Adobe Spark Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Adobe Spark Website Builder Review

Adobe is a huge name in the software industry — and their website builder app, Adobe Spark Page, is no exception. Adobe Spark is a single-page website builder that makes building one-page websites (think resumes, portfolios, blog posts, presentations, etc.) easy to do with zero design experience.

Check out Adobe Spark’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Adobe Spark Page a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Adobe Spark review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing the best website builder for your project, such as what you want it to look like, what you need your site to be able to do, and how much time you want to spend creating the site. And really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Adobe Spark Page?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Adobe Spark Page lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started with your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Adobe Spark is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Adobe Spark Page, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Adobe Spark competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com, but has one major distinction: Adobe Spark Page focuses on creating professional-looking, single-page websites.

Instead of giving you a multi-page template, Adobe Spark Page has a few web page templates you can choose from (among other templates, since Adobe Spark Page is part of Adobe Spark, which includes the ability to make design images, web pages, AND videos).

Adobe Spark Templates

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Adobe Spark Page Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Adobe Spark Page — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Adobe Spark Page’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is simple — you just create an account (or log in with your existing Adobe ID if you have one), and then choose what type of project you’d like to create (a photo, video, or webpage) and which template to use. You can also create your own design from scratch if none of the templates stand out to you.

Adobe Spark Page DIY

Simplicity

Adobe Spark Page is also seriously simple to use.  The builder is intuitive, straightforward, and requires absolutely no website experience to use it.

Adobe Spark Editing

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements when you want to add additional sections / functionality below the header.

Adobe spark adding elements to the page

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to have an easy-to-build, nice looking one page website ready in a matter of minutes!

Adobe Product Integration

Another benefit of Adobe Spark Page website builder is the ability to use other Adobe products within the page builder. For example, take a look at this list of options I have when trying to add an image to the page:

Adobe Spark Integrations

Adobe Spark Page gives me the option to pull photos from Adobe Stock, Creative Cloud, or Lightroom (all Adobe products). This is a solid advantage for Adobe users who want all of their apps to connect. There are also options to connect to your Dropbox, Google Photos, or Google Drive — so the benefits extend beyond just Adobe users.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Adobe Spark Page.

Limited to One Page

This one is the most glaring disadvantage. Adobe Spark Page is true to its name — it’s a page builder, which means your website is limited to a single page.

For short-term projects where you only need a single page, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you’re trying to build a website that can grow and scale (or do anything beyond the basic functionality Adobe Spark Page provides), you’re stuck.

You can add sections, but the customization is limited (more on that in a minute). Again, if you need a website builder that enables you to put some text and imagery or video on a page quickly and with little customization, this con doesn’t hurt much. But for those who need a long-term, more robust website, Adobe Spark Page likely won’t cut it.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

This trade-off is very apparent with Adobe Spark’s website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It makes creating a single webpage super fast and easy, especially with how intuitive the builder is.

But here’s the thing — if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of the design they provide, you are very limited with Adobe Spark.

For starters, you’re not really given a template to work with. Adobe Spark Page shows you different types of websites you can build, but each website category leads to the same starter template (which is also what you have when you choose the “build from scratch option”).

Adobe Spark Base Template

From there, you can select certain “themes”, which are really just font/color combinations that change the header and section styles.

Adobe Spark Page Theme Changes

But you cannot change the layout. You cannot drag and drop. And you certainly cannot edit the HTML and CSS, much less add any other design element.

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up — a really basic paint-by-numbers. It’s great to have the ease of use, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for Adobe Spark Page.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations. Technical limitations are features and functionality that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.

Adobe Spark Page’s technical limitations are also pretty crippling. There are no plugins or apps that you can use to market your page (aside from sharing the link on social media). You cannot integrate additional functionality aside from what’s provided (photos, videos, and grids). You can’t even customize your page URL.

Adobe Spark URL

Think of it like the difference between cooking in your own kitchen and building your own burrito at a fast food restaurant.

With Adobe Spark Page, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant (and in this case, you’re eating at a basics-only burrito bar). Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Theme Examples that Aren’t Usable Pages

Another con of Adobe Spark Page is the lack of examples you can build off of in their template library. As I mentioned before, Adobe Spark Page doesn’t really give you different templates. The templates are the same for every website type. However, when you click “see more” under the website type, you are given various designed examples to pull from:

Adobe Spark Examples

Adobe Spark Options

Only problem is, they’re not actually Pages. They’re posts, which is an entirely different asset (AKA not a website page).

Adobe Spark Page Post

It’s a bit confusing, and again points to the limitations of the design.

Additionally, from what we can tell from the pricing, the additional features you get apply to this area of Adobe Spark (Posts) and not the website builder.

Adobe Pricing

When we upgraded to the monthly plan, there was no change in the templates available for website design purposes.

Adobe Spark Page Review Conclusion

Adobe Spark Page makes getting a single page website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Adobe Spark Page’s plans here.

However, there are major trade-offs to consider with Adobe Spark Page — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Adobe Spark Page falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders that have more customization, more functionality, allow you to add additional pages, and include DNS services so you can have a custom domain. If you’re looking to create anything beyond a simple, single page website, Adobe Spark Page is probably not the best option for you.

Not sure Adobe Spark Page fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

 

The post Adobe Spark Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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0% APR Credit Card Offers: The Complete Guide

0% apr credit cards

Credit card debt is a curse that can be exceedingly difficult to dispel. Those struggling to deal with debt may find that interest payments cripple their efforts to pay down debt, thus perpetuating the vicious circle of indebtedness.

Of course, the underlying problem isn’t the credit cards or their users; it’s the fact that the necessities of life (housing, education, health care, etc) grow less and less affordable by the day, thus making the average person choose between credit card debt and generational immiseration, homelessness, early death, and other consequences of American poverty. However, there’s something you can do to minimize the interest that gets tacked onto your credit card debt: Get a credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer.

What Is A 0% Introductory Offer?

transaction fees and rates

Many credit cards, both personal and business, come with introductory 0% APR periods. These periods typically last 9 to 12 months but can last for as long as 18-21 months. During this time, you won’t be charged interest on your debt.

Now, an intro 0% APR may not necessarily apply to all the debt you accumulate with the card in question. That’s why it’s important to distinguish between two common types of 0% introductory offers: those that apply to purchases and those that apply to balance transfers.

Balance Transfer Intro Rates VS Purchase Intro Rates

When you examine the details of your 0% introductory offer (always examine the details, folks!), you may find that the 0% APR offer applies to purchases. A 0% introductory purchase APR is simple: For the length of the offer, you will not be charged any interest on the credit card debt you’ve accumulated via purchases. This leaves out the debt on your credit card that didn’t come from purchases, including balance transfers.

Accordingly, another type of popular credit card offer is the 0% introductory rate on balance transfers. With these offers, you can transfer a balance to your card and pay no interest on that balance for the length of the 0% APR period.

Now, many cards feature 0% introductory rates on both purchases and balance transfers. These cards are ideal if you’re looking to both avoid interest charges on your purchases and consolidate your existing credit card debt onto a card that won’t charge interest on that debt. Obviously, these cards are ideal for debt reduction purposes. Here’s what to keep in mind if you end up having to choose between the two:

  • Get a card with an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers if you intend to use your card to pay down your existing high-interest credit card debt. An important caveat: These offers often restrict when you can make a balance transfer and have the intro 0% APR apply. For example, when you read the fine print, the offer may say “0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening.” This seems confusing and contradictory at first glance, but what it means is that in order to enjoy 15 months of not being charged interest on your balance transfer, you have to make that transfer within 45 days of opening your credit card account.
    • Additionally, a credit card may charge you a balance transfer fee even if it doesn’t charge you interest on your balance transfer for a certain length of time. The balance transfer fee is entirely separate from the balance transfer APR. A common balance transfer fee policy is something like “Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.” However, there are a few credit cards that offer both a lengthy intro 0% APR on balance transfers and no balance transfer fee. If you’re looking for a good card for debt consolidation, look for one of those!
  • Get a card with an introductory 0% APR on purchases if your goal is to cover a large expense (or a series of large expenses) while avoiding interest charges. An intro 0% APR on purchases will let you cover that medical emergency or vacation or car repair bill and then gradually pay for the expense over the course of your introductory 0% APR period without paying any interest.

Pros & Cons Of 0% Intro Offers

On the pro side, 0% intro APR offers can benefit you by letting you pay for large expenses over a specified length of time without paying interest and by letting you transfer balances to the card and not pay interest on said balance during the 0% APR period. You can even transfer other forms of debt to your card such as college loans and personal loans. Just don’t transfer more than you can pay down during the 0% APR period — otherwise, you could face steep interest charges after the intro 0% APR period ends.

As for cons, there are none. Unless you enjoy experiencing pain for the sake of experiencing pain — and that’s fine; I’m no kink-shamer — there is no downside to having smaller credit card bills than you would have otherwise.

The worst you could say about credit cards with long 0% intro APR offers is that they may possibly — but not necessarily — be lacking in other respects. For example, you may find a card that would save you money on interest payments after paying for your dog’s surgery, but whose annual fee would negate some or all of what you would otherwise save.

I’m not saying you should be wary of 0% introductory rates. I’m just saying there are other factors to consider when choosing the right credit card for your needs.

0% APR Intro Rates VS Deferred Interest

Deferred interest deals come with huge downsides and are not the same thing as introductory 0% APR offers. Let’s tackle the thorny subject of deferred interest.

Most major credit card issuers don’t offer deferred interest deals. These deals are most often found in store credit cards such as those issued by Walmart/Sam’s Club (I do believe in corporate-shaming).

What happens is this: You buy a refrigerator or a sewing machine under a deferred interest financing arrangement (it may be offered as “no interest for 12 months” or something). The terms of the deferred interest deal state that you won’t be charged interest on the purchase for 12 months unless you don’t pay off the purchase completely within that 12 months. If even a single cent of your purchase remains unpaid after 12 months, you’re then immediately hit with all the interest you would have been charged on the entire purchase over the prior 12 months.

In effect, your interest-free period is retroactively canceled.

This is not what happens with a genuine introductory 0% APR offer. With these offers, if you have a balance remaining on the purchases you made during the intro 0% APR period after the 0% APR period ends, you then become responsible for paying interest on the remaining balance in subsequent billing cycles. You are not retroactively charged for the interest that would have accrued during your 0% APR period.

For more on why deferred interest is a gilded scam from the predatory depths of exploitation hell, read our article about deferred interest and why you should avoid it.

Intro Rate Best Practices

The one thing you can do to get your intro 0% APR canceled is to miss a monthly minimum payment. When you miss a monthly payment, your card issuer will likely cancel your 0% APR period, thus subjecting you to the regular ongoing APR (or, worse, a penalty APR significantly higher than the regular ongoing APR) in subsequent billing cycles. Furthermore, your credit score will suffer damage. Try to make those monthly payments!

Final Thoughts

At a time when (according to the Federal Reserve) folks are drowning in more debt than ever before, any financial strategy that can result in less debt should be explored. Credit cards with long introductory 0% APR periods are obviously not a panacea for debt woes, but they can make a crucial difference in how much of your hard-earned cash you’ll be handing over to your creditors each month.

Still looking to save on interest payments with your next credit card? Check out these helpful resources!

  • Best business credit cards with 0% APR offers
  • APR vs interest rate
  • Deferred interest explainer

The post 0% APR Credit Card Offers: The Complete Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Oregon Small Businesses

Sandwiched between booming tech sectors in California and Washington, Oregon is one of the quirkier states in the nation in which to start a business. Oregon is widely considered a great state in which to start a small business, but a difficult state in which to grow one, so you’ll want to be aware of the financial resources available to you if you’re operating within the Beaver State.

Below, we’ll look at some of the types of financing you can access in Oregon, as well as some specific resources you can tap.

Online Business Lenders For Oregon Businesses

Geography can be cruel, and Oregon has some of the most formidable and varied environments in the nation (valleys, mountains, dessert, ocean). Finding a local lender can be easy if you’re in Portland, but may be challenging in some of the more remote areas of the state. Luckily, geography matters much less than it used to when it comes to financing.

What are the advantages of working with an online lender? Generally speaking, online lenders are faster, have simpler application processes, and more flexible lending standards than traditional lenders. The tradeoff, of course, is they also tend to have higher rates and more concentrated repayment term lengths. That said, the best online lenders offer transparent terms and excellent customer service.

Oregon has some of the stricter usury laws in the nation, which helps to weed out more predatory online lenders. Note that regulations governing loans usually only apply specifically to loans and not to loan-like products like merchant cash advances.

Here are a few of the better ones that lend within Oregon:

SmartBiz

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SBA loans offer some of the best terms small businesses can find, but the application process can be a bit of an ordeal. For those who want some help navigating it, SmarBiz will streamline and walk you through the process.

BlueVine

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BlueVine is an alternative option for businesses that need a line of credit or that have unpaid invoices that they’d like to cash in a little early. Invoice factoring is not for everyone, but it is a way to infuse your business with cash without going into debt.

LoanBuilder

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PayPal’s LoanBuilder service is one of the faster and more transparent digital lenders, allowing you to tweak the terms of your loan somewhat to fit your needs. Their rates are also pretty decent, but as short-term loans, you’ll have to pay them back fairly quickly.

Fundbox

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Businesses with credit issues can have a hard time finding funding, but lenders like Fundbox make it a little bit easier. Like BlueVine they offer lines of credit and invoice factoring. They also offer a service similar to invoice factoring called Fundbox Pay, which allows sellers to receive money for their services right away.

While Fundbox doesn’t have any hard credit requirements, they do want to see that your business does at least $50K/year in revenue.

Lendio

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Lendio is a great resource for businesses that are tapping the online lending market for the first time and don’t have a lot of time to fill out multiple applications. Lendio lets you access their network of lenders with a single application and with no direct fee.

Oregon Banks & Credit Unions

Just because online lenders offer speed and convenience, don’t think brick and mortar banks are obsolete. Bank and credit unions tend to offer better rates and terms, provided you have the credit to qualify for them.

If you’re happy with the bank or credit union currently servicing your accounts (and they’re happy with you), it’s often a good idea to start there. The advantage is they already have a sense of you as a customer and records of your financial transactions, which can save you a few steps when you’re applying.

National banks with branches in Oregon include:

Chase Bank

You can find Chase branches in most of the country, particularly in urban areas like Portland. Chase has some of the best business loans rates you can find, but they’re very selective about who they lend to. You’ll also need to be able to get to a branch in person; no digital applications here.

Borrower requirements:
• Must have excellent credit (high 600s)
• Must have access to a Chase Bank branch
Read our Chase Bank review

Bank Of America

If you live along the I-5 corridor, you should have little trouble finding a Bank of America branch. Even if you don’t, BoA does allow you to apply for a couple of products online, making them a more convenient option for remote customers.

Line of credit borrower requirements:
• Must have been in business at least 2 years.
• Must have a personal credit score of 670 or above.
• Must have revenue > $200,000 for unsecured products, or greater than $250,00 for secured products.
Read our Bank of America review

US Bank

US Bank has Oregon well-covered with branches, even in secondary and tertiary markets. If you want to deal with a big bank that’s a bit more approachable, US Bank is a solid option.

Borrower requirements:
• Must be located in a state served by U.S. Bank
• Must have been in business for two years
Read our U.S. Bank review

Credit Unions

As non-profit entities, credit unions can, at least in theory, provide lower rates than similar for-profit entities. Whether or not they offer business lending will vary from union to union, though in many cases you may be able to leverage personal loans for business purposes.

Some of the more accessible credit unions in Oregon include:

  • OnPoint Community Credit Union 
  • Oregon Community Credit Union
  • Selco Community Credit Union
  • Rogue Credit Union
  • Columbia Credit Union

Small Business Grants In Oregon

startup grants

Why go into debt when you can get money for free? Grants can provide your business with just that: free money.

Of course, nothing’s truly “free.” Grants are highly competitive. If you’re trying to get one, expect to spend a lot of time in pursuit. They also tend to be very specific with regards to what they can be used for, so finding a grant that fits your business goals can be time-consuming.

For some general advice on where to find them, check out our grant feature.

Resources For Startups In Oregon

Remember how we mentioned Oregon is a good place for starting a small business? The state has some well-developed infrastructure that new businesses can tap.

One of the best resources for finding these programs is the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon. They can help you access state programs like:

  • Oregon Business Development Fund: Offers up to $1 million in direct loans to business that create or retain jobs in manufacturing, processing, or distribution. Preference is given to businesses local in rural or distressed areas.
  • Small Business Expansion Loan Fund: Offers up to $250,000 direct loans to expanding businesses.
  • Entrepreneurial Development Loan Fund: Offers up to $75,000 to businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue looking to get established in Oregon.
  • Oregon Credit Enhancement Fund: A loan guarantee program available to most businesses in the state.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

credit card refund

Remember that your lender ultimately has to serve your needs, not the other way around. Don’t settle for a deal that’s bad for your company.

Need some help narrowing down lenders? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Your Industry: Some lenders specialize in lending to specific industries. Others can’t or won’t lend to certain industries. If they can’t write you a loan, cross them off your list.
  • Borrowing Amount: If you need $5,000, you’ll be looking at different lenders than if you need $5 million. Choose the right tool for the job.
  • Rates & Fees: How much is it going to cost you? Are the lender’s rates in line with the industry standard? Do they tell you what additional fees they charge, or do they hide them?
  • Time To Funding: Do you need the money right away or next quarter? Choose a lender that can work with your timetable.
  • Term Lengths: You’ll want to know how quickly you have to pay the money you’re borrowing back. Make sure you can afford the loan over the long-term.
  • The Type Of Expense Being Financed: Some financial products are limited in what they can be used for. Do you need a lump sum of cash? Or do you need a line of credit that you can draw upon periodically?
  • Collateral: Secured loans and lines of credit require some form of collateral, usually in the form of an asset, real estate, or cash deposit. If you don’t have collateral to put it, you’ll want to look at unsecured loans.

Final Thoughts

If you’re ready to start a business in the Pacific Northwest, or planning to expand the one you already have, there’s no shortage of resources to help you reach your goals. Now that you know the basics, what’s next?

Want to see more options for business loans in Oregon? We can help you compare lenders and credit cards.

Just starting out? Check out our resources for startups.

Need more specialized information? Check out our small business loan recommendations for veterans, women, minorities, or individuals with bad credit.

What’s Next
    • Learn what you can write off as small business tax deductions
    • Business loan options that don’t require a credit check
    • A guide to consolidating business debt

The post The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Oregon Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Massachusetts Small Businesses

In 2018, Massachusetts was the fastest-growing state in the Northeast, with its population growing by over 5%. As its population grows, so does the state’s economy. Once known for agriculture, trade, and fishing, this state has grown to become a global leader in finance, biotechnology, and other modern industries. Massachusetts has even been named by as the most innovative state by Bloomberg.

With a strong economy and new opportunities always on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to launch or expand your own small business. Whether you’re the owner of an established business or you’ve only flirted with the idea of entrepreneurship, the state of Massachusetts has small business financing and resources available to you.

If you’re ready to launch your business or take your existing business to the next level, keep reading! Instead of poring through hundreds of small business lenders and resources, we’ve handpicked the best options for you. Whether you’re seeking low-interest loans, fast financing, or free business tools, this guide has you covered. Read on to find out more about the small business resources available to Bay Staters.

Online Business Lenders For Massachusetts Businesses

online loan companies

Running your own business keeps your schedule full. When you need extra capital for your business, it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to head to your local lender. Fortunately, there is a solution that allows you to get the financing you need without spending hours at the bank. That solution is to work with an online business lender.

Through online lenders, you can apply for your loan, submit documentation, and even receive funds all without ever leaving your office. With online lending, you have more choices than ever and many online lenders also have less stringent requirements than traditional lenders. This means that you can access capital even if you have credit score challenges, haven’t been in business for long, or don’t meet typical revenue requirements.

On the one hand, having so many lenders to choose from is great because you can shop around your options. On the other hand, knowing where to even start can be a challenge. Instead of scouring the internet alone, check out what these online lenders have to offer.

SmartBiz

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You don’t have to go to your local bank to get a low-interest, long-term loan. Small Business Administration loans not only have competitive interest rates but are also easier to qualify for than traditional business financing. While you can visit a lender in person to apply for an SBA loan, smart business owners know that SmartBiz is the way to go.

SmartBiz is an online marketplace that has helped small business owners receive more than $1 billion via SBA loan programs. Through SmartBiz, you may qualify for a loan is as little as 5 minutes and receive your funding in just 7 days. The application process is streamlined so you can get the funding you need as quickly and easily as possible.

There are two loan products to consider. The first option is SmartBiz’s SBA Working Capital and Debt Refinancing Loans. These loans can be used to refinance business debt, expand your business, pay for a marketing campaign, hire employees, purchase equipment, or increase your inventory.

Through this program, you could receive $30,000 to $350,000. Interest rates are 8.25% to 9.25% with repayment terms up to 10 years.

To qualify for this loan, you must meet these requirements:

  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • At least 2 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 640 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow for loan payments
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures in the last 3 years
  • No defaults on government-backed loans
  • No outstanding tax liens

The second SBA loan program available through SmartBiz is the SBA 7(a) Commercial Real Estate Loan. With this loan, you can receive between $500,000 to $5 million to purchase commercial real estate or refinance your existing commercial mortgage. Interest rates are 7% to 8.25% with repayment terms up to 25 years.

The following are the requirements for receiving this loan:

  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Property must be at least 51% owner-occupied
  • Purchase price must be greater than $500,000
  • No new construction or investment properties
  • At least 3 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 675 or above
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures in the last 3 years
  • No defaults on government-backed loans
  • No outstanding tax liens

If an SBA loan doesn’t seem like the right option for you at this time, you can also apply for a bank term loan from one of SmartBiz’s lending partners. You may qualify for $30,000 to $200,000 with repayment terms up to 5 years and fixed interest rates starting at 6.99%.

Lendio

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No time to send out applications to multiple lenders? Give Lendio a try. With Lendio, you can get offers from multiple lenders through just one application. Lendio is a loan aggregator that has partnered with over 75 lenders, making it easier than ever to compare your financing options.

Through Lendio, you can apply for nearly any type of business financing, including:

  • SBA Loans: $50,000 to $5 million
  • Term Loans: $5,000 to $2 million
  • Short-Term Loans: $2,500 to $500,000
  • Lines Of Credit: $1,000 to $500,000
  • Equipment Financing: $5,000 to $5 million
  • Startup Loans: $500 to $750,000
  • Accounts Receivable Financing: Up to 80% of receivables
  • Commercial Mortgages: $250,000 to $5 million
  • Business Credit Cards: $1,000 to $500,000
  • Merchant Cash Advances: $5,000 to $200,000

Rates, terms, and requirements vary by product and lender. Time to funding also varies, but some products are available in as little as 24 hours. There is no obligation to accept an offer, and receiving your offers will not impact your credit.

Unsure of which business loan is best for you? Learn more about the different types of small business loans.

OnDeck

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OnDeck has provided $10 billion to businesses around the world, and you could be the next business to get the capital you need. Through OnDeck, you can apply for one of two financing options: term loans and lines of credit.

A term loan provides you with a lump sum of capital in amounts up to $500,000. Short-term loan options come with 3- to 12-month terms and are best for purchases that deliver an immediate return on investment, such inventory or a new marketing campaign. The long-term option gives you 15 to 36 months to repay your loan and is best for larger purchases such as expanding your business or buying equipment.

OnDeck’s short-term loans have simple interest rates starting at 9%. This is the total amount of interest you will pay and is a percentage of your borrowing amount. Long-term loans have a 9.99% annual interest rate. OnDeck also charges an origination fee of 0% to 4% of your loan amount for short- and long-term loans. Payments are made daily or weekly and are automatically deducted from your checking account.

To receive a small business loan from OnDeck, you must have:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 600 or above

If you need a more flexible financing option, consider applying for an OnDeck line of credit. You can receive up to $100,000 to cover unexpected expenses, make up for gaps in income, or for any business purpose. Rates start at 13.99% and payments are automatically deducted from your checking account each week. A $20 monthly maintenance fee will also be applied, but the lender will waive the fee for 6 months if you draw at least $5,000 within 5 days of opening your account.

To qualify for this option, you must have:

  • Time in business of at least 1 year
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 600 or above

Fundbox

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What do you do if your business is performing well, but you don’t have an excellent credit score? There are options open to you, including a line of credit from Fundbox.

Fundbox bases its approval decision on the performance of your business, so you don’t have to have perfect credit to qualify. Through Fundbox, you may be eligible to receive a revolving line of credit with limits up to $100,000. You’ll repay the lender over a period of 12 or 24 weeks. Fees start at just 4.66% of the draw amount.

If you don’t use your line of credit, you won’t pay a dime. If you do make a draw, you can pay your balance off early and save since Fundbox waives all remaining fees. Payments are automatically deducted from your business checking account each week. As you pay down your balance, funds will become available for you to use whenever you need them.

To qualify for a Fundbox line of credit, you must have:

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

BlueVine

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If you’re seeking a higher limit for a line of credit, you can receive up to $250,000 through BlueVine. Rates start at 4.8% for the most creditworthy borrowers. There are no fees if you don’t use your line of credit. Repayments are made on a monthly or weekly schedule over 6 to 12 months.

To qualify for BlueVine’s line of credit, you must have:

  • Personal credit score of 600 or above
  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

If unpaid invoices are causing your cash woes, BlueVine offers an invoice factoring service that could provide you with up to $5 million. You can receive up to 90% of the balance of your unpaid invoices up front. Then, once the customer pays the invoice, you’ll receive the remaining balance, minus fees. Fees start at 0.25% per week.

To qualify for invoice factoring, you must be a B2B business that meets these requirements:

  • Personal credit score of 530 or above
  • Time in business of at least 3 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

Amex Business Loans

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Worried that applying for financing will harm your credit score? If you’re an American Express cardholder, there may be an option available for you that has no impact to your credit score.

American Express Business Loans provide you with $3,500 to $50,000 in capital for your small business. You can repay your loan over 12, 24, or 36 months. These loans come with fixed APRs of 6.98% to 19.97%.

This offer is available only to select American Express Business cardholders. By logging into your Amex account, you can find out if you’ve been preapproved. This preapproval will provide the maximum borrowing amount and your maximum rate. After providing some information about your business, you could receive your funds in as little as 3 business days if you’re approved.

Because American Express uses the information it has on file for you, there’s no impact to your credit to apply. To qualify, you must meet these requirements:

  • Hold a Basic Card or Business Card
  • Be in good standing with American Express
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Be at least 18 years old

Amex Merchant Financing

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If you don’t qualify for American Express Business Loans, you may be able to get the capital your business needs through Amex Merchant Financing. If your business accepts American Express cards, you could qualify for this funding option.

Amex Merchant Financing provides $5,000 to $2 million to qualified business owners. Repayments are made over 6, 12, or 24 months. You’ll pay one fixed fee of 1.75% to 20% to take advantage of Amex Merchant Financing. Repay early and you can receive a rebate of up to 25% of your fixed fee.

Daily payments are automatically deducted to pay off the lender. You can opt to have a fixed amount taken from your business bank account, or you can choose to get a percentage of your daily receivables withdrawn.

To qualify for Amex Merchant Financing, you must have:

  • A business that accepts American Express cards
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • At least $12,000 in annual debit and credit receivables
  • Time in business of at least 24 months

Upstart

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Many of the previous options listed require at least a few months in business, but what do you do if you’re looking for capital to launch your business? Time in business requirements could bar you from receiving small business financing. However, you could qualify for a personal loan to use for business expenses.

Because this isn’t a business loan, time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history aren’t considered. Instead, your personal credit score and annual income are used to qualify you for a loan through a lender such as Upstart.

Upstart offers qualified borrowers $1,000 to $50,000. These funds can be used to fund your startup costs or cover other business expenses. Upstart’s APRs range from 7.54% to 35.99% based on creditworthiness. Repayment terms are 36 to 60 months.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a valid email account and a verifiable name, date of birth, and SSN
  • Have a source of income
  • Have a personal bank account
  • Have a personal credit score of at least 620

In addition to your credit score, Upstart will consider other factors of your personal credit profile. Additional qualifying requirements include:

  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent account
  • Less than 6 inquiries over the last 6 months
  • Solid debt-to-income ratio

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Massachusetts

While online lenders make borrowing easier and more convenient than ever, you may still prefer to go the traditional route with a local bank, credit union, or nonprofit lender. If you haven’t already established a relationship with a local institution, consider one of these lenders that serve small business owners in Massachusetts.

Eastern Bank

Eastern Bank was founded in 1818 and has its headquarters in Boston. Today, there are over 120 locations throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire in cities including Boston, Burlington, Reading, and Lowell.

Eastern Bank offers multiple financial services for small business owners. The institution not only offers business checking and savings accounts, but entrepreneurs can also take advantage of the following services:

  • Eastern Express Business Loan: Up to $100,000
  • SBA 7(a) Loans: Up to $5 million
  • SBA 504 Loans: Up to $5 million
  • Cash Reserves: Up to $10,000 to protect against overdrafts
  • Business Term Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Business Credit Cards

Eastern Bank also has commercial financing options, including industrial lines of credit, commercial real estate loans, and asset-based lending.

You can learn more by visiting your local Eastern Bank branch or applying for your chosen financial product online.

Metro Credit Union

If you want a more personalized experience, consider joining a local credit union, such as Metro Credit Union. This institution has locations throughout the state of Massachusetts to best serve more than 200,000 members. Metro Credit Union branches are located in cities including Boston, Lawrence, Framingham, and Salem.

As a member of Metro Credit Union, you may be eligible to receive small business financing through one of its lending programs including:

  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Business Lines Of Credit
  • Business Term Loans
  • Unsecured & Secured Business Credit Cards

Metro Credit Union also provides merchant credit card services, payroll services, and additional services to small business owners in Massachusetts.

To apply for financing, you must be a Metro Credit Union member. To become a member, you must:

  • Live, work, or own a business in one of the following counties: Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, Worcester
  • Open a Metro Regular Savings account with a $5 deposit

Common Capital

Common Capital is a community loan fund and nonprofit organization that provides tools, resources, and financing to small businesses and community projects in order to strengthen communities.

Through Common Capital, small business owners can apply for fixed and variable rate loans and lines of credit. Funding of up to $300,000 is available and can be used for the following purposes:

  • Working Capital
  • Inventory & Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Startup Costs
  • Business Acquisitions Or Expansion
  • Debt Refinancing
  • Leasehold Improvements Or Real Estate

Repayment terms are up to 10 years. Payments can be structured to account for seasonal fluctuations in revenue.
To qualify, you must own a business in the counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, or Hampden. If you reside in Worcester County, you may be eligible to apply for the Fast Track Program, which provides up to $50,000 with a fast turnaround.

Loan applications are available online. You must provide historical financial statements and/or three years of future financial projections with your application. Startups must also include a business plan. The typical time to underwrite and close the loan is 4 to 6 weeks after the completed application package has been received.

Small Business Grants In Massachusetts

Grants are another source of financing you can use to start or grow your business. The good thing about grants is that these aren’t loans, so you won’t incur debt. You won’t have to repay the grant or worry about interest or fees.

However, this free money isn’t available to just anyone. Most of the time, you have to meet very specific requirements for small business grants, such as being in a particular industry or being a minority, woman, or veteran business owner. Even if you do qualify, most grants have many applicants.

While it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll receive a small business grant, there’s no harm in applying if you meet all of the requirements. There are a variety of state and federal resources available to help you locate small business grants, but you can kick off your search with these options.

State Trade Expansion Program Grant

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant is offered through the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment in partnership with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, the Small Business Administration, and the Massachusetts Export Center. This grant is designed to help offset the costs of international business development and associated marketing costs.

Through this program, eligible small businesses can receive reimbursements of up to $12,000 for expenses including:

  • Compliance testing products for entry into an export market
  • Design of export market-specific marketing media
  • Overseas trade show or conference expenses

To qualify for STEP funding, an online application must be submitted. Proof of payment for the project, service, or activity must also be submitted for consideration. Applicants are also required to match 25% to 40% of funding.

Office Of Safety Workplace Safety Training Grant

The Office of Safety Workplace Safety Training Grant is a reimbursement program for businesses located in Massachusetts. This grant is provided through the Department of Industrial Accidents. Qualifying businesses can receive up to $25,000 to pay for training and education promoting workplace safety.

Businesses of all sizes are eligible to apply provided they are operating within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and are covered under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law.

To qualify, you must submit a grant package. Your package must include the grant application, a description of your business, training goals, a budget narrative and summary, qualifications of training providers, and a Department of Revenue Certificate of Good Standing.

Workforce Training Fund

The Workforce Training Fund provides business grants to support the training needs of businesses throughout the state of Massachusetts. There are two grant programs available.

General Program

The General Program is open to businesses of all sizes. Businesses can receive a training grant up to $250,000 through this program. Training grants must be matched dollar-for-dollar by the grant recipient.

Express Program

This program is open to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Grants of up to $30,000 per company and $3,000 per employee per course are available through this program. Companies will be reimbursed up to 50% of training costs.

Grants can be used to pay for training for current and new employees. An online application can be submitted along with a cover letter, Certificate of Good Standing from the Department of Revenue, and a description of training modules and courses.

Loans & Resources For Startups In Massachusetts

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Finding the loans and resources you need for your startup business doesn’t have to be challenging. If you’re a small business owner in the Bay State, consider putting the following resources to work for you.

SCORE

The SBA’s SCORE program provides free and low-cost services and resources to small business owners. Through SCORE, you can take advantage of free business counseling and mentoring online or at a SCORE location near you.

SCORE also offers local workshops on a variety of small business topics such as accounting, management, and marketing. These events allow you to educate yourself on these topics while networking with other local business owners.

SCORE also has additional tools and resources available on its website. This includes business guides, free templates, and blogs that offer helpful tips and tricks to business owners.

There are multiple SCORE branches located throughout the state of Massachusetts in cities including Boston, Springfield, Amherst, and Salem.

Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network

Since 1980, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) has provided free and low-cost resources to startups and established businesses. Through MSBDC, you can receive free one-on-one business counseling.

MSBDC also hosts free and low-cost seminars and events throughout the state. You can learn more about business topics such as developing your business plan, cash flow analysis, and financing options.

MSBDC offices can be found throughout the state in cities including Springfield, Fall River, Boston, and Salem.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

We’ve given you a list of lenders to finance your small business. Maybe you’ve even done your own research and have your own list. Now, it’s time to make a difficult decision: which lender should you work with? It’s important to weigh out all of your options and not just stick with the first lender that gives you an approval. You want to make sure that you make the wisest financial decision for your business. Do this by asking yourself the following:

Why Does My Business Need Money?

What is the purpose of your business loan? Not only will you have to put this on your loan application, but knowing exactly how you plan to use your funds can help narrow down your lender options. Let’s say that you want a flexible line of credit for emergency expenses. If a lender specializes in SBA loans, short-term business loans, or other financing that provides a lump sum, move on to the next lender.

How Much Money Does My Business Need?

Again, this is something you will need to include on your application. But you can also use this information to sort through lenders. If you need financing of at least $100,000, lenders that have lower maximum borrowing limits can be crossed off your list.

Can My Business Afford The Loan?

Lenders will look at a variety of factors to determine if you can afford a loan or other financial product. If you can’t, your application will be denied or you may be approved for a smaller amount. Don’t rely solely on the lender to determine the affordability of your loan. Consider your incoming revenue, your current expenses, and any fluctuations in income. Then, shop around with lenders that not only offer the amount of financing you need but also have the lowest rates and best terms for your situation.

Do I Meet All Requirements?

Do you meet all the requirements of your chosen lender? If a lender requires an excellent credit score, borrowers with scores below this requirement will be declined.

Have bad credit that’s preventing you from getting an affordable loan? If your need isn’t urgent, take the time to boost your credit. Obtain your free credit score, review your report, and take a few easy steps to raise your credit score. This will help you receive higher borrowing amounts, lower rates, and better terms.

Make sure you meet all other requirements, including time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history.

Final Thoughts

Starting or growing your small business can be a challenge. However, with the right resources and a source of capital, you’ll increase your chances for success. The state of Massachusetts offers multiple resources and financing options for your small business. You just need to take the time to evaluate the needs of your business and choose which resources offer the most benefits to you.

The post The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Massachusetts Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Pet Sitting Business: The Complete Guide

Have you always had an affinity for furry (or scaly) things? Have you ever needed money? If you answered yes to both these questions, you may want to consider starting a pet-sitting business.

But before you pick up the leashes and pooper-scoopers, it’s a good idea to sit down and plan out the trajectory of your business. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t fret. Below, we’ll lay out the steps you can take to start a pet-sitting business.

Decide On A Location

Since you’re going to be dealing with people’s pets, you’ll need to take into account your proximity to your clients. If they’re dropping their pets off with you, you’ll want to be located somewhere easily accessible to most of your customers, and one that can accommodate animals. Depending on where you live, this can be tricky as the space necessary to accommodate animals will usually be cheaper in less centralized locations.

On the other hand, if you’re going to your customers, you’ll need to take into account the amount of time you need to spend with each client’s pets, the costs of commuting to the job, and how animal-friendly/animal-hostile the infrastructure in your service area is (dog parks, etc.).

Register Your Business

Why should you register your business? Depending on your local laws, you may actually be required to register your business in order to legally pet-sit. But even in jurisdictions where it isn’t compulsory, there are some advantages to doing so.

The first is that you can do business under a name other than your own. So instead of Martha Swearingen, LLC, you can do business as Baron Bark’s Pet Pampering Service (you can have that one for free).

The default configuration for businesses is a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name or, if you file a DBA (Doing Business As), a name of your choice.

Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same.

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Most pet-sitting companies aren’t going to be interested in forming C-suites for governance, so you can probably ignore S-Corps and C-Corps for now. You may, however, want to consider forming an LLC to provide some separation between your personal finances and liabilities and your business ones.

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
  • C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
  • S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.

Get Business Insurance

As a pet-sitter, you’re not just dealing with property, you’re dealing with animals whose owners often view them as part of their family. In other words, if something goes wrong, things could get ugly.

Depending on your local laws, you may be required to carry certain types of insurance.

The type of insurance that will probably be of most interest to you is general liability insurance. This protects you in the event of a lawsuit or accident, whether it’s an accidental injury to the animal or if you accidentally damage property within a client’s home. It doesn’t only protect you, however; it also makes you look like a safer option than a business that isn’t covered.

There are other, more specialized types of insurance that are worth taking a look at depending on the specifics of your business. These include:

  • Property Insurance: Protects the property needed to run your business (as opposed to damages you cause to clients’ property).
  • Business Interruption: Covers costs related to unforeseen events that make your business unable to function.
  • Professional Liability (Error and Omissions): Covers the costs of defending your company in lawsuits in cases where your business caused a financial loss.

If you aren’t sure where to look, we can help you.

Invest In Business Software

While not absolutely necessary, you can save yourself and your customers some hassle with strategically chosen business software. For pet sitting, there are probably three types most worthy of consideration.

Payment Processing

Doing business with cash can be convenient when you’re first starting out, but as you grow, you’ll probably be missing out on clients if you can’t accommodate other forms of payment.

Recommended Option: Square

Best Overall Mobile POS


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Highlights

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

Retail POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

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

 

Square POS: Always free

If you have an iOS or Android device, Square offers an extremely convenient way to accept mobile payments while on the go via a small add-on you plug into your device. It’s also a very scalable service; if you’re running a retail location, there are even more features and service options you can take advantage of.

Best of all, there aren’t any monthly fees to worry about. Square charges between 2.75  – 3.5 percent per transaction (depending on whether you swipe or key in the info), so you’ll want to factor those costs into your expenses.

Scheduling Software

As you add clients, it will get harder to remember their particular preferences, not to mention more difficult to fit them all into your schedule. With booking or scheduling software, you can track your time, note customer needs, and efficiently plan your days’ work. Many of these offer their basic features free of charge.

Accounting Software

Most businesses can benefit from accounting software. What you don’t want is to spend money unnecessarily on one. Wave offers most of the features you need at no cost.

With no monthly fee, you’ll get invoicing, estimates, contact management, expense tracking, accounts payable, and inventory tracking.

Seek Funding

Pet-sitting, especially, if you’re going to your clients, doesn’t have a lot of overhead when you’re first starting out. In the event that you do need to scare up some money to cover starting expenses or equipment, there are a number of options available to you.

Personal Savings

If you can avoid taking on debt, it’s usually a good idea. It may hurt to part with some of your rainy day funds, but you won’t be accumulating expensive interest and fees.

Tap Your Support Network

If you do need money from an outside source, you can often get a better deal from your support system than you can from a private lender.

Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.

Credit Cards

For the relatively low expenses you will encounter when you start a pet-sitting business, credit cards can probably suffice for most of your needs.

The general rules of thumb when it comes to using credit cards effectively are these:

  1. Use credit cards for expenses that you can pay off within their interest-free grace period.
  2. Pick a card with a reward program that matches your spending habits and needs.
  3. Do not take out cash advances on your credit card.

If you follow these rules, you can actually save money by using your credit card to make purchases.

Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus

SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Amex’s SimplyCash Plus offers one of the best cash back programs available without an annual fee. You’ll get 1 percent back on generic purchases, 5 percent back on wireless telephone purchases and office supply stores in the U.S. But it’s the middle tier that’s most interesting. You can select a category of your choosing (airfare, hotel rooms, car rentals, gas stations, restaurants, advertising, shipping, or computer hardware) to get 3 percent back.

It also carries an introductory 0% APR for the first nine months, which can be helpful if you’re just starting out.

Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card

Amazon Business Prime American Express Card


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.24% – 24.24%, Variable

This one’s a little more niche. But if you find yourself buying supplies and random pet-related doodads on Amazon frequently, you can get a lot of value out of the Amazon Business Prime American Express Card.

If you have a Prime membership, you’ll earn a whopping 5 percent back on purchases made at Amazon.com, Amazon Business, AWS, and Whole Foods Market — or an extra 90 days interest-free grace period for purchases made at those places. Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll get 3 percent or 60 days, respectively. You’ll need to spend around $6,000 to recoup the cost of a $119 Prime membership with points alone, but that’s without factoring in money saved through Prime’s programs (shipping, deals, etc).

Personal Loans

If you need more money than you can safely put on a credit card, or need longer to pay it off, you should consider getting a personal loan that can cover business expenses.

There are some disadvantages to taking this route, namely that you’re on the hook rather than your business, but if your credit is good, it’s not the worst option out there.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

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Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out, you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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If you’re just entering the alternative loan market for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. Lendio takes some of that burden off of you by allowing you to effectively apply to their whole network of lenders with one application.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.

Create Contracts

If you’ve just been watching your friends’ pets, you’ve probably had an informal agreement about the services you’d provide and the expectations of safety and liability involved. And that was probably enough.

When you’re dealing with strangers in a professional capacity, however, it’s smart to formalize these elements in a contract. This can save you a lot of headaches, if not legal troubles, down the road. You’ll want to include critical information about the pet (when and what they eat, how they are with strangers, pertinent medical history, etc.), what’s included in your services, and the client’s expectations for how their home will be treated under your care (if applicable). You’ll also want to include your fees and rates.

If you can, have a lawyer look it over to make sure it checks out legally.

Market Your Business

Getting the word out is always one of the most challenging parts of getting a business off the ground. The easiest place to start is through word of mouth. Are you already looking after the pets of a family or two? Let them know you’re looking to take on more clients, along with your friends, family, and social contacts.

At some point, you’ll probably want to expand outside the reach of your current contacts, which means advertising. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can post flyers on bulletin boards and leave business cards in places trafficked by pet owners. Online classified sites like Craigslist can also cover a large audience in your area.

Bolster Your Web Presence

When it comes to promoting small business, the internet is one of those things that’s easy to both over- and underestimate. On the one hand, simply buying an ad and hoping for the best likely won’t yield amazing results. On the other, you do need an internet strategy to grow your business.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you’ll probably want a website that details your basic services and contact information. Don’t overthink it. There are a lot of great tools available that can help you build a website.

Remember, too, that social media isn’t just for sharing pictures of your dinner with your friends. You can use to communicate with customers, make engaging content that makes them keep your brand in mind, and announce special deals and service changes.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, everything we covered doesn’t look too intimidating. If you’re good with animals and don’t mind turning that love into a source of revenue, you can get a pet-sitting business up and running in no time!

Having second thoughts about pet-sitting but are still looking to open a business? Check out our other beginners’ guides.

The post How To Start A Pet Sitting Business: The Complete Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees

best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees

Your credit card might come with some nice rewards for your spending. It might even offer some nice travel benefits. But if it carries a foreign transaction fee, that means that every charge you make while outside the US is subject to an extra fee, usually 3%. Think of it this way: for every $100 in overseas charges you make, you’ll be spending another $3 in fees.

Spend enough on purchases outside the country, and foreign transaction fees will eat into whatever net benefit your card use would have otherwise brought you. Thankfully, the solution is clear. If you’re going to be using your credit card outside the US with any frequency, use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Most credit card companies offer both cards that carry a foreign transaction fee and cards that don’t. However, there are two prominent exceptions to this general rule: Capital One and Discover. Neither credit card issuer charges a foreign transaction fee on any of their cards, making their credit card lineups particularly appealing to the traveler who spends a significant amount of time and money outside the US.

Let’s survey the landscape and highlight the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.

Credit Card Best For
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Cash Back with No Annual Fee
Chase Ink Business Preferred Business
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Average Credit
Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard Travel Rewards
Chase Sapphire Preferred Transferable Travel Rewards
The Platinum Card from American Express Luxury Travel Benefits
Uber Visa Restaurants/Dining
Discover it Cash Back Rotating 5% Cash Back Categories

Best For Cash Back With No Annual Fee: Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards

Quicksilver from Capital One



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.24 – 26.24%, Variable

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card is a great cash back credit card for the international traveler who can’t be bothered with category restrictions on earning cash back and just wants to earn cash back at a flat rate — all without paying an annual fee.

The highlight of this card is undoubtedly the unlimited 1.5% cash back you’ll earn on every purchase, everywhere. You won’t have to worry about spending categories and there is no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn. You won’t have to weigh the benefits you’ll accrue against foreign transaction fees or an annual fee either, as there are no such fees.

Another great feature of the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card is the 15-month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. Most credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR for a year or less (if they offer one at all), so with the Quicksilver card, you’ll get an extra buffer period before you’ll have to start thinking about monthly interest charges.

Best For Business: Chase Ink Business Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Chase Ink Business Preferred is a business credit card that confers some nice travel benefits. One of these benefits, of course, is the lack of a foreign transaction fee.

Ink Business Preferred offers an eye-catching bonus offer: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. When redeemed for travel, that’s a $1,000 reward. That’s because points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

On the subject or points-earning, you’ll earn 3 points per $1 on your first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable/phone services, and on social media/search engine advertising each year. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.

Not only will you get a 25% boost to your points value when booking travel via Chase’s travel portal, but you can transfer your points on a 1:1 basis to the travel rewards programs of partners like United Airlines and Marriott.

The Ink Business Preferred does, however, carry a $95 annual fee.

Best For Average Credit: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards

QuicksilverOne from Capital One



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Annual Fee:


$39

Purchase APR:


26.99%, Variable

Not to be confused with Capital One’s other Quicksilver card, the QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards credit card is one of the few credit cards out there that both lacks a foreign transaction fee and is available to applicants with average credit.

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards card offers the same unlimited 1.5% cash back as the Quicksilver Cash Rewards card. Not bad for a card available to people with average credit!

Of course, there are some trade-offs to be made here. Unlike Capital One’s other Quicksilver card, this card offers no introductory 0% APR, an annual fee of $39, and a high variable APR that currently stands at 26.99%. The high APR combined with the lack of an intro 0% APR period means that you’ll want to avoid carrying a significant balance on this card from month-to-month. You’ll also need to spend at least $2,600 a year in order to earn enough cash back to make up for the annual fee.

Best For Travel Rewards: Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard


Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
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Annual Fee:


$89 (waived the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard makes some tantalizing offers to the frequent traveler. Along with no foreign transaction fees, this card offers three big perks for the international traveler.

  • Earn 70,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — the equivalent of a $700 travel statement credit
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase
  • Get 5% of your miles back to use toward your next redemption each time you redeem them

The 2X miles you’ll earn with every purchase is one of the highest flat earning rates of any travel credit card. And since you’ll get 5% of your miles back whenever you redeem them, the cash back rate is effectively 2.1%.

What’s more, your miles can be redeemed for a lot more than just airfare. You can redeem them for hotel stays, car rentals, trains, buses, taxis, and more. You can even use your miles to pay the $89 annual fee (the fee is waived the first year), though hopefully, you can find something more exciting to use them on!

Another nice card feature: If you transfer a balance to this card within 45 days of your account opening, you’ll pay a 0% introductory APR on that balance for 12 months.

Best For Transferable Travel Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is another travel rewards card with no foreign transaction fee. With Sapphire Preferred, not only can you redeem your rewards through Chase’s travel portal — you can also transfer your points on a 1:1 basis to the following airline and hotel travel partners:

  • Aer Lingus, AerClub
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Rewards
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • World of Hyatt

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card features a bonus offer of 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Thanks to the 25% value bonus you’ll get when redeeming your points for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards, these 50,000 points can become $625 for travel expenses.

You’ll also earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1X points on everything else.

Unfortunately, the card carries a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) and lacks an introductory 0% APR period.

Best For Luxury Travel Benefits: The Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express


The Platinum Card from American Express
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Annual Fee:


$595

 

Purchase APR:


N/A (charge card)

The Platinum Card from American Express may not have a foreign transaction fee, but it does sport a $550 annual fee. That should tell you who this card is aimed at. It’s not the average traveler looking to earn some points/miles on the side. This card is for the well-heeled traveler seeking the finest in travel perks.

Of all the travel benefits this card offers, the best benefit might just be the 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide you’ll gain access to via the American Express Global Lounge Collection. It’s the largest airport lounge network around. I may not have any personal experience with these exclusive lounges, but I’m sure they’re spectacular.

The card comes with a host of other travel perks befitting a card with such a high annual fee. You’ll earn 5X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. You’ll get a fee credit of up to $200 a year to cover checked bags and in-flight food and drinks. You’ll be enrolled in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, giving you access to travel amenities with an average value of $550/year.

The card currently offers quite the bonus offer: 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.

Just keep in mind that the Platinum Card is a charge card, meaning you won’t be able to carry a balance from month to month.

Best For Restaurants/Dining: Uber Visa Card

Uber Visa


Uber Visa
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Uber Visa card, a joint venture of Uber and Barclays, is a new credit card that offers great value to those who love to go out and live it up without worrying about things like foreign transaction fees or an annual fee.

The card offers an amazing 4% back on restaurants, takeout, and bars (UberEATS included), making the Uber Visa a compelling choice for you nightlife lovers. The card also offers 3% back on airfare and hotel stays, 2% back on all online purchases (yes, including Uber), and 1% back on all other purchases.

That’s not all. There’s a signup bonus of 10,000 points ($100) after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 90 days. There’s a cellphone protection plan that offers up to $600 if your phone is broken or stolen (conditions apply). There’s even a $50 credit toward digital subscriptions you’ll get if you spend at least $5,000 on your card each year.

With a system that rewards going out for food and drinks, online shopping, and offers cellphone protection, this card seems targeted at millennials, or at least the few millennials who aren’t drowning in debt already. One thing that won’t appeal to millennials, however, is the card’s lack of an introductory 0% APR.

Best For Rotating 5% Cash Back Categories: Discover it Cash Back

Discover it Cash Back



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The Discover it Cash Back card allows those who don’t mind tracking rotating spending categories the chance to earn 5% cash back on their purchases.

With the Discover it Cash Back, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter on selected spending categories. The 5% categories for 2019 are:

  • January to March: Grocery stores
  • April to June: Gas stations, Uber, and Lyft
  • July to September: Restaurants
  • October to December: Amazon.com

Of course, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.

What makes this Discover card an even better cash back value is the fact that Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, thus doubling your first year’s cash back haul.

Beyond that, this card is a simple, reasonable credit card. There’s no annual fee, a competitive regular APR, a 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and you can access your FICO score for free.

One word of caution: Though there is no foreign transaction fee, international acceptance of Discover cards can be hit-or-miss.

Final Thoughts

If you spend a significant amount of time outside the US, an ordinary credit card will have you needlessly paying 3% extra to your credit card company in the form of foreign transaction fees.

Don’t be a sucker. When spending money abroad, use a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Thankfully, the number of such cards has been expanding in recent years and you now have a wide range of choices!

Not sure which cards you’ll qualify for? Check out these helpful resources!

  • Best free credit score sites
  • Ways to improve your credit score
  • Using personal credit cards for business

The post Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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6 Square POS Features To Run Your Small Business Like a Pro

When a merchant signs up for a new Square account to start processing payments, many times the focus isn’t on the other features; it’s on getting paid — and rightfully so. But after signing into your account for the first time, it may become evident to you that there is a lot more to Square than just payment processing.

For those of you who are new to Square or if you are shopping around and checking out your options to make a final decision — you’re in the right place. We are going to take a look at what is available in the free Square POS app. We’ve discussed both Square (read our review) and Square POS (read our review) in depth, so check out their respective reviews for a more comprehensive look. Don’t forget, when you sign up with Square Payments, you get access to the POS app, the online selling tools, invoicing, and a whole lot more. 

But before we dig into all that, let’s quickly review Square’s payment processing costs for the price savvy among us. Square has very upfront pricing, but keep in mind that your processing costs change with the Square hardware you use. With the free Square POS and your own smartphone or tablet, you’ll pay a flat rate of 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap. Check out How Much Does Square Charge? for a thorough explanation of any other fees you might incur with Square, including software. 

While it’s true that Square’s fee for payment processing may seem a bit higher on the face of things, keep a few things in mind: Square doesn’t charge any additional monthly account fees, and you can expect the same flat rate for all of the cards you process, even American Express. You can also close your account any time with no cancellation fees whatsoever. However, one of the more notable reasons we like Square here at Merchant Maverick is that merchants get end-to-end, PCI compliant payment security included with every account, without paying a dime for it.

While Square may not be as packed with features as a traditional POS, there are still a wide range of features waiting if you take advantage of them. In addition to features within the app itself, Square’s back-end management tools (centralized in the web Dashboard) are powerful. 

We have much to cover, so let’s discover the most noteworthy POS features you can start using to manage customer engagement, employees, inventory, and take charge of your business like the pro you are!

Customer Directory

Square Customer Profile

If you have an existing customer list, you can migrate that over via CSV right into the directory and get started. Every time you complete a sale, your customer directory grows to include your customer’s name, purchase history, location, and credit card (save this only with their permission). If your customer enters their email for an e-receipt, that gets added to the directory, too!

The customer directory builds automatically with each sale, but you can also manually add customer information from the Square POS or the Square dashboard. (See Why We Like Square’s Online Dashboard and Analytics App for a primer on the dashboard.) In the Customer Directory, you can add an email, birthday, make notes about their order history, or add their company, for instance.

Customer Directory

As your customers continue to shop with you, Square builds reports on customer behavior patterns, too. You can find out things like visiting frequency and when they purchased something from you last. You can view some reports from the in-app reporting in the Square Point of Sale, but to access all of the reporting features, you’ll need to get to the Square dashboard.

A lesser-known Square feature is the private feedback you can gather after a sale. Giving your customers this opportunity to share their opinions with you directly (and right from their receipt) helps keep the lines of communication open. When your customer leaves feedback, you can respond to them directly and offer to comp their item if you wish. In this way, you can hopefully also avoid negative public reviews — and keep your customers happier while you’re at it.

Inventory Management

Keeping up with inventory changes and accurately ordering the stock you need is probably one of the most critical business matters there is. Not only does good inventory management build loyalty and trust with your customers, but you can also avoid some unneeded expenses surrounding both excess and deficient stock. The great news is that basic inventory management comes along with your free Square POS software.

Have a large amount of inventory? You can easily import any existing stock with a CSV spreadsheet. You can also add items manually through your dashboard or Square POS. Either way, you can quickly update product names, prices, and quantities as needed. Setting up low stock alerts is easy — set alerts to send when inventory gets to the amount you decide. In the screenshot below, you can see that this shop has 20 prints in stock and the alert will be sent when there are three left.

Creating an Item in Square

Have different sizes or other variables of the same item? Square supports setting up different price points and variants, too. Square does not support partial quantities — but don’t lose heart! If you sell in partial quantities, you can work around this issue by setting up a Variation, as seen in the screenshot below.

Square Item Variant

Whether you’re a micro shop or you move hundreds of items a day, you can set Square up for what makes sense for your business. However, if your business has several hundreds of items, you’re likely going to find the inventory navigation a bit unwieldy. That’s because you have to scroll to find the item manually; you can’t just type the name in a search bar. Square does offer a more robust solution with Square for Retail (See our review), starting at $60/month/register/location.

To keep up with inventory and track customer spending, you can also assign your products to specific categories. Keep in mind that all of the initial work you do to distinguish your inventory through categories, variations, and accurate item descriptions pays you back with richer insights when it comes time to check out your reports. Square creates free basic reports such as Sales Summary, Sales Trends, and Category Sales, to name a few.

Square Sales Reporting

It’s worth it to mention that if you are in a time crunch or you don’t have an item already in your inventory, you can still ring it up easily in quick sale mode — simply punch in the amount, and you’re ready to take payment!

Loyalty

Square Customer Loyalty Program

The proof is in the pudding — loyalty programs lead to more customer spending. This fact is proven time and again in retail spending statistics, but Square also reports that customers spend over 30% more after joining their loyalty program. That’s a nice chunk of change, but making the loyalty program work for your business is the key to profitability.

The Square Loyalty Program is not free — it starts at $45 and the prices scale with the number of loyalty visits. That means that you won’t be paying for what you don’t use, but we still suggest checking your reports to track success. However, you really are in charge of the program and its success in your business. That’s because everything is highly customizable. From a classic digital punch card to earning points each visit, you control what — and how — your customers earn rewards with you.

According to Square, merchants get the best responses with their loyalty program by offering a meaningful reward, making the reward happen sooner rather than later (about 30 days from enrollment), and limiting the rules when it comes to earning rewards.

When you ask your customer to join your loyalty program, they enter with their phone number, which you can then promote via text messages. The other cool thing about the loyalty program is that the add-on software gives you even more data about your customer’s purchase history and buying behavior. All of this information makes it easier to personalize customer service or even plan your next promotion.

Employee Management

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

The optional employee management software can make a significant impact on your business if you have multiple locations or many employees. From customizing permissions to timekeeping, performance tracking, and advanced reports, there is a lot of potential here.

With your basic Square account, you can let employees take payments as Mobile Staff and allow or disallow issuing refunds. Beyond these two functions, you are limited unless you opt for Employee Management at $5 / month per employee, however.

For example, employee-specific reporting only comes with advanced Employee Management. In the screenshot below, you can see what types of insights are available under the Employee Sales reports that come along with Employee Management.

Square Employee Management


In addition to gaining better insights regarding your employee’s performance, you also have much more control over employee permissions. Choose who has access to cash drawer reports, assign individual access codes, and choose other custom permission settings both at your Point of Sale and in your Dashboard.

Cash Drawer Management

From the Square Point of Sale app, you can enable cash drawer management to promote greater accountability across the board. Take note that you can only manage your cash drawer from an iPad or Android tablet — you can’t track and manage with your smartphone. Basic information about your cash drawer session includes:

  • Cash amount
  • Cash sales
  • Cash refunds
  • Cash paid in and out
  • Expected cash amount in drawer

Cash Drawer Management lets you know exactly how much cash you start with and what to expect in the drawer at the end of the session. You can set up cash drawer reports to be auto-emailed at the end of the business day. Because the reporting is specific to the device connected to your cash drawer, you’ll have to run a separate report for each device. You can view your drawer history at any time from your Square app, too. All you need to do is select the date and the drawer session to see details.

If you have Employee Management software, you can also control employee access to your in-app cash drawer reports. Grant your manager access while restricting other employees from accessing cash reports you may not want to make privy to everyone.

Offline Mode

For days when even the Internet can’t seem to work correctly, being able to accept payments offline prevents losing customers and sales. Offline Mode is also a game changer for the many businesses who aren’t bound to four walls. Whether you have set up shop in a more remote location or you are a mobile business traveling across the country, you can use your offline mode to swipe your card and securely accept payments. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Offline Mode, however:

  1. Offline Mode only works with a magstripe swipe card, and you must swipe it.
  2. You have to connect to the Internet within 72 hours of the sale, or it expires.
  3. Offline transactions automatically process when you get connected with the Internet again.
  4. If payment doesn’t go through after connection, you are responsible for the cost of goods or services.

The good news is that there’s no additional charge for Offline Mode, just the standard rate of 2.75% per swipe. And there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from the issues listed above. When you take a sale in Offline Mode, be sure to check for the signature on the back of the card and have your customer sign so you can compare signatures. Checking your customer’s ID is also recommended, of course. You’ll also want to double check the card’s expiration date. If you remember these simple best practices, you can still accept offline payments with a reasonable amount of assurance that your sale is good to go.

Is Square Right For You?  

Square offers a wide range of features to support a growing small business. If you are adding employees and locations, Square is ready with advanced software that grows with you, including Employee Management and the highly customizable Loyalty Program. (Not to mention the less glamorous but just as important features like cash drawer permissions, inventory management, and offline support.)

Want to find out even more about Square? Check out our Square POS review for more insights on the Square Point of Sale or visit our full Square Review for more helpful insights. If you’re ready to try Square out and see for yourself, head over and set up your free Square account to start processing your first payments!

The post 6 Square POS Features To Run Your Small Business Like a Pro appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder

Google Sites Review Pros & Negatives of Using Googles Website Builder

Google Sites is Google’s free website builder software that it offers as part of the G Suite of Drive, Email, Hangouts, etc.

Sites has never been highly publicized like its other products. I’ve always thought of Sites as part of the bucket of products like Drawing, Blogger, and Correlate that sort of come as part of other, well-known product lines but are otherwise forgotten about…yet still awesome in their own way.

If you have a Google Account, go check out Google Sites here.

I’ve written about Google’s Domains product and Blogger – but have never looked at Google Sites specifically.

My experience with Google Sites began back when I first started my web design business years and years ago. I never used Google Sites for my own projects until I came across it when a client of mine was using it and needed a few tasks done.

But since then, better competition has popped up from Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress.com, Website Creator, and other website builders. And Google has upgraded the product I originally used. They’ve streamlined it to make it supposedly the “effortless way to create beautiful sites.”

See Google Sites here…

Skip to the Conclusion & Next Steps

So for a personal project of mine, I decided to try it out again and see who the product would really be a good fit for – and not just compare it to other hosted website builders.

I also wanted to compare Google Sites to other website solutions like hosting your own website or using a hosted eCommerce platform.

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

New Google Sites vs. Classic Google Sites vs. Google My Business Website

Google is notorious for rolling out overlapping & competing with their own products – only to kill or update them after a couple years.

And Google Sites is no different. When discussing Google’s website builder product, there are really up to 4 products in play.

1. Blogger

Ok – Blogger is an old-school but still surprisingly good blogging platform. You can create a website with it. You can do designs, templates, and everything else. It’s free. But – you are stuck with the reverse-chronological display of posts. I won’t really be covering this here. I wrote a Blogger review here.

2. Google My Business Website

This is Google’s website product for small, local businesses. You can’t use it unless you have a Google My Business account. The product is less of a “website builder” than a super-detailed local business listing. I won’t really be covering this here. You can read a good FAQ of this product here.

3. Classic Google Sites

This is the product that I started with years and years ago. It still lives at sites.google.com – and it’s decidedly old school.

You can find links to it throughout Google Sites.

Classic Sites

The ironic bit about Classic Google Sites is that it actually has more technical options than Google Sites…even if it is less user-friendly.

Old School Google SItesMost of the pros/negatives of Classic Sites are the same as Google Sites. But I would not consider it for a long-term project since Google will likely kill it any day now if their history is anything to go by.

4. Google Web Designer

This product is not related at all – despite its name.

Google Web Designer

Google Web Designer is a desktop app to create designs for the Web (aka banner ads).

5. New Google Sites (free)

Ok – this is what we’re going to talk about. This is Google’s main website builder software. It is available for anyone with a Google Account. It not only lives on Google Drive – but it is marketed with Sheets, Docs, Drawings and more.

New Google Sites

6. New Google Sites (G Suite)

Ok – this software is the same as the free Google Sites, except that it is built for business subscribers to the G Suite (the old Google Apps for Business). It is exactly the same as the free Google Sites, but has different account permissions and generally receives product updates – like custom domain mapping – sooner than the free version.

Let’s look at the pros & negatives.

Pros of Google Sites

Google Sites has a lot going for it. I know an eCommerce store owner who started and ran her store for 2 years before she began to look for a new solution (though it took a lot of hacking around with PayPal scripts). Here are the major pros.

Price

Google Sites is free with unlimited use, traffic, and websites. This is possibly the most compelling part of Google Sites.

It’s part of Google’s relentless push to keep you signed into your Google account for as much as possible. If you are signed into your personal Google account, you can go to sites.google.com right now and get started. There are no risks, no upsells, no expiration dates or limits. It’s just free due to Google’s crazy innovative business model.

And if you are a paying G Suite for Business user, Sites is bundled with your subscription along with all the backups, administrative controls, and guarantees that come with your account.

There’s no risks and no catch and no “trying” – you can go get started now.*

*of course – there is your time and learning curve investment – which we’ll discuss in the negatives section.

Google Integration

Sites is fully integrated with Google’s products. With the new Google Sites, it even has all the same Material Design conventions of Google’s other products.

Your site is saved directly in your Google Drive. You can access it anywhere with any device. You can download it along with your other data from Google Takeout.

Hosting in Your Google Drive

There are no additional passwords or account setup – it’s seamless and fully integrated.

Simplicity & Security

Google Sites is simple and straightforward to use.

Google Sites Google Features

The learning curve is measured in minutes. There’s no real “onboarding” or education because everything that is available with the product is “right there.”

You can build a multi-page beautiful, functional website quickly and simply.

Google Sites Drag & Drop

Additionally, Google handles your security issues…since it is one and the same as your email account.

Speed & Sharing

Like security, Google handles your speed considerations. The resulting HTML / CSS product is lean on fast servers and available worldwide.

Since it is fully integrated with your Google Account – it is simple to share & preview. You can create & collaborate on a website as easily as you can on a Google Doc.

Negatives of Google Sites

Now – there are plenty of negatives with Google Sites. Like I’ve said with all website builders – there is no overall “best” – there’s only the best for you considering your budget, time, resources, and goals.

After reading the pros of Google Sites – you are probably wondering how Google Sites isn’t the go-to solution for every website.

Well, Google Sites has plenty of negatives. But the summary is that Google Sites is very feature-limited and not really meant for long-term website projects (hence the simplicity).

I like to use real estate as an analogy. If running your own website on your own hosting account is like owning a building on your own property and using a website builder like Weebly is like running a business in a leased storefront, then Google Sites is like leasing a table at a farmer’s market or festival.

It’s great for short-term, quick projects. And you do have plenty of options to “make it yours” – but it’s not really meant for a long-term business website. Let’s look at some of the specifics.

Limited Design Features

Google Sites’ design features are sorely limited.

Your template limits exactly what you can and cannot edit. And – you have very few templates to choose from in the first place.

You cannot add or edit CSS and add any kind of interactivity.

The design features on offer are simple and straightforward – but they are all Google Drive related design tools. There’s some embedding but no editing the embed details.

Although the templates look good, you can’t edit the layouts or any of the core parameters.

For example, with your navigation menu, you get to choose from the top right or the sidebar…and that’s it. There’s no 3rd option or even re-arranging.

Google Sites Template Options

The templates look good on all devices but impose strict limits on everything to make this feature happen.

If you want to build any sort of brand identity or build a custom design with tempates – then you’ll be sorely limited with Google Sites.

Limited Marketing Features

Google Sites’ marketing features are sorely limited as well. As a professional marketer, this negative is particularly glaring.

You get Google Analytics access so that you can have critical data like Sessions and Pageviews and such…but that’s about it.

Google Sites Analytics Options

There’s no adding a Facebook Pixel, Share Buttons or Redirects. If you’re into SEO, there’s no editing your Title tag or meta description.

Now – if you get all your traffic from offline methods, direct web referrals, or word of mouth then these tools may not matter.

However, since marketing data is only as useful as the amount of historical data you have – if you ever have plans to grow or use other marketing channels, then Google Sites will not be a good option.

Custom Domain Setup

All Google Sites use https://sites.google.com/[yoursitename] as the default domain name. Unlike Classic Google Sites, there is no option to add a custom domain name.

Google Sites Domain Name Options

I don’t know why. The feature might be coming since Google rolled out custom domains to the new Google Sites for G Suite subscribers.

Either way – this is a major downside for Google Sites as a business or even a personal website. While not strictly necessary for a successful website, a domain name is fundamental for any long-term project.

It’s this missing feature that really highlights the fact that Google Sites is really only for temporary projects or internal uses – similar to a Google Doc or Presentation.

Future-Proofing

Google is notorious for killing off products – including really popular ones. And while Google Sites does seem to be a core part of Google’s productivity suite…that could change at any time (as is the case with the Classic Google Sites).

And while you can export your data as part of Google’s Takeout program, there’s no way to directly export or access your account via FTP within Google Sites.

If you are running a business or even a personal site on Google Sites, you should be aware that it could go away at some point in the future and you should have a plan for that.

Google Sites Comparison

Google Sites is a good product that serves a purpose – but how does it compare directly with other products in the website builder world?

Google Sites vs. Squarespace

I reviewed Squarespace here. If you have a small, temporary project, then Google Sites will be the fit. Squarespace is pricey and has its own learning curve. But – if you have a long-term business or personal project and you value well-done templates that display high-quality photography, then Squarespace will be a better fit.

Google Sites vs. Wix

I reviewed Wix here. Wix has a free plan where you use a [yoursitename].wix.com domain name – so in some ways it’s similar to Google Sites. But with Wix, you have premium plans and access to custom domains. They also offer more features on their free plan. Wix has similar issues to other website builders, but unless you are building a very small free project, then I’d go with Wix. Unlike Google Sites, Wix at least allows you to design more and grow out of the free plan. See Wix’s plans & pricing here.

Google Sites vs. GoDaddy’s Website Builder

I reviewed GoDaddy’s Website Builder (aka “GoCentral) here. It is very feature limited compared to Google Sites…but it’s also super easy to use with a few more marketing tools. Critically, it allows you to seamlessly integrate a custom domain. However, it’s also a paid product. If you have some budget and want a custom domain, but do not want/need many features – then I’d use GoDaddy’s Website Builder. For a free price point – you’ll get a similar product with Google Sites.

Google Sites vs. Weebly

I reviewed Weebly here. Weebly is a solid hosted website builder. They have a free plan with a [yoursitename].weebly.com domain name – but they also have upgrade options and custom domain name options and interesting beginner-level ecommerce options. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use Weebly for their drag & drop and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. WordPress.com

I wrote about WordPress.com vs. WordPress here. WordPress.com has a free plan that is limited to [yoursitename].wordpress.com domain name. The setup is focused on blogging – but they have website features & plenty of upgrade options – including a custom domain option. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use WordPress.com for their design features and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. Self-hosted WordPress

I wrote about setting up a WordPress website here. This option requires some budget (about $5/mo) and has some learning curve, but it’s also the best long-term option for businesses investing in their online presence. If you have simple, short-term project with a definite end then I’d just use Google Sites. If you know that you have a long-term project, then you’ll want to invest in the learning curve and go ahead and set up your own site on your own hosting.

Conclusion & Next Steps

So – is Google Sites good for small business? Yes…ish. As a defined short-term solution or project-based solution, it’s great. Go set up your site here.

But…if you have a short-term project that might expand, then I’d look at other options. Take my best website builder quiz here.

If you have a project that is long-term and worth investing in, then I’d go ahead and get your self-hosted website setup w/ instructions here.

The post Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Sam’s Club VS Costco Credit Card: Which Is Best For Your Business?

Sam’s Club and Costco are the two biggest wholesale clubs (also known as warehouse clubs) in America, and it so happens that each one offers a consumer credit card.

The Sam’s Club Mastercard and the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi have a lot in common. The two cards have similar APRs, a similar annual fee structure (both cards technically lack an annual fee, but you must be a member of the wholesale club to get the card, and each wholesale club has an annual fee), and similar cash back rewards. However, as you’ll see, there are a few key differences.

Let’s see who comes out on top in a battle between Sam’s Club and Costco for wholesaler credit card supremacy.

Sam’s Club Mastercard Citi Costco Anywhere Visa

Sam’s Club Mastercard

Citi Costco Anywhere Visa

$0 but Sam’s Club membership is required and starts at $45/year

Annual Fee

$0 but Costco membership is required and starts at $60/year

17.15% – 25.15%, Variable

Purchase APR

17.49%, Variable

Get $45 as a statement credit when you make a $45+ purchase the same day you get your card

Bonus Offer

None

N/A

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

0%

Foreign Transaction Fee

0%

  • 5% cash back on first $6,000/year spent on gas, 1% thereafter
  • 3% on dining/travel
  • 1% on everything else
  • Max cash back per year is capped at $5,000
Rewards
  • 4% cash back on first $7,000/year spent on gas, 1% thereafter
  • 3% on dining/travel
  • 2% on Costco/Costco.com
  • 1% on everything else
  • No cap on cash back/year

Compare

Compare

Eligibility Requirements

The Sam’s Club Mastercard requires good to excellent credit (a credit score of 690+) while the Citi Costco Anywhere Visa requires excellent credit (a credit score of 720+).

Fees & Interest Rates

Sadly, neither card features an introductory 0% APR period, so be aware that you’ll be on the hook for interest charges immediately if you start carrying a balance from month to month.

As for the purchase APR, the Sam’s Club Mastercard offers a variable APR of either 17.15% or 25.15%, depending on your credit. By contrast, the Costco Anywhere Visa sports a variable APR of 17.49% for all cardholders. With great credit, you can qualify for a lower APR with the Sam’s Club card, but on the other hand, Costco won’t try to hit you with a 20+% APR no matter what your credit.

Technically, neither card has an annual fee. However, you have to be a member of each wholesale club in order to get either card, and each club has an annual fee. Sam’s Club memberships cost $45 (baseline membership) or $100 (premium membership) while Costco membership costs $60 (baseline) or $120 (premium). Sam’s Club has a slight edge here.

Neither card has a foreign transaction fee.

Bonus Offer

The Sam’s Club Mastercard currently has a modest bonus offer: $45 as a statement credit when you make a $45+ purchase on the same day you receive your card (offer ends June 15, 2019).

The Costco Anywhere Visa has no bonus offer.

Winner: Sam’s Club!

Earning & Redeeming Rewards

Sam’s Club and Costco have remarkably similar cash back programs. The Sam’s Club Mastercard offers the following rewards:

  • 5% cash back on your first $6,000 in gas purchases per year (1% cash back thereafter)
  • 3% cash back on dining and travel purchases
  • 1% cash back on everything else
  • You can earn a maximum of $5,000 cash back per year
  • Cash back can be redeemed only once a year in the form of a check that can only be cashed at a Sam’s Club outlet

As for the Citi Costco Anywhere card:

  • 4% cash back on gas at eligible gas stations worldwide (including Costco), max $7,000 per year
  • 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases
  • 2% cash back on purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No cap on the amount of cash back you can earn per year
  • Rewards are redeemable only once a year as a check that can only be cashed at a Costco

First, the similarities: Both cards offer 3% cash back on dining and travel purchases, both cards offer 1% cash back on all non-bonus categories, and both cards have the same inconvenient and cumbersome redemption system in which you can only redeem your cash back once per year and only inside a physical Sam’s Club/Costco store. Let’s now look at the three main differences.

The first difference: The Sam’s Club card offers 5% cash back on gas while the Costco card only offers 4% on gas. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that your first $7K in gas spending per year gets you the high cash back rate with the Costco card, whereas with the Sam’s Club Mastercard, the first $6K in annual gas spending gets you 5% cash back. Doing the math reveals that you can earn a maximum of $300 in cash back on gas with the Sam’s Club card before your gas cash back rate reverts to 1%. With the Costco card, that number is $280 — just a $20 difference. Slight edge to Sam’s Club here.

The second difference: Costco’s Anywhere Visa gives you an elevated 2% earning rate (not great, but better than 1%) on spending at Costco and costco.com. By contrast, the Sam’s Club card does not reward your Sam’s Club spending with extra cash back. Your Sam’s Club purchases (in-store and online) will earn you just 1% cash back, the standard rate. The Citi Costco card wins this point.

The final difference, and the most significant one for the consumer or entrepreneur who spends a lot on the bonus categories in question here, is that Costco does not cap the amount of cash back you can earn per year. The Sam’s Club Mastercard does cap your annual cash back rewards — at $5,000 per year. As the Costco card wins this point, the Costco card wins this category by a hair, but if your card spending goes mainly towards gas, the Sam’s Club Mastercard might be better for you.

Benefits & Other Perks

Let’s look at what you’ll get in terms of extraneous benefits from the two cards in question. The Sam’s Club Mastercard will get you:

  • Identity theft resolution services
  • Price protection
  • Extended warranty

The Citi Costco Anywhere Visa comes with more benefits:

  • Travel & emergency assistance
  • Zero-liability fraud protection
  • Citi price rewind
  • Purchase protection
  • Extended warranty
  • Worldwide travel accident insurance
  • Trip cancellation & interruption protection
  • Worldwide car rental insurance

The Citi Costco card clearly has the edge here.

Which Is Best For Your Business?

Choose Sam’s Club Mastercard If…

  • Sam’s Club is your favorite (or most conveniently located) wholesale club
  • You plan to use your card predominantly on gas purchases
  • You’re looking for a bonus offer from your card
  • Your credit score is between 690 and 720

Sam’s Club Mastercard


Sam's Club Mastercard

Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.15% – 25.15%, Variable

Choose Citi Costco Anywhere Visa If…

  • Costco is your favorite (or most conveniently located) wholesale club
  • You spend a lot on the bonus categories and don’t want your annual cash back capped
  • You want your card to earn you extra cash back when you shop at your wholesaler

Final Thoughts

The Sam’s Club Mastercard and the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi are so similar that if you’re deciding between these two cards, it’s probably going to come down to whether you prefer Sam’s Club or Costco. All else being equal, however, I’m inclined to give the Citi Costco card a narrow victory. That’s because the Costco Anywhere Visa a) doesn’t cap your annual cash back and b) offers 2% cash back when shopping at Costco (in-store and online). The Sam’s Club Mastercard caps your annual cash back and only offers 1% cash back at Sam’s Club, thus losing this battle.

However, the inconvenient and inflexible reward redemption programs of both cards mean that most consumers will be better served getting an “ordinary” cash back credit card offering better cash back redemption and other features these cards lack, such as an introductory 0% APR and a generous bonus offer.

Thinking about using a personal credit card to fund your business? Check out our helpful guide to using personal credit cards for business.

The post Sam’s Club VS Costco Credit Card: Which Is Best For Your Business? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee

How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee

Even though you are not legally required to purchase health insurance for a single employee by law, there are still great reasons to offer health benefits. In addition to attracting quality applicants for your position, your business also runs better when your employee is happy and healthy. And it may not be as expensive as you think.

Here is a quick rundown on procuring health insurance for both yourself and your employee. The good news? It doesn’t have to be a difficult process!

What Is Health Insurance?

How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee

Small business health insurance is medical coverage that helps you pay for general medical care, routine physicals and health exams, surgeries, and medical emergencies. Each health insurance plan is a unique combination of options that run the gamut between deductibles and no deductibles, copays or no copays, and choices about medical providers.

Is Health Insurance Legally Required For Small Businesses?

The answer to this question in general is: Maybe! But it’s not legally required if you only have one employee.

Here’s a break down of the recent health insurance laws and what they mean for your small business.

In 2010, the Federal Government passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and through that health care mandate, over twenty-million more Americans have had access to health insurance who didn’t before. Many of those people were sole-proprietors, independent contractors, and small business owners. Better known as “Obamacare,” the health mandate extended to employers and required businesses of a certain size to provide health insurance.

So, what exactly does the Affordable Care Act mandate? If your business is considered an Applicable Large Employer (ALE) with 50 or more full-time employees for more than six months out of the year, then you will need to provide your employees with health insurance as a legal requirement of the ACA.

If your business is not an ALE, then supplying health care for your employees is a choice. 

So as a small business owner with only one employee, you are not required to have health insurance. But, just because you don’t have to provide it doesn’t mean you should overlook health insurance as an option. Providing health care is not only a choice but also a wise investment in the happiness and well being of your employees, and the government offers tax credits to businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees who supply health coverage.

Can You Have Health Insurance With One Employee?

How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee

Can you provide health insurance for your small business if you only have one other employee? Yes! You can! If your business consists of just you and one other person, you can offer health coverage in several ways. However, before you start shopping for plans, it’s important to understand what types of plans will be available to you and what you’ll need to show and prove to start the process.

What Constitutes An Employee?

Insurance companies have a specific definition of an employee. If you are looking into acquiring group health insurance for you and an employee, first you’ll have to prove that you actually have a single employee while you are filling out applications. According to the definitions, a common law employee cannot be you (the business owner) or your spouse. An employee is defined as someone whose workload you control, both in what that work is and how that work is performed — and that person must also be working at least 30 hours a week. An independent contractor cannot be considered an employee.

If you do not have a qualifying employee, group health insurance isn’t an option. Don’t let that discourage you from finding coverage, however. There are many independent and family plans available when during open-enrollment periods.

Can I Enroll In Group Health Insurance With One Employee?

If you have one employee as defined above (a person whose workload you control, who puts in at least 30 hours, and who is not your spouse), then you absolutely can enroll in group health insurance with one employee. If you have between 1-50 employees, the government’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) group health plans are available to you.

SHOP will walk you through the process of determining eligibility, sending you to your state’s group health plan, or helping you compare and shop available plans in your area. After that, you can sign-up directly through the insurance platforms offered in your state or work with a SHOP broker who can walk you through the process. You will need to have information on the following aspects of your business:

  • Your business address
  • How many employees you are insuring
  • Employee ages, zip codes, number of dependents (sometimes tobacco use)
  • Business name
  • Tax ID

The Benefits Of Group Health Insurance

Even though group insurance isn’t your only option, it has many benefits. Here are some of the reasons why group health insurance is a worthwhile consideration:

  • Tax Credits: Under the guidelines of the ACA and the tax codes for 2019, you may be eligible for a tax credit if you enroll your business in group coverage and you have between 1-25 employees.
  • Lower Costs Than Individual Plans: Prior to the group health plans offered for small businesses with one employee, the alternative was to purchase individual plans. However, with each new person added on to a group plan, the cost per policy lowers.
  • Coverage Designed Specifically For You: Group health insurance broadens the plans and providers you can choose from, whereas with independent insurance, you get what you get. With group health insurance, you and your employee can discuss health options and choose a group health plan that fits with your needs. The opportunity to choose the deductibles and copays you want is one valuable reason to go through a group insurance provider.
  • Better For Your Business: Three-quarters of job-seekers say that health insurance and benefits are one of the key factors they are looking for in a job.

How To Enroll In Group Health Insurance

Once you’ve decided to enroll in group health insurance, you will need to gather your company’s information and your employee information to start the process. Here are the steps you’ll need to go through to fully enroll you and your employee with a group health insurance program:

Step #1: Set A Budget

Examine your business’s budget and ask yourself: How much money should I allot to health care? How much will I contribute per employee? You want to choose a plan that offers good coverage to your employee, but that also fits within your business’s budget. This will play a large role in which business insurance plan you choose. It’s vital to know exactly what you are paying for and what you might be asking your employees to pay for.

Step #2: Know What Plan & Benefits You Need

What kind of coverage are you hoping to offer? Go prepared to your first meeting with a provider or broker with an idea of what kind of policy would benefit your employee the most. Decide if you are going to include ancillary insurance options like dental and vision to the policy.

Step #3: Gather The Proper Documents

To receive an accurate health insurance quote from an insurance broker, you’ll need to provide some numbers and documentation. Before you call an agent or a broker, make sure you have gathered and prepared the proper documents. Most often, you’ll need to provide your:

  • Business address
  • Employee information
  • Business name
  • Tax ID

Step #4: Start Shopping

Whether you pass along your information to a broker or head to the SHOP site or other online sites for your state, now you’re ready to actually start shopping. Decide if you want to choose the broker approach or head out on your own. (If you decide to outsource to a Professional Employer Organization, they will take it from here!)

Step #5: Compare Quotes

Study the numbers and look at the plans. Sometimes the cheapest plan may not be in your best interest as a small business owner. Examine how much you can buy and how the plans work for your employees. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, push for numbers, and run scenarios with the experts. When comparing quotes and choosing the right health provider, do your research.

Read on for more advice about choosing the right health insurance provider for your small business.

Finding The Right Health Insurance Plan

How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee

Health insurance is a complicated issue and can feel overwhelming. So, how do small business owners (with all their extra free-time) navigate the system and find the perfect health plan choice? Start with understanding your needs as an employer; make sure you know the basic terms (co-pay, deductibles, co-insurance, out-of-pocket expenses), decide how much you can afford, and compare how different networks will work best. 

There are several ways you can compare and contrast providers and plans. Healthcare.gov offers ratings of health plans and under an in-network plan, you can plug their name into the system and see availability and ranking. You can then sit down with the list of providers in your area and look at their rankings as well.

See our longer post on small business health insurance for more things to think about as you make your choice.

Getting Started

If you can demonstrate you have one employee, then you are set to explore group health options for your company. The best place to start would be the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) group health plans. Tool around their site, enter your information, and see what options are available.

Health insurance is not a trivial purchase — your employees work harder and better when they feel protected and healthy. Now, with the addition of the tax benefits and expanded options, it’s easy to finally make it happen.

The post How Health Insurance Works For Small Businesses With Only One Employee appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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