How Much Money Do You Need To Start A Business?

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How To Start A Pet Sitting Business: The Complete Guide

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

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

Decide On A Location

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invest In Business Software

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

Payment Processing

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

Recommended Option: Square

Best Overall Mobile POS


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Highlights

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

Retail POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

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

 

Square POS: Always free

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

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

Scheduling Software

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

Accounting Software

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

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

Seek Funding

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

Personal Savings

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

Tap Your Support Network

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

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

Credit Cards

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus

SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.49% – 21.49%, Variable

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

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

Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card

Amazon Business Prime American Express Card


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.24% – 24.24%, Variable

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

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

Personal Loans

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

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

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

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

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

Create Contracts

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

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

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

Market Your Business

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

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

Bolster Your Web Presence

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

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. 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 gauge the reliability of a potential borrower. In the past, you could go to the good 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 method 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 informed 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 know how credit bureaus collect and share your information.

Credit bureaus mainly collect information from credit institutions with which you already have a relationship, such as:

  • Banks
  • 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. 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 for 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. 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.

Credit Report Credit Score

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).

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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):

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

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:

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Think of it like this: a credit report is a detailed report of what your credit history is, while a credit score is an interpretation of 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
  • The 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 requirements 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 them 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 error with each individual bureau 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 credit report errors, visit the FICO website.

What To Do In Case Of Fraud Or Identity Theft

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

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.

Fraud Alert Security Freeze

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.

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A security freeze blocks lenders from accessing your credit report at all 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 contact 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.

Equifax Experian TransUnion

Free Annual Credit Report

✓

✓

✓

Credit Score

$15.95

$19.99

$19.95

Credit Monitoring

✗

Starts at $0/mo

$19.95/mo

Identity Protection

✓

✓

✓

Business Credit Score

✓

✓

✓

Number of Business Services

11

12

15

Equifax

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

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.

Products Offered

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.

Business Services

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.

Experian

The Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

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.

Products Offered

Experian offers personal credit monitoring and identity protection products as well as loan matching and credit card matching services.

  • Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free Experian credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
  • Experian Credit Report & Score: 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: 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: 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: 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. 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.

Business Services

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.

TransUnionThe Complete Guide To Credit Bureaus: Equifax VS Experian VS TransUnion

Best For…

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.

Products

TransUnion offers basic credit report and credit score products, as well as a free credit monitoring and identity theft service.

  • Credit Report: As with every credit bureau, you can access your free TransUnion credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
  • TrueIdentity: 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.

Business Services

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: 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 post 5 Ways To Improve Your Personal Credit Score 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.

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Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You?

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 separate 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 your “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 receive 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, or 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.

HubSpot Sales

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.

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How To Advertise on Nextdoor Effectively

How To Advertise on Nextdoor

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.

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How To Print, Pack, And Ship With FedEx Office

As an online seller, you’re a busy person. Between managing your website’s 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 customers’ doorsteps, but they also offer a range of other services that can help simplify your business operations. And if you’re already using FedEx for your shipping, these services should fit right into your current business model.

Take advantage of FedEx Office’s free shipping supplies and DIY design and printing services for marketing materials. If you need a few extra hands, look into FedEx’s 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 FedEx’s 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.

Here’s a selection of those supplies:

  • FedEx Envelope
    • Best for papers. Must not exceed 500 grams.
  • FedEx Pak
    • 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.
  • FedEx Tube
    • 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 FedEx’s Service Guide, Packaging Help Hub, and Express Packaging and Labelling Tips.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer FedEx did the packaging on your behalf, that’s 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 FedEx’s information on these packaging services and view their list of available boxes below:

  • Standard boxes
  • Specialty boxes
  • Bulk boxes
  • Packing supplies

In my opinion, if you’re shipping more than twenty items a week, it’s a better idea to go with the self-packaging options. The materials are free, and after a bit of practice, you’ll be a packaging expert just like the employees at FedEx.

Get Supplies From FedEx Office

Marketing Materials

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.

You’ll be able to create the following items:

  • Banners
  • Business Cards
  • Brochures
  • Direct Mail
  • Flyers
  • Mounted Posters
  • Postcards
  • Posters
  • Presentations
  • Resumes
  • Sell Sheets
  • Signs
  • Design Services
  • Use Design Templates
  • Canvas Prints
  • Invitations
  • Manuals
  • Backlit Prints
  • Photo Posters
  • Car Magnets
  • Decals

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. Get $5 on orders of $25 or more.

Start Printing With FedEx Office

Final Thoughts

If you’re 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 FedEx’s 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 FedEx’s 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.

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Should I Use Yelp for Business Owners?

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. Let’s take a closer look at the costs involved.

Free Tools:

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.

Self Service:

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 “upgraded slideshow,” and removal of competitor ads when potential customers are looking at your Yelp page.

Full Service:

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 your 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 of 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 is 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 afford not 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 is mine.

Final Thoughts

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

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