This post originally appeared at Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives via ShivarWeb
MailChimp has been one of the fastest growing email marketing providers for years now. They’ve built an huge base of customers ranging from tiny personal accounts to some of the most prestigious enterprise brands in the world.
In 2019, they added a ton of functionality, including postcards & remarketing as they grow their positioning into a marketing platform. And as part of their growth, they’ve introduced a free website builder.
See MailChimp’s Current Plans & Pricing
I’ve been using Mailchimp for years, and was super curious when they announced the beta version of their website builder (FYI, beta just means it’s their first, trial run version. They’re looking for feedback from users to improve the product).
So I gave Mailchimp’s beta builder a try for a full Mailchimp Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.
There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — 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 Mailchimp Website Builder?
On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Mailchimp’s website builder lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.
Using Mailchimp 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.
Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Mailchimp, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.
As far as competition, Mailchimp competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com (and Shopify for online stores).
Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and their platform providing everything you need to market online — from their opt-in pages to their email software to their website builder.
Pros of Using Mailchimp Website Builder
Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Mailchimp’s website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.
Straightforward Sign Up Process
If you already have a Mailchimp account, using their free website builder is just a matter of navigating to it in the main menu and getting started. If you don’t have a Mailchimp account, it’s still incredibly easy to sign up. All you have to do is create an account with your business information + pick your payment plan to get started.
This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without an extensive sign up process.
Ease of Use
Another pro of Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s incredible easy to use. When you first get started with the platform, Mailchimp actually creates a homepage for you to use as a starting point.
Once you get into the platform, you can “drag” and “drop” additional elements onto the page, remove elements from the premade page, add new pages to your site with the click of a button.
The whole setup is like painting by numbers. You just add in your content, add additional elements if you want them / need them, add your branding colors and fonts, and click publish.
There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having an easy and quick way to get your site up and making sure it still looks decent.
It makes Mailchimp a great option for entrepreneurs / DIY-ers who want a website that gets the job done, looks clean, and doesn’t require hiring a professional to put it all together (and don’t want to worry about “messing it up”).
Another benefit Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s completely free.
There’s no upsells, no limited access based on your payment plan, no restrictions. You can use the website builder with your free Mailchimp plan if you have under 2000 subscribers and don’t need additional email functionality, or you can use it with your paid plan for no additional charge.
While there are some limitations with the platform (more on that in a minute), it’s a great option for test projects or those who need a simple, functional website and don’t want to spend money on a platform.
Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. And for Mailchimp, there’s two big cons that stand out: limited design and functionality features.
Limited Feature Set – Design
With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS).
And you can really see this trade-off with the Mailchimp website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and a few elements based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.
However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder.
You can’t add anything aside from the few drag and drop elements available to you, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited (AKA essentially just font and color).
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 a Mailchimp website builder website.
Limited Feature Set – Technical
The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.
Technical limitations are features 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.
In their beta from, Mailchimp has extremely limited integrations (social sharing, social following, file downloads, etc.), but there are a ton of technical features that Mailchimp currently doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.
There also aren’t add-ons or additional integrations to use with the platform, which makes it even more difficult to do anything besides the very basics on your site.
Ultimately, Mailchimp leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better use and market your website.
Mailchimp Review Conclusion
Mailchimp makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, which makes it a great choice for DIYers who want a quick and easy way to build a website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.
Get started with Mailchimp here.
However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control. Mailchimp leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to design customization and functionality. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.
Not sure Mailchimp fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.
It’s a beautiful spring day, the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping. Out in the fresh air, you’re surrounded by vendors selling the freshest local produce, natural products, and unique handmade gifts. No, this isn’t a dream — it’s a trip to your local farmers’ market.
Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity across the nation, so it’s no surprise that farmers, artists, and other local vendors are capitalizing on this money-making opportunity. Perhaps you’ve even pondered the idea, or maybe your family and friends have suggested you make some extra cash by selling your handmade or homegrown wares.
In this guide, we’ll explore how to become a seller at a farmers’ market. While it may seem as easy as grabbing your goods, setting up a table, and bringing in customers, there are actually tips and strategies to keep in mind to improve your odds for success … and increase your profitability. From selecting your products to marketing to buyers, we’ll cover it all to help you get started on the right foot. Read on to find out how you can start selling your goods at your local farmers’ market.
Why Are Farmersâ Markets So Popular?
From small towns to big cities, farmers’ markets are quickly popping up everywhere and attracting people of all ages. What makes a farmers’ market so appealing? It might be easier to ask what’s not to love about these local stops!
There are a number of reasons that more people are frequenting farmers’ markets. One of the top reasons is that these are places where you can purchase fresh local produce, most of which is organic and isn’t genetically modified. Compare this to your local supermarket where you aren’t sure of when the produce was picked and shipped or how it was grown. Farmers’ market produce is the freshest, and often the healthiest, that you can find.
Buying locally isn’t just good for your body — it’s also better for the environment. Produce at farmers’ markets usually comes from small family farms, which use fewer pesticides and chemicals. Because these products aren’t being shipped around the country, shopping at your local farmers’ market also conserves fossil fuels.
When you shop at your local farmers’ market, you’re supporting small businesses, whether it’s a small family farm or a local artist peddling paintings, pottery, or other handmade art that you won’t find in your local department store. In addition to supporting your local economy, attending a farmers’ market is a great way to meet new people. Farmers’ markets are family-friendly (and sometimes, even pet-friendly!) events that let you meet and socialize with people in your community. Some farmers’ markets even offer live music, classes, and other special events that only add to the fun. Add in local food trucks serving delicious meals and treats, and it’s not hard to see why farmers’ markets are truly the place to be.
Now, it’s pretty easy to see why you would visit a farmers’ market, but what are the benefits for sellers? In a 2015 survey, the USDA found that over $700 million of goods were sold at over 8,000 farmers’ markets around the United States — and the majority of that money is being funneled directly back into local economies. The USDA also found that farmers and ranchers make less than 16 cents for every dollar when selling to retailers. On the flip side, they can retain nearly 100% of their profits when selling locally through farmers’ markets.
10 Kinds Of Products You Can Sell At A Farmersâ Market
Despite its name, you don’t have to be a farmer to sell at a farmers’ market. There are lots of ways that you can connect with the community while earning a profit. Items to sell might include:
Sure, you don’t have to be a farmer to sell at a farmer’s market, but if you are, you can certainly bring your freshly grown produce to sell to your customers. Seasonal local fruits and vegetables really sell, but don’t forget about unique products you won’t find in most supermarkets (think colorful heirloom tomatoes or purple cauliflower). No matter what you bring, make sure that you only provide the freshest, highest-quality produce for your customers.
Don’t feel stuck to just fruits and vegetables, either. Mushrooms and fresh herbs that you’ve cultivated yourself are also big sellers at farmers’ markets, providing you with additional opportunities to earn some extra cash.
Milk, Meat & Eggs
If you raise cattle and chickens, it’s a no-brainer to bring your milk, meat, and eggs to the farmer’s market to share with your community while making a profit. These are popular items at farmers’ markets because of freshness, but also because many people prefer buying from small farms that treat their animals humanely, as opposed to large factories that may have questionable practices.
Not a rancher, but you enjoy hunting? Venison, bison, and other wild game can be sold at the farmers’ market. And it doesn’t stop at fresh meat, either. You can always sell your dried meats and jerky that you’ve marinated, cured, and dried yourself.
Your family and friends think you could be the next Betty Crocker, so why not bring your baked goods to the masses? If you love to bake, there are endless possibilities and a whole lot of money-making potential at your local farmers’ market. Bake your homemade cookies, cakes, pies, scones, and cinnamon rolls and sell them to customers during your free time. Again, you can think outside of the box to boost your profit potential by selling unique items such as dog treats or treats for customers with special dietary needs (i.e. vegan or gluten-free).
Flowers, Plants & Seedlings
From season to season, people spruce up their homes inside and out with colorful flowers, outdoor plants, and houseplants. From flower baskets that add a touch of color to your front porch to common and unique species of plants, many customers bypass big-box home improvement stores and instead purchase from local growers.
You don’t even have to wait to have fully grown plants and flowers. Some shoppers may prefer to buy seedlings that they can plant and grow themselves. Succulents and herbs are also popular options to consider.
If you grow roses, tulips, lilies, or other beautiful flowers, you can also create unique arrangements that shoppers may snap up for weddings, prom, Valentine’s Day, or even “just because.”
If you’re a beekeeper, cash in on the benefits of your (and your bees’) hard work by selling your delicious honey at the farmers’ market. Customers can purchase high-quality honey for use as a natural sweetener, but there are also additional benefits of eating local honey. Local raw honey is often marketed as a natural home remedy used to help with seasonal allergies, soothe sore throats, kill bacteria, or even help you get a good night’s sleep.
Want your honey to stand out from the rest? Switch up the way you process your honey to create creamed honey, or consider adding natural flavors to make your own unique honey blend.
Also, don’t overlook the value (for health and your wallet) of pollen granules. These tiny pellets contain a mixture of nectar, saliva, and pollen and are rising in popularity due to their perceived health benefits. Pollen granules are used for treating inflammation, strengthening the immune system, reducing stress, and other ailments.
Soap & Skincare Products
As we learn more about the chemicals in everyday household items, more people are stepping away from these potentially harmful ingredients and going a more natural route. If you’ve created the perfect recipe for homemade soaps, lotions, or other skincare products, set up a display at your local farmers’ market to peddle your natural concoctions.
As more people move to natural products, the farmers’ market in your area gives you the perfect platform for selling your goods. There are lots of opportunities in this space, from creating your own natural (and great smelling!) bug repellent to homemade sugar scrubs and natural deodorants.
One thing to remember is that you can be multi-dimensional at a farmers’ market. For example, if you keep bees, not only can you sell honey and pollen granules, but you can also sell natural beauty products made from pollen, honey, or beeswax.
Need some inspiration for what to sell at the farmers’ market? Look no further than the neighborhood kid with a lemonade stand. And the great news is that you aren’t just limited to lemonade, although selling freshly squeezed lemonade to hot shoppers is an easy way to make some extra cash.
If you make your own local wine or mead, brew your own craft beers, or even make a mean cup of hot apple cider, selling beverages can help draw in customers. Your booth or display can serve as a showcase for your homemade brews, or you can sell beverages in addition to other products. Many people that frequent farmers’ markets are looking for products that are unique and can’t be found in the local grocery store, so think outside the box. Flavored lemonades made with freshly squeezed lemons and natural flavorings, kombucha, and other tasty beverages can be sold by the glass, bottle, or jug.
Spending a long time at the farmers’ market can leave shoppers feeling famished. Why force hungry customers to drive to restaurants when you can bring the food right to them? If you operate a food truck, consider bringing your tasty fare to the farmers’ market. If you have openings in your schedule, a partnership with a local farmers’ market can fill your weekends with customers and the profits they bring with them.
Arts & Crafts
Whether you’re a professional or just an amateur artist, locally-made arts and crafts are big sellers at farmers’ markets. No matter what type of art you make, a farmers’ market is the perfect platform for selling your creations.
Paintings, drawings, embroidered items, crocheted blankets, hand-painted t-shirts, pottery, wood carvings, sculptures, and homemade greeting cards are just a few of the arts and crafts you can peddle at your local farmers’ market.
Other Unique Goods
Don’t see anything on the list that appeals to you? Then tap into your own unique talents. The great thing about the farmers’ market is that there are relatively few limitations when it comes to what you sell. While you can’t sell anything illegal or dangerous, you can let your creative flag fly and bring something truly unique to the table. What can you offer that is different and unique? Exotic spices, ethnic goods, homemade candles … the list goes on.
One way to be a successful seller is to think about what your customers want or need. For example, if you live in an area known for its tasty barbecue, consider selling your own dry rubs or barbecue sauce. Whatever you decide to sell, make sure that it’s unique to attract the most customers. Homemade, natural products are popular, but items like vintage clothing and shoes may also sell quickly. Whatever you do, just make sure that what you’re selling is allowed by your chosen market.
7 Ways To Prepare For Selling At A Farmers’ Market
Once you’ve decided that you want to sell at your local farmers’ market and you’ve decided what products you’ll be offering, the hard work is over, right? Not exactly. Whether your goal is to sell on occasion to earn some money on the side or you dream of bringing in a steady income by selling your goods to the community, there are some steps you need to take to help boost your chances for success.
Find Farmers’ Markets In Your Area: Once you know what to sell, the next step is to figure out where to sell it. And just like the unique products you’ll find from sellers, not all farmers’ markets are the same. Get a good idea of the culture, people, and products at each farmers’ market by visiting them yourself. Keep your eyes open for markets that have a need for what you’re offering, but don’t forget to find a farmers’ market that’s a good fit for you. For example, if there are no other artists and you’d feel uncomfortable selling your art, keep searching. If you’d like to bring your four-legged friend with you, look for a dog-friendly market. You can also turn to the internet to learn more about the farmers’ market in your city and surrounding areas. Look for official websites and social media profiles that feature pictures, posts, and information about each market. Finally, you should get an idea of the registration process. While this process varies across markets, you need to be aware that vendor registration windows aren’t always open, and you may have to sign up weeks, months, or even longer in advance to secure a spot. You can find this information online or talk to a manager in-person to learn more about signing up as a vendor.
Research Local Ordinances & Health Regulations: Nothing can bring your business to a halt faster than getting shut down by the health department or local authorities. Do your research to learn about local ordinances and health regulations, such as how produce and prepared food must be stored or how baked goods are prepared. Laws and regulations vary, so contact your local health department to learn more.
Make A Business Plan: Even if selling at a farmers’ market feels more like a hobby than a business, it never hurts to create a business plan before you get started. This business plan can be used to outline your goals, how you plan to finance your business, and your marketing plan. If you’re panicked at the thought of a business plan that’s an inch thick, don’t — a one-page plan is sufficient for keeping you on track. Don’t know where to get started? Learn how to create your one-page business plan in no time.
Get Startup Capital & Set A Budget: While selling at a farmers’ market can certainly be one of the more inexpensive ways to make money off your homemade goods, there are still some expenses to consider. One of the most common expenses is a booth rental fee. You need to consider other expenses, too — think signage for your booth, tablecloths and other items to spruce up your display, price stickers, and the cost of materials and packaging for samples. It sounds like a little, but these small expenses can add up quickly if you don’t watch out. Determine if you need to get financing before you start selling, set a budget, and stick to it. Want more tips? Check out our guide, How To Start A Side Hustle.
Look Into Business Registration: Depending on local regulations, you may be required to register your business before you take part in a farmers’ market. Some farmers’ markets require you to provide an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) when you register as a vendor. If an EIN is required, it’s easy to obtain one for free from the Internal Revenue Service. Contact the farmers’ market you’re interested in to learn more about the requirements for sellers.
Research Business Insurance: Some farmers’ markets require their vendors to have their own business insurance. Even if this isn’t a requirement, though, you still want to research your options to protect yourself from liability. If you’re unsure of how to get started, check out our article on general liability insurance for your business and contact your chosen farmers’ market to determine if insurance is a requirement. They may even be able to recommend local insurance companies that other vendors use.
Get Accounting Software: Even if you’re just making a little extra money on the side, do you really need accounting software? Yes, you do, and though it may seem like a pain now, you’ll thank us later. No matter how much you’re bringing in from your sales at a farmers’ market, it’s important to keep track of your finances. The best way to do that? Accounting software. The good news is that there are many options available that are low cost (or even free!) and easy to use, even if you have no prior accounting experience. Tracking your finances will help you see how much money you’re making, as well as where you’re spending it — allowing you to determine where you can make changes to increase your profits. You’ll also be glad that you kept track of finances when it’s time to pay your taxes. If you don’t know where to get started, take a look at some of our top accounting software choices for small businesses.
Should You Accept Credit Card Payments At Your Farmers’ Market Booth?
In a world where paying with plastic is quickly becoming the standard, you might be wondering if you should accept credit cards at your farmers’ market booth. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer, but here’s what you should consider before making your choice.
Mobile point-of-sale (POS) apps make it easier than ever to accept credit cards. With your smartphone or tablet and a card reader provided by your chosen provider, you can accept debit and credit cards with ease without a bunch of heavy equipment and complicated systems. Some credit card readers are even available for no cost, and you could even score extras like stickers that advertise that your booth accepts debit and credit cards. There are lots of POS apps to choose from, so do your research on top choices like Square, SumUp, and PayPal Here.
On the flip side, though, you don’t have to accept credit card payments. Many farmers’ markets are prepared for customers that are paying with plastic, so they allow customers to purchase tokens which can be used to buy products from vendors. At the end of the day, these tokens can be redeemed so the seller gets their earnings. If you’re thinking of going the cash-only route, check out our article, Can You Really Run A Cash-Only Business?
If the farmers’ market you’ll be attending does not offer this service, you definitely want to consider getting a POS app and card reader so that you can serve all customers, regardless of how they’re paying. Mobile POS apps come with additional features that may be beneficial to your business, such as inventory tracking and sales reporting.
Another consideration to keep in mind is whether or not you’ll be taking larger orders or custom orders. If this is the case, you’ll need to have the ability to create invoices for tracking your orders and getting paid by your customers. Let’s say that the holidays are coming up, and you’ve been commissioned to make baked goods for a Christmas party. Before you invest your time and money into fulfilling the order, you can make sure you get paid by sending your customer an invoice that can even be paid online. Some mobile POS systems like Square Invoices allow you to create and send invoices, or you can use your accounting software if that feature is available.
Can You Accept Food Stamp/SNAP Benefits At A Farmers’ Market?
Statistics show that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helped 40 million Americans each month in 2018. This program — formerly known as food stamps — provides benefits that allow low-income households to afford food. SNAP participants are provided with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which is used like a debit card at participating retailers. This includes grocery stores, convenience stores, and, yes, even farmers’ markets. This system makes it easy for you to accept EBT without having to jump through hoops.
Most farmers’ markets have a system in place that allows SNAP participants to purchase tokens with their EBT cards. These tokens can then be used to make purchases. Many states even reward SNAP participants for shopping at farmers’ markets with “double-up” programs. These programs match each dollar spent (up to a certain amount), allowing these households to receive more healthy and nutritious food using their benefits.
5 Clever Marketing & Promotion Tips For Your Farmers’ Market Stand
You’ve decided what to sell and where to sell it — now, it’s time to sit back and wait for customers, right? Wrong! While you won’t have to have a huge (and expensive) marketing campaign for your farmers’ market stand, there are some steps you need to take to make your business more appealing to shoppers.
Business Cards: A customer that isn’t interested in what you’re selling now may become a customer in the future, or you might have a customer that wants to spread the word about your business. Make sure that they can get in touch with you by passing out business cards. You can easily create business cards online and have them shipped to your door for a low price. Make sure to include critical contact information, including your name, the name of your business, your email address, social media or website links, and any other relevant information.
Email List: Allow your customers to sign up for an email list. There are lots of options for the emails you send, including new product announcements, upcoming sales, or your schedule if you attend multiple farmers’ markets and events. Mailchimp is one good option that’s free for small businesses.
Social Media: Social media isn’t just for connecting with overseas relatives and old classmates. Social media is a great outlet for advertising your business. Create a social media profile for your business and provide contact information, photos of your products, customer reviews, and important updates. You can also join groups in your area that allow you to interact with customers, take preorders, answer questions about your products, and more.
Dress Up Your Display: You can’t just throw your products on a table and expect them to sell. Sure, you may make a little bit of money, but to maximize profits, it’s time to pimp out your display. For this technique, you’ll have to invest a little bit of money, so make sure you budget and plan before implementation. Use signs, tablecloths, and decorations to make your space stand out. Arrange your products neatly and make sure that everything is labeled and priced correctly. This is your chance to really show off your personality, so take advantage of the opportunity to attract customers.
Offer Free Samples: Nothing in life is free — unless you’re a customer and businesses are giving out free samples. While providing samples of your products does come with some expenses, allowing your customers to try before they buy is a good way to get them interested … and have them reaching for their wallets. Provide small bites of your baked goods or testers for your natural lotions and body products. Before distributing your samples, make sure that you’re aware of all health regulations to keep your business in operations and provide a sanitary shopping experience for your customers.
Are You Ready To Start Selling At Farmers’ Markets?
On the surface, selling at a farmers’ market seems easy, but as you can see, there’s actually quite a bit of work that goes into planning, prepping, and selling your products. While it may take a lot of hard work and expense to sell your products and make a profit, there are many benefits to peddling your goods at farmers’ markets, including low costs, more personalized interaction with your customers, and creative freedom.
It’s up to you to determine if selling at a farmers’ market best fits your business goals. Once you’ve made the decision to move forward, we offer plenty of great resources to help you launch and operate your small business. From learning how to apply for a small business loan to choosing the right accounting software and POS systems, you’ll find everything you need to make your business dreams a reality. Good luck!
The post How To Sell At A Farmersâ Market (Plus 7 Clever Tips To Succeed Before You Even Get Started) appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Itâs hard to overstate the significance of the impact that eCommerce has had on the quality of our lives here in the early 21st Century. While in the past, consumers were limited to the choices provided by their local retailers and the closest big-box store, today anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a credit card can obtain nearly any product or service they want from just about anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, it also makes it much easier for criminals to steal goods and services if they have access to these same tools.
Online payment fraud is simply any false or illegal transaction committed via the internet. It deprives the victim of goods, services, funds, or sensitive information â often without them being aware that this has happened to them until much later. In many cases, there will actually be two victims: the consumer whose information was stolen, and you, the merchant. Online fraud can involve not only fraudulent transactions, but also lost or stolen merchandise, or falsified requests for a refund. Fraud can be committed through email, instant messaging, or online auction sites. It can also occur through text messaging or even phone calls.
One common misconception among small business owners that weâd like to clear up right now is that they arenât as lucrative a target for cybercriminals as the larger retailers, and therefore donât need to be as thorough in protecting themselves from fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, this âit will never happen to meâ attitude can make it far more likely that itwillhappen to you sooner or later.
The truth is that large businesses are a âhard target,â because they have the resources to fully defend themselves against fraud. Smaller companies lack these resources, and thus often present a much easier target to cyberthieves. A cybercriminal knows that he or she can make more money by exploiting several inadequately protected smaller businesses than by wasting time trying to break into a fully-defended larger business. Fortunately, there are many tools available to even the smallest companies that can dramatically lessen the likelihood that youâll become a victim of online fraud.
In this article, weâll discuss the various types of online payment fraud, whether itâs committed via credit card, debit card, eCheck/ACH, or any other payment method. Weâll also present some sobering statistics about the growth of online fraud in recent years. Weâll discuss the importance of having a strategy to deal with fraud, and describe the many âred flagsâ that can indicate a fraudulent payment. Finally, weâll explain the numerous tools available to you that will help to protect your business from fraud. While the risk of becoming a cybercrime victim can never be completely eliminated, the use of all of these tools can protect your business and dramatically reduce the chance that youâll experience a loss due to online payment fraud.
What Is Credit Card Fraud? Eight Types You Need To Beware Of
Credit cards are usually the easiest and most convenient way for consumers to pay for their online purchases, so itâs no surprise that the majority of incidences of online fraud involve credit cards. However, other payment methods (including debit cards, eCheck/ACH payments, etc.) are just as susceptible to being used fraudulently if the consumerâs account information is compromised. Hereâs a brief rundown of the eight most-commonly recognized types of online payment fraud:
Account Takeover Fraud (Phishing)
Youâve probably already heard of phishing (more formally known as account takeover fraud). This is when a hacker obtains a victimâs online account information and uses it to make a fraudulent purchase. Unfortunately, phishing attacks often work by convincing the victim to voluntarily disclose this information. While a hacker might not break into your credit card account directly, they can sometimes get into other accounts for major online shopping sites and gain access to your stored payment method information.
Card Testing Fraud
Sometimes thieves will âtestâ stolen credit card information by attempting to make a small, insignificant purchase. If the transaction is approved, they go on to make larger, more lucrative purchases with the valid card information. Sometimes thieves will file chargebacks on each of these purchases. At around $15-25 per chargeback investigation, this can quickly get very expensive for merchants, with the cost in chargeback fees vastly exceeding the value of the stolen merchandise.
Sometimes, a cybercriminal doesnât have to steal someone elseâs credit card information to commit fraud. With âfriendlyâ fraud, a thief will use their personal credit card to make a purchase, then file a chargeback, claiming that the goods were never delivered. They get the goods for free after the issuing bank refunds their money, and youâre out the cost of the products and a chargeback fee.
A common scheme is for a thief to order a pizza, then file a chargeback after itâs been delivered. In this case, the thief has literally eaten the evidence! Unfortunately, âfriendlyâ fraud is becoming more common as thieves have learned to take advantage of consumer-friendly policies in the processing industry. (And it’s not just thieves who commit friendly fraud — unhappy customers do too!)
Merchant Identity Fraud
Sometimes, the merchant is the criminal. Merchant identity fraud occurs when hackers present themselves as a legitimate business. They then solicit funds from unknowing victims or offer goods or services that are never delivered. While merchant services providers have gotten better at sniffing out this sort of activity, itâs still possible for a cybercriminal to sign up with a legitimate payment processing service and collect money from unknowing victims. If the hackers cannot be identified and held responsible, the merchant services provider will end up being held liable for the losses. This is one reason why a prospective merchant services provider will go to great lengths to investigate the nature of your business before approving you for an account.
Sometimes cyber thieves donât want a particular product â they just want cash. Buying something online with stolen credit card information and then returning it for a refund thatâs issued to the thief is an easy and increasingly popular way to score some quick cash at someone elseâs expense.
True fraud is more commonly known as identity theft, and itâs probably the form of online fraud that youâre most familiar with. This type of fraud involves the classic scenario where a hacker illegally obtains a victimâs online account information (i.e., username and password) or their credit card information, and then uses that information to make purchases. They get the goods, and the victim gets the bill. Because issuing banks have made it relatively easy for victims of this type of fraud to dispute transactions they didnât make, liability for the illicit purchase usually falls on you, the merchant.
This form of fraud is also known as âpagejacking.â Sophisticated hackers are able to redirect traffic from your website onto a similar site that theyâve set up, where theyâre able to obtain personal information or credit card data from unsuspecting customers.
Wire Transfer Fraud
This form of fraud involves the use of the banksâ wire transfer services for fraudulent purposes. A cybercriminal will pose as a legitimate business or government agency, then contact a victim and attempt to induce them to send money to a fraudulent address. These types of solicitations usually occur over the telephone, but can also occur online through email. Common scams of this nature typically involve telling the victim that they have won a large sum of money, but need to pay a âfeeâ to have it released.
The State Of eCommerce Fraud
Ever since eCommerce began in the 1990s, online fraud has been a problem. Online merchants can never have access to a customerâs physical credit or debit card, relying instead on account information such as card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV codes to authenticate transactions. While this information is sufficient to confirm the authenticity of an account, itâs never enough to firmly identify that the customer making the purchase is indeed the true owner of that account. Although many steps have been taken over the years to improve the security of online transactions, a 100% foolproof solution has yet to emerge.
In 2015, credit and debit cards with EMV (Eurocard, Mastercard, and Visa) or âchipâ technology were introduced in the United States. Although the transition from the older magstripe technology to EMV hasnât been very smooth, it has resulted in a dramatic decrease in card-present fraud due to the encryption features available with EMV. Retail credit card fraud rates dropped a whopping 82% between 2015 and 2018, and continue to be very low.
Unfortunately, the drop-off in card-present fraud has resulted in a dramatic increase in card-not-present fraud since EMV cards were introduced. Put simply, criminals whoâve been shut out of opportunities to commit retail fraud are now setting their sights on the lucrative (and still relatively vulnerable) eCommerce market instead. In 2016 alone, online fraud rates rose 33%. In 2017 and 2018, they rose an additional 30% per year.
According to LexisNexis, online fraud cost the eCommerce community 2.38% of total revenue in 2018 alone, and this rate continues to rise. Online fraud is expensive on both a per-transaction basis and as a percentage of total revenue. As of this year, the average online fraud incident costs a merchant $408 in lost goods or services. In comparison, the average legitimate online transaction is only $213. However, the cost of fraud far exceeds just the value of the stolen merchandise or services. On average, a merchant will suffer a loss of over $1100 per incident of fraud due to chargeback fees and other expenses incurred in fighting the chargeback.
Why Not Having A Strategy To Deal With Credit Card Fraud Could Put You Out Of Business
Itâs far too easy for merchants to stoically accept that an occasional fraudulent transaction is just part of the âcost of doing business.â However, the statistics above show that total losses due to fraud can far exceed the cost of the fraudulent transaction itself. Chargeback fees, expenses incurred in investigating and fighting the chargeback, lost shipping costs, and other expenses can add up to far more than just the amount of a fraudulent order.
As a merchant, you should also consider that a single incident of fraud can lead to further fraudulent transactions. Once a cybercriminal does a âtest runâ and determines that youâre relatively unprotected, you can and should anticipate that youâll be subject to many follow-on attempts to defraud your business. If you suffer a fraudulent transaction â even a very small one â itâs imperative that you identify the shortcoming in your security procedures that led to the incident and immediately take steps to strengthen your defenses before the cybercriminals try again.
Suffering from fraud can also lead to the loss of your merchant account, and with it the ability to accept credit and debit cards. Fraudulent transactions inevitably lead to chargebacks, and too many chargebacks over time may cause your provider to close your merchant account â often without prior warning. If this happens, you might be able to get a high-risk merchant account from a different provider, but these accounts are much more expensive than traditional low-risk accounts. If all of your sales are online, however, being without the capability to accept credit or debit cards for a significant length of time can quickly put you out of business altogether.
Six Red Flags That Can Signal Online Credit Card Fraud
Any online transaction can potentially be fraudulent, but some transactions should raise your suspicions more than others. Unusual transactions should be scrutinized more carefully than others before being approved and processed. While not constituting conclusive proof of fraud, the following âred flagsâ indicate a higher probability of fraud and should merit further investigation:
Different shipping and billing addresses. Obviously, there are any number of legitimate reasons why a customer would want to ship an order to a different address. However, fraudsters almost always ship orders to somewhere other than their victimâs billing address. Itâs in your best interest to verify the shipping address â just in case.
Multiple orders of the same item. Itâs not out of the ordinary for a customer to order multiple quantities of an item. However, if you see an order for an unusually large number of the same item from an individual customer (not a B2B order), you might want to check it out before you ship anything.
Abnormally large orders. If an order represents a much larger ticket size than what your business normally averages, you should probably confirm that itâs legitimate before processing the transaction and shipping the goods. This not only protects you from fraud, but might also save you from having your merchant account shut down or the transaction held by your processor due to the unusually large ticket size.
Multiple orders to the same shipping address with different payment cards. Again, we have to emphasize that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why a customer might want to do this instead of just putting all orders on the same card. However, itâs a hallmark of fraudulent activity and you should definitely make an inquiry with the customer before processing the orders.
Unexpected international orders. If your business normally only processes orders in your home country, a sudden order that needs to be shipped to a foreign country should get your attention and warrant further inquiry before approval. As weâll see below, some countries have significantly higher rates of online fraud than others.
Velocity attacks. A velocity attack occurs when a hacker makes multiple attempts to run different credit card numbers in rapid succession. Often using bots, the idea is to keep trying until a number is found that works. While this is obviously fraudulent, a customer whoâs having a hard time typing in their credit card number correctly can resemble a velocity attack.
How To Prevent Credit Card Fraud: 19 Tools For Detecting & Preventing Fraudulent Transactions
If the above information has you convinced that thereâs nothing you can do to prevent online fraud from impacting your business, donât worry. There are plenty of tools â both manual and automatic â that can flag suspicious transactions for you and lower the risk of a fraudulent transaction slipping through. While itâs not possible to ensure 100% total protection, using all of the tools described below will give you the best level of protection available today. Be aware, however, that this list is not inclusive. Processors are continually working to develop new anti-fraud tools, and your provider might have other services available to help secure your account than just the ones listed below.
Use a verified merchant services provider. Although all providers claim to offer a complete suite of automated tools and features to protect against fraud, some are more effective than others. Look for good reviews (like ours!) and watch out for complaints from other merchants regarding poor account security. Youâll also want to determine whether a prospective provider offers anti-fraud tools as a standard account feature, or if theyâre only available as an optional add-on. While itâs definitely worth paying a little extra for additional security, we generally prefer to see providers offer fraud protection without charging extra for it.
Use manual (human) screening. Both you and your employees should understand how to spot suspicious buying activity that raises one of the âred flagsâ weâve discussed above. In most cases, itâs a better idea to contact the customer directly to verify the order, rather than blocking it automatically and potentially alienating a legitimate shopper.
Use the Address Verification Service (AVS). An AVS mismatch is a strong indicator that the order is fraudulent, as a hacker using stolen payment information is unlikely to know the actual card ownerâs physical address. Most merchant services providers mandate the use of AVS for all eCommerce transactions, so this tool is already part of your merchant account.
Confirm the buyerâs location. Geolocation and IP address verification tools can confirm with reasonable certainty that the customerâs IP address matches the billing and shipping addresses provided. This method of detecting fraud will not be 100% effective if a legitimate customer is placing an order while traveling, but can often catch suspicious transactions in most other circumstances. Unfortunately, some countries have significantly higher rates of online fraud than others. The âusual suspectsâ include countries such as Russia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia. However, other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and even Israel also have high rates of online fraud. Note that âproxy piercingâ technology provides some defense against hackers who intentionally mask their IP address using tools available on the Dark Web.
Use CVV (and CVC) checks. Card Verification Values (CVV) and Card Verification Codes (CVC) are three- or four-digit codes that are printed on the back of all credit and debit cards. Whenever possible, youâll want to obtain and match the cardholderâs code against the value submitted with an order. Unless the card in question has been physically stolen, itâs unlikely that a hacker will have access to this information. As with AVS, many merchant services providers will require the use of CVV/CVC checks before accepting any online transaction.
Use Verified by Visa and 3D Secure. These anti-fraud tools allow customers to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) to authenticate their identity when placing an online order. For more information on these two programs, see our article, What Are Verified By Visa And 3D Secure?.
Use device fingerprinting. Device fingerprinting looks at a computer deviceâs operating system, unique device identification number, and other available information to see if that device has been used to make fraudulent transactions in the past. Device fingerprinting tools are usually available via third-party providers, such as ThreatMatrix.
Use tokenization and encryption. These security measures are now standard features of most modern payment gateways. Both methods protect your customersâ credit card data from being stolen during a legitimate online transaction. The use of tokenization and encryption is an essential step in keeping your merchant account PCI compliant.
Use velocity attack protection tools. As weâve noted above, velocity attacks involve repeated attempts to place an order with different credit card numbers, often with the use of a bot. These types of attacks can be detected and blocked by IP address using payment gateway security tools.
Use biometric identity verification tools. As you might imagine, biometric tools, such as fingerprint readers, are not ordinarily available to eCommerce merchants. However, they can be set up if you allow users to pay on your site using digital wallets, such as Apple Pay on the Web or Google Pay. In this case, the userâs device becomes the biometric tool, using a built-in fingerprint reader or Face ID technology to authenticate the consumerâs identity.
Set flexible refund policies. Buyers are more likely to file a chargeback if they canât return an item due to an overly strict refund policy (i.e., the allowed refund window is too short). You can cut down on âfriendlyâ fraud by giving your legitimate customers a reasonable amount of time to complete a return.
Emphasize order fulfillment. Ensure that all orders ship promptly and verify that theyâve been delivered. Delivery tracking can provide proof that the goods were delivered and received, helping to protect against âfriendlyâ fraud.
Ensure high-quality customer service. Quite frankly, offering poor customer service will increase your risk of fraud as customers become frustrated with doing business with you. Strive to provide the best possible customer service during business hours, and, if you have the resources, offer 24/7 customer service via both telephone and email. After-hours customer service can be outsourced (just in case you like to be able to sleep at night).
Provide high-quality employee training. Employee training goes hand-in-hand with manually screening all orders (see above). You must ensure that all employees who handle orders are adequately trained to spot signs of fraud and know what to do if they see something suspicious. This training needs to be an ongoing process, with frequent refreshers to remind employees of what to look for and to update them on the latest developments in anti-fraud procedures.
Ensure that your merchant account is PCI-compliant. This one is not optional. You must maintain PCI compliance standards to safeguard your customersâ credit card data. Being out of compliance will increase the risk of a data breach, which in turn will result in more incidents of fraud as hackers exploit the data theyâve stolen. Even if you donât suffer a data breach, your merchant account provider will penalize you with a PCI non-compliance fee (on top of whatever theyâre charging you for PCI compliance) for every month that your account is out of compliance. Note that following the proper PCI compliance steps will not completely eliminate the chance of a fraudulent transaction. However, it serves as a strong defense when an incident occurs. The most critical steps in PCI compliance include configuring and using a firewall to secure your website, performing frequent antivirus scans, following good password security measures, and using SSL certificates (i.e., âhttps:â) for your site.
Analyze actual incidents of fraud. If you experience an actual fraudulent transaction, youâll want to go back and determine how it happened and what you can do to make it less likely that it will happen again in the future. If you uncover any weaknesses in your defenses, youâll obviously want to make some changes.
Practice good chargeback mitigation strategies. Chargebacks and fraud are two separate subjects, but they tend to go hand-in-hand in many cases. Youâll want to implement the commonly recognized best practices to prevent chargebacks and successfully defend against them. See our article, The Complete Guide To Preventing And Winning Chargebacks, for more information.
Upgrade to the latest in payment technology. If your business also makes retail sales, youâll want to use EMV-compliant equipment exclusively for accepting credit and debit cards. EMV has been the default standard in the United States for card-present transactions, although there are still many businesses that havenât adopted it and are putting themselves at risk for fraud. NFC payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay) should also be added, if you havenât done so already. NFC is more convenient for consumers and even more secure than either magstripe or EMV payment methods.
Use multiple fraud detection tools. Itâs essential that you donât rely exclusively on any one tool weâve discussed above. Instead, use a layered approach that incorporates firewalls, good password security measures, use of AVS, and CVV/CVC checks to protect your business. Automated fraud scoring tools, such as IP geolocation, AVS, CVV, and device fingerprinting tools can be used together to determine a fraud probability score. You can then set your payment gateway to automatically flag or decline transactions that score high enough to raise a reasonable suspicion of being fraudulent. Also, be sure to re-screen orders that are modified by the customer after being placed, but before the goods have been shipped. At the same time, donât be too trigger-happy when it comes to blocking transactions. Frequently screening out legitimate transactions will frustrate your customers and cost you their business. In an era where anyone can post their opinion of a business online, this could really hurt you in the long run.
The Final Word On Credit Card Fraud Detection
As youâve probably gathered from all the information weâve presented so far, payment fraud is a real and growing threat to your online business. While itâs not possible at this time to build a completely foolproof defense against it, you can minimize your chances of letting a fraudulent transaction slip through by following common-sense practices and implementing the anti-fraud tools weâve discussed above.
Protecting your business from fraud is an ongoing process, as fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to get around the latest anti-fraud measures. They arenât going to give up just because one particular avenue of attack has closed on them, and neither should you. Securing your account is a never-ending effort that will require coordination between you, your employees, and your merchant account provider.
Many of the tools weâve discussed above can be implemented by you as the business owner without the help of other parties. At the same time, a lot of the newer anti-fraud measures available today will require installation and configuration by your merchant services provider or gateway provider.
One thing weâve noted over the course of reviewing dozens of merchant services providers is that they all take payment security and anti-fraud measures very seriously. This includes even the worst providers on the market (of which there are quite a few). The difference is that a low-quality provider will often offer you only the most basic anti-fraud tools, and theyâll usually charge you extra for them. Protecting your account from fraud is extremely important, but you shouldn’t have to pay an unreasonable amount of money for anti-fraud tools â especially when other providers include the same tools as a standard feature with your account.
In evaluating a potential merchant services provider, look carefully at what types of anti-fraud tools they offer, and whether these come with your account. The best providers will include a full range of essential anti-fraud tools with your account, although more specialized services might be offered as an optional add-on for a reasonable fee. Paying a little extra to secure your account against payment fraud is a worthwhile investment, especially considering the potential costs of suffering a data breach or a fraudulent transaction that slips through your defenses. For some recommendations of great merchant services providers that specialize in serving the eCommerce community, check out our article, The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies.
The post How To Detect (And Prevent) Online Credit Card Fraud â And Why You Need A Solid Strategy To Manage Fraud For Your eCommerce Business To Succeed appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Most people don’t like the idea of taxes in general, not to mention the excruciating minutia of what goes into calculating how much to pay the government and when. And if you do like those things, then you are probably an accountant or a payroll tax expert already. God bless you, you don’t need this article. However, if you are a small business owner who is entering the world of payroll, understanding payroll taxes can feel daunting. It’s true: there’s plenty to learn and making a mistake can result in costly fees. Using payroll software might take the guess-work out of the process and do the calculations for you, but it’s still important to have a rudimentary understanding of payroll taxes, especially if employees have questions about their paychecks.
In this post, we’ll cover what payroll taxes are, who’s responsibility it is to pay them and when, how to calculate them, and more.
What Are Payroll Taxes?
Payroll taxes are the money an employer withholds from an employee’s earnings to pay taxes to the state and federal governments. How much an employer takes out and sends to the government is based on the employee’s salary and wages, and it is the employer’s responsibility to manage these taxes. There’s only one exception: 1099 contractors are in charge of their own taxes! Contractors, freelancers, and small business owners pay a self-employment tax which is the equivalent of employee/employer payroll taxes.
Payroll taxes make up a substantial part of government revenue and are the second-leading money generator for the United States. (And we can often look to payroll in America as indicators of how our economy is growing or receding, too, as payments reflect growing trends in hiring and stagnation.) When an employer runs payroll, the process involves calculating the employee’s net pay. Net pay is the take-home paycheck employee’s receive on payday, and how you calculate that net has to do with how much state and federal taxes you, as the manager of the payroll, take out, collect, and pay to the appropriate agencies. It’s a detail-oriented process that has multiple opportunities for missteps and steep penalties for mistakes.
Bear in mind that when someone says “payroll tax,” they are lumping together all of the various taxes paid out of a person’s paycheck for services, but in the next section I’m going to breakdown where those payroll taxes go.
Types Of Payroll Taxes
When an employer removes taxes from an employee’s paycheck, that money is earmarked for state and federal services. Here’s how payroll taxes breakdown individually:
Federal Income Tax Withholding:Â Federal income tax is based on income level and the rates are progressive, meaning that as you make more income, your rates move, and your income tax increases as you travel up the tax brackets. There are currently seven tax brackets that tax income at: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% as income increases.
Social Security Tax:Â This tax is also called the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability insurance, and it’s a flat-rate tax of 12.4% of taxable income. Both the employee and the employer are responsible for paying half (6.2%) of the social security tax.
Federal and State Unemployment Taxes: The Federal Unemployment Tax is a mandatory tax paid quarterly versus monthly. State requirements differ widely.
Medicare Tax:Â This tax is also a flat rate of 2.9% with the employer and the employee splitting the cost at 1.45% each.
State Income Tax Withholding:Â There are currently seven states that do not have a state income tax (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming) but for everyone else, income taxes work similarly to federal income tax withholdings. The tax rates are very specific to each state, so check the withholding tables on the state government website where your business is located.
Local Taxes:Â Local taxes are very specific to city and state. Most states have a state unemployment tax that is accounted for in this local taxes section. These taxes are based on local tax laws and the tax rates vary, so small business owners need to check/verify those taxes through the state’s tax department.
Payroll Tax VS Income Tax
Payroll taxes include FICA taxes (social security and medicare) and local taxes withheld, and the additional percentages provided by the employer.
Income tax specifically refers to the federal, state, and local income tax rates
So, running taxes for your payroll involves collecting both payroll taxes and federal/state income taxes. When people say “payroll taxes” they are providing an umbrella term for all collected tax, but the term “payroll tax” refers to FICA taxes (social security and medicare) and local taxes withheld from an employee’s paycheck, plus the additional percentages provided by the employer. Income tax specifically refers to the federal, state, and local income tax rates. Even though the two are joined together in one lump, payroll taxes are specifically earmarked for certain programs. Income tax, on the other hand, is delivered to its respective federal or state governments and is used to manage the budget.
Who Pays Payroll Tax?
The burden of managing payroll and sending payroll tax payments is on the company, and the burden for paying those taxes falls on both the employee and the employer. Each state has different regulations and requirements for how state income tax is paid to the government, and the federal government collects payroll taxes quarterly.
Employer Tax Responsibilities
Okay. You are a small business owner and it’s time for payroll. What tax responsibilities do you have?
Social Security: You will pay your half of the 6.2% and you will withhold 6.2% from wages for your employee’s portion.
Medicare:Â You will pay your half of the 1.45% and you will withhold 1.45% from wages for your employee’s portion.
Federal Unemployment Tax:Â This tax is employer-paid and the current rate is 6% on the first $7,000 earned by an employee.
If you are self-employed or working under contract, you are the employer and the employee and it’s your responsibility to pay for both sides of the payroll taxes. That means that contractors need to withhold the full 12.4% for social security and 2.9% for Medicare, and withhold their own state and federal income taxes (saving 15-20% of each check to cover these taxes is the recommended practice). Some states also charge additional taxes for small businesses that become the responsibility of a contractor, as well. When contractors file their taxes, they will pay their portion of these taxes then.
When Are Payroll Taxes Due?
Once you have collected the payroll taxes for your small business, they are due on either a monthly or semi-weekly deposit. Semi-weekly deposits are primarily required just for large businesses with a large payroll tax revenue, so it is most probable that you will deposit your withholdings monthly. Payroll taxes are due on the 15th of every month (unless that falls on a weekend, then the next available Monday).
If you are self-employed, you most likely will file estimated quarterly taxes (although some states accept yearly payments if you make under a certain amount). Check your state’s specific rules and tax brackets for the most accurate information.
How To Calculate Payroll Taxes
Calculation of payroll taxes uses all the great basic math skills: multiplication, addition, percentages. Be aware that if you make a mistake or are late processing a payment, the government likes to slap fees around. (I mean, no doubt, fees are a source of revenue for the government, too.) While you can do payroll calculations by hand (and many do, including an adorable 80-year-old woman on Facebook who chastised me for suggesting someone run payroll using anything other than their head, a pencil, some paper, and the numbers), there are many great payroll software options that can do this part for you: Gusto, Square, Paychex, and ADP are all reputable companies that you can use to outsource payroll.
However, maybe you really want to tighten the budget and only have a few employees and you’re not gonna let me convince you to give the computers their chance at this one. Okay. Pencil. Paper. Calculator. Spreadsheet with equations, maybe?
You’ll need to know how many times you are paying/withholding taxes from your employees before you can run payroll, so determine whether you are running payroll, weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Then you will need to decide if you’d like to pull taxes using the wage bracket system (recommended by most tax experts for small businesses) or the percentage method (not recommended for small businesses attempting payroll on their own).
When you onboard employees, you will have them fill out a W-4. You will use that W-4 to note the employee’s withholdings and whether they are filing single/jointly/head of household. This is the data you need to calculate federal income taxes. The following image is from the IRS Publication 15 for the 2019 tax season and gives the step by step numbers for calculating the federal income tax withholdings through either method.
After you withhold the money for federal income taxes and any additional pre-tax deductions (retirement, worker’s compensation, healthcare), then you calculate the FICA (social security and Medicare) taxes. To calculate the social security tax, you will take your employee’s gross pay (the amount your employee receives before payroll taxes are removed for that pay period) and multiply it by .062 — the product is the amount of money to be withheld from the paycheck and matched by the employer.
You would do the same thing for the employee’s portion of Medicare by taking the gross pay for the pay period and multiplying it by .0145%. The product is the amount you’ll withhold and match for Medicare.
All state and local taxes are calculated on a state-by-state basis.
How To Report & Pay Payroll Taxes
When you run payroll, calculating the taxes and discovering your employee’s net pay (aka their take-home pay or the amount they make after payroll taxes are removed) is only the first part of the process. After you’ve run your payroll numbers, you face the important task of getting those taxes into the right hands and accounting for your payroll to the government. As a small business owner, it is your responsibility to:
Withhold all payroll taxes and submit them on time (the 15th of every month, or next available business day) to state and federal agencies.
Report income, withholdings, matching of payroll taxes to the government quarterly.
Keep records of yearly payroll for state and federal reporting agencies.
Send W-2s and 10-99s to employees and contractors listed with the correct amounts of their gross/net pay and tax withholdings.
When you have the monthly deposit to submit, you must submit the funds electronically (barring special circumstances allotted to small businesses only) using one of the following methods: via a third-party (through a software/payroll service like ADP, Gusto, or Paychex); through your bank’s Automated Clearing House (ACH) network; or by the Treasury Department’s free Electronic Federal Tax Payment System online/over the phone.
Some small businesses, especially those with low liability, can opt-in to a yearly payroll payment. This requires filling out a Form 944. Check the government’s website to check for current eligibility requirements.
Your Federal Unemployment Taxes are due to the government quarterly. Form 941 is your guide to reporting income, withholdings, and payroll taxes to the government, and the tax forms are due on the last day of the month after the end of the quarter. For example, quarter one ends March 31 and the report is due by April 30. And at the end of the tax year, you have until January 31 to deliver the necessary tax forms to your employees, former employees, and contractors, so they can file their taxes correctly.
If you are self-employed, you’ll need to gather your 1099-MISCs and file a Schedule C when you file your taxes (due April 15).
For both small business owners and the self-employed, it is imperative to maintain impeccable records of your state and federal payroll taxes, whether by hand in a notebook, in an old spreadsheet document, or by using online software.
Payroll Tax Penalties
Alright, here’s the big scary number: 100%. If you fail to withhold the proper amount from your employees, you the employer are 100% liable and will need to furnish the missing monies from your own pocket in addition to any legal penalties and fees you face. Look, people get real serious when you don’t give them the correct money owed. Also, these funds go toward employee services, so sometimes your employees can’t access these services if the account is behind. Employer error is costly because tax laws say that the onus for accuracy is on you, the business owner. And if you can’t pay those fees? That trickles down into every aspect of your business in a cycle: higher consumer costs, decreased employee wages, a hiring freeze. Not to mention that it erodes the trust between an employer and an employee.
If you don’t pay your payroll taxes on time, every month, you incur a 2% penalty for 1-5 days late; 5% penalty for 6-15 days late; 10% for 16+ days late or within 10 days of first hearing from the IRS. The maximum is 15%.
Also, the government doesn’t care if you outsource these jobs — if a third-party isn’t paying on-time (your payroll service or your bookkeeper), you still hired them and will receive the penalty all the same.
There are other ways you can be penalized, too, like if you miscategorize employees or you make an error on your reporting. There are too many potential errors to explain them all, so it’s important small business owners meet with tax attorneys or other tax experts for a full understanding of the myriad ways things can go off the rails.
Payroll Tax Deductions
But hey…those Statutory Payroll Tax Deductions (all the things we just talked about above: federal and state income tax, social security, Medicare, unemployment taxes) are not the only payroll tax deductions you’ll need to make as you process payroll. In addition to the mandatory deductions, you also have Voluntary Payroll Tax Deductions. These are things like health care, retirement benefits, worker’s compensation, or any other pre-tax deductions. As a small business owner, you might offer some of these programs and benefits but some of the cost can (and does) trickle down to employees.
Nothing concludes this post better than this: payroll taxes are complicated. But, they don’t have to be.
If you have a handful of employees, and you want to calculate payroll taxes yourself, then yes you can! You now know the basics of which payroll taxes you are responsible for, how to calculate them, and how and when to pay them. People have been processing payroll manually for longer than they haven’t been.
Or, you can opt for payroll software to help handle the calculation for you. Even if you do have a software program or an online program helping you, it’s great to know what those numbers mean and where that money is going. There are also free online calculators to use in lieu of a software program, or a regular calculator, or an abacus. All in all, these payroll taxes — while they may be an added stressor to the laundry list of small business owner responsibilities — are what pay into great social programs and protections. The most important thing to remember is that rates and guidelines can change yearly depending on inflation and tax laws, so keep up with current literature on the tax brackets from the IRS Forms. Know your state’s laws, file accurately and promptly, pay on time, and report on time. And if you want someone else to do it for you, check out our reviews of some of the leading payroll service vendors out there: Gusto, Square, ADP, Paychex.
The post What Are Payroll Taxes? And How Do You Calculate Them? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.
Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set
Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide
WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.
Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).
In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.
Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.
So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.
Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
What is WooCommerce?
To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.
Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.
And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.
It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.
WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.
WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).
And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –
domain (your address on the Internet)
hosting (where your website files live)
software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)
In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.
Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.
Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.
But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.
That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.
But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.
Pros of WooCommerce
Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.
Long-term Cost & Value
WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.
Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.
WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.
That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.
For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.
But it gets even better for WooCommerce.
Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.
If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.
To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.
For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.
All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.
But it gets even better for WooCommerce.
WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.
Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.
And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.
For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.
If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.
And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.
If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.
Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.
Integration with WordPress
WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.
And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.
This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.
For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.
There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.
The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.
Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.
f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).
Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.
Support from Automattic
Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.
WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.
They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.
Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.
But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.
There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).
But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.
Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.
WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.
Versatility & Compatibility
A few fun facts about WooCommerce –
You can use it to sell memberships
You can use it to sell recurring licenses
You can use it to sell digital goods
You can use it to sell apppointments
You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine
The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.
The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc
It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.
In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.
3rd Party Integrations
WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.
If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.
If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.
Ease of Use & Onboarding
This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.
But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.
When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.
You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).
Control & Customizations
Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.
You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.
You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.
There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.
Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.
Cons of WooCommerce
Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.
Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.
Ease of Use & Onboarding
WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.
There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.
But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.
For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).
For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.
But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.
Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?
Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.
In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.
Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.
But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.
Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.
This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.
Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.
But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*
*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.
Speed & Security
With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.
Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.
WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.
Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.
But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.
For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.
In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.
Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.
It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.
Growth & Scaling
Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.
And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.
This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.
And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.
Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.
But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.
Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.
That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.
Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.
Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.
All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.
If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.
But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.
Potential Long-term Costs
WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.
However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.
One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.
She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.
Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).
Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.
Future of Ecommerce
Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.
Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.
In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.
In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.
Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.
And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.
All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.
However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.
It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.
All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.
There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.
WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins
There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –
Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify
I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.
WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce
I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.
WooCommerce vs. Wix
Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.
WooCommerce vs. Magento
Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.
WooCommerce vs. OpenCart
OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.
WooCommerce vs. Ecwid
Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.
WooCommerce vs. Prestashop
PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.
WooCommerce Review Conclusion
WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –
Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.
If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.
If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.
Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.
The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.
You’ve probably already heard of the terms “debit” and “credit.” After all, most of us no longer carry cash and use our debit or credit card to make purchases. When related to accounting, though, these terms take on completely different meanings.
Confused already? You’re definitely not alone. The concept of debits and credits can be difficult to grasp if you don’t have prior accounting experience. In this post, we’ll break down these accounting terms in their simplest forms, helping you understand debits and credits and why they’re so important to accounting. So, sit back, push aside everything you thought you knew about debits and credits, and get ready to learn more about this basic bookkeeping concept.
First, The Accounting Basics
Before we dive headfirst into debits and credits, it’s critical to understand a few other accounting terms. Don’t get overwhelmed with all of this terminology — we’ll tie it all together as you move further into this post.
Double-entry accounting is an accounting system where each transaction is posted in a minimum of two accounts. Though more time-consuming, double-entry accounting offers many benefits to small business owners; notably, it ensures more accurate reporting and makes it easier to spot errors.
Let’s step away from the numbers for a second and look at double-entry accounting on a more scientific level. Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Though this typically applies to motion, we can also use this idea to understand double-entry accounting.
Let’s take a look at a basic example. Your business purchases supplies that are needed for operations. You spend $5,000 from your business checking account. You now own $5,000 in supplies, which you’ll record in your books. However, double-entry accounting requires each transaction to be posted to at least two accounts. So, while you now have supplies, the cash in your account decreased by $5,000 — equal but opposite.
How do debits and credits tie into all of this? We’ll get to that in a minute. For now, though, you should have at least a basic understanding of double-entry accounting. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out our post What Is Double Entry Accounting (And Do You Need It)? which dives into this concept in greater detail.
Double-entry accounting means that transactions are posted to two or more accounts. But what exactly is an account? A simple way to explain it is by thinking of accounts as categories that are used to organize your transactions. Sorting your transactions by account helps you easily track how money is coming into your business, as well as where it’s being spent.
There are five main types of accounts, although these can be further divided into sub-accounts. For now, though, we’ll focus on five core accounts that every business owner should know: assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses.
Assets:Â Assets are everything that is owned by your business. This includes but is not limited to your equipment, commercial vehicles, commercial real estate, computers, and cash. These are known as tangible assets — in other words, physical property. There are also non-physical assets — or intangible assets — that belong to your company. Examples of intangible assets include your logo and trademarks.
Liabilities:Â Liabilities are your debts, or money that you owe to other people. Some examples of liabilities include a business loan from a bank or other lender, money that you owe to your suppliers, or payroll taxes. Accounts payable (or money that is owed but is not paid upfront) is considered a liability.
Equity:Â Equity reflects the owner’s interest in the business. In addition to retained earnings, equity also includes stock.
Revenue:Â Revenue, or income, is money that is earned by your business. This is typically through the sales of products or services, but the business may also receive other types of revenue, such as earned interest.
Expenses:Â Expenses are costs that are needed to keep your business in operation. Expenses may include office supplies, insurance, and rent. While liabilities are paid in the future, expenses are paid immediately.
When posting transactions to your accounts, debits and credits are used to balance your books. In the next section, we’ll take a look at debits and credits, what they are, and how they’re used in accounting.
What Are Debits & Credits?
A debit is an accounting entry made in your books that reflects an increase in assets, revenue, or expenses. A debit is also used to record a decrease in liabilities or equity. Debits are recorded in the left column of a journal or general ledger.
A credit the exact opposite. It is an accounting entry that is recorded to show an increase in liabilities or equity. A credit also reflects a decrease in assets, revenue, or expenses. Credits are recorded in the right column of a journal or general ledger.
How Do Debits & Credits Work?
Now, let’s start tying debits and credits back into double-entry accounting. Remember, when using double-entry accounting, transactions are posted to a minimum of two accounts. When recording these transactions, at least one debit should be recorded in the left column, while at least one credit should be recorded in the right column. The left column and the right column — your debits and credits — should be equal.
If, for example, you obtain a loan to purchase a piece of equipment, you now have the equipment as an asset. Since your assets increased, a debit is recorded in the left column. Now, we need to balance this out with a debit. Because you obtained a loan from your bank, you now have a liability. Since your liabilities have increased, a credit is recorded in the right column. Your transactions should always balance out. If not, an error has been made somewhere in the process and will need to be corrected.
An Example Of Debits & Credits In Action
Now, let’s circle back to the example that was used when explaining double-entry accounting to see how debits and credits work. You purchased $5,000 worth of supplies using funds from your checking account. Remember that money is an asset, and an asset that decreases is recorded as a credit in the right column.
Because double-entry accounting requires you to post each transaction under two accounts, we need to balance this out. Since supplies are an expense, your expenses have now increased. Therefore, the $5,000 is posted as a debit in the left column.
Now, both columns are balanced.
Subcategories such as “Cash” and “Supplies” may be used to further sort your transactions. However, even when using subcategories, the credit and debit in this example remain the same.
Let’s change the example a bit. In this instance, you have purchased $5,000 in supplies. However, you don’t pay your supplier upfront and will receive an invoice at a later time. The supplies also still an asset, but the credit would be recorded under the “Accounts Payable” subcategory instead of “Business Checking.” Because “Accounts Payable” is still an asset account, your supplies are still entered as a debit.
Now, what if you paid some money down to receive your supplies? For example, let’s assume that you paid $1,000 from your checking account now, and $4,000 will be due to the supplier at a later time. The supplies are still an asset and would be recorded as a debit. The full $5,000 would be entered under your Supplies subcategory on the left side. However, the right column (your credits) would now have two entries. The $1,000 paid from your own account would be recorded under the subcategory “Business Checking,” while the $4,000 that will be invoiced would be entered under the subcategory “Accounts Payable.” Both debits and credits remain balanced.
The Importance Of Debits & Credits
We’ve established what debits and credits are, but why are they so important? One of the reasons that debits and credits are so important is because using them helps maintain balance. Let’s take it back to the basics by looking at the accounting equation. This equation states:
Assets = Liabilities + Equity
By using the system of debits and credits, we can maintain this balance.
What if the accounting equation — or our books — aren’t equally balanced? Then there is an error somewhere that will need to be corrected. With the double-entry accounting system, recording your credits and debits allows you to quickly spot errors and easily correct them. While using debits and credits doesn’t eliminate errors completely, it does reduce them and make errors easier to identify.
Using debits and credits also gives you a more accurate picture of your finances. By tracking your revenue and expenses in an organized way, you’ll have a clearer view of the profits and losses of your business.
Sound Complicated? Let Accounting Software Handle Debits & Credits For You
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, you’re definitely not alone. Accounting concepts can be difficult to grasp, especially when trying to learn them while also running your own business. Fortunately, it’s rare that you’ll have to manually handle debits and credits if you have the right accounting software. Today’s accounting software does most of the heavy lifting for you, meaning the double-entry accounting and the balancing of debits and credits happens behind the scenes. All you have to worry about is setting up your chart of accounts, and entering your income and expenses into the appropriate account categories.
Ease of Use
Small – Large
$20 – $150/mo
$9 – $29/mo
Medium – Large
$9 – $60/mo
$15 – $50/mo
Sage Business Cloud
Small – Medium
$10 – $25/mo
It is, however, important to have a grasp of these accounting concepts. This allows you to be able to spot potential errors, understand the numbers on your financial statements, and be able to select the software that’s best suited for your business. Not sure of what software to check out first? Take a look at our accounting software reviews to see which options are out there. And if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of accounting and expand your knowledge, download our free Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.
The post What Are Debits And Credits? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
When it comes to paying your employees, setting up a payroll system is an important component of your business plan. But before you set up a payroll system, you’ll need to make a few choices, and one of the first is to decide on the pay schedule that works best for your business. Should you pay employees monthly? Bi-weekly? What do all those terms mean and what are the pros and cons of each? How do you know you’re making the best choice for your business?
Read on while we delve into the debatable topic of pay schedules.
Types of Pay Schedules
Pay schedule is defined by your pay period and your pay date. When and how often will you pay your employees? There are four major prevailing pay schedule types businesses may choose when setting up payroll:
Each type has its own pros and cons, and assessing the right fit will boil down to what works best for your business and your employees. However, it’s important to note if your state has a minimum payroll frequency requirement or other payday requirements based on industry.
What it means for your business and employees
Employees are paid more often for a total of 52 paydays per year.
Employees are paid every other week for a total of 26 paydays per year.
Employees are paid twice a month for a total of 24 paydays per year.
Employees are paid once a month for a total of 12 paydays per year.
The Weekly Pay Schedule
The weekly schedule means employees are paid every week for 40 hours of work, usually on a Friday, with 52 paychecks a year.
Paying weekly is a standard in some of the trades like construction, warehouse, plumbing, or back-of-house jobs. In general, employees like being paid more often, and a weekly pay schedule works best for employees living paycheck to paycheck. It is also the easiest for calculating overtime for employees who work irregular schedules.
The more pay periods, the more money your company might lose in fees, especially if your payroll system charges per payroll run. Fewer payroll runs, fewer costs. Not only does a weekly payroll cost the most for your company but it also takes up the most time for or your accountant.
The Bi-Weekly Pay Schedule
The bi-weekly schedule means employees are paid for 40 hours of work every two weeks, usually on a Friday, for 26 (or 27) total payments a year. With the bi-weekly method, two months out of the year, employees will be paid three times a month, and the way weeks fall year-to-year will impact whether you issue 26 or 27 paychecks annually (Leap Year, you sly little troublemaker).
This is less expensive than running a weekly payroll and less time-consuming. This method is often the most ideal for hourly workers and preferred among employees for its consistency (every other Thursday; every other Friday, etc.) and can be useful for financial planning and paying bills.
Bi-weekly pay can be the most cumbersome for an accountant or payroll supervisor in terms of time and difficulty. With the inconsistency of 26 or 27 paychecks, this method is the most headache-inducing to calculate benefit deductions and taxes.
The Semi-Monthly Pay Schedule
The semi-monthly schedule pays employees for 40 hours of work twice a month usually on the 1st and 15th (or 15th and 30th) of the month, for 24 payments a year. How is this different than bi-weekly? Under the semi-monthly plan, paychecks are consistent and there are only two paydays per month. Employees receive fewer and slightly bigger paychecks on the semi-monthly schedule.
Accountants like the consistency of running payroll. Payroll dates are set, and there is no confusion about paydays. Filing and taxes line up nicely at the end of the month with reporting cycles.
Bank holidays can put a wrinkle in a payment schedule, and the semi-monthly pay schedule doesn’t always line up with the work week.
The Monthly Pay Schedule
Employees are paid for their 40 hours of work once a month, toward the end of the month, for 12 payments a year.
This is the easiest for the employer with only 12 payroll runs per year; also, your payroll money has longer to sit and accrue during the month. It’s the easiest to run for salaried employees, and is the most cost-effective method. Accountants like it, too!
This is the least preferred method among employees.
How To Choose The Right Pay Schedule
In trades, where irregular scheduling makes week-to-week different, paying your employees consistently is an important factor. If it is industry standard to pay your employees weekly, it’s best to remain competitive and (if you can swing it) offer weekly pay.
However, choosing a pay schedule has more to do with the time you can commit to payroll and any state requirements you need to follow. If you pay employees a salary, calculating hourly wages may be less of a concern. So, as you try to marry your needs and wants, ask yourself these questions:
Do I have the hours/ability to commit to a weekly payroll?
Do I have a professional/service calculating payroll taxes/deductions?
How much is my time worth?
What method of payment would my employees prefer?
Does my payroll service charge per payroll run?
Do I want every Leap Year to make me irrationally angry at the universe?
Does my state have a minimum paycheck requirement?
What does my monthly cash flow look like?
Does my industry offer overtime? Which pay schedule is best for calculating overtime?
Payroll is important, necessary, and a foundational aspect of your business. The pay schedule you choose will impact your business, dictate your cash flow, and matter a lot to your employees. No pressure, right? If you have an accountant or bookkeeper, weighing their time and abilities is important: you do not want to create a burden on employees. However, once you’ve decided on a method, stick to it and, if you’re ready, outsource as much of payroll as you are able.
There are many cloud-based payroll software options for small businesses and some of those even allow for different pay schedules depending on employee type. We recommend Gusto as a place to start for full-tax services with competitive pricing. However, each payroll system is unique — like your business — and you might find one of the other systems a better fit. Check out our reviews of Square, QuickBooks, Paychex, and ADP to see if there is a program that works for you.
The post Choosing The Right Pay Schedule For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
When it comes to cloud accounting, it’s almost impossible to ignore FreshBooks. The software serves as the accounting home to over 10 million customers, a number that speaks to FreshBooks’s reliability and popularity. However, there are a few other kids on the block worth considering.
If you’re a FreshBooks user who has tired of the service or miss FreshBooks Classic — or perhaps you’re just in the market for new accounting software and want to know all your options — we’ve compiled a list of various other accounting programs for small businesses. Below, you’ll find seven of the best FreshBooks alternatives that match up well in terms of business size, features, accounting ability, and more. Read on through to find out if FreshBooks is right for you — or if you should try something else.
Overview of FreshBooks
Founded in 2003 and based in Toronto, Canada, FreshBooks offers an array of accounting features, including invoicing, estimates and proposals, contact management, and expense tracking. However, it also lacks other features like traditional accounts payable and budgeting.
The company is especially praised for its top-tier customer support and easy-to-use software. Unfortunately, these boons come at a cost. FreshBooks is among the more expensive bookkeeping solutions, with plans ranging from $15 to 50 per month. On top of monthly rates, extra users will put you out even more; all plans start by allowing a single user, and additional users run $10 per month each. Plus, only the two most expensive plans actually have double-entry accounting, meaning the smallest plan isÂ not an accounting solution for small businesses — it’s just glorified invoicing software.
With user limitations in mind, freelancers, micro-businesses, and small businesses in need of simple accounting features probably fit FreshBooks best. Larger businesses with multiple users, or companies that require advanced accounting tools, should look elsewhere.
Excellent customer support
Good mobile apps
Plenty of integrations
Expensive monthly rates
Limited feature set
Best for small businesses looking for strong accounting, advanced features, and overall robust small business accounting software.
With over 2 million users and over 15-plus years of company history, it’s hard to overlook QuickBooks Online. This cloud-based, double-entry accounting program brings plenty of nifty features like invoicing, contact management, tax support, and lending. Plus, many like it for its ease-of-use, 500+ integrations, and invoicing automations.
QuickBooks Online does receive poor marks across the web for customer support and a sometimes unintuitive interface. However, there are still plenty of positives with QuickBooks’s online service.
QuickBooks Online is great for small to medium-sized businesses wanting strong accounting, integrations, and features. Plus, the QuickBooks Online Advanced plan is suitable for larger businesses (although those needing more than 25 users will want to steer towards larger waters).
QuickBooks Online Features
QuickBooks has bundled this program with numerous features, including many standard accounting tools. Here’s a quick rundown of a few notable features in QuickBooks Online:
Chart of accounts
Up to 80 reports
QuickBooks Online Pricing
You can snag a QuickBooks Online subscription $20 – $60 a month. The more expensive the plan, the greater the number of features. Additional features can be accessed via QuickBooks Online Advanced, which goes for $150 a month, and payroll costs an additional $35 â $80 a month plus $4 a month per user.
How QuickBooks Online Compares To FreshBooks
While QuickBooks Online runs $5 – $10 more than FreshBooks, it packs in plenty of punch for your dollar. With its complete array of features, QuickBooks Online is simply the stronger and more well-rounded program.
On the flip side, FreshBooks clocks in with better customer support and a more intuitive interface. If you’re a small business that just wants a simple and basic bookkeeping program, FreshBooks could still be the way to go.
Take a deeper dive by reading QuickBooks Online vs. FreshBooks.
With a healthy array of features, QuickBooks Online makes for a great alternative to FreshBooks. While the monthly fees aren’t cheap, this program includes all the bells and whistles needed for a small business to have a complete accounting experience. If you can spring for the extra cost, and will utilize the more advanced features, QuickBooks Online is worth the look.
Best for freelancers and small businesses needing free, full-featured accounting software.
The free-to-use Wave, which splashed onto the scene in 2010, makes a great fit for those who can’t spare extra cash for accounting software. Wave doesn’t skimp out on features despite its $0 price tag. By adding Wave to your arsenal, you’ll have access to a strong accounting service with decent invoicing and lending, and an overall robust feature set that’s easy to learn.
Some users have remarked online that Wave does lack when it comes to providing good customer service. However, reviews are generally positive for the product as a whole.
The free angle makes Wave ideal for freelancers and microbusinesses that just need a straightforward accounting program and can’t shell out $100+ per year. There’s also a nifty Etsy integration that could be especially attractive to sellers on that online marketplace.
Even though Wave is a free product, it includes a stunning array of features that won’t constrain most users. Here’s a glance of some worthwhile features included with Wave:
Separate personal and business expenses
As mentioned above, Wave’s basic accounting program is completely free to use. However, if you’re willing to dish out some extra dough, there are paid online payment and payroll services available.
How Wave Compares To FreshBooks
While FreshBooks offers more integrations and better mobile apps, Wave actually includes some features FreshBooks does not, like vendor management and accounts payable. On top of this, Wave provides double-entry accounting upfront — with FreshBooks, you’ll need to shell out for one of the more expensive tiers to get access to that feature.
Wave also has one big advantage over FreshBooks: it’s free. This means that Wave may not be quite as beefy as QuickBooks Online, but it’s still a solid service sold at a hard-to-beat price.
You can get a more in-depth breakdown with our FreshBooks vs. Wave comparison.
By providing a nice set of features at a $0 price point, Wave makes for a reasonable alternative to FreshBooks. Wave is especially great for freelancers or small businesses with only a couple of people. All told, budget-focused shoppers will want to give Wave a second look before moving on.
Best for small businesses wanting affordable accounting software that works well for international invoicing.
Rolled out in 2009, Zoho Books is an option with advanced features, strong accounting, and amazing invoicing, all for a reasonable price. I’ll also mention that Zoho Books has been adding features since launch without raising its price once. On top of its core tools, Zoho Books delivers stellar customer service, international invoicing, and a solid suite of mobile apps.
When scouring the web for user reviews, we’ve found that customers can be frustrated by the service’s lack of integrations and no payroll feature. However, praises are heaped for Zoho Books’ ease-of-use, affordability, and good customer support.
Zoho Books Features
As Zoho Books is a paid accounting service, it unsurprisingly offers a strong set of features. In fact, its current form is on par with the other heavy hitters in the accounting software world. Here’s what we at Merchant Maverick like about Zoho Books:
Chart of accounts
Fixed asset management
Invoice in multiple languages
Zoho Books Pricing
Three pricing plans ranging from $9 to $29 a month line the shop shelves for Zoho Books. You’ll be able to access more features, contacts, and users when spending on the more expensive plans. All plans include unlimited invoicing and estimates. Things cap out at nine users, although you can buy more spots for additional fees.
How Zoho Books Compares To FreshBooks
By far the biggest difference between Zoho Books and FreshBooks is price. You’ll need to open your pockets a bit more if you go with FreshBooks — Zoho Books can be between $5 and $20 cheaper. This, coupled with the fact that Zoho Books has the whole gamut of accounting tools, means that small businesses may prefer to pass on FreshBooks.
Of course, FreshBooks is still a great service. Its payment history tools are better rounded and its software preforms more smoothly. Like Zoho Books, FreshBooks also lacks native payroll tools (however, FreshBooks makes up by integrating with Gusto).
Otherwise, both services provide powerful accounting tools, solid mobile apps, easy-to-use software, and excellent customer service. FreshBooks and Zoho Books are also great options for international invoicing. As one last note, they are both better suited for smaller businesses that don’t require numerous users.
Zoho Books makes a great case for small businesses wanting an affordable accounting solution with international invoicing and good customer support. Those that need bundled payroll capabilities should pass. Overall, Zoho Books is worth considering if you operate on a tight accounting software budget.
Best for small businesses that lack accounting experience and are in need of affordably priced accounting software.
Having launched in 2015, ZipBooks is a relative babe in the wide world that is accounting software. However, this youngster still delivers plenty of features while mastering the art of simplicity — making it a worthy competitor to any potential combatant.
With ZipBooks’ powerful automation tools, you can expect to be able to hop in with its free plan and take full advantage — even if you lack much accounting know-how. This makes it attractive to small businesses that prefer a guiding hand over a service with intricate functionality.
On the downside, ZipBooks lacks invoice customization and generates limited reports. Some users also complain about having problems with its mobile apps.
Despite its free and low-priced plans, ZipBooks still comes with a solid number of features. Plus, its simple and intuitive design makes it a great fit for business owners that don’t have much accounting experience. Here’s a look at some key tools ZipBooks includes:
ZipBooks doles out three plans pricing $0 – $35 a month. There’s also a fourth plan that provides a personal bookkeeper; it starts at $125 a month. Every plan incorporates unlimited invoicing and every paid plan bundles in unlimited users, an especially impressive feat. By leveling up to a more expensive plan, you’ll gain access to more features.
How ZipBooks Compares To FreshBooks
Both ZipBooks and FreshBooks promise simple and easy-to-use accounting experiences. One major difference between both services is price. ZipBooks clocks in $15 – $25 cheaper than FreshBooks, so budget-minded small businesses may prefer the lower price point.
FreshBooks does at least include more functionality for its higher cost, though. From a great number of integrations to more customizable invoices, you’ll be able to do more with FreshBooks.
However, you may not be losing out if you go with ZipBooks. The service prides itself on delivering an excellent experience for those without in-depth accounting knowledge. If you or others in your business lack bookkeeping skills, you may not need FreshBooks’s functionality and will instead benefit from the simplicity ZipBooks delivers.
ZipBooks is a nifty program that will get accounting newbies in the game for cheap. It features a free option that manages to be a worthwhile offering for small business owners. Plus, giving the free plan a spin won’t hurt your bank account if you decide you don’t like ZipBooks.
Best for medium- to large-sized businesses looking for strong accounting, robust features, and unlimited users.
If you’re looking to step up the functionality of your accounting software, Xero could be your answer. This bit of software, which was introduced in 2006, offers unlimited users, an impressive slate of accounting features, and 700+ integrations.
Customers seem to agree that Xero is a solid service with a plethora of functionality, even if its customer service has been lacking as of late.
Xero is best suited for medium- to large-sized companies, and not freelancers or microbusinesses. Because of Xero’s hefty feature set, those with minimal accounting experience may want to shy away.
Xero is known for having a wide array of features that require a learning curve at first (but you may get plenty out this program once getting the hang of things). Here’s some of our favorite Xero features:
You can sign up for Xero with one of three plans — they range in price from $9 to $60 a month. The more expensive the plan, the greater number of features and invoices you can access.
How Xero Compares To FreshBooks
Straight up, Xero and FreshBooks have similar monthly rates. However, Xero offers unlimited users on all their plans while FreshBooks charges a monthly $10 per user beyond one. As such, the wallets of larger businesses will like that Xero isn’t constantly pulling cash out.
Besides keeping your wallet at a healthy weight, Xero comes bundled with inventory tools and accounts payable (two things FreshBooks lacks). You’ll also like Xero if you need integrations; the service includes over 700, which makes FreshBooks’ 200-plus paltry by comparison.
However, Xero’s expansive functionality comes at a cost that isn’t measured with dollar bills: You’ll need to take time learning how to use all its features. With this in mind, those that don’t want to deal with understanding the ins and outs of their accounting software — like freelancers or small businesses without dedicated bookkeepers — may prefer the simplicity of FreshBooks.
Xero is one of the more robust accounting solutions on the block. With a wide array of features, unlimited users, and reasonable pricing, Xero should provide a solid accounting experience to many medium and large businesses. However, smaller businesses that can’t waste time figuring out their accounting software might prefer something else.
Best for freelancers needing management software with some basic bookkeeping baked in.
AND CO, launched in 2015 and now owned by Fiverr, isn’t exactly a full-on accounting suite. While it includes some features like invoicing, expense tracking, and reports, this piece of software is more of a management program for freelancers. As such, it makes the most sense in the hands of those that don’t need the complete accounting experience and would rather have tools to help simplify their freelancing career.
With that lead-in, AND CO is unsurprisingly best suited for freelancers. Microbusinesses or independent contractors may also benefit from some of AND CO’s unique features like proposals and signed contracts.
Throughout the web, AND CO receives generally positive reviews from users, with many praising its ease-of-use and strong mobile apps. It also offers solid customer support and numerous tools outside of its core software to help freelancers.
AND CO Features
Because AND CO is geared towards freelance management, you’ll find that it lacks compared to more dedicated accounting services. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if you’re a freelancer who just needs basic bookkeeping tools, AND CO could be right for you. Here’s a quick rundown of AND CO’s core features:
Unlimited clients with the paid plan
Proposals and fully editable contracts
AND CO Pricing
AND CO keeps pricing simple: a free plan and a premium one that goes for $24 a month. The base plan is pretty limited while the premium option tacks on an array of unique freelance-specific features.
How AND CO Compares To FreshBooks
To really take advantage of AND CO, you’ll want to opt into the paid plan, which could make the decision between it and FreshBooks harder. However, AND CO ultimately incorporates tools targeted towards freelancers that aren’t in FreshBooks (such as contracts and subscriptions), meaning that if those features matter to you, price may be moot.
FreshBooks, on the other hand, is a more complete program that will give you a better rounded accounting experience. The program combines other tools in its accounting Swiss Army knife that simply don’t exist in AND CO’s, like invoice customization, estimates, bank reconciliation, and a chart of accounts.
If you’re looking for something that isn’t a dedicated accounting platform and instead acts as a robust freelance management suite with some bookkeeping features corralled together, then AND CO could be your answer. You also may want to shop elsewhere if you aren’t a freelancer of are looking for a full-on accounting experience.
Best for small to mid-sized businesses not needing a full accounting suite, but want an easy way to manage invoices.Â
The second Zoho product on our list, this offering focuses solely on invoices. You’ll get a few bookkeeping tools with Zoho Invoice, like expense tracking and mileage deductions, but it generally focuses on doing one thing well: invoicing.
Zoho Invoice was created in 2008 and boasts an array of features, from 16 invoice templates, invoice auto-scheduling, and 14 different languages to send invoices in. Small to mid-sized businesses will benefit most from Zoho Invoice.
Across the nodes of the internet, users report that Zoho Invoice has friendly customer service and great mobile apps, but can be hard to navigate sometimes.
Zoho Invoice Features
Because Zoho Invoice isn’t a full accounting experience, you won’t get the same set of features that a complete accounting suite might. Here’s a quick slate of Zoho Invoice’s features:
Unlimited invoices and estimates
Multiple invoice languages
Zoho Invoice Pricing
You have four plans to choose from with Zoho Invoice. Prices range from free to $29 a month. The more expensive plans include more features, the ability to make invoices for more customers, and slots for additional users.
How Zoho Invoice Compares to FreshBooks
Zoho Invoice focuses on the invoice part of business, which means that if you need the gamut of accounting tools, FreshBooks will look better on your business’s software shelf. However, if you’re just in the market for invoicing software with a sprinkle of bookkeeping features, then Zoho Invoice might be for you.
When it comes to pricing, Zoho Invoice is indeed cheaper than FreshBooks, which makes up for its smaller feature set. Of course, if you don’t want to partner with FreshBooks — but like what Zoho brings to the table — there’s always Zoho Books to placate your business’s accounting needs.
Zoho Invoice probably won’t solve all your accounting problems, but it’s a great invoicing alternative for FreshBooks users on the smallest plan or for those who miss the simplicity of FreshBooks Classic. Of course, if you’re in the market for a full-on accounting solution, your answer may be in another castle.
Finding the Right FreshBooks Alternative
It should be pretty clear by now that while FreshBooks is a popular cloud accounting choice, it isn’t the only player in the ballgame. Letâs run down a quick summary of the best FreshBooks alternatives:
QuickBooks Online: A complete accounting suite that offers a more well-rounded experience than FreshBooks.
Wave: With Wave, you’ll be able to take advantage of solid accounting software for free.
Zoho Books:Â This option will give you a total accounting experience without breaking the bank.
ZipBooks: Designed for new users, ZipBooks is great if you lack much accounting experience.
Xero: This software is very functional and works great with larger businesses, but has a steep learning curve.
AND CO: A freelance management program, AND CO offers some basic bookkeeping features.
Zoho Invoice: While not a full accounting suite, Zoho Invoice provides well-designed invoicing tools.
So how should you pick your software?
If you currently use FreshBooks, ask yourself: what isnât working with my accounting software? Once you figure out what’s wrong, you’ll be able to decide a replacement easily.
If you are still exploring options and haven’t picked one specific program, consider these questions:
Which features are most important to my business?
What’s my budget for accounting software?
How much experience do I have with accounting software?
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to delve into which software fits best with your business. And don’t fret — FreshBooks is a solid choice, as is any of the seven alternatives we’ve outlined above. This means you should be in safe hands no matter which service you choose.
Be sure to visit our full accounting reviews to get an in-depth look at every option out there or read our nifty guide to picking online accounting software for extra help on your journey.
The post Best FreshBooks Alternatives appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Being a first-time business owner can be a daunting experience. In addition to having to comply with a dizzying array of legal requirements, youâll also have to have at least a working knowledge of credit card processing, inventory management, and other topics. At one point or another, youâre going to encounter the term merchant services, and youâll want to know what it’s all about.
To put it in the simplest terms, unless youâre only going to accept cash and paper check payments in your business, youâll need to understand merchant services: what they are and where to get them from. Merchant services â and the providers who offer them â are essential to providing your customers with the largest range of convenient and secure payment methods. Signing up through a merchant services provider will â provided you choose the right one for your business â result in increased sales that more than offset the cost of those services.
In this article, weâll explain what merchant services are, and provide explanations of each of the primary products that are available from merchant services providers. Weâll also tell you how to find the best merchant services for your business, and what features you should look for in choosing a provider. Finally, weâll give you a brief overview of the best merchant services providers in the industry for small businesses, and explain which providers are the best choice for certain types of companies.
What Are Merchant Services?
The term âmerchant servicesâ can be confusing, because there are a lot of different definitions floating around out there, and they donât all agree on every detail. For our purposes, weâll define merchant services as the products and services a business needs to accept and process any form of payment other than cash or paper checks. This includes processing services for credit cards, debit cards, eChecks, ACH payments, and the newer mobile wallet services such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. It also encompasses hardware and software, such as credit card terminals, point-of-sale (POS) systems, payment gateways, virtual terminals, and mobile processing systems.
Note that there are also a variety of ancillary services that are often bundled with merchant services, including inventory management software, gift card/loyalty programs, online reporting features, merchant cash advances, and many others. These are not considered to fall under the rubric of merchant services, as theyâre not strictly necessary to enable your business to process credit card transactions. They can still be pretty useful, however.
Where do you go to get merchant services? Why, to a merchant services provider (MSP), of course! Again, the term âmerchant services providerâ is an umbrella term that covers any type of business offering merchant services. However, there are really two main types of merchant services providers: (1) merchant account providers, who offer true full-service merchant accounts with a unique merchant identification number for your business, and (2) payment services providers (PSPs), who offer credit card processing services, but donât provide a true merchant account. PSPs aggregate your account with that of other businesses using their services â a low-cost solution that can be very affordable for a small business thatâs just starting out.
Hereâs a brief description of the primary merchant services that your business will need to accept credit cards, debit cards, and eCheck/ACH payments:
Credit/Debit Card Processing: Of all the merchant services you might want to add to your business, credit (and debit) card processing is obviously the most important one. If a customer pays for a purchase with a credit card, youâll undoubtedly want some cold, hard cash to make its way into your bank account â and that wonât happen unless you have a service to process the transaction. As weâve noted above, you can get credit card processing through either a merchant account provider or a payment services provider (PSP). In either case, your provider will usually rely on a larger, direct processor (also called a backend processor) to approve and process transactions. While large direct processors such as First Data and Elavon offer merchant services, they arenât good choices for a small business. Popular payment services providers (PSPs) include Square (see our review) and Stripe. Traditional merchant account providers are much more numerous, with Dharma Merchant Services (see our review), National Processing (see our review), and Payment Depot (see our review) among the best choices for small and medium-sized businesses.
eCheck/ACH Processing: In addition to accepting credit and debit cards, you might also want to allow your customers to pay by check. While old-fashioned paper checks are rapidly declining in popularity, they can be accepted without the need for a check processing service. However, youâll have to take the check to the bank yourself, wait for it to clear, and hope that it doesnât bounce. eCheck and ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments bring advanced security and convenience to paying by check, allowing you to scan physical checks for processing or accept an ACH payment from a customer on your website. While some providers include these features with every merchant account, itâs more common for them to be offered as optional add-ons. In this case, youâll usually pay an additional monthly fee (typically around $20 – $30) for the service. For more information about these alternative payment methods, see our articles Everything You Need To Know About Accepting ACH Payments and The Complete eCheck Payment Guide.
Credit Card Terminals: Obviously, youâre going to need some type of physical credit card terminal to accept card-present transactions in a traditional retail setting. Options range from simple mobile card readers that require a smartphone or tablet (and the appropriate app) to function all the way up to complex point-of-sale (POS) systems that also include a variety of software features to help you run your business. While magstripe technology was the only option for many years, today EMV (i.e., chip card) is the standard acceptance method in the United States, Canada, and Europe. We also recommend that you seriously consider investing in hardware that also accepts NFC-based payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, as theyâre rapidly gaining in popularity and offer a higher degree of security than either magstripe or EMV. We also recommend that you buy your equipment outright. Terminal leases are wildly over-priced and should be avoided at all costs. Buying your hardware directly from your processor is usually the best option, but in some cases, you can save money by buying from a third party and having your equipment reprogrammed by your provider. For an overview of some great equipment options, see our article The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals.
Point-Of-Sale (POS) Systems: As weâve mentioned above, a POS system is basically a credit card terminal with additional integrated software services built-in. Inventory management is a popular option, but there are also software add-ons for employee management and scheduling, online reporting, customer information management, and many others. While a POS system is a worthwhile investment for some businesses (such as restaurants), theyâre overkill for others. Beware of sales representatives trying to sell you a POS system if your business doesnât really need one. For more information on how to select a POS system thatâs right for your business, see our article POS 101: Choosing A POS System.
Payment Gateways: If your business has an online presence and makes sales through your website, youâre going to need a payment gateway to process those transactions. Payment gateways essentially perform the same function as physical credit card terminals, connecting your customerâs payment information with your providerâs processing network to approve the transaction and send you the money from the sale. Because not all merchants need a payment gateway, theyâre often offered as a separate feature (with an additional monthly gateway fee). However, itâs becoming increasingly common for providers to offer a gateway thatâs part of an integrated payment processing system designed to support both retail and eCommerce sales channels. For more information on what to look for in a payment gateway, see our article The Complete Guide To Online Credit Card Processing With A Payment Gateway.
Virtual Terminals: Used primarily by mail-order or telephone-order businesses, a virtual terminal is a software application that allows a laptop or desktop computer to function as a credit card terminal. Transactions can be manually keyed in or swiped/dipped with a compatible card reader (these usually connect via USB or Bluetooth). Retail merchants should be aware that, in most cases, youâll pay significantly higher processing rates if you manually enter the card data rather than using a card reader.
Integrated Payment Platforms: One common complaint we hear from merchants is that they often have to sign up with one vendor for a merchant account, another vendor for a payment gateway that has the special features they need, and possibly other vendors for things like online shopping carts or POS systems. Merchant services providers are well aware of this problem, and in recent years theyâve started to offer integrated, cloud-based processing systems that combine all these separate features into a single product. Obviously, they have a vested interest in keeping you tied to their particular ecosystem. However, there are genuine benefits to this approach for merchants as well. You wonât have to worry about compatibility problems or dealing with multiple customer service departments to keep everything humming along. Integrated systems can also (usually) save you money over signing up with multiple service providers. Finally, having all your business data accessible through the cloud is a significant advantage, even for smaller retail-only merchants who donât have a website. At the same time, youâll want to ensure that a vendorâs integrated system has all the features you need for your business before signing up.
Security & Fraud Prevention Features: Ensuring the security of your customersâ credit card data is essential for any business â retail, online, or a combination of the two. Obviously, you also want to take every step possible to minimize the chances of a fraudulent transaction. Security features such as tokenization and encryption protect your customersâ payment data and reduce the chances of experiencing a data breach. For online companies, fraud prevention features such as Address Verification Service (AVS) and card verification features such as CVV, CVV2, or CVC should be available through your provider at a minimum.
For more in-depth information on merchant services and merchant services providers, please refer to the following articles:
What Is A Merchant Services Provider?
What Is A Payment Service Provider?
What Is A Merchant Account?
High-Risk Merchant Services
Finding a good merchant services provider is challenging enough, but itâs even harder if your business is considered high-risk by the processing industry. What does it mean to be high-risk? Basically, certain business types are considered to be a riskier underwriting proposition by processors, and theyâll either refuse to give you a merchant account or put you in a high-risk account that invariably will be more limited and more expensive than what a comparable low-risk business would receive.
Besides being in an inherently high-risk business type (i.e., vape shops, online gambling, etc.), you can also find yourself in the high-risk category if you have an unusually high chargeback rate or your personal credit isnât so great. Fortunately, high-risk merchant service providers are available to serve your business. These providers usually work with a variety of banks (some of them located offshore) and direct processors to get you approved for an account. Your processing rates will be higher, and the terms of your contract wonât be so generous, but youâll have access to a stable account and youâll be able to accept credit and debit cards without any problems.
If youâre having particular difficulties in finding a high-risk account, you might want to consider an eCheck/ACH-only option. We only recommend this option for merchants who have been truly unable to get a merchant account, as youâll potentially lose sales when your customers find out that they canât use their credit cards.
For more details about high-risk industries and high-risk processing, check out our article Are You A High-Risk Merchant?.
How Do You Find Great Merchant Services?
Over the years, the question weâre most frequently asked is some variation of âWhatâs the best provider for my business?â Unfortunately, the sheer number of variables involved usually makes this question difficult to answer. As a very general rule, the best merchant services provider for your business is the one that offers the best combination of features, low processing rates, reasonable account fees, and favorable contract terms. In many cases, this might be such a close call that several providers might be able to offer you a good deal, without any single one standing out above the others.
One point we continually try to impress on merchants is that the best provider for your business is not necessarily the one with the lowest processing rates â or even the lowest costs in general. The most important thing to look for is a provider that offers the best overall value. Things like high-quality customer service are often worth paying a little extra for in the long run.
As a general rule, weâd also point out that payment services providers (PSPs) are usually a better value for small or newly-established businesses, while merchant account providers are more suited to medium-sized or larger companies that have been around for a while and have an established processing history. Signing up with a PSP is usually a good idea when youâre just starting out, but at some point, youâre going to reach a level where youâll need the stability and security of a true merchant account. It will probably cost you less money as well, as lower processing rates become more important as your monthly processing volume increases.
If youâre looking for a good merchant services provider, the resources available here at Merchant Maverick are an excellent place to start. Weâve reviewed almost all of the major players in the industry, and can give you an in-depth look at the pluses and minuses of each provider. As a starting point, we recommend that you look over our Merchant Account Comparison Chart, which compares several of the top-rated providers side-by-side.
How Much Should You Pay For Merchant Services?
No one likes to overpay for anything, and the merchant services industry makes it all too easy to pay too much without even realizing it. With complicated processing rate plans, highly-variable account fees, and surprise incidental fees that can show up on your processing statement without warning, figuring out whether youâre getting the best deal can be very difficult. If youâre new to payment processing, youâll want to evaluate pricing information and rate quotes from several providers before picking one to use for your business. This is also true if you already have a processing service and are thinking about switching to a (hopefully) less expensive provider.
Below is a quick overview of the various processing rate plans that will be the single most significant factor in determining your overall costs. Be aware that different pricing models will be more cost-effective for some businesses than others. Youâll want to have a good idea of your total monthly processing volume and your average ticket size to make valid comparisons between different providers.
The simplest pricing structure is flat-rate pricing. Despite the name, none of the providers offering this type of pricing actually use just a single rate for all transactions. However, youâll usually have only two or three rates to be concerned with, making your costs stable and predictable. Merchant services providers offering flat-rate pricing typically have a single rate for all card-present transactions, and another rate (or two) for card-not-present transactions. Often, there will be a higher rate charged for card-not-present transactions that have been manually keyed-in, rather than processed over a payment gateway.
Flat-rate pricing works best for very small businesses, mostly because you usually wonât have to pay any additional account fees. Be aware, however, that the flat rates themselves are often significantly higher than what youâd pay under an interchange-plus or subscription-based pricing plan (see below). For this reason, flat-rate pricing is usually not a good deal once your monthly processing volume exceeds a certain amount (typically around $10,000 per month).
Payment services providers (PSPs) usually offer flat-rate pricing as their only processing rate option. Popular providers offering this type of pricing include Square (see our review), Stripe, and PayPal.
Arguably the most cost-effective pricing method for medium-sized businesses, interchange-plus pricing passes your transactionsâ interchange fees on at cost and also includes a fixed markup for your provider. For example, a typical interchange-plus rate quote might look like interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction. While the underlying interchange rates themselves can vary wildly, this pricing method is more transparent than others because youâll always know exactly how much of a cut your provider is taking.
Interchange-plus pricing is usually only available through a merchant account provider offering a full-service merchant account. Because these types of accounts also typically have a number of monthly and annual fees, they arenât the best choice for very small businesses. Depending on the provider and the particular details of your business, the threshold where youâll start to save money with interchange-plus pricing can be anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 in monthly processing volume.
Popular providers offering interchange-plus pricing include Dharma Merchant Services and National Processing,Â among others. While these two companies offer interchange-plus rates exclusively, many run-of-the-mill providers offer a combination of tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans. Unless you specifically negotiate for an interchange-plus plan, youâll usually be given a tiered pricing plan. Although itâs still the most common type of pricing plan in the processing industry, we donât recommend tiered pricing under any circumstances because it makes it impossible to determine how much of a markup your provider is charging for each transaction. Itâs also the most expensive type of rate plan, in most cases.
Membership (Or Subscription) Pricing
A variation of interchange-plus pricing, membership pricing has only been available for a few years from a small number of providers. Pricing is similar to interchange-plus, except that you donât pay a percentage of each transaction as part of your processorâs markup. Thus, a typical membership pricing quote might be interchange + $0.15 per transaction. However, thatâs not all youâll pay. Membership pricing also includes a monthly membership fee that ranges from as little as $49 per month to as high as $199.00 or more per month. This fee combines all of your other account fees into a single charge, plus includes an extra amount to cover the per-transaction percentage markup that you otherwise wouldnât be paying.
Membership pricing isnât for everyone. The high monthly membership fee makes it particularly unsuitable for very small or seasonal businesses. However, high-volume businesses can save a substantial amount of money over what theyâd pay with a traditional interchange-plus pricing plan. In some cases, these savings can amount to several hundred dollars per month.
If youâre interested in seeing whether membership pricing is right for you, we highly recommend both Fattmerchant (see our review) and Payment Depot (see our review). Both of these companies provide excellent service and a full set of features to fulfill the needs of any business.
Monthly Billing VS Pay-As-You-Go
Most merchant services providers use one of two billing methods: (1) monthly billing, or (2) a pay-as-you-go billing model. With monthly billing, youâll pay a variety of separate fees for each service included with your account. These fees will be deducted once a month, at the end of your billing cycle. The processor will deduct any processing fees before sending the funds to your bank account, but if you have a statement fee, software subscription fees, etc. those will be billed at the end of the cycle.Â Pay-as-you-go billing, on the other hand, doesnât have monthly fees. Youâll only pay for the transactions that you actually process, and those fees are deducted before the processor deposits your funds in your bank account. If you don’t process anything in a month, you won’t pay anything — which is not true of a monthly billing plan.
If you sign up with a traditional merchant account provider, you can expect to be on a monthly billing plan, regardless of whether youâre on a long-term contract or a month-to-month arrangement. Payment services providers, on the other hand, usually use a pay-as-you-go model. This lowers costs for small businesses and also is the best option for seasonal businesses that arenât running year-round. Despite the additional fees, a monthly billing plan can actually save medium-sized or larger businesses money due to the cost savings of using an interchange-plus or membership pricing plan.
The Best Merchant Services For Small Businesses
As weâve noted above, some merchant services providers are a better fit for certain types of businesses than they are for others. Below, weâll briefly introduce our top picks for the most common types of businesses. Note that if your business falls into one of the categories described below, the provider we list wonât be the only good choice available to you. Rather, theyâre generally the best choice for most businesses that are similar to yours. If youâre interested in one of these providers, be sure to read the full review to learn more about them before deciding to sign up.
Mid-sized businesses ($10k-$25k/month)
0% + $0.15 markup*
0% + $0.15 markup
High-volume businesses ($25k+/month)
0% + $0.15 markup*
0% + $0.15 markup
Dharma Merchant Services
0.15% + $0.07 markup*
0.20% + $0.10 markup
Micro-merchants & low-volume
2.6% + $0.10 total
2.9% + $0.30 total
2.9% + $0.30 total
2.9% + $0.30 total
*Markup over standard interchange and assessment rate with interchange-plus pricing (our preferred pricing plan for transparency of fees).
Best For Micromerchants & Low-Volume Businesses: Square
Square (see our review) has been around since 2009, and has quickly become the leading choice for small businesses looking to accept credit cards with a minimum of fuss and paperwork. Square offers flat-rate pricing and uses a pay-as-you-go billing method that doesnât include any additional monthly account fees (unless you sign up for one of their optional services).
Read our Review
Squareâs most common processing rates are as follows:
2.75% for all retail and mobile (card-present) transactions
2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for all online (card-not-present) transactions
3.5% + $0.30 per transaction for all manually entered (also card-not-present) transactions
If youâre looking to minimize your up-front costs, Square offers a free mobile card reader that plugs into your smartphone or tablet. However, itâs magstripe-only. We highly recommend that you upgrade to either the $35 EMV-enabled reader or the $49 contactless + chip reader, which adds NFC compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity.
The company has expanded its services tremendously over the last ten years, and now offers far more features than we can discuss here. However, itâs still an excellent choice for merchants looking for a simple, low-cost solution. Squareâs flat-rate pricing is more expensive on a per-transaction basis than interchange-plus, but you’ll save money overall due to the lack of extra account fees. This pricing structure works best for businesses processing less than $3,000 per month, in most cases.
Best For Mid-Sized Businesses ($10K-$25K/Month): Payment Depot
For larger businesses with a stable processing history that need to upgrade to a full-service merchant account, Payment Depot (see our review) is an excellent choice. The company offers membership-based processing rates, true month-to-month billing, and a full range of products and services for retail or online businesses.
Read our Review
Membership fees at Payment Depot range from $49 per month up to $199 per month, depending on your monthly processing volume. This single fee covers all your merchant services, so thereâs nothing extra to have to pay. You can also receive a significant discount for paying your membership fees on an annual, rather than monthly, basis.
The companyâs processing rates start at a simple interchange + $0.15 per transaction, and go down with higher monthly processing volumes. There are four basic membership plans, which are tied to your monthly processing volume. For really large businesses, thereâs also a custom pricing option.
As long as your monthly processing volume is high enough that membership-based pricing makes sense for your business, Payment Depot is an excellent choice that will save you a significant amount of money over traditional merchant account providers. Just be aware that the company only serves US-based merchants, and they donât accept high-risk businesses.
Best For High-Volume Businesses (Over $25K/Month): Fattmerchant
Fattmerchant (see our review) also offers a membership-based pricing plan. However, their membership fees are high enough that their pricing structure only works well for an established business with a significant monthly processing volume.
Read our Review
The companyâs membership fees start at $99 per month for businesses processing under $500,000 per year. Above this amount, youâll pay $199 per month. Bear in mind, however, that this one fee covers everything the company provides â unlike traditional vendors who nickel and dime you for every âextraâ service they provide. Processing rates start at interchange + $0.15 per transaction, with lower rates available for higher processing volumes.
Because of the steep monthly subscription fee, Fattmerchant isnât cost-effective for small businesses with a low monthly processing volume. However, if your volume is high enough, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars a month under this pricing structure. All accounts are billed on a month-to-month basis with no early termination fee (ETF), so you can always switch processors if things arenât working out.
Fattmerchant is an excellent choice for businesses that are large enough to benefit from the companyâs pricing structure. They offer excellent customer service and a terrific cloud-based integrated payments platform that will have you up and running in no time. However, they donât accept high-risk merchants, and theyâre only available in the United States.
Best For Online Businesses: PayPal
For a newly-established eCommerce business, you canât go wrong with PayPal. Pay-as-you-go billing means that, in most cases, youâll only pay for your transactions â and nothing else. Note, however, that the companyâs virtual terminal comes with a hefty $30 per month fee, so theyâre not such a great choice for a mail-order or telephone-order business.
Read our Review
PayPalâs flat-rate pricing structure couldnât be any simpler. Online transactions are always 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, while manually entered and virtual terminal payments are 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction. The companyâs PayFlow Gateway comes bundled with every account, allowing you to quickly and easily integrate it with your website. There are no additional gateway fees, either.
While PayPal is a great choice for a small online business, be aware that the companyâs high processing rates will no longer be cost-effective once your business grows beyond about a $3,000 per month processing volume. At that point, you should seriously consider upgrading to a true merchant account with one of our other recommended vendors. Also, PayPal has relatively limited customer service options and doesnât serve high-risk businesses.
Best For Tech-Driven Businesses: Stripe Payments
If your business is 100% online and you donât plan to ever expand into the retail sector, Stripe Payments is a great choice for your payment processing needs. The company offers simple flat-rate pricing, pay-as-you-go billing with no monthly fees, and a host of developer tools for integrating their platform into your website.
Read our Review
Pricing couldnât be more straightforward. All eCommerce credit and debit card transactions are charged 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. International cards are also charged an additional 1.0% if currency conversion is needed. ACH payments are charged 0.8%, with a maximum charge of $5.00 per transaction.
As with any payment services provider, account approval is easy and can be accomplished online. However, the chance of later having your account shut down for any number of reasons is also higher. Stripe does a better job than most PSPs when it comes to customer service, offering live chat and telephone support on a 24/7 basis.
Overall, Stripe is a great choice for fledgling eCommerce businesses. Just be aware that your account wonât be as stable as a true merchant account, and the companyâs flat-rate pricing isnât cost-effective at higher processing volumes. Itâs also not available for high-risk merchants.
Best For Nonprofits: Dharma Merchant Services
Nonprofit businesses looking for a full-service merchant account will have a hard time finding a better choice than Dharma Merchant Services. One of our favorite processors, the company seems to be run like a nonprofit itself sometimes. Of course, itâs actually a public benefit corporation (B-corp), something thatâs almost unheard of in the processing industry.
Dharma Merchant Services
Read our Review
Whether youâre a nonprofit or not, Dharma offers full-service merchant accounts that are billed on a month-to-month basis to all its users. There are no long-term contracts and no early termination fees (although you will have to pay a one-time account closure fee of $25 if you close your account). For nonprofits, the company offers special interchange-plus processing rates of interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 per transaction for retail transactions and interchange + 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction for eCommerce transactions.
Dharma offers a full range of products and services, including the popular Clover lineup of terminals and point-of-sale (POS) systems. The company also provides some of the best customer support in the industry. However, be aware that their pricing structure works best for merchants processing over $10,000 per month, and they donât support international or high-risk businesses.
Best For High-Risk Businesses: PaymentCloud
If youâve read this far, youâve probably noticed by now that most of our top choices for merchant services donât support high-risk businesses. Fortunately, if youâre in the high-risk category, there are high-quality vendors out there that specialize in serving the high-risk community and provide excellent services at a reasonable cost. PaymentCloud is one of our favorites due to their reputation for top-notch customer service and because they offer many features that are typically reserved for low-risk merchants only.
Read our Review
Unlike many of our other top providers, PaymentCloud doesnât disclose their processing rates or account fees on their website. Because they work with a wide variety of banks and direct processors to get you an account, pricing is highly variable and subject to negotiation. While they have a reputation for fair pricing, you can expect to pay more than what a comparable low-risk business would pay. However, this is true with any high-risk merchant account provider.
The company offers a free credit card terminal with each account, which you can use for as long as you keep your account open. They also donât charge an account setup fee, which also helps to set them apart from most traditional high-risk providers. Finally, PaymentCloud is one of the few providers to offer support to the burgeoning CBD oil industry. However, they only allow CBD products that are applied externally â no food items or other ingestibles. If youâve had a hard time finding a merchant account for your high-risk business, be sure to check them out!
If youâre looking for additional options beyond the providers weâve profiled above, check out the following articles for more great choices:
The 5 Best Small Business Credit Card Processing Companies
The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies For 2019
How To Accept Credit Card Payments For Your Small Business
The Final Word On Merchant Services
Merchant services can be a complicated subject, and finding a merchant services provider thatâs a good fit for your business is often a real challenge. Youâll want to carefully evaluate the unique needs of your business, and factor in how much you can afford to pay to add the capability to accept credit and debit cards. In most cases, the added expense will more than pay for itself in additional sales.
All of the vendors weâve profiled above are excellent choices in their particular niche. However, they arenât the only good choices out there. So, we encourage you to look over the articles weâve linked to, and carefully read the full reviews of any vendor youâre considering. Most of the best merchant services providers for small businesses offer a very transparent disclosure of their processing rates and account fees on their websites, so check those out as well.
If youâre still having trouble deciding which company is best for you, youâll want to actually âcrunch the numbersâ and make a more informed analysis of what your potential costs will be. An excellent resource for doing this is our Cost Analysis Workbook, which will walk you through the steps necessary to estimate your overall costs with various providers. The workbook also includes spreadsheets to do the math for you â it couldnât be easier!
The post Everything You Need To Know About Merchant Services appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
There are lots of tasks you have to perform to keep your business operating. Ordering supplies and inventory, marketing to your customers, and — perhaps most importantly — getting paid. Getting paid for your services or products is critical to keeping your business on track. And to get paid, you have to invoice your clients — a task that’s made simple using invoicing software.
Invoicing software allows you to create and send invoices directly to your customers. But today’s software options take things a little further, providing you with a variety of tools that simplify getting paid and running your business. These options include creating estimates and proposals, tracking time and expenses, and integrating with payment gateways, so you’re no longer waiting on a paper check in the mail.
If you’ve explored invoicing software in the past, the many options out there can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created this guide. We’ve narrowed down the choices to seven of the best options on the market today. We’ll dissect each option, giving you the most important information, such as pricing and features. We’ll also look at the factors you should consider when making your choice. Invoicing software simplifies invoicing your clients, and this guide is designed to simplify choosing the best software for your business. Let’s get started!
What To Look For In Good Invoicing Software
The good news is that there are lots of invoicing software options on the market. The bad news? Choosing which one is best for your business can be a challenge. While forever-free options and free trials make it easy to shop around, know what to look for before you sign up by considering these factors.
Price: Nothing in life is free…or is it? Fortunately, there are plenty of invoicing software options available at no cost. What’s the catch? It depends on the software. Some software is ad-supported, while others place limitations on the number of clients you invoice or lacks features found in paid options. While free software may work in the beginning stages of your business, you may need a more robust program as your business grows. In this case, an upgrade may be an order. Be aware, however, that if your subscription costs more than $30 per month, there are more affordable options out there. Or you can use those funds to invest in full accounting software instead.
Strong Features:Â Any software you select should have a strong feature set. Specific features that you need vary based on your preferences and the needs of your business. At a minimum, though, every business should look for software that offers powerful security features, good mobile apps, a user-friendly interface, and a well-organized client portal.
Automations:Â Some invoices will need to be sent manually. Others can be sent automatically with software that offers invoice automation, allowing you to set up recurring invoices, send out reminders, and schedule other tasks. The more automations, the more smoothly your business runs, so you can get back to doing what you love most.
Integrations: The software you choose should integrate with third-party apps and software. For example, if you already use bookkeeping or accounting software, look for an invoicing solution that syncs with this software. It’s also important that your chosen software integrates with multiple payment gateways, allowing your customers to pay their invoices online easily.
Good Customer Support:Â There may come a time when you have a question about your software, need troubleshooting advice, or simply want to upgrade your subscription. All of this is made much easier with strong customer support and good customer service. Look for software that offers multiple ways to get in touch, has fast response times, and provides resources to help you get the most out of your software.
Best overall invoicing software for small businesses. Ideal for businesses needing strong features, great invoicing automations, and international invoicing.
Zoho Invoice, introduced in 2008, has grown to become one of the most popular invoice software options on the market today. This cloud-based software offers some great features ideal for small- to medium-sized businesses and offers multiple pricing options, including a free version for business owners on a budget.
In addition to boasting such features as customizable templates and support for multiple languages, Zoho Invoice goes beyond merely invoicing. Through this program, you can create estimates, track time and expenses, manage contacts, and create and manage projects. Zoho Invoice also has a very user-friendly interface and excellent customer support. It should come as no surprise that Zoho Invoice has gotten overall favorable reviews from its users.
There are, however, a few drawbacks, although these are minimal. If you need an extensive inventory tracking system, look elsewhere, as Zoho Invoice only has a basic item list available. This software also falls a little short in terms of integrations, although that number is on the rise. At this time, Zoho Invoice has ten payment gateways and 14 integrations. For most businesses, though, this shouldn’t pose a problem, and the many positive aspects of this software overshadow the few negatives.
What makes Zoho Invoice’s offerings stand out from other invoicing software solutions? There are quite a few benefits to selecting this software, including:
Unlimited invoices and estimates
16 customizable invoice templates
Easy to use
Invoicing in 14 languages
Excellent customer support
Well-designed client portal with real-time notifications
Expense and time tracking
Exceptional customer support and resources
Multiple mobile apps
Zoho Invoice offers four pricing plans. The Free Plan allows one user to invoice up to five customers at absolutely no cost. For $9 per month, the Basic Plan gives one user the ability to invoice up to 50 customers. Upgrading to the Standard Plan at $19 per month gives access to three users and allows you to invoice up to 500 customers. The Professional Plan costs $29 per month, can be used by up to ten users, and has no limitations on the number of customers that are invoiced.
Best for small businesses that want to save money with free software.
Small business owners — especially new ones — often look for ways to cut expenses. One way is to take advantage of free software, such as the invoicing software offered by Invoice Ninja. Since 2014, over 90,000 small business owners have signed up with Invoice Ninja for its great features at no cost — and no, there isn’t a catch.
This forever-free software boasts features you would find with paid software, including invoices and estimates, time and expense tracking, item lists, contact management, and project management. An especially unique feature is Invoice Ninja’s voice commands, which allows you to send invoices and perform other tasks using your voice. If you need assistance, Invoice Ninja offers multiple ways to get in touch and exceptional customer support. The software has overall received excellent reviews from past and present users.
The free version of Invoice Ninja is best for small businesses and freelancers that serve 100 or fewer customers. If you have more than 100 customers, you will have to upgrade to one of the paid (but still affordable) software options. If you also have more than one user, you will need to upgrade your subscription, as the free version only allows access to a single user.
Invoice Ninja is one of the top options for forever-free invoicing software. If you need additional features, you can upgrade to one of the paid subscriptions. However, many small businesses will find everything they need with the no-cost plan. All plans include the following benefits:
Unlimited invoices and estimates
Over 40 payment gateways
Excellent customer support
Cloud-based and self-hosted options
Strong mobile apps
Available in 30 languages
Up to 10 invoice templates
Recurring invoices and payment reminders
The Forever Free Plan is truly free and gives you access to all of the previous benefits. This plan allows one user to send invoices to up to 100 customers. If you have more than 100 customers, you can sign up for the Ninja Pro Plan. At $8 per month, you’ll be able to send invoices to unlimited customers. You’ll also have access to additional features, including 13 reports, proposals, and invoices that don’t feature Invoice Ninja branding. This plan is limited to one user only. Pay for ten months, and you’ll receive two months free. You can also take this plan on a test drive with a free 14-day trial.
If you have multiple users, you can sign up for the Enterprise Plan, which starts at $12 per month. Like Ninja Pro, you can pay for ten months and receive two months free. You’ll also receive a 30-day guarantee. This plan supports up to 20 users and offers additional benefits, such as support for third-party attachments and branded client portal links.
Best for small businesses seeking an all-in-one invoicing and bookkeeping solution.
Freelancers and small business owners that want an invoicing software with bookkeeping options should look no further than FreshBooks. FreshBooks launched in 2003, but the company kept its software fresh with a revamp in 2017. The new version of FreshBooks offers lots of great accounting features, including double-entry accounting, journal entries, and bank reconciliation.Â If that’s more than you need, don’t worry — the old version is still available. FreshBooks Classic is true invoicing software with a few bookkeeping features. This software is a great choice for businesses that need basic bookkeeping and accounting functions but is not suitable for businesses that have more complex accounting needs.
With FreshBooks, you can send unlimited invoices and estimates to your customers. You’ll also be able to complete other tasks critical to your business, including time management, expense management, and project management tools. Depending on the plan you select, you may also be able to use features, such as bank reconciliation, reports, journal entries, and proposals. Both versions of the software are very easy to use, customer service is excellent, and FreshBooks has received mostly positive reviews from its users.
It’s obvious why over 10 million customers have chosen FreshBooks as an invoicing solution, but what’s the catch? Businesses with multiple users won’t find what they need here, as each plan only supports one user. If you have multiple businesses, another software will be a better fit, as FreshBooks doesn’t offer support for more than one business. While there are numerous integrations, FreshBooks only has two payment gateways.
FreshBooks stands out from its competitors because of its accounting features that you won’t find with other invoicing software. Other benefits of this all-in-one software include:
Unlimited invoices and estimates
Support for 14 languages
Excellent customer support
Strong mobile apps
Two customizable templates
Up to 11 reports
Over 80 integrations
Recurring invoices and payment reminders
Unlike many of the other software we’ve recommended, FreshBooks does not offer a free plan. However, there are three pricing tiers available to fit your needs best. The Lite Plan is best for freelancers or microbusinesses with five or fewer customers who don’t need double-entry accounting. This plan’s price is $15 per month. The Plus Plan costs $25 per month and allows you to bill up to 50 customers. As a Plus customer, you’ll get even more features, including unlimited proposals, automated payment reminders, and double-entry accounting reports. The Premium Plan will set you back $50 per month but allows you to bill up to 500 customers. Additional team members can be added as users for $10 per person, and payment processing is also available for an additional fee.
If you need a more customized solution, you can inquire about the Select Plan. This plan is for businesses that need to bill more than 500 customers. This plan — which is custom priced based on the needs of your business — also gives you access to a personal account manager, custom training, and other features.
Best for businesses that want a simple, no-fuss solution for managing bills and invoices.
Software that does it all and comes packed with features is great for some businesses. But what if you’d prefer a hassle-free way to simplify bills and invoices? If this sounds familiar, Bill.com may be the right solution for your business. Since 2006, Bill.com has streamlined the process of paying your bills and invoicing your customers. With this software, you can take control of your accounts payable using tools, such as reviewing and approving bills from any device, sending domestic and international payments to vendors and suppliers, and storing invoices, checks, and receipts.
But that’s not all that Bill.com offers. You can also manage your accounts receivables through this software. With Bill.com, getting paid is faster and easier with features, including automated invoices, automated reminders, contact management, and direct payments with ACH, credit card, or PayPal. Bill.com syncs with your accounting software, simplifying the process of reconciling your bank accounts and keeping your books balanced. There are also some features you won’t find with most other invoicing software, such as a customizable chart of accounts.
This software is best for medium- to large-sized businesses that want a more streamlined way to send invoices and pay bills. Small businesses may also benefit if they have a large number of payments and/or invoices. While this software can be a bit pricey, it’s a fraction of the cost of hiring an employee to handle these tasks. However, keep in mind that if you only want invoicing software and have your accounts payable under control, there are more affordable invoicing software options out there.
If billing and invoicing are slowing down your business, take advantage of all that Bill.com has to offer, including:
Unlimited document storage
Unlimited users (for an additional cost)
Strong security features
Up to 30 reports
Recurring invoices and payment reminders
There are four pricing plans available through Bill.com. The Essentials plan is the cheapest at $39 per user per month. With this plan, you can choose to manage payables orÂ receivables but not both. The Team plan costs $49 per user per month. This option also only includes payablesÂ orÂ receivables. The difference is that this plan allows you to sync the software with Xero, QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, and QuickBooks Online. The third plan allows you to manage both receivablesÂ andÂ payables at the cost of $69 per user per month. This plan includes additional features, such as invoice and payment automation. Finally, you can get a custom quote for the Enterprise plan. It comes with all the features included in the other plans with the addition of advanced features, such as more integrations and API access.
Best for product-based small businesses that want an easy way to send invoices on the go.
Square has become known for its payment processing services, but in 2014, the company added Square Invoices to the Square Dashboard. When you sign up for a Square account, you automatically have access to Square Invoices as well as other tools for your small business. One of the best things about Square Invoices is that it’s completely free to send invoices to your customers.
Square Invoices is very easy to use and has a well-organized interface. There is just one template for invoices, but it can be customized by changing the colors and adding your logo. Square Invoices is the perfect software for busy entrepreneurs, making it easy to send invoices right from your smartphone or another connected device. In addition to mobile invoicing, Square Invoices has other tools to help you operate and grow your business, such as estimates, contact management, employee management, advanced inventory features, and sales tracking. You can even create contracts and easily attach them to your invoices.
Square Invoices is best for small- and medium-sized product-based businesses. Because of a lack of project management features and advanced invoicing capabilities, it’s not a good fit for service-based or project-based businesses.
Square is more than just a payment processor. Its invoicing feature and other tools are also beneficial to many businesses. Why should you choose Square? Consider the following benefits:
Unlimited invoices and estimates
Excellent mobile apps
An easy three-step process to send custom invoices
Recurring invoices and payment reminders
14 reports plus custom reports
Good customer support
Over 100 integrations
To use Square Invoices, you must sign up for a Square account. The good news is that your Square account is free. Sending invoices to your customers is also free. However, if you want to take advantage of some of Square’s other features — such as payment processing, payroll, or advanced employee management — there are additional fees.
Best for small businesses that want to manage time, projects, and invoices in one place.
Harvest launched in 2006 with a focus on time tracking. Since it’s launch, the software has evolved to provide additional tools for small businesses. Though its invoicing features are limited when compared to its competitors, Harvest’s time tracking features, basic invoicing, and project management tools are ideal for service-based and project-based businesses.
You won’t find advanced invoicing features with Harvest, but there’s enough to get the job done. In addition to being able to create and send invoices, you can also create and send estimates, track time, set up recurring invoices, create reminders, and manage your employees. Harvest also offers basic expense tracking as well as project management options that allow you to assign projects, set budgets, and track time and expenses.
There are a few drawbacks to be aware of before you sign up. Harvest isn’t a good fit for product-based businesses or any business that needs advanced invoicing features. If you need more advanced accounting features or don’t have much use for the project management tools offered through Harvest, consider shopping around for another software option.
Why is Harvest on this list? In addition to being a great choice for project-based and service-based businesses, here are more reasons why you should consider using this software:
Unlimited estimates (paid plan only)
Over 90 integrations
Good customer support
Strong security features
Harvest offers two plans. The first is the Free Plan, which doesn’t cost a dime. This plan allows one user to manage up to two projects and gives access to all of the other great features. If you need to add more users or projects, you can sign up for Harvest Pro, which costs $12 per user per month. With this plan, you can manage unlimited projects as well as take advantage of Harvest’s other features. Harvest offers several discounts for Pro members, including 10% off when you pay annually and 15% off for nonprofits. You can also give Pro a try with a 30-day free trial.
Best for creating and sending invoices through mobile devices.
Most business owners aren’t just sitting behind a desktop computer anymore. Today’s busy entrepreneurs are relying more and more on mobile devices to keep in contact with vendors and clients, collaborate with team members, and even send invoices. If you’re one of the people that prefers using your smartphone to conduct business, Invoice2go can help simplify sending invoices and getting paid by your customers.
Invoice2go features strong Android and iPhone apps that make it easier than ever to create customized professional invoices on the go. Setting up and using the software is simple, allowing you to send your first invoice in just minutes. Invoice2go offers additional features as well, such as expense tracking, invoice templates, estimates, time tracking, and purchase order management. You can send invoices in a variety of ways, including SMS and mobile apps. Cloud-based desktop software is also available if you prefer to go that route.
On the downside, though, Invoice2go — as the name implies — focuses primarily on invoicing. If you need more advanced bookkeeping and accounting features, another option will better suit your needs. If you don’t primarily use your mobile device for business purposes, Invoice2go likely won’t be a good fit for your business. Another downside is the limitations placed on the less-expensive subscription plans, which we’ll discuss in detail in just a moment.
Considering Invoice2go as your invoicing software? There are many reasons why you should choose this option, including:
Strong mobile apps
Good customer service
Easy to use
Good customer service
There are several plans to choose from if you select Invoice2go as your invoicing solution. The Standard Plan allows you to send up to 200 invoices and 200 estimates per month. One user can use the software, and up to 25 clients can be added. The Standard Plan costs $9.99 per month. For $19.99 per month, you can sign up for the Advanced Plan, which allows you to send up to 400 invoices and 400 estimates per month. Two users are included in this plan, and you can add up to 100 clients. This plan also gives you access to appointments. The Unlimited Plan, at the cost of $33.99 per month, lives up to its name by allowing you to send unlimited invoices and estimates and store an unlimited number of clients. This plan gives access to five users and includes recurring invoices and payment receipts. All plans are billed annually. A 14-day free trial is available, and Invoice2go offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Choosing The Best Invoicing Software For Your Business
Choosing the right invoicing software can be a hassle, but there are a few things to keep in mind to help narrow down your choices. Start with the options in this post and compare pricing, features, and other factors to find software that works for your business. Don’t be afraid to shop around and even test out a few options before making your final decision. When testing out software, look for options that offer free plans or free trials, so you can fully explore the software before making an investment. If the software you test lags, is difficult to use, or it doesn’t offer the features you need, move on to another option until you find your perfect match. Your ideal match should have the features you need and make sending your invoices a breeze.
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