How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business

You’re an experienced mechanic that’s been working for someone else for your entire career. You’re ready to spread your wings and fly (or drive) right to your own auto body shop. Sound like you? If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, then maybe it’s time to set out on your own.

Even if you’re the best at what you do, venturing out into the small business world can be scary. If you’re an employee at a collision center, you probably feel like you have some stability. Why risk a “sure thing” to start your own shop, especially if you don’t have any previous experience running your own business?

Starting your own business is risky and it takes hard work (and a lot of it). But opening your own auto collision shop can be an extremely lucrative venture. The automotive collision repair market brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year, and studies show that revenue will only continue to grow in the years ahead. Isn’t it time you got your share?

If you’re thinking about starting your own auto body shop, this guide is for you. We’ll go through all of the steps of starting your own business, from creating a business plan to finding the right lender. We’ll review potential costs, hiring employees, and other critical steps to building a successful business. If you’re ready to take the next step into entrepreneurship, read on to find out how to get started.

Create A Business Plan

You’ve made up your mind: you’re ready to open your own collision or auto body center and you have an idea of how to do it. That’s good enough, right? Actually, you need to be more prepared before you even begin to move on to other steps in building your business. The best way to be prepared? Create a detailed business plan.

Let’s illustrate the importance of a business plan with an example. You’re going on a hike in the woods. There are lots of paths to choose from. Some of these paths may bring you out of the woods — your end goal — but there may be additional challenges along the way, like steep terrain. Some paths may be wrong altogether … and you’ll have to backtrack to right your course. In short, you can enter the woods without a map and risk getting lost. Or you can get a map ahead of time, plot out your course, and set out only after you’ve planned your route and know what to expect.

A business plan works in the same way. A good business plan outlines how to get from your starting point (launching your business) to your goal. Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to run a successful local business that sets your family up for life. Maybe you have bigger goals — starting your own chain of auto body shops, for example. The most important thing is to set a concrete goal and create a map of how to get there.

Not only will a business plan keep you on the right track, but you must have a plan to present to investors or lenders when you’re seeking capital.

New to writing a business plan? At a minimum, here’s what you should include:

  • Executive Summary: A concise summary detailing each section of your business plan
  • Overview: A description of your business, including the legal structure, location, and type of business
  • Market Analysis: An overview of your market and a definition of your target market
  • Competitive Analysis: Strength and weaknesses of your competition
  • Management Team: The members of your management team and their responsibilities within your organization
  • Financial Projections: A forecast of the financial future of your business

Find A Location

As realtors say, “Location, location, location!” As you plan your own body shop, location is key, but there are a few other considerations to weigh before you put your name on that lease or mortgage.

You want to make sure that you purchase or lease the best location you can afford. Sure, that commercial property on the outskirts of town is much cheaper, but your customers have to be able to find you. Find a property that’s convenient for your customers and is located in a high-traffic area or at least off of a major road.

Another consideration is whether you’re going to buy an existing business or start from scratch. Buying an existing business comes with definite perks, including an established clientele, equipment, and even licenses and permits. However, there are a few drawbacks. This is one of the most expensive options, especially if the business is successful. You may also have to put additional costs into the business for renovations, like replacing outdated equipment.

If you start from scratch, you’ll rack up costs with the price of equipment, licenses, and building renovations.
Unsure of which to choose? Build a business plan looking at both options, calculate costs, and determine which makes the most sense financially, both in the short- and long-term.

Another option to consider is opening a franchise. With a franchise, you have less flexibility in terms of designing your brand and shop. However, you’ll have a working business model that takes a lot of the guesswork out of owning your own business.

Register Your Business

Before you open your auto body shop to the public, you need to register your business. Not only will you be seen as a legitimate business by your customers, but registering is also required when you want to hire employees, protect your assets, or seek capital from investors.

To register your business, you need to first determine what form of business entity to establish. There are several structures to choose from, including:

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure. This is best for businesses with just one owner. Sole proprietors can file their business profits and losses on their personal income tax returns. No paperwork is required to register as a sole proprietorship. However, this structure isn’t without its drawbacks. Raising money as a sole proprietorship is difficult, and you are personally responsible for the liabilities of your business.

Partnership

A partnership is a good choice for companies that will be owned and operated by two or more people. There are several different partnership types to consider:

  • General Partnership: Doesn’t require filing with the state and has few requirements
  • Limited Partnership (LP): One partner has unlimited liability and the others have limited liability. The personal assets of the limited partners can’t be used to satisfy the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): Used by professional service businesses, this type of partnership offers personal asset protection for all partners.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC has several benefits for business owners. With an LLC, a business owner will receive liability protection without paying the high tax requirements of corporations.

Corporation

This is the most complex and expensive business structure. More regulations and tax requirements are put in place for corporations. This structure is best for businesses that plan to raise capital through the sale of stock.

The type of structure you select for your business varies by the number of owners that you have and the future plans for your business. In most cases, however, single owners of auto body shops lean toward LLCs, while businesses with more than one partner select the partnership business structure. Before choosing your business structure, talk to your accountant and/or lawyer to find out which makes the most sense for your business.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you’ll need to select a name for your business. Choose a name that reflects your brand and the services you offer. You also want to choose something that’s catchy and/or easy for customers to remember.

Your business will need to be registered with city, state, and federal governments. You’ll need to sign up for an employer ID number through the Internal Revenue Service if you plan to hire employees. To learn about the specific business license and permit requirements in your area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Department of Revenue, or Small Business Administration office to learn more.

Calculate Your Startup Costs

Every new business has one thing in common: the need for capital. In order to start your own collision center, you need money. The big question, though, is how much do you need?

One of the first steps to starting your own business is to calculate your startup costs. In order to do that, begin by making a list of everything you need for your business.

One of the biggest expenses for your new business will be equipment and tools. While your list may look a little different, some of the most common equipment and tools in this industry include:

  • Hydraulic Lifts
  • Hand Tools
  • Pneumatic Tools (Air Tools)
  • Air Compressors
  • Diagnostic Machines
  • Wheel Balancers
  • Paint Guns

Additional startup costs to consider include your business licenses and certifications, insurance, hiring employees, and shop rental or mortgage fees. You should expect to spend at least $50,000 to get your shop up and running. However, as you make a list of your costs and research pricing, this number could potentially rise.

Before you seek funding for your business, a good rule of thumb is to always overestimate your costs by about 30 percent. For example, if you calculate that your expenses will be $200,000, plan to seek $260,000 in funding. In other words, always plan for the unexpected.

Seek Funding

Now that you’ve calculated your startup costs, it’s time to figure out how to pay for it all. If your bank account looks a little low, don’t worry. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the funds to cover these costs out-of-pocket. Instead, they turn to a lender to get the financing they need. Consider these loans and other funding options when you need capital to start your new body shop.

And if you can’t find the option you’re looking for here? Check out more recommendations in the post, Business Loans For Auto Repair Shops.

Personal Savings

If you have money in a savings account, consider using these funds to pay your startup costs. There are several benefits to using your own money. You won’t be indebted to a lender, so there are no monthly or weekly payments to worry about. You also won’t have to pay interest or fees. On the downside, though, if your business fails, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend or family member with extra money to invest, consider pitching your business to them. Present your business plan and tell them why they should invest in you.

There are two ways to go about this. You can stick with traditional debt financing. This means that you would take a loan from your friend, family member, or colleague and pay it back over a set period of time, along with interest and fees.

You may also consider equity financing. Instead of taking out a loan, you’d receive capital in exchange for ownership in your business. The investor would get their money back over time through a share of your profits. While the risk falls on the investor and you wouldn’t have to begin paying back money immediately, you would have to share your profits and lose some control over your business.

Unsure of which option is right for you? Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

Personal Loans For Business

One of the biggest challenges a new business owner faces is meeting the requirements for a business loan. Many lenders – especially the ones with the lowest rates and best terms – want to work with established businesses with high revenues and solid business and personal credit histories. If you haven’t even opened your doors to a single customer, meeting these requirements is impossible.

However, if you have a high personal credit score, you can take out a personal loan to use for your startup costs. Time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history aren’t required to qualify for personal loans. Instead, you use your personal credit score and your own income to qualify.

If you choose this option, it’s important to make sure that your lender doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting you from using funds to pay startup costs or other business expenses. Most personal loans don’t have restrictions and can be used to purchase equipment, hire employees, pay operating costs, or use as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

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Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lender that provides personal loans up to $40,000 to qualified borrowers. Repayment terms are 3 years or 5 years with APRs starting at 6.95% for the most creditworthy applicants. APRs for less creditworthy borrowers go up to 35.89%.

To qualify for a Lending Club personal loan, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or live in the U.S. on a long-term visa
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have a personal credit score of at least 600

In some cases, Lending Club may recommend adding a co-borrower to increase your chances for approval. If you meet all requirements, you can get funded in as little as 7 days.

As you grow a more established business, you can later take advantage of Lending Club’s business loans. Lending Club offers up to $300,000 in business funding with terms of up to 5 years and fixed monthly payments.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a form of financing you should consider if you want instant access to cash without having to wait for lender approvals. Once you’ve been approved for a line of credit, you can make draws as needed to inject cash into your business.

Here’s how it works. You apply for a line of credit with a lender. The lender looks at a number of factors, such as your personal credit score or business performance, when determining whether to approve your application. These factors will also be considered when setting your credit limit.

Once you’ve been approved, you can initiate as many draws as you’d like from your line of credit up to and including the credit limit. Funds are typically transferred to your bank account immediately, and you can access the money in 1 to 3 business days with most lenders.

As you repay the borrowed funds plus fees and interest charged by the lender, the funds replenish and become available to use again.

Lines of credit are useful for unexpected expenses, emergencies, or to fill revenue gaps. Having a line of credit allows you to access money when you need it without having to go through the application and approval process over and over again.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified businesses. The lender charges a one-time fee for each draw that starts at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Terms of 12 weeks or 24 weeks are available, and automatic payments are drawn from your bank account each week. You can save by paying your loan off early, as Fundbox will waive all remaining fees.

There are two ways to qualify for a Fundbox line of credit. The first is by linking your business bank account or submitting bank statements. These will be used by the lender to evaluate the performance of your business. If you have unpaid accounts receivables, you can use these to qualify. All you have to do is link your supported accounting software.

Minimum requirements to receive a Fundbox line of credit are:

  • Business checking account
  • U.S.-based business
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • At least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account OR at least 2 months of activity in accounting software

Once you’ve filled out Fundbox’s quick application and have linked your accounts or submitted documentation, you can be approved in just minutes. Then, you can instantly put your line of credit to work for your business.

Business Credit Cards

Another option for fast funding is a business credit card. Once you’ve been approved for a business credit card, you can use it any time. You can use your card as often as you wish provided you stay within your set credit limit.

Business credit cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. You can make purchases online or in-person. You can also use your card for recurring payments, such as utility bills, which is even smarter when you use a rewards card that gives cash back or other perks.

Like lines of credit, business credit cards are revolving forms of credit. This means that as you pay down your principal balance and interest, funds will become available to use again. Once you’re approved for a business credit card, your card is ready to use immediately whenever you need it. This makes it a great payment option for emergency expenses, purchasing supplies or inventory, or for paying recurring expenses.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

If you have excellent credit, consider applying for the Chase Ink Preferred card. With this rewards card, you can receive 3 points for every dollar spent on combined purchases in travel, shipping, cable, internet, phone services, and advertising. Even though earning three points on these purchases is capped at $150,000 per year, you can still earn one point per dollar spent with no limitations on all purchases.

If you’re approved for the Chase Ink Preferred card and spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive an additional 80,000 bonus points. Points can be redeemed for rewards including vacation packages, gift cards, Amazon purchases, and cash back.

This credit card comes with a variable APR of 18.24% to 23.24%. A $95 annual membership fee is required.

To qualify for Chase Ink Business Preferred, you must have good to excellent personal credit.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Withdrawing retirement funds may be tempting, but who wants to pay penalties and taxes for early withdrawal? Luckily, there’s a way that you can leverage these funds to put capital into your new business. This method is known as rollovers as business startups, or ROBS.

How does ROBS work? The first step is to create a C-corporation. Then, a new retirement plan is created for the C-corp. Next, the funds from your existing retirement plan are rolled over into the new plan. These funds are used to purchase stock in the new C-corp, giving you access to the capital you need to get your business running.

Sound too complicated for you? Then consider working with a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will get everything set up for you legally and ensure you maintain compliance. In exchange, you’ll pay a one-time setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee with most ROBS providers.

When you use this type of financing to fuel your business, you don’t have to worry about repaying a lender. After all, you’re using your own funds. However, be aware that if your business is unsuccessful, you risk losing your retirement funds.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you leverage your retirement funds. All you need is a qualifying retirement or pension account. Qualifying accounts include:

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

Qualifying accounts must have a minimum of $50,000. You must also be an employee of the business.
By working with Guidant Financial, you can receive funds in as little as 3 weeks. The setup fee is $4,995. You must also pay a Plan Administration fee of $139 per month.

Unsure if a ROBS plan is right for you? Don’t worry — Guidant Financial offers other business financing options including:

  • SBA 7(a) Loans
  • SBA Working Capital Loans
  • Unsecured Business Loans
  • Equipment Leases

Purchase Financing

If you’re looking for a way to pay your vendors that frees up some of your cash flow, purchase financing might be the solution you’re looking for. With purchase financing, your vendor gets paid immediately for your purchases – think tools, fluids, and other critical shop supplies. In the meantime, you’ll get additional time to pay. Instead of paying off the full balance of your purchase up front, you’ll be able to split it into more affordable regular payments.

Purchase financing gives you more control over your cash flow, freeing up funds and allowing you to pay back on a schedule that works best for your business. Of course, like with other financing, you do have to pay interest and fees for this service.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing of $300 up to $50,000. You’ll receive up to 6 months to repay the lender and can choose between weekly or monthly payments.

Monthly fees for the service start at 1% and are based on creditworthiness. There are no additional fees for using Behalf’s financing.

There are no time in business or revenue requirements to qualify. However, Behalf performs a hard pull on your credit, considers business credit history, and looks at other business performance factors to determine if you are eligible for financing.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

To keep operations flowing smoothly, you need to pick the right business software for your repair shop. Business software helps you more efficiently run your business, from keeping up with customers to tracking your finances for tax purposes.

Accounting Software

Accounting software allows you to perform various accounting functions so that you can track and record all financial transactions. With accounting software, you can track accounts receivable and accounts payable. Most modern accounting software also offers additional tools including bill payment, payroll, and invoicing. You can purchase accounting software or pay a fee to subscribe to an online service.

Accounting software not only allows you to keep track of your finances at any time, but it also can be used to run financial reports that may be required to receive financing. These reports will also serve you well when it comes time to do your taxes.

No experience in accounting? Don’t worry — we have you covered. Check out our free eBook “The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting” that breaks complicated accounting concepts into ones that are easy to understand.

Auto Repair Invoice Software

Accounting software often has a feature that allows you to create and send invoices. However, you might want to invest in specialty software for auto body repair shops.

Auto repair invoice software includes a variety of tools that can be used to track service requests, create invoices and estimates, track leads, and manage inventory and orders.

Payment Processing Software

No longer do we live in a cash-only world. Now, customers almost always make their purchases using debit cards, credit cards, and even smartphones.

In order to be able to accept these forms of payment, you’re going to need a payment processing service. The payment processor serves as the communicator between your customer’s bank and your own bank, allowing you to process credit, debit, and other forms of payment.

For your auto collision business, you might want to consider getting a point-of-sale system. With POS software, you’ll be able to process credit cards, scan barcodes, print receipts, track inventory, run reports, and perform other functions. For a fee, your business can receive the software and hardware needed to best serve your customers.

Hire Employees

While you may start your collision center as a one-man operation, you have to hire employees if you want to grow.

One of the first hires you’ll make is a mechanic that will work on repairing vehicles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanics make approximately $39,550 per year. An auto body and glass repairer averages around $40,580 annually.

As you bring in more employees, you’ll also want to hire a manager to oversee them all. Salaries for managers vary widely based on experience and how many employees they will be overseeing. Managers may bring in anywhere from $45,000 upwards of $60,000 per year.

Eventually, you may also want to hire a front-desk receptionist. The role of the receptionist is to greet customers, answer the phone, and make appointments. This employee may also take payments from customers and handle some of the company’s bookkeeping. The average salary of a receptionist is around $27,000 per year.

Do some research to find out more about salaries in your area, as these numbers can vary. You also need to take into consideration that there are additional expenses associated with hiring employees including:

  • Onboarding & Training
  • Background Checks
  • Drug Testing
  • Taxes
  • Benefits

When you’re ready to hire an employee, there are a few ways you can find quality candidates. The first is to ask for referrals. If you know someone in the industry, ask if they know of any potential employees. Even if you don’t have connections with anyone in the industry, ask around among your friends, family members, and colleagues.

You can also post your jobs on online job boards. Make sure that your job listing has an overview of responsibilities and requirements for all candidates. As resumes hit your inbox, you can set up interviews and hire new employees for your business.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Before you even hold your grand opening, you need to start your marketing efforts. The best place to start is the internet. When researching new businesses, most people use their laptops or smartphones. If you don’t have a web presence, how will your customers find you?

Getting your business online is easy. Start with these simple steps.

Create Social Media Profiles

It seems like everyone’s on social media these days, from your teenage nephew to your grandmother. Social media doesn’t just connect friends and family members, either. It’s also a great place for users to find new brands and businesses.

Setting up your social media profiles is free and easy. Consider starting with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add your logo, contact details, and important information like services provided and hours of operation. As you build your business, you can update your profiles with specials, coupons, photos of your completed work, and other information.

Create A Website

You also want to make sure that you have a website that provides important details to your customers such as your shop hours, specials, and services provided.

No web design experience? No problem. These days, any small business owner can create a professional website with easy web builders that feature templates, drag-and-drop design, and other tools to create a website in just minutes.

Your website should be a reflection of your brand, so make sure to choose templates, photos, and colors that best represent your shop. Your domain name should also represent your brand, so make sure it’s easy to remember and avoid numbers, symbols, or very long URLs.

Your website shouldn’t be overly complicated, and it should be easy to navigate. You don’t have to load down your site with lots of information. Start off by including key info such as hours of operation, services performed, and contact information. Also make sure to highlight any features that make your shop stand out, such as certifications, free estimates, or rental car/shuttle services offered to your customers. In the future, you can add additional features such as a signup option for email newsletters or online scheduling.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Learn more about creating and maintaining an online web presence for your business.

Advertise Your Business

Your website and social media profiles are a great way to start advertising your business, but in order to grow and scale, you can’t stop there. You need to plan a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about your business.

Consider paying for social media ads or pay-per-click ads on search engines, or sign up with Yelp For Business. These options can be affordable for new businesses and are easy to set up.

You can also look beyond the internet to advertise your business. Consider placing flyers or door hangers in the area around your business to bring in new customers. Before you take this route, though, make sure to understand the local laws in your area regarding the posting of flyers on public and private property.

As your business grows and becomes more successful, you can explore options including radio and TV advertisements and mailers. However, these ads are typically quite expensive, so hold off on these options until your business is bringing in steady revenue.

One of the most important things to remember here is that word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best forms of advertising. If you perform a great service, your customers will tell others about your business. Keep customer satisfaction high to increase those referrals and draw in more revenue for your body shop.

Final Thoughts

While you may be itching to get your auto body shop off the ground immediately, a business isn’t born overnight. Take the time to plan out your business, and you’ll increase your chances for success. The hard work doesn’t stop after your grand opening, either. You’ll need to continue working hard to bring in customers, increase your revenue, and become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Lawn Care Business

Can you picture making a profit by keeping the lawns of homes and businesses in your area looking their best? You’re not alone. For many aspiring entrepreneurs, starting a lawn care business sounds like a practical and achievable way to make money and be their own boss — a dream come true, in other words. If you’re reading this, you’re ready to take the next step toward making that dream a reality.

Starting a lawn care business seems easy. Just grab up some lawn equipment, find a couple of guys willing to do physical labor, and get started, right? Not exactly.

Like any other small business, building a successful lawn care business takes careful planning and hard work. You have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and money required to start and grow your business. A lawn care business may have low overhead and lower initial risk than other types of businesses, but it isn’t a cake walk. However, over time, you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labor through the beautiful lawns in your city or town and the profits sitting in your bank account.

In this guide, we’ll break down the steps for starting your own lawn care business. We’ll start off with the importance of your business plan and what it should include. We’ll go over what you need to get started — and it’s more than just lawn equipment. We’ll talk about the costs you’ll encounter and how to get the financing to cover those costs. We’ll also discuss ways to bring in customers … and profits.

Let’s get started!

Create A Business Plan

Every business is different, but all businesses need one thing to be successful: a business plan. Your future lawn care business is no exception. Even if your business concept seems simple, having a solid business plan in place is a necessity.

Think of your business plan as a roadmap of your business. You wouldn’t go on a long trip without a map or GPS, or put together a complicated piece of furniture without instructions, right? View your business in the same light.

Your business plan outlines your goals for the future. In other words, how will you get from where you are now — a startup business — to your goal? Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to make $1 million in revenue within five years. Maybe it’s to expand throughout your state. Maybe you want to build a franchise that will go nationwide. No matter what your goals are, they need to be outlined in a solid business plan.

All business plans are different, but there are a few key sections that should be included in all plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: A short summary of your business plan and the value proposition of your business
  • Business Description: What does your business do? Include your mission statement and when your business was formed.
  • Organization: Who are your team members and what do they do within the organization?
  • Market Analysis: Include information about the market and your competition
  • Marketing Strategies: How do you plan to market your business to draw in customers and bring in profits?
  • Financial Projections: Use revenue growth and market trends to project the financial outlook of your business

Not only is your business plan critical to the growth of your company, but it’s also an absolute necessity if you plan to seek funding from outside sources — such as investors or banks — in the future.

Determine What Equipment You Need

Selecting equipment

To operate a lawn care business, you need to have the right tools and equipment for the job. While you may start off small and add to your inventory as your business grows, there are a few critical pieces of equipment you need to get started. For most lawn care businesses, major equipment includes:

  • Riding Lawnmower
  • Push Lawnmower
  • Edger
  • Hedge Trimmer
  • Leaf Blower
  • Truck
  • Equipment Trailer

For your business, you’ll also need equipment that’s less expensive but just as critical to operations. This includes:

  • Lawn Tools
  • Hand Tools
  • Lawn Bags
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Gloves
  • Gas Cans
  • Oil
  • Garden Hoses

You should expect to spend approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for the equipment you need to start your business. As your business grows, of course, you’ll need additional capital for the purchase of more equipment. For example, you may have just one truck, trailer, and mower for now, but if you have additional crews taking on jobs all over the area, you’ll need more equipment.

You may even opt to offer additional services — installing sod, laying mulch, or planting flowers — all of which require additional equipment and supplies. For now, however, focus on the equipment listed above. Those items will be most critical to getting your business off the ground.

Calculate Startup Costs

With an idea of the type of equipment you need to launch your business, you can now begin calculating startup costs. This will include the cost of your equipment, plus other necessary expenses to keep your business operating smoothly.

Your equipment will make up the bulk of your costs, and you should budget approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for these purchases. You may be able to get started with a smaller investment by purchasing used equipment. However, purchasing used does come with its risks. Older trucks can break down and previously-owned lawn equipment may immediately require servicing or repairs. While you can save money in the short term by buying used equipment, you may rack up additional expenses over the long term, so consider your purchases carefully.

When purchasing your equipment, shop around. Look online and visit local retailers to get estimates of costs. Determine what equipment you really need now and what you could add as your business grows. You may even consider starting with basic equipment (do you actually need that fully-loaded riding mower right this minute?) and upgrading your equipment when your business starts bringing in revenue.

Beyond the equipment we’ve already discussed, you’ll need additional supplies for your business. This may include chemical weed killers, pesticides, fertilizer, and other supplies. You may purchase these supplies upfront, or you may purchase them when needed. If you plan to keep inventory, you may incur additional costs if you rent storage for your supplies and equipment.

Another big startup cost to consider is the cost of insurance. You will need to have auto insurance on your truck. You will also be required to carry liability insurance. If you hire employees now, additional costs may include workman’s comp insurance and payroll taxes. Other startup costs include fees for permits and licenses. We’ll discuss obtaining licenses and permits a little more in the next section.

If you’re starting small as a one-person operation, your primary startup costs will be your equipment, supplies, insurance, and marketing costs. Just remember to take your time to do your research, plan, and budget to keep startup costs under control.

Register Your Business

Before you begin operating, you’ll need to register your business. There are several steps required to register a new business:

Choose & Register Your Business Name

While you may choose to operate your business under your own name, most small business owners choose a trade name. This name will need to be registered in the state where you will operate.

When choosing your name, you want to select one that is a reflection of your brand. You will also need to make sure that you select a name that is not registered by someone else in your state. You can find your state’s registration database with a quick online search.

Choose Your Legal Structure

One of the first steps in setting up your business is determining your legal structure. Your legal structure determines how much you pay in taxes and your personal liability for your business. Legal structures include:

  • Sole Proprietorship: This gives you full control over your business. You do not have to register this type of entity, so you skip over all the paperwork. However, this structure does not separate your personal assets and liabilities from those of your business. This means that you can be held personally liable for all debts and obligations of your business.
  • Partnership: This structure is the simplest structure for businesses that have two or more owners. A limited partnership (LP) gives one partner unlimited liability, while other owners have limited liability and limited control over the company. A limited liability partnership (LLP) gives limited liability to all owners, protecting each against the debts of the business and the actions of other partners.
  • Limited Liability Company: A limited liability company (LLC) protects you from personal liability from business debts and obligations. For example, your house, vehicle, or savings accounts will be untouchable if your business faces a lawsuit or files for bankruptcy.
  • Corporation: Corporations pay higher taxes and are more expensive to form. However, corporations can also raise money through the sale of stock. This structure is best for businesses that need to raise high amounts of capital or want to go public in the future.

Most lawn care business owners will register as a sole proprietorship or LLC, but consider the number of owners you have, protecting yourself from personal liability, and the future goals of your business before you make your decision.

Register With The IRS & State Revenue Agency

If you plan to have employees now or in the future, you will need to register for an Employer Identification Number. You’ll also request estimated tax vouchers from both the IRS and your state revenue office to file with your quarterly tax payments.

Obtain Licenses & Permits

The licenses and permits that you need for your business are based upon the laws of your municipality and what your business will do. For example, simply mowing lawns only requires a standard business license in most areas. However, if you plan to spray chemical herbicides, an additional license may be required. You can find out more about license and permit requirements by contacting your state’s Department of Commerce.

Seek Funding

We’ve already discussed the potential expenses you’ll encounter when opening your own lawn care business. Now, the big question is: how do you pay for it all? Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, your personal bank account likely isn’t bursting at the seams with more money than you know what to do with.

If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out finances, you’re certainly not alone. Most small business owners don’t have the funds needed to start and operate a new business. This is where small business funding plays a role.
There are more lenders than ever that are ready to give you the money you need to get your business off the ground. The trick is knowing what type of funding is best for your business and exactly where to find it.

Personal Savings

If you’ve socked away money in personal savings through the years, this money could be used to fund your new business venture. The best thing about using your own money is that you aren’t indebted to anyone. You don’t have to worry about loan payments, fees, and high interest rates. On the downside, if your business fails, it takes your savings with it.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend, family member, or colleague with money to invest, consider pitching your idea to them. Present them with your business plan and give a presentation just as you would give to a banker or other lender.

There are a few ways you can go about getting capital from someone you know. The first is a loan. Agree to rates, terms, and the borrowing amount and get it all in writing. Then, you’ll repay the borrowed funds plus interest over a set period of time, just as you would any other loan.

Another option is equity financing. You’d receive capital for your business and in exchange, your investor would own part of your company. You wouldn’t pay back the money immediately like you would a loan, but the investor would be able to take a share of your profits at a later time. Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

No matter which way you go, keep everything professional and make sure everything is in writing. One thing that can sour a good relationship fast is a business deal gone bad.

Personal Loans

As a new business owner, walking into your bank to get a business loan is pretty tough … if not impossible. Banks look at your business and personal credit score, annual revenues, and your time in business. These lenders want to work with small businesses that are established and have the lowest risk. If you’re new to the game, many lenders won’t give you a second look.

This doesn’t mean that you’re only stuck with high-interest, short-term loan options. If you want a long-term loan with low rates, consider a personal loan for business. With these loans, you can qualify based on your personal income and credit score – no business information required.

You can apply for a personal loan for business through your bank, credit union, or an online lender. The most creditworthy borrowers will qualify for the best rates and terms and highest borrowing limits. A personal loan for business is a great option for larger purchases that you’d like to pay off over a longer period of time, like expensive equipment.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Through Upstart, you can receive a personal loan of $1,000 up to $50,000 to use for your startup costs. APRs range from 8.09% to 35.99%. Your loan will be repaid over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Upstart is different from other lenders in that they look at more than just your credit score. While the lender does consider your credit score, education, years of credit, and job history are also factors used to determine if you qualify for a personal loan.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must:

  • Have a personal credit score of at least 620
  • Live in a state serviced by the lender
  • Have a regular source of income
  • Have a bank account 

Equipment Financing

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment. Instead of paying the full cost of your equipment up front, you’ll make a smaller down payment. A lender will cover the rest of the cost, which you’ll pay back over time along with fees and interest.

There are two different types of equipment financing: equipment loans and equipment leases. If you take out an equipment loan, you’ll typically pay 10% to 20% of the total purchase price as a down payment. Borrowers with high credit scores may qualify for 0% down financing. Once the down payment is paid and the loan is in place, you’ll be able to immediately take possession of your equipment. You’ll pay for the total purchase price of the equipment plus interest over a set period of time — typically around 5 years. Once you’ve made all payments as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, trade in, or sell.

An equipment lease is more like renting. You’ll pay a down payment and take immediate possession of the equipment. You’ll make payments to your lender over a shorter period of time, usually 2 years. Once your lease period ends, you’ll return the equipment and sign another lease for newer equipment. Some lenders may allow you to pay off your balance if you want to keep the equipment you’ve been using.

Learn more about equipment loans and leases and which is right for you.

One of the best things about equipment financing is that you don’t have to put up collateral to secure your loan. Instead, the equipment itself serves as the collateral and can be repossessed if you default on your loan or lease.

With equipment financing, you can purchase any type of equipment you need for your business, including lawnmowers, edgers, trimmers, or even a commercial vehicle.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that connects you with multiple lenders with just one application. Through Lendio, you can apply for equipment financing from $5,000 to $5 million with repayment terms of 1 to 5 years. Interest rates start at 7.5%.

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

  • Annual revenue of at least $50,000
  • Personal credit score of 650 or higher
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If your credit score falls below the 650 minimum, you may be able to qualify with proof of solid cash flow and revenue for the last 3 to 6 months.

Even if you don’t meet these requirements, you could still qualify with certain lenders. Simply fill out Lendio’s free application or contact a personal funding manager. If you don’t qualify for equipment financing or have other financial needs, you can also apply for Small Business Administration loans, short-term loans, startup loans, and Lendio’s other financial products.

Lines Of Credit

If you want a flexible form of financing, a line of credit might be right up your alley. You’ll be able to initiate draws from your line of credit, and the lender sends the funds immediately to your bank account. You can make one or more draws from your line of credit up to and including your set credit limit.

Since a line of credit is revolving, your funds will become available to use again as you pay down your balance. Interest and/or fees are charged on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your line of credit, you won’t pay interest to the lender. Many lenders also won’t charge any fees if you haven’t used your funds.

A line of credit is a good option when you need immediate access to cash, such as to purchase supplies or to pay for an unexpected expense, like repairs to your vehicle or equipment.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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You can qualify for up to $100,000 when you apply for a Fundbox line of credit. Fundbox fees start at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You only pay when you use your funds, and you can save by repaying early. Payments are made weekly over a period of 12 or 24 weeks. You may receive a line of credit based on the performance of your business or for your unpaid invoices.

To qualify for a Fundbox line of credit, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be a U.S.-based business
  • Own a business checking account
  • Have at least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Have a bank account with transactions for at least 3 months OR at least 2 months of activity in supported accounting software

Qualifying through Fundbox takes just minutes. If approved, you’ll be able to initiate draws on your line of credit immediately for deposit in your account as quickly as the next business day.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Do you have a retirement account? If so, you may qualify for a unique type of funding known as Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS). You probably already know that early withdrawal from your retirement account results in penalties. But there is a way to access these funds without being penalized, and yes, it’s completely legal.

A ROBS plan allows you to roll over your qualifying retirement funds into capital for your new business. Here’s how it works:

  • A new C-corporation is created
  • A new retirement plan is created for the C-corp
  • Funds are rolled over from your existing retirement plan to the new retirement plan
  • These funds are used to purchase stock in the C-corp, giving you the capital you need to start or grow your business

Even though it’s just four steps, there are some legal issues to be aware of. This is why entrepreneurs that leverage their retirement funds in this way turn to a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will handle everything for you, from setting up the new C-corp to maintaining compliance. In exchange, you pay a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee.

Funds from your ROBS plan can be used for any business purpose. One of the best things about a ROBS plan is that you won’t be making payments with interest to a lender. You also don’t have to worry about traditional borrower requirements like personal credit score or annual revenues. As long as you have a qualifying retirement plan, you can set up a ROBS plan. The main drawback, however, is that if your business fails, you lose your retirement funds, so be aware of this risk before setting up your plan.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends is the creator of the innovative Rainmaker Plan, the original ROBS plan. Benetrends can get the funding you need for your business in as little as 10 days. You will have access to your retirement funds with no penalties with Benetrends’ easy four-step process.

There are no credit score, time in business, or revenue requirements. Most retirement plans with at least $50,000 qualify.

A setup fee of $4,995 is required to start your ROBS plan. After paying this initial cost, you must pay a service fee of $130 per month. This fee covers compliance, audit protection, and other services.

Purchase Financing

When you start your lawn care business, you’ll likely develop relationships with vendors. You can pay these vendors out of pocket when you receive your invoice, or you can break your purchase down into smaller, more manageable payments with purchase financing.

With purchase financing, a lender will pay your vendor up front. You’ll repay the lender the borrowed amount plus fees and/or interest through smaller payments made over a longer period of time. This is an excellent way to purchase supplies and other items critical for the success of your business when you’re facing cash flow issues or just need a little extra time to pay.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing, allowing you to pay any merchant with terms up to 6 months. With Behalf, you can borrow between $300 and $50,000. Monthly fees start at just 1%, and there are no origination fees, membership fees, prepayment fees, or maintenance fees.

There are no minimum time in business, revenue, or personal credit score requirements. However, a hard pull of your credit is performed by the lender and will be used to determine if you’re eligible to receive funding, as well as your monthly fee.

Business Credit Cards

A business credit card is a great way to cover expenses or make purchases without waiting for approval from a lender. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll be able to spend up to and including your credit limit anywhere credit cards are accepted.

Once you’ve made a purchase using your credit card, you’ll be required to make a monthly payment until you repay your balance, plus interest charged by the credit card issuer. This is a type of revolving credit, so as you repay, funds will be available to use again. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you don’t have to wait for approval to make a purchase. You can make one or multiple purchases up to and including the credit limit set by the lender.

You can cover an emergency expense or purchase supplies using a business credit card. You can also use credit cards for recurring expenses, such as gas for your truck and machines. With a rewards card, you can even get cash back or perks just for using your card.

If you don’t qualify for a business credit card, consider applying for a personal credit card to use for business expenses.

Recommended Option: Spark Cash For Business

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.74%, Variable

The Spark Cash card from Capital One offers unlimited 2% cash back that you can redeem anytime. New cardholders can earn a $500 cash bonus just for spending $4,500 within the first 3 months of opening their accounts. This business credit card has a 19.24% variable APR. There is no annual fee for one year, and the fee is $95 after the first year. Employee cards are available at no additional cost.

To qualify for this credit card, you must meet these requirements:

  • Excellent personal credit score
  • No bankruptcies
  • No defaults on loans
  • No payments over 60 days late on a credit card, loan, or medical bill for the last year
  • A loan or credit card for at least 3 years with a credit limit above $5,000

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Another business credit card to consider is the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. With this card, you’ll be able to rack up points just by making purchases for your business. All travel, shipping, advertising, internet, cable, and phone purchases yield three points for every dollar spent for the first $150,000 spent annually. You’ll receive one point for every dollar spent on all other business purchases with no limitations.

You’ll also be eligible to receive a bonus offer of 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account. Points can be redeemed toward cash, gift cards, or other products and services.

Chase Ink Business Preferred has a variable interest rate of 18.24% to 23.24%. The card has an annual fee of $95. Other benefits are also provided for cardholders, including cell phone protection and free employee cards.

To qualify for this card, you must have good to excellent credit.

Bolster Your Web Presence

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The internet has made life easier than ever for small business owners. After all, you can do your accounting online, shop for supplies and equipment, and communicate with customers. Perhaps most importantly, you can market your business online. Bolstering your web presence is a quick and easy way to reach your target market, helping you bring in new customers and boost your profit potential.

Set Up Social Media Profiles

Social media has morphed into something much bigger than just chatting with family and friends. These days, people are using social media to find and connect with new brands and businesses. Shouldn’t your new business be included?

One of the best things about social media is that it’s free to set up your profiles. Add your business to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Yelp, and/or Pinterest. With these social media profiles, you can share information about your business such as operating hours and services provided, post photos of completed jobs, promote specials, or share news about your business. On sites like Facebook, satisfied customers can even post reviews and ratings.

Want to learn how to get the most out of your social media pages? Take a look at our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

Most people turn to the internet when they’re looking for a service provider, which is why it’s so important to have a website. No experience with web design? Don’t worry — there are a variety of web builders that do the hard work for you. Check out some of our top picks.

Your website doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure that your design fits your brand and provides the most relevant information that customers need, including a list of services provided, your service area, and your contact information. You can even take it a few steps further by adding photos of jobs you’ve successfully completed, price lists, special promotions, and news and updates.

One last thing to note is that when you choose a domain name, make sure that it reflects your brand and includes your business name. However, you also want to make sure that it’s short and easy to remember. Avoid using symbols and numbers to make it easier for current and future customers to find you online.

Check out more tips and tricks for creating and maintaining your web presence.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

Every business — including your new lawn care business — needs business software to keep operations running smoothly. You can use business software to keep track of appointments, store customer data, process payments, create invoices, and keep up with your financials. Let’s explore a few types that would be useful for your lawn care business.

Accounting Software

Managing your finances is one of the most important aspects of running a business. Accounting software makes it easier than ever to track your finances. With this type of software, you’ll be able to keep up-to-date on the money that you receive, what is owed to you, and what you owe. In addition, using accounting software also makes it easier for you to run important financial statements and file your taxes.

Today’s accounting software comes with more features than ever, including cloud-based storage, online invoicing, automatic payment reminders, and mobile apps for tracking on the go. Unsure of which software is best for you? Check out some of our recommendations. If you’re new to accounting or need a refresher, make sure to download our eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

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A great choice for freelancers needing some extra help managing their business

Payment Processing Apps

Very few businesses today are “cash only.” This is because credit cards, debit cards, and even mobile devices make it easier than ever for consumers to pay for their purchases. To make payments more convenient for your customers, consider using a payment processing app.

Payment processing software transmits data between you, your bank, and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment. Many payment processors also include the hardware needed to accept these methods of payments. This hardware may be included in your subscription cost or for an additional fee.

Worried about bulky hardware? Don’t be. There are devices that easily affix to a mobile phone or tablet, so you can take payments anywhere — from your own office to your customer’s front yard.

Best Overall Mobile POS


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Highlights

  • No contract or monthly fee
  • Instant account setup
  • Retail upgrade available
  • Restaurant upgrade available
  • For iOS and Android mobile devices
  • 2.75% per in-person card swipe

Retail POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

Restaurant POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

Square POS: Always free

Field Service Management Software

Another type of software to consider purchasing for your business is field service management software. This software allows you to keep up with everything from your customers to your employees. There are even programs that are specific to lawn care companies.

With this type of software, you can keep up-to-date records on your customers, from their contact information to their history of appointments. With this software, you can easily schedule new appointments and dispatch employees. Other features may include automatic invoicing, route optimization, easy estimates, and GPS tracking.

Advertise Your Business

business loans for HVAC

In order to make your business successful and profitable, you have to have customers. And you have to reach customers by spreading the word about your business.

While bolstering your web presence is a good first step, don’t stop there. Consider purchasing paid ad space on social media platforms or search engines to reach a broader audience. Yelp for Business is an excellent way to advertise yourself while gaining street cred with potential clients.

You can also utilize free online sites like Craigslist to advertise your business. Just remember to follow the rules before posting and avoid spamming the website.

Moving beyond the web, never underestimate the power of “old school” marketing techniques like flyers and door hangers. Post flyers in areas that get a lot of foot traffic, such as retail shopping centers, and put door hangers around your neighborhood and surrounding areas. You can design and print these yourself, or you can pay an additional fee to a professional printer. Either way you go, this is a very affordable way to market your lawn care business. Before you use this method of advertising, contact your city government office to learn about any restrictions and always make sure to get the permission of the property owner before distributing flyers on private property.

You can also use your work truck to advertise your business. Make sure that your business name, telephone number, and/or URL are prominently displayed and easy to read. Online printers can create custom vinyl decals featuring your logo, name, and contact information at a very affordable price.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective methods of advertising in this industry. If your customer likes your service, they’ll tell their friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues about your service when recommendations are needed. They may give you a glowing review on your website or social media page, which could lure in additional customers. Always make sure to provide the best service to your customers so they’ll refer you to new customers in the future.

Final Thoughts

Your new lawn care business won’t be up and running overnight, but taking the time to go through each step ensures a better chance for success. Every business is different, and you may need to tweak some of these steps to better fit the vision for your lawn care business. Maybe taking the steps in a different order makes more sense for your business, or maybe there’s a step that isn’t relevant to your future goals.

No matter how you picture your future, you’re now armed with the knowledge of what it takes to start your own lawn care business. Now, it’s up to you to determine what steps you’ll take next to become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start A Lawn Care Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Want To Open Your Own Bar? Top Tips To Get You Started

Have you ever looked around your local bar and thought, “I could run a place like this”? For many, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of potentially opening a bar, but for a select few, this is more than just a fleeting idea. These aspiring entrepreneurs want to make this dream a reality.

Opening your own bar or sports pub seems like a fun and exciting experience. After all, who doesn’t love gathering with friends and family to watch the big game with a cold drink in hand and appetizing snacks on the table? Behind-the-scenes, though, it’s a little different. While it may seem exciting to become a small business owner and call the shots, there’s also a lot of planning and work involved in starting a profitable business.

If opening a little corner pub sounds like a dream come true but you don’t know quite where to begin, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll share our top tips for starting the exhilarating and lucrative path to owning your own bar. We’ll go over what you need to legally open a bar, expenses to start and maintain your business, and the importance of a business plan. We’ll also help you decode one of the biggest pieces of the small business puzzle: getting financing for your new business.

If you’re ready to stop dreaming and start doing, keep reading!

Begin With Branding

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One of the first things you need to do before you take off running is to visualize a name, a theme, and an overarching concept for your bar. Do you picture yourself running a neighborhood pub where all of the locals gather? Or maybe you’d rather open a thriving nightclub where young club hoppers from around your city come to dance the night away?

Evaluate your different options, considering the type of patrons you’d like to attract as well as where you plan to open your bar. For example, if you want a younger crowd, a nightclub in a trendy part of town makes sense. If you want to attract an older, more sophisticated crowd, consider opening a wine bar, martini bar, or cigar bar in a thriving downtown area. You could also target sports fans by opening a sports bar or draw in foodies with a new gastropub.

Knowing what type of bar you want to open helps you plan out additional details. For example, if you’re opening a hot nightclub spinning the latest top 40 hits, country-western décor won’t fit your theme. If you want to draw in a sports crowd, loud music and fog machines probably won’t be on your list of supplies. Choosing the type of bar you want to open and nailing down your target audience first will help you accurately plan everything from the design and layout of your establishment to your name and logo.

Speaking of your bar’s name, it goes without saying that you’ll need one. Because it’s your bar, you’re free to name it anything you want. However, you want to make sure that you choose a name that reflects your concept. “John’s Neighborhood Bar” may incorporate your name, but it doesn’t stand out. When brainstorming ideas, think about the audience you want to bring in and pick a moniker that’s attention-grabbing — a name that lets customers know what to expect when walking through the doors of your bar.

Find A Location

One of the most important first steps in opening your own bar is choosing a location. There are a few options you have at this stage of the game:

  • Purchase an existing bar
  • Start from scratch
  • Buy a franchise

There are advantages and disadvantages for each option. If you purchase an existing bar, you inherit the existing clientele and may see immediate income. However, you could pay a steep premium if the bar is extremely successful at the time of sale. You may also rack up high costs if the bar doesn’t mesh with your vision and you have to pay for renovations.

If you start from scratch, you’ll be able to see your vision through from start to finish. However, it may take many months (or even a year or longer) to open your doors, and the costs can really rack up if you have to completely renovate a space or build a new bar from the ground up. With this option, careful planning, budgeting, and at least some knowledge of the bar and restaurant industry are needed for the highest chance of success.

Finally, you could purchase a franchise. This option could shield you from some of the mistakes you’d almost certainly encounter if you attempted to go it alone. However, you won’t be able to fully showcase your creativity with a franchise.

Finding a location takes planning and a dedicated eye on financials. Sure, putting your bar in a trendy and popular neighborhood could help your business become your city’s next hotspot, but real estate costs may be prohibitively high. Before you put down money on a location, make sure to do your market research and understand the costs.

Create A Business Plan

Every successful business starts with a solid business plan, and a bar is no exception. Not only will your business plan act as a blueprint for starting, operating, and growing your business, but it’s also a necessity if you plan to apply for business loans from a bank or other lender.

No two business plans are exactly alike, but there are some standard sections you should have in yours. This includes:

  • Executive Summary: Basic information about your business and why it will be a success
  • Company Details: Specific details about your business
  • Organizational Chart: Outline of your company structure
  • Marketing Strategy: How will you market your business?
  • Financial Projections: Show the financial outlook of your business

Your business plan should showcase the goals of your company and serve as a map for you to follow, keeping your business on the right path. Lenders will want to see a business plan that demonstrates thought, intelligence, research, and reasonable plans for success in the future.

Register Your Business

Before you open your bar and begin serving customers, you have to register your business. First things first: register the business’s name with your state. This can be completed via the county clerk’s office in the state where you’ll operate.

Next, you’ll need to determine your formal legal structure. Do you plan to be a limited liability company or a corporation? Your business structure will determine how much you pay in taxes, what paperwork needs to be filed with the government, and your personal liability. If you’re unsure of which structure is right for your new business, consult with an attorney, accountant, or business counselor.

Your business will also need to be registered with the state revenue office and the Internal Revenue Service. Because your business will have employees, you’ll be required to apply for an Employer Identification Number. You’ll also need a sales tax permit.

Finally, you’ll be required to obtain the proper licenses and permits to legally operate your business. Because your bar will serve alcohol, a liquor license is required. If your bar serves food, you’ll need a license from the health department. You can find out more about the requirements in your area by contacting your state Department of Commerce.

Obtain A Liquor License

In the previous section, we touched on acquiring the right permits and licenses. One of the most important things you need to open a bar — if not the most important thing — is a liquor license. This license makes it legal for you to sell alcohol in your business. This should be a top priority, as getting approval from your state’s Alcohol Beverage Control agency typically takes at least one month. In some cases, it may take up to six months to get approved.

The steps required to obtain your liquor license vary by state. In all states, though, you will be required to fill out an application. You may be required to submit additional documentation with your application, such as a certificate of incorporation, your proposed menu, and the certificate of title for your bar. You may also be required to pay a processing fee.

Once your application is reviewed and approved, you’ll have to pay for your license. Fees vary by state and range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Your license will last for at least one year, and you must pay a fee when it’s time to renew.

Even though getting your liquor license is a hassle and can get very expensive depending on your state, this is a critical step that can’t be overlooked. To learn more about the process, fees, and type of license required for your business, contact your state ABC agency.

Seek Funding

Business licenses. A construction loan or lease. Renovations. You haven’t even stocked your bar, and the expenses are already piling up. Unless you’re already a successful entrepreneur with plenty of money in the bank, these expenses may seem completely overwhelming.

Very few small business owners have the resources to launch a business on their own. Instead, they turn to lenders for money to fund startup costs. Even after you launch your business, there will always be a need for more capital, whether an emergency has popped up, you need to expand, or a slow period has affected your day-to-day operations.

Even if your credit history is blemished, you’re a startup with no business history, or you face other challenges, there’s funding out there if you know where to look. Start with these options.

Personal Savings

Many new business owners have at least a little bit of money put away in their savings accounts. If you’ve been socking away pennies for a rainy day, now may be the opportunity to put these savings to use. By using your own money, you won’t be indebted to a lender (or at least not as much). You won’t have to worry about making scheduled payments, and there won’t be interest or fees to worry about. On the downside, if your business is unsuccessful, you lose part — or all — of your savings.

Loans From Friends & Family

If you have a friend or family member with extra money to invest, pitch them your business idea to see if they’re interested. But be careful! Even though you have a more personal relationship with this person, don’t just have a casual conversation asking to borrow funds. Instead, give them your business plan and present your pitch just as you would with a bank or other lender. Show them why you think your business will be a success, and give them a good reason to invest in you.

If you come to a loan agreement, get everything in writing, including the total borrowing amount, rates, and terms of the loan. Put your personal relationship aside and make sure you follow all terms of the loans just as a responsible borrower should.

Personal Loans For Business

Getting a startup loan from a bank or other lender can be tough. Sure, there are options, such as Small Business Administration loans, but these loans can be very difficult to receive — especially if you have a short time in business or low annual revenue. However, if you have a solid personal credit profile, more low-cost loan options are available to you.

Instead of going directly for a business loan, try applying for a personal loan for business. With a business loan, lenders consider your time in business, personal and business credit histories, and annual revenues. But with a personal loan, your personal credit score and income are used to determine if you qualify.

By going this route, you may be able to avoid many of the high fees and interest rates of alternative business loans. Depending on your credit history and the lender you select, your cost of borrowing could be much lower with a long-term, low-interest personal loan.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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You may qualify to receive a personal loan of between $1,000 and $50,000 through Upstart. These loans have competitive interest rates starting at 7.74% and going up to 35.99% based on your creditworthiness. Repayment terms of 36 or 60 months are available. The application process is quick, easy, and completely online.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must meet a few basic requirements, including having a valid email address, verifiable personal information, a source of income, and a U.S. checking account. You also have to meet the lender’s credit requirements, which include:

  • A credit score of 620 or above OR 580 or above for California residents
  • A solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts or accounts in collections
  • 6 or fewer inquiries on your credit report over the last 6 months

Lines Of Credit

A more traditional financing option is a flexible line of credit. The one drawback with a line of credit is that business performance is typically a qualifying factor. If you haven’t made any sales, you won’t qualify, so this isn’t a good financial option if you’re not in business yet.

As you build your business, though, a line of credit can be very useful. It can be used to purchase supplies, inventory, or cover that emergency that pops up when you least expect it. You can also use your line of credit to cover payroll or daily operational expenses.

When you receive a line of credit, a lender provides you with a credit limit. You can make as many draws as you need against the line of credit up to and including the credit limit. Once you initiate a draw, the lender will transfer the money directly to your bank account, giving you access to the money you need. Over time, you’ll make payments that are applied to the principal (the amount you’ve borrowed) and any fees and/or interest charged by the lender.

A line of credit is a revolving account, so as you repay the lender, money becomes available to draw again.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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You may qualify to receive a line of credit of up to $100,000 through Fundbox. Fundbox lines of credit have no restrictions and can be used to cover any business expense. Once approved, you’ll be eligible to make draws immediately and receive funds as quickly as the next business day.

The Fundbox application process takes just minutes, and it’s easy to qualify. The lender focuses on the performance of your business — not your business or personal credit history — so even borrowers with credit challenges can qualify. You do, however, have to meet the following requirements:

  • Own a U.S.-based business
  • Have a business checking account
  • At least 3 months of transactions in your business bank account or at least 2 months of activity in a supported accounting software
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue

Once you make a draw on your line of credit, automatic drafts are made weekly from your linked business checking account. If you do not use your funds, you do not pay. Repayment terms are 12 or 24 weeks and fees start at 4.66% of the total borrowing amount.

Business Credit Cards

Business credit cards work just like the personal credit cards in your wallet, only they’re used to pay business expenses. Business credit cards are great for emergency expenses or any time your cash flow is a little short. You can also make recurring payments, such as your utility bills, using a business credit card. This is especially beneficial if you have a rewards card that gives you cash back or other rewards simply for making qualified purchases.

When you apply for a credit card, your lender will set a credit limit if you’re approved. You may spend up to and including this credit limit with one or multiple transactions anywhere credit cards are accepted. Each month, you’ll make a payment that is applied to the principal, interest, and fees charged by the lender. As you pay down your balance, funds will become available to use again. If you don’t have a balance, you won’t pay any interest, although you may have to pay annual fees depending on the card you select.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


chase ink business unlimited
Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

If you have an excellent credit score of at least 740, you may qualify for the Chase Ink Business Unlimited credit card. This is a rewards card that provides you with unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases made for your business. As a new cardholder, you will also be eligible to receive a $500 cash back bonus if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited card comes with a 0% introductory APR for purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 15.49% to 21.49%. This card comes with no annual fee. You can also receive additional cards for employees at no extra cost.

Rollover For Business Startups (ROBS)

Do you have a retirement account? If so, you can legally leverage these funds to pay your startup costs without facing tax or early withdrawal penalties. With a Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS) plan, you can put your retirement account to work for your new business.

It’s possible to access your retirement account funds with no penalties in just a few easy steps. First, create a new C-corporation. Next, create a qualified retirement plan for the corporation. Then, the funds from your qualified retirement account are rolled over into the new retirement plan. Finally, the funds that were rolled over can be used to purchase stock in the corporation, giving you access to the capital you need to start or grow your business.

Throughout the process, you do have to remain compliant and follow legal guidelines. For most new business owners, the process can get confusing, which is why ROBS providers are available to help. A ROBS provider will set up your ROBS plan to ensure everything is by the book. To get started, you’ll need to pay a setup fee, then pay a monthly maintenance fee for maintaining your account.

The great thing about ROBS plans is that you are using your own money, so you won’t have to pay interest on a loan. You will, however, have to pay a monthly fee to maintain your account. You also risk losing your retirement funds if your business is unsuccessful.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends is a pioneer of ROBS, launching its Rainmaker Plan in the 1980s. This visionary-plan is the longest-running ROBS plan, and Benetrends offers many benefits that outshine its competitors.

With just four easy steps, Benetrends can get the capital you need from your qualified retirement plan. With the Rainmaker Plan, you can have your funding is as little as 10 days.

To qualify, you must have an eligible retirement plan with at least $50,000. Most retirement plans are eligible, with the exception of Roth IRAs, 457 plans for non-governmental agencies, and distribution of death benefits from an IRA other than to the spouse. There are no time in business, annual revenue, or personal credit score requirements.

To get started with Benetrends, you’ll be required to pay a setup fee of $4,995. After paying this fee, your C-corporation and ROBS plan will be set up. After your plan is set up, you’ll be required to pay a monthly maintenance fee of $130. This fee covers ongoing support and services including legal support, audit protection, and compliance.

Purchase Financing

Paying your vendors will be an ongoing expense for your business. You have multiple options available to pay your vendors. You can pay out-of-pocket, you can use a credit card or line of credit, or you can take advantage of purchase financing.

With this type of financing, your vendors are paid immediately, while you get more time to pay. A lender pays your vendors up front, then you repay the lender over a set period of time. The lender will add fees and/or interest to your loan balance for paying your expenses upfront.

By using purchase financing, you’re able to pay your vendors immediately to receive the supplies, inventory, or services you need for your bar. Then, you can spread out your payments over time to make these purchases more affordable for your business.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing of up to $50,000 for qualified borrowers. Repayment terms of up to 180 days are available. Behalf charges fees of 1% to 3% of the borrowed amount per month for using this service. There are no additional fees. You can repay on a weekly or monthly schedule.

Behalf’s financing can be used to pay merchants for inventory or services. However, there are some restrictions. You can’t pay bills, cover payroll, or pay other existing debt through Behalf.

Behalf analyzes the performance of your business when making its approval decisions. There are no time in business or business revenue requirements. Behalf does not have a minimum personal credit score for approval, although your credit history will be considered during the application process.

Create Your Menu

Before you open your bar, you need to know what food and drinks you plan to serve and what equipment is needed to properly prepare each menu item.

When planning your menu, think about your theme and the type of customers you plan to attract while also keeping your budget in mind.

Decide what type of drinks you’ll serve. Most bars serve a variety of wines, beers, liquors, and mixed drinks, but what you serve may be different based on the theme of your bar. For example, in a sports bar, your drink menu may feature a wide selection of beers. If you open a nightclub, you want to have a variety of liquors and mixers on hand to create many different types of drinks. If you have a cigar bar, wines and craft beers may make up the bulk of your menu. Again, the type of bar you want, the theme, and your target audience can help you determine what you serve.

If your bar will serve food, think about the types of food you’ll serve. In a neighborhood bar, appetizers like fried cheese sticks or nachos may be enough to keep your customers happy. If you have a gastropub, meals made with high-quality ingredients should make up your menu. Remember, creating the perfect menu takes careful planning, so take the time to brainstorm your ideas.

It’s also wise to start off small and add new items as your business grows. If you have a huge menu that features every type of food and beverage you could think of, your bar will require more equipment. More equipment equals more expenses. Working with a smaller menu can also ensure that your bartenders and kitchen staff aren’t overwhelmed and can focus on creating high-quality food and drinks. As you draw in customers to your bar, you can tweak your menu based on what customers are ordering, what gets rave reviews, and what falls flat.

Once you’ve determined what your bar will be serving, you’ll need to talk with suppliers to get estimates of costs. As you approach opening day, you’ll place your order with your selected suppliers.

Still stuck on your menu? Check out our tips for creating a great menu.

Purchase Your Equipment

Once you’ve secured a location and have moved further into the process of building your bar, it’s time to think about the equipment and fixtures that you need. What your bar needs depends on the theme you’ve selected and what you’ll be serving, but some items you may consider include:

  • Bar & barstools
  • Benches
  • Tables & chairs
  • Industrial ovens & other kitchen equipment
  • Coolers, refrigerators & ice bins
  • Blenders & other bar equipment
  • Big-screen TVs
  • Sound system
  • Microphones & other audio equipment
  • Beer taps

After you’ve leased, purchased, or built your building, it’s important to create a detailed layout of your business. You want to ensure that you have enough room for everything required to run your bar, while also leaving enough space for seating, a dance floor, and other features that will be important to your customers. As you grow your business and need to add or update equipment, consider equipment financing to make these expenses more manageable.

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest/Factor Rate Additional Fees Next Steps

$2K – $5M Varies As low as 2% Varies Visit Site

$5K – $500K 24 – 72 months Starts at 5% Yes Compare

Up to $250K 1 – 72 months Starts at 5.49% Varies Compare

Select Your POS System

ipad POS

Gone are the days when most businesses just needed a cash register or two for their customers. With the rising use of credit cards, debit cards, and mobile payments, businesses — especially bars — need a more advanced system for accepting payments.

A point of sale (POS) system is one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll need for your new bar. A POS system combines software and hardware to create a centralized point for business operations. Through this system, you’ll be able to take orders and accept payments, but that’s not all.

Some of the most advanced POS systems come with features beneficial to bars. This includes built-in tipping systems, inventory management that allows you to track your stock levels, and an open ticket system for creating bar tabs.

Your POS system plays an important role in your business, so it’s important that you know what to look for before making your purchase. Check out our top picks for POS systems for bars and nightclubs.

Lightspeed Restaurant ShopKeep Toast

Lightspeed Restaurant

ShopKeep

Toast

TouchBistro

Breadcrumb POS by Upserve

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

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Review

Visit Site 

Review

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Review

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Review

Compare 

Review

Monthly fee

$69+

Get a quote

$79+

$69+

$99+

Cloud-based or Locally Installed

Cloud-based

Hybrid

Cloud-based

Locally installed

Cloud-based

Compatible credit card processors

Cayan or Mercury in US; iZettle in Europe

Shopkeep Payments & some others; contact your processor to see if they are supported

Toast only

TouchBistro Payments, Square, PayPal, Moneris, Cayan, Chase Paymentech & more

Upserve Payments only

Business size

Small to medium

Small to medium

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to large

Hire Employees

To make sure your bar is a success, you need to have the right employees working for you. If you haven’t done so already, you need to apply for an Employer Identification Number for tax purposes. Next, you need to determine how many employees you need and what their roles will be in your business.

You’ll need at least one bartender that prepares and serves drinks in your bar. You will need to add additional bartenders based on the number of bar areas you have in your business, as well as the number of customers you have to serve.

If your bar will serve any type of food, you will also need a kitchen staff. This includes at least one cook, but you may also need prep cooks, dishwashers, and other staff as your business grows.

You’ll also need servers to distribute food or pass out drinks to customers not seated at the bar. The number of servers you have is based on the size of your bar and how busy it gets.

While your servers may be able to handle cleaning tables at first, as your business grows, you may want to add a busser or two, who are responsible for cleaning off tables for new customers.

You may also require additional staff. For example, you may hire a doorman that checks IDs before customers enter the door. A security guard may also be a staff member you hire to handle tempers that flare from customers who’ve had one too many.

You also need at least one manager to oversee the staff. A manager’s role may include hiring employees, firing employees, training, making schedules, and making sure that all staff members are doing their jobs properly.

Before you start seeking job applicants, make sure to create an in-house organizational chart to know exactly who you need to hire. You also need to do your research to figure out what salaries you will offer, as well as any benefits.

Unsure of where to hire new employees? You have a few options. First, post a job ad on online job boards or classified ads to find potential employees. This is an inexpensive (or even free) way to find candidates.

You can also ask for referrals. If you know someone in the industry, ask if they have any new hires to recommend. Don’t know anyone in the industry? Ask other colleagues, family, and friends for recommendations.

Bolster Your Web Presence

After completing all of these steps, you’ll be that much closer to opening your bar. However, you want to make sure to spread the word about your business, and there’s no better way to do that than with the internet.

One of the easiest ways to get the word out about your business is through social media. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are just a few of the ways you can reach your target audience, and Yelp For Business is a must. Best of all, these accounts are free to use. As you grow, you may consider moving past the free advertising you get through your posts and pictures and invest in advertising on these social platforms.

You also need a good website. Keep your bar’s theme in mind when you design your site. Make sure that your website reflects the image you want to project. There are many small business website builders you can look into if you want to create your website yourself. These make it easy for you to create a professional website with no prior web design experience required.

Service Pricing Hosted or Licensed Templates & Themes Compatible Credit Card Processors Next Steps

$14 – $179/month Hosted Excellent Many

Go to Site

Free – $29.90/month Web-Hosted Excellent Many

Go to Site

Free – $25/month Web-Hosted Average Many

Go to Site

$0/month Hosted Good Square Payments

Go to Site

Make sure that you include your address and phone number on your website. Information about your bar including dress code and hours of operation are also extremely useful for customers. You can also include your menu, photos of your establishment and patrons, and news and updates on your website.

Also, remember that word-of-mouth is one of the best forms of advertising for a bar. If your customers love your drinks, food, service, and atmosphere, they’ll tell others. If they dislike your bar, they’ll also tell others … who will make sure to avoid your establishment. Whether your bar is brand new on the block or you’ve been in business for some time, keep customer satisfaction high so that customers online and off will have nothing but positive reviews for your business.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, creating a bar where everyone gathers to have a great time takes a lot of hard work. But just as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Running your own bar means planning, budgeting, and always being ready for growth. While your bar won’t make you an overnight millionaire, you can become a successful entrepreneur with this potentially-lucrative venture if you put in the work.

The post Want To Open Your Own Bar? Top Tips To Get You Started appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It

If you’re considering whether the Square payment processing solution is best for your business, it makes sense to ask about their customer service. For many of us, the customer service experience makes or breaks the way we feel about a company, even if we love everything else about the product. And the truth is that positive — and negative — interactions with customer service can have serious repercussions — especially when you’re trying to run an efficient, successful business and keep your own customers happy.

Not too long ago, Square suffered from a less-than-stellar reputation for customer service, but that is changing. Any company that can identify a pattern in user issues and beef up their service is one that values user experience and trust. And that is a good sign for current users.

For this post, we examined all the negative complaints about Square’s customer service in our complete Square Review and found that the biggest issue that has since been improved is Square’s phone support (more on that below).

We also dug deep into the Square customer service experience to form our own impressions. (Keep in mind that we are looking here at Square’s business products, not the Square Cash App, which has an entirely different support team. But if you’re looking for information on that, we have you covered there, too. Check out our Square Cash App Review.)

When it comes to Square Support, the user experience has clearly been well thought out. When you visit the Support page, you will immediately see a lot of ways to find the help you need, and the available material is straightforward to navigate and easy to understand.

Below, we break it all down for you so that you can make the most of Square’s help features and find what you need in a crunch.

Note: To keep things in perspective, the vast majority of Square users (over 2 million) are happy with their experience, including customer service. We spend a lot of time sifting through information (including reviews) and understand that negativity bias can affect any anyone. We talk a lot more about that and how we handle the phenomenon here at Merchant Maverick in our post, Understanding Negativity Bias. 

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Square’s Support Center

When you have a question, you can probably find what you need through the prompts and easy-to-digest information within Square’s troubleshooting articles. They provide a wealth of information on everything from setting up your Square account to tips for using your card reader, troubleshooting any issues, and changing settings.

Support material is laid out in a table of contents, and each section is expandable. You don’t have to wade through a ton of text or scroll to find what you need because everything is organized by topic. Already know exactly what you need? You can just type in what you are looking for and simplify your hunt even more. It’s also possible to enter a question or search keywords and topics from any page in the help section. The search feature is very intelligent and can auto-suggest articles for you to explore. 

Square Compatibility Checker

Wondering if your smartphone or tablet will work with Square? Rather than searching the knowledgebase for a list, you can use Square’s Compatibility checker. Just enter in the make and model of your device and Square will tell you which card readers and other pieces of hardware are compatible (and which aren’t). This is a great way to make sure you don’t unnecessarily buy new devices even before you sign up with Square, or you can check whether the new device you’re planning to buy will actually still work with your hardware.

Issue Tracking

Having trouble using one of Square’s products? If you are looking for a quick way to see if everything on Square’s end checks out, you can head to https://www.issquareup.com/ and see whether an issue is on your end or theirs. 

Square Community Forum

 

Square has set up an excellent and unusually active hub for sellers to collaborate, get ideas, and problem-solve with its community forum, known as the Seller Community. You need to be a Square user to join, but once you’ve signed in, you can post your questions. And you’ll probably get a response more quickly than you expect! The forum is organized by popular topics, and directly below the fold you can jump right in and view recent discussions. 

Within the Seller Community, you can also search by keyword or for specific community members. There are spots dedicated to those who are new to Square, as well as a general discussion page, a dedicated forum for questions, and a place just for Square staff to share product updates (so you can stay in the know about any new features).

You’ll see that the Square staff are quite active on the forum, answering questions and even encouraging members to submit feature requests to the development team. It’s a pretty happening place when you start digging in.

Email & Social Media

If you have a question that requires a bit more personalized assistance, of course, you can still send Square’s support team a message through email or social media. Square has a dedicated Twitter support page, @SqSupport, for technical questions, or you can message the company’s Facebook page.

You can email Square even if you aren’t a Square user, but if you do have an account, Square will ask you to sign in and then choose the reason for reaching out.

After signing in and connecting to the service that applies to you, they provide you with contact details to get you matched with the right person.  In the meantime, you still have the option of checking out the Seller Community or looking through the support topics Square has published on its site.

Phone Support

Square has made a smart move by having actual employees (who collaborate with Square engineers) handle customer service questions. Speaking to a customer service rep who has inherent knowledge about a product can make a big difference when it comes to technical or even workflow questions. A few short years ago that wasn’t the case at Square, but we are glad that they responded to give the people what they wanted. 

To get your more complicated questions answered, you can access live help when you need it. This live support is only available to existing customers, however. You’ll get a customer code on the Square help page which you can use to patch you through to a person. 

Square’s phone support is active between the hours of 6 am to 6 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday.

It’s comforting to know that phone support is an option, but thanks to the exhaustive help sections on their site, including the Square Seller Community, you’ll likely get the answers you need without having to call in.

Learn More About Square

If you already use Square, it might be a good idea to check out some of the resources in the help sections and even connect with other sellers in the community forum. Not only does ‘iron sharpen iron’ when it comes to running a business, but you might also discover how to take advantage of built-in features, like the Square Dashboard, to make your experience even better.

If you’re considering using Square to accept payments, you can sign up for a free account. With no monthly charges or hidden fees, chargeback protection, and full PCI compliance included, it’s easy to evaluate whether Square is right for you without external pressures influencing your choice.

Still not sure? Get more information by digging into Is Square a Secure Way to Accept Credit Cards or reading our full Square review.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post Square’s Customer Service: Why It Works So Well And How To Use It appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

“”

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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How To Advertise On Pinterest Effectively

How to Advertise on Pinterest Effectively

Pinterest was launched in 2010 and has grown to at least 200 monthly active users in 2017. The social sharing platform is designed to help people discover information on the internet. Therefore, just creating an account on Pinterest can draw viewers to your brand.

Pinning content from your own website puts it in front of a new audience. Even pinning other people’s content can draw followers to your Pinterest account. You can get more data from your account. Optimizing the SEO of your Pinterest boards can boost their organic search rankings in Google. All of these strategies are free.

The platform began experimenting with monetizing certain pins in 2014, initiating an effective way for companies to advertise. Nowadays, advertisers can create Promoted Pins, which show up alongside all of the other pins on the page. In this image, you can see that the pin that says “Get 500% more traffic” indicates that it’s promoted by Pinterest in the description below it:

In this case, Pinterest is using its platform to advertise tips for businesses. It’s always encouraging to see a company using its own advertising services. That’s one way to know that the system works.

What Is Pinterest?

First, let’s discuss Pinterest and how it works. Some people say that Pinterest is a social network. Others refer to it as a search engine. Through Pinterest, you create a profile and then “pin” visual content onto different “boards.”

It’s like a collection of virtual bulletin boards. Instead of cutting out paper images from magazines, though, you save images that you find on the internet. You can write a description or include a link with those images so that you can refer back to the website from which they came.

You can create several boards and label them however you’d like. Most people set up boards for different categories. For example, you might have boards that are labeled:

  • Home décor
  • Fun summer activities
  • Dessert recipes
  • Knitting and crochet
  • Boho style

If you’re looking for inspiration for a project, a shopping venture or content that falls in line with your interests, you can search for it on Pinterest. Your search results appear as visual pins with short descriptions underneath them. This is what came up when we searched for “watercolor tutorials”:

To find out more about each search result, you can click on it. From here, you can see the full description, the URL from which the image came, when it was published and any comments that other users have left.

Here’s where things get social. You can leave a comment or ask a question. You can also follow the original poster’s account. Therefore, simply pinning items that interest you can drive traffic back to your Pinterest page and potentially to your website.

Emarketer says that there are 2 billion monthly searches on Pinterest. The platform drives about 5 percent of referral traffic to websites.

When you log onto Pinterest, you’ll see your feed, which shows the pins that the platform thinks that you’ll be interested in. You might see pins from people you follow or a combination of content that you might care about, based on other items that you’ve pinned.

However, Pinterest prefers to show content from trusted sources in users’ feeds. Therefore, if you’re using Pinterest for your business without advertising, you need to make sure that you pin high-quality content and that your pins are receiving engagement in the form of click-throughs, saves and comments.

Why Pinterest Advertising Works

While Facebook is the largest social media platform, Pinterest is competitive with Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter, according to Pew Research. Twenty-six percent of all American adults use Pinterest, and most of them are women. Pinterest reports that 40 percent of people who actively pin have a household income of at least $100K. If you sell products targeted toward women who want to shop, you’re in the right place.

Here are some other statistics about Pinterest users and their purchasing power:

  • Millenials use Pinterest as much as Instagram.
  • People who use Pinterest are ready to make a purchase.
  • 93% of active pinners use the platform to plan future purchases.
  • 73% of pinners say that brand content makes the platform more useful.
  • 61% of pinners have bought something after viewing a promoted pin.
  • 75% of saved pins are initiated by businesses.
  • People who use Pinterest spend 29% more on retail than non-users.

People search the platform for information that they can use to fuel upcoming purchases for things like home renovations, weddings, parties, vacations or having a baby. This is the place where people are looking for new information, ideas and brands. If you can provide these new ideas, you can make connections with a new audience.

Pinterest advertising looks natural. It fits into place with the other pins in your feed, and it doesn’t detract from or interrupt the user experience. Promoting your pins puts you in front of a receptive audience who is looking for products and ideas that will help them make their next move.

Types Of Pinterest Advertising

There are several types of Pinterest ads, including:

  • Promoted pins
  • Promoted video pins
  • One-tap pins
  • Promoted app pins
  • Cinematic pins

Promoted pins look just like a regular pin, except that they have the word “Promoted” at the bottom of the pin. Businesses pay Pinterest to give these priority over non-promoted pins. Once someone saves your promoted pin, it’s considered an organic find, and that person will no longer see the word “Promoted.” Other people who follow these pinners may find and save these pins, bringing you added traffic for free.

If your promoted pin contains a video, it will appear in search results, news feeds and a “More Like This” section that comes up below a clicked pin and shows similar content. The video will play automatically.

One-tap pins bypass the close-up image and “more details” page that normally shows up when you click on a pin in your feed. When a user clicks on these ads, they go straight to a landing page that you designate. You might think that this is a great way to get your audience in your lap, but some users are surprised by the change in the normal process and click off of your website quickly to get back to Pinterest.

If you are promoting an app, you can use a promoted app ad to get people to install it. The ad will include an app icon and install button so that users don’t have to leave Pinterest to sign up for your app.

Cinematic pins contain animation that moves when a user scrolls. This captures users’ attention and makes them feel like they’re in control without missing the end of the video.

5 Things To Do Before Advertising On Pinterest

Paying to promote pins can be an effective marketing strategy. However, there are a few steps that you should take before you set up your first advertisement on Pinterest.

1. Register For A Business Account

If you haven’t used Pinterest before, you’ll need to create a new account. It’s free to set up, and it takes less than a minute. Start by going to Pinterest’s Business Account page and clicking “Sign Up.”

Enter your email address, password and business name, select your business category from the drop-down menu and click “Create account.”

Follow the next steps, which are self-explanatory. These include selecting your language and country, adding your website URL and picking at least five categories in which you’re interested.

If you already have a Pinterest account, log in and click on Settings. It will say “Business Account Basics” on the top left if it’s a business account. If it’s a personal account, you can convert it to a business account by going to this link.

2. Claim Your Website

When you set up your business account, you should have added your business website URL to your profile. If you didn’t do that yet, go to your settings by clicking on the profile image on the top right when you’re logged into your account. Scroll down until you see the “Claim Website” section.

After you claim your website, you can utilize features such as:

  • Website analytics – Track traffic to pins from your site.
  • Featured logo – Add your profile picture to any content that’s pinned from your site.
  • Early access to tools – Be the first to hear about new business tools that Pinterest rolls out.

To claim your website, you’ll need to either add a bit of code to the <head> section of your website’s index.html file or download a file from Pinterest and upload it to your site’s root directory. After you do that, you can submit your website to Pinterest for review.

3. Install A Conversion Tag

You can add another Pinterest code to every page that you want to track on your website. The code is the same for every page, but you can use it to retarget people who have visited specific pages on your website.

To do this, click on “Ads” on the top left of your account, and then select “Conversion Tracking.”

Choose “Generate Pinterest Tag.” You’ll get code that you can insert between the <head> and </head> elements in the HTML of every page on your website for which you want to track visitors.

4. Upload Your List

If you have amassed a list for your newsletter, you can upload it to Pinterest so that you can target the same users with your Pinterest ads**. Just create a .csv file with the email addresses that you’ve collected over the years. Log into your Pinterest account.

**If you go this route – you need to have your audience’s consent. If you are in the EU, because it’s the law. If you are outside the EU, because you need to be cool, not creepy.

Click on Ads > Audiences.

Then, click on “Create Audience.” Choose “A list of customers that you upload” from the window that appears. Name your audience, and include the date so that you can update it a few months from now.

Pinterest will match up the email addresses from your list with those of its users so that you can show ads to the same people. In the future, you can also create “an actalike audience that behaves similarly to the one you already have.” This will choose people with similar demographics and interests as the people on your email list.

5. Pin Some Content

You can’t promote a pin unless you’ve pinned it publicly. Therefore, if you have created a new Pinterest account in hopes of setting up some ads, you should take some time to create boards and pin content for free before you put money into it.

Make sure that all of your pins contain high-quality images. The visuals are going to grab people’s attention before anything else. Therefore, they need to be top-notch.

Vertical Pins

Pinterest displays images vertically. Therefore, you need to use the correct aspect ratio to get the most out of your pins’ appearance. For years, Pinterest has claimed that a 2:3 aspect ratio is ideal. However, some pinners said that posts with these dimensions didn’t perform well. Some people even created extra-long posts to capture people’s attention.

As of June 2018, however, Pinterest said that those “giraffe pins” may be cropped and won’t show up as frequently in people’s feeds. The ideal aspect ratio is 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels high (720 x 1080 works well too). Square images look good, and they are easy to import from Instagram.

An aspect ratio of 600 x 1260 (with 1260 being the height in pixels) won’t be cropped. Anything taller will.

If you’re creating long giraffe pins, make sure that they add value. Infographics and step-by-step tutorials are ideal for these space-hogging pins.

Rich Pins

Creating Rich Pins can help people learn more about your products. Rich pins contain additional information, including:

  • App – Takes viewers to the app store for download
  • Article – Includes a headline, author and story description
  • Product – Includes pricing, availability and purchase location
  • Recipe – Includes title, ingredients, cooking times, serving information and ratings

By adding the metadata directly to the pin, brands can increase engagement. Picture a recipe that contains a gorgeous picture of the food that you’re eating with the recipe itself below it. The pins pull from the metadata on your website.

Creating Rich Pins is a two-step process. First, you must add metadata to the articles, products and recipes on your site. If you have a WordPress site, you can do this easily with a plugin like Yoast. Then, you need to verify your Rich Pins with Pinterest. Once you validate one URL with a Rich Pin on your site, you’re all set. You don’t need to validate all of the URLs with Rich Pins.

Buyable Pins

Pinterest rolled out Buyable Pins in 2015 to make it easier for its audience to shop directly from a pin. These pins list the price in blue and contain a Buy It button so that people can make a purchase right from the app. When someone clicks Buy It, they go directly to the checkout, where they can pay with a credit card or Apple Pay.

If you’re a retailer or sell your own products, you’ll need to have a Shopify store that’s linked with the Pinterest sales channel to take advantage of Buyable Pins. As long as you point a pin’s URL to the product detail page on your Shopify store, it will activate as shoppable.

Pinterest automatically matches your product feed with your pins and generates Buyable Pins for any products that you have already pinned. For any other product, you should create pins from scratch. These can include additional images so that more people can discover your products.

Buyable Pins are similar to Rich Pins in that they display additional information. Rich Pins, however, don’t send you to the checkout when you click on them.

How To Set Up A Pinterest Ad

If you’ve decided to spend money on advertising, you might wonder how to advertise on Pinterest. This is a step-by-step tutorial that teaches you how to do it.

1. Create The Ad

When you’re ready to start advertising, click on the + sign that appears toward the top right, and then select “Create Ad.”

This brings you to your Ads Manager, where you can create your campaign.

2. Set Your Goals

You’ll begin by selecting your campaign objective.

Then, you’ll enter your campaign details. You’ll have to come up with a name for your campaign if it’s new, or you can select an existing campaign from the drop-down menu. You’ll also designate your daily and lifetime budget for the campaign here.

Then, decide on your campaign placement, which includes whether you want to make your ads one-tap. This feature can’t be edited once your campaign starts running.

If you’re creating an app install ad, you will have the option to select whether to optimize the campaign for completed installs or visits to the app download page. Both are charged on a cost-per-click basis. Pinterest also has direct integrations with mobile measurement partners, or MMPs, which help you track the install performance.

Finally, click “Create campaign and continue.”

3. Set Up An Ad Group

An ad group is a set of promoted pins that fall under the same campaign. You can have multiple ad groups for one campaign, which means that you will have a separate budget for your ad groups than you do for the campaign as a whole.

Understanding Ad Groups

Each ad group can have multiple promoted pins within it. You can assign different budgets and targets to each ad group, though. Therefore, you can use ad groups to set up unique budgets for different marketing areas, such as regions, demographics or products. You can also use ad groups to test the design, placement and objectives of your advertisements without building separate campaigns.

For example, you could create separate ad groups with maximum daily budgets to target:

  • Your email list
  • People who have visited related pages on your website
  • Actalike audiences

To keep everything straight, you should name your ad group based on its organizational structure, such as who you’re targeting or what promoted pins are showing up within that group.

4. Create A Target Audience

On the ad group page, you’ll be asked to create a target audience. This helps you get your ads in front of the right people. You can target viewers based on the following criteria:

You’ll need to give this audience a name and description. If you choose to retarget people who have visited your website, you’ll have to create a Pinterest tag to track them. If you choose to target individuals from an email list, you’ll be asked to upload the list.

You’ll be able to further clarify your audience by interests, such as boards and pins that they’ve interacted with in the past, keywords, languages, locations, devices and genders.

5. Create Your Maximum CPC Bid

On the page where you create your ad group, you’ll be asked to set a maximum CPC bid. This is the maximum amount that you want to pay per audience action, whether that’s impressions, clicks, engagement or app download. You won’t be charged the full bid unless it’s necessary to beat out the next-highest bidder.

6. Select Your Promoted Pin

Now, you can select the pin that you want to promote. You can only choose from items that you’ve publicly pinned. The pin doesn’t have to be one that you have initiated through your own website, although it would probably be a good idea to use an image that you’ve created.

Next, you’ll give the promoted pin a name (optional) and set the URL of the landing page that you want visitors to end up on when they click on it.

Consider the URL carefully. Ideally, you’ll send people who click on your ad to a page dedicated to your Pinterest audience. The landing page should have something to do with the pin that led people to it. If you’ve added Pinterest tag code to your website, you’ll be able to track the success of each promoted pin.

Click “Promote Pin” when you’re finished. The ad will go to Pinterest for review, which can take 24 hours. At this time, add your billing details so that you can pay for your ad once it’s approved.

The Quick Way To Promote A Pin

Pinterest also provides a way to promote your pins in about 10 seconds. Go to your profile and hover over a pin that you want to advertise. Click on the Promote button.

A window will open up where you can add all of the promotional details, including the URL, daily budget, campaign duration, target audience and keywords.

Tips And Tricks For Optimizing Your Pinterest Advertising

Just putting yourself out there isn’t always enough to gain an audience. Instead of wasting your dollars by advertising blindly, follow this advice to get the most out of your budget.

Promote The Best Pins

You might wonder what pins to promote when you advertise on Pinterest. Those with strong visuals do best. Making multiple pins for the same product is a good idea. You can show different angles, styles and descriptions to pull in different customers. Adding your brand name or logo to the image improves credibility.

If you sell products, Pinterest says that photographing them in lifestyle shots is more effective than displaying the product on its own. For example, a fashion pin should show someone wearing the clothing in a real-world setting. Home décor pins do better when they concentrate on the product instead of people. Hair and beauty products get great engagement when the items are displayed against a plain, contrasting background.

Most experts recommend promoting pins that are already doing well. Even though you might figure that boosting a low-performing pin could help it get in front of your audience, promoting a high-performing pin is more likely to give you results. Wouldn’t you want to pay for results as opposed to a lackluster reception to your ad?

When you’re picking a pin in step 3 of the ad creation process, you have the option of choosing from all pins, 30-day most clicked pins or 30-day most saved pins. Use this to your advantage to promote your most engaging content.

Add Text To Your Pins

Even though Pinterest relies on photos, it doesn’t hurt to add a little text to your images. The text overlay should clarify what viewers are looking at without detracting from the design as a whole. The words shouldn’t detract from the aesthetic. A simple overlay works wonderfully.

Make sure that you’re using the description wisely too. A call-to-action helps users stay engaged. You can ask people a question or give an instruction, such as “Learn more” or “Buy now.” You might even try having your call-to-action say, “Pin this for later” to remove the urgent sales quality but encourage people to save your pin.

Consistently Monitor And Analyze Your Ads

It’s hard to predict what’s going to resonate with viewers. Pinterest is a visual platform, and some images may capture more attention than others. When you’re just starting out, test everything, including the:

  • Image
  • Description
  • Call-to-action
  • Keywords
  • Bids
  • Audiences

After doing this consistently for a while, you’ll begin to notice which combinations are more effective.

Focus Your Keywords

Although you’re allowed to include up to 150 keywords with a promoted pin, you don’t have to use all of them. If you’re all over the place, you won’t get many click-throughs. Think about the way that your audience interacts with Pinterest.

The keywords should match the way that your target audience uses the platform (similar to how you “theme” keywords for SEO). Make sure that the keywords are also consistent with the information in the pin and the landing page to which they’re directed.

Because Pinterest is a search engine, keywords are crucial to your pins’ visibility. Create your descriptions the way that you would create meta tags for a web page’s title and description. Using trending keywords earlier in the text will help your pins get noticed.

When you place pinnable images on your website, make sure that you include keywords in the alt text. Your boards should contain long-tail keywords. Use Pinterest Analytics to track which pins get the most impressions and experiment with the keywords that you use.

Add Value

The best practices for advertising on some other platforms involve using a call-to-action to send people to a lead page. However, people who search using Pinterest are looking for information. They might get annoyed if they come across your promoted pin, click on it to investigate it further and reach a page that simply asks them for their email address.

An effective way to use Pinterest for advertising is to send people to a landing page where they can explore what you offer. You can certainly include a lead generation form on this page, but don’t make it the only asset at that URL.

Group Boards

Group boards are sometimes referred to as shared, community, collaborative or contributor boards. Using them can lead to significant increases in traffic.

More than one person can add pins to a group board. Therefore, when anyone adds pins to the board, those pins may appear in the home feed of anyone who follows any of the board members. This exponentially increases your reach.

If you focus on sharing your own content to group boards, you’ll gain exposure for your brand. Keep the content relevant, however.

Because Pinterest rewards high-quality pins with exposure, make sure that you join the right group boards. Those that are targeted to a specific theme usually have more traction with an audience and get more engagement. Click on several of the pins on a group board that you’re thinking of joining to make sure that the links aren’t broken or redirect to a spammy or inappropriate site.

Pinterest is an opportune way to expose your brand to a new audience. The platform isn’t just used by crafty people, DIY-ers and foodies. Travel, fashion, design, hobbies, health and beauty, entertainment, accessories and sporting goods are commonly searched categories on Pinterest. Creating a business account for your brand is free, and you can play around with promoting your pins at a low cost to determine whether it works well for your business.

Next Steps

Pinterest holds a lot of opportunity for businesses of all sizes. It’s also straightforward and fairly risk-less to experiment there.

You’ll learn more from running a single experiment than any blog post – so go for it!

If you want to know other ways to use Pinterest for marketing, check out Nate’s post on Pinterest & SEO research in addition to Using Pinterest Analytics.

The post How To Advertise On Pinterest Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Advertise On Spotify Effectively

How to Advertise on Spotify Effectively

People don’t just listen to music anymore; they experience it. Advertising on a platform like Spotify can expose listeners to your brand in an engaging, involved way.

Spotify can be used to market your business similarly as a radio ad. You can also sponsor streaming sessions and playlists to get in front of the people who are most likely to resonate with your message.

Why Advertise On Spotify?

Statista reports that there were 70 million paying Spotify subscribers in January 2018. However, it’s really the people who listen for free that get to hear your ads. In March 2017, there were about 90 million people who took advantage of the service for free, according to the Verge.

If Spotify is trying to push listeners to its premium version, which doesn’t play or show advertisements, why would you want to advertise on the platform? Sure, Spotify is trying to make money from premium memberships. However, it isn’t writing off the free offering. In fact, a recent statement by Spotify’s vice president of product, Jason Richman, confirmed that the company views its free version as a separate service that it wants people to use.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that Spotify was slated to become the third-largest advertiser in the world, following the footsteps of Facebook and Google. Spotify started out offering a free, advertisement-sponsored subscription service to help music fans connect with the songs and artists that they love. They quickly realized the opportunity that advertising could provide them.

Business Insider said that because of its global scale and huge collection of data, Spotify is trying to be a primary advertising solution for just about everyone, including small and medium-sized businesses. The company launched Spotify Ad Studio, a self-serve advertising platform, in 2017. This allows smaller and mid-sized companies to advertise.

Plus, Spotify uses its advertising platform to convert users to the premium product, as you can see in the image below, which shows a mobile takeover ad that appeared while we were navigating to our Discover Weekly playlist. The fact that the company believes in the power of its own advertising gives us faith.

If Spotify can’t sell ad space, it will lose quite a bit of revenue. The free platform isn’t going anywhere.

And if you think that people get annoyed by ads on Spotify, think again. Acquisio reports that 75 percent of listeners expect advertisements on a free streaming service. Almost 50 percent say that commercials are less disruptive on Spotify than on regular radio.

Part of the appeal of Spotify is its ability to connect users. Those who register their Spotify account through Facebook can share playlists with their friends. Spotify is largely about discovery. Check out what your friends are listening to, and you might learn about an artist that you’ve never heard before.

Even if users don’t connect to Spotify through social media, the platform incorporates a similar connective quality. Users can follow other Spotify users on the platform. When they search for a particular song, artist or album, they can view playlists that other people have created using that song.

So why should you advertise on this platform? Because people are using it to stay up-to-date with the world. If people are using Spotify to learn about new music, they might also learn a little about what you have to offer when they hear your advertisement.

If you want to target a hip audience that’s interested in staying in the know about current trends, you might want to advertise on Spotify. If you’re a musician, advertising on the platform is a no-brainer.

Plus, Spotify collects data from all of its logged-in users. According to Smart Insights, this means that marketers can take advantage of unique intelligence, such as users’:

  • Moods
  • Preferences
  • Listening habits
  • Activities

Over time, companies can learn more about the people they wish to target, gaining insights into platform behaviors, routine activities and wider interests. This allows brands to create tailored experiences that aren’t possible on other platforms.

Because Spotify requires users to log in, it has extensive data about what people are listening to and how they listen. The company also compiles real-time information about lifestyle, entertainment preferences, family status and technology use.

How Do Ads Work On Spotify?

If you have used Spotify for free, you probably know how often advertisements are played. When you start a streaming session, you can listen to one sponsored advertisement to get a 30-minute session of uninterrupted music. After that, Spotify will play an advertisement about every 15 minutes.

Users can’t skip or fast-forward the ads. They can choose to watch a video from an advertiser to get another 30-minutes of ad-free music from time to time. If they’re listening via a laptop or computer, a branded overlay hangs out on the screen at almost all times. It’s not disruptive—it can be closed so that the user can navigate the site—but it will reappear.

Audio and display ads aren’t the only way to market a brand using Spotify. Businesses can sponsor listening sessions, providing videos that users watch in exchange for uninterrupted listening.

Marketing on Spotify can be even more creative, though. Businesses can put together branded playlists. These can include a logo and a link to the company’s landing page. Even President Barack Obama used a branded playlist to help bring awareness to his brand in 2016.

In sum, there are three main paid advertisement types with which marketers can experiment:

  • Audio – Plays between songs during active listening sessions. Accompanied by a clickable display that can take users to a specific URL or landing page.
  • Video – Sponsored sessions, video takeovers or branded moments video advertising that rewards viewers with 30 minutes of uninterrupted music after watching.
  • Display – Homepage banners, homepage takeovers.

What Can You Advertise On Spotify?

You can use Spotify to raise awareness for any brand, company or organization. You can also use it to promote music-related content or an event, such as a concert.

If your target audience uses the platform, it makes sense to try it out. Using multiple channels for advertising can lead to steady growth for your brand.

One of the benefits of using an audio ad instead of a video or image is that users can access it when they’re not watching a screen. For example, many people listen to Spotify while driving or in the shower. Reaching them with a DIY audio ad using Spotify’s DIY Ad Studio can help you influence them in a way that you might not have tried before.

In fact, Nielsen analyzed Spotify audio ads and found that listeners are more likely to enjoy and recall audio ads through streaming services than display ads. Audio ads are also more apt to increase purchase intent.

How Much Does Advertising On Spotify Cost?

Using Spotify’s self-serve advertising platform is the way to go if you don’t have a huge ad budget, although the service is available to companies and budgets of all sizes. The minimum is $250, with each ad served costing marketers about $0.015 to $0.025. The price varies depending on your targeting choices. Aiming at a larger target market will typically cost you more per ad.

You can target your audience based on the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Activity
  • Music taste/listening behavior
  • Mobile
  • Desktop

When you initially set up an ad using the DIY Ad Studio, you can choose from a range of options for your total campaign budget. As we describe in more detail below, you have to select a custom option to enter the minimum of $250. If you launch your ad and realize that it’s not bringing you the results that you want, you can stop the ad.

That means that you’re technically not committed to the $250 budget minimum if you find that the platform isn’t working for you. If you stop an ad after paying only $30, you won’t be billed for the unused portion.

You can also purchase advertising programmatically and through Spotify’s direct sales department. These options usually cost more than using Spotify Ad Studio.

What Spotify Ad Studio Can And Cannot Do

Spotify Ad Studio makes it simple for anyone to set up, track, manage and analyze audio ads. Some of the other things that you can do with Spotify Ad Studio include:

  • Creating and record your own audio ad
  • Reaching free Spotify users
  • Retarget people who have engaged with your ads
  • Create successive ads to share an extended story
  • Track your campaign, including clicks and cost

If you are an approved advertiser for a specific artist, such as the label or a promoter, you can target people who follow that artist. For example, if you’re promoting a concert, you can reach out to the people who follow the performer on Spotify.

You won’t be able to target fans of particular musicians if you’re not an approved advertiser, but you can still target by genre or playlist. Genre targeting lets you deliver your ad after a user has listened to a specific type of music. This is helpful if you know that the majority of your target audience listens to smooth jazz, for example.

Playlist targeting lets you deliver your message to people who are listening to tunes that are associated with certain activities or moods. Spotify categorizes different playlists and refreshes its inputs every day.

You can’t target fans by zip code, but you can select a country, region or U.S. state. As of the time of this writing, Spotify didn’t offer a feature to exclude certain people. That might come in handy if you’re promoting a concert but don’t want to waste money marketing to people who have already bought tickets.

How To Create Spotify Ads Using Ad Studio

To start creating your own Spotify ads, head over to Spotify Ad Studio and click Sign Up. The platform is still in beta, and it’s currently only accepting advertisers from the U.S., U.K. and Canada. You’ll also need a Spotify account. The system will set you up with one when you sign up for Ad Studio if you don’t have one already.

Once you have registered, you can start creating an ad. Click on Your Ads on the top right corner of the screen. Then, click Build Ad on the top left corner to begin working on your ad.

There are three steps to building an ad:

  • Set Up
  • Budget & Audience
  • Ad Creative

1. Set Up

In the set-up phase of ad creation, you get to choose your objective and name your ad. This step is easy; unless you’re an authorized promoter for a particular musician, you’ll choose “Raise awareness for a brand, business, or organization.”

Next, give your ad a name. This will only be visible internally and serves as a good way to organize your ads if you’re creating more than one.

2. Audience & Budget

In this step, you’ll select your audience and budget. Start by choosing a location, gender and age range for your target listener.

You can choose listeners in a particular country, state (Australia and U.S.), city (Australia, Canada and U.K.) or DMA (U.S). The DMA, or designated market area, includes a metropolitan area as well as its suburbs.

Next, narrow down your audience by listening behavior.

Targeting by genre delivers your ad right after someone has listened to the type of music that you selected. You can choose more than one genre.

Targeting by playlist uses Spotify’s ability to categorize playlists by mood and activity. After someone listens to a playlist that matches the playlist categories that you choose, they’ll hear your ad.

You can also target by fans of a particular artist if you’re a record label or promoter. You can’t target by all of these options; you must choose All Music, Genre, Playlist Category or Fans.

Next, you’ll need to choose the platform or device on which you want your ad to display. Choose all of them unless your ad is platform-specific.

At this point, you can also choose when you want your ad to display. For example, Spotify says that moms are 25% more likely to listen at 5 or 6 am. If mothers are in your target market, you might want to set your ads earlier than a brand that caters to college students. You don’t have to fill this in if you want your ads to play throughout the day.

Finally, you’ll set your schedule and budget. To set your schedule, enter the start and end dates and times that you want the ad to run. Campaigns run from midnight to midnight in your local time zone by default, but you can enter different start and end times.

Remember that it takes time for an ad to be approved. If your ad is approved after the start time, it will begin immediately once it is accepted.

To choose your budget, either pick from the given options or select Custom. You cannot enter an amount lower than $250.

3. Ad Creative

Now, you get to choose what your ad will look like. Every audio ad has a corresponding display to go along with it. This includes a companion image, headline and link to a URL that users will go to when they click on the ad image.

The image must be a JPG or PNG image that’s 640 x 640 pixels and no more than 200KB in size. You can preview the way this will look on a mobile or desktop. If you have a call to action, it must be included on the image. A directive like “Click here” or “Learn more” will help users understand that they can drill down on the picture to explore your brand further.

Finally, you get to set up the audio creative for your ad. If you already have a sound recording, that’s great. Upload it here.

The audio specs are as follows:

  • Length – 30 seconds or less
  • File types – WAV, MP3, OGG
  • Max file size – 1MB
  • Audio – WAV – 16-bit 44.1 kHz MP3, at least 192 kbps RMS normalized to -14dBFS Peak normalized to -0.2 dBFS

You can also provide Spotify with a script, and the platform will create a voiceover for your ad at no additional cost. If you do this, you can choose the profile of the voice that you’d like based on age, gender, dialect, etc.

When you write the script, you’ll need to make sure that it’s the perfect length to sound natural in a 30-second time slot. A script of about 50 to 75 words is perfect. If it’s longer, the actor will speak too quickly, and if it’s shorter, it might sound like it drags on.

If you’re uploading your own audio and you want background music, it will need to be incorporated into the audio file. If you’re asking Spotify to record the voiceover, you can select your background track separately from a library of pre-selected genres or upload your own.

4. Review Your Order Summary

Before you submit your order for processing and approval, Spotify will show you a summary of all of the options that you chose. If you need to edit anything here, you can go back and do so. Once you click Place Order, your ad will be reviewed by Spotify.

This typically takes 48 hours, according to Spotify’s FAQs. However, you should provide your creative materials at least five days before you want the campaign to start if you don’t want to be rushed.

If you request a voiceover, Spotify will send you the final recording for your approval. If you want to change something, you can request a revision at that time.

5. Editing Your Ad

You can stop or pause your ad at any time. You might want to pause it to change your targeting selection. You can change any target demographics except for fans. If you want to edit Fan Targeting, budget or start/end date, you have to email Spotify, and they’ll recommend the best solution for you.

You may even want to stop an ad that doesn’t seem to be converting. If you do that, you’ll only be charged for the number of ads that were displayed during the run.

6. What If Your Ad Isn’t Approved?

If your ad doesn’t meet the terms of Spotify’s Advertising Terms and Conditions, it will be rejected. An ad that’s longer than 30 seconds or promotes a Spotify competitor will not be approved. You can always reach out to Spotify if you’re not sure why your ad wasn’t approved.

Can You Create Other Types Of Ads Using Ad Studio?

If you’ve ever used Spotify’s free streaming service, you’ve probably seen ads that aren’t just audio with companion displays. You have the option of working with Spotify through direct sales or programmatic ads. This will give you the option of delivering your message through different types of ads on the platform.

Some advertising options besides audio include the following.

Sponsored Session

When users start streaming on Spotify mobile, they’re usually asked if they’d like to watch a short video to get 30 minutes of uninterrupted listening. After the video runs, an image with a link will appear if the user wants to learn more about your brand. This type of ad is available on mobile devices or tablets.

Video Takeover

Video Takeover ads are presented to logged-in users when they’re engaged with the app in between songs or during commercial breaks. They’re available on mobile devices or desktops. Videos are less than 30 minutes long and contain a call to action as well as a link to the brand’s URL.

Display

There are a few display options that can be purchased through direct sale or programmatic marketing.

The Overlay welcomes users back when they return to the Spotify app. Your brand message covers the screen while users listen to music. They can click through to a URL or click to close the image.

The Homepage Takeover shows up on Spotify’s desktop Browse page for 24 hours. This option can include interactive elements to engage your audience further.

The Leaderboard is shown as a smaller banner on the bottom of the desktop or web app. It’s served when Spotify is the top app on the screen, and it appears exclusive of any other messages for 30 seconds.

Sponsored Playlists

Spotify’s top real estate includes the playlists that the company owns and operates. Brands can sponsor these playlists based on the categories that their target market listens to. This is available on mobile and desktop.

Tips And Best Practices For Creating Spotify Ads

Spotify ads run between songs and are an interruption for users. If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, it’s probably best to resonate with their listening preferences and interests.

Stay Within The Context

If you’re marketing a brand that will be used by energetic party-goers, like an alcoholic beverage, you might not want to place your ad on a yoga music playlist. On the other hand, an ad for a relaxing product might not be what people tune into when they’re listening to upbeat electronica. If your ad feels like it fits in with the music your target audience is listening to without creating a disturbance, it’s more likely to resonate with the listener.

Know Your Target Audience

In order to keep your ads relevant, you’ll need to understand your target audience. Age, gender and language are important when selecting your target. One way to choose the right demographics is to analyze ads that you’ve run in the past. If people from a particular age range, location or gender convert more than others, choose those when setting up your Spotify ad.

If you don’t have data from other ads, accept the fact that you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you on this platform. You might wonder what someone’s music interests have to do with your non-music-based brand. Spotify compiles data based on the mood and emotion elicited by certain songs, and users choose to listen to certain playlists based on their current state of mind.

If you can tap into that, you can drive conversions.

Personalize The Location

You can target users who live in specific areas when setting up an ad. If your audience lives in London, you might want to start your ad with, “Hello, London.” The personalization and association with their location might grab their attention.

Create A Story

What makes you get emotional when you listen to a particular song? It’s likely the story behind the music. You can touch your audience’s emotions when you incorporate a story into your advertisement too.

People are more likely to tune in when they’re being told a story than being sold a product or service. You can do this with words, but you can also build a story with a playlist.

Fox promoted its TV show Star by developing a branded playlist to share the inspiration behind the show’s music. Between songs, the cast offered some commentary.

Creating a playlist as part of your narrative can capture your audience. People will tend to listen to the playlist even after your advertising campaign is over.

Use Music

Your audience uses Spotify to listen to music. Therefore, if you use the perfect soundtrack for your ad, you’re going to fall in line with the platform’s mission and design. You can use music in the background of your ad or create a branded playlist to keep listeners involved.

The music that you use must do two things:

  • Resonate with your audience
  • Reflect your brand

Create A Specific Call To Action

When creating an ad, think about what you want users to do, and then instruct them to do this. Most of the time, this will involve clicking on the ad image for more information.

This Google Home Max ad that appeared on Spotify mobile has a clear “Buy Now” button that takes you to the Google store when you click on it:

Free Advertising On Spotify?

If you don’t want to pay for advertising fees, you can get creative with Spotify’s playlist options. Any user can create a playlist, and it’s free. Brand it by adding an image, and you have a new way of connecting with your audience.

Some ideas for creating engaging playlists include:

  • Making holiday playlists to get consumers in the mood to buy your products
  • Putting together workout playlists for companies geared toward sports and fitness
  • Compiling comforting and enthusiastic music for a restaurant

Once you’ve created some playlists, you need followers. If you’re serious about marketing, this involves strategy, not just asking your grandmother and best friends to follow you.

The strategy begins when you set up your playlists. They should match your listeners’ moods and interests. If you are trying to appeal to yogis, you might not want heavy metal on your playlists. Also, playlists should be curated and short. Split up the 500 songs that you want to share into several different playlists.

You can collaborate on playlists to allow your followers to add their own tracks. This is a great way to make some friends on the platform and gain visibility. If you choose to do this, you’ll need to keep tabs on the list so that it doesn’t get out of hand.

Once you’ve created a few playlists, share them. You can do this on social media or your blog. Ask questions, such as “Which is your favorite track?” to boost engagement. Add a Spotify Follow Button to your website so that new followers are only a click away.

Remember, Spotify is a social platform. You’ll need to keep up with it the same way you do with your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Follow artists that are appropriate for your brand so that others can learn what you’re listening to. Network by asking others what they’re listening to.

If your target audience listens to music, they’re likely to be on Spotify at some point. Harness this powerful platform by using it socially, creating your own ads for it or working with Spotify’s advertising sales team to dream up a campaign that will engage listeners and increase your brand’s exposure.

Next Steps

Advertising on Spotify is not quite as easy as setting up a Google or Facebook ad. But, that barrier to entry provides a unique opportunity for brands and businesses of all sizes looking to reach an audience in a personal and memorable way.

The post How To Advertise On Spotify Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Stripe VS Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

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

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

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

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

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

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

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

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

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

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

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

Stripe’s additional tools include:

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

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

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

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

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

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

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

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

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

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

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

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

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

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

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

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

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

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

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading!

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How To Use GoFundMe To Fund A Business In 8 Steps

go fund me for business start up

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

 

go fund me for business

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

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

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

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

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

1) Make Sure Your Business Is Right For GoFundMe

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

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

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

go fund me for business

2) Develop A Business Plan & A Realistic Funding Goal

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

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

3) Offer Multiple Reward Tiers

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

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

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

4) Refine Your Campaign Pitch

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

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

5) Seek Support From Friends & Family Before Launch

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

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

6) Market Your Campaign Via Social Media & Email

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

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

7) Keep Everybody Updated After Your Campaign Launches

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

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

8) Stay Engaged With Your Backers Post-Campaign

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Check out the links below to learn more about GoFundMe.

Read our full GoFundMe review

Visit the GoFundMe website

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

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A Guide To Shopify Templates And Design Tools

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

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

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

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

How Do Shopify Designs Work?

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

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

Types Of Shopify Templates

Free Shopify Templates

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

Here are a few of our favorite free Shopify templates:

Premium Shopify Templates

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

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

Buying Shopify Templates

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

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

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

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

Available Design Tools

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

Easy-To-Use Tools

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

Advanced Customization Tools

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

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

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

Shopify Template Designs & Best Practices

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

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

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

Shopify Store Templates

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

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

Prioritize Site Navigation

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

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

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

Focus On Images

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

Keep Information Above The Fold

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

Shopify About Us Templates

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

Connect With Customers

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

Tell A Story

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

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

Consider Including Alternative Media

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

Shopify Blog Templates

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

Post Regularly

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

Write Relevant & Useful Information

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

Shopify Thank You Page Templates

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

Think Upsell

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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