Subdomains Explained

Subdomains Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is a Subdomain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is a Subdomain Used For

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

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

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

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

Subdomain vs Domain

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

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

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

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

It’s usually preference.

Subdomain vs Subdirectory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subdomain Examples

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

Wikipedia – Languages

Wikipedia

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

Curbed – Brand Identity

Curbed

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

NPR – Ecommerce

NPR

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

Kopywriting Kourse – Customer Portal

Kopywriting Kourse

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

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

How To Create a Subdomain

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

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

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

Create Subdomain

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

Adding Subdomain

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

Next Steps

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

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

The post Subdomains Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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

Google Sites Review Pros & Negatives of Using Googles Website Builder

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Google Sites here…

Skip to the Conclusion & Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Blogger

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

2. Google My Business Website

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

3. Classic Google Sites

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

You can find links to it throughout Google Sites.

Classic Sites

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

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

4. Google Web Designer

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

Google Web Designer

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

5. New Google Sites (free)

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

New Google Sites

6. New Google Sites (G Suite)

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

Let’s look at the pros & negatives.

Pros of Google Sites

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

Price

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

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

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

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

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

Google Integration

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

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

Hosting in Your Google Drive

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

Simplicity & Security

Google Sites is simple and straightforward to use.

Google Sites Google Features

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

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

Google Sites Drag & Drop

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

Speed & Sharing

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

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

Negatives of Google Sites

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Design Features

Google Sites’ design features are sorely limited.

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

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

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

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

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

Google Sites Template Options

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

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

Limited Marketing Features

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

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

Google Sites Analytics Options

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

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

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

Custom Domain Setup

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

Google Sites Domain Name Options

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

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

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

Future-Proofing

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

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

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

Google Sites Comparison

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

Google Sites vs. Squarespace

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

Google Sites vs. Wix

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

Google Sites vs. GoDaddy’s Website Builder

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

Google Sites vs. Weebly

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

Google Sites vs. WordPress.com

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

Google Sites vs. Self-hosted WordPress

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

Conclusion & Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

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

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

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

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

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

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

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

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

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

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

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

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

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

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

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

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

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

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

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

SMS Sonar

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

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

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

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

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

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

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

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

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

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

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

Paymentcloud Durango Soar Payments Host Merchant Services

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How To Start And Fund An Amazon Business

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

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

Learn How To Sell On Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Determine How Much Money You’ll Need

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

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

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

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

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

Determine How You’ll Get Funding

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

Personal Savings

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

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

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

Tap Your Support Network

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

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

Credit Cards

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Amazon Business Prime American Express Card

Amazon Business Prime American Express Card


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.24% – 24.24%, Variable

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

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

Personal Loans

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

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

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

Review

Check Rate

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

Visit Site

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

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

Lines Of Credit

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Fundbox

Review

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

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

Vendor Financing

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

Recommended Option: Amazon Lending

Review

Compare

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

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

Purchase Order Financing

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

Recommended Option: Behalf

behalf logo

Review

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

ROBS

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

Review

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name. If you want to change it to something else, you can file a DBA (Doing Business As), which will protect your new business name and allow you to–you guessed it–do business under that name.

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

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

Create An Amazon Seller Account

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

Amazon offers two plans:

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

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

List Your Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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Yahoo! Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Small Business Website Builder is known as an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping small business owners get up and running online quickly and easily. They’re also known for offering responsive websites, which means the site fits on any device (i.e. a tablet, phone, computer).

See Yahoo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Yahoo! a try for a full Yahoo! review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Yahoo! Website Builder 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 Yahoo! Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Yahoo! 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 Yahoo! 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 Yahoo!, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Yahoo! competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed, ease of use, and responsive design (again, web jargon for making your website mobile device-friendly). Yahoo! offers several website templates you can customize, and it also allows you to build your own pages from scratch using their premade sections that you can drop onto the page.

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

Pros of Using Yahoo! Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Yahoo! website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of the biggest pros of using Yahoo! Sitebuilder is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just two steps — pick your theme, enter your information to create your account, and you’re in! Yahoo! automatically sets you up with their free plan, so you don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

Yahoo Sign Up Process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Template Design / Functionality

Yahoo! also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). There are a wide variety of options to choose from, and all of the templates are really well designed.

Yahoo Website Options

Yahoo! Site Builder isn’t technically drag-and-drop (you choose from premade sections and “drop” those onto your page), but it is fairy intuitive to use. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

I did like how the software automatically matches a new “section” to your overall theme for you, so you don’t have to worry about changing the fonts and colors to match what you already have.

Yahoo Apply Website Style

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options. It makes Yahoo! Site Builder a great option for small business owners / DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend much time tweaking the design themselves.

Free Starter Plan

Another benefit Yahoo! Site Builder is their free starter plan. In comparison to their direct competitors, Yahoo!’s free plan is fairly extensive.

While some website builders cap your pages or even your access to support with a free plan, Yahoo! offers unlimited pages, support, and even built-in SEO functionality on a page-by-page basis.

Yahoo SEO Elements

There are some cons with the free plan, such as limited storage, having to use a subdomain (ex: yourname.yahoosites.com), and extremely limited integrations — but if you’re looking for a simple site for a short-term project, this could be a solid option.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Yahoo! Site Builder is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Yahoo! also offers email functionality in their paid plans.

Yahoo Plan Options

You can also get ecommerce functionality, but Yahoo! separates ecommerce websites into an entirely different category (“stores” instead of “websites”) with their own unique pricing plans — which we’ll touch more on in a bit!

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Yahoo! as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Yahoo! is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and small businesses, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with storage caps, which means you’re limited to the photos, documents, files, etc. you store on your website.

It’s confusing to having ecommerce websites in an entirely different category. These websites come with different pricing plans, functionality, and specifications.

On the one hand, this is fine if you know that you want to build a shop from the get-go. But if you wanted to start with a website then add on ecommerce functionality, this structure makes it more complicated.

Yahoo Ecommerce

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 Yahoo! 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 sections 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 within the premade sections, you can’t create your own sections, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited.

Yahoo Design Functions Limited

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 Yahoo! website builder website (in fact, it reminds me a bit of Google Sites).

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. Now, as I mentioned above, Yahoo! does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email on their paid plans. They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking (even on their free plan).

Yahoo Site Header Code

However, there are a ton of technical features that Yahoo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Yahoo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title, description, and keywords for the site, as well as edit the visibility. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Yahoo SEO Limits

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics or putting code into the header of your website.

Ultimately, Yahoo! leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Ownership & Company Structure

My team, my clients and I have seen and worked with a lot of different software companies. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that companies have to follow not only the demands of their current customers, but also the demands of their business model. A company might be “good” or “bad” right now, but to know how they’ll be in a few years, it pays to spend a couple minutes thinking about their business model and how they’ll evolve to meet customer and market demands.

For example, anyone who understands that Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users, can understand how & why they do the things they do. There is no inherently “bad” or “good” business model. Every model has tradeoffs. It just pays to know where you, the customer, fit in the picture, especially when you are building something as critical to your business as your website.

Yahoo! Small Business is a division of Oath, now called VerizonMedia. During the break-up and sale of Yahoo! in 2017, Yahoo! Small Business was bundled with other Yahoo! properties like Tumblr, Yahoo! Mail and bought out by Verizon, the American telecommunications giant.

In other words, Yahoo! Website Builder is a product of a division of a subsidiary of one of the largest corporations in the world.

That makes the 5 year outlook of Yahoo! Website Builder…complicated.

The potential upside is that if Verizon gives Yahoo! Small Business budget, resources, autonomy and a super-smart leader…Yahoo! Small Business could have the best products and best pricing on the Internet.

The huge downside is that if Yahoo! Small Business gets lost in the shuffle of corporate bureaucracy, then they could end up like Tumblr (another VerizonMedia property) where they’ve bled engineers, killed brand equity, and sent users fleeing for other solutions.

But in all likelihood, Yahoo! Small Business will probably end up like Blogger. A fine product, but one that is treading water within a much larger organization, especially compared with direct competitors who are either publicly-traded & focused on the SMB market (like Wix or Gator) or private & founder-driven like WordPress.com or Website Creator.

Yahoo! Review Conclusion

Yahoo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, and given how intuitive it is to use, it makes the platform an okay choice for small business owners who need something that’s simple.

Check out Yahoo’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Yahoo’s pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

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

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

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Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

When you think of Vistaprint, you probably think of business cards — which is what the company is known for and has been since their founding in 1995. But did you know Vistaprint offers other marketing materials for small business owners — like a website builder?

Actually…

You probably do know that, because you are likely in the middle of checking out and got their website builder offer. And you thought “is the Vistaprint website builder actually good?” And so, you stumbled on this post.

Well I thought the same thing while buying a few business cards. So, I went ahead and gave Vistaprint a try for a small project for a full Vistaprint Website Builder Review.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s get a bit of background on building a website in general.

Check out Vistaprint’s Current Plans & Pricing

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 Vistaprint Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, VistaPrint 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 (ie, domain, hosting, software) separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

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

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

As far as competition, Vistaprint competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like GoDaddy, Site123, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, WordPress.com, and others.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease-of-use to cater to small business owners with little website experience, and rely heavily on their existing customer base when promoting their website builder product through customized marketing (more on that in a bit!).

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Vistaprint uses website “blocks” that you can drag and drop into your template to customize it.  They also offer a “done-for-you” service where they’ll handle creating your website for you. It’s an incredibly intuitive platform, making it a great choice for DIYers who need to create a website quickly without having any website experience.

Continue reading “Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives”

InMotion Hosting Website Creator Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Website Creator Review

Website Creator is a stand-alone website builder product built & sold by InMotion Hosting, one of the largest independent web hosting companies in the world.

See Website Creator Plans & Pricing here.

InMotion Hosting has been in the web hosting business since 2001. Unlike many hosting companies, they remain staunchly independent and focused primarily on website products for small businesses. They have an emphasis on customer support and raw performance.

While they still have a range of hosting products (my InMotion Hosting Review), they have also been quick to respond to changes in customer demand. Website Creator came out of that effort.

The big demand of the past 5 years has been for easy to use, bundled, drag and drop website builders. But popular website builders pose some risks for business owners investing in a long-term project.

Website Creator was created for small business owners who need to easily DIY their own website, but also are thinking seriously about how to best build their website for scalability, versatility, and long-term success.

Since I’ve been a user of InMotion’s hosting products for quite some time, I recently decided to give their new website builder, Website Creator, a try for a small, quick project.

Before I dive into pros and cons, let’s talk about some basics.

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

What Is Website Creator?

Imagine website builders on a spectrum of convenience and control.

On the maximum convenience end, you have Instagram. It’s super-easy to use. But you have zero control over how your account design or function.

On the maximum control end, you have a server that you own an operate. You hand write all the HTML & CSS. It offers maximum control, but zero convenience. Most people tends toward to the middle options.

Self-hosted WordPress is software that you install on your own hosting account. It has a learning curve, but offers a lot more convenience while still providing total control over your files & server.

Wix is a popular drag & drop builder that has much less of a learning curve & more convenience than self-hosted WordPress. But they also have to limit data exports & your server access.

Some small business owners don’t like either tradeoff – and that’s the slice that Website Creator is focused on. I’ll get to this in the Pros & Cons, but Website Creator is actually built on top of WordPress on a hosting account that you own. So even though it has the drag & drop and streamlined website launch of a popular website builder, it’s still creating actual files on an actual server that you can access and export should you ever need to grow or rework your website.

In other words, think about a single-family home, a condominium, and a townhome. Self-hosted WordPress is a single-family home where you own & are responsible for everything. Hosted website builders are like a condominium where you own everything within the walls but outsource the rest to the Condo Owner’s Association.

Website Creator tries to be like a townhome. You have contracted landscapers, plumbers, and a Homeowners’ Association, but when it comes down to it – you still own the land and the structure.

With all that said, here are some of the Pros & Cons of Website Creator as a general website solution.

Pros of Using Website Creator

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Website Creator, not just compared to Site123 and Gator, but as a website builder in general.

Convenience AND Control

Website Creator’s biggest pro is the fact that it combines convenience and control — which is typically where business owners have to make a trade off when it comes to website builders (even the best ones).

Website Creator is actually a bundle that combines hosting (on InMotion), a website software or CMS (WordPress), and a drag & drop tool (BoldGrid). Which means when you sign up for Website Creator, you’re actually getting a self-hosted WordPress website with an installed drag-and-drop website builder (and tons of base templates to use) that you fully own and that any developer or marketer can work with. You don’t have to go piecing all the elements together or put off getting started until you have the “right” web designer.

You can just DIY and rest easy knowing that when the time comes, you can upgrade your content, design & marketing as your business needs.

Ownership

Again, Website Creator does a great job of giving users control — and that includes ownership.

Now, when it comes to website builders, I generally think of website ownership in 3 ways.

The first point is brand asset & copyright ownership. There is no website builder that would ever be able to “own” your website. Not even Instagram does that. If you author the text, images, video, logos, etc. then you own the copyright.

But when it comes to the other two points of ownership, not all website builders are created equally.

The second facet of ownership revolves around “website look and feel”. Websites are simply files that a browser can render. The look and feel is inherently not only your content, but also the combination of actual files used to render your site. This is where ownership gets tricky. Some website builders do not give you access or copyright to the actual files that are generated with your content. Some give you copyright and limited access. Some give you full copyright and full access.

Why would you need full access? Well, let’s say you want to sell or move your website to another provider. If you do not have access to the actual CSS files or actual JS files, then you cannot sell or transfer the site exactly as it currently is.

And the third point is practical ownership. So even if you own your entire website – JS, CSS, HTML, images, text, etc – if you cannot download it to your computer or transfer it to another server… do you truly own it? This gets tricky. It doesn’t really matter, until it does.

If you have a 10 page website for your dental office, this point really doesn’t matter. But if you are building a reference site for your organization that will eventually have thousands of pages… then it could matter a lot.

In Website Creator’s case, your site’s files live on an actual server that can be accessed and downloaded. Which means you have full ownership in all three facets — a great feature if you think you’ll ever need to move or recreate your website elsewhere.

Simplicity

Another pro of Website Creator is that once you’re set up, it’s fairly easy to use. As I mentioned above, Website Creator uses BoldGrid, a website builder, to actually create your website.

Website Creator Bold Grid

BoldGrid isn’t technically drag-and-drop. You don’t actually “drag” elements and drop them where you want them. Instead, BoldGrid uses Inspirations, which serve as your base template.

BoldGrid Inspirations

From there, you can add or remove pages, customize the branding (i.e. colors and fonts), or even go so far to add widgets on individual pages.

BoldGrid Inspiration Customization

The range of customization here is extensive. Given Website Creator uses WordPress, you can also install plugins (pieces of software that “plug in” to your website to add functionality), so you essentially create anything you want – that includes things like ecommerce, SEO, appointments, and flying unicorns.

But if you’re trying to keep it simple, BoldGrid’s Inspirations (and customization options within them) provide enough flexibility that you can create something that feels custom without having to totally build something from scratch.

Integrations

And speaking of customization… the ability to add integrations through plugins is a HUGE pro for using Website Creator. Given WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there, the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done.

Additionally, since you have an actual hosting account running Website Creator, you can integrate with any business email service or analytics package that you need.

Sign Up + Customer Service

Depending on your needs, this could be a pro or a con. Signing up for Website Creator does take some time. They actively try to weed out spam users, which means they review accounts before granting access. Their sign up process says it should take a few minutes to get a confirmation email, but after about an hour, we had to reach out to support to get our account approved and up and running.

The pro here is that you’re dealing with a company that take its software seriously and actively tries to maintain the integrity of it. They don’t let spammers in, and their customer service department is more than willing to expedite the process if you reach out and explain how you plan to use your site.

Flexibility

It’s rare that you get so much flexibility in an all-inclusive website builder, but Website Creator certainly gives you more than any other. The best example of this?

Website Creator actually lets use WordPress themes / custom themes outside of BoldGrid.

Flexibility Website Creator

This essentially means that you have a totally customizable, self-hosted WordPress site with the *option* to use an all-inclusive website builder that has pre-built themes and easy-to-use customization options. It’s a win-win.

Onboarding/Training

Using Website Creator does require a bit of a learning curve (more on that in a bit). However, InMotion’s onboarding and training resources are amazing. With any piece of software, there’s always a moment of “What comes next?”

With InMotion, they cover all the bases. From the moment your account gets approved, you’re given instructions on how to finish your account set, start your website, and get up and running.

Website Creator Onboarding

The account dashboard is refreshingly simple.

Website Creator Backend

They also offer training inside WordPress, so you can learn how to use BoldGrid and customize various elements.

Training Website Creator

Cons of Using Website Creator

Like any piece of software, there are always trade-offs. So here are the cons of using Website Creator:

Slower Sign Up Process

Yep… it can be a con that Website Creator takes time to actively weed out spammers. Why? Because this means the sign up process is slower.

Cumulatively, it took about two hours for us to get our account up and running — which isn’t great if you’re looking for a quick and easy solution to get a website up ASAP.

Learning Curve

Once you get through the sign up and installation process, using BoldGrid is simple (plus InMotion offers a TON of resources to help you through the process). But that doesn’t change the fact that getting up and running with Website Creator isn’t very intuitive. The sign up process is more extensive than most all-inclusive website builders, as is the installation process.

For example, before even getting started, you must have a domain name. There’s no option to use a free subdomain to get you up and running like you can with WordPress.com.

After that, you have to install BoldGrid, which then brings you into WordPress to edit.

Website Creator Getting Started

Again, the training provided by InMotion is stellar — but you do need to take the time to read it. Popular pure-play website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify – and even GoDaddy GoCentral all have in-screen on-boarding to show you how to do things while you build it.

If you’re looking to just dive on in and figure it out without having any website building experience, Website Creator probably isn’t the best solution for you.

Website Creator Review Conclusion

Website Creator does come with a learning curve, but it offers a ton of customization, flexibility, and ownership for users. Plus, it gives you the best of both worlds: a self-hosted WordPress website without the hassle of tracking down your hosting, website builder, and CMS.

Check out Website Creator’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider here. If you’re looking for a quick, easy, intuitive website builder that you can use to throw up a quick project, Website Creator probably isn’t the best choice for you.

Instead, check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post InMotion Hosting Website Creator Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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

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

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

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

Make A Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Calculate Startup Costs

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

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

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

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

Register Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Get Business Insurance

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

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

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

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

Seek Business Funding

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

Where should you look?

Personal Savings

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

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

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

Tap Your Support Network

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

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

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

Credit Cards

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

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

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

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

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business

Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.74% – 22.74%, Variable

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

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

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

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

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

Loans

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

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

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

Recommended Option: Upstart

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

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

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

Choose The Right Software

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

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

Types of software you may want to consider include:

Field Service Management 

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

Scheduling Software

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

Inventory Tracking

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

Accounting Software

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

Data QuickBooks Online Xero Wave Zoho Books FreshBooks

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

Pricing

$20 – 150/month

$9 – 60/month

Free

$9 – 29/month

$15 – $50/month

Customer Support Fair Poor Good

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Ease of Use Moderate Moderate Very Easy Very Easy

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

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

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

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

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

Delegate Work

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

Employees

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

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

Contractors

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

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

Advertise Your Business

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Jimdo Website Builder Review

Jimdo is known as an easy-to-use, all-inclusive website builder that is designed for people with no coding knowledge. They offer two options for website owners: a DIY builder that puts you in control of choosing a template and customizing it, or an AI website builder that uses artificial intelligence to build a template for you, then walks you through the various tweaks you can make.

See Jimdo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Jimdo a try for a full Jimdo review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Jimdo 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 Jimdo?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Jimdo 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 (ie, you buy a domain, hosting, and website software separately.).

Using Jimdo 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 Jimdo, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Jimdo competes with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on using AI to create done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus on plugging in your content and getting up and running quickly.

They also offer a more traditional drag-and-drop builder for those who have more experience, making Jimdo appeal to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience) and those who have a bit of website knowledge and want more customization abilities.

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

Pros of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Jimdo — not just in comparison to popular website builders like Weebly and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of Jimdo’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple process that involves creating an account, verifying your details through your email, and then choosing which website builder you’d like to use.

Jimdo Product Options

One thing to note here — if you’re looking for the easiest, most hands-off way to create your website, the AI web designer is probably your best option. It goes through a series of questions and then creates your website for you, but follows the process up with a detailed, step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your base template. It’s perfect for DIYers who are brand new to building a website.

Jimdo Tutorial

Simplicity

Jimdo is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template (or have one created for you with the AI builder), you’re pretty much locked in to the layout provided.

The DIY website builder is drag and drop, but it has it’s limitation — you can add new elements to the page, but only within the template structure you’re already given (and limited to the elements provided — but more on that in a bit).

Jimdo Editor

And if you’re using the AI builder, you’re given even more structure (with that comes limitations, but again — we’ll get there). With this option, you have less drag-and-drop and more choose from what they give you. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

AI Editor Jimdo

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

Website Builder Options

Part of what makes Jimdo unique is they offer two design routes — you can either use their AI website builder, which gathers information for you and creates a template based on your answers to questions like “what is your website for?” and “what is your preferred design style?”. From there, Jimdo walks you through a step-by-step tutorial for customizing your assigned website template.

Jimdo AI Set Up

Or, you can take the DIY-approach. In this approach, you select your industry and are provided with a selection of website templates to choose from. Then, you can customize the template with Jimdo’s drag and drop editor. This method is slightly more advanced, but still straightforward and controlled enough to keep newbies in check.

DIY Jimdo

One thing to note if you’re going the DIY route — I found that your industry selection doesn’t matter. I was given the same templates to choose from whether I chose business or healthcare or skipped the industry question all together.

*One additional note here. When using Jimdo for the purposes of this review, I created an additional Jimdo account through a new browser window to go through the sign up process again, and was automatically assigned to the AI website builder. Of course, there’s always a chance for user error, but as a brand new, inexperienced customer to the platform… it was confusing. It’s a potential con for using the platform, but not because of the actual user experience of the builder — it’s just a bit confusing and unclear when signing up.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Jimbdo is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Jimdo also offers ecommerce functionality with their paid plan (one thing to note — in order to get ecommerce functionality, you do need to choose between the two higher-priced tiers.)

Jimdo Ecommerce

We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

European Presence

For U.S. users, this isn’t really a pro or a con, but for those in the EU, Jimdo’s European presence makes it a strong competitor.

Jimdo is a German company and operates data centers in Europe. As a European company, this means that Jimdo’s data protection and privacy standards are much stronger thanks to the EU’s new laws on data and privacy.

Additionally, if you are a US company who needs an EU microsite for an EU audience, Jimdo makes GDPR a bit easier than some website builders focused on the US market.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Plans + Pricing

Jimdo’s pricing and plan structure is a bit confusing. When first signing up, You can see that paid plans start at $9/month paid annually, which includes your own domain, free hosting but only a 10 page limit.

Jimdo Pricing

However, if you choose a free plan and want to upgrade (which I did), the pricing options appear differently from inside your account.

Jimdo Pricing Part Two

Aside from the convoluted information, the actual competitiveness of the plans and pricing structure leaves something to be desired (err, actually a *lot* to be desired).

Compared to competitors like Wix, Gator, and Weebly, Jimdo is more expensive and has more restrictive limits.

Their free plan doesn’t even offer mobile-friendly site design (a pretty standard design feature in today’s world), and you can’t get basic Search Engine Optimization features until their mid-tier plans. Even the mid-tier Grow plans has hard limits on the number of pages and on bandwidth usage (which to me seems like a double-limit). And I’m all for over-delivering on low expectations, but the support options are seriously deficient.

Plus, there’s no option to may monthly, so you’re locked in for a year.

In short, using Jimdo is going to be more expensive than going with a competitor and more restrictive due to the design and technical limitations (more on that shortly), regardless of whether you’re using it for a year or just a few months.

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 Jimbdo website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing at all. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template and adding additional elements within the template that may enhance your design / user experience.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with Jimdo. In the DIY website builder, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’ of the design. You can also choose from a few variations of the template, which essentially just have different navigation styles.

Jimdo Template Variations

With pages, you can delete and add sections and move them around, but you cannot add a page unless you add it to the navigation. You can alter the layout, but you certainly cannot edit the CSS, much less add any other design element outside of the pieces they give you.

And if you’re using the AI website builder, you’re limited even further. As I mentioned above, you can add sections and elements based on pre-built blocks, but that’s about it.

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

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling.And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Jimdo 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. Now, as I mentioned above, Jimdo does give some integrations, like ecommerce and DNS/hosting services. However, there are a ton of technical features that Jimdo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Jimdo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title and description for individual pages, as well as assign noindex, nofollow, or noarchive settings. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have aside from editing the HTML in text sections on the page. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Jimdo SEO Options

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics.

Jimdo Analtyics

Ultimately, Jimdo leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Jimdo Review Conclusion

Jimdo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization (just choose their AI website builder). They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor/customizer that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Jimdo’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Jimdo falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They’re severely limited when it comes to technical features and integrations, which means if you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over functionality and enhancements, Jimdo may not be the best option for you.

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

The post Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder

Site123 Review

Site123 is a fast-growing, independently-owned, website builder based in Israel focused exclusively on DIYers. They claim to be “the most intuitive and easy to use website builder on the market”.

Check out Site123’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Site 123 a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Site 23 review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing 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 Site123?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Site123 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. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Site123 is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Site123, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Site123 competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease by providing done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus solely on content.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Site123 has you pick your niche and then customize a curated template based on that niche, which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience).

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

Pros of Using Site123 Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Site123 — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Site123’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple, three step process (hence the name Site123), and it’s straightforward, easy to understand, and efficient.

Site123 Set Up

Plus, Site123 builds in education through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your assigned theme and add content to your website, which is an excellent feature for users who haven’t customized / built a website before.

Site123 Tutorial

Simplicity

Site123 is also seriously simple to use. As I mentioned before, Site123 provides you with a template based on your selected industry and type of business/website within that industry.

Site123 Template Selection

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements to change the design within your selected theme.

Site123 Select Page Elements

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

The site layout is mobile-friendly and maintains an acceptable look/design no matter what you do to the design options.

Product Integration

Another benefit of Site123 is their extensive list of product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Site123 also offers several plugins (software that you can “plug in” to your website to get additional functionality). From advertising software to analytics tools to marketing + support, their library is extensive.

Site123 Product Integration

Site123 also offers ecommerce functionality. One thing to note here though — to use the integrations, you have to have a paid plan.

And to get ecommerce functionality, you have have to choose between the two higher-priced tiers. We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Site123

Pricing

Site123’s paid plans start at $10.80/month, which includes a free domain for a year/the ability to connect your domain, 10 GB of storage, 5 GB of bandwidth, and the ability to send 100 email messages (side note – who counts email messages?) to your mailing list per month. It also removes the Site123 branding that comes with the free plan.

Site123 Pricing

But compared to their direct competitors like Wix and Weebly, Site123 is much more expensive and offers much less. At each stage, Site123 doesn’t even allow unlimited bandwidth or storage.

And compared to self-hosting (piecing domains, hosting, and email separately) – it’s not a good value at all.

If you’re using Site123 for more than a few months, it’s going to be more expensive than going with a competitor (and more restricting due to the design and technical limitations – more on that shortly).

Limited Feature Set – Design

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

And you can really see this trade-off with the Site123 website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template by generating a curated template for you.

But here’s the thing — if you don’t like the template you’re given, changing it up is a pain. If you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are very limited with Site123.

For your theme, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’/structure of the design.

Site123 Theme editing

With pages, you can choose certain layouts from pre-made choices.

Site123 Page Layout Editing

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

Site123 Page Editing Example 2

It’s even difficult and near impossible to edit the menu without changing other design elements on the website.

Site123 Menu

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

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Site123 website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

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

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now as I mentioned above, Site123 does offer additional features through plugins and apps, but due to the control you give up with the website, you’re fairly limited in how much you can integrate, add on, or even edit within the tools provided.

For example, let’s look at simply editing SEO elements on a page. With the Site123, I can add in a meta description and site slogan, but that’s about all I can do aside from adding header tags inside the content editor. Even basic SEO needs more than that.

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

With Site123, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant. Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Culture & Lock-in

After looking at a lot of companies across domains, hosting, VPNs, website builders, ecommerce, and more – I’ve noticed that company culture, structure, and policies can speak more about a customer’s long-term experience than a feature matrix.

A website builder is inherently a global business. Every Internet company has remote employees and worldwide data centers. But I’m never a fan of companies not sharing their story or what they are all about. Site123 is incredibly vague about their story, their policies and your relationship to them as a customer.

For example – here’s their about page.

Site123 About Page

It’s a sales page. Here’s a couple answers to FAQs –

Site123 Data Export

Site123 Moneyback

Now – I get that they are a free, hosted website builder. Most website builders have trouble with website export. But their messaging is quite stark with no offer of help scraping or downloading even image files and text.

And the cancellation policy is very odd because it conflicts directly with the purported difficulty of providing a website download. A hosted website builder service should be able to be cancelled at a click of a button. There should be no manual reviews of forms.

Again – this point isn’t meant to raise a potential non-issue for no reason. Site123 might provide a fantastic long-term experience. However, difficult cancellation policies and vague about pages tend to correlate with less than ideal long-term experiences.

Site123 Review Conclusion

Site123 certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Site123’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Site123 falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. If you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over design and functionality, Site123 may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Site123 fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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