Real Estate Crowdfunding: Is It Right For Your Business?

real estate crowdfunding

With the increasing prominence crowdfunding has attained over the course of the last decade, I’m sure you’re broadly familiar with the concept of crowdfunding. You’ve probably heard of people using GoFundMe (see our review) to try to cover medical expenses and other personal emergencies. You’ve probably also heard of crowdfunding a la Kickstarter (see our review) in which backers contribute to the funding of a board game or gadget or male romper in exchange for rewards in the form of the board game/gadget/romper in question and/or related goodies.

the office swag GIF

However, if you’re involved in a real estate venture, it’s now possible to solicit investment in real estate via crowdfunding as well. As I’ll explain, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, but by allowing owners of real estate to launch public crowdfunding campaigns, funding can be drawn from a much broader pool of investors than was previously possible.

Let’s talk about exactly what real estate crowdfunding is and how it can benefit your real estate business.

Real Estate Crowdfunding & The Jobs Act

Prior to 2012, it was illegal to offer investment in the form of a public campaign in the US, as public solicitation of securities was forbidden by SEC rules. Therefore, real estate crowdfunding was out of the question.

However, the idea of what crowdfunding could be changed significantly when the JOBS Act of 2012 was signed into law. The passage of the Act was framed as a response to the lack of capital available to startups in the wake of the Great Recession, as it legalized the crowdfunding of securities. Subsequently, a great number of real estate crowdfunding sites have popped up.

What Is Real Estate Crowdfunding?

confused math GIF by CBC

Let’s be precise when we discuss real estate crowdfunding. The term encompasses two different forms of crowdfunding: equity-based and debt-based.

Equity-Based Real Estate Crowdfunding

When you open up your real estate venture to equity investment, investors become co-owners of the property in question and stand to profit in proportion to their ownership stake in the property. These profits come in the form of rental income and/or property appreciation.

Debt-Based Real Estate Crowdfunding

With debt-based real estate crowdfunding, you offer investors the chance to lend to you. In return, the investor is paid back the principal plus interest. Mortgages and hard money loans are examples of debt investments in a real estate context.

(For more general information on the differences between different forms of crowdfunding, our article “Types of Crowdfunding For Business: Debt, Equity, Or Rewards” is a good place to start.)

What Do These Differences Mean For Your Campaign?

The substantive difference between these two forms of real estate crowdfunding is that debt investment is safer than equity investment for the investor, but also less potentially lucrative. If something goes wrong and the property in question is foreclosed on, debtholders get paid before equity holders do, so there’s a smaller potential downside for the debt investor. Equity investors bear much more risk.

On the other hand, if the real estate venture does particularly well, equity investors get a share of the windfall profits whereas debt investors do not — they simply get interest on the loan. Equity investment is more high-risk-high-reward than debt investment when it comes to real estate. Keep in mind the type of investments your particular real estate project is likeliest to attract when setting the terms and structure of your real estate crowdfunding campaign.

In order to do this, however, you’ll need to understand what the capital stack is.

pancakes GIF

What Is The Capital Stack?

The capital stack is key to understanding commercial real estate financing (not so much residential real estate). The capital stack is comprised of the different layers of financing arrangements that go towards funding real estate projects. It delineates where investors stand in the pecking order relative to one other.

This is how investors are prioritized, with the highest-priority investors on the bottom:

  • Common Equity (lowest priority)
  • Preferred Equity
  • Mezzanine Debt
  • Senior Debt (highest priority)

Essentially, the risk increases the higher you are on the stack, but so do the returns. Here’s more information on the capital stack.

What Businesses Stand To Gain From Real Estate Crowdfunding?

Let’s discuss the two primary types of businesses that stand to benefit from this new market sector. The first should be fairly obvious.

Real Estate Developers

I can hear you right now: “No kidding, genius.” Of course real estate crowdfunding would appeal to real estate developers. The thing is, it’s the newer developers who stand to gain the most benefit from real estate crowdfunding. That’s because the more established firms have extensive pre-existing relationships with investors and other sources of equity. Crowdfunding isn’t necessarily going to be a priority for them.

Those who have entered the real estate business more recently, however, have every reason to explore crowdfunding. Launch a crowdfunding campaign through one of the many real estate crowdfunding sites out there, and you’ll gain access to investors that you just didn’t have previously — and these investors are the very investors who simply didn’t have easy access to real estate investment opportunities before crowdfunding and the JOBS Act came along.

Many real estate crowdfunders add value by pooling investors into an LLC or other entity specifically set up for the purpose. That way, investors don’t have to be dealt with individually.

Who else can take advantage of real estate crowdfunding to fund their business, you ask?

Real Estate Crowdfunding Platform Owners

This answer shouldn’t come as a shocker either. Think about it, though: real estate crowdfunding is a very new industry, having only just been legalized by the JOBS Act. There may never be a better time to get in on the ground floor of the industry than right now.

Of course, before you launch your real estate crowdfunding business, you’ll need to determine a) what types of financial products can be offered to investors on your site, b) what category of real estate to specialize in (commercial, residential, etc), c) how to build your web platform, and d) how best to market your platform to attract the attention of investors. But if you do your due diligence and manage to answer these big questions, you’ll be entering a field poised to expand by leaps and bounds over the next decade.

It’s estimated that the crowdfunding industry as a whole will be worth more than $300 billion by the year 2025. There are bound to be hiccups along the way, but if you’re thinking that the industry might be for you, this is the time to give it the ol’ college try.

Final Thoughts

1995 was a great time in which to launch an internet search engine. 1970 was a good time to get in on the polyester industry. Some industries present particular opportunities to attuned entrepreneurs at certain defined points in history. Are we in one of those periods now with respect to real estate crowdfunding? Obviously, nobody can say for sure, but all signs point to “Yes.”

Crowdfunding involving investments is legally complex, and federal prosecutors have unlimited resources. Therefore, be sure to get legal guidance from professionals before making the leap into real estate crowdfunding. But if you have the means and the inclination, this is the time to make your move. Don’t be left holding a bag full of woulda-coulda-shouldas while less-talented entrepreneurs rake in those real estate crowdfunding dollars that could have been yours!

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

Gym Equipment Financing: Should You Rent Or Buy Fitness Equipment

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

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

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

Advantages Of Buying Gym Equipment

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

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

Ways To Buy Equipment

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages Of Renting Gym Equipment

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

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

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

Ways To Rent Equipment

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

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

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

The Cost Of Financing Gym Equipment

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

Here are some of the more common costs to expect:

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

Third Party Financers

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

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

eLease

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

Read our review

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

National Funding 

 

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

Read our review

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs

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

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

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

Benchmark

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

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

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

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

SendinBlue

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

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

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

MailChimp

best ecommerce apps

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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Team Bio Series — Frank Kehl (The Mountain Climber)

This week on “Meet The Merchant Maverick Team” — the world’s least conflict-driven reality show — we’ll get to know Frank Kehl, one of our merchant accounts writers. Frank gets the award for “most amazing careers outside of Merchant Maverick,” but what else is interesting about him? (Hint: a lot.)

Name: Frank Kehl

Title: Merchant accounts writer

Hometown: Berwick, Pennsylvania

Current city: Paso Robles, California

Education and background: I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Penn State and a Juris Doctorate degree from The Ventura College of Law. Prior to joining Merchant Maverick, I served as an officer in the United States Air Force and California Air National Guard for 28 years. I flew as a navigator on both the B-52 and C-130 aircraft, and ended up logging a little over 7500 hours of flying time around the world.

Merchant Maverick department/specialty: I write about merchant accounts, payment gateways, and, occasionally, mobile payment systems.

Proudest professional moment: Passing the Bar Exam here in California after graduating from law school. It was a three-day exam and only has about a 40% pass rate, so I felt really good about getting through it on the first try.

Favorite Merchant Maverick post/moment/opportunity: The 5 Best Small Business Credit Card Processing Companies. It was the first post I wrote when I first started at Merchant Maverick, but it’s generated a lot of interest and I still get comments on it almost every day.

What do you do when you’re not working?: When I was young and single, I had quite a passion for mountain climbing. I’ve climbed a lot of the classic peaks, including Mount Whitney and Mount Shasta here in California, as well as Mount Rainier, Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, and Kilimanjaro. These days, it’s mostly family hikes and the occasional camping trip here on the Central Coast or up in the Sierras.

What literary character do you identify most with and why?: My son has recently shown a strong interest in The Lord of the Rings movies, so I’m going to say Gandalf. I just need a staff…

Favorite song: I’m not sure that I have a single favorite, so I’ll give a shout-out to ‘Lawyers, Guns, and Money’ by Warren Zevon. It’s funny as hell, and the lyrics are rather timely. Check it out!

Favorite classic movie: I suppose I should pick something serious and inspirational. Nah. Monty Python and the Holy Grail still cracks me up.

What is your ideal dinner out?: Getting a sitter and having dinner with just my wife. It’s usually a ‘romantic dinner for three’ these days, unfortunately.

What skill have you always wanted to learn?: In retrospect, computer science might have been a good major to choose in college. I took a few programming classes in school, but I’ve never found the time to go back and brush up on my coding skills since then.

If you could travel back in time to any stage in your life and observe, where/when would you go?: Just observe? No do-over? Then probably the first few years of my life, since I don’t remember very much about them.

Mac or Windows?: I’ve been a Windows guy since back when they were called “IBM PC-compatible.” However, all my mobile devices are from Apple. It’s the best of both worlds, I think.

You’re given an unlimited budget at any retail establishment. Where do you go and what do you buy?: I’ve already lived out this fantasy, but without the unlimited budget. Let’s just say I’ve built up some pretty impressive dividends at REI over the years. You can never have too much gear.

I think it’s safe to say that Frank is the coolest member of the Merchant Maverick team. An ex-Air Force navigator who has climbed Kilimanjaro? Please. Come on Frank, you’re making the rest of us look lame.

Interested in reading about other members of the Merchant Maverick staff? Check out our team interview series.

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A Guide To Open Source Project Management Software

When it comes to project management software, there are all sorts of opinions about what is most desirable. I think the majority of people, even those who would describe themselves as technology nerds, most often prefer to use applications that work well enough on their own and do not require deep knowledge of coding to use and understand. We want a kitchen knife that is sharp, comfortable in the hand, and dependable for chopping ingredients. For us, the point is not the knife itself, but the beautiful food we make with it. And the same principle applies to our project management tools.

But not everyone subscribes to this view. In the software world, particularly, there are those who prefer to write their own code and design their own applications. They use self-made computers and run operating systems like Linux. Whenever they can, they use open-source applications so they can dig into the code and make sure it is doing just what they want it to.

As with most kinds of web-based software, the project management world contains a number of open-source options. If you are anything like me, you have probably heard the term “open source” before, and it filled you with a vague apprehension. Do I have to write the code myself? Isn’t this why I paid for someone to design this software in the first place? What if I break the code by accident! This is all too stressful!

Fortunately, I can offer you respite from those fears. There are a number of advantages to using an open-source software for task management, though there are some complications that can arise from that choice. Is it worth your time? Let’s dive into the facts to find an answer to that question, and then take a look at some good open source project management software programs.

What Is Open Source Software?

In general terms, open source software refers a program or application with a source code that is accessible by any user. Now if you are like me, the term “source code” makes your eyes glaze over, your head tip back slightly, and re-runs of “How It’s Made” start playing behind your eyes. But fear not! The term is far less intimidating than it might seem. As you probably know, all software runs on code, and open source software just makes that code available for editing by anyone. As my father is fond of reminding me, “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to.” So if you are content with your software just how it is, you do not have to play with it.

Another misconception people have about open source software is this: If anyone can edit the source code, isn’t it easier to hack, sabotage, or otherwise ruin by mischevious antagonists? Effectively, the answer is “no.” When you purchase or download open-source software you are creating your own version of that software, and the only people able to modify the code will be people within your own team. It is no more vulnerable to attack than other software you might consider using.

More specifically, open-source project management software tends to include applications that are designed to meet project management needs (task lists, project portfolios, Gantt charts, Kanban boards, etc), while allowing users to customize their experience both in the mechanics of how the app functions (do you want recurring tasks? Templates? Timesheets?), and the visual interface (want a bright pink background? Company logos?)

Buying or subscribing to open source project management can be like going to the hardware store and buying lumber, nails, and a hammer, rather than simply buying a pre-built table. Alternatively, sometimes it is more like going to IKEA for a flatpack table that just requires a few steps to assemble. So how much of a DIY-er are you? And what are the concrete benefits of that trip to the hardware store or IKEA, rather than just getting something ready-made? Let’s take a closer look.

Benefits To Open Source Software

The most obvious benefit of open-source software of any kind is the higher level of control you will have over your application. This goes deeper than the cosmetic jokes I made above, meaning you can drastically modify the inner workings of the program. You can add entirely new features that were never present in the original, though the quality of these features will sometimes depend on the skill of your in-house software engineers. Some providers, however, have marketplaces that users can browse, shopping for community-designed features that slot into the code perfectly. A great example of this concept is OrangeScrum, hosting a diverse market with all sorts of additions to choose from.

Another big draw of open source software is that these options tend to be available for free! Most open-source creators don’t see the point in charging for a product that their customers are likely going to modify up the wazoo anyway. Access to the source code is usually free or comes with a one-time cost, rather than the monthly subscription model common to other, cloud-based project management software. If you are wondering how companies like the aforementioned OrangeScrum and others (like Taiga or MyCollab) make money, it’s simple: they tend to charge for customer service, though some also offer standardized versions of their software as well.

Downsides To Open Source Software

In some ways, the most prominent advantages to using an open-source project management software — control and customizability — can be the biggest disadvantages as well. You may have noticed above my repeated references to coding and software engineers, both of which will be needed to take full advantage of apps like OrangeScrum and the rest. If your small business lacks an in-house IT or computing division, open-source might be too large an undertaking.

On another note, if you end up with a project management vendor that offers source code for free but customer service for a premium, you might be facing prohibitive costs. Basic customer service plans can go for more than $150 per month, with premium plans costing triple that. Some might consider this money well spent, and they might be right. But I can think of several closed-source, web-based project management apps that you can get much cheaper. If you just want a simple way to manage tasks, you’ll be better off with an SaaS solution like Basecamp that you can use out of the box.

Finally, using open-source software often means wading through poorly designed interfaces. To be fair, several of the ones I have mentioned here have decent designs, especially the folks at Taiga, who have created an interface as nice as the likes of Binfire (read our review) or Streamtime (read our review). However, several of the higher-recommended open-source offerings, like ]project open[, ProjectLibre, and Open Project all feature less-than-inspiring GUI’s. Like it or not, visual design is part of a user’s experience, and good design leads to happier users.

Which Open Source Project Management App Is The Best?

There are so many open source project management apps out there that it would be impossible to cover even a representative sample in a blog post like this. With that in mind, here are my three favorite apps to get you started:

OrangeScrum

As I have already mentioned, OrangeScrum is one of the most well-known apps in the open-source project management world. This is classic open-source software; the options are almost overwhelmingly endless. You can get the cloud option or the on-premise option. You can use the marketplace to modify the app up the wazoo. You can integrate Slack, Google apps, or Dropbox. You can use it on a computer, your phone, or your tablet. If all those options started to blur together in a whirlwind of customization fatigue, keep in mind that OrangeScrum was designed to be an enterprise-level tool.

When you subscribe to OrangeScrum (there are five subscription levels, each of which increases the file storage and user cap), you gain access to a full range of project management features. This includes time tracking for tasks, projects, task lists and to-do lists, Gantt charts, resource tracking, and more. For those of you looking for a comprehensive project management solution available at a decent price with excellent customization options, this may be the task management tool you are looking for.

Taiga

In my opinion, Taiga takes the prize for the most stylish open-source project management app. Comparing Taiga to OrangeScrum is like comparing apples to an apple tree. Where OrangeScrum can be almost anything you need it to be, Taiga is extremely focused on Agile methodology. With a scrum board to highlight what jobs and tasks are falling behind schedule and a Kanban view to help dissect what needs to happen on your own project, this is one of the best interpretations of Agile project management I have yet seen.

There is a free version of Taiga, though it is quite limited, with only one project and three team members available. Fortunately, a subscription comes pretty cheaply, at only five dollars per month. Best of all, for you coding geeks out there, the source code is available to you to customize to your heart’s content.

MyCollab

Of the three apps I am covering here, MyCollab is the tool that best fits the open-source archetype, warts and all. The website feels thrown together, with a couple of copy-editing issues even on the front page. MyCollab does offer some paid subscriptions, but the option open-source fiends are going to be most interested in is the free “community” edition. Note that in order to use this completely open-source version of MyCollab, you will need to self-host the app on your own servers.

If you choose to do that, you get access to issue tracking, email reporting, tasks, project and customer management, and anything else you can dream up; you can alter, modify, and otherwise change the code to your heart’s content. I probably don’t need to point this out, but this option is probably not for you if you don’t have dedicated code monkeys on staff to keep everything straight and track your own bugs. If you are looking for project management that works every time you use it without much effort from you, you should probably look elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

When it comes right down to it, I think that open-source software is going to be valued differently by different kinds of teams looking for different things out of a project management tool. Enterprise-level corporations, with in-house computer engineers, will probably find the flexibility and customization of these tools extremely appealing. Likewise, startup tech companies and smaller teams will probably appreciate the opportunity to tailor their apps directly to their own needs, whether they need Gantt charts, advanced task tracking or simple to-do lists. Experienced project managers will also enjoy the fact that they can tailor their tools to Scrum, Agile, or Kanban-based project planning methodologies.

However, if you are in a small or mid-sized business operating outside the tech industry, you will probably get better value and less headache out of a more conventional cloud-based tool.

The post A Guide To Open Source Project Management Software appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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8 Facts You Should Know Before Crowdfunding A Video Game On Fig

fig crowdfunding

For as long as I can remember, people have bemoaned the ever-accelerating consolidation of the video game industry. For much of the past two decades, small-to-mid-size game developers have been going bust as industry behemoths like EA grow ever more dominant. For those who have followed the industry, it’s an ever-present trend and one that is not likely to abate anytime soon.

However, the second decade of the twenty-first century has given rise to a phenomenon that could be seen as a countervailing force to this trend; a social media-powered boat, gamely pushing upstream against The Market’s unloved current. Crowdfunding pools the resources of those who want a piece of the next big thing, delivering grassroots funding to projects that would otherwise struggle to get funding.

Anyone with a cursory familiarity with crowdfunding could tell you what Kickstarter (see our review) and GoFundMe (see our review) are, but lesser-known specialty crowdfunders continue to pop up, catering to the particulars of individual industries.

Enter Fig. Launched in 2015 in San Francisco, Fig is a platform on which independent game developers and mid-size game studios can get video games crowdfunded. However, Fig is more than just a “Kickstarter for Video Games.”

It’s a unique crowdfunding system and one that presents unique challenges to those looking to use crowdfunding to finance their gaming dreams. Let’s go through what you need to know before using Fig’s crowdfunding platform for game developers.

1) Fig Provides Both Rewards Crowdfunding & Equity Crowdfunding For Video Games

With Fig, you can set up a crowdfunding campaign for your incipient game project that gives the would-be backer two options: back a traditional rewards crowdfunding campaign in exchange for a copy of the game, branded swag, expansion packs, etc., or back an equity crowdfunding campaign in which the backer becomes an investor who buys Fig Game Shares and thereby stands to profit from future sales of the game.

Actually, I lied. The backer also has a third option: back both!

You probably have a decent handle on what rewards crowdfunding is, but with Fig’s equity crowdfunding, investors fund your game’s development by buying Fig Game Shares (more on how Fig Game Shares work later). At the end of the process, the profits from sales of your game are divided between your company, Fig, and the equity investors who bought Fig Game Shares in your game

2) You Can Run Both A Rewards And An Equity Campaign Or Just A Rewards Campaign

I said in the introduction that Fig wasn’t just “Kickstarter for video games.” However, if you’re not trying to raise six or seven digits’ worth or capital, you can, in fact, treat Fig as if it were Kickstarter and just run a rewards crowdfunding campaign. Describe/show off your cool game, offer various rewards for different tiers of support, and hope to raise your goal within your funding period.

However, most Fig campaigners opt to run both a rewards campaign and an equity campaign concurrently. This way, you can attract support from the more casual backer who may want to see your game produced and ultimately receive a copy, as well as the investor who sees profit potential in your game idea and wants to support it in exchange for a cut of future sales.

Check out the campaign page for Pig Eat Ball if you want to see what Fig’s unique brand of rewards/equity hybrid crowdfunding looks like in action.

3) Fig Is Selective

Some crowdfunding platforms allow anybody who signs up and creates a profile to launch a crowdfunding campaign on their platform. Not Fig. According to the company, when a developer applies to use the platform:

We evaluate the game and the developer to determine whether, in our opinion, they have the potential to generate significant income based on criteria such as experience and talent of the developer, the developer’s record for delivering games on time and within budget, our estimates of potential sales of the game and the extent of the game’s existing social community and fanbase.

Also note that Fig only hosts one or two new funding campaigns per month. When considering whether to send your pitch to Fig, determine whether you can afford to, in effect, wait in line for your chance to be featured on the site.

4) Funding Is All-Or-Nothing For Both Rewards And Equity Campaigns

Just about every crowdfunding platform requires you to set some kind of funding goal before launching your campaign. Some crowdfunders let you keep whatever money you end up raising regardless of whether or not you’ve reached your funding goal before your funding period ends.

Not so with Fig. Launch a Fig crowdfunding campaign, and you’ll have to meet or exceed your funding goal before you can collect. Fail to reach your funding goal, and you’ll get nothing at all. This goes for both rewards and equity campaigns. You’ll want to have done your due diligence before launching your campaign with Fig, as an 80% funded project will see you get 0% of the cash.

5) Investors Aren’t Actually Buying Shares Of Your Company

Launch an equity crowdfunding campaign with Fig and you won’t have to worry about investors owning a portion of your intellectual property. That’s because with Fig’s unique equity crowdfunding system, the investor invests in stock created by Fig to pay dividends based on the sales receipts from the game post-release. Fig describes the system like so:

Developers maintain 100% creative control and IP ownership over their game. The community invests in Fig Game Shares, which pay out based on Fig’s own revenue share gained through a licensing agreement with the developer, and Fig takes on the accounting and legal risk associated with the investments as it’s our stock. Developers are not involved in selling investments, nor are investors investing in studios or IP.

Here’s where you can learn more about Fig Game Shares. Essentially, they allow you to retain full ownership of your company and its products while offering investors the chance to profit from your future game sales commensurate with the proportion of Fig Game Shares they purchased.

6) Fig’s Rewards Crowdfunding Campaigns Carry No Platform Fees

If you’re using Fig as if it were Kickstarter and just want to run a rewards campaign, there’s one way in which Fig is actually superior to Kickstarter. Let me explain.

Kickstarter, like most non-charitable crowdfunding sites, charges a 5% platform fee from what you raise. Factor in payment processing fees, which can come to about 3-5% of what you raise, and you could be paying 8-10% of what you raise in fees.

Fig, however, does things differently. Launch a rewards campaign with Fig and you won’t pay any platform fees. You will only have to pay credit card processing fees. These will come out to about 2.5% of what you raise. If you’re an independent game publisher looking to use rewards crowdfunding to get your project started, this factor alone gives Fig a leg up on the competition.

For Fig’s equity crowdfunding campaigns, the company states the following:

If and only if the campaign succeeds, a portion of Fig’s out-of-pocket legal and accounting transaction costs will be deducted from the investment proceeds (up to 5%).

7) Fig Can Publish Your Game As Well

Fig states the following regarding its publishing services:

Fig stands as a non-exclusive co-publisher of your game, so you can maintain control over the publishing of your game while receiving Fig’s support in distribution and marketing. Fig is open to exclusively publishing your game if that is your desire. Some developers have requested we exclusively publish their games.

Fig’s publishing services can be opted into — you are not required to use them to publish your game.

8) You Can Run A Private Funding Campaign Before You Go Public

Is your video game idea still in its embryonic stage? Is it unworthy of being seen by the general public at this point? You might want to consider running a private funding campaign before you run a public one.

Fig’s Backstage Pass Program lets you do exactly this. Through this program, Fig’s most hyper-attuned backers can evaluate your campaign away from the prying eyes of the public and give you valuable feedback, all while you start the fundraising process, getting a head-start on your public crowdfunding campaign.

Disclaimer

Here’s a disclaimer I’ve started attaching to everything I write related to equity crowdfunding:

Bear in mind that equity crowdfunding is a still-evolving field, with the full impact of the JOBS Act still being assessed. Equity crowdfunding is a more complex proposition than, say, rewards-based crowdfunding, as investing is much more substantially regulated. Consult an attorney if you have any legal questions regarding the process, SEC regulations, taxes, etc.

Final Thoughts

No form of popular entertainment inspires as much passionate devotion (among other things) as does the video game. For those looking to get in on the ground floor of the industry, crowdfunding is a way you can fund your passion projects while a) retaining control of your work, and b) not going into debt.

Fig’s particular brand of video game crowdfunding gives independent developers and game studios alike the ability to fund their work by monetizing the all-consuming devotion of video game fans. Just make sure you know the essentials before you embark on your crowdfunding journey.

The post 8 Facts You Should Know Before Crowdfunding A Video Game On Fig appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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5 Free Project Management Apps

It goes without saying that paying less for something is desirable. But on the hand, choosing the cheaper of two options can put you in dire straits if that lower-priced product is also of cheaper quality. Sometimes, it’s better to pay a higher cost upfront if doing so means you are less likely to have to replace things later on. But does this axiom hold up in the world of project management?

There are a number of free apps or free versions of apps out there designed to help you and your team manage your work efficiently. Is it worth it to go with a free version when paying might get you access to new features, better support, or more file storage? These are the questions we will be answering here and now.

But first, some housekeeping. For each app, I will cover what the free version brings to the table and how it differs from paid versions (when applicable). I’ll also throw in a few other observations about the value of each app based on my experience in testing this kind of software. At the end of the process, I will deliver a verdict about whether each app is worth your time.

Let’s get started!

Redbooth

Redbooth (read our review) is one of our favorite project management apps here at Merchant Maverick. We love it for its slick, modern interface and excellent, easy to use features. But how much of that awesomeness overflows into the Free version? Let’s find out.

At first glance, the free version of Redbooth might come across as a little underwhelming. With a 10-user maximum threshold, you will have to be operating on a small scale indeed for this to meet your needs. Add to that a strict limit of two workspaces, and you may feel that Redbooth’s usefulness does not outweigh the downsides of the free version.

However, if you keep looking, you will find that many of our favorite features are still accessible in the free version. You still get unlimited tasks and subtasks, Gantt charts, basic reporting, conversations, templates, and email support. Wrap it all up in Redbooth’s gorgeous UI and you end up with a pretty picture.

Are there issues with the free plan? Yes. Like I mentioned above, this is a difficult free app to adapt to larger teams, or even to small teams that handle lots of kinds of projects. But if you are a kind of one-trick-wonder company, or if you work on just one or two major projects at a time, Redbooth’s no-cost plan might work out for you.

Verdict: Redbooth’s free version is worth your consideration

Teamwork Projects

Teamwork Projects (read our review) is another longstanding favorite at Merchant Maverick. And we aren’t the only ones who like it. Teamwork Projects has been winning hearts and minds since back in 2007. And happily, there is a free version. Signing up and entering your email address and a password will give you access to this app’s user-friendly interface and good integrations. But how many of its features carry over to the free plan?

As with Redbooth, things don’t start out promising. The free version of Teamwork projects enforces a maximum of five users, making it a bit less useful than even Redbooth’s offer. With so few users available it will be a small team indeed that can make use of Teamwork Projects for free. And where Redbooth allows free users two workspaces, with the potential of several projects in each, Teamwork projects only gives two projects. That is pretty limiting, to say the least.

Honestly, there is just not much good news to be had here. The free version of Teamwork projects is just not enough. You only get 100 MB storage and what the pricing page describes as “limited” task boards and “basic” project management. You do get access to subtasks and “color schemes,” but part of the appeal of Teamwork Projects is that it is an advanced project management app. If all you really need are basic and limited task management, there are far better options. Teamwork Projects truly does deliver robust features and good value with its paid plans, but I’m sorry to say that the free version is not particularly advanced or valuable.

Verdict: The free version of Teamwork is not worth your time

Clickup

Unlike the first two entries on this list, Clickup (read our review) is not a long-standing project management solution that has been through more than a decade of refinement. No, Clickup is one of the new kids on the block, and it has something to prove. Notably, Clickup was practically designed around its free version. So what do you get here and how does it compare with other free software?

Put simply, you sacrifice very little by sticking to the free version of Clickup. The only major differences between the paid and free subscriptions are that by paying, you unlock unlimited storage (the free version comes with a paltry 100MB), and onboarding training. Though I find it difficult to imagine working with such small amounts of storage, Clickup’s integrations with Google Drive and Dropbox may solve at least part of that problem. On top of that, Clickup is an absolute joy to use. I find that its usability and interface design are on par with Redbooth’s; both of them are excellent.

To be clear, Clickup is by no means perfect. Like many of the free-forever project management apps floating around out there in cyberspace, it lacks more advanced features like reporting, financial documentation, and budgeting. That is an important factor in the decision-making process; if you need reporting, this may not be the app for you. Having said that, you will struggle to find many software examples out there that do have a reporting feature on their free app. The only one I can think of is Redbooth.

Clickup should absolutely be on your shortlist of free project management apps, especially if you don’t need the financial and reporting stuff I mentioned above. This is not just a free version of a normally premium app, this is a naturally grown, gluten, dairy, and GMO-free burger of an app, designed and built to be free from the ground up.

Verdict: Clickup’s free version is worth a look-see

Squidhub

Squidhub (read our Review) is one of the most pleasant discoveries I made last year. A brand-spanking-new project management app, Squidhub is like Clickup in that it was designed to be free. Also like Clickup, Squidhub’s feature set is on the lighter side and focuses primarily on task management, communication, and file storage. Having said that, paid versions of Squidhub are “coming soon” according to the website’s pricing page, so it is worth taking a few moments to determine whether these subscriptions are worth your time.

Basically, Squidhub’s free features center around a task list, chat panel, and document storage interface. This allows for plenty of new features to be layered on top since Squidhub is already such a barebones app. With that in mind, it is actually a little surprising how limited the planned additions are for the upcoming paid subscriptions. For $5/user/month, the only new features you will get are file recovery, calendar sync, and phone support. Go up to $8/user/month, and you will get an “admin panel,” as well as group templates. Honestly, I can see the value of that higher subscription, but in many cases, the free version of Squidhub is going to be all you need.

I really like Squidhub. However, it would be dishonest of me to say that this is a perfect, one-size-fits-all app. It is extremely limited in its capabilities. What it can do, it does with aplomb. But compared to the likes of Redbooth, Squidhub is a little like a two-stroke weed-eater next to a Rolls-Royce Phantom. But you know what? You wouldn’t use a Royce to trim the long grass in your backyard, would you? Use the right tool for the right job.

Verdict: Squidhub is worth your time, but limited in capabilities

Trello

I have said this before, but Trello (read our review) is a project management app I can recommend without reservations every day of the week. The fact that there is an excellent free version is a big part of that. Trello popularized the increasingly common “Board View” that is now ubiquitous in the project management world. They also bring a sense of humor into their app, with stickers and silly “power-ups” for users to enjoy.

Trello’s free version is good, but what are you missing out on by not paying for a monthly subscription? To be frank, quite a bit. Paid versions of Trello come with advanced integrations with the likes of Jira and MailChimp, as well as features like Collections that add to team cohesion. Essentially, if you are using Trello on your own, the free version might be okay for you. Working in a group, the paid subscriptions become increasingly useful as you add more users. If you are willing to shell out for the top subscription, you get enhanced security features that include two-factor authentification.

I still love Trello. But my affinity for this program comes with the knowledge that larger teams may find the free version limiting. If you need an app for a few users and no more, the free Trello plan is probably fine. You may even be able to make it work with more team members than that. But there are other options out there, including several on this list, that will serve you better.

Verdict: Trello’s free plan is worth a trial, depending on your team size

Final Thoughts

It is difficult to resist the draw of the “free” label. But when it comes to your business, you want quality as much as you want affordability. Is it worth your time to work with a free project management app subscription, or should you go straight to a paid plan with more robust features? As with most things, the answer comes down to context. Is yours the kind of business or team that just needs task management? Do you need communication tools? Do you need invoicing or other financial capabilities?

If task management is all you need, nearly every option on this list is going to work well for you, depending on how many people you plan to have using the app. If your needs go beyond that, really the only viable option here is Redbooth — and that option will only work if you have a team of fewer than ten people.

When it comes down to it, the two free project management apps I recommend most highly are Redbooth, for its advanced features, and Clickup, for its wide-open usability. But don’t just take my word for it. As always, the final decision is up to you. Go out and give some of these options a try!

If you’re looking for a free app because you run a nonprofit, there are better solutions available. Read The Top 5 Project Management Apps For Nonprofits for a look at your other options. Otherwise, check out our project management software comparison page for more information.

The post 5 Free Project Management Apps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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GoFundMe Alternatives: 10 Sites Like GoFundMe For Business Funding

gofundme alternatives

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

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

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

Kickstarter

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

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

Best For…

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

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

How Does Kickstarter Work?

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

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

Kickstarter Rules

Kickstarter has five rules for projects:

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

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

How To Start A Kickstarter Campaign

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

Takeaway

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

romphim

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

Read our full Kickstarter review

Visit the Kickstarter website

Indiegogo

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does Indiegogo Work?

Indiegogo’s rewards crowdfunding platform carries the following conditions:

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

Indiegogo Rules

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

How To Start An Indiegogo Campaign

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full Indiegogo review:

Visit the Indiegogo website

Patreonpatreon

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

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

Best For…

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

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

How Does Patreon Work?

These are the terms of using Patreon:

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

Patreon Rules

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

How To Start A Patreon Campaign

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full Patreon review

Visit the Patreon website

FundRazrfundrazr

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does FundRazr Work?

This is what a FundRazr crowdfunding campaign entails:

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

FundRazr Rules

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

How To Start A FundRazr Campaign

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full FundRazr review

Visit the FundRazr website

Fundablefundable

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does Fundable Work?

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

Here’s how Fundable campaigns work:

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

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

Fundable Rules

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

How To Start A Fundable Campaign

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full Fundable review:

Visit the Fundable website

Wefunderwefunder

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does Wefunder Work?

Wefunder offers equity crowdfunding under the following terms:

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

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

Wefunder Rules

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

How To Start A Wefunder Campaign

Just apply online on the website.

Takeaway

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

Read our full Wefunder review

Visit the Wefunder website

Crowdfundercrowdfunder

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

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

Best For…

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

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

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

How Does Crowdfunder Work?

Here are the details of Crowdfunder’s platform:

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

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

Crowdfunder Rules

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

How To Start A Crowdfunder Campaign

Sign up and apply through the website, silly.

Takeaway

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

Read our full Crowdfunder review

Visit the Crowdfunder website

Ululeulule

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does Ulele Work?

Ulule’s crowdfunding campaigns are structured like so:

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

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

Ulele Rules

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

How To Start A Ulele Campaign

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

I kid, I kid. Just apply online.

Takeaway

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

Read our full Ulule review

Visit the Ulule website

Republicrepublic review

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

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

Best For…

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

How Does Republic Work?

Republic’s equity crowdfunding campaigns are structured as follows:

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

Republic Rules

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

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

How To Start A Republic Campaign

Just apply online through the website.

Takeaway

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

Read our full Republic review

Visit the Republic website

Kiva USkiva logo

And now for something completely different.

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

Best For…

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

How Does Kiva US Work?

Here are the details of Kiva’s crowdfunded loans:

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

Kiva US Rules

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

How To Apply For A Kiva US Loan

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full Kiva US review

Visit the Kiva US website

Final Thoughts

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

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

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The Best American Express Business Credit Cards

American Express is best known for their charge cards. These are cards with no hard credit limit that have to be paid off in total every month. But they don’t represent the full extent of Amex’s product line.

Like its competitors Visa and MasterCard, Amex offers credit cards, on which you can carry a balance from month to month if you so choose (note, you shouldn’t if you can help it). Compared to charge cards, credit cards tend to have lower annual fees and less aggressive rewards programs, although this isn’t always the case. And one particularly nice perk offered to Amex business credit cardholders is the OPEN Savings program.

But which American Express business credit cards are the best? Read on.

American Express Blue Business Plus

If you’re overwhelmed by myriad rewards options provided by business credit cards and your business expenses aren’t concentrated in any one area, you may want to try Amex’s Blue Business Plus card. With 2% back on all purchases up to $50,000 and no annual fee, it’s one of the better cash back business cards on the market.

American Express Blue Business Plus
Annual Fee $0
APR 12.24% – 20.24% variable (0% first 15 months)
Signup Bonus $0
Rewards 2 pts./$1 spent on all purchases up to $50K/yr
1 pt./$1 spent on all purchases after $50K/yr
Visit Site

The American Express Blue Business Plus is a great first business credit card as it offers both a simplified reward system and no annual fee. In fact, it’s the perfect credit card for businesses that don’t plan to make many charges. (There’s no signup bonus encouraging you to spend a ton of money in the first few months.)

Most cash back credit cards offer a roughly 1.5 pt. return per dollar. Blue Business Plus instead frontloads your rate, giving you a 2 pt. return on your $50,000 worth of purchases per year. This comes at the expense of a subpar 1 pt. rate after you hit that limit. If you anticipate putting more than $50K per year on your business card, you may want to consider a different card (or an additional card).

American Express Blue Business Plus reward points can be redeemed for travel, shopping, or statement credit.

American Express SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card

Another great option for businesses with modest credit card spending habits is Amex’s SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card, particularly if you want your rewards in the form of cash back.

American Express SimplyCash Plus Business 
Annual Fee $0
APR 12.24% – 20.29% variable (0% first 9 months)
Signup Bonus $250 statement credit after you spend $5K in first 6 months, and an additional $250 if you spend $10K in the first year
Rewards 5% cash back on wireless telephone services from U.S. providers, 3% cash back on selected category for first 50K/yr
1 pt./$1 spent on all purchases after $50K/yr
Visit Site

SimplyCash dispenses with a point-based reward system, automatically applying a percentage of your purchases to your account as statement credit instead.

This card had an unusually complex reward system for a cash back program. A 5% cash back reward tier is huge, but it’s limited to hardware, equipment, and services purchased directly from U.S. providers.

You’ll also get 3% back in one of the following categories you choose (you can change this category once per year):

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

Be aware that the 5% and 3% tiers are limited to the first $50K you spend each year, combined. So if you spend $20,000 on the 5% tier and $30,000 on the 3% tier, you’ll have exhausted both tiers for the year. If you think you’ll be charging more than that on a business card each year, you may want a backup card, or another card entirely.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card

Moving into cards that cater to more specific business behavior, we have the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. It provides a very generous reward system for travelers who frequently stay at Starwood or other Marriott brand hotels.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card
 
Annual Fee $95/yr ($0 the first year)
APR 16.49% – 20.24% variable
Signup Bonus 25,000 pts. if you spend $3K within first 3 months
Rewards 2 pts./$1 at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels (in addition to points earned as a Starwood Preferred Guest)
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
Visit Site

With a reasonable annual fee and a generous signup bonus, the Starwood Preferred card offers a lot of benefits to cardholders who travel. It’s not quite as flexible as the cards we’ve looked at so far, but if you use it strategically, it can rack up tons of points with no limit. Starpoints can be redeemed at participating hotels and resorts and on flights with participating airlines through the SPG Airline Transfer Program.

Additional perks that come with the card include:

  • Credit toward SPG Elite status (5 nights and 2 stays annually)
  • Unlimited Boingo wi-fi on up to four devices
  • Complimentary premium Internet service at participating SPG hotels
  • Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge
  • Free nights at participating SPG hotels with no blackout dates
  • No foreign transaction fees

If these perks complement your traveling habits, this card is a great choice. Otherwise, its specificity, annual fee, slightly higher rates, and lack of introductory APR may not make it as appetizing.

American Express Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card

Airline travel-based rewards are some of the most popular types of credit card rewards programs. American Express partners with Delta for their credit card rewards programs, offering three flavors of the card (Gold, Platinum, and Reserve).

American Express Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card
Annual Fee $195/yr
APR 16.49% – 20.49% variable
Signup Bonus 70,000 miles + 10,000 Medallion Qualification miles if you spend $3K within first 3 months, and $100 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase within the first 3 months
Rewards 2 pts./$1 directly spent with Delta
1 pt./$1 on all other purchases
Visit Site

Amex’s Platinum Delta card offers a huge signup bonus to businesses that spend $3,000 within the first three months, and an additional $100 in statement credit if you make a purchase directly with Delta.

Additional perks of this card include:

  • Priority boarding
  • First checked bag is free
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% statement credit on qualifying in-flight purchases
  • Baggage insurance
  • 1 Companion Airfare certificate each year, rewarded upon card renewal

For the heavy traveler, I believe the Platinum Delta card offers the most value, though prospective cardholders who want to save a little money on their annual fee may want to consider the Gold version. The Reserve version’s premium fee will probably only be justifiable for elite first-class travelers.

Final Thoughts

While they may not be quite as well-known as the iconic Green, Gold, and Platinum charge cards, Amex’s credit cards offer their own suite of appealing rewards programs to customers who want the option of carrying a balance.

Didn’t find what you were looking for here? Check out our comparison guides to business credit cards, charge cards, and personal cards that are good for business expenses.

The post The Best American Express Business Credit Cards appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Shipping Software For 2018

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

There must be a better way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. ShippingEasy

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

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

Features

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

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

Other features include:

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Read our full ShippingEasy review

Visit the ShippingEasy website

2. OrderCup

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

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

For more information, view OrderCup’s pricing page.

Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaway 

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

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

Read our full OrderCup review

Visit the OrderCup website

3. Ordoro

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

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

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

Features

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

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

Here are a few more features that come with Orodoro:

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

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full Ordoro review

Visit the Ordoro website

4. ShipStation

ShipStation

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Read our full ShipStation review

Visit the ShipStation website

 

5. ShipRush

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

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

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

Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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

Read our full ShipRush review

Visit the ShipRush website

6. ShipHawk

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

Best For…

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

Pricing

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

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

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

Features

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

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

Here are a few of the more notable features:

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

Read our full ShipHawk review

Visit the ShipHawk website

Get Started!

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

Good luck, and happy shipping!

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