How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Do you have a tendency to share your knowledge and experience with others? Do you enjoy giving advice that helps others better their businesses … or their lives? Did you know that you could get paid just for sharing your expertise?

While it may sound too good to be true, that’s exactly what a consultant does. A consultant is an expert that provides knowledge, expertise, and training to others for a fee. Consultants advise their clients on a variety of topics, from how to implement the latest technology to how to create a successful marketing campaign.

Becoming a consultant does not require special training, credentials, or education. You simply need to be an expert in your field. You also need to have passion — not just for your industry but for helping others truly find the right solutions for their problems.

Consultants are organized, know how to network, and are always willing to learn more about their field to provide the best services to their clients.

If this sounds like you, becoming a consultant may be your new career path. The great thing about consulting is that anyone with knowledge and expertise can do it. Starting your own consulting business has low overhead costs and doesn’t require a lot of capital from the get-go. In fact, you can even start your own business from your home office.

But maybe your goals are much bigger. Maybe you want to have the top consulting firm in your area. It doesn’t matter if you want to simply be your own boss and make a decent income or if you want to grow your business to epic proportions — this guide is for you.

We’ll explore the steps you need to take to get your business off the ground. From finding your niche to funding expenses and spreading the word about your business, this guide explores what it takes to open and operate a successful consulting business. Let’s jump in and get started!

Pick Your Niche

business loan reasons

We’ve all heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” When clients are seeking a consultant, they don’t want someone that knows a little bit about everything. Instead, they want to work with a consultant that knows everything about one thing. This is why it’s so important to pick your niche.

To get started, consider your skills and knowledge. What industry are you familiar with? Clients are looking for an expert in their field, so identifying the industries you already know is important when selecting your niche.

Next, you need to consider what problems and pain points your chosen industry is facing. You can do online research to find out what challenges are common in this industry. Check out blogs and industry forums to get an idea of common complaints and problems. You can even talk directly with people in the industry to find out what obstacles and setbacks they face.

Once armed with this information, you need to identify your own skills and knowledge that could be applied to this field. For example, let’s say you’re knowledgeable about the construction industry. One of the common pain points in this industry is a lack of communications. Are you familiar with mobile and cloud-based software? Great! You could use this knowledge to help businesses streamline communications and improve efficiency.

When you start your consulting business, your goal shouldn’t just be something generic like, “I want to help other business owners.” Instead, you should have a more specific purpose in mind. “I help businesses in this industry find and implement the newest and best software solutions to grow their business in just 3 months.” This also serves as your value proposition. In other words, this is the value you offer; something that sets you apart from other consultants. Remember to effectively communicate to your clients what you can do for them.

Still unsure of where to get started? Consider one of these niches for your consulting businesses:

  • Biotech
  • Cannabis Business
  • College
  • Construction
  • Customer Service
  • Dental
  • Financial
  • Food Safety
  • Grant Writing
  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Information Technology
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Medical
  • Nutrition
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Safety
  • Sales
  • Security
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supply Chain
  • Technology

After you’ve selected your niche, do your research to find out what certifications and licenses you need to legally operate your business. In most instances, you’ll find that a business license in your state of operations is all that you need to open your consulting business.

One last thing to remember is that even if you’re knowledgeable about your niche right now, industry trends and changes can occur in an instant. Make sure you stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry to ensure you’re always qualified to assist your clients.

Make Your Business Plan

Even if your consulting business seems pretty straightforward, it’s still necessary to have a business plan. There are a few reasons you need a business plan. The first is that your plan maps out your goals and how you plan to reach those goals. A business plan is also necessary when you seek funding through banks or other lenders.

Because every business has a different vision, no two business plans are exactly alike. However, there are a few common components that should be included in all business plans. Those components are:

  • Executive Summary: Highlights what will be discussed in your plan and summarizes what your business hopes to accomplish
  • Company Description: Includes key information about your business and the customers that you will serve
  • Competitive Analysis: Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Organization & Management: An outline of the setup of your organization and names and summaries of the job responsibilities of your management team
  • Market Analysis: An analysis of your industry now and in the future
  • Marketing Plan: An outline of the marketing strategies you will use to draw clients to your business
  • Financial Projections: Your expectations for future revenue based on market research

Register Your Business

Before you launch your business, you have to register with federal, state, and local agencies. You will need to register your business name with the state in which you operate. In addition, you must register with the Internal Revenue Service to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you ever plan to hire employees. It’s imperative to obtain licenses and permits to operate your business based on state and local regulations. You must register your business if you plan to seek business funding now or in the future — or if want to open a business bank account. Establishing a business is legally required, but it also makes you look more professional and legitimate to your clients.

One important step to take when registering your business is choosing your business structure. Your business structure will be important in determining what you’ll pay in taxes. Your business structure may also offer protection from personal liability for the debts and obligations of your business. The different types of business entities include:

Sole Proprietorships

This structure is the easiest to form and does not require filing with the state. With a sole proprietorship, profits and losses from the business are reported on the business owner’s personal tax return. The major drawback of this business structure is that the business owner – you – are held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Partnerships

A partnership is established by businesses with two or more owners. There are three common types of partnerships: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.

  • General Partnership (GP): This type of partnership has the fewest ongoing requirements. These are also the easiest to form and don’t require state filing. The drawback is that partners in a GP are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
  • Limited Partnership (LP): In a limited partnership, only the general partner(s) has unlimited liability. The other partners — known as limited partners – have limited liability. This simply means that personal assets can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): In a limited liability partnership, all partners have limited liability. However, partners may be held liable for their personal actions. This structure is reserved for professional service businesses.

Limited Liability Companies

A limited liability company, or LLC, is independent of its owners. The personal assets of the owners are kept separate from business debts. An LLC is taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and partnerships.

Corporations

If a corporation is the right structure for your business, there are two options to consider: C corporations and S corporations.

  • C-Corporations: C-corporations are independent of their owners. There is no limit on the number of shareholders in a C-corporation. C-corporations are taxed on shareholder dividends and corporate profits.
  • S-Corporations: An S-corporation is also independent of its owners. Owners report their share of the profits and losses on their own personal income tax returns. There are limitations to the number of shareholders with this structure.

When choosing your business structure, you need to keep a few considerations in mind. If you have multiple owners, a partnership is a good route to take. If you want to protect your personal assets but don’t want a higher tax rate, consider establishing an LLC. If you plan to raise large amounts of capital in the future, a corporation might work best for you. You can learn more about what business structure best fits your needs by consulting with an attorney or accountant.

Get Business Insurance

Do I need business interruption insurance

Business insurance is critical for the protection of your business. From property insurance that protects your office building to liability insurance that safeguards you from lawsuits, there are a few different types of business insurance to consider for your consulting business.

General Liability Insurance

If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you need general liability insurance. This protects your business in the event that something happens to a client on your property. For example, if a client slips and falls in your office, they could file a lawsuit against you. With general liability insurance, you won’t have to pay all associated costs out-of-pocket.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance is also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. This type of insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed by clients. Let’s say that you consult with a client on a project, and the project ultimately ends up failing. The client believes that the failure of the project was your fault and files a lawsuit. If you have E&O insurance, attorney’s fees, settlement expenses, and court costs will be covered up to the full amount of your policy.

Worker’s Compensation

If you have employees, worker’s compensation is another type of insurance your business needs. Worker’s compensation covers the medical expenses, wages, and legal fees of an employee that is injured on the job or suffers a work-related ailment. Most states require all W2 employees to be covered under worker’s compensation insurance, but laws vary by state.

Commercial Property Insurance

If you have a commercial property for your consulting business, consider getting commercial property insurance to protect your assets. This type of insurance protects you from losses that may occur from burglary, fire, or natural disasters.

Separate Personal & Business Expenses

It may be tempting to simply use your own personal bank account and credit cards for your business. Since the business is yours, there’s no harm in mixing your business and personal finances, right?

Actually, the wisest move is to keep your business and personal finances separate. One of the most important reasons for doing this is because it will make filing your taxes much easier. Imagine that the deadline is ticking to file your return with the IRS, and you (or your accountant) are stuck spending hours separating business and personal records. If you’re audited after filing, having separate records for business and personal income/expenses will make the process go much more smoothly.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate is also helpful in limiting your liabilities from creditors. If there is no clear separation between you and the business, creditors could potentially use your personal assets for unpaid debts and obligations, even if your business is structured as a corporation or LLC.

Separation of personal and business expenses is also important for building your business credit. If you’re using your own personal credit cards, you may increase your personal credit score. However, this won’t affect your business credit history. If you plan on applying for business loans in the future, boosting your business credit profile is critical to qualifying for higher loan amounts and the best rates and terms.

The first step to separating your business and personal finances is to open a business checking account. This bank account can be used for depositing money, writing checks to vendors, making online payments, and keeping an eye on the expenses and income of your business. To open an account, you will need your EIN, Social Security Number, business address, and business license. You may also need other documentation, such as a copy of the articles of incorporation on file with your state.

Even though you can keep an eye on your finances through your business bank account, it’s also important to set up a dedicated accounting system for your business. This will allow you to closely keep track of the money coming in and going out of your business. You may opt to hire a bookkeeper for this task, or you can use accounting software to track everything yourself. We’ll go into more details on this type of software a little later.

Finally, you can apply for a business credit card to cover recurring expenses for your business, such as your lease or utility payments. Using and paying off your business credit card responsibly will help strengthen your business credit profile.

Unsure of which card is right for you? Start with these recommendations.

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card rewards you just for using your card on business expenses. You can receive 5% cash back on internet, cable, phone services, and purchases from office supply stores. However, this is capped at the first $25,000 spent each anniversary year.

You can also earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations and restaurants. This is also capped at the first $25,000 spent per anniversary year.

For the rest of your purchases, you can take advantage of unlimited 1% cash back rewards. As a new cardholder, you can receive a bonus of $500 cash back if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

This credit card has a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, interest rates are 15.49% to 21.49% based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee associated with this card.

Additional benefits for Chase Ink Business Cash cardholders include free employee cards, purchase protection, and extended warranty protection. You must have excellent credit to qualify for this credit card.

Spark Cash Select For Business

Spark Cash Select From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Cash Select for Business is designed for borrowers with excellent credit scores. One of the standout features of this card is the unlimited 1.5% cash back you receive just by using your card. You can cash out your rewards at any time.

If you become a new cardmember and spend $3,0000 within the first 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive a $200 cash bonus.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a 0% introductory APR for the first 9 months. After the introductory period, your APR will be from 15.24% to 23.24% based on creditworthiness. This card does not have an annual fee, and you can receive employee cards at no cost.

Seek Business Funding

One of the best things about setting up your consulting business is that you may be able to get started with very little capital. Ultimately, though, this depends on the goals of your business. For example, if you plan to only consult with clients online, you can work right out of your home office. This eliminates the need for a dedicated commercial office, which comes with expenses such as monthly rent and utility payments.

On the other hand, you might want to open a brick-and-mortar business immediately. This would require more capital from the start. Even if you start small, you may later expand your business by purchasing or leasing a larger building and hiring employees.

Whether you start off big or you plan to grow in the future, you’ll need capital. In some cases, you may be able to use your revenue to fund your expenses and growth. In other instances, you’ll need a financial boost from a business lender.

Fortunately, there are many financing options out there if you know where to look. Let’s explore the types of funding available to you, along with our lender recommendations.

Personal Savings

If you would prefer to not work with a lender, using personal savings is an option available to you. If you use your own money, you don’t have to worry about making payments to a lender. You’ll also save money because you won’t pay interest or fees that are charged by a lender. On the downside, if your business isn’t successful, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

Have a friend or family member with cash to invest? Pitch them your business idea and let them know why investing in you is a great idea. Have your business plan in hand and present your ideas to them just as you would any other lender. If they decide you’re worth the investment, make sure to get everything in writing to protect all parties.

There are two ways to get loans from someone you know. You can choose debt financing, which means that you’ll make payments toward your principal balance plus interest on a regularly scheduled basis, just like a traditional loan. Or you can receive money in exchange for ownership in your business – also known as equity financing. While you won’t have to repay immediately, your friend or family member will collect a share of the profits over time. Depending on your agreement, they may also have some level of control in the decision-making process of your business.

Unsure of which route to take? Learn more about debt vs. equity financing to determine which option is best for your business.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

What if there was a way to get the capital you need to start or grow your business without taking on debt? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But with a rollovers as business startups (ROBS) plan, you can do just that. The only catch? You have to have a qualifying retirement plan.

Early withdrawal of your retirement funds results in penalties. However, a ROBS plan allows you to leverage your funds without having to pay these penalties.

With a ROBS plan, you set up a new C-corporation. Then, you create a retirement plan for your newly created corporation. Next, you roll over funds from your existing retirement plan. These funds can be used to purchase stock in your new business, providing you with the capital you need to start or expand your business.

The best part of a ROBS plan is that you’re using your own funds. This means no debt, no interest or fees, and no repayments to a lender. However, you are putting your retirement funds at risk if your business fails.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

Many small business owners that get capital through a ROBS plan hire a ROBS provider to do the heavy lifting. Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you get started.

To set up a ROBS plan with Guidant Financial, you need to have a retirement plan or pension account with at least $50,000. Most plans qualify, including:

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

Guidant Financial can help you roll over up to 100% of your account balance. In addition to having a qualifying plan, you must also meet these requirements:

  • Must be an employee of the business
  • Must have a business to fund

You can use your funds for any business purpose, whether you’re buying an existing business, funding startup costs, or paying expenses related to expansion.

To get started, you must pay a $4,995 startup fee. Since this isn’t a loan, you won’t have to make debt repayments. However, you will have to pay a monthly administration fee.

If you don’t qualify for a ROBS plan or you’re seeking other types of funding, Guidant Financial offers other options including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, unsecured business loans, and equipment leases.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is one of the most flexible forms of financing. This is a type of revolving credit (similar to a credit card) that allows you to make multiple draws. As you repay your principal balance (plus fees and interest), funds will become available to use again. Fees and interest are only charged on the borrowed portion of funds.

With your line of credit, you can initiate draws as needed. Once you draw funds, they’ll be transferred to your bank account and are available to use in 1 to 3 business days in most cases.

You can spend up to and including the credit limit set by your lender. Most lines of credit can be used for any business purpose but are particularly useful for unexpected expenses, filling revenue gaps, or covering extra expenses due to a seasonal increase in business.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a lender that has lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified small business owners. The lender charges set draw fees starting at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You can choose to repay Fundbox over terms of 12 or 24 weeks, and payments are automatically deducted from your linked business checking account.

You can be approved instantly and put your line of credit to work for you immediately. Once you initiate a draw from your account, funds will hit your bank account within 1 to 3 business days.

Qualifying for a Fundbox line of credit is easy. The minimum requirements are:

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

Your credit limit will be based on the performance of your business.

Equipment Loans

Whether your consulting business is home-based or you operate out of a commercial property, you will need some equipment to get started. Some equipment you may need for your business includes a computer, printer, office furniture, and computer software. If you don’t have the funds available in your bank account, consider applying for equipment financing.

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment, furniture, and fixtures for your business. Equipment loans can also be used to purchase a commercial vehicle if one is needed to drive to meet your clients if you don’t want to take out an auto loan. There are two types of equipment financing available: equipment loans and equipment leases.

With an equipment loan, you’ll make regularly scheduled payments to a lender over a set period of time, such as five years. Each payment will be applied to the principal – the amount you borrowed – as well as fees and interest charged by the lender. Once you’ve made all payments as scheduled, the equipment belongs to you. You can continue to put the equipment into use or sell it.

With equipment leases, you also make scheduled payments to a lender. However, your lease terms are typically a few years shorter. Once you’ve made all scheduled payments, you return the equipment and sign a new lease for new equipment. You never truly own the equipment, but this is a good option for anyone that wants to update their equipment every few years.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator that can connect you with its financing partners to help you get the best financing offer for your situation.

One of the financial products offered through Lendio is equipment financing. You may qualify for funding of $5,000 to $5 million for the purchase of your equipment. Loan terms are 1 to 5 years with interest rates starting at 7.5%.

Your funds can be used for almost any equipment purchase, including software, furniture and fixtures, and even appliances and HVAC units for your office.

To qualify, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 12 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above

If you don’t meet these requirements, Lendio may still have an option for you. Just fill out a quick application to find out what you can qualify to receive. Lendio also offers additional financial solutions, including SBA loans, lines of credit, term loans, and startup loans.

Personal Loans For Business

If you’re a brand-new business, you may not qualify for other financing options. This is because lenders look at annual revenue, business credit profile, and your time in business to determine if you’re a risky borrower. If you don’t meet these qualifications, you won’t be able to get affordable small business funding.

However, there is an alternative solution. You can apply for a personal loan to use for business purposes. With this type of financing, a lender considers your personal credit history and income to determine if you qualify.

In most cases, you can use a personal loan for business for any purpose, from purchasing needed equipment to hiring new employees, using as working capital, or paying startup costs.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart personal loans are available in amounts from $1,000 to $50,000. APRs range from 7.54% to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 3 or 5 years.

Upstart’s lending partners consider more than just your credit score when determining whether to approve your loan. Your years of credit, education, area of study, and job history are also considered during the application process.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must have:

  • Personal credit score of 620 or above
  • Solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts or accounts in collections
  • Less than 6 inquiries in the last 6 months

Business Credit Cards

We’ve already discussed business credit cards earlier as part of keeping your business and personal accounts separate. Business credit cards are great to have on-hand for unexpected expenses or recurring expenses for your business.

You can even score rewards just for using your credit card. Look for a rewards card that offers cash back or points to use toward perks like travel to get the most out of your card.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business card is available to business owners with average credit. This card offers a 25.24% variable APR and no annual fee. Using your card responsibly helps build your business credit profile so you can qualify for other cards and financing offers in the future.

You can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases with no minimum required to redeem. Other benefits include fraud coverage and alerts and employee cards at no additional cost.

Choose Business Software

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Choosing the right business software can help you run your consulting business more efficiently. The first type of software you should invest in is accounting software or an online bookkeeping system. This allows you to keep track of your income and expenses, run financial reports, send invoices, and access your financials for tax purposes. As your business grows, you may opt to hire a bookkeeper or accountant, but in the beginning, you may be able to tackle this task yourself using the right accounting software.

New to accounting? Download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting, to get a handle on the basics.

You’ll also need software that’s used for managing clients — from keeping updated contact information all in one place to setting and tracking appointments. There are programs designed specifically for consultants that offer client management, project management, tasks, and other features.

To accept payments other than cash, you’ll also need payment processing software. This software communicates between your bank and the bank of your client, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other forms of payment. If your business is going to be based solely online, you can sign up for an online payment solution.

Finally, if you plan to do online consulting, you must invest in video conferencing software. There are multiple options available — some at no cost and others that charge a monthly fee.

Set Your Rates

In order for your business to be successful, you have to have revenue. Without revenue, you won’t be able to pay your expenses or the salaries of yourself or your employees. Without revenue, you also won’t be able to grow your business.

To make sure your business is successful and profitable, you need to set your rates. This can be a balancing act for most consultants. If you set your rates too high, it may scare away potential clients. If you shortchange yourself and set your rates too low, clients may not take you seriously or you might not bring in enough revenue to cover your expenses.

To set your rates, first decide how your pay structure will look. You have three options: per project, hourly rates, and retainers.

If you charge per project, you will need to figure out how long the project will be, what expenses may be incurred, and other factors. You may choose to bill for the entire project or break it down into monthly payments.

You can also charge an hourly rate. Take a look at your expenses and determine how much you would need to charge to be profitable. Also, be aware that the higher your rate is, the more your clients will expect from you. If you have the credentials, training, and education to justify charging $500 per hour, your clients will have high expectations of what you’ll provide.

Finally, you can also work on a retainer basis. With a retainer, you will work a specific number of hours for one set monthly fee.

When calculating your rates, make sure to list all of the expenses of your business. You will need to make at least enough revenue to cover these costs.

You also need to find out what your competitors are charging for their services. You can do this by going online to their websites, checking out their brochures, or making a quick phone call. Unless you have an obvious advantage over other consultants in your area, you want to make sure that your fees are competitive.

Bolster Your Web Presence

webbased

Prospective clients are going to have a difficult time finding you if you don’t have a web presence. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest thousands of dollars in setting up a fancy new website. However, you do need to have at least a basic website and social media profiles to provide clients with critical information about your business.

You can get started by setting up free social media pages on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Your pages should include your contact information, the services you offer, and office hours. As your business grows, you can post news and updates, videos, photos, and other media to draw in clients.

You also need to set up a company website. You could pay a web designer, but at this stage, you can certainly tackle the task yourself. Easy website builders make it simple to set up your website in just minutes, even if you’ve never created a website before. Make sure that you include your contact information, areas served, and the services you offer. If you have any credentials or training, add that information to your website, as well.

Later, you can add additional features to your website, such as videos, online appointment scheduling, and client testimonials.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks, check out our article on creating and maintaining your online presence.

Market Your Business

business loans for HVAC

Building your web presence is one way to get your name out to the public, but you should also implement a marketing and advertising campaign to further boost your business. The strategy you choose is based on a number of factors, including your marketing budget and your goals for the campaign.

One great way to market your business is through Facebook ads. You can easily set your budget and select your target audience. It only takes a few minutes to get your Facebook ads up and running. Learn more about social media marketing for your business.

Another advertising method you can use is a newsletter. Your newsletter doesn’t need an over-the-top design. Instead, a simple newsletter with important information is most effective. Use your newsletter to discuss current industry trends, current news about your business, and other relevant information. You can send a physical newsletter by mail, but this comes with costs including paper and envelopes, printing, and postage. A more affordable option is to offer an email newsletter. Make sure to include a sign-up option on your website and social media pages.

Another idea is to print up brochures for your business. Your brochure should include your services, your value proposition, the industries you serve, and biographical information, such as your credentials or training.

You can also take your knowledge and leverage it as a guest speaker at an event. You can speak at dinners, luncheons, and other functions for industry events or service organizations. If you don’t want to be a public speaker, you can attend industry events and network with potential clients. Networking is key to running a successful consulting business.

Cold-calling is also a way to attract new clients. Prepare your script before calling local businesses that could use your services. The goal of cold-calling is to get a meeting with the decisionmaker to sell yourself and your services to gain a new client.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the easiest ways to bring in business. Satisfied clients that tell their friends, family, and colleagues about you or who take the time to write a referral or testimonial that you can use on your website can help drive more clients to your business.

Final Thoughts

Sharing your knowledge and expertise with others can be extremely lucrative if you know how to set up your consulting business. With careful planning — selecting your niche, setting your fees, and effectively marketing your business — you’ll have a better chance of reaching new clients and meeting your financial goals. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund An Amazon Business

Have you been thinking about starting an Amazon business? If you said “yes,” and you’re not thinking about a rainforest logging company, you’re probably interested in plugging into the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

As of 2018, Amazon accounted for nearly 50 percent of eCommerce transactions (eCommerce accounts for somewhere north of 10 percent of overall retail sales). If you’re not sure how to tap into that action, you’re not alone. Below, we’ll look at both the necessary and optional steps it takes to get an Amazon business up and running.

Learn How To Sell On Amazon

When people talk about “Amazon businesses,” they’re usually talking about the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) business model. Under an FBA arrangement, Amazon will warehouse and ship your business’s products from their own fulfillment centers. This allows you to take advantage of Amazon’s well-developed storage and shipping infrastructure and processes. It also grants you access to Amazon’s Prime customer-base, most of whom will be looking to buy products that qualify for 2-day shipping. Be aware, however, that FBA comes with both storage and fulfillment fees (which, notoriously, can change at any time), so you’ll need to do some math to figure out if you’re saving money with the service.

Already have a lot of space and want to handle the shipping costs yourself? Or are you trying a dropshipping model? You can still sell on Amazon without taking the FBA route. You can even still tap into the Prime market via Amazon’s Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP) program. In order to qualify, your business has to:

  • Offer premium shipping options
  • Ship 99% of your orders on time
  • Have an order cancellation rate of less than 0.5%
  • Use Amazon Buy Shipping Services for at least 98.5% of orders
  • Deliver orders with Amazon-supported SFP carriers
  • Agree to Amazon’s Returns Policy
  • Allow Amazon to deal with all customer service inquiries
  • Pass a trial period to demonstrate compliance with the above, during which the Prime badge will not be displayed on your items

At the time of writing, there was a waitlist for the SFP program, so bear in mind that you may not be able to jump into it immediately.

Finally, you can simply ignore all this Prime business (and customers, potentially) and just sell products on Amazon.

Decide What You’re Going To Sell & Where You’ll Get It

This is arguably the hardest part of starting an Amazon business. There are countless products you could deal in, but far fewer you should deal in.

Your starting budget can help narrow things down a bit. You want to be able to stock enough inventory to build a brand, not just sell a couple of items and then disappear. Once you have some items in mind, you’ll need to do some research to get a sense of costs and selling prices and see if there’s a niche for that product that you could occupy.

There are numerous ways to go about this, from brute-forcing your way through Amazon’s categories and making a spreadsheet to using popular tools like JungleScout to help find and rate opportunities. Be sure to check out other sales platforms to see the price point at which they’re selling the product. If you’re in the FBA program, you can also use Amazon’s FBA calculator to help sift through data.

Figuring out where to source a product is another part of the puzzle. Do you have a hot connection that can get you products at cost? (Alibaba is a popular tool for finding suppliers, for example.) Are you going to buy popular brands when they’re on sale at retail and then sell them at a higher price point? Are making a product yourself that will compete with similar products on Amazon? Do you need to make dropshipping arrangements with a third party? Remember to think about how sustainable your sourcing method is when creating your strategy.

Finally, also consider the nature of the item you’re sending. Will it sell year-round? Can it be shipped safely without breaking? Is it efficient to ship? Are there state-specific restrictions to consider? The fewer variables you have to worry about, the better.

Determine How Much Money You’ll Need

Once you know how much money you’ll need to launch your business, you can figure out the rest of your costs.

Selling on Amazon, as you can imagine, isn’t free — but it doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re commitment-shy and don’t have a ton of product to move, you can get by on as little as $0.99 per sale. If you’re moving more product, you’ll want to budget $39.99/mo for a Professional account (more on that later).

If you’re going the FBA route, you’ll need to account for Amazon’s fulfillment and monthly inventory fees. The former vary by the weight of the item and, at time of writing, start at $2.41. The latter vary by time of year and the size of the items, ranging from $0.48 to $2.40 per cubic foot.

You’ll probably want to also invest some money in presentation and branding to help your business stand out among competitors. How much this costs can vary depending on who you hire (unless you’re a competent graphic designer yourself), but budget between $200-$300 to get something you’ll be proud of.

Finally, if you’re doing your own fulfillment, make sure you can cover shipping costs.

Determine How You’ll Get Funding

It’s not necessarily that expensive to start an Amazon business, but what do you do if you don’t have the funds to cover your starting expenses? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

The first place you should probably look for spare cash is your own savings. You saved up for a reason, right? Investing in your new business is as good a reason as any.

The nice thing about using your savings is that you don’t have to worry about debt or accumulated interest.

The downside? If your business is a bust, you’ve lost your savings.

Tap Your Support Network

Another option, especially if you don’t have much in personal savings, is to ask friends and family for a loan. Unlike a private lender, your support system probably isn’t trying to make a profit off of you.

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

You’ve probably been warned about leaning too heavily on credit cards, and it’s generally not bad advice. The interest rates can be murder if you carry a balance on your card. However, for purchases that you can pay off quickly, credit cards are actually one of the best ways to buy, especially if you have a card with a reward program that matches your purchasing needs.

Just remember to pay off your credit cards every month, within the interest-free grace period. If your purchase is too large for you to be able to comfortably do that, you’ll probably want to consider another option.

Note: Avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary. They come at a very high cost.

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

You’re going to be spending a lot of time on Amazon, and possibly buying through it, so the Amazon Business Prime American Express Card may give you the most bang for your buck.

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 Prime membership with points alone, but that’s without factoring in money saved through Prime’s programs (shipping, deals, etc).

Personal Loans

Business loans can be hard to come by for new businesses, but you — the human being who owns the business — have presumably been around long enough to acquire a credit history. You can use that to your advantage by getting a personal loan for business purposes.

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.

Lines Of Credit

If you anticipate needing to make a lot of smaller purchases over a long period of time, or even just want some “insurance” to fall back, you may want to consider a line of credit.

A line of credit works a bit like a credit card in that you can tap it whenever you want, in whatever amount you want, so long as your purchase doesn’t exceed your credit limit. Most lines of credit are revolving, which means that, as you pay them off, that credit becomes available for you to use again.

In contrast to credit cards, lines of credit usually have lower interest rates, making them better for the times you have to carry a balance. However, many do have annual fees and some charge a fee whenever you tap them, and they can take up to 24 hours to process your request. You also generally (there are exceptions) won’t find the generous rewards programs you’ll find with credit cards.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox provides lines of credit up to $100,000 to U.S. businesses. There’s no minimum credit score, you just have to have annual revenue of at least $50,000.

Fundbox charges based on the amount you draw, but fees start at 4.66%. Repayments are made weekly over 12 or 24 weeks.

Vendor Financing

Vendor financing is a very specialized form of business loan where a company will lend a buyer a sum of money, which the buyer then uses to buy inventory from the vendor.

Recommended Option: Amazon Lending

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Did you know Amazon offers loans to sellers on its platform? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Amazon doesn’t really advertise the service much, and you can only access it by invitation. Knowing that it is an option, however, may be useful should it arise.

Amazon loans range between $1,000 and $750,000, and must be used to purchase inventory to sell on Amazon. Rather than being based on your credit score, Amazon loans are based on your performance on the site.

Purchase Order Financing

Another highly specialized type of financing that sellers can tap into is purchase order financing (sometimes just “purchase financing”). Basically, purchase financing is used to fill large orders that may exceed your current inventory or your ability to restock with cash on hand. A purchase financer will generally require confirmation of the order and proof that your company has experience handling orders of this size.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf can offer businesses between $300 – $50,000 in purchase financing for most types of inventory. Term lengths are pretty short (1 – 6 months), and you’ll be charged 1 – 3 percent interest every month. Payments are made weekly or monthly, with weekly payers receiving a 10 percent reduction in their borrowing fees.

ROBS

If you haven’t heard of Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS), don’t feel bad. They’re extremely niche products for entrepreneurs with retirement accounts like 401(k)s.

For a fee, a ROBS provider allows you to use money from your retirement account to pay for startup costs without incurring the tax penalty you normally would by tapping those funds early.

As is the case with personal savings, you are risking your own money.

ROBS will be overkill for most new businesses, but if your startup costs look like they’re going to pile up, keep them in mind.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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If you’re in the market for a ROBS, it’s worth checking out Guidant Financial. If your retirement account has at least $40k in it, you can roll over up to 100 percent of your funds.

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

Register Your Business

If you don’t want to be selling products under your birth name, you’ll probably want to register your business.

This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your business into more than an occasional source of freelance income, you should probably register your business.

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to 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. If you want to change it to something else, you can file a DBA (Doing Business As), which will protect your new business name and allow you to–you guessed it–do business under that name.

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.

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

Depending on where you incorporate, business insurance may be optional or mandatory, but since you’re going to be dealing with a lot of tangible goods shipped through the postal service to remote customers, you’ll probably want to consider it.

General liability insurance can protect you in the case of lawsuits or accidents, including property damage and personal injury claims against your business. It can also make your business seem more professional to prospective clients.

There are other, more specialized types of insurance you may want to consider depending on what you’re selling and to whom. These include:

  • Property Insurance: Protects the property needed to run your business.
  • 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.

Create An Amazon Seller Account

Access to the platform is pretty straightforward and involves creating an Amazon account if you don’t already have one. You’ll be asked for information about your business, tax information, product information, billing and deposit accounts, and compliance with the Amazon Services Business Solutions Agreement.

Amazon offers two plans:

  • Professional: $39.99/month, grants access to order reports and order-related fees, selling in multiple categories, and the ability to customize shipping rates
  • Individual: $0.99 per sale closing fee on each item you sell on Amazon.

If you plan on doing more than just the occasional sale, you’ll probably want to choose Professional.

List Your Inventory

Now that you’re ready to go, you just need your potential customers to be able to see your product.

From your Amazons Seller account, under the inventory tab, you can add a product. You can then either search Amazon’s catalog to see if that product is already listed or create a new listing. If your product category is restricted, it will need to be approved before you can get beyond this stage, so if possible, try to find a rationale to categorize it into an unrestricted one.

At this point, you can either make your product go live (if you have the inventory ready to be shipped) or simply list it if you need to send your inventory to Amazon (in the case of FBAs). You can then fill in the information about your product. If you need a UPC code, you can buy one online.

There are a number of different strategies for getting your products to stand out on Amazon. Search engine optimization (SEO) strategies will serve you well here, so be sure to identify useful keywords that will help customers find your products. Another critical element is taking good pictures of your products so they’ll look appealing on the site. If you aren’t confident that you can take quality pictures yourself, you may want to spring for some professional ones.

A lot of other things can also affect your ranking, from conversion rates to customer reviews, pricing, time spent by customers on your page, bounce rate, and more, but the guiding rule is this: Amazon likes sellers who make them money, and will promote the ones they feel most reliably turn queries into sales and create satisfied and returning customers.

Final Thoughts

Amazon has changed the way many people shop, but it has also has provided sellers with a potentially low-cost way to get tangible products to customers. Competition is intense on the platform, but shrewd salespersons can still take advantage of its unparalleled convenience.

The post How To Start And Fund An Amazon Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Types Of Business Structures: The Complete Guide

If you’re starting your own business, one of the first steps is choosing a business structure. The legal structure of your business determines how much you pay in taxes, paperwork requirements for your business, your ability to raise money, and your personal liability for the debts and obligations of your business.

Every business is different, so the legal structure you choose should be based on the specific needs and goals of your business. The best option for one business may not be best for you, even if you’re in the same industry.

Before you make your choice, the first thing on your to-do list should be to have an understanding of the characteristics of each business structure. In this article, we’ll break down different business structures and the benefits and drawbacks of each to help you make the most informed decision for your business.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the most basic business structure. A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business that is owned and operated by one person. If you engage in business activities, you are legally considered a sole proprietor. There is no need to formally register your business. However, depending on the type of business you own, you may still be required to get the state and local licenses and permits needed to legally operate your business.

Under a sole proprietorship, you may operate under your own name or a fictitious name — also known as a trade name. This trade name does not create a legal entity separate from the owner.

The owner of the sole proprietorship records the income and losses of the business on their personal tax return by filing a Schedule C form. Sole proprietors also file a Schedule SE for paying self-employment tax. These forms are filed with the standard Form 1040.

Many small business owners choose to operate as sole proprietors because of how quick, easy, and inexpensive it is to get started. However, this type of legal structure isn’t without its drawbacks.

One of the biggest downsides is that a sole proprietorship is not a separate legal entity. In fact, it is indistinguishable from its owner. This means that the business owner can be held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. If your business is sued for negligence, for example, your personal assets — such as your bank account and personal real estate — could be at risk. If you default on a business loan, your personal assets could be seized to repay the debt.

Sole proprietorships are best for low-risk businesses. Some entrepreneurs start off as a sole proprietorship when testing out a business idea before reorganizing under another business structure. Most commonly, sole proprietorships are selected by service professionals, freelancers, and consultants.

Pros & Cons Of Sole Proprietorships

Is a sole proprietorship right for your business? Consider these pros and cons before deciding.

Pros

  • Easy & Inexpensive: There are no costly fees associated with setting up a sole proprietorship. In fact, you don’t even have to register at all. Simply buying and selling goods or performing other business activities classifies your business as a sole proprietorship.
  • No Ongoing Requirements: Unlike other business structures, a sole proprietorship does not have requirements such as meetings or voting.
  • Simplified Taxes: You do not have to file a separate tax return for your sole proprietorship. Instead, you simply attach your Schedule C and Schedule SE to your personal income tax return. You will also have your earnings taxed just once, and you can write off your business losses on your personal return.

Cons

  • Unlimited Personal Liability: As a sole proprietor, you would be responsible for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of your business. Your personal assets could be put at risk, and lawsuits can be filed against you.
  • Financing Difficulties: Getting extra capital when you need it can be difficult as a sole proprietor. Banks, credit unions, and even some alternative lenders are hesitant to loan money to sole proprietors. You also will be unable to sell stock to raise money.

Partnership

Businesses that have two or more owners may consider forming a partnership because it is quick, easy, and inexpensive. A partnership is the simplest business structure for businesses that have multiple owners. Like a sole proprietorship, you are not required to register your partnership. Simply coming to an agreement with other owners and engaging in business activities is enough to establish a partnership. However, you may still be required to obtain the appropriate licenses and permits required to legally operate your business. You may also be required to register your partnership with your state depending on the type of partnership you form.

When it’s tax time, a Form 1065 is filed with the IRS to report income, losses, gains, deductions, and credits. The partnership does not directly pay income taxes, but instead, “passes through” profits and losses to each partner, who report this information on their personal tax returns. Profits or losses are recorded on a Schedule K-1, which is filed with personal tax returns. All partners are also required to pay self-employment tax based on their share of the company’s profits.

Before establishing a partnership, it’s always important to ensure the right partners are selected. Disagreements between partners can hinder business growth and even be the downfall of a business.

While any business with two or more owners can form a partnership, this business structure is best for low-risk businesses and professional groups. Like sole proprietorships, this structure is also a good way to test out a new business idea. If the business is successful, owners may take the next step to growth by reorganizing as a corporation.

Types Of Partnerships

We’ve established the basic definition of a partnership. However, there are three different kinds of partnership to consider. The primary difference between the three lies in the personal liability of each partner.

General Partnership

In a general partnership (GP), all owners are considered general partners. Each partner manages the business and is an active participant in day-to-day operations. Each partner is also personally liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the partnership.

Limited Partnership

With a limited partnership (LP), there is one general partner that is responsible for managing the business and overseeing day-to-day operations. The remaining partners are limited partners that do not participate in managing the business and have limited control. These partners are investors only and are commonly known as “silent partners.” In this type of partnership, only the general partner can be held personally liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.

Limited Liability Partnership

A limited liability partnership (LLP) is made up of limited partners. Partners are not personally liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business. Partners will also not be held personally responsible for the actions of another partner.

Pros & Cons Of Business Partnerships

With the right people, a partnership can be very successful. There are several benefits to forming a partnership. Before you get started, though, it’s also important to understand the risks and drawbacks associated with this business entity.

Pros

  • Minimum Requirements For GPs: General partnerships have minimum requirements and do not require filing with the state. Partnerships are also not subject to the same requirements as corporations, such as holding meetings, recording meeting minutes, and establishing bylaws.
  • Tax Requirements: Partnerships are not required to pay taxes on income, and partners can report their share of profits or losses on their personal income tax returns. Business losses can also be deducted on personal tax returns.
  • Raising Capital For LPs & LLPs: Businesses that choose to form an LP or LLP may be able to raise capital from their investors.

Cons

  • Personal Liability: General partners are personally liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business. Each partner may also be held accountable for the actions of other partners.
  • Financing Challenges For GPs: General partnerships may have difficulties getting loans or other types of business financing if the business is not a registered entity.
  • Costs: While forming a general partnership is easy and inexpensive, forming a limited partnership or limited liability partnership may be more expensive and requires filing with the state.

Corporation

A corporation is the most expensive and complicated business structure. If you plan to raise capital through the sale of common or preferred stock, your business will need to be set up as a corporation.

There are no limitations on how long a corporation can exist. If an owner dies or retires, the corporation does not have to be dissolved.

Corporations are independent legal entities and are separate from their owners. The good news is that this provides the owners with the best liability protection. The bad news is that there are more regulations and tax requirements for this type of legal structure. Most corporations hire an attorney to ensure the corporation is set up and maintained according to state regulations.

Depending on the type of corporation, double taxation may also be a concern. This means that corporations pay federal and state corporate income tax, while shareholders also report dividends on their personal tax returns. Many corporations enlist an accountant and/or tax preparer to ensure returns are filed correctly, which adds an additional business expense.

Types Of Corporations

If you plan to grow your business in the future and want to raise large amounts of capital to fund that growth, a corporation could be the best legal structure for your business. Before you make that decision, though, there are a few different types of corporations. Let’s explore the differences between each type.

C-corporation

A C-corporation, or C-corp, is your basic corporation. This business entity is completely independent of its owners. With a C-corp, owners have the best protection from personal liability. C-corps can raise capital through the sale of stock and make profits, but double taxation, higher costs associated with formation, and more legal requirements are drawbacks of this business structure.

S-corporation

An S-corporation, or S-corp, is different from a C-corp because it is used to avoid double taxation. Profits and losses of the business can be passed through to the personal tax returns of the owners without being subject to corporate tax rates. To form an S-corp, a filing with the IRS is required.

Another way that an S-corp differs from a C-corp is that there is a limit on the number of shareholders. An S-corp may only have up to 100 shareholders, which could limit the amount of capital raised by the business.

B-corporation

A B-corporation, or B-corp, is similar to a C-corp in how it is taxed. However, a B-corp must offer a benefit to the public in addition to making a profit. In some states, an annual report must be filed to prove that the company is providing a benefit to the public.

Close Corporation

A close corporation is similar to a B-corp but is a structure typically used by smaller businesses. Close corporations are generally prohibited from public trading. Shareholders run this type of corporation, and a board of directors is not required.

Pros & Cons Of Corporations

There are big benefits that come along with forming a corporation, but like other entities, there are also negative aspects to consider before choosing a corporation as your business structure.

Pros

  • Ability To Raise Capital: Corporations give you the biggest opportunities for raising large amounts of capital through the sale of stock.
  • Limited Personal Liability: Corporations offer the most protection against personal liability for shareholders.
  • Some Tax Benefits: C-corporations offer more tax deductions than other business entities, as well as lower self-employment taxes. S-corporations also offer the additional benefit of no corporate tax rates or double taxation.

Cons

  • Higher Cost To Form: It is more expensive to form a corporation than any other business structure.
  • More Requirements: Corporations have more ongoing requirements, including holding meetings, recording meeting minutes, and establishing bylaws.
  • Shareholder Restrictions: The number of shareholders is restricted to 100 or less if you create an S-corp.
  • Higher Taxes: C-corps face double taxation. Business losses also can’t be deducted on personal income tax returns.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Business owners that want the best of both worlds may consider forming a limited liability company, also known as an LLC. An LLC combines the benefits of other business entities to keep taxes and business requirements lower than corporations while also offering personal liability protection for its owners. All members of the LLC can fully participate in the operations of the business.

LLCs must be registered with the secretary of state in the state where the business will operate. In some states, an operating agreement will also need to be filed.

In an LLC, owners have limited liability, in most cases protecting their personal assets from being taken to pay off business debts and obligations, just like a corporation. Personal assets will also be protected in the event that the business files for bankruptcy.

Owners can select how an LLC is taxed by the Internal Revenue Service. LLCs can be taxed like a corporation, or the profits and losses can be passed through to the LLC members and filed on personal tax returns. Members must file a Form SE to pay self-employment taxes.

An LLC is best for any business that wants to protect the personal assets of its members. It’s also a good choice for businesses that want the benefits of a corporation without paying corporate tax rates.

Pros & Cons Of LLCs

Will forming an LLC best meet the needs of your business? Only you can answer this question, but make sure to fully evaluate the pros and cons of forming an LLC before making your decision.

Pros

  • Limited Liability: One of the biggest benefits of an LLC is that all members have limited liability, meaning personal assets aren’t at risk in most cases.
  • Tax Benefits: With an LLC, you have the option to choose how your business is taxed.
  • Fewer Requirements: There is less paperwork and fewer ongoing requirements for an LLC when compared to a corporation.
  • No Shareholder Limits: An LLC has no limits to its number of shareholders.

Cons

  • Expensive & Time-Consuming To Set Up: Because you will have to register with the state where you conduct operations, setting up an LLC is more expensive and time-consuming than forming an entity like a general partnership or sole proprietorship. You may also need to hire an accountant to help ensure you’re complying with the rules and regulations of your state — adding an additional expense to your list.
  • Limited Life: If a member quits, dies, or retires, the LLC may be dissolved. Some states even have laws in place that require an LLC to dissolve after a set number of years.

Nonprofit

Most businesses have one primary goal: to make a profit. One business structure is the exception: nonprofits. A nonprofit — or 501(c)(3) — is a business that is beneficial to the public.

Nonprofit corporations follow a set of rules and regulations similar to other types of corporations. However, nonprofits also have additional rules governing how profits are used. For example, profits can’t be distributed to members of the corporation.

Another difference between nonprofits and other corporations is that this type of business entity may be exempt from state and federal income taxes. However, nonprofits must register with the IRS to receive this exemption, in addition to registering with the state.

Religious, educational, literary, and scientific organizations may be eligible for nonprofit status. Charities are also businesses that are formed as nonprofits.

Pros & Cons Of Nonprofits

If the goal of your business is to benefit the public, a nonprofit structure may be the right choice for you. However, if your goal is to make a profit, consider choosing another business structure. Before you make your decision, weigh out these pros and cons:

Pros

  • Tax Exemption: Qualifying organizations may be exempt from paying corporate income tax, as well as state and local taxes.
  • Tax Deductions: Charitable contributions by a nonprofit may be tax-deductible.
  • Limited Liability: All founders, directors, employees, and members of the nonprofit are not liable for the debts and obligations of the nonprofits … in most cases. There are, however, some exceptions, such as when the organization is engaged in illegal activity.
  • Grant Opportunities: Nonprofits may be eligible for public and private grants not available to for-profit businesses.

Cons

  • Paperwork Requirements: Nonprofits must submit annual reports to state agencies and the IRS in order to maintain tax-exempt status.
  • Costs: Starting a nonprofit can be expensive in terms of time and money. Nonprofits must pay fees, and most organizations opt to hire attorneys, accountants, and/or consultants to make sure records are kept up-to-date and all regulations are followed.
  • Stricter Policies: In addition to following state laws and regulations, nonprofits are also required to follow their own bylaws and articles of incorporation.

Cooperative

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A cooperative, or co-op, is a type of business that operates for the benefit of its members. Members of a co-op are known as user-owners and have the right to vote on important decisions surrounding the growth and direction of the business. Officers and a board of directors are responsible for running the co-op.

Any type of business can become a cooperative if the goal of the business is to benefit the user-owners. Businesses that aim to sell their products or services to consumers for a profit would be better suited to form another type of business entity.

Pros & Cons Of Cooperatives

If you’ve thought about your goals and you think a cooperative may work for your business, read through these pros and cons before you make your final decision.

Pros

  • Everyone Has A Voice: Member-owners get to weigh in on key issues and decisions of the business. Regardless of how many shares a member-owner holds, all votes are weighed equally.
  • Member Investments: Member-owners buy into a cooperative, providing a source of capital that can be used for operational expenses or expanding the business.

Cons

  • Funding Challenges: Finding startup loans and other types of funding through traditional lenders may be difficult. Cooperatives have to get creative with other funding sources, such as launching a crowdfunding campaign or applying for small business grants.
  • Slow Decision-Making: Voting and making decisions can be a lengthy process. This can put the cooperative at a disadvantage if a critical decision must be made immediately.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the type of business structure you select is based on the current and future goals of your business. You should consider the long term plan before choosing your business structure. While you can always reorganize if needed, this process can be lengthy and expensive. If you’re still having difficulties choosing the right business structure, consider consulting with an accountant, business consultant, and/or attorney to weigh out the pros and cons of each and make the decision that’s best for your business. Once you’re ready to your business off the ground, check out our beginner guides for business to get started on the right track.

The post Types Of Business Structures: The Complete Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder

WordPress.com Review

WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 25% of the Internet and is famous for its versatility and ease of use.

Its is so well-known, that it’s common for people with some web design experience to generally say “just use WordPress” when referring DIYers and freelancers to a website solution.

But for those who are unfamiliar with the general WordPress world, there is a major point of confusion: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing WordPress.com as a website builder and general website solution for DIYers.

See WordPress.com’s Plans & Pricing here.

But before I dive into specifics, let’s talk about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can “power” your website on a server. So instead of uploading individual files to a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a “backend” where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images – any sort of content.

It’s a “content management system” in web development jargon. WordPress is also “open-source” – which means that a community maintains it. A for-profit corporation does not own it. A non-profit foundation technically manages the trademark while leaving the software open under a General Public License.

The software & open-source community live & function at WordPress.org – where anyone can grab a copy of the software.

Note that I still haven’t said anything about it running a website. The other two pieces needed to run a website are hosting (ie, a server to run WordPress and render your website) and a domain name, which allows people to navigate to your website.

WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on. You pay for hosting and domain registration fees separately. You can learn how to setup a self-hosted WordPress website here.

And then there’s WordPress.com. It is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg – one of the original developers of WordPress.

WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers websites / blogs powered by their install of WordPress software. They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. I refer it to as “hosted WordPress”, because you’re buying a hosted version of the software.

The renting vs. buying in real estate works well as an analogy.

WordPress.com = Renting a building for your living space (aka your website). You can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord (WordPress.com). That said – your landlord also has to pay to keep everything in working order.

WordPress.org = Owning a building for your living space. You own everything on your own hosting space. You do whatever you want. That said – you are responsible for everything.

If you want to get into the weeds, I wrote a whole post about the differences between WordPress.com and .org. But that analogy says it all.

The key tradeoff here is between convenience and control. WordPress.com is what we call an all-inclusive website builder. It competes directly with other hosted website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy GoCentral, etc. You sacrifice some control (like FTP access) to get a lot more convenience (like not installing security patches or crashing your own site).

Compared to its direct competition, WordPress.com focuses on scalability, support, and flexibility. Let’s dive further into my WordPress.com review to see how it really compares.

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 WordPress.com as a Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using WordPress.com website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Sign Up Process

One of WordPress.com’s biggest pro is how easy it is to get started. To get your website up and running, you just follow a simple, 6-step process that includes creating an account, filling in your website information, and confirming your email address.

WordPress.com Sign Up Process

They also provide a ton of “onboarding” support (AKA the process of getting up and running with a website). I immediately received an email detail next steps, and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the set up.

There was really no part in the sign up process where I wondered, “What’s next?”. The steps were easy to follow, detailed, and included support once I got inside the dashboard.

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward, and speedy way to go from having no website to having a site ready to build, then WordPress.com is a great choice.

All-in-One Solution

Again, WordPress.com is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

WordPress.com Functionality

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since WordPress.com uses WordPress as it’s CMS (and WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there), the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done. Just know that on WordPress.com, your advanced customization capabilities, like installing your own plugins and themes, are limited to their highest priced plan (more on that in a bit).

You also don’t have full control over the website functionality, because you don’t have access to your hosting. You still don’t have direct access to your files or your database. So if you want to do something in bulk or something super-technical, then you are out of luck.

That said, compared to other website builders (like Site123 or Jimdo), WordPress.com is inherently more open and accessible because it runs WordPress software. All of your content is in RSS and XML format, so it’s very easy to leave WordPress.com for another service or bulk export your content.

Template Design

When you set up your website with WordPress.com, you have a ton of pre-made templates (“themes” in the WordPress jargon) to choose from, including premium themes that come with higher-priced plans.

WordPress.com also indicates which themes are best for beginners, which is helpful for those who don’t have extensive website experience and are looking for the easiest way to get their website designed and ready to market.

WordPress.com Themes

Inside these themes, you have a range of customization capabilities based on the plan you have. You also have significant customization abilities on the individual pages themselves— even with the free plan. Inside the page builder, you can change the format by adding columns, embedding elements, and even editing the page code if you know HTML / CSS.

WordPress.com Page Customization

WordPress.com Page Code

One thing to note here — you cannot edit/customize the pages on the same screen that you edit the theme. This means that you’re basically designing the pages in a bubble. You can’t see how they play out in the context of the design until you actually go in and edit the theme. If you’re not looking to do any advanced designing, this may not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to build lots of websites for clients.

Customer Support

WordPress.com has a robust knowledge base and easily accessible support. In fact, their help button floats in the bottom corner of the Dashboard (and when you’re editing pages), so you can see relevant guides and articles to help you no matter where you are in your website.

WordPress.com Support

You can also chat with another WordPress.com using their “Contact us” button on the floating help section, giving you an additional option if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for.

Cons of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

But of course, no website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints, because there is no website solution that is right for everyone. Let’s look at a few specific cons I found.

Pricing

WordPress.com is a bit pricier than its competitors when you take into account what features are available to you. WordPress.com limits the amount of storage space you get on your website (AKA the number of images, video, audio files, documents, etc. you can upload to your site).

WordPress.com Pricing

Now, there is one caveat. WordPress.com does have a free plan. You can’t use your own domain name. You have to use yourname.wordpress.com – and serve WordPress.com ads on your site. But – it’s free. This plan is certainly my favorite way to get a free, well built website online.

However, it’s not clear that there’s a free plan available unless you go through the pricing tab. For example, if you were to click “Get Started” and just start filling in your information, you’re kind of cornered into buying a plan. There’s no option there to select a free plan. It’s confusing, especially if you don’t know that there’s a free plan available (which technically, you’re automatically signing up for when you create your account).

WordPress.com Pricing No Free Plan

If you are trying to start just a basic informational website or blog and don’t want to deal with hosting, then WordPress.com’s Blogger and Personal plans are well-priced. But for a business or really any size (or website that is going to strive to make money), then it’s a bit hard to compete with running a self-hosted WordPress website or finding another solution like Website Creator (a website builder built on top of WordPress) or another drag & drop website builder.

Learning Curve

Based on your website experience, using WordPress as a CMS does come with a learning curve — and it’s no different when it’s bundled with hosting and DNS services through WordPress.com. Yes, you have various themes to choose from that guide your site customization experience… but even those can be more complicated to tweak than WordPress.com wants to let on. Check out the instructions on customizing this theme I selected.

WordPress.com Theme Customization

If you’re looking for the ease of a simple drag + drop website builder where you can literally drag elements onto the page, drop them in place, and customize your template that way, WordPress.com might not be the best choice for you.

Because here’s the thing. In many ways, WordPress is more than software. It’s like a whole platform / subculture. You know how Facebook has “Likes” and “Newsfeed” and “Groups” and all these other terms that make sense…but only once you’ve used Facebook? Ok – WordPress is like that. When you first start out, there’s all this jargon to figure out. It makes sense quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.

Limited Functionality + Control

WordPress is known for how flexible and adaptable it is as a CMS. It’s a great way to build a website that you plan on keeping for the long haul, because it’s so customizable and scalable. But here’s the thing — those benefits don’t really kick in until you have a self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org), or until you pay for the premium business plan on WordPress.com, and even then you don’t have full accessibility with your website.

If you’re not looking for a website that you can customize and scale extensively, then this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you are looking to create a website that you can scale, and you were drawn to WordPress as a CMS because of that, then going with “hosted WordPress” on WordPress.com probably isn’t your best option, because you’re giving up quite a bit of functionality and control.

WooCommerce & JetPack Addendum

At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com and their services.

First is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a software plugin for WordPress that brings a *ton* of amazing ecommerce functionality to any WordPress website. It is amazing. It has a ton of extensions and integrations only rivaled by Shopify. And it works on any existing website running WordPress. If you are using the WordPress.com, you can add it to your plan.

Since ecommerce has a lot more considerations than a publishing site, many ecommerce owners like to have a “hosted” solution. In this case, WordPress.com provides a great option for websites that are “content-first” but also want a large-ish online store.

Second is JetPack. You know how I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? Ok, so you can get most of that with JetPack. JetPack is a paid plugin software owned by Automattic that any self-hosted WordPress website can install and get automated backups, security scans, in dashboard support, remote management via the WordPress app and more.

In fact, this website uses JetPack. It costs between Free and $29/mo depending how many services / themes you want (security is free). Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.

WordPress.com Review Conclusion

WordPress.com has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks some pretty significant capabilities, like storage, pricing, and ease of use, but it does compete well on support, theme availability, design, technical aspects, and content publishing.

WordPress.com is a really good fit for anyone looking for a solid website builder that includes more advanced functionality and theme options but still takes the headache out of finding their own hosting and additional services. It’s a great option to just get started. And it’s great for content writers & publishers plus any businesses that have the budget for the Premium Plan.

Check out WordPress.com’s current plans & pricing here.

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

Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or on a budget and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out self-hosted WordPress and setting up self-hosted WordPress on your own server.

The post WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Cleaning Business

Entropy is a powerful force. If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s that everything gets dirty sooner or later. If it doesn’t get dirty, it gets cluttered. Add in the increasing prevalence of two-income households, the pace of modern work, and long commutes and it’s not surprising that more and more people are letting their chores slide. And that’s not even taking into consideration the huge messes businesses make. The fields are ripe for the harvest — why not cut yourself a piece of the action and start a cleaning business?

Luckily, the overhead costs of starting a cleaning business are fairly low (at least up until you start adding staff). Still, you’ll want to have a good sense of what you’re getting into before you dive into the cleaning industry. It’s vital to have a plan to tackle the expenses and challenges you’ll encounter along the way.

Not sure where to start? We’ll break starting and funding a cleaning business into a step-by-step process below.

Make A Business Plan

What separates a business from a side gig? Well, a lot of stuff, but one of the bigger points of delineation is whether or not you have a business plan and a clear strategy.

Creating a business plan can be an intimidating prospect, but you don’t need to have a business degree to write one. You don’t even need to have taken a class.

A business plan is, essentially, an outline documenting what your business is, what it does, how it’s organized, its financial means, and a strategy for how you intend to grow.

There are a lot of resources online that can give you an idea of what a business plan looks like, as well as templates to help you get organized, but a typical business plan has the following parts:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Startup Costs

The good news about launching a cleaning business is that it’s possible to start one with relatively little overhead.

At a bare minimum, you’ll need cleaning supplies. This assumes you’ll be doing the cleaning yourself and aren’t taking on any additional employees right away. If you’re cleaning residential homes, these supplies will more or less be the same ones you use to clean your own home. If you’re getting into commercial cleaning right away, you’ll likely have to invest in equipment (and possibly personnel) that can handle larger volume messes and expansive spaces.

If you plan on cleaning as more than a side gig, you’ll also need to pay fees to register your business. This isn’t a very big expense if you’re content with running a sole proprietorship (or partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else) –usually less than $50. You can also file a DBA, which allows you to legally do business under another name (the name of your company). We’ll get a bit deeper into it in the next section.

Additionally, you should factor in any initial advertising costs, as well as transportation costs for getting yourself or your employees to the work sites.

Register Your Business

Registering your business may sound intimidating, but it can actually be one of the easiest parts of starting a business.

Why should you register your business? At minimum, it protects the name you’re using to do business so that no one else in your area can (legally) use it. It can also help you qualify for business-to-business services and services that require an EIN number.

Incorporating, on the other hand, is a more complicated and expensive process that comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the most common types of businesses you can register as:

  • Sole Proprietorship: By default, this is the type of business you’re running when you initially create one. You and your business are, for tax and liability purposes, considered the same entity. In fact, if you want to do business under a name other than your own, you’ll need to file a DBA (doing business as) with your local county clerk.
  • Partnership: Essentially the same as a sole proprietorship, except you started it with one or more other people. By default, you’re each considered to own an equal share of the business for tax and liability purposes.
  • 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 must 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

Depending on your local and state laws, business insurance may or may not be optional. However, given that cleaning involves a lot of physical contact with valuable items (not to mention the fact that you will be in the profession of making floors slippery), you may want to consider getting insurance even if you’re not required to have it.

General liability insurance can protect you in the case of lawsuits or accidents, including property damage and personal injury claims against your business. It can also make your business seem more professional to prospective clients.

Your own equipment is also subject to wear and tear, as well as accidents, so you may want to consider property insurance for any items that aren’t easily replaced.

While those are the big two worth considering, you may also want to consider other types of business insurance to help cover anything from worker’s comp claims to vehicle damage.

Seek Business Funding

Now that you have a sense of what your expenses will be, it’s time to see if you can cover them out of pocket and still pay your rent. If you can’t, and are unable to tighten your belt without sacrificing the tenets of your business plan, you may need to seek some source of external funding.

Where should you look?

Personal Savings

If you’ve saved up for a rainy day, the weather might start looking pretty stormy right about the time you’re starting a business. The nice thing about dipping into your savings is that you’re not taking on debt and all the expenses that go with it.

On the other hand, you are risking your own money, along with the lost-opportunity costs of not being able to invest that money in something else.

And, of course, you may not have been able to save enough to cover your expenses anyway.

Tap Your Support Network

If you don’t have the money handy, another option is to ask your family or friends for a small loan. Generally speaking, your support network will give you a better deal than even the most competitive bank will.

Asking your friends and family for money can be tacky and awkward if you don’t put their concerns at ease. You also may damage your relationships if you aren’t able to pay the money back within the expected period of time. It’s important to take a professional and organized approach.

If you do go this route, strongly consider formalizing any agreements you make so that all parties are fully aware of what they’re risking and stand to gain from the arrangement. Create and sign a contract, just as you would do with a traditional lender.

Credit Cards

For purchases you can pay off quickly, it’s hard to beat the convenience and incentives of credit cards.

Credit cards come in both personal and business varieties. You don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card, but their rewards programs are generally more geared towards business expenses.

If you’re going to use credit cards, be sure to use them wisely. That means paying them off within the interest-free grace period offered by your card’s provider. For personal credit cards, this is legally at least 21 days from the time you receive your bill. For business credit cards, there is no legal minimum, but most extend a similar one as a courtesy.

Just remember, if you fail to pay your card off with that window, carrying a balance on a credit card is an extremely expensive way to finance your business. And avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business

Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business


capital one spark cash select
Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.74% – 22.74%, Variable

Spark Cash Select for Business is great for businesses that don’t have their expenses concentrated in a single area, or that don’t want to worry about complex reward programs. You’ll simply earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. There’s also no limit on the reward, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding a maximum threshold: whether you spend $20 or $500,000 in a year on your card, you’ll still get 1.5% back.

You will need to have excellent credit to qualify, however.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for Spark Cash Select for Business, Capital One offers an equally versatile card that’s much easier to qualify for. Spark Classic offers a similar cashback reward program, but the rate of return is 1% rather than 1.5%.

While not the most exciting card, it’s a good one for repairing your credit.

Loans

Business loans are frequently out of reach for brand new businesses–even the more risk-taking lenders generally want to see that you can keep your business together for at least six months before they’ll lend to you. That said, there are exceptions to the rule, with some lenders focusing on new businesses.

And remember, when you’re starting out you don’t necessarily need a “business” loan; personal loans can leverage your personal credit for an early cash infusion even you need it. If you’re buying a specific piece of equipment, you should also consider equipment financing.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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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 while you’re building up your business.

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

Visit Site

Lendio takes some of the frustration out of applying for a loan by allowing you to apply to their entire network of lenders all at once. If you’re thinking about tapping the alternative lending market for the first time, it’s a pretty good place to start.

They can’t necessarily help every business, but a shotgun approach can sometimes be easier than finding that one special lender.

Recommended Option: Upstart

Review

Visit Site

If you’re having trouble finding a lender who will work with you, take a look at Upstart. You’ll need to have at least fair credit and a regular source of income, but otherwise, Upstart’s way of evaluating potential borrowers is pretty unconventional (good news if you’re starting a business).

Better yet, Upstart’s rates are pretty reasonable and you’ll have three or five years (one or the other, not between) to pay your balance off. Unfortunately, they don’t currently lend within West Virginia or Iowa.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans. Need a vehicle for the business? Read our auto loans guide.

Choose The Right Software

As your business grows and becomes more complex, managing the logistics of your company can become quite labor-intensive. If you don’t want to sink too many man-hours into keeping track of all that stuff, you’ll want to delegate it to a software program.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enroll in a bunch of expensive SaaS platforms if it’s just you cleaning for a handful of clients, but it doesn’t hurt to know what kinds of options are available.

Types of software you may want to consider include:

Field Service Management 

This type of software centralizes processes and workflows for businesses that have employees who are dispatched to external sites for work. They often include features like scheduling, dispatching, and booking. Some also come with invoicing, payment processing, and customer notifications, so it’s quite possible to find an all-in-one service that meets your needs.

Scheduling Software

If field management software sounds like overkill, you can try scheduling software to manage your appointments and those of your employees.

Inventory Tracking

If your business is growing, and you no longer have time to run out to buy supplies every time you need them or use your clients’ stash, you may find it helpful to formally keep track of your inventory.

Accounting Software

It’s always a good idea to keep track of your expenses, accounts receivable, payroll and related issues, especially as your business grows and becomes more complex.

Data QuickBooks Online Xero Wave Zoho Books FreshBooks

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Pricing

$20 – 150/month

$9 – 60/month

Free

$9 – 29/month

$15 – $50/month

Customer Support Fair Poor Good

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Very Good

Ease of Use Moderate Moderate Very Easy Very Easy

Very Easy

Accounting Method Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual Cash and Accrual
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Bolster Your Web Presence

A cleaning business can get pretty far on word-of-mouth and savvy networking, but expanding your reach in the digital age usually means you’ll want to bolster your web presence.

A website is still a very important way for potential clients to find out information about your business and what services you offer. Happily, for a cleaning service, it doesn’t have to be all that complicated. If you don’t want to contract the job out, there are plenty of services online that make it easy to build your own decent-looking website.

A spiffy website is only one aspect of an online strategy, however. You still need to get people to visit it. You’ll want to consider factors like search engine optimization (SEO) so that, for example, the phrase “kitchen cleaning Rochester” will return your website in the top results.

You may also want to use social media to build brand recognition, steer traffic to your site, and announce specials or changes to your services.

Delegate Work

If it’s just you and a cart full of cleaning supplies, you can skip this part. However, if you’re planning to grow beyond what one mere mortal can clean in a day, you may be taking on more people.

Employees

Taking on additional people as employees come with many advantages: you’ll be able to get significantly more work done, have a larger pool of expertise to draw from, and be more flexible with scheduling. This does come with some additional costs, as you’ll be paying some of the taxes on their salary as well as offering benefits (at least in theory), so be sure to grow your staff wisely and at a pace that fits the amount of business your generating.

In exchange, you’re allowed greater control over the parameters of how your employee works, where, and at what time. Setting a wage that’s fair and not abusing this relationship will generally improve morale and help you avoid the costly process of employee turnover.

Contractors

If you aren’t quite ready to take on employees but need additional help, you can hire contractors. Contractors are free agents who work for themselves even though they may be regularly and continuously used by a particular client (that’s you). Since they’re self-employed, you don’t have to worry about additional expenses beyond paying their fee.

Beware that many businesses make the mistake of treating 1099 contractors as employees, which can get you into pretty serious trouble. If you want to have employees, you have to hire them. As a general rule, you have no say over what jobs a contractor decides to take, the methods they use to complete the job, or the precise time they choose to do it.

Advertise Your Business

A strong web presence and social media campaign can get help get your name out, but we aren’t quite at the point where advertising is obsolete.

Since a cleaning business is constrained by geography, you have to physically send someone out to do the job. That means you can use your modest advertising budget to buy ads in your local market, which is usually cheaper than trying to grab eyeballs from several states away. Ideally, you’ll want to seek ad platforms utilized by the types of people who are likely to buy your services. Cash-strapped kids at the local state college campus probably don’t have a budget for cleaning services, for example (although some fraternities or sororities may), while busy soccer moms might.

Once you know who you’re advertising to, you can select a medium that fits your target demographic. Once you start getting new customers, ask them where they heard about your business so you can get a sense of which ads are working and which aren’t.

Even if you don’t have money to spend on advertising right away, put the word out to your own social network that you’re offering cleaning services. Word can spread fast, especially if you have a reputation as a trustworthy person.

Final Thoughts

We still haven’t invented self-cleaning spaces, so you have a potentially bottomless demand for your services. With relatively low overhead, a housekeeping or cleaning business is one of the more accessible industries to jump into, so if you have the skills and the inclination, why not give it a try?

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Cleaning Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business

The news cycle is full of hype about the “knowledge economy” but often light on details about how the average person can catch a piece of the tutoring action. Do you have a skill you’ve carefully honed over the years — or even one you have accidentally cultivated through repetition at your job? Don’t have state certification and six years of college handy? No worries; you don’t have to have an MA in education to be an effective teacher. One of the more accessible points of entry to a career in education is to teach those skills to other people via the increasingly lucrative tutoring industry.

Have you considered starting a tutoring business? Tutoring may be one of the easier avenues to make a little cash in the knowledge-selling economy, but expanding a part-time coaching gig to full-time, lucrative business can take a surprising amount of planning and resources. Not sure where to start? We’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for planning your tutoring business. We’ll also give you some ideas for where you can turn for funding when you need it.

Ready? Let’s go!

Pick A Tutoring Niche

Life is full of paradoxes, but one key part of thinking big is to narrow your focus. Creativity is as informed by limitation as it is by possibility.

As you would when starting any kind of business, think about where you can add value and what problems your skill set can solve. Are people in your area already doing what you’re planning to do? Is there an X-factor you could offer? A different spin on the familiar? Or is there a niche that’s unserved or under-served, particularly in your local area? For that matter, does your area have needs for specific skill sets?

Don’t have the skills or the local demand to create a flute tutoring business?

You can always fall back on subjects that are in high demand. Languages. Writing. Math. Science. And remember, each of these subjects can be broken down farther into sub-categories like algebra, chemistry, conversational Spanish, etc.

Another safe approach is to tutor students who are studying for standardized tests like the SATs, GREs, and LSATs or even trade certification tests like CompTIA A+ for IT technicians. The possibilities aren’t quite endless, but they are numerous.

Choose A Business Location

One of the great things about tutoring is that you can do it just about anywhere: at a dedicated business site, at a college library, at a coffee shop, at your home, or remotely over the internet.

Early on, your choice of location may not be critical–you can tailor your work environment to meet your own needs and the needs of your clients. Obviously, some of those options will disappear once your business gets large enough–your local coffee shop may or may not appreciate you using their space to run your business–so you’ll want to have a growth strategy in mind if you’re planning on turning your business into a tutoring empire down the road.

At the same time, you’ll want to avoid spending more on overhead than your business strategy requires. If you don’t need a brick and mortar space or a fancy interactive website right away, it may be best to hold off on those investments while you build your brand and reputation.

You’ll also want to consider the demographics of your clientele. Are they easily distracted teenagers who may have a hard time concentrating with a lot of background noise? Are they older adults who aren’t as tech-savvy as you are? Are they dependent on public transportation or parents to get to you? Does your subject matter require extra space for demonstrations? Are you working with clients with learning or physical disabilities? Are you going to need WiFi?

Keep all of these factors in mind when you’re considering a location for your tutoring business.

Create A Business Plan (If You’re Going Big)

If you’re going to be tutoring as a side gig, you can probably skip this part, but it’s not a bad exercise for anyone to try, even if they aren’t planning to incorporate anytime soon.

A business plan is simply a written, organized description of your planned business and business strategy. It’s your vision of how your business will develop, operate, and finance itself. It can also help show prospective financiers and grant-money sources that you’re organized and serious about your operation.

You can find a lot of guidance online about how to organize your business plan. Likewise, your local chamber of commerce and government economic development agencies (and similar organizations) often have resources you can tap.

A typical business plan includes the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Starting Costs

Once you have a basic idea of how your business will operate, it’s time to calculate your starting costs. Does your subject require materials, teaching aids, or similar items? Are you renting a workspace? Are you paying employees or subcontractors? Shelling out for a web host? Purchasing hardware or software? Buying insurance?

Some of these costs may be trivial enough to finance out of pocket, while others may require additional effort. As a new business owner, finding funding can be especially challenging. Many traditional sources of funding, bank loans in particular, usually aren’t available to businesses that are newer than two years old.

Funding Options For Tutoring Businesses

So what do you do if you need money? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

Obvious? Maybe, but tapping your personal savings has distinct advantages over going into debt. You may be accessing your rainy funds, but you won’t be losing additional money on interest payments.

Of course, you are taking a risk using your own money to finance your business. If your business fails, you’ve effectively lost that money. For that reason, and as a general best practice, it’s a good idea to separate your business finances from your personal ones.

Tap Your Support Network

Another option, especially if you don’t have much in personal savings, is to ask friends and family for a loan. Unlike a private lender, your support system probably isn’t trying to make a profit off of you.

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

One of the easier–and riskier–ways to fund your startup expenses is with personal or business credit cards (you don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card). Credit cards offer a lot of flexibility and convenience when it comes to making purchases. Even better, many credit cards offer reward programs that can actually save judicious users money.

However, keep in mind that credit cards carry very high interest rates on any balances you carry from month to month. Most business credit cards — and all personal credit cards — offer a grace period of at least 21 days. Purchases that you pay off within that window do not accrue interest. This makes credit cards ideal for purchases you can pay off quickly, and problematic for ones that you can’t.

Note: Avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary. They come at a very high cost.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Business credit cards often have aggressive rewards programs, but rarely will you find one that offers 5 percent cash back on qualified purchases. And since that includes office supplies, the card’s not a bad fit for tutoring.

There’s a $25,000 cap on the higher rates of return, but with no annual fee, it’s quite a bargain.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for the Chase Ink Business Cash, Capital One’s Spark Classic is an easy-to-qualify-for, no-frills cash back card that can help you save money on purchases while building up your credit.

You’re only getting 1 percent back on purchases, but it’s not a bad place to start if you’re coming off a year or two of hard luck.

Personal Loans

Traditional business loans may not be an option for new businesses, but you can often use personal loans to cover some of your startup expenses. Since you don’t have to worry about business-oriented qualifying factors like the amount of time you’ve been in business, these loans can be easier to get when you’re first starting out.

The downside is you won’t have the liability protection you’d theoretically have if you applied as a business. You may also be more limited in terms of the amount of money you can take out.

Still, if you need a little money to get started and don’t have funds on hand, it’s not a bad option.

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 when you’re first starting out.

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.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Another solid option for non-traditional borrowers is Upstart. So long as you have fair credit (620+), a stable source of income, and live in a state other than West Virginia or Iowa, there’s a pretty good chance Upstart will work with you.

Flexibility is the name of Upstart’s game. How so? They’ll use non-traditional means to get a picture of your credit worthiness and they’ll allow you to select between different payment schedules. And with three to five years to settle your loan, you won’t have to worry about paying it off right away.

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

Grants

Nothing’s better than “free” money, and grants might be the closest thing to that in the real world. Grants usually require a fairly involved application/writing process and, as you might expect, are often highly competitive. So while you may not have to worry about interest with grants, you do want to factor in the amount of time you have to spend trying to get a grant, especially considering there’s a high chance that you won’t be selected for the grant.

On the other hand, being awarded a grant comes with some prestige that you can then use in your marketing efforts. And it is “free” money, after all.

If you need some help figuring out where to look for grants, check out our feature on the topic.

ROBS

Not your neighbor-with-the-nice-car Rob, but Rollovers as Business Startups. If you haven’t heard of ROBS, don’t feel bad. They’re extremely niche products for entrepreneurs with retirement accounts like 401(k)s.

For a fee, a ROBS provider allows you to use money from your retirement account to pay for startup costs without incurring the tax penalty you normally would by tapping those funds early.

As is the case with personal savings, you are risking your own money.

ROBS will be overkill for most new tutoring businesses, but if your startup costs look like they’re going to pile up, keep them in mind.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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If you’re in the market for a ROBS, it’s worth checking out Guidant Financial. If your retirement account has at least $40k in it, you can roll over up to 100 percent of your funds.

Register Your Business

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This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your tutoring business into more than an occasional source of freelance income, you should probably register your business.

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to 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. 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. While it won’t separate your personal and business finances, you should consider filing a DBA (Doing Business As) with your local county clerk. This will allow you to legally operate your business under its own name (Uber Math Works as opposed to Barry Holgram, for example).

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. This is where the business plan we talked about earlier will come in handy, because you’ll need one if you’re going to incorporate. Keep in mind that incorporation comes with costs and additional responsibilities, so make sure you’re at the point where it makes sense for your business.

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.

Separate Personal And Business Finances

Even if you’re going to run your tutoring business as a sole proprietorship, you should take steps to separate your business finances from your personal ones. A separate business checking and/or savings account can save you a ton of headache when it’s time to pay your taxes. And even for your own edification, it will make your profits and losses much easier to track.

Choose An Hourly Rate

Get your merchant funds fast. Image description: Clock with money underneath it

Figuring out how much to charge for your tutoring services can be one of the more challenging parts of getting your business up and running.

A good place to start is to do some research on the prevailing rate for similar services in your area and then figure out a strategy for your business. Are you going to try to undersell the competition? Charge more but offer something your competitors don’t? You can glean this information often from your competitors’ websites or by checking out third-party sites that do regional salary comparisons for different industries. You may also want to speak to local colleges and schools about how they handle independent tutors.

It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to charge so little that you’re breaking even, or even losing money, on your gig. Take into account the transportation costs of meeting your clients, any money you’re spending on coffee, etc. And be sure to deduct those expenses when it comes time to pay your self-employment taxes!

Bolster Your Web Presence

Word of mouth can still go a long way in the tutoring business, but these days there’s really no way to avoid the necessity of building a strong digital presence.

It never hurts to have a sleek, attractive website. Indeed, it can make your operation look professional as well as help build hype for your services. Luckily there are user-friendly and cost-effective ways to build a website.

That said, a website is not the only way to use the internet to build up your tutoring business.

Remember that the web is, itself, a medium for instruction and tutoring. You may want to consider offering some freebies on YouTube, for example, to build up your reputation. In addition, free services can function as advertisements for your paid services. Just make sure you don’t make your paid services extraneous.

Social media strategy is too complex to go into in great depth here, but making posts that are fun to read and interact with is a good place to start.

Advertise Your Business

In addition to what we covered above in web presence, you’ll also want to get your name out there in other ways. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not looking at expensive media buys on TV, radio, or even your local newspaper.

Let your network know what you’re up to so they can spread the word about your new tutoring. Make a Facebook page. Get yourself a Twitter account. Offer free consultations with curious parties. Even cheap, low-tech solution like flyers with tear-off tags can be powerful if you post them in the right places.

Final Thoughts

Does helping someone grow and learn while earning money sound like a dream job? Tutoring can be one of the more rewarding and flexible businesses you can get into. But while the demand for expertise is often high, you’ll still want to approach the industry with a strategic mindset. Take your time, narrow down your niche, and build your reputation and tutoring can turn into so much more than just a side gig.

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look

no transfer fee credit cards

If you’re looking for a credit card that can help you claw your way out of debt, you might consider transferring your debt to a card with no balance transfer fees and a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers.

With a typical credit card, interest payments on your debt can keep you stuck in that debt hole. If you can transfer your balance to a card with a nice long 0% intro balance transfer APR, you stand to save money. And if that card charges no balance transfer fees, all the better!

Generally, credit cards with 0% intro rates on balance transfers are more common than cards with no transfer fees whatsoever. In fact, with business credit cards, it’s quite uncommon to find a card with no balance transfer fee. Nonetheless, when it comes to transferring a balance from another card, some business cards are better than others.

In this article, we’re going to look at the best credit cards for balance transfers, both business and personal. However, here’s something I should mention at the outset: Most credit card issuers don’t allow you to transfer a balance from one of their cards to another. For example, you can’t transfer a balance from one American Express card to another Amex card.

For more details on how balance transfers work, go read our handy guide on balance transfers for small business owners. (Non-business-owners can take advantage of these tips too!)

Credit Card Balance Transfer Fee Balance Transfer 0% Intro Rate
Spark Cash from Capital One 0% None
Amex Blue Business Plus 3% 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Ink Business Cash 5% 0% APR for 12 months
Amex EveryDay Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
Chase Slate 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
BankAmericard Credit Card for Students 0% for the first 60 days 0% APR for 15 months
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card 0% for the first 60 days Prime Rate (currently 5.50%) APR for 3 years

Best Business Credit Card With No Transfer Fees

Spark Cash from Capital One

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


19.24%, Variable

Spark Cash from Capital One is one of the very few business credit cards on the market that does not charge a transaction fee on balances transferred to the card. As such, it must be the best business credit card for balance transfers, right?

Not so fast. While the lack of transaction fees applied to balance transfers is beneficial to entrepreneurs trying to climb out of debt, the card doesn’t carry a 0% intro APR on balance transfers (or purchases for that matter). So while you won’t be assessed a fee for transferring a balance to this card, the monthly APR on your transferred balance will be 19.24% starting the first billing period. If you don’t envision being able to pay off your balance within a few months, you may be better served by Amex’s Blue Business Plus card despite that card’s 3% fee on balance transfers.

The Spark Cash business card offers a great cash back deal: 2% cash back on all purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn. It’s great for business owners who just want cash back without having to consider which category their spending falls into. On the downside, a $95 annual fee kicks in after the first year.

Best Business Credit Cards With 0% APR On Balance Transfers

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express might just be the best business credit card currently available for the purposes of transferring a balance. Why?

Two reasons.

First, the card offers a lengthy 15-month 0% APR period for balance transfers. (The card’s business competitors offer, at best, 12 months of 0% APR on balance transfers.) Second, the card applies a 3% fee (or $5, whichever is greater) to balances transferred to the card. While it’s true that there are plenty of personal credit cards that impose no balance transfer fees whatsoever, the Blue Business Plus’s 3% fee is lower than that of most competing business credit cards, most of which charge a 5% balance transfer fee.

Along with being a great business card for balance transfers, the Blue Business Plus also gives you 2 rewards points for every $1 you spend on your first $50,000 worth of purchases per year. What’s more, cardholders are able to purchase above their credit limit so long as they pay the full amount purchased above their credit limit each month (along with the minimum payment).

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card offers 0% APR on all balance transfers for 12 months. While this doesn’t quite match the Blue Business Plus’s 15 months, it’s still quite competitive as business cards go. In fact, many business cards offer an introductory 0% rate for purchases only (or not at all).

Unfortunately, the Ink Business Cash charges a 5% (or $5) fee on all balance transfers.

Apart from balance transfers, the Ink Business Cash is a top-of-the-line cash back business card. Here’s what your business spending will get you:

  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone purchases each year
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

Best Personal Credit Cards With No Transfer Fees

Amex EveryDay Credit Card

Amex EveryDay Credit Card


Amex EveryDay Credit Card
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 26.24%, Variable

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card is a uniquely valuable personal credit card for those striving to get out of debt.

The EveryDay card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee, provided you transfer the balance within 60 days of opening your account (a 3% charge will apply thereafter). You’ll also enjoy a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months and no annual fee.

While the Amex EveryDay card is a great card for cost-free balance transfers, you’ll also get a remarkable level of rewards for such a practical card. You’ll get 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent at a) US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases and on b) travel purchases booked through AmexTravel.com. Furthermore, if you make 20 or more purchases with your card in a billing period, you get 20% extra points on those purchases (minus returns and credits).

Of course, such inducements to spend may be said to run counter to the goal of helping you out of debt, but that’s an existential issue outside the purview of this article!

Chase Slate

Chase Slate



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Chase Slate card is a credit card specifically designed to help you manage your credit card debt.

It’s not an exciting card. There’s no cash back to earn and there are no fancy benefits to accrue. However, the card offers the debt-burdened cardholder three benefits. First, the Chase Slate card lets you transfer a balance over with no balance transfer fee so long as you do so during the first 60 days your account is open. After 60 days, a 5% fee will be applied, so transfer those balances early.

Second, the Chase Slate features a 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases so you’ll have a decent amount of time to pay off that balance before any interest charges accrue.

Finally, the card carries no annual fee.

BankAmericard Credit Card for Students

BankAmericard Credit Card For Students



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The BankAmericard Credit Card for Students should be of interest to any student (yes, you must be a student to qualify) looking to consolidate credit card debt.

With the BankAmericard student credit card, you can transfer a balance to the card with no fees (provided you do so within 60 days of opening your account.) A 3% charge (or $10, whichever is greater) applies to balance transfers after the initial 60 days. You’ll also get an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account and on all purchases.

Additionally, the card has no annual fee and you’ll be able to check your FICO score for free with your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking. There are no rewards to earn.

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


13.49% – 23.49%, Variable

The SunTrust Prime Rewards credit card offers a unique deal to debt-addled consumers looking to consolidate credit card debt.

Like several other cards listed here, the SunTrust Prime Rewards card won’t charge you a balance transfer fee on any balances transferred within 60 days of your account opening. However, when it comes to paying off your transferred debt, all balances transferred within 60 days of opening your account will be subject to a Prime Rate (currently 5.50% variable) intro APR for 36 months. Now, 5.50% interest isn’t as good as 0% interest, but you’ll have a full 3 years to pay off your debt at this low rate.

The card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, and you’ll get an unlimited 1% cash back on all qualifying purchases.

Final Thoughts

It may seem odd to use credit cards to work your way out of debt considering the fact that credit cards got you into debt in the first place. However, transferring your debt to the right card can, indeed, save you money on interest payments — provided you play your cards right. [Pause for laughter.]

Still looking for a credit card to fit your small business needs? Check out these helpful articles on the subject!

  • Top Business Credit Card Balance Transfer Offers
  • Best Credit Card Offers For Businesses: January 2019
  • The Best Free Credit Score Sites

The post The Top No Transfer Fee Credit Cards Worth Your Look appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Florida Small Businesses

Does finding capital for your small business seem like an insurmountable task? While it may seem impossible on the surface, the secret is that there are lots of lenders willing to finance your business. The key is knowing where to look.

If you’re a small business owner in Florida, you’re in luck. There are many options to consider when it’s time to apply for small business financing. Whether you’re new to the game and need money for startup costs or you’re an established small business looking to expand, we’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll explore the financing options available to you. We’ll cover national lenders that offer easy online applications and take a look at local banks and credit unions. We’ll explore small business grants which give you free (yes, free!) money for your business. Finally, we’ll take a look at the options available to startups. Ready to get your financing? Let’s go!

Online Business Lenders For Florida Businesses

The internet has made our lives more convenient than ever. From online banking to communicating with family and friends to watching our favorite funny cat videos on YouTube, the internet has changed the way we interact with the world.

For small business owners, the internet has also opened up new opportunities in lending. Just a few decades ago, getting a business loan meant heading to your local bank, presenting your pitch, and waiting for that phone call approving your loan … or, more likely, turning you down. Today, you can apply for loans, lines of credit, credit cards, and other financial products from the comfort of your home or office.

Not only is the application process easier, but now, small business owners that wouldn’t qualify for bank loans have options as well. No matter your industry, time in business, annual revenue, or personal credit score, there’s an online lender that can help you get the financing you need.

Lendio

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Want to shop options without filling out a million applications? Give Lendio a try. Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator, connecting you with more than 75 financing partners with just one application.

Through Lendio, you can apply for all types of small business financing. If you need a large amount of capital to fund your expansion, apply for a low-interest, long-term Small Business Administration loan. Looking for a flexible form of financing? See if you qualify for a line of credit or business credit card. Need new equipment for your business? Try equipment financing.

Some of the financial products offered through Lendio’s network include:

  • Small Business Administration Loans: $50,000 to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Lines Of Credit: $1,000 to $500,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Equipment Financing: $5,000 to $5 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Term Loans: $5,000 to $2 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Short Term Loans: $2,500 to $500,000 with terms up to 3 years
  • Merchant Cash Advances: $5,000 to $200,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Commercial Mortgages: $250,000 to $5 million with terms up to 25 years

Borrower requirements, rates, and terms vary based on the type of loan you select, the lender you work with, your borrowing amount, and your creditworthiness. Applying with Lendio to receive offers does not affect your credit score. However, if you move forward with a lender’s offer, a hard credit pull may be required.

SmartBiz

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Have you tried to receive a bank loan, but your application was rejected? You’re certainly not alone. Most small business owners find that receiving a low-cost, long-term loan from a bank is difficult. This is because banks take a hard look at risk. Banks and credit unions want to work with low-risk borrowers — established businesses with solid business and personal credit profiles and high annual revenues.

For many new and growing businesses, meeting these requirements is impossible. But this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with only high-interest, short-term loan options. You can receive affordable financing with great terms by applying for a Small Business Administration loan.

These loans are backed by the SBA, so banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders feel more comfortable loaning to small businesses – even those with less-than-perfect credit or low revenues. The SBA takes on some of the risk for lenders, while small business owners get to enjoy flexible, affordable loan options.

You can apply for an SBA loan through your bank or credit union. Or you can do what many busy entrepreneurs do and apply through SmartBiz.

With SmartBiz, you can pre-qualify for an SBA loan in just minutes with no effect on your credit score. You may be eligible to receive funding as quickly as 7 days after completing your application — much faster than the weeks it may take through your bank.

SmartBiz offers two types of SBA loans. Working capital and debt refinancing loans are available in amounts of $30,000 to $350,000. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes including:

  • Refinancing Debt
  • Equipment Or Inventory Purchases
  • Hiring Employees
  • Business Expansions
  • Marketing Costs

To qualify for a working capital and debt refinancing loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 2 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 640 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow to support loan payments
  • No outstanding tax liens
  • No bankruptcies or forecloses within the last 3 years
  • No previous defaults on government-backed loans

Working capital and debt refinancing loans have interest rates between 8.25% and 9.25% with repayment terms of 10 years.

You can also apply for an SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan. These loans start at $500,000 and can go up to $5 million; they can be used to purchase commercial real estate or refinance your existing property loan. Funds can’t be used to purchase investment properties or to fund the construction of a new commercial building.

To qualify for an SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan, you must meet the following borrower requirements:

  • The property must be at least 51% owner-occupied
  • At least 3 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 675 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow to support loan payments
  • Property purchase price must be higher than $500,000
  • No outstanding tax liens
  • No previous defaults on government-backed loans

SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loans have interest rates of 7% to 8.25% with repayment terms of 25 years.

If you don’t want to apply for an SBA loan or need funding quickly, SmartBiz has also partnered with banks to offer competitive term loans. These loans are available in amounts from $30,000 to $350,000 with terms of 2 to 5 years. Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% to 26.9%.

OnDeck

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If you don’t qualify for an SBA loan or you need money fast, you could get the capital you need with an alternative online lender like OnDeck. OnDeck offers two financial products for small businesses: term loans and lines of credit.

With an OnDeck term loan, you could qualify to receive up to $500,000. OnDeck offers short-term loan options with terms of 3 to 12 months. These loans are best for purchasing inventory, paying marketing expenses, or seasonal hiring or inventory needs. Short-term loan options have a simple interest rate starting at 9%.

Long-term loan options are also available with terms of 15 to 36 months. These loans are best for larger projects including purchasing equipment or business expansion. Annual interest rates for long-term loans start at 9.99%.

For both loan options, fixed daily or weekly payments are automatically deducted from your business bank account. To qualify for OnDeck loans, you must:

  • Have a time in business of at least 12 months
  • Have at least $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Have a personal credit score of 500 or above

If you want a more flexible financing option, you can apply for a line of credit up to $100,000. You can use your line of credit whenever you need it, including when you have unexpected expenses or gaps in cash flow.

The APR for an OnDeck line of credit starts at 13.99%. Fixed weekly payments are automatically taken from your business bank account. There are no draw fees, but a monthly maintenance fee of $20 is required. This fee is waived for 6 months if you draw at least $5,000 within 5 days of opening your account.

To qualify for an OnDeck line of credit, you must meet the following requirements:

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

Fundbox

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If a flexible line of credit seems like the best option for your business, consider giving Fundbox a shot. Fundbox is unique in that the performance of your business — not your personal or business credit score — is the most important qualifying factor.

With Fundbox, you can receive a line of credit up to $100,000. Your line of credit can be used for nearly any business purpose, from buying inventory and supplies to covering payroll or an unexpected emergency. You can make multiple draws from your line of credit, and funds can be transferred to your account as quickly as the next business day.

Fundbox fees start at 4.66% of the draw amount. You can choose from 12- or 24-week terms, and repayments are automatically deducted from your business bank account each week. If you repay your balance early, remaining fees are waived. No fees are charged if you don’t use your line of credit.

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

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

A soft credit inquiry is performed during the application process, so your credit will not be affected just by applying. After you’re approved and draw funds for the first time, a hard credit inquiry will be performed.

BlueVine

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BlueVine is another lender that offers flexible lines of credit. However, this lender also offers an additional option for qualified borrowers: invoice factoring.

With a BlueVine line of credit, you could qualify to receive up to $250,000. Rates start at 4.8%, and you only pay for the used portion of funds. Your line of credit can be used for any business purpose. Weekly repayments are automatically taken from your business bank account.

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

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

If you have unpaid invoices, you may qualify for BlueVine’s invoice factoring service. Factoring lines of up to $5 million are available for qualified borrowers. Rates start at just 0.25% per week.

With invoice factoring, you’ll submit an application to BlueVine. Once approved, you can automatically sync your invoices from a supported accounting software. You can also upload your invoices to the BlueVine dashboard.

Once your invoices are received, BlueVine pays you 85% to 90% of the invoice amount up front. Once the invoice has been paid, you’ll receive the remaining funds, less fees charged by BlueVine.

To qualify for BlueVine’s invoice factoring, you need:

  • A B2B business
  • A personal credit score of 530 or above
  • A time in business of at least 3 months
  • At least $100,000 in annual revenue

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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If you’re an American Express business cardholder, you may qualify for an AmEx business loan. The great thing about these loans is that no credit check is required since American Express already has your information on file.

With an Amex business loan, you can receive $3,500 to $50,000 for any business purpose. The only restrictions are that funds can’t be used to pay for personal expenses or to repay debts to American Express. Repayment terms of 12, 24, or 36 months are available. Fixed interest rates are 6.98% to 19.97%.

To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Have an American Express Business Card and be in good standing

Upstart

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If you’re a new business, meeting the time in business or annual revenue requirements of business loans may be difficult. However, if you have at least a fair credit score, you have a financing option: using a personal loan for business expenses.

With a personal loan, your personal information, including your credit score and annual income, are used to determine if you qualify. Since this isn’t a business loan, annual revenue, business credit score, and time in business requirements won’t be a consideration for approval.

Upstart offers a personal loan option that may work for you. When you apply for a personal loan, you may qualify to receive $1,000 to $50,000. Rates with Upstart begin at just 8.09% for the most creditworthy borrowers. Maximum APRs are 35.99%. Payments are made monthly over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Unlike other lenders, Upstart looks at more than just your credit score. While this is still a factor in qualifying for a personal loan, your credit history, education, and job history are also considered for approval.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must have:

  • A credit score of at least 620
  • A solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts
  • No public records
  • Less than 6 credit inquiries over the last 6 months
  • At least $12,000 in annual income

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Florida

If you want loan options with extremely competitive rates and terms, consider applying for financing through a bank, credit union, or nonprofit lender. We’ve compiled some of the top options in the state of Florida that offer everything from traditional business loans to commercial mortgages and SBA loans.

Florida First Capital Finance Corporation

Florida First Capital Finance Corporation has been licensed by the SBA since 1984. Since that time, this nonprofit Certified Development Company has helped small businesses through the SBA 504 loan program.

Funds through the 504 program can be used to purchase commercial real estate, machinery, or equipment. Funds may also be used to refinance qualifying debt. Through the 504 loan program, Florida First Capital Finance Corporation provides up to 40% of loan funds. A traditional commercial lender provides up to 50% of loan funds. The remaining project balance is paid by the borrower as a down payment.

To qualify for a 504 loan, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Own a small business that meets the size standards set by the SBA
  • Be a U.S. citizen or registered alien
  • Operate a for-profit business
  • The net worth of the business must be $15 million or less
  • Average net income of the business must be $5 million or less
  • Business can’t be engaged in rental real estate investment

Suncoast Credit Union

Suncoast Credit Union is the largest credit union in the state of Florida. Branches are located in and around the Tampa area, and online services are available to members.

Through Suncoast Credit Union, you can apply for multiple financial products for your small business. In addition to business checking and savings accounts, payroll services, and employee benefits, Suncoast Credit Union also offers:

  • Business Lines Of Credit
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Vehicle & Equipment Loans
  • SBA Loans
  • Business Credit Cards

Rates, terms, and borrowing amounts vary by product selected and your creditworthiness.

To become a member of Suncoast Credit Union and be eligible to apply for business financing, you must have an immediate family member that has joined, live in a qualifying county in Florida, or be a Florida College alumnus.

Chase Bank

Chase Bank is one of the largest banks in Florida, with over 300 branches located across the state. Chase offers a variety of financial products targeted at small business owners. Not only does the lender offer business checking and savings accounts, payroll services, and merchant services accounts, small business owners can also apply to receive:

  • Business Lines Of Credit: Up to $500,000
  • Commercial Lines Of Credit: At least $500,000
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans: Conventional or SBA loans starting at $50,000
  • Small Business Loans: Starting at $5,000 with terms up to 84 months
  • SBA Loans: 7(a), Express, and 504 loans
  • Equipment Financing
  • Business Credit Cards

Rates, terms, and maximum borrowing limits are based on the product selected and the creditworthiness of the borrower.

Small Business Grants In Florida

With most small business financing, you get the capital your business needs and repay your borrowing amount, interest, and fees over time. With grants, you receive capital without having to pay back the funds. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the one drawback is that grants are very difficult to receive. Competition is high for small business grants. Many grants also have very specific requirements and may be awarded only to businesses owned by a minority or businesses in a specific industry. If you don’t meet all requirements, you won’t be eligible to receive a grant.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply. There are several small business grants available to business owners in the state of Florida that you may qualify to receive.

Enterprise Florida Inc.

Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI) offers training, development, and financing opportunities to small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and entrepreneurs.

There are multiple funding opportunities available through EFI. This includes:

  • State Small Business Credit Initiative: This program reduces the risk taken by lenders by purchasing up to 50% of loan funds, making it easier for small businesses to qualify for affordable loans.
  • Microfinance Guarantee Program: This program provides a guarantee on loans, similar to the SSBCI program. This helps lenders feel more secure in lending money to small businesses.
  • Florida Opportunity Fund: EFI is a sponsor of the Florida Opportunity Fund, which offers funding to businesses through programs including the Fund of Funds Program, the Clean Energy Investment Program, and Florida’s Venture Capital Program.

EFI has also partnered with other organizations to provide additional resources and funding opportunities to small businesses.

WomensNet Amber Grant

Women-owned businesses in Florida and across the nation can apply for a small business grant through WomensNet’s Amber Grant Program. Each month, a $1,000 small business grant is awarded to a woman-owned business. At the end of the year, all 12 monthly winners will be entered to win a grant of $10,000.

One of the best things about this grant is that the application process is simple. There are no lengthy applications to fill out and no extensive documentation to submit. Instead, all women business owners can apply by answering a few short questions about their business. There is a $15 application fee to enter. Deadlines for applications are the last day of each month.

Palm Beach County Job Growth Incentive Grant

Businesses that are relocating or establishing a business in Palm Beach County, Florida, may qualify for the Job Growth Incentive Grant Program. This award is given through the Economic Development Office and is available to startups and established businesses that will create jobs in Palm Beach County.

Interested businesses can contact the Palm Beach County Department of Housing and Economic Sustainability or the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County to learn more about applying for this grant.

VISIT FLORIDA Targeted Marketing Assistance Program Grant

If your business is in the tourism industry, you may qualify for VISIT FLORIDA’s Targeted Marketing Assistance Program Grant. Through this program, marketing costs up to $5,000 are matched with a grant.

To qualify, a business must be an approved TMAP business and a partner with VISIT FLORIDA. Applications must include a marketing project overview, a marketing strategy and media plan, anticipated results, and a marketing budget.

All independently owned and operated businesses with gross revenues of $1.25 million or less that are in the tourism industry may apply to become a TMAP business. Some nonprofit organizations may also qualify.

Loans & Financial Resources For Startups In Florida

Even established businesses may encounter challenges when applying for business financing. So, it should come as no surprise that startup businesses — businesses that haven’t yet established a credit profile or aren’t bringing in revenue — may have a more difficult time getting needed funding and resources.

Luckily, though, there are resources available to new businesses and startups. In the state of Florida, there are a few good options to consider.

SCORE

SCORE has 300 chapters throughout the nation, with chapters located in the state of Florida. Through SCORE, you can tune in to live and recorded webinars and take courses on small business topics. You also have access to e-guides, articles, blogs, and online workshops.

One of the most beneficial features of SCORE is that you can be matched with an expert business mentor. You can get advice at no charge with your mentor either face-to-face or online.

Small Business Development Center

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers multiple resources to business owners in Florida. The SBDC has online and offline resources, including videos, in-person workshops, and low-cost training.

The SBDC also offers consulting at no cost. New business owners can work with a Capital Access Specialist to find, prepare, and receive business financing.

There are several locations throughout the state of Florida in cities including Cape Coral, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Miami, and Pensacola.

The Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center

A good online resource for business owners in Florida is the Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center. Through this website, you can find business resources by city. This includes links to your local Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Councils, forums, and more.

If you want to take advantage of offline resources, the website has a list of events taking place all over the state. These events are centered on topics such as business and personal credit, SBA loans, business planning, and cybersecurity for small businesses.

Find An Investor

If you need capital for your startup, where do you turn? One option is to find an investor. While you can certainly find these investors on your own — think a friend, family member, or colleague — you can also hop online and give crowdfunding a shot.

With crowdfunding, you’ll use an online platform to pitch your business to potential investors. In exchange for their investment, you can offer up a reward (such as a new product for free or a reduced cost) or equity in your business.

One of the best things about crowdfunding is that there are no credit score, time in business, or revenue requirements, which is ideal for businesses that are just getting started. However, you do have to perfect your pitch, share your campaign online, and work harder to bring in investors that are willing to back your company.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

5 C's of Credit: What Lenders Look For

Now that you’re aware of the loan options available to you, the next step is to choose your lender. Unfortunately, this is when having so many choices has its drawbacks. If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to selecting a lender, ask yourself the following questions:

How Will I Use The Money?

You want to select a lender that offers financial products that best fit your needs. Let’s say you need working capital for your business. A loan used to purchase commercial property won’t be a good fit, so you could scratch this lender off the list. Plan how you intend to use your funds, then choose lenders that don’t have restrictions that would prevent you from effectively using your capital.

How Much Money Do I Need?

Knowing how much money you need is a critical step before you even start filling out an application. This not only helps you plan and budget for your own business, but most lenders want to know how much you need to borrow. Having a number in mind can also help you decide which lenders work best for your specific needs. If you need $250,000, a line of credit that maxes out at $100,000 just won’t work for your business.

Do I Meet The Lender’s Requirements?

Save yourself the trouble of unnecessary rejections by understanding the borrower requirements of every lender that interests you. If a lender requires a time in business of 2 years and you’re just opening your doors, you won’t qualify. If you need a personal credit score of 700 but yours is just 620, it’s time to search for another lender. Start your search by checking your free credit score online, then make sure you meet all borrower requirements before applying. Also, keep in mind that meeting the minimum requirements is not a guarantee of a loan offer.

Do I Want A Lump Sum Or Flexible Financing?

If you have a specific financial need in mind — purchasing new equipment or buying a commercial property, for instance — work with lenders that offer lump-sum loans. If you’d rather have a more flexible financing option — making payroll or covering revenue gaps — find a lender that offers a flexible form of financing such as a line of credit or business credit card.

Can I Afford It?

Sure, you may want a million dollars to build your business, but can your business afford it? Consider your outstanding debts and obligations, your current and project revenues, and shop around your options. Understand the fees and terms of your loan to determine if it’s something you can handle … or if it could drag your business deep into debt. Learn more about calculating the affordability of your small business loan.

Final Thoughts

In the state of Florida, there are plenty of lenders and small business resources at your disposal. The only thing you have to do is find the right resources for your business and leverage them to successfully start and build your business.

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

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The Best Alternatives To Credit Karma

Credit Karma is one of the most well-known—if not the most well-known—websites for checking personal credit scores. The site offers one of the simplest and quickest ways to check your credit score—and it’s pretty accurate, too.

But it’s far from the only site. When it comes to checking your credit score before applying for your next loan or credit card, you want to make sure you have the most accurate score possible. This way, you’ll know if you can apply right away or if you need to improve your score before seeking a loan. Even though Credit Karma is fairly accurate, the best option is to hunt around and get second and third opinions as well, giving you a well-rounded view of your credit history.

Of course, with so many sites advertising credit score features, which ones stack up best against Credit Karma? Keep reading to find out the best alternatives to Credit Karma!

Site Name Price Credit Score Source Credit Score Update Frequency

Discover Credit Scoreboard

Free Experian Monthly

WalletHub

Free TransUnion Daily

Credit Journey from Chase

Free TransUnion Weekly

Credit Sesame

Free TransUnion Monthly

Credit.com

Free Experian Every two weeks

PrivacyGuard

$9.99 per month Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion Daily

What Is Credit Karma & What Does It Offer?

How Much Does Credit Karma Cost?

Credit Karma itself is free to use. In fact, we’ve named it one of our favorite free credit-checking sites. The site does not charge users a fee for signing up and using the site, nor does it require users to link a credit card.

Instead, Credit Karma uses “personalized offers” to make money. These offers are more-or-less targeted advertisements for various products based on your credit profile. Example ads could include credit card offers or loan refinancing options. It is not required that you accept any of these offers to keep using Credit Karma.

Services Offered By Credit Karma

Credit Karma’s primary service is providing users with estimated credit scores. In terms of credit reporting bureaus, Credit Karma draws information from both Equifax and TransUnion to calculate credit scores, but it does not use the third major bureau, Experian. To tabulate your results, Credit Karma uses data from VantageScore (like most free credit-checking sites), a scoring model that can be compared to FICO scores (what’s used by many creditors).

This part of Credit Karma also gives users the option to monitor their score, dispute errors on their credit report, and simulate potential changes to their score.

Credit Karma offers a tax service that lets you e-file your federal and state taxes for free. It also provides access to various financial articles, as well as loan finder tools for personal and auto loans. Additional tools include a search helper for credit cards, an unclaimed money finder, reviews, and a financial advice forum.

Top Sites Like Credit Karma

Discover Credit Scoreboard

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: Experian
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Monthly
  • Other Services Offered: Credit report breakdown.

Run by credit card and banking company Discover, this service does not require users to be Discover customers to sign up. As one of the few free sites that pull data from Experian, Discover also gives you access to your FICO score, a rarity for a free credit-checking site.

Note, however, that because FICO offers numerous types of scores, the score you see through the Discover Credit Scoreboard may differ from what a potential creditor might use. Still, this is beneficial knowledge from an educational standpoint — and makes for a great general credit monitoring tool.

WalletHub

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Daily
  • Other Services Offered: 24/7 credit monitoring, full credit reports, credit card offers, and credit improvement algorithms.

WalletHub’s big draw is that it is the only free credit-checking site to offer daily credit checks. This is a very nifty feature because most sites only update monthly and only a few check in weekly. WalletHub’s data is derived from TransUnion via VantageScore. This service is completely free and does not require a credit card.

The site also offers other robust credit history tools, from full credit reports to an algorithm that identifies ways for you to improve your credit score. You’ll get access to customized credit card recommendations and savings alerts as well.

Credit Journey from Chase

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Weekly
  • Other Services Offered: Email alerts, score simulator, and credit history tracker.

Even though Credit Journey comes from a credit card and banking company, it’s free to all users, not just Chase customers. You can expect the site to generate a VantageScore for you using a TransUnion report.

Chase also offers a credit simulator (like Credit Karma) within their Credit Journey service. This lets you estimate how various financial actions might affect your future score. On top of this, the service provides email alerts and a basic credit history tracker.

Credit Sesame

  • Price: Free
  • Credit Score Source: TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Monthly
  • Other Services Offered: Credit monitoring, ID protection, credit report analysis, money-saving advice, credit card offers, and loan offers.

For Credit Sesame, you’ll get a TransUnion-based VantageScore. Like many other sites, Credit Sesame is completely free and you won’t need to hand over a credit card number.

Other features you can take advantage of with Credit Sesame include analytic tools to help find specific credit cards or loans that match your credit profile. You’ll also receive a full credit report analysis as well as monthly credit monitoring.

Credit.com

  • Price: Free ($21.95 per month option available)
  • Credit Score Source: Experian (plus options for Equifax and TransUnion)
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Every two weeks
  • Other Services Offered: Credit monitoring, personalized credit report card, credit repair service, and loan offers.

Credit.com is one of the few free sites to generate your score based on a report from Experian. The score they calculate is tabulated via VantageScore.

Your Experian VantageScore is always free with Credit.com, but if you want more details, the site offers a paid option to buy your FICO score, alongside reports from all three major bureaus. These additional features are offered in conjunction with Experian’s CreditWorks service. It costs $1 for a seven-day trial and then you’ll need to pay $21.95 per month afterward.

PrivacyGuard

  • Price: $1 for the first 14 days, $9.99 per month after
  • Credit Score Source: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
  • Credit Score Update Frequency: Daily
  • Other Services Offered: Identity theft protection, 24/7 credit monitoring, credit score alerts, credit score tracker, credit dispute assistance, identity fraud support, and a toll-free credit hotline.

If you’re looking for one place to monitor all three major bureaus on a daily basis, PrivacyGuard is a great option. Unfortunately, they only feature a paid service that goes for $9.99 a month after a $1 two-week long trial. It’s worth noting that PrivacyGuard does not use VantageScore or FICO for their credit score calculations. Instead, this site uses CreditXpert as its primary credit score provider.

Beyond simply accessing your credit score, you can also take advantage of identity theft protection and credit dispute assistance if you notice an error on one of your credit reports.

Should I Pay For Credit Monitoring?

In most cases, paid options are unnecessary. While you won’t actually see what creditors might see when it comes to your credit score, free sites will still give you a reasonably accurate ballpark figure.

On top of this, getting your score checked at free sites should not negatively impact your score. This means you can compare scores across a range of sites for no cost. Doing so will enable you to get data from all three major credit bureaus while also finding out scores from both VantageScore and FICO.

However, if you want to take advantage of other fraud management tools, a paid service may be the way to go. Free sites will generally provide rudimentary features like a simple credit score, while paid sites (such as PrivateGuard) provide a more robust set of fraud protection options.

How To Get Your Credit Reports For Free

There is another way to get your credit report for free. By U.S. law, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are required to share a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. If you request a copy of your credit report, you’ll get the full report, not the limited version you’d get from a credit-checking site.

To request a free credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.

Note that these reports do not include actual credit scores. They’ll simply show your credit history, allowing you to check for potential errors. To access credit scores, you’ll need to sign up for either a free or paid website that pulls scores for you.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, credit-checking sites can only give you estimates of what creditors might be looking at when it comes to your credit score. While you might get fairly accurate estimates, it’s not always possible to see exactly what a potential credit card issuer or loan provider sees after you fill out an application.

As such, it’s rarely a bad idea to sign up for multiple credit-checking sites. There are numerous free options available and checking your history shouldn’t actually harm your score. By looking at different sites, you can access data from the three major bureaus and scores from both FICO and VantageScore. Getting this holistic view of your credit history will enable you to apply for your next loan or credit card with confidence.

The post The Best Alternatives To Credit Karma appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

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Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

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