This post originally appeared at 11+ Ways To Check Your NAP Consistency for Local SEO via ShivarWeb
NAP stands for “Name, Address, Phone Number.”
NAP is the core element of local business citations (aka listings) across the Internet.
Local search engines use citations to form a confidence score that any given business actually exists in the physical world.
Search engines combine the confidence score with a relevance score for a local search query to rank businesses in the search results.
NAP Consistency matters for local SEO because it hurts your confidence score. If a search engine is not confident that you exist in the physical world, you are less likely to appear in search results.
That’s why NAP consistency matters. And NAP consistency is especially important for Local SEO and local marketing because it’s one of the few direct ranking factors that you have total control over.
But how do you find all your NAP variations and fix them?
Well, it’s a bit like looking up how to spell a word in the dictionary. You need to have a general idea of what you are looking for plus a few tools.
Here are a few tools & techniques that I use to track down every local listing with a NAP citation to fix the incorrect version and remove duplicate listings.
These are in order of expense & accuracy. If you have some budget, skip down to SEMrush Local Listing Tool to save some time.
Google Your Phone Numbers
Make a list of all your phone numbers. All your employee’s numbers. Your personal phone number. All of them.
Scrape / copy all the listings that show up. You can go ahead and fix them, but keep in mind that you might find duplicates later.
Google Your Addresses
Use the same process as the phone numbers. Google your current and former addresses.
However, with addresses, try to use a general form of your address if possible. For example, if your business is on 200 Elm St SE Newnan, GA 30263 then try just searching for “200 Elm St Newnan, GA” – dropping the “SE” and the ZIP Code.
Google Your Business Names
Use the same process as phone numbers and addresses. With your business name, always search for the shortest / broadest version.
Copy down, scrape, or fix all the inaccurate listings.
Remember that your goal is for every citation to match exactly. If most citations refer to “Shivar BBQ” then every citation should say “Shivar BBQ”.
You don’t want “Shivar Barbecue” or “Shivar BBQ Restaurant”. Make sure that every citation is exactly right.
If you have duplicates, you need to remove the duplicates.
Check Google Keyword SERPs
Now, if you’ve found many inaccurate listings, there’s a quick way to check for importance. Go ahead and Google a few key search queries – the keywords that your customers are certainly using.
Pull all the listing websites that show up until Page 5 of the search results. Every city will be a little different.
Do a manual search on each listing website for variations of your NAP so that you can fix inconsistencies and remove duplicates.
These first four methods are free but tedious. If you have some budget, using a premium tool will speed up the process.*
*Note – There’s a whole world of local SEO tools out there – including “done for you” tools like Yext. I do not recommend those unless you are dealing with hundreds & thousands of locations. Turning your citations over to a 3rd party can have nasty consequences.
Manual NAP repair is *always* worth the effort if you can. If you have budget, spend it on a tool that will help you find the listings while manually fixing the listings.
Check SEMrush Local Listing Tool
SEMrush is an entire suite of SEO and Paid Marketing intelligence tools.
I like to use SEMrush because a single premium subscription provides access to a local listing management tool in addition to one of the best backlink tools, keyword research tools, and advertising research tools.
You can run a single search for free here. It won’t be able to find all your NAP inconsistencies, but it will find most of them. And it will find the most important ones quickly – along with a quick link to fix them.
Check Moz Local Search
Moz offers a stand alone Local Search tool that will find most inconsistent and duplicate locations.
It’s a great middle option for businesses with dozens of locations.
Check WhiteSpark Citation Builder
WhiteSpark is one of the most well-known local SEO agencies. They have an entire suite of tools that you can use for quick checks.
Their premium tools and premium services will help you get the listings edited & changed quickly in addition to finding new local links. Unlike Yext, they’ll change the listings manually, so you are always in control.
Check SEOfoxy’s Local Listing Tool
SEOfoxy has a local listing tool that is a bit error-prone, but has a ton of premium-grade search features for free.
I’ll use it for a quick double-check.
Check Data Aggregators
There are four large business data aggregators in the United States –
Foursquare (took Acxiom’s place)
These businesses are kind of like Equifax, Transunion, and Experian in the consumer world. They are almost like the database of record for all businesses in the United States. Their database gets sent out to many large services (like Apple Maps, banks, etc). If your information is wrong with them, you’ll just be playing whack-a-mole with your local listings.
It can be extremely difficult to get your data fixed with them. But the important part is finding your data in their database and setting up some sort of account to provide some input on your data.
Check ZoomInfo Database
ZoomInfo is the hot new business data startup trying to compete with the big four data aggregators. They have a different database with their own primary sources. Make sure you are in their database.
Bonus – Use Your Library
If you are having trouble with lots of these databases or work in a hyper-competitive market (e.g., Los Angeles locksmiths), then it might be worthwhile to check ReferenceUSA and Dun & Bradstreet. You can access both those resources for free via your local library.
Next Steps for NAP Consistency
NAP consistency is a pain. But it’s worthwhile. The days of the Yellow Pages – or even word of mouth – is long, long gone. We even get directions to local places that we know via local search.
There’s a lot about local search that is out of your hands. But NAP consistency is one factor that is entirely in your control. Make it part of your recurring business marketing. Focus on making small improvements over time.
Email marketing remains one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reach customers, and I can’t think of a single business that couldn’t benefit from email marketing in some way. That’s because it is both low cost and versatile — you can use it for promoting a product, or you can create a series of emails to warm your customers up and keep them connecting with you.
While, of course, it is entirely free to send an email, the cost of the platform is highly variable, depending on what your business needs are and a few other factors. You can often send simple email marketing campaigns for no cost with many platforms — including Square — but to send out emails based on triggered events or target your list wisely, you’ll usually have to start a subscription.
In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can send Square emails for free and what comes along with the Square Marketing subscription. Then we’ll compare some other email marketing platforms with Square, so you can see if you’re missing any features you may want or if it is just right.
What Is Square Marketing?
Square Marketing integrates with your Square POS so that you can send both one-off and recurring emails to your contacts. Because your Square Marketing syncs with your POS, you can target different types of shoppers with relevant messaging based on what they buy at your store.
Let’s discuss the different types of email marketing campaigns you can send and how Square’s email marketing features can support your goals.
Square Marketing Features
The Square email marketing subscription includes these core functions:
Unlimited email sends
Email designer to choose themes and styles
Fully integrates with POS and Square Dashboard
Automated email campaigns based on an event trigger
Automatic email collection with payment and digital receipt approval by your customer
Seamless coupon redemption
Sales and campaign real-time reporting performance data
Marketing Assistant bot helps guide campaigns and makes suggestions
When you use Square mail marketing for your campaign goals, you’ll find options under Blast CampaignsÂ in the left-hand margin. Blasts go out to your entire list and include:
Offering a coupon
Sending a quick update
Creating a newsletter
Sending an event invitation
Product or service announcement
Under Automated Campaigns, you have the option of setting up a simple workflow to reach customers after they take a specific action, triggered event, or period of inactivity in the case of a lapsed customer.
A thank-you email after purchase or signup
Bringing back lapsed customers
Birthday or anniversary email
Free Email Campaigns For All Square Users
Square offers four free email templates to all Square users, whether you have a monthly subscription to the company’s email marketing service or not:
Drive online orders
Promote gift cards
Collect payment or donation
Here is an example of a free email campaign I created under Drive Online Orders campaign:
Example of free email campaign set up with a general Square account
Overall, Square email marketing provides a basic feature-set with generous template options so that you can target based on your goals.
How Much Does Square Marketing Cost?
Square Email Marketing Pricing
Square marketing costs are broken down by the number of contacts, so you’ll have all of the features available no matter what price point you need:
0-500 Customer Contacts: $15/month
501-1,000 Customer Contacts: $25/month
1,001-2,000 Customer Contacts: $35/month
2,001-4,000 Customer Contacts: $45/month
4,001-9,000 Customer Contacts: $75/month
Square pricing continues to increase incrementally based on customer contacts.
If these plans seem like a little more than you need, and you’re only interested in sending an occasional marketing email to a smaller list, Square also offers a one-off email sending rate at $0.10 per emailÂ to your existing email contacts.
Keep in mind that Square offers four types of email campaigns to all Square users at no charge, which we covered in the section above.
How To Create A Square Marketing Campaign
Setting up an email campaign with Square Marketing is very simple. When I look at the Dashboard, what strikes me the most is how easy it is to find a ready-made campaign based on your objective. Each selection you make as far as goals guides you further into the process, with premade templates and designs already built for you. Square even adds suggestive text into the blocks that you can use or adjust. I can see how this would be particularly beneficial for someone if marketing or writing wasn’t already in their wheelhouse.
Below I’ve created a sample campaign, so you can get an idea of how the process flows from beginning to end.
Step 1) Define Your Objective
We are going to create a blast campaign to reach every contact with the same offer — a coupon. I’ve selected Offer a Coupon as our objective.
Step 2) Design The Campaign
After clicking the blue Design Campaign in the upper right-hand corner, I was taken to the email editor. I chose a floral design and am keeping all of the preset text Square offers to show you how simple the company makes it:
If you want more design freedom, you can also head into the drag-and-drop editor that’s accessed at the Blocks tab under Design Your Campaign. Since my goal is to highlight the simplicity in creating a campaign, I’m showing what you can produce with just a few clicks.
Step 3) Choose Your Audience
Next, you can choose to send to everyone on your list, or you can target certain contacts. You can see in the image below that you’ll also be able to share any promotion to your Facebook followers if you’ve linked accounts!
I’ve chosen to send my blast campaign to everyone on my list.
Step 4) Review & Send
The last and final step in sending your Square email campaign out to your customers is reviewing it. If you do not have a full email marketing subscription, as seen in the example below, you can opt to pay per email, or you can sign up for the free 30-day trial Square offers. I wanted to point out that you can also opt to resend the email if your customer doesn’t open it, and you can send a reminder email before the coupon is set to expire. Those send out automatically if you select that option on this screen.
As your email list grows based on sales, Square automatically begins segmenting into targeted email lists for you (e.g., new, regular, or lapsed customer).
How Does Square Marketing Compare To Other Email Marketing Options?
Square email marketing software doesn’t have some of the features you’ll find in some other types of email service providers. It is built with the end-user in mind — a busy small business operator or manager who doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to marketing. While you will have everything you need to create a myriad of email campaigns, you won’t be able to create customized segmentation through tagging or create complicated if-then workflows like you can with other options, such as Drip or Salesforce. You also can’t A/B test to compare approaches in messaging or design. That said, Square does do what it says it will, and that is to simplify email marketing. It accomplishes this well for the small business by syncing data with your Square POS and even offering you campaign suggestions automatically.
Let’s take a look at how some of the other bigger names compare with Square, so you can decide if this suits your needs or if you need something with more bells and whistles.
Square Marketing VS Mailchimp
If you’re up for it, Mailchimp allows you to do a lot more than send a newsletter or create a simple email campaign. Mailchimp’s features are designed to extrapolate more data as your customers interact with your emails, landing pages, and social posts — and these are all included in the free plan.
Mailchimp’s generous free plan allows you to reach up to 2,000 contacts and is comparable to Square with providing basic reports and recommendations. One thing I like is that the first paid plan is only $9.99 and includes A/B testing, which can be a really cost-effective way to test campaigns and ideas.
You will also find a Mailchimp and Square Payments integration back in your Square Dashboard. If you do this, you can also sell directly from the free landing page and start selling online without a website. For more information about Mailchimp, read our full review.
Square Marketing VS Drip
Drip is a little on the pricey side, but it has a lot of features that help you dig into the data, and the whole platform is created with eCommerce in mind. Some of the customer feedback about Drip is that it can feel overwhelming because you’ll need to learn the platform to get what you pay for out of it. So if you don’t have the time to sit down and learn how to use all of the more advanced features, it is probably not the best option for you.
Where Drip truly shines is in the personalized campaigns you can create once the data starts coming in after you’ve set up your tagging and triggered events features. Through tagging and tracking, for example, you can learn exactly where your contacts go and what they’ve put in their cart. With that information, you can even set up automatic emails for triggered events, such as an abandoned cart or product promotion that fits with what they have browsed on your site. For these reasons, if you have an eCommerce shop and a bit of time to get to know the features, Drip provides a well-oiled marketing machine that is largely automated with plenty of data to dig your teeth into.
Square Marketing VS Sendinblue
If you have a more extensive list and want to experiment with more features, Sendinblue should definitely be on your list to consider. You can try this email marketing platform for free, and in fact, you can keep using Sendinblue for free at the lowest tier with limited features. And you can also test the service on all of your contacts on your list because the company doesn’t put a cap on contacts.
Sendinblue is one of our highest rated free email marketing platforms because it has an impeccable reputation on consumer review sites and consistently earns high ratings. A few of the most noteworthy features that the free plan includes are:
Marketing automation workflows
You won’t find these features with Square’s email platform, and for the paid tiers, the features and customer reach are leagues ahead if you compare the cost.
Square Marketing FAQS
Because Square is such a large platform and evolves quite frequently, we find that Square customers have some common questions about email marketing. From cost to some of the finer details, these are some of the more popular questions we come across.
How Much Is Square Marketing?
Square marketing starts at $15/month, and for that, you can send up to 500 emails to all of your existing contacts. Every pricing tier includes all of Square’s email marketing features. For more about the features and cost, check out the beginning sections above in this post for more details.
It is worth mentioning again, however, that you can send a few types of Square Marketing emails for free, and these templates can be accessed at your Dashboard under the Marketing tab.
What Is Considered A Reachable Customer?
A reachable customer means that you can send them your email marketing communications. So who is reachable? Square keeps track of your reachable customers automatically in your customer directory, and here’s who you’ll find:
Any customer you imported with an email address
Customers who have visited you and paid with a credit or debit card and elected to receive a digital receipt via email
Will I Be Automatically Charged More If I Exceed A Certain Number Of Reachable Customers?
Your subscription pricing will increase as your contacts increase, as your cost is wholly based on reachable contacts. With that in mind, be aware of any changes in cost as your list grows. Additionally, for those who also use Square Appointments, your list is automatically merged with your customer directory, so this can also increase your monthly cost.
Does Square Marketing Work With Square Checkout?
Yes. When you add your customer email during checkout, the information is synced with Square’s email marketing software so that your reachable list grows with it. Additionally, when you use coupon promotions through Square’s email marketing, the code is also synced to apply with Square Checkout.
How Do I Cancel Square Marketing?
As a reminder, you can try Square Marketing 30 days for free, and if you want to cancel before you’re charged, or cancel any other time, it is very easy to do so.
View all of your subscription billing details by going to the Pricing & Subscriptions section at your Square Dashboard. Here you can unsubscribe by clicking Cancel Service. Square discontinues your subscription for the service on the first of the following month, so you will continue to have access through your current paid-up month. You can also pause your subscription under Pricing & Subscriptions by clicking Manage next to your subscription and then Pause Subscription.
Is Square Marketing Right For Me?
Square Marketing enables anyone who already uses Square POS to have a simple and easy way to start sending out emails to their contacts, but is it right for your business? I would be comfortable recommending Square to any business owner who is strapped for time and wouldn’t consider marketing to be in their wheelhouse. That’s because sending out a campaign with Square is just so easy to use and set up, with a lot of prebuilt promotions, templates, and even copy that’s already written for you should you choose to use it. And when you do want to customize your emails, Square has a simple drag-and-drop editor that allows you to play around with formatting.
If you aren’t already sending emails and you don’t have experience with email marketing platforms, Square is a great place to start. However, if you want to go a little deeper and need some advanced features, such as tagging, advanced tracking, and A/B testing, you’re probably better off looking at one of the other options included in this post.
For more resources on small business marketing, check out The Best Free Email Marketing Software Programs and How To Create A Successful Email Marketing Strategy.
The post What Is Square Marketing & Is It Right For My Business? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
The COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic has changed the world we live in. This global emergency is all that anyone’s talking about, whether you flip on your TV or log onto social media. One thing that has been circulating throughout the news in recent days is the term “social distancing.” For consumers, social distancing may be an inconvenience that ultimately helps slow the spread of the virus. For business owners, on the other hand, social distancing has a much bigger impact. With states putting restrictions in place and the majority of consumers opting to self-isolate, many businesses are shuttering their doors. It may feel like too much for you and other small business owners to handle.
It is a scary time for everyone. And while we don’t know what the future holds, there are a few things you can do starting now so that your business can adapt to and survive the coronavirus. In this post, we’re going to take a look at social distancing. We’ll talk about what it means, how it may affect your business, and how you can adapt and grow closer to your customers during this challenging time.
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a strategy designed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that events or gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the virus. If you do go out in public, it’s important to stay at least six feet away from other people, as one of the ways that the virus is spread is through close contact.
It’s also recommended to limit going out in public unless necessary, such as when buying groceries or receiving medical care. Travel bans are being put in place by countries around the world, and unnecessary travel should be canceled or rescheduled.
What Does Social Distancing Mean For Small Businesses?
Many businesses are also taking steps to protect their employees and customers, either by law or simply by choice. In states like Illinois and Ohio, all bars and restaurant dining rooms have been required to close. Other states may follow suit, while some businesses are choosing to close their doors before it’s even required. This includes retail stores, gyms, daycares, movie theaters, hotels, and casinos. Others aren’t completely shutting down but are closing public spaces, such as restaurant dining rooms and hotel conference rooms.
Unfortunately, social distancing means that most small businesses will see a downturn in their business. Reduced operating hours, closures, and fear and uncertainty among the public all equal a reduction in customers. The good news, though, is that there are ways that you can better connect with customers and continue to bring in revenue — strategies that we’ll discuss a little later.
With all that’s going on in the world today, there’s no better time than right now to evaluate your business policies for now and the future. For starters, take a look at your staffing policies. It’s a good time to inform employees that anyone that is sick should stay home to protect themselves and others. Not only does this apply to the coronavirus, but also to other contagious illnesses such as the flu.
Next, reevaluate your cleaning and sanitation policies. It’s likely that you already have some in place, but are you doing enough? In addition to your typical cleaning and disinfecting routine, consider cleaning more frequently. Many businesses are changing their hours so that employees have extra time to clean and sanitize surfaces before opening again the next day. Taking the time to clean and sanitize your business helps protect you, your employees, and your customers from the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Another thing to take a closer look at is your payment policy. Will this remain the same, or will you only accept payment cards? If you’re now taking orders online or by phone, do you have a way to do that securely? If not, it’s time to explore your options to make payments safe and convenient for customers. Learn how to get started by checking out Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments.
No matter what you choose to change within your business, there’s one thing that you must do: keep your customers in the loop. Send out emails, post signage (if your business is still open), or use social media to provide updates, such as new hours, online ordering options, and measures your business is taking to protect customers.
4 Ways You Can Adapt To Social Distancing & Keep Your Business Afloat
The coronavirus has already made its impact on the world, and there’s no predicting what will come next. Instead of sitting around and waiting, it’s time to take initiative and find new ways to serve your customers and keep the money flowing. You may have to get creative, but there are options that can help keep your business operating despite social distancing. And the best news? Many options don’t even require a huge financial investment!
Unsure of the next steps for your business? Consider adopting one (or more!) of these strategies:
Self-ordering kiosks & checkouts
Online ordering & carryout
Selling on social media
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these strategies to help you determine which is best for your business.
Adding Self-Serve Kiosks & Checkouts
If your business is a retail shop or quick-service restaurant, consider adding self-serve kiosks and checkouts. Implementing this technology into your business allows your customers to scan products they’re buying, place orders from your menu, and even pay for their purchases all through a kiosk or checkout terminal.
How does this benefit your business? There is less interaction with other people, so this strategy can mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. If you’ve reduced your staff due to illness or expenses, self-serve kiosks and checkout terminals help ease the burden that falls on your remaining staff.
However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. First, not every business will be able to use this tech in their business. Retail stores and quick-service or fast-food restaurants would benefit the most from the addition of self-serve kiosks and checkouts. And while these conveniences can lighten your load, you’ll also need to remember that your equipment must be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly, and often.
Another drawback is the expense. Installing self-serve kiosks and terminals can get pretty expensive, and businesses that were struggling prior to the epidemic may want to look at more cost-effective options. However, it may be well worth the cost for a number of small businesses. Adding this technology to your business can help you better compete with your competitors — and in some cases, even give you a leg up. More businesses are moving to the latest point-of-sale (POS) systems and terminals, so now could be the time for your business to get set up.
If pricing still has you on the fence, know that there are options. Some POS providers provide financing, allowing you to make affordable payments over time. You can also write your equipment off come tax time.
If the concept of self-serve kiosks and checkouts is foreign to you, learn more about this technology and why it could be right for your business by checking out, A Basic Guide To Self-Service POS Systems.
Adding Online Ordering, Delivery, & Carryout
Many governments around the world are ordering the closure of restaurant dining rooms. Whether a closure is mandated in your area or you simply choose to close the dining room on your own, there are still ways to bring in revenue. Many restaurants are now offering online ordering, delivery, and carryout services.
If this sounds like a lot of work, in many cases, it’s hardly any work at all. In fact, you may already have everything you need to start serving your customers in new ways. Before you get started, determine what strategies will work best for your restaurant. For example, do you have an unused drive-thru window? Do you have servers and bussers that you could keep on staff to deliver orders or box up takeout options?
Now is a good time to get really creative, too. For instance, if you plan to shorten operating hours in the evenings, consider offering “take and bake” meals that customers can heat up at home for a quick and tasty dinner. Or you could take a load off of your fatigued customers by offering curbside pickup — they place an order, park their vehicles, and one of your staff members brings their order right to their car.
How do you get started in offering these new options to customers?Â It may be easier than you think. Here’s how to get started.
How To Accept Call-In Orders
Some customers may not have access to the internet or simply prefer to call in their orders. Call-in orders can be used for delivery, in-store pickup, or curbside carryout. There’s a good chance that your restaurant’s POS system already offers this feature. If you’re unsure of how to do this, contact your POS company to learn if this feature is available.
If your POS system doesn’t have this feature, it’s possible to do this manually. Have someone man the phones, take down orders and relay them to the kitchen, and ring up each customer.
How To Accept Online Orders
During the pandemic, many people will be at home placing restaurant orders online. The easiest way to offer online ordering is by seeing if your POS system integrates with third-party services such as GrubHub, Postmates, or DoorDash. Customers can easily place online orders for pickup or delivery, and you won’t have to add extra staff to handle your deliveries.
If you want to keep your employees busy, consider adding in-house delivery services. While this will require more work on your part, you can utilize current employees to take on this task. The benefits of this option are two-fold: you’re providing a needed service for customers while allowing your employees to continue to work and get a paycheck. Like the other strategies in this post, this is also one that you can maintain after restrictions have been lifted and life begins its return to normalcy.
If you’re in the restaurant industry, this time can be a challenge. Keep serving your customers and bringing in revenues by checking out our Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants.
Expanding To eCommerce
If you are a retailer, you’re in luck. Even if your doors remain closed during the pandemic, you can still provide your products to customers that shop online. If you’re new to eCommerce, making the switch can seem long, difficult, and expensive. But you’d be surprised at how easy this is for may retailers.
This option will be easiest for retailers with limited inventory. If you’re a larger business with a lot of inventory, setting up an online store isn’t impossible but may take extra time and effort.
While you can certainly set your web store online manually, first look into the capabilities of your POS system. Many systems already integrate with popular web store options and even offer automated features like importing inventory.
New to eCommerce? Learn how to get started in just five easy steps.
Selling On Social Media
If you’re unable to easily set up a web store or you have a large online following, you can put social media to work for your business by selling on selling on Facebook or using Instagram Shoppable Posts. The advantages of selling on social media are that it’s quick, easy, and inexpensive. This is a great option for any retailer that doesn’t want to set up a full eCommerce site but still wants to reach customers and bring in revenue.
The Best Ways To Stay Close To Your Customers (While Practicing Social Distancing)
Social distancing may mean that your business sees fewer customers. Even when the pandemic is over, it may take some time for business to return to normal. This doesn’t mean that you have to drop off the radar of your customers. Use these strategies to continue to connect with customers while practicing social distancing.
Use Social Media
Many people are stuck at home right now checking their social media. Why don’t you let your posts be among those that they see? Use your social media pages to keep customers updated on what’s happening with your business. Post updated store hours, closures, and any other changes to your regular operating schedule. You can also use social media to announce new services (such as your new online store or delivery services), post current and upcoming promotions, and keep your customers excited for what you have to offer during and after the pandemic.
Use Email Lists
Not everyone uses social media, so make sure to keep all customers updated that have signed up for your email list. If you don’t already have an email list set up, make sure to add a sign-up option on your website and social media pages. Just as you did on your social media pages, you can update customers on changes within your organization. You can also use your email lists to offer exclusive promos to subscribers.
Offer Gift Cards
Now is a fantastic time to offer gift cards that can be purchased now and used later. This is a great way for customers to plan future purchases or even provide a quick and simple gift for their loved ones. E-gift cards are easily purchased online and sent right to the customer — no plastic cards or in-store pickup required. Many POS systems, payment processors, and online stores integrate with gift cards, so check with your provider to learn more. You can also read our post How To Implement A Gift Card Program For Small Business to learn how to get started.
Promote A Good Cause
While you want to remain top-of-mind for your customers, don’t just think about the hardships of your own business. Instead, spend time encouraging your community to give back in any way possible. Donations to food banks or local organizations and volunteering are just a few options that can bring the community together during these difficult times. You may even consider launching a fundraiser or directing customers to other fundraisers, events, and news in your area.
It’s a scary time for all of us out here, so try to remain positive and keep your customers in good spirits. There is enough negativity throughout the news and social media that can raise fears and anxiety. Don’t pretend that nothing is happening in the world around us, but instead, put out positive and encouraging messages. There’s no better time than right now to connect with your community and offer your support for your followers and customers.
Adapt Your Business To Social Distancing To Weather The Storm
People are dealing with a lot of fear and uncertainty worldwide, and business owners are no exception. Your health, the health of those around you, and maintaining your livelihood can easily overwhelm you. But just know that there are options available that will help keep your business afloat. While you may have to dedicate your time and may even need to consider a small investment, these efforts can boost sales and help your business come out on the other side. Good luck!
For more resources on surviving the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus, check out our COVID-19 hub for small businesses.
The post Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Startup capital is a necessity for virtually all businesses. However, the cost to start a business varies widely depending on what kind of business you are starting. For example, a home-based endeavor such as a dropshipping company or an Amazon business can cost less than $1,000 to get off the ground; the same goes for a business that doesn’t require an office or much equipment, such as a pet sitting business. On the other hand, opening a business that requires more equipment and office space—such as an autobody shop or a coffee shop—could cost $100,000 or more.
In this post, I’ll go over the main costs associated with starting a business and what you can expect to pay for each of them.
Surprisingly, there aren’t too many official statistics available on how much it costs to start a business, probably because the costs vary so much. There was a study conducted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation way back in 2009 that found the average cost to start a business at that time was $30,000.
Below, we’ve put together our own startup business cost figures, but keep in mind that the amount you’ll spend will vary greatly depending on various factors, such as your industry and location.
Common Small Business Expenses
Business Licenses & Permits
Equipment & Supplies
Office Space & Utilities
$5,000 initially, then $2,000 monthly
$700 initially, then $200 monthly
Professional Services (e.g., legal services)
Total estimated cost: $28,200
Business Licenses & Permits
As a new business owner, you will need to register your business in your state and apply for a local business license/permit in your city or county. Depending on your industry, you may also need to obtain an industry-specific business permit. These initial business registration costs are usually minimal (less than $500).
There are several types of business insurance for startups and which type(s) you need depends on various factors. Insurance is a significant, ongoing business cost. Most businesses will need general liability insurance and business property insurance, and if you have employees, you will also need to pay for workers compensation insurance and health insurance. Commercial vehicle insurance and product liability insurance are some other business types you may or not need.
Equipment & Supplies
All businesses require some sort of equipment or supplies, but these costs vary significantly depending on what type of business you have. Examples of equipment and supplies include:
Restaurant kitchen equipment
Medical equipment & supplies
Product manufacturing equipment
Point of sale equipment (cash register, credit card reader, etc.)
The type of equipment and other materials you need to run your business really depends on your industry—for example, if you’re starting a wedding planner business, you’ll probably just need a computer and office supplies, whereas a trucking company will need commercial vehicles, etc.
Office Space & Utilities
If you need to rent or buy an office space, this will be a significant ongoing expense, and a big startup cost too, as you will need to pay a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, etc. Internet, gas and electricity, a business phone, and data plans will also factor into the infrastructure costs of your office space. Most businesses start out as home-based or rent a business space initially, instead of purchasing or building property.
If you sell a physical product, you need a certain amount of inventory to start out with (and have on-hand on an ongoing basis). Retail stores need a certain number of finished products on hand, while food-based businesses such as food trucks, for example, need to stock up on raw ingredients before they can open up shop. This, of course, does not apply to information-based businesses, such as consulting businesses or various other service-based businesses.
You may or may not start your business with any employees. If you do have employees, you need to factor in payroll costs, payroll taxes, insurance costs (workers comp. and health insurance), and training costs.
Modern business marketing includes not only business cards, advertisements, signage, etc., but also digital marketing costs such as SEO, social media marketing, and website maintenance costs. As far as your digital marketing, at the very least you will need a website and social media presence. Tip: Be sure you register your domain early on in the process of starting your business, as your website will be the foundation of your online marketing.
Some different types of business software you might need to launch and run your business include:
eCommerce/shopping cart software
Website builder software
Project management software
Email marketing software
Industry-specific business software (for example, specialized software for dentists, auto mechanics, etc.)
Some small business software programs combine multiple functions. For example, a restaurant management software system might include POS functionality as well as accounting, inventory, employee management, and maybe even email marketing functions. An accounting program like QuickBooks combines accounting, payroll, and invoicing functions, with POS functionality as an add-on.
Generally, most business software apps are no longer large programs that you install onto a computer as a one-time expense; rather, today’s business software is usually app/cloud-based, meaning you can sign in from any internet-connected device. And rather than paying for the software as a large, one-time expense, today’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) model is based on monthly payments with no down payment or long-term commitment. So, initial investment for business software will likely be much less than you would have paid for a comparable program 15 or 20 years ago. Some business software is even free to use.
In addition to software, don’t forget to factor in the cost of the associated hardware you’ll need to run the software into your equipment costs. For example, most businesses will need point of sale equipment, a laptop or iPad, a wireless router, etc. For very small businesses requiring only a basic app to take payments, it’s possible that the only hardware you might need is your smartphone.
This category can include legal fees, consultancy fees, accountant fees, and fees for any other professional services you use to help launch your business. While some businesses require minimal professional services, most businesses should at least consult a lawyer and/or professional accountant during the startup phase.
You’ll more than likely find out that there are more startup costs than you initially anticipated. Thus, it’s important to have a certain amount of your budget set aside for miscellaneous expenses that will inevitably come up. Some various costs you’ll need to include in your budget may include:
Credit card processing fees (once you start making sales)
Of course, you’ll also need to make sure you have enough money to support yourself before your business becomes profitable, so make sure this cost is included as well.
How To Calculate Startup Costs
The SBA has a very useful startup cost worksheet that outlines common business startup costs with sample figures that you can personalize to calculate the true cost of starting your business. Simply enter the estimated cost for each category (rent, utilities, inventory, employees, etc.) and you’ll be able to get a rough estimate of how much money you might need for your initial investment.
It’s also a good idea to make a sales forecast, in which you estimate how much you will sell in the first 6â12 months of opening your business. How long will it take for your business to make a profit? How long ’til you can pay off your startup expenses? With your prospective revenue in mind, you’ll have a better idea of how much you can afford to spend on ongoing expenses such as payroll and inventory.
If the total seems unaffordably high, look for areas you might be able to cut costs. For example, could you operate your business out of your home for the first six months? Could you subcontract workers instead of hiring employees? Could you use dropshipping to deliver goods to customers directly from the manufacturer, instead of buying inventory upfront?
Once you have a good idea of how much startup capital you might need for your first 6â12 months in business, you can decide how you will finance your venture.
What To Do If You Donât Have The Money
Startup funding can be difficult to procure from a traditional bank, especially if you don’t have any significant assets or previous experience owning a business. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any options. Online technology has actually made it a lot easier to find small business funding. Here are some options you might try to finance your business.
Online Loan: This category includes both online business loans and online personal loans. Generally, online business loans for startups are limited to short-term, high-interest loans; you won’t qualify for better terms unless you’ve been in business at least two years. Still, it’s definitely worth looking into to see what kind of loans and rates you might qualify for. Some online lenders might even offer access to SBA loans for entrepreneurs, such as SBA microloans. Look at our startup business loan comparison chart to find some startup-friendly loan options.
Business Credit Cards: If you just need a few thousand dollars to get started, a business credit card can be a smart choice. You can use a business credit card to charge startup expenses, and/or to get a cash advance (though make sure you check the terms on the advance because they usually charge high interest). You could also use a personal credit card, though business credit cards typically have more business-specific benefits, such as cash-back for common business expenses. Look at our best small business credit cards comparison to see some of the top business cards’ requirements and perks.
Equipment Financing: If your main startup expense is the equipment you’ll need to run your business — for example, restaurant kitchen equipment, manufacturing equipment, office equipment, etc. — then you can simply finance the equipment itself, in the form of an equipment loan or lease. Similar to automotive financing, equipment financing involves monthly payments (either to lease or own), and does not typically require good credit or any collateral other than the equipment itself. Check out our equipment financing comparison chart to see your best options.
Line Of Credit: A business line of credit is similar to a credit card in the sense that you can have it on hand to pay for expenses, but you only have to repay what you use. Like a business loan, you can get a line of credit from an online lender or a traditional bank. However, startups will have better luck finding a line of credit online; there are several online line of credit providers that only require only 6 or fewer months in business, whereas banks typically will not extend a line of credit to startups. Check out our line of credit comparison page to find some startup-friendly LOC options.
Other startup financing ideas:
Loan from friends/family
Personal retirement savings— rollover a retirement account using a ROBS (rollovers as business startups) plan
Our team at Merchant Maverick has also written many informative articles about startup financing that can help you on your journey:
Crowdfunding For Startups: 8 Tips For Launching
Don’t Let Bad Credit Stop You From Getting A Startup Loan
The Best Business Cards For Startups And Entrepreneurs
SBA Loans For Startups
How To Find A Startup Grant
14 Types Of Alternative Financing For Small Businesses
The Best Business Credit Cards For People With Bad Credit
Tax-Deductible Startup Costs
If your total startup costs are $50K or less, you can write off up to $10,000 of startup costs on your taxes in the year that you start the business, including up to $5,000 in business startup costs and another $5,000 in organizational expenses (legal fees, state incorporation fees, etc.). If your startup costs exceed $50,000, the amount of your allowable deduction will be reduced by that dollar amount, and if your startup costs are more than $55,000, you are not eligible for the deduction.
Certain startup expenses are not tax-deductible—for example, the costs to qualify for doing business in your industry, such as real estate licensing costs, are not deductible as a startup expense. Additionally,Â business assets (one-time business expenditures such as vehicles and equipment) are not deductible as startup expenses, but may be deductible in a different category (amortization).
(In case you were wondering, business loan interest is, indeed, tax-deductible.)
It may be a cliche, but it is also true that “it takes money to make money.” Startup business costs can range from under $10K to over $100K, depending on a number of factors. It’s okay if you don’t have all the money right now: the important thing is to put together an accurate estimate of how much you will need, what you will spend the money on, and how/when you’ll be able to repay any borrowed monies with your revenue. You can then incorporate this estimate into your business plan and the loan proposal you will use to demonstrate to lenders that you are a good candidate for financing.
With the numerous financing options available to entrepreneurs these days, there is a great chance that if you have a sound business plan and accurate, reasonable startup cost estimate, you will be able to find a lender that can meet your startup financing needs.
The post How Much Money Do You Need To Start A Business? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Have you always had an affinity for furry (or scaly) things? Have you ever needed money? If you answered yes to both these questions, you may want to consider starting a pet-sitting business.
But before you pick up the leashes and pooper-scoopers, it’s a good idea to sit down and plan out the trajectory of your business. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t fret. Below, we’ll lay out the steps you can take to start a pet-sitting business.
Decide On A Location
Since you’re going to be dealing with people’s pets, you’ll need to take into account your proximity to your clients. If they’re dropping their pets off with you, you’ll want to be located somewhere easily accessible to most of your customers, and one that can accommodate animals. Depending on where you live, this can be tricky as the space necessary to accommodate animals will usually be cheaper in less centralized locations.
On the other hand, if you’re going to your customers, you’ll need to take into account the amount of time you need to spend with each client’s pets, the costs of commuting to the job, and how animal-friendly/animal-hostile the infrastructure in your service area is (dog parks, etc.).
Register Your Business
Why should you register your business? Depending on your local laws, you may actually be required to register your business in order to legally pet-sit. But even in jurisdictions where it isn’t compulsory, there are some advantages to doing so.
The first is that you can do business under a name other than your own. So instead of Martha Swearingen, LLC, you can do business as Baron Bark’s Pet Pampering Service (you can have that one for free).
The default configuration for businesses is aÂ sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name or, if you file a DBA (Doing Business As), a name of your choice.
Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same.
Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages.Â Most pet-sitting companies aren’t going to be interested in forming C-suites for governance, so you can probably ignore S-Corps and C-Corps for now. You may, however, want to consider forming an LLC to provide some separation between your personal finances and liabilities and your business ones.
Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:
Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs):Â 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 theirÂ business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
C-Corp:Â 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:Â S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.
Get Business Insurance
As a pet-sitter, you’re not just dealing with property, you’re dealing with animals whose owners often view them as part of their family. In other words, if something goes wrong, things could get ugly.
Depending on your local laws, you may be required to carry certain types of insurance.
The type of insurance that will probably be of most interest to you is general liability insurance. This protects you in the event of a lawsuit or accident, whether it’s an accidental injury to the animal or if you accidentally damage property within a client’s home. It doesn’t only protect you, however; it also makes you look like a safer option than a business that isn’t covered.
There are other, more specialized types of insuranceÂ that are worth taking a look at depending on the specifics of your business. These include:
Property Insurance: Protects the property needed to run your business (as opposed to damages you cause to clients’ property).
Business Interruption: Covers costs related to unforeseen events that make your business unable to function.
Professional Liability (Error and Omissions): Covers the costs of defending your company in lawsuits in cases where your business caused a financial loss.
If you aren’t sure where to look, we can help you.
Invest In Business Software
While not absolutely necessary, you can save yourself and your customers some hassle with strategically chosen business software. For pet sitting, there are probably three types most worthy of consideration.
Doing business with cash can be convenient when you’re first starting out, but as you grow, you’ll probably be missing out on clients if you can’t accommodate other forms of payment.
Recommended Option: Square
Best Overall Mobile POS
Review Visit Site
No contract or monthly fee
Instant account setup
Retail upgrade available
Restaurant upgrade available
For iOS and Android mobile devices
2.75% per in-person card swipe
Retail POS:Â Free trial ($60/mo value)
Restaurant POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)
Square POS: Always free
If you have an iOS or Android device, Square offers an extremely convenient way to accept mobile payments while on the go via a small add-on you plug into your device. It’s also a very scalable service; if you’re running a retail location, there are even more features and service options you can take advantage of.
Best of all, there aren’t any monthly fees to worry about. Square charges between 2.75Â – 3.5 percent per transaction (depending on whether you swipe or key in the info), so you’ll want to factor those costs into your expenses.
As you add clients, it will get harder to remember their particular preferences, not to mention more difficult to fit them all into your schedule. With booking or scheduling software, you can track your time, note customer needs, and efficiently plan your days’ work. Many of these offer their basic features free of charge.
Most businesses can benefit from accounting software. What you don’t want is to spend money unnecessarily on one. Wave offers most of the features you need at no cost.
With no monthly fee, you’ll get invoicing, estimates, contact management, expense tracking, accounts payable, and inventory tracking.
Pet-sitting, especially, if you’re going to your clients, doesn’t have a lot of overhead when you’re first starting out. In the event that you do need to scare up some money to cover starting expenses or equipment, there are a number of options available to you.
If you can avoid taking on debt, it’s usually a good idea. It may hurt to part with some of your rainy day funds, but you won’t be accumulating expensive interest and fees.
Tap Your Support Network
If you do need money from an outside source, you can often get a better deal from your support system than you can from a private lender.
Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.
For the relatively low expenses you will encounter when you start a pet-sitting business, credit cards can probably suffice for most of your needs.
The general rules of thumb when it comes to using credit cards effectively are these:
Use credit cards for expenses that you can pay off within their interest-free grace period.
Pick a card with a reward program that matches your spending habits and needs.
Do not take out cash advances on your credit card.
If you follow these rules, you can actually save money by using your credit card to make purchases.
Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus
SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express
14.49% – 21.49%, Variable
Required credit: Good, excellent
Bonus offer: None
Purchase intro APR: 0% for the first 9 months
Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
Foreign transaction fee: 2.7%
5% cash back at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless telephone purchases, up to $50,000 per year
3% cash back on a category of your choosing (airfare, hotel rooms, car rentals, gas stations, restaurants, advertising purchases, shipping, or computer hardware, software, and cloud computing), up to $50,000 per year
1% cash back on all other purchases
Notable perks & benefits:
Expanded buying powerÂ â buy above your credit limit with no penalty fees
Employee cards available
Extended warranty & purchase protection
Car rental loss & damage insurance
More card details (click to expand)
Amex’s SimplyCash Plus offers one of the best cash back programs available without an annual fee. You’ll get 1 percent back on generic purchases, 5 percent back on wireless telephone purchases and office supply stores in the U.S. But it’s the middle tier that’s most interesting. You can select a category of your choosing (airfare, hotel rooms, car rentals, gas stations, restaurants, advertising, shipping, or computer hardware) to get 3 percent back.
It also carries an introductory 0% APR for the first nine months, which can be helpful if you’re just starting out.
Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card
Amazon Business Prime American Express Card
16.24% â 24.24%, Variable
Required credit: Good, excellent
Bonus offer:Â $125 Amazon.com gift card upon approval (if you have an eligible Amazon Prime membership)
Purchase intro APR:Â N/A
Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
Foreign transaction fee:Â None
If you have an eligible Amazon Prime membership:Â 5% back or an extra 90 days interest free on purchases at Amazon Business, AWS, Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market
If you do not have an eligible Amazon Prime membership: 3% back or an extra 60 days interest free on purchases at Amazon Business, AWS, Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market
2% back on purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers
1% back on other purchases
Notable perks & benefits:
Employee cards available
Employee purchase control withÂ multi-user accounts, shared payment methods, approval workflows, and spending limits
Purchase protection, extended warranty, and travel coverage
Access to Amex Offers
More card details (click to expand)
This one’s a little more niche. But if you find yourself buying supplies and random pet-related doodads on Amazon frequently, you can get a lot of value out of the Amazon Business Prime American Express Card.
If you have a Prime membership, you’ll earn a whopping 5 percent back on purchases made at Amazon.com, Amazon Business, AWS, and Whole Foods Market — or an extra 90 days interest-free grace period for purchases made at those places. Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll get 3 percent or 60 days, respectively. You’ll need to spend around $6,000 to recoup the cost of a $119 Prime membership with points alone, but that’s without factoring in money saved through Prime’s programs (shipping, deals, etc).
If you need more money than you can safely put on a credit card, or need longer to pay it off, you should consider getting a personal loan that can cover business expenses.
There are some disadvantages to taking this route, namely that you’re on the hook rather than your business, but if your credit is good, it’s not the worst option out there.
Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans
Time in business: N/A
Business revenue: N/A
Personal credit score: 600
Credit history: 3 years
Borrower requirements for personal loans (click to expand)
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
Time in business: 6 months
Business revenue: $10,000 per month
Personal credit score: 550
Borrower requirements (click to expand)
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.
If you’ve just been watching your friends’ pets, you’ve probably had an informal agreement about the services you’d provide and the expectations of safety and liability involved. And that was probably enough.
When you’re dealing with strangers in a professional capacity, however, it’s smart to formalize these elements in a contract. This can save you a lot of headaches, if not legal troubles, down the road. You’ll want to include critical information about the pet (when and what they eat, how they are with strangers, pertinent medical history, etc.), what’s included in your services, and the client’s expectations for how their home will be treated under your care (if applicable). You’ll also want to include your fees and rates.
If you can, have a lawyer look it over to make sure it checks out legally.
Market Your Business
Getting the word out is always one of the most challenging parts of getting a business off the ground. The easiest place to start is through word of mouth. Are you already looking after the pets of a family or two? Let them know you’re looking to take on more clients, along with your friends, family, and social contacts.
At some point, you’ll probably want to expand outside the reach of your current contacts, which means advertising. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can post flyers on bulletin boards and leave business cards in places trafficked by pet owners. Online classified sites like Craigslist can also cover a large audience in your area.
Bolster Your Web Presence
When it comes to promoting small business, the internet is one of those things that’s easy to both over- and underestimate. On the one hand, simply buying an ad and hoping for the best likely won’t yield amazing results. On the other, you do need an internet strategy to grow your business.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you’ll probably want a website that details your basic services and contact information. Don’t overthink it. There are a lot of great tools available that can help youÂ build a website.
Remember, too, that social media isn’t just for sharing pictures of your dinner with your friends. You can use to communicate with customers, make engaging content that makes them keep your brand in mind, and announce special deals and service changes.
Hopefully, everything we covered doesn’t look too intimidating. If you’re good with animals and don’t mind turning that love into a source of revenue, you can get a pet-sitting business up and running in no time!
Having second thoughts about pet-sitting but are still looking to open a business? Check out our other beginners’ guides.
The post How To Start A Pet Sitting Business: The Complete Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
If you’ve ever applied for a loan — whether it be for a car, a house, or even a small business — then I’m sure you’re well acquainted with the importance of credit scores. But what about credit reports?
Credit reports tell lenders about your credit history and indicate how reliable you are as a borrower. But more than that, credit reports help you understand your credit, improve your credit score, and prevent fraud and identity theft. So how do you get your credit report? That’s where credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion come in.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about credit bureaus. Then we’ll break down the “big three” credit bureaus so you can confidently understand your credit report and score.
What Is A Credit Bureau?
Let’s start with the basics.
A credit bureau is a business organization that collects and sells data regarding the credit history of individuals.Â They typically collect data such as your credit card and loan balances, the number of credit accounts you have, your payment history, any bankruptcies, etc. Today, there are dozens of credit bureaus, but the “big three” are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Credit bureaus arose to help lenders quickly gaugeÂ the reliability of a potential borrower. In the past, you could go to the goodÂ ol’ general store and the owner would know you, your character, and whether or not putting your items on “charge” (or on credit) was a good idea. That methodÂ may have worked in the past, when communities were small and isolated, but there had to be a better way moving forward. Thus credit bureaus were born.
Credit bureaus collect data on potential borrowers and sell it to banks to help them make informedÂ lending decisions. The oldest of the “big three,” Equifax, started capitalizing on this need all the way back in 1899.
Today, the credit bureaus have streamlined and computerized the whole process by compiling the data they collect into a credit report and credit score. While every credit bureau calculates credit scores differently, and every lender has different credit score requirements, credit reports and credits scores allow for a more universal measuring stick to judge potential borrowers by. Recently, credit bureaus also have branched out to providing dozens of additional products to help individuals and businesses alike, including identity protection, business marketing, and more.
How Do Credit Bureaus Collect My Information?
Okay, we admit it all sounds a bit creepy. Big Brother’s always watching, right? Well, yes, but it might comfort you to knowÂ how credit bureaus collect and share your information.
Credit bureaus mainly collect information from credit institutions with which youÂ already have a relationship, such as:
Credit card companies
Student loan providers
Auto loan providers
Credit bureaus do not have access to these accounts; instead, the credit institutions share the information with the credit bureaus. Credit institutions are not obligated to share information and can give data to one, two, three, or none of the major credit bureaus.Â Typically, credit bureaus store data on your balances, available credit, payment history, and the number of open and closed accounts you have. Collection agencies and debt collectors may also report to the credit bureaus if you have any delinquent activity.
The rest of the information credit bureaus collect comes from public court records. They access these records in search of any possible bankruptcies, tax liens, repossessions, and foreclosures.
How Do Credit Bureaus Use My Information?
Now that you know how credit bureaus collect your information, you’re probably wondering how they use your information?
Credit bureaus use your information to create credit reports and credit scores. They then share your information with potential lenders, landlords, and employers for a number of reasons. Your credit report may be pulled up in the following scenarios:
When a lender is checking your credit to see if you qualify for a loan
When a landlord is deciding whether or not to accept your rental application
When a new employer needs to run a background check
When a utility provider is about to start a service contract with you
Credit bureaus also sell information for marketing purposes. Say a lender is looking forÂ potential customers with poor credit who might need a credit card. The lender will reach out to a credit bureau, which will then sell the lender a prescreening list of qualifying individuals and their basic contact information. (If you’ve ever wondered how you end up with so many preapproved credit cards flooding your mailbox, this is it.)
However, there are rules that protect you and your data — particularly the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The FCRA is a law that states you have the right to know your credit report and the right to dispute any errors on your credit report. It also lays out what is a “permissible purpose” for a lender to pull your credit and what is an “impermissible purpose.”
If a potential lender, landlord, utility provider, future employer, insurer — you name it — wants to view your full credit report, they must have a permissible purpose and your permission first. In some cases, a potential lender will simply let you know that they will do a credit pull, and by following through with the application, you grant them permission to do so. In other cases, a landlord might have you use a tenant screening service like ExperianConnect, where you have to download your credit report and share it with them directly.
If you aren’t comfortable with credit bureaus prescreening your information and sending it to third-party lenders, you can use OptOutPrescreen.com to prevent this.Â Continue onto the “What To To Do In Case of Fraud Or Identity Theft” section to learn more ways to protect your credit report and personal information.
Credit Reports VS Credit Scores
Since credit bureaus use your credit history to compile both a credit report and a credit score, it’s important to know the difference between the two.
A report prepared by credit bureaus that shows an individual’s credit history, including payment history, loan balances, credit limits, and personal information (such as your social security number, birth date, and address).
A number that indicates an individuals creditworthiness and is based on the individual’s credit history, payment history, and other data compiled by credit bureaus.
On a credit report, you’ll see detailed information about your credit history. A typical credit report will give you a full breakdown of all your open or closed credit accounts, bank accounts, loans, and payment history. Below, you’ll se an example of a credit report and what it might include (this is only page 1 of 4, so you can imagine how detailed your full credit report might be):
A credit score, on the other hand, provides much less detail. You’ll usually be given your credit score in tandem with a graphic indicator of whether your credit score is poor, fair, good, or excellent. You may be able to drill down to see the factors that affect your credit score, and you may not. Here’s an example of a credit score and how it might appear:
Think of it like this: a credit report is a detailed report ofÂ whatyour credit history is, while a credit score is an interpretation ofÂ what your credit history means. Your credit score is one of the biggest factors lenders use when considering loan applications; the higher the score, the more likely you are to pay your loan back — at least, in a lender’s eyes.
It’s worth noting one more key difference between credit reports and credit scores. Credit bureaus are legally obligated to give you a free credit report once a year, whereas there is no law requiring them to provide a credit score. This means you’ll have to pay a fee to access your credit score through one of the “big three.” There are free credit score sites if you want to avoid this fee. Check out our post The Best Free Credit Score Sites to learn more.
Note: In certain situations — like unemployment, identity theft, and fraud — you can access your credit report multiple times a year without charge.
How Credit Scores Are Calculated
Credit scores are all based on similar data but can vary significantly depending on the credit score model. Credit scores are generally affected by the following:
Your payment history
How much credit you use versus how much credit is available in an account
The number of accounts you have open
How long your accounts have been open
TheÂ types of credit you have (such as credit cars, loans, mortgages, etc.)
How this information is transformed into a credit score depends on the credit model being used. There are two main types of credit models: FICO scores and VantageScore.
FICO Scores VS VantageScore
The FICO score model was created by Fair Isaac Corporation in 1989 (hence the name FICO). FICO credit scores range from 350 – 850 and are determined by these five factors, which are ranked in terms of importance by percentage:
Payment History: 35%
Amounts Allowed: 30%
Length Of Credit History: 15%
New Credit: 10%
Credit Mix: 10%
The VantageScore model was created by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion in 2006. This model also uses a 350-850 scale. Scores are determined by the following six factors that are ranked by level of importance rather than a percentage:
Payment History: Extremely influential
Percentage Of Credit Limit Used: Highly influential
Age & Type Of Credit: Highly influential
Total Balances & Debt: Moderately influential
Available Credit: Less influential
Recent Credit Behavior & Inquiries: Less influential
VantageScore claims that it is “the scoring model that is more accurate.” However, the FICO scoring model is used more predominantly in the lending industry.
Why Is My Credit Score Different With Each Bureau?
It makes sense that your credit score may vary depending on whether the potential lender is using the FICO or VantageScore model. But when the “big three” all use the VantageScore model, why do you get a different credit score from each credit bureau?
Remember earlier when we said that credit institutions aren’t required to share information with the credit bureaus? They can choose to share data with one, two, three, or none of the “big three.” This means that Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion don’t have access to exactly the same data, which accounts for the difference in credit scores.
This is why it’s important to treat your credit score as a “guesstimation” rather than an end-all number. Credit scores are ever-changing and lenders all have their own way of calculating and evaluating your credit score. Check your credit score so you have a general idea of what it is, and try to keep your score as close to 850 as possible, but don’t stress over-much about the exact three-digit number.
Reasons To Use A Credit Bureau
Now that you know what credit bureaus are and how they work, when should you use one? It’s simple: use a credit bureau anytime you want to know or need to know your credit report or credit score. Here are five of the most common scenarios for when you should use a credit bureau.
1. When Applying For A Loan
When applying for a loan, a potential lender is going to consider both your credit report and credit score, so it’s extremely important that you know your credit report and score beforehand. This way, you can correct any errors on your credit report and make sure you meet the lender’s minimum borrower requirementsÂ before you apply.
If there are errors, they can take a while to set right. Additionally, if you don’t meet the credit score requirement, raising your credit score can take time. Knowing the state of your credit before applying gives you the time to put your best foot forward and significantly increases your chances of being approved for a loan.
For more tips and tricks about increasing your chances of securing the loan you want, read our post on improving your loan application.
2. Before Renting An Apartment Or House
Potential landlords almost always run a credit report in order to decide if you’re trustworthy enough to make your monthly payments on time. Knowing your credit report beforehand is key. Again, if there are any errors, you can correct themÂ before your future apartment or house is on the line. Or, if there is a missed payment or some other potential red flag on your credit report, you can try to explain the situation to your landlord in advance rather than being flat-out rejected.
3. To Improve Your Credit Score
If you are wanting to monitor and improve your credit score, you need to know your score first. Each of the “big three” allows you to purchase your credit score. They also offer credit monitoring subscriptions that allow you to regularly view your credit score and receive alerts when there are any changes to your credit score.
If you don’t want to pay for a monthly credit monitoring service, check out the best free credit score sites.
4. To Doublecheck For Credit Errors
As we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to be stuck with an error on your credit report right when you’re in the middle of the application approval process for a new loan or mortgage. Check each of the big three credit bureaus for errors as they all collect and maintain different information.
5. To Prevent Fraud & Identity Theft
Another benefit of using a credit bureau is fraud prevention and identity protection. If you stay on top of your credit report, you can pinpoint anything fishy and secure your information. When it comes to fraud and identity theft, the sooner you notice a problem, the better. One of the best parts about using one of the “big three” credit bureaus is that they all offer some form of fraud monitoring and extra security measures (which we will cover in more detail).
Bonus: To Help Run Your Business
As an added bonus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion all offer additional business services to help business owners manage, expand, and secure their small businesses. These services include everything from analytics to customer acquisition to risk management to fraud prevention and more.
What To Do If There’s An Error On Your Credit Report
If you find an error on your credit report, you’ll need to report and dispute that errorÂ withÂ each individual bureauÂ since each bureau collects and utilizes different information. Each bureau has their own process for disputing. You’ll need to go to their individual sites to find details on how to fix an error on your credit report.
One of the reasons it’s so important to check your credit report regularly is that it can often take months to properly fix an error on your credit report. For more details on common credit report mistakes and how to dispute creditÂ report errors, visit theÂ FICO website.
What To Do In Case Of Fraud Or Identity Theft
When it comes to fraud and identity theft, you don’t want to take any chances. If you suspect fraud related to any of your credit cards, bank accounts, or identity — or if your identity has been stolen — it’s important to take action right away. You can do so by submitting a fraud alert or security freeze (sometimes known as a credit freeze).
Both a fraud alert and security freeze are steps to secure your credit report and personal information, but they differ slightly.
A fraud alert warns credit bureaus that there might be fraudulent activity, so potential lenders will need to take extra measure to verify your identity before extending credit.
A security freeze blocks lenders from accessing your credit report at allÂ until the freeze is lifted by you (usually using a pin).
Fraud alerts usually last 90 days (unless you’re an identity theft victim, in which case you can extend the alert). To place a fraud alert, contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion and follow their instructions. You only need to contactÂ one of the big three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert as they will notify the other two credit bureaus.
A credit freeze has the advantage of being much more secure. However, you will have to lower the freeze each you time you or a lender need to view your credit report, and you may be required to pay for the service. Unlike a fraud alert, you will have to place a security freeze with each of the three bureaus.
How Do The Big Three Credit Bureaus Compare
Now that you know the basics about credit bureaus and the reasons to use one, how do you know which credit bureau to use? How do the big three compare to each other? And what products do each credit bureau offer? Here’s a basic breakdown that compares Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Read on to learn more about each credit bureau.
Free Annual Credit Report
Starts at $0/mo
Business Credit Score
Number of Business Services
Individuals looking to check their Equifax credit report and score and in need of a free credit lock service.
The oldest of the three credit bureaus, Equifax has been around since 1899. While the company has grown significantly over the years, the Equifax motto to “always focus on its customers” has stayed the same. Today, Equifax offers basic credit report and credit score services as well as several business products. The most notable aspect of Equifax is its free credit lock service that allows individuals to protect their data at no additional cost.
Equifax offers basic credit report and credit score services, as well as a free credit lock service.
Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free Equifax credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Equifax Credit Score: You can purchase an Equifax credit score for $15.95. This score will be accessible for 30 days.
Lock & Alert: This free service allows individuals control over their credit report by locking and unlocking the report as needed. They even have a mobile app and send alerts every time your account is unlocked or locked.
You can purchase a single business credit report from Equifax for $99 or a multi-pack for $399.95. You can use this to view your own business credit or to ascertain the credit health of a potential business partner, supplier, or new customer.
In addition to business credit reports, Equifax offers 11 products to help you run your small business. These products range from customer acquisition to risk mitigation to credit monitoring to fraud prevention and more. Visit the Equifax website to learn more about their business offerings.
Individuals looking to view their Experian credit report or to actively monitor their credit report and credit score from all three credit bureaus.
Equifax began as part of TRW Information Systems and Services INC. back in 1968, and has since had a long history of acquisitions and advancement. Of all three bureaus, Experian offers the most personal products for monitoring and protecting your credit. What really sets Experian apart is that you can monitor your credit report from each of the three bureaus, so you can have all your credit information in one place. Experian also offers a FICO score simulator, which is invaluable for seeing what your FICO score could be if you make changes to your credit.
Experian offers personal credit monitoring and identity protection products as well as loan matching and credit card matching services.
Credit Report:Â As with every credit bureau, you can access your free Experian credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Experian Credit Report & Score:Â You can purchase your Experian credit report and FICO credit score for $19.99. This purchase is only good for a one-time view.
3 Bureau Credit Report & FICO Score:Â For $39.99, you can view your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit report as well as your FICO credit score. This purchase is only good for a one-time view.
Experian CreditWorks Basic:Â View your Experian credit report for free every month.
Experian CreditWorks Premium: For $24.99/month, you can view your FICO score and gain access to Experian’s credit monitoring, identity protection, and credit lock services. This service includes the 3 Bureaus Credit Report. This product lets you view your credit reports and credit score daily, and it includes a FICO score simulator as well.
Experian IdentityWorks Plus: Experian’s identity protection service starts at $9.99/month and includes dark web surveillance, identity theft insurance up to $500,000, lost wallet assistance, credit lock, and identity theft monitoring and alerts. Includes credit monitoring for Experian and FICO score alerts. You can add child identity protection as well.
Experian IdentityWorks Premium:Â Experian’s most expensive identity protection service is $19.99/month and includes dark web surveillance, identity theft insurance up to $1,00,000, lost wallet assistance, credit lock, and identity theft monitoring and alerts. Includes credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus and FICO score alerts.Â You can add child identity protection as well.
Note: For Experian CreditWorks and IdentityWorks products, you can receive a discount for purchasing an annual subscription rather than a monthly subscription.
Experian does offer business credit scores, although they aren’t forthcoming about the cost. The credit bureau also offers Experian Connect (a tenant screening service) and Experian Mailing List Builder (a customer acquisition service).
In addition, Experian offers 11 other business services ranging from customer management to risk management to debt recovery to consulting services and more. Visit the Experian website to learn more about their business offerings.
Individuals looking to check their TransUnion credit report and score and to manage their business and its credit.
TransUnion started back in 1968 as a holding company for a railroad leasing organization known as Union Tank Car Company. Today, TransUnion is the smallest of the three credit bureaus but packs the biggest punch where business services are concerned. TransUnion also offers a credit score simulator — it is a great tool for improving your credit score as you can see how your credit could be affected if you made certain changes to your credit.
TransUnion offers basic credit report and credit score products, as well as a free credit monitoring and identity theft service.
Credit Report:Â As with every credit bureau, you can access your free TransUnion credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
TrueIdentity:Â This is TransUnion’s free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service. It includes unlimitedTransUnion credit reports, a credit lock service, and alerts.
Credit Monitoring: For $19.99/month, you can have access to unlimited TransUnion credit report and score views, as well as credit lock, credit change alerts, and a score trending and score simulator tool.
TransUnion offers business credit scores, although they aren’t forthcoming about the cost. The credit bureau also offers SmartMove, a tenant screening service.
In addition, TransUnion offers business products covering 14 fields, including marketing, fraud detection, healthcare revenue protection, customer acquisition, and more. Visit the TransUnion website to learn more about their business offerings.
Which Credit Bureau Should I Use?
Now that you know a little more about each of the three credit bureaus, the question becomes:Â Which credit bureau should I use?
The answer is all three of them.
We promise this isn’t a trick answer. Since each credit bureau collects different data regarding your credit history, it’s incredibly important to check your credit report with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Luckily, you are legally guaranteed a free annual credit report from each bureau.
One recommendation is to stagger your annual free credit report. Check your Equifax report, then your Experian report four months later, and then your TransUnion report after another four months. This way you can always have a rough idea of what your credit report looks like without losing a penny. Another option is to use ExperianCreditWorks, which monitors all three credit bureaus and your FICO score for $24.99 a month.
If you simply want more control over your credit report and credit score, Experian offers the most bang for your buck in terms of personal credit monitoring and identity protection. However, TransUnion offers the most business-related products.
Ultimately, choosing which of the three credit bureaus’ monitoring services is right for you will depend on your budget and the level of control you want. The most important thing is to actually monitor your credit regularly. Take advantage of your free annual credit reports and know your credit score at the very least. Being proactive about your credit report can help ensure your credit report is accurate and can help catch any early signs of fraud, and knowing your credit score is the first step to improving your credit score.
Read our postÂ 5 Ways To Improve Your Personal Credit ScoreÂ and The Ultimate Guide To Improving Your Business Credit Score to learn more.
The post The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
If you are a marketing guru with loads of experience in the trade, you probably know all about inbound and outbound marketing. And the world absolutely needs people like you. But if you are like the rest of us, just trying to get your product noticed and understood by the teeming masses, these terms are just more industry jargon gibberish.
Fortunately, Merchant Maverick is here to provide definitions and cut through the jargon. Basically, an inbound marketing methodology requires you to market yourself in such a way that customers naturally find their way to you, rather than employing more aggressive marketing efforts and strategies (like cold calls).
What Is Hubspot?
Apps like HubSpot are designed to be the backbone of your inbound system. Visit the HubSpot website and you will see multiple references to the company’s commitment to inbound marketing. Specifically, HubSpot offers three separateÂ products that each address a distinct aspect of a business’s inbound marketing strategy. The first is HubSpot’s “free-forever” customer relations management (CRM) system; the second is HubSpot Marketing. Finally, HubSpot offers a Sales tool. But what exactly do these products offer subscribers? And are HubSpot’s inbound marketing services right for you? Join us as we dive into the deep end of inbound marketing. We’ll cover HubSpot pricing, support, and more.
HubSpot CRM Tool
As mentioned above, HubSpot’s CRM tool is free forever. Now, I have been writing and reviewing tech products for a while now, and I have come to expect a few things when I see the “free forever” label. Usually, that just means there is a free version of a software, but with most useful features removed. HubSpot’s CRM is not like that. There are no other subscription tiers, no other fees. HubSpot CRM is 100% free.
But what does it do?
Basically, this tool is designed to help you manage your interactions with customers. When adding a new contact into your database (that can hold up to 1,000,000 people), the CRM begins cataloging every interaction. As you communicate with prospective customers, you retain access to your entire history with them. No more losing emails in the depths of your inbox. All the details are saved and easy to access. In addition to the microscopic view of each contact, the CRM also provides you a broad perspective on what HubSpot calls yourÂ “sales funnel.” Using the dashboard, you can quickly identify which customers are locked in on the road to closing a deal and which ones might need more assistance. You can use this tool to automate those communications as well, ensuring no customer falls through the cracks.
So do you need HubSpot’s CRM? Basically, if you are attempting to sell any sort of customizable product where different customers will receiveÂ individually tailored products, then you definitely want some kind of CRM service. And HubSpot’s is free. Not only that, but it works, and works well. So yes, you probably want to at least try it out.
But what about HubSpot’s other products? Let’s take a look.
HubSpot Inbound Marketing
You may have a way to manage your relationships with all your customers, but how do you get those customers in the first place? The obvious answer is that you need to market yourself somehow. Fortunately, HubSpot also offers an inbound marketing service that works seamlessly with their CRM product. You can use the free-forever version of this product, but really you will want to start at the $200/month “Starter” level, which includes such crucial features as Calls To Action pages for your website and email marketing. HubSpot pricing for larger subscriptions (which run into the $2,400/month range) includes marketing automation, A/B testing, and custom event triggers.
This is where HubSpot’s “inbound marketing” philosophy really starts to show through: Most of the marketing that you will do with this product involves creating content that draws prospective customers to you. Inbound methodology could entail content marketing, like writing blogs, orÂ optimizing your website to bring in customers rather than investing in outbound marketing through social media sites Facebook, Google, or other advertising platforms. It is organic lead generation, in other words. Keep in mind that you will need a website already in order for this to work. If you’re using a hosting service like Squarespace or Wix, you will need to add a few lines of code (provided by HubSpot) to the source in order to integrate with HubSpot. If you use WordPress, on the other hand, you can simply install the HubSpot plug-in. So far so good.
But what do you actually get from there?
Like I mentioned above, the idea of HubSpot’s marketing service is to attract customers organically to your own content by optimizing your website. HubSpot provides blog and email templates designed to look great across devices, then allow you to insert the all-important ‘Call to Action’ boxes that encourage people to enter their information to your email list and start that customer relationship. The more money you spend per month, the more automated this process becomes.
So do you need inbound marketing services through HubSpot? In my opinion, yes. This service is worth at least the $200/month subscription. From there you will have to decide how much you want to spend on increased automation.
So now you have a way to attract potential customers and manage your relationship with them. But really the whole point is to convert those leads and prospects into sales. Once again, HubSpot offers a product to fill that gap. HubSpot Sales Hub is all about communicating with customers, lead nurturing, and centralizing the process of negotiation so that you can focus on the warmest leads without sacrificing the others. The free version of this product is relatively viable, including meetings, calls, task tracking, and more. However, by paying for the $50/month subscription, you also gain features like live chat, prospects, and dedicated customer support. For a whopping $400/month, you can automate your sales process, as well as unlock HubSpot’s excellent Salesforce integration.
Like all of HubSpot’s products, the Sales Hub is built with centralization in mind. All your leads are kept in the same place, organized to keep them from getting mixed up or lost. The focus in sales, though, is on communication with clients. All subscribers gain access to HubSpot’s calls feature, which simplifies the process of scheduling phone meetings with customers. You also get access to powerful email marketing tools, allowing you to track which customers read your messages or downloaded your attachments.
So do you need it? I think the free version of the software is definitely worth a try. If you find you like your experience with the free version, you might consider paying a higher price for some more advanced features.
HubSpot Service Hub
Offered at $400/month, HubSpot’s Service Hub is the final square in the grand customer management quilt that HubSpot has created. As with all their other products, the key to understanding the Service Hub is organization. The goal is that you will be able to keep all your customer interactions organized and arranged so that no one gets left out.
The Service Hub comes with several communication tools, including a live chat and enhanced email inbox to ensure your customers never feel ignored. Additionally, you can create a “knowledge base” of self-service articles to allow your more independent customers a chance to figure out their problems on their own. There is even a feature allowing you to create chatbots to increase the efficiency of your customer service interactions. Finally, use comprehensive data insights to make sure you are getting optimal interactions every time.
So do you need the sales hub? Really, it will only be useful if you have a lot of customers every month. Of all the HubSpot products I have reviewed in this post, this is the one I would recommend skipping out on, at least at first. Having said that, if your products require extensive customer service, this might be a great option for you.
Why Go Hubspot?
HubSpot provides products that cover every facet of customer interaction, from marketing to sales to leads to customer service. Supporting all other products is the Hubspot CRM, which serves as the bedrock product that makes the others work smoothly.
But do you need HubSpot? Frankly, I think you do. If you are trying to market or sell a product on the internet today, you will want to use these kinds of products in some way, even if you use low-level or free subscriptions for some of them. The only possible exception would be the customer service hub, depending on the level of service required by your product.
Fortunately, most of HubSpot’s products have a free-forever option, so you can try before you buy. I recommend signing up and putting the different apps through their paces before committing to paying a monthly subscription.
The post Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Astute marketers are constantly looking for new platforms to connect with their audience in useful and meaningful ways, and Nextdoor is one of the most promising social platforms for local business marketing to look towards as we approach 2019.
As a platform designed to connect neighborhoods and the people who live there, Nextdoor seems to have that special sauce that’s so appealing to marketers of all sizes. Over 75% of neighborhoods in the United States are already part of the platform, the user base is constantly growing, and it provides neighbors with the tools they need to connect on a local level to the businesses in their area.
As with any new social network, there’s a learning curve associated with it. If you’re wondering how to advertise on Nextdoor, and you’re hoping you’ll be able to jump right in, you’ll need to cool your jets, unfortunately. But, this helpful guide will provide you with everything you need to know about this exciting new local social network and how you can leverage it to the advantage of your business.
From your Nextdoor homepage, click the tab at the right for recommendations. Then, click the link that says “claim my business” on the right side of the page.
From there, you’ll just fill out some brief information about yourself and your business. Once you’ve completed the forms, your business page is ready to go, and you can begin sponsoring real estate listings in your area.
From your business page, you’ll want to click the Sponsorship button on the left of your business page. Then, you’ll enter the first zip code you’d like to sponsor.
You can enter as many neighborhoods as you like. Depending on the number of neighbors who are currently using Nextdoor, you’ll be charged a set monthly fee that varies depending on how active the real estate listings are, how many other sponsors are in the area, and how many neighbors are currently using Nextdoor.
You’ll also be charged a prorated rate for the current month that covers the remainder of the current month. That amount is shown next to “total billed today.”
The way this program is set up can be especially helpful to smaller realtors, or anyone who’s skeptical about the return they’ll receive on their Nextdoor investment. Since you’re able to pick and choose the neighborhoods your ad appears in, you’re able to get started at little cost. If your advertising on Nextdoor is driving you leads, you’ll be able to expand your reach and sponsor more neighborhoods.
After you’ve defined the area you’d like to sponsor, just input your payment information, and shortly after that you’ll be sponsoring the real estate section on Nextdoor in the neighborhoods you’ve chosen.
Considering that there’s limited competition on the platform at this point and that real estate listings are one of the areas of strength for Nextdoor, advertising now may be a great way to achieve maximum exposure at a low price.
As Nextdoor continues to grow, and more realtors take advantage of the platform, you can expect that the cost of sponsoring neighborhoods will become increasingly more expensive.
this page. From there, you’ll fill out a brief form with your contact information and projected advertising budget. After that, a representative from Nextdoor’s sales team will contact you to discuss advertising.
Smaller businesses interested in advertising on Nextdoor should also fill out the advertising contact form, as someone from Nextdoor will reach out to you as soon as advertising opportunities for your business become available.
Presently, the advertising opportunities available for larger businesses are limited to sponsored content posts, and there’s no way to target the posts. A single sponsored post will appear in the feed of each neighbor, and each neighbor will see the same sponsored post. This is far from ideal from a targeting perspective, but keep in mind that this is still part of a pilot program and additional functionality will be rolled out soon.
Presently, this type of advertising makes a lot of sense for home improvement stores and products, which is why brands like Nest, Ring, Lowe’s and Slomin’s have become early adopters of the platform.
Even if your business is large enough to enter Nextdoor’s pilot program, it may be best to proceed with caution. Considering how limited the targeting potential currently is, it can be difficult to track the return you’re receiving from your ads, and since Nextdoor is only working with companies with sizable advertising budget, it’s an easy way to burn through your ad dollars.
business set up page on Nextdoor.
You’ll need first to decide which type of business you are. Click business if you’re operating under a business name, or individual if you’re a one-person show that provides services using your own name.
Assuming you’re operating under a business name, you’ll need to search for it to see if your page has already been created, thanks to recommendations from other users. If your page already exists, you’ll be able to claim the page and begin updating it. If not, you’ll create the page from scratch.
If your page doesn’t exist yet, you can either sign in to your personal Nextdoor account, or you can create a new business account to manage the page from. This is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to keep their business and personal profiles separate, while others like the simplicity of being able to manage both business and personal from a single account.
When filling out this form, you’ll want to check the box for “public” as it will provide you with maximum reach for your new business page. Once you click the “add your page” button, you’ll be transported to your new profile page. There, you’ll add content to make your page helpful and inviting for the people in your area.
To increase your reach, allowing your page to be seen by more and more of the people in the neighborhood, you’ll need to garner some recommendations. This is a unique feature in that it limits to reach of businesses based on their reputation. This eliminates fly-by-night businesses from taking advantage of the platform, and it helps to keep the focus on the neighborhood.
To grow your reach, you’ll need members of the neighborhood to recommend your business. You can click the “get recommendations” button and Nextdoor will provide you with a pre-written email, Facebook post, or tweet that you can share with your followers on other social networks.
All it takes to increase your reach is a single recommendation. As you garner more recommendations from people in your neighborhood, your reach will increase, allowing more and more people to see your business’ page.
billion dollars a year from advertising by 2020. To accomplish that lofty goal, they’ll need ad products to sell to the different businesses interested in advertising on the platform.
According to Tolia, Nextdoor is receiving over 1,000 requests for more information on advertising each month. If that’s true, it’s easy to see why he expects Nextdoor to become social media’s next advertising giant.
In the meantime, there’s still plenty of potential to grow your business locally by using Nextdoor. Make use of the best practices we’ve discussed above. Not only will this help to increase your organic reach on the platform today, but it will provide you with a framework of content and neighborhood recommendations to build off of when Nextdoor finally rolls out advertising products for more businesses.
When setting up your business profile, be mindful of the fact that this social network exists to serve the needs of your neighborhood first. Make sure that anything you post falls within the guidelines set forth by Nextdoor, and do your best to position your business as an established pillar of the community.
So, while the question of how to advertise on Nextdoor may not have an easy answer as of yet, there’s still tons of potential for the platform. Take some time to set up your profile today so you can reap the rewards of this powerful social network tomorrow.
The post How To Advertise on Nextdoor Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.
As an online seller, youâre a busy person. Between managing your websiteâs design and processing incoming orders, you barely have enough time to restock your packaging materials, much less create and print new marketing inserts!
If this is you, it might be time to look into FedEx Office. You know FedEx as a shipping carrier that helps you get your products to your customersâ doorsteps, but they also offer a range of other services that can help simplify your business operations. And if youâre already using FedEx for your shipping, these services should fit right into your current business model.
Take advantage of FedEx Officeâs free shipping supplies and DIY design and printing services for marketing materials. If you need a few extra hands, look into FedExâs packing and design services for assistance.
Read on to learn how you can order free packaging materials and design and print your marketing inserts at your local FedEx store.
Get Started With FedEx Office
Packing & Shipping Supplies
One of FedExâs best services is their free-to-order shipping supplies.
If you are using FedEx Express for your shipments, you can order FedEx boxes and filler material for free online. Those packages will be delivered to your doorstep within 2-5 business days. Take a look at a list of available packaging materials below, or view this webpage which includes a bit more detail about each option.
Or, if you already have a FedEx account, you can go one step further and login to your account in order to start ordering packaging materials.
Hereâs a selection of those supplies:
Best for papers. Must not exceed 500 grams.
For larger papers. Must not exceed 2.5kg.
FedEx Padded Pak
Tear and water resistant, for heavier documents that need protection. Must not exceed 2.5kg.
FedEx Small Box
Self-assembly box, for small documents and items. Must not exceed 9kg.
FedEx Medium Box
Self-sealing box, for binders, books, and large documents. Must not exceed 9kg.
FedEx Large Box
Self-sealing box, for large stacks of paper, heavier items, etc. Must not exceed 13kg.
FedEx A4 Box
Self-sealing box for shipping internationally. Must not exceed 9kg.
Self-sealing tube for posters, photos, etc. Must not exceed 9kg.
FedEx 10kg Box
Fixed rate via the FedEx International Priority Service.
FedEx 25kg Box
Fixed rate via the FedEx International Priority Service.
FedEx Clinical Pak
For shipping noninfectious clinical material. Must not exceed 9kg.
FedEx UN 3373 Pak
For shipping potentially infectious clinical material. Must not exceed 9kg.
For step-by-step instructions on ordering your FedEx shipping supplies online, take a look at this video:
If you choose to go the DIY route for packing, FedEx also provides several pages of advice on how to best pack specific items. Take a look at FedExâs Service Guide, Packaging Help Hub, and Express Packaging and Labelling Tips.
Alternatively, if youâd prefer FedEx did the packaging on your behalf, thatâs an option too. Just take your shipments to a FedEx store nearby, and they will bubble wrap and box your products right there. Take a look at FedExâs information on these packaging services and view their list of available boxes below:
In my opinion, if youâre shipping more than twenty items a week, itâs a better idea to go with the self-packaging options. The materials are free, and after a bit of practice, youâll be a packaging expert just like the employees at FedEx.
Get Supplies From FedEx Office
In addition to their shipping services, FedEx also offers design and printing services for your marketing materials. Create custom marketing materials in-store at the FedEx Office or use an available template to design your materials online.
Youâll be able to create the following items:
Use Design Templates
Follow the links above to view pricing for each item based on size and materials.
You can pick up your order at a FedEx Office location or have it shipped to you. FedEx offers free shipping on orders of $100 or more.
FedEx is also currently offering a coupon for their printing services.Â Get $5 on orders of $25 or more.
Start Printing With FedEx Office
If youâre looking for an easy way to print your marketing inserts, posters, and business cards while getting your shipping done, FedEx Office might be the way to go.
Of course, you’ll need to consider that these FedEx printing services come with some cost, and though the prices are generally very reasonable, you may be able to find lower prices elsewhere. Shop around before you make your decision!
No matter what you decide on the printing services, one thing is certain: If you are using FedEx Express to ship your packages, you absolutely must take advantage of FedExâs free shipping supplies. Just order the items you need online, and have those supplies delivered directly to your workspace in just a few days.
For more information on what FedEx can offer your business, take a look at their website. Or, for a comparison of FedExâs shipping services with other major shipping carriers, head over to our article USPS vs UPS vs FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is Best?
Get Started With FedEx Office
The post How To Print, Pack, And Ship With FedEx Office appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
We’ve all heard of Yelp. You might think of it simply as a helpful website that advises you to steer clear of that new Asian-Fusion place on Main Street (the service is terrible and you will get food poisoning). Based on how fellow customers rate restaurants and other businesses on a five-star scale, you can make decisions about whether various establishments are worth your time. You can even see pictures of locations, plates of food, menus, hotel rooms, and more.
But there is more to Yelp than just customer reviews of local services. On the other side of the curtain is a whole array of business tools designed to bring more customers through your doors. Functioning much like a social media account, Yelp for Business Owners lets you post pictures, interact with customers, and even buy targeted advertising to help grow your business. Ranging from free options that allow you to “claim” your business to paid subscriptions providing advertisements and high-quality video support, Yelp for Business Owners might be just the thing you have been looking for to give your business a boost.
But is it worth the expenditure? What can Yelp for Business really do for you? Read on to find out.
Do I Have To Pay To Create A Yelp Account For My Business?
Yelp for Business is free on the most basic level, but there are paid options if you want more features.Â Let’s take a closer look at the costs involved.
The basic concept behind the free tools is that you can claim your business and establish a greater presence through Yelp. In many cases, your business will already be on Yelp, with positive and negative reviews, photos, and traffic already present. By claiming your own business, you will be able to gain some control over that content, including the ability to respond to reviews and add your own photos. In most cases, and especially if your business is already rated and reviewed on Yelp, there is no reason not to at least check this version of Yelp for Business out.
If you want to take advantage of Yelp’s proven popularity with consumers, you may find it advantageous to try their advertising service. The self-service option allows you to set your own budget for ads and will target people searching similar services to yours within your area. Yelp does not post their prices publically, but I found a general consensus among small business owners that pricing starts at $350 per month. Opting for this plan also allows for an “upgradedÂ slideshow,” and removal of competitor ads when potential customers are looking at your Yelp page.
Signing up for the Full Service option gives you the opportunity to add a video to your Yelp profile, as well as a “call to action button” on your page. Both of these make yourÂ Yelp page stand out from competition, which could be valuable if there are lots of similar businesses to yours in your area. The Full Service package also includes support from Yelp’s own team of marketing experts, who will be on hand to help you craft your ads and deal with bad reviews and difficult customers.
How Easy Is It To Use Yelp For Business?
By all accounts, Yelp for Business Owners is very straightforward to use. It is easy to add photos and respond to customers on Yelp’s web platform. Designing an ad campaign is a little more difficult, but that mostly comes down to your own marketing decisions. So far, so good. However, if you do decide to sign up for Yelp’s advertising (hoping to take advantage of Yelp’s high trust rating with internet users), be aware that some things just aren’t possible. Hoping to set geographic boundaries for your advertisements? No can do. Want to specify particular keywords to direct traffic your way? Big nope there. So while the actual operating of Yelp for Business is pretty easy, the lack ofÂ things to do does not bode well for the app.
Are There Downsides To Using Yelp?
Well, we have partially answered that question already. The limitations on your advertising potential are a huge drawback for a platform that is supposed to be all about advertising for local businesses. Unfortunately, the bad news does not end there. In addition to being a little opaque in terms of usability, Yelp for Business isÂ expensive. With prices starting at $350 per month and only increased from there, you will be paying exponentially more for Yelp than you would for Google, Facebook, or other ads. On top of that, I read reports from several users (read: most that I saw) claiming that it can be hard to determine just how effective those ads really are. Proponents of Yelp talk about the excellent reputation the site has with consumers and how often users visit an establishment once they look it up on the site. But actually finding how those statistics apply to small business owners can apparently be rather difficult.
On top of that, Yelp’s customer service reps can be charitably described as… persistent. I ran across more complaints about this aspect of Yelp for Business Owners than any other. Once you make it known to Yelp that you might be interested in an advertising contract, they push for it hard, even to the point of insisting that a higher price will be so beneficial to your business that you can’t affordÂ notÂ to give in and sign up. As a small business owner myself, I can’t imagine the frustration of continually having to defend my own decision to limit my budget below what a sales rep thinks is wise. After all, the business isÂ mine.
Yelp is a proven platform that users–your future customers–trust almost implicitly. That said, Yelp for Business can be expensive, on the opaque side, and possibly less effective than advertised. My own take on it is this: signing up with Yelp for Business Owners is worthwhile if you already have a significant following on the platform. If your business already has positive reviews and has a decent history, you may as well at least claim your business on Yelp and upload some official photos. It might even be worth it to give in and pay for some ads. Just make sure you have a strategy in place for using Yelp for your business marketing.
If your business is brand new and has little to no Yelp presence, you may not want to go beyond confirming your business. At the very least, you should wait for a more established footprint on this review site before paying at all for their advertising; your money will just be better used elsewhere.
Get Started With Yelp For Business Owners
The post Should I Use Yelp for Business Owners? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.