What Is Square And How Does It Work?

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Maryland Small Business Loans

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Subdomains Explained

Subdomains Explained

A subdomain is a domain that is attached to a root (or main domain) that can direct browser requests to specific files on a specific server.

You are currently looking at files on shivarweb.com – but more specifically, you are looking at files on the www.shivarweb.com subdomain, since I also use subdomains like app.shivarweb.com and other for experiments.

As an analogy, if a domain is like a physical address, but on the Internet, then a subdomain is like a Suite or Apartment number. Like a Suite number, they only make sense as part of the larger address, but they allow visitors to access a more more specific (and usually different) location.

That’s the short version, but there’s more to subdomains than just the definition and an analogy. I’ll cover questions like –

  • What Is a Subdomain?
  • What Is a Subdomain Used For?
  • Subdomain vs Domain
  • Subdomain vs Subdirectory
  • Subdomain Examples
  • How To Create a Subdomain

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

What Is a Subdomain

Like I wrote in Domain Names Explained, the Internet is nothing but a bunch of connected devices with IP Addresses (usually a series of numbers like 192.168.0.1). IP Addresses are not only hard to remember, but they change frequently.

A domain name is a great way to provide a memorable way to locate your information on the Internet. It’s easier to say that your website is at shivarweb.com than at 70.39.148.106

But what if you have several different Internet applications that you want to all live on your domain name? That’s where subdomains come in.

Subdomains always come before the root domain and before the top level domain (TLD). For this website, www.shivarweb.com

  • www is the subdomain
  • shivarweb is the root domain
  • com is the top level domain

A subdomain is a part of the root domain, but remains different. You can “point” different subdomains via the Domain Name System (DNS) to completely different server locations.

cPanel documentation says that it is “a subsection of your website that can exist as a new website without a new domain name.”

You can have an infinite number of subdomains and even sub-subdomains. A website can also have no subdomain. If you just see https://website.com (note that lack of anything between https:// and website) – then you are on a site with no subdomain.

That’s how companies can have their website at www.shivarweb.com and their customer portal at login.shivarweb.com and their blog at blog.shivarweb.com – these resources are all at shivarweb.com…but all in different server locations.

What Is a Subdomain Used For

A subdomain is used for providing different resources all within a single domain name, but usually the resources will need to be on a different server.

Since a domain can have an infinite number of subdomains, subdomains are often used to limit confusion, maintain a primary online brand, and cut costs (since a new domain name costs money).

For example, a small company might have an employee dashboard that they run with a 3rd party software app but they also might have a main site that they run with WordPress on their own server. They also might have a merchandise store that they run with Shopify.

All three resources need to live under the company’s domain name, but they all live in different places. They would have to setup – employee.natecompany.com and www.natecompany.com and store.natecompany.com.

Subdomain vs Domain

So what is the difference between a subdomain and a domain name? The short version is that a subdomain needs a domain name to work, but a domain name does not need a subdomain to exist.

A domain name is a core part of you and your brand on the Internet. A subdomain is more of a technical workaround. In fact, you don’t even really need the default “www” subdomain (even though it does make some technical items easier, which is why it sticks around).

As far as using a subdomain vs a domain, it’s often simply a preference. Some companies prefer to have their separate projects on separate domain names entirely. Some companies like to have a nice system of subdomains.

Subdomains can create some technical issues (ie, cross-subdomain tracking, security certificates, etc), but they also solve and simplify other issues.

It’s usually preference.

Subdomain vs Subdirectory

A subdomain is a different domain under the root domain. It appears before the root domain in the URL (ie, subdomain.domain.com.) A subdirectory is a place on a server where certain files live. It appears after the top level domain in the URL (domain.com/subdirectory/).

In an analogy, imagine your website as filing cabinets (remember those?). A subdomain would be different cabinets while a subdirectory would be a folder inside of a cabinet.

Now, there is an ongoing & complex debate on whether it’s better to use a subdirectory or a subdomain for distinct sections / campaigns / microsites.

For example, if you have a Spanish and an English language website, is it better to use es.yoursite.com & en.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/es/ & yoursite.com/en/?

Or, if you have a blog that uses WordPress (and the rest of your site uses Drupal), is it better to use blog.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/blog/?

The short, unhelpful version is that it depends on what software you are using, what your plans are, what your marketing strategy is, and what your technical skills are.

Now, based on my experience as a marketer with a focus on organic traffic & analytics, I say that unless you have a specific, firm reason to use a subdomain, then you should always default to using a subdirectory.

Why? Because Occam’s Razor – a problem-solving principle that states, “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or, the simplest solution is most likely the right one.

Subdomains are seem easier to implement upfront without planning. But, they introduce a lot of complexity both upfront and forever into the future. For languages, ecommerce, SEO, analytics, development, security, etc – maintaining a single website location is almost always better.

The only caveat where subdomains usually wins is online software that you want to associate with your domain…but not with your website. Customer portals, some forums, and any internal uses work better with subdomains, since subdomains inherently separate those functions from the rest of your website.

Subdomain Examples

You probably navigate among subdomains constantly and do not realize it. But here’s a few diverse examples of websites who execute subdomains well.

Wikipedia – Languages

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a heavy user of subdomains. They have subdomains for every language, and sub-subdomains for mobile versions.

Curbed – Brand Identity

Curbed

Curbed is VoxMedia’s real estate & interior design website. Due to the nature of real estate news, they have each focus city on a subdomain with its own independent publishing software. While it is debatable from a purley SEO standpoint, it is a perfect setup to capture local interest & traffic while building a national publishing brand.

NPR – Ecommerce

NPR

NPR is a radio network, first and foremost. Their main domain NPR.org has to be 100% focused on their member stations, news & content. But, they also have merchandise that they would like to sell on their domain to serious fans. A custom Drupal setup runs their content site, but they use Shopify for their shop. This setup is a perfect example for subdomain use.

Kopywriting Kourse – Customer Portal

Kopywriting Kourse

Kopywriting Kourse covers, well, copywriting. They have an extensive free section on their blog that uses WordPress, but they also have a members’ area that runs off customized 3rd party forum software. They want members to stay on the “Kopywriting Kourse” branded site, though the members’ area lives on a subdomain.

*Disclosure – Kopywriting Kourse is a client of mine. I actually helped them setup cross-domain analytics for their subdomains. Again, it was a bit complex, but worthwhile for their specific needs. We certainly considered hosting a forum or social network on a subdirectory, but ruled it out due to their business goals, technical needs, and the spam / security risks of not using 3rd party forum software.

How To Create a Subdomain

So let’s say that a subdomain is right for you. How do you actually make that happen?

To create a subdomain, you need to go wherever your DNS records live (not your domain registration). If you have a hosting company that is separate from your domain registrar, then you’ll likely go to your hosting company.

If it’s at your hosting company, then you’ll navigate to your cPanel and/or account dashboard. There will likely be a shortcut called “subdomains” where you can select your domain and add your subdomain. You’ll need to name it, and then tell it where the software lives on your server. Here’s a screenshot from InMotion Hosting’s subdomain area.

Create Subdomain

Now, that path is simple if both websites will live on the same server. If your websites live elsewhere, then you’ll likely need to edit the DNS records directly. To do this, find where you can edit the “Zone Records”. Once again, here’s a screenshot from my account at InMotion Hosting.

Adding Subdomain

You’ll notice that there will be several records that already exist. You’ll need to add a “Record” based on the software instructions from your software provider. Usually, this will involve setting an A record and a CNAME record. It usually depends on your software’s exact setup.

Next Steps

Subdomains are a useful, but often misunderstood part of the Web. They can be a cost-effective and versatile way to make the most of your domain name, but they can also be a clunky and complex solution to common website setup issues.

Either way, be sure to understand the tradeoffs and what tradeoffs your subdomain setup involves.

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How To Accept Donations Online

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Hostinger Hosting Review: Pros, Cons, & Alternatives

Hostinger Hosting Review_ Pros, Cons, & Alternatives

Hostinger is an independent, European web hosting company who has grown rapidly in just over a decade. They are also the parent company of the 000Webhost, Niagahoster and Weblink brands. In 2017, Hostinger reported 29 million users.

Like most hosting companies, Hostinger also provides email, a website builder, and various complementary services with 24-hour support and a 30-day money back guarantee.

You can check out Hostinger’s plans and current pricing here.

I’ve had several readers email to ask my opinion about Hostinger, so I decided to give them a shot for a small project.

Here’s my Hostinger review — structured with pros & cons based on my experience as a customer.

Skip to direct comparisons or skip to the conclusion.

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

Pros of Using Hostinger Hosting

There are a lot of Hostinger reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. As I’ve said in other hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. The “best” is the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering Hostinger.

Excellent Onboarding

When you’re using a piece of software, there’s always that point where you wonder, “Okay… what’s next?”

There’s a certain amount of education / how-to needed, especially if you’re a new user. This is known as onboarding – AKA the process of getting a new user set up and using the software they’ve just signed up for.

Hostinger has an amazing onboarding process. There was never a moment where we had to wonder what we were supposed to do next.

In fact, the entire process is laid out step-by-step.

Hostinger Onboarding

They even build in educational content for users who may be new to creating a website and are unsure of certain terms:

Hostinger Onboarding Education

For website owners who are new to hosting, this step-by-step process and additional information is extremely helpful throughout the sign up. It’s helpful without being overwhelming or “sales-y”, and helps ensure you actually finish the set-up process.

Competitive Pricing

At first glance, Hostinger’s pricing looks pretty hard to beat. Their pricing is their claim to fame in the hosting industry.

Hostinger pricing

Granted, this super-cheap pricing comes with some strings attached. When you look at the full pricing structure, you actually on lock in their advertised rates if you commit to a 48-month plan (and renewals are almost double).

Hostinger Pricing Breakdown

But still… less than $40 for two years of hosting is incredible. They also offer a full refund within your first 30-days, and there aren’t any hidden fees or surprises (like set-up fees, etc.)*.

*There are some missing essential extras though that I’ll cover in the cons.

While pricing definitely isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing your hosting company, if you’re looking for a company you can try out but ultimately want to commit to for the long-term, Hostinger isn’t a bad option.

Multiple Data Centers

Another pro of Hostinger is that they offer multiple server locations, allowing website owners to choose the closest location to their customers, so their website can load faster.

Hostinger is on par with other brand names (like SiteGround) that maintain data centers in these regions. If you have customers in Europe or Asia, this is a huge pro. If you’re just looking to serve those in the US, then it probably doesn’t matter much to you.

Cons of Hostinger

Like any web host, Hostinger has disadvantages. There are plenty of Hostinger complaints to be found online. Plenty are valid, and some are simply anecdotal. Here are the cons that I found while using Hostinger for hosting.

Mediocre / Inconsistent Performance

In addition to hosting your website files, a good hosting server will also deliver those files as quickly as possible every time a visitor goes to your domain name address.

There are a lot of variables that go into how fast your website is. You can have the fastest server in the world and still have an incredibly slow website due to issues on your end. But either way, you want to have a hosting server that is fast so that you can work on your side of the equation.

One of the best measurements for approximating performance is TTFB or Time to First Byte. Again, I know that network engineers throw a lot of asterisks here and if you know *exactly* what type of website you are running – you can absolutely ask for detailed allocated specs. My goal with my hosting reviews is to provide a narrative of tradeoffs so that you can make the call for your website.

But here’s how their data center performed with my website when I first set it up on a clean WordPress install –

Hostinger Speed Test

1.308s for TTFB isn’t horrendous…but it’s not good at all. In fact, I’d usually dismiss that score as a mis-test for a well-known hosting company.

But what I found was that more than anything, Hostinger’s tests simply varied wildly. I had to double-check stats with Pingdom Tools before pulling this test as the most representative (I got fast and slow speeds until getting this consistently). Their default memory allocations were fine. And if you are going to be serving lots of images directly from your website, then their SSD drives are plus – but they seem to have quite a few configurations that are off for brand new users.

So Hostinger is not the best performer, but it’s not the worst. If anything, I found them to be inconsistent, which can be risky.

Limited Disk Space

Web hosting companies are all selling the same thing – a physical home for your website connected to the Internet – but they all have different plans with different caps, different bonuses, and different renewal prices.

For most, figuring out their true value requires a breakdown into different parts.

To compare “apples to apples” among hosting companies, I break things down into Core hosting features and Bonus hosting features.

Core hosting features are the “3 D’s” – domains, databases and disk space. The core purpose of a hosting server is to serve website files when someone types in your domain name.

  • Domains are how many domain names you can point to your hosting account. If you want multiple websites, you’ll want to have multiple domains allowed. You’ll also need to look at email addresses per domain – sometimes those are capped as well.
  • Databases are how many pieces of website software you can run on your hosting server. A WordPress install requires one database. If you have any apps, Listservs, etc – you’ll need more.
  • Disk space is how many files you can put on your server – images, text, PDFs, etc.
  • Other features could include anything from website builder software to advertising credits to backend software, etc.

One of Hostinger’s cons is its plan limitations — specifically its caps across disk space.

With their Single Plan, you’re limited to one website and domain and 10GB of disk space. If you have one small website, this isn’t a huge problem. But if you want to scale (or if you are in an image heavy category like beauty or travel), it can be limiting.

Hostinger also limits disk space on their mid-tier and higher-tier plan, too.

Hostinger Plan LimitationsAgain, if you’re planning on creating a smaller site (AKA you won’t have much need for disk space to store images, files, etc.), then this isn’t a huge problem for you. But if you’re looking to add advanced functionality to your site — like PDF downloads on an educational website — or store a ton of images (like a beauty website) you’re going to want to make sure your hosting plan has the capacity to handle it.

Limited Support

Like I’ve mentioned in other hosting reviews, declaring that a company provides amazing or horrible customer service to every single customer is impossible. It’s hard to know as a single customer if you are dealing with the one amazing or the one horrible employee or if it’s the general culture of a company.

I have limited experience with customer service at Hostinger, but here’s what I do know: they are they are available 24/7/365, but only via chat.

Hostinger Support Channels

There’s no email or phone support, and compared to competitors, those lack of channels hurt them. Even with their “Priority Support” add-on, you don’t have the ability to hop on the phone with a REAL, LIVE person.

Hostinger Priority SupportThis is one of those things that doesn’t matter until it does… and then it really matters (i.e. if your site were to go down and you needed immediate assistance). It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a pretty big con.

Limited Essential Extras

There are lots of extras in web hosting that while they are technically not necessary, are all but necessary to run a safe & secure website in a world of constant cyberattacks and automated hacking.

While most hosting companies are moving towards bundling basic security extras, Hostinger charges for them individually.

Backups are a paid feature and they oddly charge for a basic LetsEncrypt SSL that you can get for free on your own. The contrast is especially sharp against companies like InMotion Hosting that bundle brand-name Comodo SSLs and backups with plans.

As mentioned before, Hostinger charges for Priority Support. On its own, that’s not odd. But what is odd is that you don’t get any additional channels. And the price is 4x what you are paying for your actual hosting.

Hostinger Paid Extras

All in all, their upcharges are not a huge deal if you simply factor them in your your total price (which would still beat a lot of competitors). But it does remind me of those super-cheap budget airlines like RyanAir or Spirit Airlines who sell you a cheap ticket but then charge at the last minute for things like overhead bin space, tray tables, and other assumed basics.

Company History / Reputation

Every company has growth pains. And no company should be held to its past sins forever. Nobody hesitates to buy Tylenol or Ford cars. However, I do think that customers should be aware of past happenings to make an all-around decision.

While the Hostinger brand is pretty clean, the company Hostinger has quite a history of growth at any costs and corner-cutting. They had a massive customer hack in 2015.

That in and of itself isn’t super-noteworthy. But for a hosting company, the shortcuts that came to light were pretty eye-brow raising.

Across customer forums, the have had some notoriety for inconsistent performance.

And on a purely personal note, their marketing team ignored my requests for more than 18 months for them to stop regularly bulk emailing me.

I understand fast growth and they do seem to have professionalized their approach recently. But if you have an important, long-term project to commit to an established hosting provider, then Hostinger does not fit that bill.

Hostinger Comparisons

Out of the most well-known web hosts that I’ve used as a customer or consultant, here’s how Hostinger compares directly to each.

Hostinger vs. GoDaddy

GoDaddy is the industry brand name, even though they are primarily a domain registrar, not a hosting company. They’re much improved as a web host since 2013, but their only real selling point is their deeply discounted introductory pricing,. And on that point – Hostinger competes head-on with them – but GoDaddy provides more features. Between GoDaddy and Hostinger, I would choose GoDaddy.

Hostinger vs. HostGator

Hostinger and HostGator have some key differences. HostGator is a much larger organization and operates out of Endurance’s Houston and Utah data centers. They have very affordable upfront pricing, but Hostinger is cheaper.

But pricing aside, HostGator has more features and support channels. Most site owners would like HostGator better. I run most personal projects on HostGator.

Hostinger vs. Bluehost

Like HostGator, Bluehost is another larger competitor. Behind GoDaddy, they are one of the biggest brands in hosting. They used to (pre-2015) have a very similar pricing setup to Hostinger but with better support. However, they’ve changed up their plans and moved “upmarket.” On raw pricing and basic features, Hostinger is a better choice. However, Bluehost is good if you’re looking for higher quality, better options, and better branding.

Hostinger vs. Siteground

SiteGround is one of the fastest growing independent hosting providers. They operate out of Bulgaria with regional data centers, and have similar data center reach. If you want similar features at a very cheap price, Hostinger is for you. If you can pay a bit more, SiteGround is a much, more established company with better performance and more support channels.

Hostinger vs. InMotion

InMotion Hosting is one of the largest and fastest growing hosting providers. They offer the full-spectrum of hosting services. This website uses a VPS server from InMotion. They’re more expensive than Hostinger’s pricing specials, but offer a much better product on every consideration. InMotion also has a brand called Web Hosting Hub that offers entry-level shared hosting plans. They are more expensive than Hostinger, but provide a much better product and more options inside their plans. Check out Web Hosting Hub here (review here) and InMotion here (review here).

Conclusion & Next Steps

Overall, I found Hostinger hosting to be good for what they are. If you have a small website, they’ll do just fine and they’re inexpensive. And if you are ex-US, they’ll be a solid option with data centers closer to your audience.

If pricing is your main consideration (and you don’t mind the plan limitations), you can sign up for Hostinger here.

If you are looking for an affordable shared hosting company with almost as intro pricing, better long term pricing and a much better product, then go check out InMotion Hosting here. You can also check out HostGator here if you want the option to pay monthly or iPage if you want extreme discounts and a good brand name.

If you are more confused than ever – then take my BuzzFeed style WordPress Hosting quiz here, the Web Hosting Quiz here or use my website setup guide here!

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

Adobe Spark Website Builder Review

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

Check out Adobe Spark’s Current Plans & Pricing

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

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

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

What Is Adobe Spark Page?

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

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

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

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

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

Adobe Spark Templates

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

Pros of Using Adobe Spark Page Website Builder

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

Straightforward Signup Process

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

Adobe Spark Page DIY

Simplicity

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

Adobe Spark Editing

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

Adobe spark adding elements to the page

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

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

Adobe Product Integration

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

Adobe Spark Integrations

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

Cons

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

Limited to One Page

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

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

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

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

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

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

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

Adobe Spark Base Template

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

Adobe Spark Page Theme Changes

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

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

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

Limited Feature Set – Technical

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

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

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

Adobe Spark URL

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

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

Theme Examples that Aren’t Usable Pages

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

Adobe Spark Examples

Adobe Spark Options

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

Adobe Spark Page Post

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

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

Adobe Pricing

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

Adobe Spark Page Review Conclusion

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

Check out Adobe Spark Page’s plans here.

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

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

 

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

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The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Massachusetts Small Businesses

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

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

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

Online Business Lenders For Massachusetts Businesses

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

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

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

SmartBiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following are the requirements for receiving this loan:

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

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

Lendio

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

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

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

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

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

OnDeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

To qualify for this option, you must have:

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

Fundbox

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

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

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

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

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

BlueVine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amex Business Loans

American Express OptBlue

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

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

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

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

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

Amex Merchant Financing

American Express OptBlue

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

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

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

To qualify for Amex Merchant Financing, you must have:

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

Upstart

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

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

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

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must:

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

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

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

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Massachusetts

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

Eastern Bank

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

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

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

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

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

Metro Credit Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Capital

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

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

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

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

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

Small Business Grants In Massachusetts

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

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

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

State Trade Expansion Program Grant

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

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

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

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

Office Of Safety Workplace Safety Training Grant

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

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

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

Workforce Training Fund

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

General Program

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

Express Program

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

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

Loans & Resources For Startups In Massachusetts

credit card processing for taxi drivers

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

SCORE

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

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

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

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

Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network

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

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

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

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

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

Why Does My Business Need Money?

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

How Much Money Does My Business Need?

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

Can My Business Afford The Loan?

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

Do I Meet All Requirements?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Google Sites Review Pros & Negatives of Using Googles Website Builder

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Google Sites here…

Skip to the Conclusion & Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Blogger

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

2. Google My Business Website

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

3. Classic Google Sites

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

You can find links to it throughout Google Sites.

Classic Sites

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

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

4. Google Web Designer

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

Google Web Designer

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

5. New Google Sites (free)

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

New Google Sites

6. New Google Sites (G Suite)

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

Let’s look at the pros & negatives.

Pros of Google Sites

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

Price

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

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

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

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

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

Google Integration

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

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

Hosting in Your Google Drive

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

Simplicity & Security

Google Sites is simple and straightforward to use.

Google Sites Google Features

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

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

Google Sites Drag & Drop

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

Speed & Sharing

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

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

Negatives of Google Sites

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Design Features

Google Sites’ design features are sorely limited.

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

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

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

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

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

Google Sites Template Options

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

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

Limited Marketing Features

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

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

Google Sites Analytics Options

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

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

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

Custom Domain Setup

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

Google Sites Domain Name Options

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

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

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

Future-Proofing

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

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

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

Google Sites Comparison

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

Google Sites vs. Squarespace

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

Google Sites vs. Wix

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

Google Sites vs. GoDaddy’s Website Builder

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

Google Sites vs. Weebly

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

Google Sites vs. WordPress.com

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

Google Sites vs. Self-hosted WordPress

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

Conclusion & Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

We all know and love our Short Messaging Service (SMS) — better known simply as the text message. But did you know that you can start taking SMS payments for your business? And that it is relatively easy to get started?

In the United States, we are just now warming up to the idea of sending and receiving payments by text, but businesses throughout the world have already adopted SMS payments for everything from mass transit tickets to lattes.

While Americans are less likely to pay by text for everyday purchases, text payments are still an undeniably growing trend. You may already be familiar with payments by text when it comes to charitable donations, but home service providers (e.g., AT&T) are starting to offer SMS payments for their customers as well.

Text payments offer potential growth for many other types of businesses, too. Pizza shops, salons, or any business that has ‘regulars’ could benefit from text payments. SMS payment services are probably not for everyone, however, so let’s take a look at how text-to-pay works and if it’s right for your business.

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of how SMS payments work, it’s pretty simple, really. While there may be some variations with each company that offers text messaging payment services, generally you can expect the following elements when it comes time to pay:

  1. A business sends a text to their customer’s phone number or the customer texts a shortcode number to the business to initiate the sale.
  2. After communicating what product or service the customer wishes to purchase, the business sends the customer a link to a secure, mobile-friendly payment form.
  3. The customer enters their payment information and can typically approve saving the card on file for recurring payments or a future purchase.
  4. The customer may get a unique code to complete the purchase.

The customer may also get another verification text from the payment processing company to confirm their intent to buy. As stated above, the exact process may vary by company, but you can expect a similar procedure to complete the sale.

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

Many people associate text message payments with charity donations (often the amount is added to their phone bill). What is lesser known is that phone carriers generally only allow organizations to accept donated amounts in $5 or $10 increments. By setting up these limits, phone carriers reduce their own risk from non-paying customers. While the phone carrier setup can work great for flash-giving campaigns and allow an organization to avoid paying some payment processing fees, it isn’t a viable solution for businesses.

Enter companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar. These companies, and those like them, support SMS payments by integrating their messaging services with secure, PCI-compliant payment processing.

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

To get started accepting SMS payments, you’ll need to choose the company with the services that fit your needs best. There are some differences between the ways companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar price their services. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these three examples.

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

Relay charges $50/month for 250 “tickets” which refers to completed conversations. With that, you also get 1000 free SMS texts. All plans include automated responses, unlimited contacts, customer segmentation, and other engagement tools. Don’t forget about the actual credit card processing fees, however! Relay integrates with Stripe, and you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful transaction. You can accept every major card at the same rate with Stripe processing. (If you aren’t familiar with Stripe, check out our Stripe Payments Review.)

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

Pagato integrates with Stripe, Braintree (read our review), and Quickbooks Payments (read our review). In addition to the payment processing fees of your merchant account, you’ll pay 1% per transaction with a minimum of $0.20 per transaction. With Pagato, you can accept payments through SMS and social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, too. You won’t have additional setup, monthly, or hidden fees.

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

Sonar offers packages starting at $24.67/month and $0.025 per SMS message. You can send automated messages, track customer data, set up campaigns and even A/B test them as well. Sonar integrates with Stripe, and your payment processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

SMS Sonar

These are examples of some lesser-known companies, but the more prominent players like Square and PayPal allow you to send a text with a link to pay individual customers, too. The Square Cash App and PayPal don’t have the muscle to do much beyond sending a link to pay, however. You can’t A/B test marketing campaigns for an offer that you send out with Square or PayPal, for instance.

Keep in mind that most of the SMS messaging platforms mentioned above offer a free trial period and a demo to learn more about the exact features. So don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to meet with your team and discuss the benefits of each platform, and of course, determine if your sales team has the bandwidth to have multiple open text conversations with customers. Text can be a powerful way to connect to your customers, but it is definitely not suited for every business model.

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

Without a doubt, there is value in using SMS messaging to build a marketing campaign and nurture those ongoing relationships with your customers. When you consider that the global average open rate on a text is more than 90%, it makes sense to start building your phone list and reaching out that way.

As far as what businesses benefit from adding SMS payments to the mix, consider this:

If your business model provides delivery, your revenue depends on recurring payments, or you target a “repeat” customer base, SMS payments can make a lot of business sense. However, you need to have the staff and time to support the nurturing of customers via text. Text conversations can be a bit longer than a phone call if there is a specific issue, so training your team on escalation procedures can help you both save time and money with SMS texts.

All this connection can be great, but not all customers are going to love texting or getting “salesy” texts from you. While SMS texting and payments can help your sales team if you use it the right way, some may find automated sales messages impersonal. Keep in mind who your customers are and what supports their journey with you when you set up your SMS services.

Another significant benefit to SMS payments is the secure and compliant payment processing services that you can integrate with, such as Stripe. Because you don’t transmit the credit card data or store it on your servers, you can significantly reduce your liability when it comes to fraud risks. Not to mention that your customer has a fast and easy way to pay you, and all of it happens from their phone!

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

Being able to take payments by text offers potential — as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Features vary by company, so do compare service packages before making a decision. One company may find a lot of value in the extra capabilities to target and segment lists, while another may be more focused on cutting down telephone orders. What services you choose mainly depends on your business model. Because text messaging offers a clear path to your customers’ hands, it may be worth finding the right balance to connect, engage, and encourage your customers to pay by text, too.

If you are discovering what else is out there in payment processing, be sure to check out our resources here at Merchant Maverick. Our Merchant Account Comparison Chart is a great starting point for payment providers! 

Paymentcloud Durango Soar Payments Host Merchant Services

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Specialities

General Purpose High-Risk, eCommerce, CBD Oil, Firearms & Ammunition, Adult, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Airlines

International, Offshore, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Fantasy Sports, Forex Credit Repair, E-cig/vape, Moving/Storage, Web Design, Antiques & Collectibles, Debt Consolidation, Precious Metals Debt Collection, Life Coaching, Airlines, Loan Modification, SEO Services

The post What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick Your Niche

business loan reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Your Business Plan

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

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

Sole Proprietorships

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

Partnerships

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

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

Limited Liability Companies

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

Corporations

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

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

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

Get Business Insurance

Do I need business interruption insurance

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

General Liability Insurance

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

Professional Liability Insurance

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

Worker’s Compensation

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

Commercial Property Insurance

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

Separate Personal & Business Expenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

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

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

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

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

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

Spark Cash Select For Business

Spark Cash Select From Capital One


capital one spark cash select
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 23.24%, Variable

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

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

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

Seek Business Funding

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

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

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

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

Personal Savings

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

Friends & Family

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

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

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

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines Of Credit

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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

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

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

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

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

Equipment Loans

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

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

To qualify, you must meet these minimum requirements:

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

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

Personal Loans For Business

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Upstart

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

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

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

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

Business Credit Cards

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

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

Recommended Option: Spark Classic

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

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

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

Choose Business Software

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

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

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

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

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

Set Your Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolster Your Web Presence

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

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

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

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

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

Market Your Business

business loans for HVAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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