How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online

Best Products to Sell Online

You’ve probably landed here on this beautiful wall of text because you’re wanting to start an online store and are wondering, “What are the best products to sell online?”

The short version – it depends 🙂

The long version – keep reading for specific ideas to find the best product for you to sell online.

There are hundreds of articles out there talking about trending products for [insert year here], the best all-time products, rising products, etc., but these resources are typically 100% based on what’s happening now.

So, how do you know what the best products are in general?

Again, spoiler alert: there is no such thing as a best product to sell online!

Sure, there are basic principles to stick to, such as

  • products with a high average order value
  • things that can be drop shipped / don’t require a high-touch in store experience
  • products that can be shipped cheaply and easily, etc.

But with that said, if you look at the brands that are killing it online right now, like Native, Dollar Shave Club, and Tuft & Needle… they break all of those “rules”. Native sells deodorant, Dollar Shave Club built an entire business on super-cheap razors, and Tuft & Needle sells mattresses (a product that typically requires a high-touch in-store experience with high shipping costs).

I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as the “best” anything — instead, I operate from “best for your skills, knowledge, resources, and goals”.

So when it comes to starting your online store, the key is to move out of the “best product to sell online” mindset and into the “best product for ME to sell online” mindset. And that’s a product that fits your skill set, knowledge, resources, timeline, and market demand.

There are several approaches to finding the best product to sell online for you… and that’s what I’ll be breaking down in this post.

How to Find the Best Products to Sell Online (For You)

The Product Research Route (Amazon scraping, Adplexity, etc)

Thanks to platforms like Amazon, anyone can sell something online — and luckily for you, there is a giant trove of product data just waiting for you on the Internet.

One way to figure out what to sell is by looking at other products that are performing well and weighing those against your own wants and needs.

The goal here is to collect data on what’s working already, then reverse engineer an ecommerce strategy to sell it.

For example, let’s say you’re looking on Amazon for bestselling dog toys. You could look at niches within dog toys to niche-down into subcategories, look at best-selling products within those subcategories, see top sellers to identify competitors — the opportunities are endless.

Amazon Bestselling Dog Toys

The bonus here is you don’t have to do this manually — and you’re not limited to Amazon’s data. Spy tools like Adplexity and Jungle Scout can aggregate product data across several ecommerce platforms and even show you competitor’s ads so you can reverse engineer a marketing strategy that works.

With that said, keep in mind that everyone has access to this data, which means you won’t be the only one reverse engineering a successful product. What’s really going to set you apart is choosing a successful product that fits your own criteria and knocking your marketing strategy out of the park.

The Persona Research Route

People are constantly searching for things online. Think about your own behavior — where do you go when you’re looking for the “best swimsuits for speed” or “most durable dog toys for puppies”?

As a business owner, you can use this data to figure out what people actually want and give it to them. In marketing, this approach is known as creating a persona (marketing jargon for a description of your ideal customer).

An effective persona defines what your ideal customer actually wants. Who are they? What problems do they have? How can you solve these problems.

Use tools like Facebook Audience Insights, Pinterest, Google Display Planner, Trend Hunter, and basic keyword research (see here) to create 2-4 personas that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, pay scale, main frustrations & 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 insight on what products will fit their needs (and to get some initial sales and feedback on those products so you can polish what you’re offering).

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].

The Sell What You Know Route

Perhaps the most self-explanatory method for finding the best product to sell online is selling what you know. What are you good at? Passionate about? Experienced with? Use that experience, channel it into a need, and sell it.

Take Quad Lock, a bike mount designed by a biker who was unsatisfied with the mounts on the market, so he designed one he wanted and sold it. The founder used used his own experience (biking) and pain point (ineffective mounts for his iPhone) to create a product that others love too.

Keep in mind though, it isn’t just about the product. Quad Lock leveraged reviews and Facebook and Google ads to get the right people to the product. You’ll need to have a proper and realistic marketing funnel behind whatever it is you’re selling.

The Build an Audience Route

Traditionally, ecommerce business owners take a “build it and they will come” approach to product development and selling online. This method takes the opposite approach. Instead of creating a product and finding an audience to sell it to, you’ll first build an audience and bring them a product they actually want.

Both approaches have advantages — again, there is no blanket “best” way or “best” product to sell online. Once again, it depends on your goals.

Building your product first and selling it to an audience could bring in revenue faster (as long as you build a product that actually sells). However, you do run a higher risk of creating a product that doesn’t fit the market as well as it might if you were to build an audience first, learn about them, and give them what you want.

The tradeoff here is time vs. money. If you have the time to build out an audience, nurture them, and build a minimally viable product to get feedback on, this route can save you the headache of launching a product that no one wants (see The $100 Startup). However, if you need to generate revenue quickly, this path might not be the best option.

The Rapid Product Testing Route

If you’ve ever donated to a kickstarter campaign, or if you know anything about Tim Ferris and the 4-Hour Work Week, then you know how successful rapid testing a bunch of product ideas can be.

Ferriss did it with different ads, headlines, and even book titles until he found what worked, and you can take the same approach with your own product development. The goal here is to get a ton of data quickly. What are people clicking on? What are they signing up to learn more about? What’s sticking? Once you have that info, keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Again, the tradeoff here is time and/or money. You have to give yourself enough of a runway to actually test and get the data, whether you’re starting a campaign on Kickstarter, offering email and social demos to find that one customer with a new idea, or running multiple Google Adwords campaigns to test which promotions get the most traction.

The Niche / Tailwind Route

Sometimes it’s worth sticking to what’s already working. Similar to reverse engineering products that are performing well and fit your criteria, you can also find a growing niche and/or company and build out products that complement them.

A classic example of this is the cell phone case industry. Before the iPhone blew up, cell phone cases were practically non-existent. But once the iPhone took off, an entire niche industry was born.

This is happening all the time. Think about Peloton — the at home spin bike that’s building an entire submarket that needs attention. There are constantly new opportunities to hop on board with what’s working and complement it with submarket products of your own.

The Supplier / Numbers Route

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to supply a product. Sometimes the best product to sell online could be one that someone else has created. In this scenario, you’d focus on building a killer marketing strategy for the product.

For example, let’s say you have a dentist friend who has a patented a new mouthguard that’s amazing, but he has no idea how to sell it. You could start an ecommerce business with exclusive access to the product at a price that makes sense. He’d be your supplier while you’d focus on getting sales.

Even if you don’t know someone directly who has an amazing product, you could always research suppliers on AliExpress or Alibaba, or connect to people who have great industry contacts in a niche you know well enough to navigate profit margins and create a marketing strategy that gets the products to move.

Alibaba

Either way, you’re removing yourself from the product definition. Instead, you’re looking at suppliers who have already created a killer product and need someone (AKA you) to sell it.

Next Steps / Takeaways

Finding the best products to sell online really has less to do with there being a “best” product and more to do with having a system and approach to finding a product that fits your own needs, skills, and means.

Instead of randomly brainstorming and endlessly searching online for that one big idea, take time to do an inventory of your own needs. Think about your skill set, knowledge, resources, and timeline to launch your product. Then, choose one of the methods above to find the product that best aligns with your defined criteria.

You also want to find the best way to sell – here’s how to choose the best ecommerce platform.

The post How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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SBA Loans For Veterans: Everything You Need To Know About VA SBA Loans

After serving their time in the military, many veterans choose to start their own businesses. In fact, military veterans own about 7.5% of the businesses in the United States. Just like any other small business owners, there comes a time when these entrepreneurs need funding, whether it’s for purchasing equipment, expanding the business, or funding a startup project. And like civilians, many veterans are looking for a business loan that will help them expand their business without forcing them to shoulder extra debt. For these business owners, an SBA VA loan could be the answer.

What Is The SBA?

Before going into the specifics of SBA loans for veterans, it’s important to first know what the SBA is and how it offers benefits to small businesses. SBA stands for Small Business Administration. This is a government organization that offers assistance to small businesses. Through the SBA, business owners have access to education, information, and training. The SBA serves as an advocate for small businesses and provides a critical piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle: business financing.

How Can The SBA Benefit Veterans?

Getting a business loan is tough for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for military veterans. This is because traditional loans require a strong financial history. Many veterans and servicemembers on active duty may find that they have gaps in their credit history. If they’ve been deployed for any length of time, they may not have credit cards, utility bills, mortgage payments, or other records credit unions use to judge creditworthiness. This can make obtaining a business loan very difficult, if not impossible.

This is where the SBA can be of service to veterans. While SBA loans require typical paperwork and items such as credit scores and income verification, lenders are able to work with military veterans’ unique situations to provide them with the funding they need. Because these loans are backed by the SBA, lenders are more willing to lend to qualified borrowers, while business owners enjoy VA SBA benefits including low interest rates and flexible terms. (This is ideal because veterans won’t be stuck getting subprime traditional loans that can push them into debt or even bankruptcy.)

Types Of SBA Loan Programs For Veterans

small business loans for veterans

The SBA offers multiple programs that provide money for veterans and servicemembers. SBA disabled veterans loans can also help inactive servicemembers that were injured in the line of duty. SBA loans are often difficult to obtain, but selecting the right product beforehand and knowing what to expect during the application process can help ease the path to obtaining funding.

The Veterans Advantage Loan Program

The Veterans Advantage Loan Program is similar to the 7(a) Loan Program — the most popular option for SBA loans. This is a popular choice for veterans and civilians alike because the loan can be used for just about anything. This includes expanding a business, acquiring a new business, financing a franchise, renovations, construction, equipment, working capital, or even refinancing old debt.

The Veterans Advantage Loan Program offers the same great benefits with reduced guaranty fees for veteran-owned businesses. Under this program, veterans can borrow up to $5 million. SBA 7(a) Veterans Loan for business acquisitions and expansions have terms of up to 10 years; commercial real estate purchases have terms up to 25 years, while equipment financing loans can be paid back over a period of up to 15 years.

For 7(a) Loans less than $125,000, there is no guaranty fee. For loans between $125,001 and $150,000, the fee is just 1%. For loans up to $350,000, the fee is 1.5%. The maximum upfront guaranty under this program is 3.75% for loans from $700,001 up to and including $5 million. Interest rates vary on these loans from 7.25% to 9.75%. Find out more about the terms and rates of SBA 7(a) loans.

One of the biggest drawbacks to an SBA 7(a) Loan is the timeline for receiving the money. The application, approval, and funding process can take months in most cases. However, the SBA does offer SBA Express Loans for veterans, which can provide faster approval, although the timeline for receiving the funds varies from lender to lender. Through the Express program, the SBA guarantees that the application will be processed within 36 hours. SBA Express Loans for veterans are available in amounts up to $350,000, and there is never an upfront guaranty fee for veteran-owned businesses.

The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program

Reservists and National Guard members have learned to expect the unexpected. Servicemembers know that a deployment could come at any time, forcing them to leave family, friends, and business responsibilities behind. Military reservists and members of the National Guard who face economic hardship during or after a deployment can get the financing they need for their business with an SBA loan.

The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program is designed to help cover operating costs while a veteran is on active duty. These loans are available in amounts up to $2 million with maximum terms up to 30 years. The maturity of the loan is based on the applicant’s ability to repay the loan. For these loans, collateral is required for any amount over $50,000. It’s important to note that the SBA will not turn down a loan simply for lack of collateral, but the borrower will be required to put up any available collateral, including real estate.

These loans are very attractive to military veterans because of their repayment terms and their low interest rates. SBA Veteran Loan rates are currently set at 4%. These loans provide the working capital needed to pay necessary expenses; funds can not be used for income or profit loss, refinancing debt, or business expansion.

Does The SBA Offer Grants For Veterans?

Unfortunately, there are no SBA grants for veterans. However, the organization provides a variety of resources to give veterans the tools they need to succeed in business. These programs are funded by the SBA and are available to servicemembers, veterans, and in some cases, military spouses.

SBA training programs include Boots to Business, the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program, Service Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program, and the Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program. More details on these training programs are available through the SBA website.

What About The SBA Patriot Express Loan Program?

The SBA Patriot Express Loan program was established in 2007. Under this program, veterans and eligible spouses were able to apply for up to $500,000 in business funding at rates that ranged between 2.25% and 4.75%. Unfortunately, this program was discontinued in 2013 and is no longer available. Veterans that wish to take advantage of a similar program can apply for the SBA Express Loan.

Who Qualifies For A VA SBA Loan?

To qualify for the Veterans Advantage Loan Program, the small business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by veterans, service-disabled veterans, active-duty military in the Transition Assistance Program, or a reservist or National Guard member. Spouses of veterans, active-duty service members, reservists, or National Guard members also qualify, as well as spouses who were widowed because of death during service or death from service-related disabilities. These requirements also apply to SBA Express Loans.

Non-servicemembers and civilians can apply for an SBA 7(a) loan under the traditional terms. They will not receive the discounted guaranty rates provided to veterans.

Veterans and servicemembers applying for the Veterans Advantage Loan Program must meet all requirements set forth for SBA 7(a) Loans. Requirements include a credit score of at least 680 (in most cases) as well as personal collateral. The business must not be delinquent on any debts to the government and should not have any foreclosures or bankruptcies on their credit report. All borrowers should be in business for at least 2 years, although startups are eligible with adequate industry experience and a solid business plan.

Applicants must also have fewer than 500 employees and less than $7.5 million in sales each year. The business must be for-profit and should have a qualifying need to receive funding. It’s also recommended that alternative resources are sought before applying for an SBA loan. Businesses that engage in investments, rentals, and lending are not qualified. Learn more about the requirements for obtaining this type of loan.

The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program is available to servicemembers, reservists, or National Guard members who are on active duty. The servicemember must apply for the loan while on active duty or for a period of one year following the end of active service or discharge.

Any veteran that has been dishonorably discharged from their branch of service is not eligible to receive funding through the SBA Veteran Loan Programs.

How To Apply For SBA Loans For Veterans

After choosing which VA SBA Loan is right for you, the next step is to be prepared for the application process. Although the process can be tedious, taking the necessary steps and knowing what to expect will help everything go smoothly.

Credit scores do play a factor in receiving SBA loans. Generally, a credit score of 680 or higher is required. There are multiple online resources that can be used to check your score and obtain a free credit report so that any errors can be addressed. Please note that if there are any negative items on your report, the lender will require a valid explanation. Personal and business credit reports are reviewed by all lenders.

For the SBA Veterans Advantage Loan program, a potential borrower must choose a qualified lender. The SBA offers a Lender Match service that connects businesses with a lender in their area. While some applications can be completed online, lenders generally require a phone call or in-office visit by the applicant.

For the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, applications can be obtained by contacting the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center via phone or email.

After getting in touch with a lender, it’s time to gather the required paperwork.

  • DD Form 214 is required for veterans, service-disabled veterans, or spouses of veterans.
  • Transitioning active-duty military members, reservists, and National Guard members must have a copy of DD Form 2.
  • DD Form 1173 is required for spouses of transitioning active-duty military members, reservists, or National Guard members.
  • Military widows are required to have documentation from the Department of Defense.

To obtain an SBA VA Loan, you must be prepared to show that you can repay the loan, operate your business successfully, and put up 10% to 25% equity. Other documentation will be required during the application process, including:

  • At least three years of business and personal income tax returns
  • Financial statements, projections, business certificates, and licenses
  • A business plan.

Requirements vary, so you can ask your selected lender about their requirements so you can gather the needed information.

Veterans who choose SBA Express Loans will receive notification of approval within 36 hours, although funding the loan will take weeks or months. On average, the application, approval, and funding process for SVA 7(a) Loans takes a minimum of 60 to 90 days. If this timeline doesn’t work for you or you don’t meet the qualifications of obtaining an SBA loan, find out more about other funding options for veterans.

Final Thoughts

Although the process of applying for an SBA loan isn’t easy, the competitive terms make it worth it for many servicemembers, veterans, and their families. SBA Veteran Loans allow those who serve their country to be able to truly live the American Dream through successful ownership of their own business.

The post SBA Loans For Veterans: Everything You Need To Know About VA SBA Loans appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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When Should Someone Not Use WordPress?

When Should Someone Not Use WordPress

You’re probably here because you’ve heard the buzz about WordPress (Alignable’s SMB Index says WordPress is the most trusted software for small business), but are wondering if there are situations in which someone should not use WordPress for their business website.

WordPress is an incredibly versatile website platform — I won’t hide my enthusiasm for it. But there is no such thing as a “best website platform”. There’s only the best choice based on your goals, resources and preferences.

Most website platforms promote with features and price. But like buying a house – price and features don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell you if this platform is a good choice for your website.

When evaluating whether or not to use WordPress, you need to think about your needs for a website. Do you need flexibility? Support? A mixture of both?

Here’s how to figure out if/when someone should not use WordPress for their business website:

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

Understanding Tradeoffs: What to Know Before Choosing a Website Platform

Before we dive into the no-WordPress scenarios, it’s important to understand how we’re approaching deciding on a website platform.

Think of it like shopping for a house. You should be evaluating your website provider based on what you want, what you need, and what tradeoffs you are willing to make.

When it comes to your website platform, the main trade-off is between maximum convenience and maximum control. Think of it this like buying somewhere to live.

The absolute most convenient place is a hotel room. It’s safe and furnished with room service. But can you repaint the room? Nope.

On the other extreme is raw land. You have unlimited control to do whatever you want. But is it convenient? Nope.

And in the middle, you have a mix. An apartment has some freedom – but you have landlord. A condo has even more freedom… but you have a HOA and shared property.

A house has even more freedom… but you have more responsibility and you have to deal with an existing building.

Here’s a graphic from my post on ecommerce software (that also applies to website software) to illustrate —

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Using this analogy, WordPress is like owning a house. You don’t have as much control as you would if you just bought raw land and built something yourself, but you have way more control than say, an apartment or condo.

Which means a situation is which you wouldn’t want to use WordPress most likely involves more control (AKA raw land) or more convenience (AKA an apartment/condo/hotel room). Let’s break that down further:

Reasons/Situations Where You Wouldn’t Choose WP:

You Need a Fully-Customized Solution

WordPress’s primary structure is pages, posts, and comments. While the platform does use Plugins (where you can download and “plug-in” third-party pieces of software to make your site look, act, and feel exactly the way you want) that allow the CMS to be turned into literally anything, you should still be operating within the realm of pages/posts/comments if you want to use WordPress.

If you’re looking to build a non-CMS website (think Software as a Service or mega-robust ecommerce platform), then you’re better off building a custom solution. Why?

Because something ultra-specific like the examples above typically require 100% control. Loading up your WordPress site with hundreds of Plugins just to make it close to what you want is just going to slow it down.

This is your raw land example — it’d be easier to build your dream home from scratch than try to manipulate the house you already have or add on a bunch of attachments (Plugins) that may mess with the wiring/airflow/other elements of the home.

You Want Customization But Don’t Want to Handle the Technical

If you’re looking for some customization abilities on your website but don’t want to deal with the more “technical” aspects of managing a website such as self hosting, check out customizations for ecommerce, server management, etc. then a self-hosted WordPress isn’t the best option.

There are two different routes you could go if you want more customization without having to handle controlling the technical aspects of your site.

The first is what I’ll call the 70% Convenience // 30% Control group. These are providers that allow for more control than a totally done-for-you platform (like Amazon, where you have zero customization), but you’re still using their space and rules (in our house analogy, these are the apartments).

These are usually “website builders” like Wix (I reviewed Wix here and you can check out Squarespace here) and Weebly (I reviewed Weebly here. You can check out Weebly here…). They allow you to customize your website and have a custom domain, but the remaining technical elements (like ecommerce integration) are handled for you.

The second group is 50% Convenience // 50% Control. They’re known as hosted platforms and provide as much control as you can have before you have to have your own server.

The biggest advantage here is that you have customer support, seamless “onboarding” and advanced tools. Building a website with these providers is like owning a condominium or leasing a storefront in a mall. The plumbing and “big stuff” is taken care of. You can pretty much do what you want since you do fully own your property. However, you’re going to run into condo association rules and fees.

This would be a provider like WordPress.com which is a hosted version of WordPress or a self-hosted WordPress page builder like BoldGrid. They limit some of what you can and can’t do. For example, you don’t have FTP access to a server, but you can access your HTML/CSS editing and use 3rd party plugins with their business plan.

You can also export your data and migrate it to self-hosted WordPress or another platform with relative ease, making it a good in-between if you want to start with more convenience and migrate to more control in the future.

You Don’t Have Time or Resources

WordPress comes with a learning curve. But given the platform owns 50-60% of the global CMS market share, there are thousands and thousands of pre-made templates, plus designers and developers who know WordPress and are ready to help your firm.

That being said, the trade-off here is time and/or resources. Either you have to take the time to learn the basics of WordPress and keep the software updated like you do the apps on your phone, or you have to know enough to vet these support roles to make sure you’re getting the results you need at a reasonable price.

Not all projects justify this trade-off. A simple website that doesn’t need any advanced functionality or the ability to scale would work perfectly fine as a simple HTML site and may cost you less in time/resources than learning WordPress or hiring a designer and developer to build your WordPress site.

You Have Plenty of Resources

The flip side of having no time and resources is having all the time and/or resources.

This goes back to our first scenario… if you have a team of people and the funds to build and maintain your website for you, you can build whatever you want, including a totally custom website that’s unique to your business and the functionality you need.

With that said, this scenario comes with one big caveat: you’re putting your website in someone else’s control.

Let’s say you have a developer build a totally custom website that only he/she can manage — that takes you out of the driver’s seat and puts that developer in total control. The same applies to a website that only works on one specific platform. A change in mission statement, privacy policy, billing practices, or even simple incompetence can put your business in an insecure position.

If you’re comfortable with putting your website 100% in the hands of someone else, go for it. If not, then you may want to rethink a custom build and brush up on your website management knowledge.

Takeaways

WordPress is like the mid-size SUV of the website building world. It doesn’t fit everyone by any means, but there also good reason that a large plurality has one.

I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to try WordPress before making any decisions here.

If you don’t have time to run software updates and learn a bit of WordPress jargon, then you should go ahead and pay the extra money for an all-inclusive website builder. Sure, you’re trading control for convenience, but that’s fine.

On the flip side, if you’re very adept at working with developers or have the money to pay for custom builds and don’t mind putting your site into someone else’s hands, then you’d want to research more – especially in regards to ecommerce. WordPress may not be the right fit for you. You can check out some interesting WordPress alternatives here.

Finally, if you’re building something super, super simple, then WordPress may simply be too complex for what you’re looking for. You might just need some cheap hosting or even a simple profile on an existing platform.

The post When Should Someone Not Use WordPress? appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Is WordPress Easy To Use For eCommerce?

If you know anything about web development, you know about WordPress. WordPress is now the most popular Content Management System (CMS) in the world, powering over 31% of websites globally. In fact, WordPress is the software behind the very website you’re currently on!

As an everyday WordPress user myself, I can say with confidence that WordPress is a great CMS for many purposes, including online selling. The software is open-source and popular, meaning that it’s fully customizable and that there are plug-ins available to extend the functionality of the software.

While it’s true that WordPress was originally built as a blogging platform, several eCommerce plugins make it possible to transform your website into a full-fledged online store. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at three of the most popular eCommerce software systems that work with WordPress.

But first, let’s take a look at WordPress as a stand-alone software.

Is WordPress Easy To Use?

WordPress is a very learnable software. The software is fairly easy to use once you get the hang of things. However, this initial learning process may take some time.

This is particularly true if you are new to web development. As open-source software, WordPress is not exactly plug-and-play. In order to get your site online, you’ll have to find your own web host and then install WordPress on your hosting account. In addition, you will be responsible for maintaining your site’s security.

Once you’ve finished setting everything up, you will find that when it comes to daily operations, WordPress is very usable.

As you consider using WordPress for your online store, you’ll have to keep in mind the pros and cons of the software. Here’s a quick breakdown of those advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • Open Source: Because WordPress is open source, you have the freedom to modify the software however you choose. In addition, you can choose to sell your modifications to other users!
  • Free: WordPress is free to download and use. However, you should note that operating a website comes with other expenses. Take a look at our “Cons” list for more information.
  • Large User Community: With so many bloggers, sellers, and developers using WordPress, you can expect to find lively community forums in WordPress’s support resources. Get help from fellow users or purchase plug-ins from a wide range of developers.
  • Reliable Software: You can depend on WordPress as a glitch-free CMS.
  • Lots Of Plug-Ins Available: WordPress and third-party developers alike have put out thousands of plug-ins that you can purchase and install to add features to your platform.

Cons

  • For Do-It-Yourselfers Only: When you use WordPress, you will be responsible for managing your web hosting and site security.
  • Some Experience Required: You either must have some experience editing HTML/CSS or you must be willing to learn.
  • Limited Technical Support: WordPress offers some support via email and live chat. However, for the most part, you’re on your own when it comes to technical issues.
  • Common Target For Hackers: Open source software is often the target of security attacks. You’ll have to keep an eye out for any new security patches.
  • Difficult To Estimate Total Costs: Although WordPress is free to use, you will still have to pay the typical costs of operating a website. You’ll need to pay for hosting, an SSL certificate, a theme, and any plug-ins you choose to use.

Now you know a bit more about the usability of WordPress, let’s start talking about our favorite eCommerce plug-ins for WordPress! All three of the following plug-ins are affordable, easy-to-use, and easy to integrate with any WordPress website.

Let’s get started!

WooCommmerce

WooCommerce is a free, open source eCommerce plug-in that is designed specifically to be used with WordPress. WooCommerce fits businesses of all sizes, from startup to enterprise. In fact, WooCommerce has been downloaded over 48 million times, making it one of the most popular eCommerce solutions in the world.

WooCommerce is easy to incorporate into your WordPress site. All you have to do is install and activate the WooCommerce app in your “Plug-ins” tab. Activating this plug-in turns your blogging back-end into an online store admin. Take a look:

In this dashboard, you can manage everything for your online store. For example, you can create products, access pending orders, adjust shipping setting, enter product information, and set up inventory tracking.

WooCommerce provides enough features to handle all the basic operations of online selling. Everything else is available as an extension. Here are a few of the features built-in:

  • Sell Digital & Physical Products
  • Inventory Management Features
  • Shipping Calculator & Shipping Options (Pickup, Local Delivery, Calculated Shipping)
  • SEO Features
  • Coupons & Discounts

WooCommerce offers lots of themes to choose from. Most of these are designed by third-parties; however, WooCommerce also creates its own designs called “WooThemes.” We recommend you stick with these WooThemes as they tend to work best with WooCommerce updates. For the most part, in order to change large aspects of these designs, you will be required to edit the HTML and CSS.

Like WordPress, WooCommerce offers very limited customer support to their customers. You are mostly on your own. Fortunately, WooCommerce does have a detailed knowledge base as well as a supportive user community to help you through any difficulties.

We love WooCommerce for its customizability, its scalability, and of course, its price. To learn more about WooCommerce, take a look at our full review of the software. Or, download WooCommerce today to test it for yourself.

Ecwid

Another plug-in you might consider using is Ecwid. Ecwid is an eCommerce software that lets you incorporate shopping cart widgets–such as buy buttons or a full online store–into any pre-built website. Ecwid is a perfect solution for small to medium-sized businesses that want a simple way to add an online store to their website. Over one million merchants currently use Ecwid for their online selling.

Ecwid is a SaaS (software as a service) solution, which means that although you have to find hosting for your WordPress site, hosting for your Ecwid store is already included. Instead, you’ll just have to pay a monthly price to use the software. This price depends primarily on the number of products you plan on listing. Each step up in pricing also includes more advanced features. Take a look below for a quick breakdown of pricing:

  • Free Plan: $0/Month
    • 10 Products
  • Venture: $15/Month
    • 100 Products
  • Business: $35/Month
    • 2,500 Products
  • Unlimited: $99/Month
    • Unlimited Products

To add Ecwid to your WordPress account, sign for an Ecwid account at ecwid.com. Then, install and activate the app in your WordPress dashboard. Completing these actions will let you make changes to your Ecwid store from WordPress.

Here’s a look at Ecwid’s dashboard within WordPress:

Alternatively, you can choose to manage your store from Ecwid’s own dashboard. Since the two programs are now connected, every change you make in Ecwid will be reflected in your WordPress site. Here’s Ecwid’s dashboard:

We recommend using Ecwid’s dashboard to manage your online store. We think Ecwid’s dashboard is more intuitive and easier to use in general.

Using Ecwid will give you access to many of the necessary selling features. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Buy Buttons
  • Multi-Channel Selling
  • Real-Time Shipping Rates
  • Promotions & Discounts
  • Sell Digital Products
  • Mobile Management App

Ecwid supplies users with one Starter Site theme that you can use to develop your storefront using drag-and-drop tools. There are also third-party themes available as well as HTML and CSS editors for more in-depth customization.

As is typical with SaaS solutions, Ecwid provides technical support through several channels. Your pricing plan will determine how you are able to reach customer support, whether that is through email, live chat, or phone. Everyone has access to a knowledge base and community support forums. Remember, Ecwid can only help with issues related to their software. They do not provide WordPress support.

Ecwid is a great solution for any merchant who’s looking for a simple way to sell products on their website. The app is easy to use with WordPress, it’s affordable, and it works. For more information, read our full review or sign up for Ecwid’s free plan to try it out.

Selz

Selz, selz review

Selz is another SaaS shopping cart solution that plugs into any website. Like Ecwid, Selz offers users both ease of use and versatility. Selz gives merchants the option of adding eCommerce features to any website in a variety of ways. You can choose to add an online store to an established website, embed buy buttons for select products, sell directly on social media, or set up a fully hosted online store.

Selz is designed for startups, artists, writers, and musicians, and the platform currently serves over 100,000 merchants worldwide. Ease of use is Selz’s strongest feature, which is wonderful for many beginning merchants.

On the other hand, sometimes Selz’s ease of use can be a limiting factor for sellers who are looking to grow. Selz does not offer many advanced features or integrations. Nevertheless, many sellers find that Selz fits their needs perfectly.

As a SaaS solution, Selz charges a monthly fee for the use of their software. There are four plans to choose from. These plans are organized by the number of products you plan to list. Additional features are available on higher level plans. Here’s a quick overview of pricing:

  • Free Plan: $0/Month
    • 5 Product Maximum
    • 2% Transaction Fee
  • Lite Plan: $19/Month
    • Unlimited Products
    • 2% Transaction Fee
  • Standard Plan: $29/Month
    • Unlimited Products
    • 1% Transaction Fee
  • Pro Plan: $49/Month
    • Unlimited Products
    • 0.5% Transaction Fee
    • No Transaction Fee If Using Selz Pay

To add Selz to your WordPress site, you’ll have to create a Selz account and then install and activate the Selz app in your WordPress dashboard.

Then, head back into your Selz dashboard. Using this dashboard, you can create products and discounts, process orders, and manage shipping settings. In order to test your setup with WordPress, you should add at least one or two products.

Now, you can decide how you’d like to add eCommerce to your site, whether that’s via buy buttons or an entire online store. When you make your decision, you’ll just have to follow Selz’s instructions to add products to your WordPress site.

During my testing, I decided to add my entire Selz store to WordPress. I looked into Selz’s instructions, but I had a bit of difficulty locating the correct buttons. I eventually figured out that WordPress’s new Gutenberg editor was complicating the process. Selz has not yet updated their support documentation to provide instructions for this new WordPress version. When I switched back to WordPress’s older Classic Editor, I was able to quickly integrate my store.

While both WooCommerce and Ecwid give you access to store management features within your WordPress dashboard, this is not the case with Selz. In order to add new products, process orders, etc. you will have to log back into your Selz dashboard.

Selz offers the basic features you need for online selling. Although Selz focuses mostly on the basics, they do include a few advanced features such as abandoned cart recovery and digital downloads. Take a look at a few of Selz’s features:

  • Sell Anywhere
  • Sell Physical & Digital Products
  • Real-Time Shipping Rates
  • Pay What You Want
  • Discounts & Coupons
  • Multi-Currency Capabilities
  • Abandoned Cart Recovery

When it comes to web design, Selz users are all set. There are 25 beautiful, image-focused designs to choose from, and they’re all free. Users can customize these designs by using the drag-and-drop editor or the HTML/CSS editors.

Support is available for all Selz users in the form of 24/7 live chat and email. There is also a Help Center full of useful documentation for users who prefer a do-it-yourself approach. As always, you’ll have to keep in mind that while Selz representatives love to help you use their software, they can’t help when it comes to WordPress difficulties.

Selz is a perfect solution for makers and startups who want to get their online stores started quickly. In particular, Selz works well for merchants who want to offer lots of digital products. If this sounds like you, head over to our full Selz review for more information. Or, you can take a look at Selz yourself.

Final Thoughts

So, is WordPress easy to use for eCommerce? We certainly think so, especially when you use the right eCommerce plug-in.

Take a deeper look at any of the three options we present above, and don’t be afraid to test out the plug-ins before you commit. All of these eCommerce solutions offer a free platform (or free download) so you can integrate the software with your WordPress site without paying a dime. And if you decide it isn’t a good fit for you, it’s easy to deactivate the integration. In fact, it just takes a few clicks.

So, what are you waiting for? Head over to our reviews or sign up for one of these shopping carts and get testing!

The post Is WordPress Easy To Use For eCommerce? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Mint VS Quicken

Managing personal finances can be hard, and choosing the right personal accounting tool can seem even harder. That’s why we’re here to compare two of the most popular personal finance management tools out there: Mint and Quicken.

Mint is a cloud-based, easy to use finance tool that’s been around since 2007. The software was acquired by Intuit in 2009 and today it features expense tracking, investment tracking, budgeting, planning, and more. Mint also offers well-developed mobile apps, so you can easily check your spending on the go. The icing on the cake? Mint is completely free.

Quicken has been the big name in personal accounting from the beginning. Created in 1988, this software was also run by Intuit until 2016 when it was acquired by H.I.G. Capital. Quicken offers an incredible number of features and amazing customer support. Although Quicken is a locally-installed software, there are still mobile apps available.

But which software is better? And more importantly, which is right for you? That’s what we’re here to find out.

At Merchant Maverick, our goal is to help you to find the best software for your small business needs. To make your decision easier, we’ve carefully researched and tested both products. We’ll put Mint and Quicken head to head by comparing features, pricing, customer experience, reputation, and more, so you don’t have to.

Mint VS Quicken
Features ✓

✓

Pricing

✓

Hardware & Software Requirements

✓

Ease Of Use

✓

Mobile Apps
Customer Service & Support ✓
Negative Reviews & Complaints ✓

✓

Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Integrations ✓

✓

Security

?

And The Overall Winner Is… ?

Features

Winner: Quicken

Mint Quicken

Expenses Tracking

✓

✓

Transactions Imported Automatically

✓

✘

Income Tracking

✓

✓

Spending Trends

✓

✓

Bank Reconciliation

✘

✓

Manage Bills

✓

✓

Online Bill Pay

✘

✓

Budgeting

✓

✓

Savings Goals

✓

✓

Property Management

✓

✓

Investment Tracking

✓

✓

Reports

✘

✓

Credit Score

✓

✓

Debt Reduction Planner

✘

✓

Print Checks

✘

✓

In many ways, the programs are similar. Each offers income and expense tracking, bill management,  budgeting, credit score checks, and investment tracking. However, while Mint offers a ton of great features, Quicken’s features are far more developed.

For example, Mint only allows you to create one budget and it has to be for the current month, while Quicken allows you to create multiple budgets for the current month, next month, quarter, or year. Quicken also offers additional features like bank reconciliation, reports, a debt reduction planner, and online bill pay.

Pricing

Winner: Mint

Mint is completely free to use. There are no monthly payments or hidden fees. The software makes money by advertising credit cards, Turbo Tax, and investment accounts to users.

While you can’t beat free, Quicken is still an affordable option. Quicken offers three pricing plans that range from $34.99 – $74.99/year. The company also often sells the software at a discount. Still, Mint is the cheapest way to manage your personal finances.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Mint

As cloud-based software, Mint is compatible with nearly any computer, so long as you have an internet connection.

Quicken has more specific software requirements as the program is locally-installed onto a single computer. Quicken is compatible with:

  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 10
  • Macs with El Capitan 10.11+

Mint wins this category since its requirements are less strict, making it accessible for nearly any user.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Mint

Mint is the clear winner here. Mint has a beautiful, modern UI that is easy to navigate. The features are intuitive and well-organized, and the software offers time-saving automations as well. Quicken is also well-organized, but the UI is a bit more dated and some features are unitive and difficult to figure out.

Mobile Apps

Winner: Mint

Both Mint and Quicken have mobile apps for Apple and Android products. However, Mint’s mobile apps receive much more positive attention from customers, and Quicken’s apps receive low ratings on both iTunes and Google Play. If mobility is one of the key factors in your personal accounting software decision, then Mint is the clear winner.

Customer Service & Support

Winner: Quicken

Quicken not only has better support but also has far more support options. Quicken offers phone support, in-software help, tons of guides, a help center, a community forum, and live chat. In my experience, phone wait times were short and most representatives were knowledgeable and helpful.

Mint, on the other hand, offers very few customer support options. And if you need to talk to an actual person, you’re out of luck. You’ll have to make do with live chat and FAQs. It’s easy to see who the winner is here.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Quicken

This is one category Quicken should not want to win. Quicken has far more customer complaints. Most complaints are from long-time users who don’t like Quicken’s new subscription pricing structure. Though there are complaints about glitches, issues loading transactions, and limited mobile apps as well.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Mint

While both programs have many satisfied users, Mint has more positive reviews and a higher percentage of positive to negative reviews. Mint users love the software’s usability, price, feature set, and mobility.

Integrations

Winner: Quicken

Both Mint and Quicken connect with thousands of banks and online lenders so that you can track your spending and upcoming bills. However, in terms of additional add-ons, Quicken offers seven, while Mint only offers two.

Security

Winner: Mint

This category is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. With a locally-installed software like Quicken, you are responsible for keeping your data secure. Quicken does use data encryption for the data involved in its online features, and the software offers password protection for your Quicken files, but other than that, you’re on your own.

As a cloud-based software, Mint has security built-in from the beginning. We figure that for most people, the convenience of having security taken care of for you outweighs all of the extra efforts of securing your locally-installed software.

And The Overall Winner Is…

Winner: Quicken

Quicken Review

With advanced features, good customer support, and affordable pricing, Quicken is ultimately the better software. However, I still have a hard time naming this tried-and-true program the absolute winner. Unlike most software comparisons we do, in this case, it’s not about which software is better. It’s about what type of person you are.

For people looking for a detailed way to actively manage every aspect of their finances, Quicken is a great choice. It is ideal for users who are used to QuickBooks or who enjoy the complexity of locally-installed software.  If you want to create multiple budgets, track savings goals, and run reports, Quicken has far more to offer than Mint.

For people who want a simpler way to keep their spending in check and manage the basics of their finances, Mint is the winner. It is ideal for users who like cloud-based software and strong mobile apps that can keep up with a mobile lifestyle.

In the end, it all comes down to the level of detail you want and what type of software you’re more comfortable with.

More Accounting Options:

Compare Top Accounting Software

See All Accounting Reviews

The post Mint VS Quicken appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Name.com Review: Pros & Cons of Name.com as Domain Registrar

Name.com Review

Name.com is a Denver-based, ICANN-accredited domain registrar company that also offers web hosting, email, a website builder, and SSL certificates. It’s owned by Donuts Inc, a domain servicing company who specializes in serving premium & new top level domains (TLDs), which go beyond generic .com/.net/.org domains website owners were previously limited to.

Name.com touts an all-in-one approach to getting you online — they have everything you need to get up and running quickly, AKA a domain name, hosting, website builder, security, and email.

Check out Name.com’s plans & pricing here.

So, how does Name.com stack up against other domain registrars? Here’s my Name.com review with pros and cons based on my experience with them so far…

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

Pros of Name.com

Complementary Products

It’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not email or any other service. It’s merely your address online. It helps people locate where your property is by telling browsers/email/etc where to go to get whatever it wants (website files, emails, images, data, etc).

If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / ecommerce provider that provides hosting.

Name.com offers an all-in-one approach with their complementary products. You can bundle your domain, website builder, hosting, and email and do it all from their platform.

Name.com Complementary Products

While I personally like to separate my hosting and domains to provide an extra layer of control & reliability in addition to cost savings, many website owners prefer to have them bundled for convenience & time savings.

Sophisticated Search

Right off the bat, it’s easy to search for a domain with Name.com’s interface. And while the search results aren’t the easiest to decipher (more on that later), what’s really enticing about this domain registrar is its bulk search.

Name.com has a built in bulk search functionality that allows you to search and register for many domains all at once. You can filter by specific TLD or TLD category, meaning you don’t have to scroll endlessly or type in the TLDs you want. Just add the root domains/keywords to the search bar and filter from there to only see results that make sense for your business.

TLD Selection

Thanks to ICANN, the internet’s governing body, gone are the days where website owners are limited to basic domains like .com, .net, and a few other generic and country-designated top level domains (TLDs).

Now you can find unique TLDs, like .kitchen or .academy among hundreds of others. Which means the issue now is making sure your domain registrar has all of the TLDs you want to register.

Name.com has a large selection of various TLDs, making it easy to find unique choices to match your business needs (and multiple endings for the same root).

Name.com TLDs

They also offer country-specific domains (not all US-based domain providers do), making it a good choice if you need international domain types.

Name.com Country TLD

Simple Transfer Process

Despite the ICANN process being standardized for transfering a domain, some registrars make moving your domain a pain. While I haven’t transferred a domain from Name.com yet, the process seems fairly straightforward. In your profile, you can unlock your domain (as long as you’ve had it longer than 60 days due to ICANN regulations).

Name.com Transfer Process

After unlocking your domain, you’ll use your transfer authorization code to go through your new registrar’s transfer in process.

Inexpensive Upfront Pricing

Domain registrars typically have a few pricing models companies stick to:

  • Discounted upfront pricing with expensive renewals
  • Expensive upfront pricing with cheap renewals
  • Higher renewal + included services
  • Free / cheap initial purchase + consistent renewal
  • Cheap + zero services
  • Expensive + tons of services

Name.com falls into the first bucket. They offer discounted upfront pricing for traditional domains and more unique/premium TLDs (which can be more expensive), which then renew annually at a much higher price. At the time of writing this, there was also a new customer discount for .com domain registration (reducing the price to $7.99).

The pro with this model is you can grab a domain for super cheap and then transfer it out to a platform with cheaper renewals (like NameCheap) so you avoid the high renewal rate.

That being said, if you’re really committed to grabbing a cheap domain and transferring it to avoid high renewals, I’d recommend starting with a registrar like GoDaddy. Their domains tend to be cheaper.

Cons of Name.com

Domain Search / Purchasing Process

While it’s simple to search for a domain name on Name.com, once you actually get into the search results… there’s a lot going on.

Name.com Search Results

If you know exactly what you’re looking for, you may not find it overwhelming. But if you’re new to registering domains, the number of options and breakdowns of premium domains, sales, etc. can be a bit confusing.

The purchasing process was also lengthy. It took me several steps to purchase one domain name, including a text confirmation (great for security, a hurdle for convenience).

When adding a domain to your cart, the pricing automatically increases as it adds security features, and when you go to click on your cart to see your items, your served upsells before you can see what’s actually in your cart (more on both of these below).

After checking out, there aren’t clear next steps as to what to do next (the only next step outline is to check out their domain forwarding tools).

Name.com Order Complete

For a platform that makes its stand on being an all-in-one solution, there could be more guidance for those who don’t have a ton of technical experience and want to convenience of complementary products, but don’t know exactly what to do once they’ve purchased their domain.

Pricing

While Name.com’s inexpensive upfront is a pro, it’s also a con. The renewal price on domains is significantly higher, especially for specialty TLDs. Keep in mind that the domain will automatically renew unless you unselect this option during the checkout process. There also aren’t upfront options for bulk purchasing — you have to contact their team to discuss pricing, which is unfortunate given the great bulk search option.

Name.com no auto renewal

Another con to the pricing structure is that WHOIS security/privacy features aren’t included in the domain price. ICANN requires that personal information including your full name, address, phone number and email be provided. This information is made public via a WHOIS lookup and remains so unless you have privacy and security add-ons that restrict this information.

Some domain registrars will include this in your domain price. Name.com adds it automatically when you register a domain, which adds an additional $4.99 to your bill. You won’t know until you add your domain, then click in to view your cart emails (and make it through the upsells).

With the additional $4.99 pricing, you start getting back to standard pricing for domains, especially for .com domains. For example, let’s look at Name.com vs. NameCheap.

On Name.com, architechtureandbeauty.com sells is on “sale” for $8.99. But once you add on WHOIS privacy, you’re sitting at $13.98 for the domain.

Name.com Comparison Pricing

Meanwhile, the domain sells on NameCheap for $10.98. With the ICANN fee, it brings the total to $11.16 and includes WHOIS privacy.

NameCheap Pricing Comparison

The same applies for specialty TLDs (like architectureandbeauty.com, which would cost you a total of $34.98 on Name.com vs. $26.06 on NameCheap).

So if you’re looking at Name.com because of their savings, you could actually save more elsewhere.

Upsells / Cross Sells

For several website owners, a domain registrar that offers complementary products is great. And while I like to keep hosting and domains separate, I do get behind added security features like an SSL certificate.

However, if your goal is to just purchase a domain (and maybe an SSL certificate), the upsells and cross sells on Name.com can be getting in your way. You can’t view your cart items without seeing the upsells/cross sells, and you have to sort through that information when trying to buy your domain.

Name.com Upsells

That being said, Name.com isn’t nearly as pushy as other registrars. At the time of writing this, I’ve received no promotional emails urging me to buy hosting or a website builder.

It’s all about what you’re looking for. If you need complementary products and want the convenience of having your services bundled, then you won’t mind navigating the upsells and cross sells. But if you just want to purchase a domain quickly, there are better registrars (like iwantmyname.com).

Support

Despite having a fairly robust Knowledge Base where you can troubleshoot your own support needs, Name.com gets a fairly bad rap for support. Complaints range from availability to the levels of support provided.

At the end of the day, anecdotes go both ways. It’s difficult to decipher whether it’s the website owner who isn’t clear or the support who is dropping the ball, so let’s take a look at the actual process of getting connected when you need help.

When you go to the support area, you’re first prompted to troubleshoot your issue with Name.com’s Knowledge Base, which is broken down by category.

Name.com Support Area

From there, you’re given a list of articles that could address your needs.

Name.com Knowledge Base

If you can’t find your question in the articles, you’ll then find contact information at the bottom of the page where you have three options: email support, call (Monday-Friday 8 AM – 6 PM MT. Denver), or live chat every day between 10 AM and 5 PM MT, Denver.

It’s a bit of an arduous process, especially when you have a pressing matter. There are also some apparent support gaps, especially for other timezones (or again, if you have a pressing matter that falls outside of support hours).

If you’re someone who knows their way around domain management and the back-end of your website system, you could probably get by with the support articles. But if you’re new to registering a domain, hosting, and setting up a website, you may want to go with a registrar with more hands-on support and coverage.

Next Steps

For what it’s worth, Name.com is an okay choice for a domain registrar. But unless you have an pressing reason to go with Name.com (like an amazing deal on a TLD that you want to grab upfront for cheap), then you’d be better off with a domain registrar like NameCheap.

NameCheap offers inexpensive upfront pricing, cheaper renewals, and still has complementary products for website owners who want to keep everything together. You can find my review of NameCheap as a domain registrar here.

Name.com

Name.com is a Denver-based, ICANN-accredited domain registrar company that also offers web hosting, email, a website builder, and SSL certificates. It offers everything someone needs to get up and running online, all in one place.
Name.com Review
Date Published: 08/08/2018
Offers basic complementary products and a wide variety of TLDs. Inexpensive pricing upfront with high renewal pricing and WHOIS privacy not included.
2 / 5 stars

The post Name.com Review: Pros & Cons of Name.com as Domain Registrar appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Advertise on Yelp Effectively

How to Advertise on Yelp Effectively

Word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful tools businesses have at their disposal to increase business. But, since word of mouth is as much a phenomena as it is an actual method for driving sales to your business, it’s always been difficult or impossible to achieve at scale.

As a business that strives to provide exemplary service to your customers, it’s not uncommon for you to develop a loyal following that’s eager to share your business with their friends and family. Unfortunately, this advocacy can only take you as far as that person’s network.

This is where Yelp comes in. In a nutshell, Yelp is like a megaphone for word of mouth. Your business’ page on Yelp provides essential information about your business, including real reviews from your customers.

Now, what people are saying about your business can extend far beyond their network, and everyone viewing your page on Yelp will be able to say what your customers are saying about you.

This can be an exceptionally powerful tool for you to leverage. But, succeeding as an advertiser on Yelp isn’t quite as simple as claiming your business page and paying for ads. Before jumping in, there are several things you’ll need to consider.

Today, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about Yelp, how it relates to your business and the different ways you may be able to use Yelp as a tool to drive new business through your doors.

Over 74 million people use Yelp on their computer each month, with another 70 million accessing Yelp from their mobile site. Yelp also has over 30 million monthly users of their app.

Virtually every business, from restaurants and eateries to mechanics, salons, doctors, dentists, boutiques and more have a page on Yelp.

A businesses Yelp page features basic contact information such as the business’ phone, address, and website as well as user-generated content that includes reviews, photos, and more.

Through organic growth and acquisitions of businesses like Qype and CityVox, Yelp has bolstered their worldwide presence, and it’s become a popular service throughout Europe and Asia, in addition to North America.

According to Yelp, two things make their platform particularly appealing to businesses of all sizes. First, Yelp users are actively engaged in the buying cycle when they visit Yelp. They have already decided on what they need, and are now trying to find the business who can best provide it to them.

People rarely use Yelp to conduct research or learn more about a product or business. Instead, they use Yelp when they’re prepared to make a purchase. So, the people viewing a business’ Yelp page are generally more likely to make a purchase. In fact, 82% of Yelp users use the site or app when they’re intent on making a purchase, and over 89% of them make that purchase within one week.

The other aspect of Yelp that’s so attractive to businesses are the demographics of Yelp users. About 50% of Yelp users have an income greater than $100k per year, and over 75% have at least some college background. Over 70% of users are age 18-54. For most businesses, this represents an ideal customer: they’re young, wealthy, and looking to spend money.

The thing that drives Yelp’s growth, and continues to keep people coming back to the site are the quality reviews of all kinds of businesses. Yelp currently has over 155 million reviews, and that number grows each day.

Whether a Yelp user is looking for a new restaurant to try in their neighborhood, an honest mechanic, or cool things to do on vacation, they turn to Yelp because they trust the reviews to steer them in the right direction.

New York City locksmith, who was able to grow his small locksmithing business from very humble beginnings into a thriving business thanks in part to customers who saw his ads on Yelp.

In general, high ROI businesses like home service professionals, doctors, and dentists offices tend to have the highest potential for success when advertising on Yelp. A single service from one of these businesses could net hundreds or thousands of dollars for the business. So, if Yelp advertising brings even a single new customer each month, they’re already in the black.

While any business may be able to benefit from using Yelp ads, there are some businesses that may be better off avoiding the platform altogether.

customize their ads as part of both the self-service and full-service advertising programs. This new feature allows business owners to select the photo and review snippet that will accompany their ads, instead of leaving it up to Yelp’s algorithms.

recent study suggests that 30% of consumers consider a businesses response to reviews as a key factor in their decision making process. One way to engage is to offer a response to each Yelp review you receive. If it’s a positive review, a simple thank you is more than enough.

For negative reviews, it’s important to offer a thoughtful response without being argumentative. Even if the review comes from a disgruntled customer with an ax to grind, there’s no way you’ll come out on top if you respond angrily or blow off the customer’s issue.

potential to bring you new customers organically as well as through advertising.

Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of Yelp and their dedicated community of users is the best way to ensure that Yelp is working for your business, instead of against it.

The post How To Advertise on Yelp Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The 5 Cs Of Credit: What Lenders Look For

You’ve heard the old adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This phrase is more than just a To Kill A Mockingbird lesson on understanding where others are coming from — it’s also the key to securing the business loan you need.

By considering the loan process from the lender’s perspective and understanding what they’re looking for, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to increase your chances of being approved for a business loan.

That’s where the 5 Cs of Credit come in.

The 5 Cs of Credit is a system that lenders use to evaluate your business’s creditworthiness and ability to repay a loan. Lenders look specifically at your business’s character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions before making their lending decision.

In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about these 5 Cs, including how lenders evaluate each trait and how to boost your business’s 5 Cs so you can secure a business loan. Read on to learn more.

Character

Character refers to a business’s reputation and trustworthiness. Also sometimes called “credit history,” character often translates to how faithful you’ve been in paying off past debts on time.

Why Character Matters

For lenders, it all comes down to how the question: “Will I get my money back?” Lenders want to work with responsible, organized businesses that are likely to make their repayments on time.

How Lenders Evaluate Character

When evaluating character, lenders look at:

  • Credit report
  • Credit scores
  • Personal qualities
  • References

To analyze your credit history, lenders will often view your credit report and credit score. Lenders take both your business credit score and your personal credit score into consideration.

They tend to look at how long you’ve been in business as well. The longer you’ve been in business, the more stable you appear. For lenders, this again means less risk and increased likelihood that your business will be successful enough to cover loan repayments.

Sometimes, lenders also take a literal approach to the word “character” and analyze your attributes as a business owner.

They may conduct a personal interview or require references (some even go so far as looking at Yelp reviews of your business). Many online lenders make phone consultations a part of their application processes so that they can help you with any questions about the application while also getting a feel for you and your company.

How To Improve Character

If you’re looking to impress lenders with your personality or improve the character of your business, there are a few ways to do so. Here are fours tips for boosting character:

1. Raise Your Credit Score

Poor credit can be a deal breaker when it comes to loan approval. Taking the extra time to raise your credit score before applying for loans can help increase your chances of qualifying for the loan you want.

If you don’t know what your credit score is, then that’s the first place to start. Check out these top free credit score sites to learn where your credit stands.

2. Understand Your Credit Report

It’s also important to understand your credit report and be prepared to explain anything negative on your report. Some lenders may view your application more favorably if you are able to help them understand your business’s situation. Make sure to take action to correct any errors that may be affecting your credit report.

Learn more about how to check your credit report and dispute errors by reading 5 Tips To Improve Your Personal Credit Score.

3. Be Professional

Whether interacting with a banker in person or applying through an online lender, put your best foot forward. Always be professional and kind. Also show the lender that you are knowledgeable about the loan application process and familiar with how loans work. This shows that you are responsible and experienced in business as well as being personable.

4. Establish A Relationship With Your Bank

If you are seeking a traditional business loan from a bank, establish a relationship with your banker. If the banker likes you and is familiar with your business, they may be more willing to vouch for you when it comes to loan approval time.

Capacity

Capacity is your business’s ability to pay back the loan. Also sometimes called “cash flow,” capacity is directly related to how much cash your business has available for loan use.

Why Capacity Matters

Not only do lenders want to see that you have a history of paying your loans on time, they also need to see that you actually have the cash to do so. They must look at your financial health to ensure that you can afford a loan in the first place, and then use this information to see how large of a loan amount they can offer you.

How Lenders Evaluate Capacity

Lenders may use the following tools to determine your business’s capacity to afford a loan:

  • Cash flow statements
  • Cash flow projections
  • Bank statements
  • Debt service coverage ratio (DSCR)
  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

Most lenders require you to provide cash flow statements and bank statements when you apply for a loan. They also may require a cash flow projection to get an idea of what your cash flow will most likely look like in the future.

Some lenders may depend on more concrete measures of financial health, like debt service coverage ratios (DSCR) and debt-to-income ratios (DTI). The debt service coverage ratio measures the relationship between your business’s debt and income, while the debt-to-income ratio measures the relationship between your personal debt and income as the business owner.

Both of these ratios are used to determine the health of your business’s cash flow and demonstrate how much extra cash you have available for a loan. Ideally, lenders look for a DSCR of 1.25 or higher and a DTI ratio of 36% or lower.

How To Improve Capacity

The following are four tips for maximizing your business’s capacity; following these steps will demonstrate that your business can handle a loan and may also increase the size of the loan that you can realistically afford to make payments on.

1. Pay Down Past Debt

If you have a significant amount of outstanding debt, a serious chunk of change is going to paying those loans off each month — money that could be used to invest in a new loan instead. Try to pay old debt down or off completely. This will increase the amount of cash flow available for a new loan. This will also show a lender that you have the means to repay a new loan and that you have a history of successfully paying off debts.

2. Improve Your DSCR

The higher the debt service coverage ratio, the more cash you have to invest in your business and the more likely you are to be approved for the loan you want. To improve your DSCR, try:

  • Increasing your net operating income
  • Decreasing your net operating expenses
  • Paying off existing debt

Read Debt Service Coverage Ratio: How To Calculate And Improve Your Business’s DSCR to learn more.

3. Lower Your DTI

While lenders usually place more emphasis on the debt service coverage ratio, your debt-to-income ratio is still important. And, if you’re self-employed, lenders look solely to your DTI ratio to determine if you can afford a loan.

Since the DTI percentage shows how much of your money is already committed to existing debt, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better. Here are the main ways to lower DTI:

  • Increase your monthly income
  • Pay off existing debt

Read Debt-To-Income Ratio: How To Calculate And Lower Your DTI to learn more.

4. Use Accounting Software

Not only can using accounting software help you balance the books, it can also help you prepare a strong business loan application. With the right accounting software you can:

  • Generate the cash flow statements and financial statements required by lenders
  • Use financial history to create cash flow projections
  • Keep track of operating expenses and income so that you can calculate DSCR and DTI correctly

Using accounting software can also show lenders that you are organized and financially responsible. Some lenders even require that businesses use accounting software for a certain period of time before being approved. If you want to make preparing your loan application simpler, understand exactly how much you can afford to borrow, and stay in control of your business overall finances, accounting software is a must.

Take a look at our top-rated accounting programs and our comprehensive accounting reviews for help finding the perfect software for your business.

Capital

Capital refers to how much money you (or you and your business partners) have invested in your company.

Why Capital Matters

In lenders’ eyes, the more money you personally have invested in your business, the less likely you are to default on your loans. Lenders see capital investments as a sign that you take your business seriously, and have something to lose if the business goes under.

It makes sense — if you have money personally invested in your business, you are much more likely to do everything you can to make that business succeed — which for lenders, translates into doing everything you can to pay your loans off.

How Lenders Evaluate Capital

When considering capital, lenders want to see:

  • How much of the owner’s capital is invested in the business
  • How the owner’s capital is invested

Lenders primarily look at the amount of owner’s capital invested in the business. Not only do they evaluate how much money you have invested in the business, they also check to see where you’ve invested that money. If they see that you’ve made smart investment decisions in the past, they can take comfort in knowing that you will most likely invest a new loan wisely.

How To Improve Capital

If you’re looking to present strong capital to a lender, here’s what you should do.

1. Increase Owner’s Capital

First off, make sure that you actually have money invested in your business. If you haven’t invested any money into your business, now may be the time to talk to a financial advisor about the best way to increase your owner’s capital and invest in business growth.

2. Highlight Investment Successes

Lenders like to know exactly how you plan on using the money they may potentially lend to you. If you’ve made successful investments in the past, like purchasing additional equipment that increased your sales revenue by 25%, and are planning on purchasing more equipment with the loan your applying for, be sure to tell your lender! It will demonstrate that you’re experienced in business and that you’re likely to increase your cash flow (which a lender hears as “we’re getting our money back”).

What If You Don’t Have Any Capital Invested In Your Business?

If you don’t have any capital invested in your business and aren’t in a financial place where you can do so, you’ll need to rely heavily on the other 4 Cs. If your character, capacity, collateral, and conditions are particularly strong, you may be able to offset the lack of capital.

Since lenders use capital to see that you’re committed to your business, show them your commitment in other ways, maybe by offering strong collateral or articulating a clear business plan and repayment plan.

Collateral

Collateral is an asset (or assets) that are offered up as insurance against you paying back your loan fully and on time. If you default on your loan, lenders will seize the collateral in order to make up for their losses.

Why Collateral Matters

Much like owner’s capital, collateral means you have something to lose if you default on your loans. The hope for many lenders is that the collateral will encourage business owners to work hard to repay their loan.

However, if your business does go under, collateral assures lenders that they won’t lose all of their money if you default on a loan.

How Lenders Evaluate Collateral

Every lender has different requirements when it comes to collateral.

Some require specific assets to be offered up as collateral. Others require a blanket lien, meaning they have the right to go after your assets in case of a default. Others still require a personal guarantee, meaning you the business owner will be held responsible in the event of a default.

Some examples of collateral include:

  • Property
  • Vehicles
  • Equipment
  • Savings accounts

It’s important to carefully evaluate each lender’s policy and requirements regarding collateral. This way, you can know exactly what is expected of you. And, more importantly, you can decide if you’re comfortable with the required collateral or if you’d rather look for a different lender.

To learn more about collateral, read Secured Vs. Unsecured Business Loans.

How To Improve Small Business Collateral

Each lender has their own way of evaluating collateral, so there’s no one right way to improve your business’s collateral. However, by carefully researching potential lenders, you can work to present strong collateral that meets their standards. Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Know What Collateral You Have To Offer

Carefully evaluate your assets and their value so that you know exactly what your business can offer up as collateral. Many accounting software programs help you track your assets and their depreciation so you can know how much they are worth.

2. Decide What You’re Comfortable With

As we mentioned earlier, some lenders require a blanket lien or a personal guarantee to secure a loan. Neither of these agreements should be taken lightly and these arrangements are not right for every business.

Read our posts What Is A UCC Blanket Lien? and Should I Sign A Personal Guarantee? to decide if these forms of collateral are right for you.

3. Find The Right Lender

Required collateral varies from lender to lender. If you aren’t comfortable with something like a personal guarantee or don’t have much collateral to offer up, do some shopping around until you find a lender that is suited for your business.

If you need assistance in your search for the perfect lender, let us help you find a business loan.

Conditions

Conditions are considered in two parts: the conditions of the loan and the conditions of the economy.

Why Conditions Matter

Conditions such as interest rate and principal play an important factor in whether or not you can afford a loan and how big that loan can be. Factors such as the economy and your business’s market can also play a role in how likely your business is to succeed and be able to repay a loan.

How Lenders Evaluate Conditions

When considering if the conditions are right to approve your loan, lenders consider:

  • Interest rate
  • Principal
  • Economy
  • Your business’s industry
  • Your business’s competitors

The actual loan amount you are requesting is very important, but lenders will consider the principle, interest rate, and monthly payments to determine if you can feasibly take on that loan.

Lenders also carefully consider how you are planning on using the loan as the purpose of the loan can greatly affect whether your business will grow and profit from the investment.

The economy is also a huge consideration. If the economy is booming, businesses are more likely to flourish, meaning less risk for lenders. If the economy is taking a downturn, lenders may be more reluctant to lend money. When the economy is poor, lenders typically increase their minimum DSCR which means businesses have to have an incredibly strong cash flow in order to be approved.

Some lenders may look at your specific market and competitors to get an idea of how financially promising your business is. Certain lenders also have prohibited industry lists, meaning that they will not lend to business in specific high-risk industries. So before you apply, be sure that your business does not fall into that category.

How To Improve Conditions

You may not be able to control the economy, but you can control how strong your business and its loan application appears. Here are a few tips on how to put your best foot forward where conditions are concerned.

1. Have A Plan

Don’t just say you need $30,000 for your business. Lenders want to hear exactly what you’re planning on doing with the loan and how you plan on doing it.

Common reasons for requesting a business loan include:

  • Purchasing inventory
  • Purchasing property
  • Updating equipment
  • Hiring new employees
  • Expanding your business
  • Increasing cash flow

Let your lender know exactly how you’re planning on using the money with a detailed business plan. Increase their faith in your business by showing how the loan will benefit your business, whether by increasing production, doubling sales, expanding your business’s services, etc. The more specific you can be the better.

2. Time It Right

Often, small businesses seek a loan when they are in need of money. Makes sense, right? Wrong. Consider applying for a line of credit when the economy is good and your business is booming. You will be much more likely to qualify for a line of credit with favorable terms when things are going well. This way, you’ll have cash when you do need it.

If you wait until the economy is poor and your cash flow is stagnant you will be much less likely to be approved for a loan. And if you are approved, the loan rates may be steep and unfavorable.

3. Show Your Expertise

Be knowledgeable about your business and its market. You can’t control the economy, but you can control how you present your situation to a lender. If the economy is poor or your business’s market is stalling, show lenders how the loan you’re requesting will allow you to launch a promising new marketing campaign or expand into a new, profitable business vertical.

Demonstrating your expertise will build their faith and trust in you and your business.

4. Improve Your DSCR

If the economy is poor, another way to increase the likelihood of being approved for a loan is to increase your debt service coverage ratio. As we mentioned earlier, there are several ways to improve your DSCR, including:

  • Increasing your net operating income
  • Decreasing your net operating expenses
  • Paying off existing debt

Read our post the Debt Service Coverage Ratio: How To Calculate And Improve Your Business’s DSCR to learn more.

Sealing The Deal

When it comes to loan applications, you don’t want to go in blind. Knowing what lenders are looking for and how they’re evaluating your application can be the key to securing the loan you need.

When it all boils down, lenders simply want to be certain that you will pay back your loan. The 5 Cs of Credit are how lenders can realistically evaluate how big of a risk you are.

It’s important to note that not all lenders evaluate each C the same way. Some place more emphasis on character, while others care more about your capital. Carefully researching each lender’s requirements and following our tips to master each of the 5 Cs of Credit can greatly increase your chances of sealing the deal on a loan.

In the end, it all comes down to establishing yourself as a trustworthy, credible borrower who can set lenders’ minds at ease. Start mastering character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions to impress lenders and secure the loan you want.

Ready to take out a business loan? Read through our comprehensive reviews of business lenders, put lenders side by side with our small business loans comparison chart, or check out three of our favorite lenders below:

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How To Advertise on Snapchat Effectively

How to Advertise on Snapchat Effectively

The digital marketing landscape is evolving quicker than ever before. While print and more traditional mediums still have their place, those who want to take their platforms need to the next level need to embrace the new digital landscape. And no platforms are more influential to your business than the social media, including Snapchat.

Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are common social media vehicles to advertise. However, because Snapchat is so new, many businesses don’t know how to or don’t want to, leverage the platform to their advantage. And I think that’s a great mistake on their end.

By explicitly targeting specific demographics and meaningfully engaging with them, Snapchat offers a variety of tangible benefits to growing your business.

Scroll through to learn more about Snapchat itself and how to advertise on Snapchat, one of the most popular social media networks in the world.

Snapchat is now part of the larger Snap Inc.. In addition to their primary product, Snapchat, Snap Inc. will expand its influence in the social media space. Their flagship product, Spectacles, a pair of “smart glasses” that syncs with the user’s Snapchat account and records videos as they go about their business.

One of the core principles of Snapchat is that media recorded, the pictures and messages, are just available temporarily before they need user input. Snapchat was once only meant for peer-to-peer photo sharing through such platforms as “Stories,” but has now introduced “Discover.” The latterly mentioned platform allows brands and media outlets to run ad-supported content through short-form entertainment.

As of this February, Snapchat has around 190 million daily active users who use the platform. Snap Inc., which continues to own and operate Snapchat and is now a public company, is worth an estimated $20 billion. And there’s a good chance the company could exceed $30 billion in worth by 2020.

profitable space to advertise businesses on to see tangible results.

Since going public, Snap Inc. is keen on growing their demographic appeal. This recent choice to go public is promising to those who want to advertise on the platform. It also means those companies can broaden the product and services they push on Snapchat.

“They are eventually going to tap out of these younger age groups and will have to court older demographic groups,” said eMarketer principal analyst Catherine Boyle to Forbes in response to Snapchat’s demographic appeal. “They may not need Facebook-level penetration across every age group, but growth will happen among an older user base.”

Snapchat also is widely aware that their interface isn’t the easiest to use for those who are new to social media.

“The onboarding experience is difficult,” chief strategist of Kuuhubb Tero Kuittinen said of Snapchat’s account sign up to Forbes. “It’s not easy to learn how to use it. If you’re 18, it’s not a big stretch, but if you’re 45, it’s tough to figure out.”

Snapchat is already making stride to making the platform more comfortable to use to those who aren’t social media savvy. And when these older demographics do eventually become more prominent on the platform, Snapchat will gain more traction as a place to not only get news but see new products and consume media.

“Older groups are now more likely to tune in [to Snapchat] for content,” eMarketer analyst Jamie Chung said in an email to Forbes. “The platform has multiple partnerships with television networks for mini-episodes. Meanwhile, the younger groups are less likely to add Snapchat when Instagram Stories can fulfill their broadcasting needs.”

By leveraging Snapchat now, you can get ahead of the crowd and establish a strong presence on the platform.

within the first 15 second of seeing it. Those brands who can capitalize on early engagement will be far more successful than those who need “build up.”

Long-form Video Ads also lend themselves to a higher amount of creativity than most of the platform’s other ad services. Because creators have such a long time to craft an image, a business can introduce storytelling aspects into these ads. Research has shown that brands who can create themes and stories within their ethos have greater longevity and increased product sales.

In the end, Long Form Video ads aren’t for business who aren’t media-focused. But for those who are, there’s no better ad service on Snapchat to convey a story, theme, or concept than by running a well-made Long Form Video ad.

News’ on Snapchat’s main website to do just that.

The blog also regularly highlights general market trends, news, and practices that Snapchat business are using to help grown their efforts.

Snapchat is continuing to grow quarter after quarter. It’s presence and importance is only increasing as it stocks share.

I recommend using Snapchat as a vehicle to tell stories through ads. Unlike its contemporaries like Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat lets you engage with your audience in profound, meaningful ways. You can share your brand with narratives and creative designs, rather than just with clickbait copy.

In the coming years, storytelling will become one of the most potent marketing tools. Snapchat and it’s creative ads do just that: tell stories in pleasing ways that can draw an audience from near and far to your business, brand, etc.. Snap away, tell stories, and reap the benefits from being an engaged, creative “Snapchatter.”

 

 

The post How To Advertise on Snapchat Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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