s Chip Card Reader was actually the first EMV-enabled reader the company offered, and it wasn’t PayPal’s own design. The reader is actually a branded Miura M010, which has also previously been offered by Square, and is still available from Shopify as well.

The Chip Card Reader is a handy little mobile reader, but you can get a dock for it and mount it in a countertop setup (at least, until PayPal possibly phases this device out of its lineup). Despite its rather bland name, this reader accepts magstripe, EMV, and NFC/contactless payments. However, it comes at a steep price $79, which is still less than the original $150 it sold for. It’s worth noting that despite the PIN pad, it doesn’t support PIN entry because PayPal Here doesn’t support debit transactions.

  • Cost: $79
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

Alternatives to Square & PayPal Readers

While Square and PayPal are certainly two of the biggest names, they’re not the only options if you need a mobile credit card reader. Let’s take a look at some of the other processors and what hardware they offer.

Shopify

Shopify is mostly associated with eCommerce, but it’s moved toward an all-in-one approach that includes a POS (read our review). The full-fledged POS package is designed for a countertop setup and syncs with your Shopify store. However, for a very reasonable $9/month, you can get the Shopify Lite plan, which supports sales through social media and a buy button on your own website, as well as access to the mobile POS. Keep in mind that this is designed almost exclusively for retail environments. For mobile users, though, Shopify offers two readers.

Shopify Tap, Chip & Swipe Reader 

I mentioned before that PayPal’s Chip Card Reader is actually made by another company and is called the Miura M010. Shopify licenses the same device and calls it the Tap, Chip and Swipe reader.

Again, you have a Bluetooth connection with support for magstripe, EMV, and contactless transactions. Shopify sells the reader for $89, which is on the higher end of things. The dock sells for $39. However, the reader is well designed and very functional, and if you want to accept Apple Pay and other “Pay” apps with Shopify, it’s the only option.

  • Cost: $89 (dock available for $39)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

Shopify Chip and Swipe Reader 

Shopify’s Chip and Swipe Reader is a sleek white device. As the name implies, the reader can handle both magstripe and EMV transactions, but not contactless/NFC. I like that it comes with a dock charging dock by default, instead of as a pricey add-on.

The retail price for the reader is listed as $29, but as I am writing this, Shopify is offering it for free. The Chip and Swipe Reader is easily one of the more beautiful card readers I’ve seen, as well as innovative and well priced.

  • Cost: $29
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

Payline Mobile

Payline Data is a traditional merchant account processor, but its Payline Mobile app (read our review) is actually a viable standalone processing option even for low-volume and seasonal merchants. The company offers a standard magstripe reader (the Ingenico G5X) that isn’t particularly interesting. Its other mobile reader, though, is the Ingenico RP457c, and it is definitely one of the more innovative card reader designs I’ve ever seen.

For starters, the RP457c can connect to cell phones and tablets through the headphone jack or Bluetooth, which is very uncommon. It also supports magstripe, EMV, and NFC transactions all in one. The device is designed to clamp onto phones or rest in a dock for use as a wireless reader.

Payline doesn’t disclose its current pricing for the RP457c, in part because some merchants may be eligible for a free device. However, I was able to confirm that the reader retails for $150, which is quite expensive.

  • Cost: $150
  • Connection: 3.5mm, Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

SumUp

SumUp (read our review) is a European company that opened up processing for US merchants in 2017. While it’s not as comprehensive as other mPOS options, it does everything most merchants will need to do. It’s also worth pointing out that the SumUp mobile card reader, called the SumUp Air, actually won an award for its innovative design.

The SumUp Air shows its European sophistication with its sleek white minimalist design. It relies on a Bluetooth connection to process magstripe, EMV, and contactless transactions. If you want more information, check out our unboxing review of the SumUp card reader.

  • Cost: $69
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

Clover Go

Clover Go (read our review) is the mobile extension to the Clover family of POS products developed by First Data. It functions best as an extension of Clover, but it can be a standalone POS option. However, pricing for the hardware as well as payment processing can vary significantly depending on which reseller you go through, and you should be wary of sales gimmicks and possible contracts with early termination fees.  However, don’t forget that anyone selling Clover products is just reselling First Data’s processing services.

Clover Go Reader 

Clover’s basic “entry level” reader is a headphone jack reader that supports magstripe and EMV transactions. The design is overall larger than most comparable devices, but Clover does include a clamp to help stabilize the card reader while attached to a phone or tablet.

Pricing for the Clover Go reader will depend on resellers. Some may even offer it for free. Unlike its all-in-one sibling, you can’t get this reader through the Apple Store and if you sign up with First Data directly you’ll probably be offered the All-In-One Reader first and foremost.

  • Cost: Varies according to reseller
  • Connection: 3.5mm
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

Clover All-In-One Reader

I said earlier that the PayPal Chip and Tap Reader reminded me of Clover Go. That’s because Clover Go is also a square, boxy device with very similar dimensions. However, whereas PayPal’s is black, Clover Go’s is white.

You’ll also find the All-In-One Reader comes with a dock. It’s not the most elegant design, but it will allow you to charge the device or keep it on a countertop while still processing card transactions.

Unfortunately, pricing for this card reader varies depending on which company a merchant chooses to sign up with. You can get it direct from First Data (or the Apple Store) for $39.95, not counting the dock, which sells for $34.  

  • Cost: $39.95 (through First Data or Apple Store; other prices vary according to reseller)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

Intuit/QuickBooks GoPayment

Intuit’s mobile payment solution, QuickBooks GoPayment (read our review) appeals mostly to a small but viable niche — QuickBooks Online customers who need an easy way to take payments in person. While the app isn’t loaded with advanced features, it will work pretty well for merchants with simple needs. Intuit offers two readers to address merchant needs.

Chip and Magstripe Reader

Intuit’s Chip and Magstripe reader is a small, gray, unassuming device. It doesn’t have quite the sophistication of some other readers (I might even call it bland), but the design is overall good. The curves have a sort of friendliness about them rather and prevent it from looking boxy like other devices. As the name implies, this card reader supports magstripe and EMV transactions. It connects to a phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

The Chip and Magstripe Reader goes for $19 normally, but Intuit is offering the reader free for new merchants. That puts it at the lower price end, especially for a Bluetooth enabled device with EMV. You can also connect the device to computers running QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2018 and future versions of the software.

  • Cost: $19 (free with signup for new merchants)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

All-In-One Card Reader

Intuit’s newer card reader is an all-in-one device that connects via Bluetooth. But unlike its sibling, this device supports magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. By default, it’s meant to nest in a charging dock.

Intuit sells the all-in-one reader for $49, which is not a bad price at all considering that the dock/cradle is included at no extra charge. It has the same sort of nondescript gray finish, but Intuit has embraced a curvy aesthetic that is easy on the eyes.

  • Cost: $49 (including dock)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

PayAnywhere

Last on the list is PayAnywhere (read our review). While the name isn’t as recognizable as some of the alternatives, PayAnywhere’s mPOS does have some good features and interesting hardware. Its biggest shortcoming is simply the quality of customer service and some practices involving its Storefront plan.

PayAnywhere offers merchants a choice of two readers for merchants, though they still leave me a bit perplexed in terms of design.

PayAnywhere 2-In-1 Reader

PayAnywhere’s entry-level reader is a 2-in-1 device with magstripe and EMV support and Bluetooth connectivity. It looks pretty simple, and it actually reminds me of PayPal’s Chip and Tap reader with its shape and coloring.

There’s not much more to say about this little device except that PayAnywhere offers it free for new merchants. Additional 2-in-1 readers run for $30.

  • Cost: $29.95 (free for new merchants)
  • Connection: Bluetooth
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV

PayAnywhere 3-In-1 Reader

I think the most interesting thing about PayAnywhere’s 3-In-1 Reader is that it’s the only mobile card reader I’ve seen that supports NFC and connects via a headphone jack. (The Ingenico RP457c can connect via headphone jack OR Bluetooth, so I don’t count it in the same category.) It looks shiny and futuristic with its black finish and lights, which is ironic for a device that uses a dying connection method.

PayAnywhere offers its 3-in-1 device for $40, but on the website you’ll also see an offer for free processing on your first $5,000 in Apple Pay transactions (valued at $135). However, an offer like that should not be the deciding factor in choosing a processor.

  • Cost: $39.95
  • Connection: 3.5mm
  • Payment Types Supported: Magstripe, EMV, NFC/Contactless

Is a Mobile Credit Card Reader Absolutely Necessary?

You don’t actually have to have a mobile credit card reader to process payments with a mobile POS system.

Flint Mobile, a mobile processor that works through Stripe, has no credit card readers at all. Instead, the app relies on a device’s camera to scan cards. The camera doesn’t actually snap a photo of the card, which would be a huge security issue. But the app is able to open the camera and scan a card the same way QR code readers are able to access the camera to open QR code links. Flint has a couple of filters it applies to the camera for added security.

That said, Flint isn’t the only mobile option with this ability. PayPal Here and Intuit GoPayment also include the camera scanning feature.

Not only that, but most mPOS apps also include a feature that allows you to manually key in transactions. These process at a higher rate that swiped/dipped/tapped transactions because they’re processed as card-not-present, like ecommerce transactions. But it’s a useful alternative when the card reader is being glitchy or the card is very worn. The notable exception to all this is SumUp, a company that started in Europe and doesn’t support manual entry for cards except through its virtual terminal.

Of course, if you don’t want to pay extra for manually entering transactions, it might be best to spend a little extra money and buy a backup card reader or two in case one starts to misbehave.

Are Free Credit Card Readers Worth It?

Several mobile POS options (including Square) provide an incentive for potential customers in the form of a free credit card reader. This can certainly make it more tempting to try out a payment processing service, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

For one, free card readers tend to be pretty basic. Some have EMV support, but none of the free card readers on this list support contactless payments. Contactless support may not be mandatory for everyone, but EMV support should be a mandatory feature for every merchant. A reader with a Bluetooth connection will also ensure it’s future-proof no matter what phone or tablet you upgrade to later on.

Two, a free mobile card reader will absolutely not offset a processor’s shortcomings, such as poor customer service or missing features. It’s smarter for merchants to make a decision based on the quality of the mobile app, its features, and the processor’s customer support.

So while the ability to try some mPOS options without any upfront investment is nice, please don’t let a free credit card reader be the reason you pick one processor over another. Make sure you explore all of your options.

Don’t let a free reader be the determining factor in choosing an mPOS.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to try and convince you that mobile credit card readers are the world’s most fascinating subject (even if I could probably talk your ear off for a couple of hours about all the different designs and features and how they embody the philosophies of the companies that sell them).

But if nothing else, you should take away a few key ideas that will prepare you to choose a mobile point of sale app and a credit card reader:

  • Software is more important than the hardware. Make sure the app has what features you need before you set your heart on a device.
  • Make sure the card reader you choose has EMV support. In 2018, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be taking such a basic step to protect yourself and your business.
  • Prices for credit card readers range from totally free to upwards of $75. How much you want to spend is entirely up to you, but you will generally pay more for Bluetooth connectivity and for NFC support. Don’t be suckered in by the offer of a free reader, because there are lots of other criteria you should consider first.
  • You don’t technically need a mobile reader to take payments on a phone or tablet. However, you will pay more to process manually entered transactions in your mPOS app, so it’s a good idea to get one anyway.

Thanks for reading! If you’re ready to choose an mPOS app, a great place to start is our mobile processing comparison chart! Otherwise, if you have questions, feel free to leave us a comment!

The post The Best Credit Card Reader For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools

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

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

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

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

How Do Shopify Designs Work?

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

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

Types Of Shopify Templates

Free Shopify Templates

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

Here are a few of our favorite free Shopify templates:

Premium Shopify Templates

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

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

Buying Shopify Templates

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

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

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

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

Available Design Tools

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

Easy-To-Use Tools

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

Advanced Customization Tools

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

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

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

Shopify Template Designs & Best Practices

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

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

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

Shopify Store Templates

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

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

Prioritize Site Navigation

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

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

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

Focus On Images

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

Keep Information Above The Fold

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

Shopify About Us Templates

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

Connect With Customers

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

Tell A Story

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

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

Consider Including Alternative Media

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

Shopify Blog Templates

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

Post Regularly

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

Write Relevant & Useful Information

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

Shopify Thank You Page Templates

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

Think Upsell

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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The Best iPad POS Systems

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

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

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

ShopKeep

Best For…

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

Pricing

$69 per month per first three registers.

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Vend

Best For…

Any sized retail establishment

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Revel

revel systems

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

talech

talech POS logo

Best For…

Almost any type of food service establishment.

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

talech review

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

Takeaway

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

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

ERPLY

erply-logo

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail businesses.

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

SalesVu

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail and restaurant establishments.

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Salesvu review

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

Takeaway

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

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

Lavu

Best For…

Quick service or full-service restaurants.

Pricing

$79/month with enterprise option available.

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

iConnect

Best For…

Most retail establishments with a bent toward spas and salons.

Pricing

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

Feature Overview

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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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!

Benchmark

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

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.

MailChimp

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.

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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

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.

Takeaway

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.

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

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!

Takeaway

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

Patreonpatreon

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!

Takeaway

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

FundRazrfundrazr

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.

Takeaway

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

Fundablefundable

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.

Takeaway

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

Wefunderwefunder

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.

Takeaway

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

Crowdfundercrowdfunder

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.

Takeaway

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

Ululeulule

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.

Takeaway

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.

Takeaway

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.

Takeaway

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.

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How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!)

How To Promote Your Website

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

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

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

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

Start with Definitions & Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s break them down.

What You’re Promoting (Your Product)

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

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

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

Who You’re Promoting It To (Persona)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lay the Foundation

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

This is divided into three steps:

Website / Destination Set Up

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

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

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

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

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

Create Focused Pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set Up Analytics

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

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

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

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

Work on Getting Traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing with Direct Outreach

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

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

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

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

Friends & Family

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

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

Individual Brands / Influencers

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

Individual Bloggers / Site Owners

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

Journalists

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

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

Complementary Business Owners

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

Find businesses where you can co-promote.

Vendors

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

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

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

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

Find Like-Minded Communities

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

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

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

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

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

Industry Specific Forums

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

Facebook Groups

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

Website Forums

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

Blog Comments

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

Reddit & Crowdsourced Forums

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

Amazon Comments

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

LinkedIn & Business Groups

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

Guest Posting

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

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

Using Paid Traffic to Get Data

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Organic Search

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

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

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

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

SEO boils down to 3 components.

The first component is technical SEO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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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 AmexTravel.com, 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 AmexTravel.com, 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 AmexTravel.com
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.

The post The Best Business Credit Cards For Travel appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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