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


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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

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

Recommended Option: Lendio

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Review

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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

Review

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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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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business

When opening an online store, one of your most important tasks is finding the right website builder. In truth, selecting the proper software fit for your needs can make or break your whole operation. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway, because it’s our job) that a small online shop offering its own home-based inventory has different software requirements than a large network of websites offering thousands of products sourced from all over the world.

To assist in your search, we’ve rounded up the top ecommerce software contenders. Two of our recommendations (Wix and Squarespace) began as traditional website builders for business or personal use, but have since added ecommerce capability. The others are ecommerce shopping carts at their core but have also made advanced online storefront-building capacity a major feature of the service. These include Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

In recommending these particular sitebuilders, we should note that our focus is on the DIY end of the website-building spectrum. If, on the other hand, you are confident in your coding skills (or can hire a dedicated developer) and prefer the infinite flexibility of an open-source platform for frontend design and content creation, you might try a CMS like WordPress to use in conjunction with a shopping cart plugin, such as WooCommerce or Ecwid.

However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one, fully-hosted, and simpler-all-around system for online store-building, you’ve come to the right place. The great news for you is that the online storefront creation and editing capabilities of the all-inclusive platforms we’ll highlight in this roundup have only improved over time.

How To Choose An eCommerce Website Builder

If you haven’t shopped for an ecommerce platform before, the first step is to become oriented with this type of software so you know what you’ll be examining in the first place. Fortunately, each sitebuilder we’ll cover here offers some sort of free trial, so you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experience with the software before making a final selection.

Here are the main things you should consider when choosing ecommerce software:

Cost

  • Monthly Subscription: Most DIY sitebuilders these days are SaaS (Software as a Service), so check for the monthly cost of each plan level, which features are included at each price point, and any plan limits such as number of products you can list, revenue caps, etc.
  • Per Sale Commission: Some ecommerce sitebuilders charge a percentage commission per sale under certain circumstances, so investigate if and when this extra fee might apply to your store.
  • Add-On Features: Many features may only come as add-ons from an app marketplace. While some add-ons are free, other apps you may want to integrate with your store (like shipping, marketing, or accounting software) are fully-fledged SaaS platforms with their own monthly subscriptions.
  • Payment Processing: You’ll need to connect an online payment gateway to your store — usually a third-party processor like Stripe or PayPal — to accept payments from customers, so check out the available options that work with the platform in your country, and the processing rates charged.
  • Design Template: Some website templates come free with the software, but premium themes typically have a one-time purchase cost.
  • Web Development: While most ecommerce sitebuilders are DIY when it comes to getting things up and running, you may still decide to hire a developer or designer to fine-tune your site at some point.

Website Design

  • Template/Theme Options: Browse the theme marketplace and get a feel for several templates you could see yourself using.
  • Customization Options: Go beyond admiring templates and work with a few yourself. In particular, explore the storefront editing tools that come with the software. Look to see if and how you can move elements within page layouts — there are varying degrees of flexibility in this area.

Features

  • Admin Features: Look at the options for configuring storewide settings such as shipping methods, currencies, languages, tax calculation, and sales channels. Also, consider the ways in which you’ll be able to manipulate the specifications for individual products (pricing, SEO data, discounts, product variants/attributes, etc).
  • Storefront Features: This includes how products are displayed, organized, and marketed to customers on your site, as well as all aspects of the checkout experience.
  • Quantity VS Quality: Just because a certain feature exists, doesn’t mean it’s very robust or will work well for your needs. Similarly, you don’t want to get bogged down with (nor pay for) a bunch of features you don’t need.
  • Fit: Do the available features cater well to your business type, size, location, etc?
  • Scalability: Online stores grow in different ways, so it helps to anticipate how your operation will most likely expand over time. Growth dimensions, like number of products and their variations, number of staff accounts, file storage, revenue, marketing needs, and traffic levels, are often handled differently by different platforms.

Ease Of Use

  • Onboarding & Store Setup: All the software apps we cover in this article falls under a larger umbrella of “easy to get started,” but pay attention in your free trials to exactly how self-explanatory each step is, and to any additional guiding resources that are available.
  • Dashboard Navigation & Feature Manipulation: Check your level of comfort with both finding and manipulating features like inventory and order management, discount creation, etc.
  • Simplicity VS Flexibility: User-friendliness is a good thing, but make sure that the tools you need aren’t so basic that they can’t accomplish precisely what you want them to.
  • Coding Skill Requirements:  In most cases, the basics of admin and storefront customization will be covered without coding, but advanced customization can require advanced knowledge. Do your best to push the limits of non-coding customizability during your trial.
  • Tech Support: Know what resources you’ll have if you get stuck or if something goes wrong with your site. Since online stores operate 24/7, you’ll probably want at least one support channel (email/web tickets, live chat, or phone) that’s open 24 hours.

Between your own testing experiences, perusing the software’s website, reading reviews (like ours!), and interacting with customer service to answer any lingering questions, you should have a very good handle on how a particular sitebuilder will work for your online store before coughing up a single cent in subscription fees.

Now, let’s take a look at some software! We can’t cover absolutely everything we’ve discussed above (check out our full reviews of the software for more info), but we’ll hit some key points to help guide your choice.

1. Shopify

Pricing & Payment Processing

While there is a $9/month Lite plan with Shopify, you’ll need to sign up for the Basic plan ($29/month) or higher to build a full ecommerce website using the software. As you continue upward in plan level, you’ll see a few added features and the option to increase your number of staff admin accounts. Here are the subscription options:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

You have over 100 gateway possibilities for accepting payments from your customers with Shopify, but note that if you don’t use the in-house option — Shopify Payments, powered by Stripe — you will be charged an extra Shopify commission per sale of up to 2% on top of the card processing fee from your payment gateway. On the flip side, if you do use Shopify Payments, you’ll receive a processing discount (i.e., pay less than the going rate for Stripe on its own) on the Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.

We’ve put together a complete breakdown of Shopify Payments, and I’d definitely recommend reading that before you sign up for Shopify. For now, just remember that you’ll face an extra transaction fee from Shopify if you don’t use Shopify Payments.

Shopify also has one of the most extensive app stores you’ll find among SaaS ecommerce platforms. This can be a great resource for your store, but be careful to take the added cost of the apps you might need under consideration as you evaluate pricing.

Ease Of Use

Shopify users appreciate how easy it is to jump right in and start selling with the software. Once you open your free 14-day trial, your dashboard guides you toward a few steps to begin setting up your store:

Our tests of both admin navigation and individual feature manipulation have demonstrated that everything is easy to find and use. If you do run into problems, Shopify offers phone, email, and live chat support 24/7 at all subscription levels — a rare support trifecta amongst ecommerce website builders. The company has also curated an impressive library of self-help articles, videos, and even full online courses. All in all, Shopify earns an A+ for user-friendliness.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Choose from 10 free themes (made by Shopify) or 60 paid themes for $140-$180, most with multiple style variations. Even the free themes are good quality, and I’m always struck by the pleasant experience of shopping in the theme store. When a shopping cart platform is good at showcasing its own products, this gives me confidence in its ability to serve the needs of ecommerce sellers who are trying to accomplish this exact same task with their own products.

Editing Tools: 

To move elements around on your site’s pages, you’ll have access to a drag-and-drop tool called “Sections.” It’s not as flexible as the visual editors from traditional sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace, which allow more freedom of placement, but you can at least add, subtract, and change the order of elements. You can also change fonts and colors under “Theme Settings.”

If you wish to further customize your theme, you’ll need to learn Shopify’s own templating language called Liquid. This open-source language is written in Ruby and is the backbone of Shopify templates. Of course, you may not need to further code your Shopify theme at all — we just always like to include the heads up in case.

Features

While Shopify has a strong, highly-capable core feature set, advanced features often come as add-ons (even free ones) to keep the base platform streamlined and easy to use. Here are some of the Shopify features we like:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage on all plans
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Extensive sales channel & marketplace integrations (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.)
  • Mobile store management via Shopify App

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Expedited checkout with Shopify Pay

Along with the features we’ve highlighted above, check individual templates for special storefront features such as parallax scrolling, customer testimonials, social media feeds, and more.

Best Fit

From an overall software quality standpoint, it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. This platform remains our default recommendation for the typical online seller who wants to quickly launch an attractive and functional store, but who also hopes for a scalable solution that easily accommodates growth in product listings and store revenue. As far as shopping cart software goes, it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.

Shopify not-so-subtly guides you toward using Shopify Payments as your processor by rewarding you with reduced processing fees if you do and punishing you with an extra commission per sale if you don’t. If you’re not in one of the 10 locales currently supported by Shopify Payments or don’t qualify to use the processor for another reason (such as risk level or type of products sold), you should probably take a closer look at some of the competing ecommerce platforms as well.

2. BigCommerce

Pricing & Payment Processing

Each bump in subscription level with BigCommerce gives you added features, but also implements annual revenue caps. Meanwhile, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale, regardless of which payment processor you choose. You’ll have around 60 payment gateway options, one of which is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Here are the plans, all of which allow you to create a full ecommerce storefront:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

BigCommerce also offers an app store with hundreds of connections to ecommerce-related software and feature plugins. While this platform attempts to include a few more native features than Shopify, you should still be aware of the cost of additional integrations purchased through the app marketplace.

Ease Of Use

BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (probably just to one-up Shopify by a day). The admin dashboard you’ll encounter upon signup is arranged in a standard ecommerce fashion — navigational menu on the left, tips to get started on the right:

I would qualify BigCommerce’s backend as quite intuitive to use, although you might find it slightly more complex and detailed than Shopify’s interface. Part of this comes down to personal preference and experience, though. If you happen to run into a snag, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels, as well as good documentation and community forums.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

With over 120 themes (and multiple style variations per theme) available at the BigCommerce theme marketplace, you’re bound to find a good match for your store. Seven of the themes are free, and the rest range from $145 to $235 each.

Editing Tools:

Theme editing with BigCommerce is more restricted than with Shopify. The visual editor (now called Store Design) lacks a drag-and-drop component, for example. In other words, you should carefully choose a template you really like, because you are stuck with its basic format. Alternatively, you can add a page builder app from the marketplace with drag-and-drop capability, but just be careful to factor in the added cost. You can also make customizations with HTML and CSS if you’re skilled in these areas.

Features

As always, check which features are included with each subscription level (and which come as apps), but take a look at a few of BigCommerce’s standout features:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, storage, & bandwidth
  • Unlimited staff accounts
  • Sell digital and service-based products without adding an app
  • Support for numerous product variations
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Square POS integration
  • Marketplace integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)
  • Shipping label printing (USPS) and discounts
  • Complimentary Avalara AvaTax account
  • Customer segmentation with loyalty program capability
  • Multiple SSL certificate options (shared, dedicated, custom)

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping quotes
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Faceted/filtered product search
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Public & private wish lists
  • Recently viewed products
  • Akamai Image Manager & Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)  for mobile-friendliness
  • Integrate consumer financing options at checkout

Best Fit

BigCommerce strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and powerful out-of-the-box functionality, which we think a lot of online sellers will appreciate. Individual feature quality is also quite robust. Like Shopify, BigCommerce works for a wide variety or catalog sizes and scales well. However, if you have a nuanced catalog with a lot of product variations or custom fields, and like being really hands-on with your product SEO, you might be drawn to BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is also a great option to consider if you want or need the freedom to choose a payment processor without the “threat” of extra transaction fees if you don’t select an in-house option. If you’ve already looked at Shopify but need more flexibility when it comes to payments, definitely check out BigCommerce as an alternative.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

Pricing & Payment Processing

3dcart shares pricing structure components with both BigCommerce and Shopify. Like BigCommerce, 3dcart subscription packages have revenue caps. Another similarity is that 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale (and over 160 compatible payment gateways are available, some with discounted processing rates at higher subscription levels).

Like Shopify, you get more staff accounts at each 3dcart level. And, like both Shopify and BigCommerce, each step in plan offers a few additional features.

Do also note that the Startup plan with 3dcart has an item limit of 100 products. Here’s a quick pricing summary:

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr and list 100 products.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

For building a complete online storefront with the software, 3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than both BigCommerce and Shopify (at just $19/month). You’ll also note that the 3dcart $29 plan accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce. For these reasons, 3dcart is often considered a less expensive choice.

3dcart boasts a lot of built-in features, but watch out for the ongoing monthly cost of software integrations for shipping, accounting, and other services available in the 3dcart app store.

Ease Of Use

3dcart also comes with a free 15-day trial (and if you think everyone’s just copying each other on this, 3dcart has been around the longest!). The dashboard functions just like those of the other two ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far, but some advanced features are built-in modules you must find and turn on to use.

While 3dcart is easy to use, it is definitely more complex and layered than Shopify or BigCommerce. You may find, however, that you appreciate the flexibility and advanced capability of 3dcart’s features. Tech support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat, and email, but note that you must be on the $29/month plan to access phone support. The community forums are also helpful, and the knowledgebase provides step-by-step articles on most of the important features.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

3dcart offers just shy of 50 themes in its marketplace, and close to half are free. The rest are $150-$200.

Editing Tools: 

If you want to customize your theme, you can make color, content, and some typography changes in the visual editor, but more significant changes require tweaking HTML and CSS. In other words, there is no drag-and-drop capability. My overall hunch is that 3dcart expects most users to eventually tinker with the code if they really want to hone their designs.

Features

Below is just a sampling of 3dcart’s features — be sure to check the website for the full breakdown by plan:

Admin

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Inventory & order management
  • Dynamic, unlimited product categories
  • Return management
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Create/print shipping labels from multiple carriers
  • Multichannel selling
  • Email marketing & drip campaigns
  • Unlimited email hosting
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in iPad POS software (or integrate with Square POS)
  • Built-in B2B selling features

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Gift certificates (on all plans)
  • Wide variety of discount/coupon types
  • Daily & group pricing deals
  • Make-an-offer pricing
  • Offer financing options
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Reviews & product Q&A
  • Waiting list & pre-orders
  • Gift wrap
  • Loyalty program & rewards points
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Best Fit

In some ways, we’ve been climbing up the ladder of built-in complexity as we’ve progressed through this software roundup so far. The tradeoff between simplicity and flexibility starts to lean more noticeably toward the flexibility side when we arrive at 3dcart. I think it’s safe to say that 3dcart works well for users who are perhaps not coding experts, but still fancy themselves on the generally tech-savvy end of the spectrum. While still easy to use in the grand scheme of things, this platform requires a bit of initiative on the part of the user to take full advantage of what it has to offer.

Starting at just $19/month, 3dcart is also a cost-effective option for sellers on a tight budget who still require workhorse-style ecommerce software underpinning their websites (versus a traditional website builder with added ecommerce capability). Speaking of budgets, 3dcart is also a great option for sellers who may feel Shopify’s software is a good fit, but are stuck with an extra transaction fee because they can’t use Shopify Payments. With well over 100 options at 3dcart, you’re bound to find a compatible processor that suits your needs.

4. Wix

Pricing & Payment Processing

To create an ecommerce website with Wix, you’ll need to sign up for one of the “Business” plans designed for online sellers. As is common with traditional website building software, Wix advertises a monthly price for plans when paid annually, rather than a true month-to-month price. We like to focus on with the month-to-month price, so you can better compare between platforms:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

If you decide to pay annually, the above prices drop to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. (To be fair, all the platforms in the article offer some type of discount for paying annually — it’s all a matter of advertising strategy). The package levels are defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included. 

Wix never charges an extra commission per sale, regardless of which of the close to 20 gateway options you select for accepting payments.

As we’ve mentioned with the other software platforms we’ve discussed so far, you may want to add some apps to expand what your site can do. Wix apps often have both free and premium versions, so just confirm which type will work for your store so you can accurately calculate your true monthly costs.

Ease Of Use

You can dive right in and start testing Wix for free as long as you’d like — you just can’t start accepting payments through your store until you sign up for a paid plan. At that point, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund on your subscription fee if you change your mind.

There are two ways to get a site started with Wix. You either let Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) create a website for you by asking you a series of detailed questions about your business, or you select a pre-made template and go from there. Either way, the ecommerce portion of your site is built on the Wix Stores app, which seamlessly integrates into the rest of your dashboard:

The backend ecommerce features of Wix are very easy to use, if sometimes not quite as powerful or flexible overall as the features of the other shopping cart software we’ve discussed so far. Wix actually takes user-friendliness to a whole new level by incorporating several visually-engaging interfaces that carefully hold your hand through important processes such as setting up email campaigns, creating discounts, configuring SEO for your site, and more. On a personal note, I really enjoy using Wix for this reason.

If you still need extra help, phone support is available Monday-Friday from 5AM-5PM PT on all plans, or you can submit an email ticket 24/7. Online self-help resources are good quality, but not as extensive in the ecommerce department as those you’d find for a platform like Shopify.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Approximately 80 templates offered by Wix are built upon the Wix Stores app, but it’s easy to add the app to any of the 500 or so templates offered. Happily, all templates are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. And, as you might expect from a platform that specializes in frontend design, your options are very elegant and modern.

Editing Tools:

While you can’t switch templates midstream with Wix, you have loads of flexibility in customizing what you’ve chosen. The drag-and-drop capability of Sections in Shopify pales in comparison to the “place anything anywhere” possibilities with Wix. Use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your site is mobile-friendly, and away you go:

If, on the other hand, you decide to have your base website constructed for you using Wix ADI, you’ll have access to a theme editor that’s more in line with Shopify’s drag-and-drop system:

I think one common path to design customization with Wix is to have Wix ADI create a base site to begin with, and then shift over to the more flexible Wix Editor for fine-tuning. You just can’t go back to Wix ADI and its simpler editor once you’ve made the switch.

Features

Once again, we’re just including a sampling of key features here. Most of those listed below are available on all three Wix Business plans:

Admin

  • Unlimited products & bandwidth
  • Sell physical, digital and service-based goods
  • Up to 6 options and 300 variants per product
  • Inventory & order management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • SEO tools
  • Track traffic with Google Analytics
  • Personalized email address that matches your domain/brand
  • 20 email marketing campaigns (100,000 total emails/mo) included in subscription
  • Customizable, automated email & chat responses
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Free stock photo library

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your own domain
  • Offer discounts & coupons
  • Customizable product sorting & filtering
  • Customer login/member area
  • Multilingual storefronts
  • Multifunctional sites (including bookings, event management, restaurants, etc)
  • Live chat with customers
  • Advanced frontend design features

Best Fit

We love Wix as a solution for stores with aesthetically-nuanced products. as well as for brands that highly prioritize visual quality and uniqueness overall. Those who feel boxed in by the somewhat limited design customization options of ecommerce platforms like Shopify will appreciate the freedom to fine-tune everything about the look and feel of their online storefronts, as well as their communication and marketing materials — all without touching a line of code. And, for those who want a visually-unique site with minimum effort, Wix ADI can hold your hand every step of the way.

If you are thinking of scaling to offer a very large number of products, or wish to significantly expand your shipping and fulfillment needs over time, Wix probably isn’t your best choice. Meanwhile, we think a lot of multifunctional businesses (like hotels, restaurants, photographers, artists, musicians, bloggers, etc.) who also want to sell a few products online will love the seamless integration of a native ecommerce app into their dashboards.

5. Squarespace

squarespace

Pricing & Payment Processing

Similar to Wix, Squarespace leads with pricing figures that assume you’ll pay for a complete year at a time. Adjusted for true-month-to-month costs, here are the Squarespace plans with fully-integrated ecommerce functionality:

  • Business: $26/month
  • Commerce Basic: $30/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $46/month

There’s a pretty big jump in the number of features between the Business and Commerce Basic plan, and a smaller jump in available features to Commerce Advanced. Another difference between the Business Plan and the two Commerce plans is that the Business plan comes with a 3% Squarespace commission per sale. If you’re serious about creating an ecommerce website with Squarespace, it will likely be worth it to have a Commerce package for the additional ecommerce-specific features and the elimination of the extra transaction fee. Meanwhile, you only get two payment gateway options with Squarespace (Stripe and PayPal), which will also charge their own transaction fees.

Squarespace doesn’t have an app store — any third-party integrations come already connected to your store. However, when activating one of these connections, you should be aware that some of them do have premium versions with ongoing monthly costs. ShipStation and MailChimp are two good examples.

Ease Of Use

Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial. If your trial expires before you upgrade and you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can simply create another trial site under the same registration email.

Before you reach the dashboard, you’ll need to select a template (but you can change it later). You’ll see a few ecommerce-geared options first if you enter “to sell” something as your site’s purpose. Unlike any of the ecommerce sitebuilders we’ve discussed so far, your admin dashboard incorporates a frontend preview on the right:

I find it a little difficult to start adding products with Squarespace — you have to create a separate product page first, and the software doesn’t do a great job explaining this. Once you conquer this initial hurdle, however, the overall learning curve for ecommerce functions is relatively small.

I also like all the direct links to applicable support articles within the dashboard that guide you directly to the right knowledgebase article if you become stuck. Squarespace email support responds 24/7 and is quite effective, but the tradeoff is that there’s no phone support offered. Meanwhile, live chat is available Monday-Friday 4AM-8PM Eastern time.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Squarespace offers approximately 90 themes grouped into 21 families. Since you’ll eventually be adding some sort of product page no matter what, any of them can be used for ecommerce, even though some are specifically suggested for online stores.

As far as traditional website builders go, the sheer variety of templates is low, but the quality is high. We’re looking at a carefully-curated selection of polished, classy, streamlined designs offered by Squarespace:

Editing Tools:

Squarespace lands somewhere in between Wix and Shopify when it comes to the amount of freedom you have to drag-and-drop page elements. You can add and arrange large sections up and down each page, insert various types of “content blocks” (including spacers and lines), and adjust the alignment of pieces within those blocks to a certain extent. Fonts and colors are also adjustable, but often exist as site-wide style settings in order to maintain a unified look.

In summary: Squarespace offers more no-code design flexibility than Shopify and less than Wix. However, if you’re comfortable adding CSS to your site, there’s an easy CSS editor available.

Features

Below are some Squarespace features that caught my eye. A handful of these features (i.e., abandoned cart recovery, gift cards, and subscription payments) are only available on the Commerce Advanced plan. Always check the full and most complete breakdown by plan on the company website!

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Sell physical, digital, and service-based products out-of-the-box
  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Set store manager permissions
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Logo creation software
  • Commerce analytics & reports
  • Advanced image/photo management & editing

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • Promotional banners & pop-ups
  • Offer gift cards
  • Offer subscriptions to products & services
  • Accept donations
  • Offer coupon codes and discounts
  • Real-time shipping rates from multiple carriers
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Express checkout for single-product stores

Best Fit

The target audience for Squarespace amongst ecommerce website owners overlaps significantly with Wix’s demographic. Both sitebuilders are great for smaller product catalogs with visual interest, but Squarespace is nice if you specifically want a posh, classy, or even minimalist vibe for your store. This sitebuilder is also great for those who enjoy the freedom to easily tweak a design but don’t feel hemmed in by a bit of built-in structure for ensuring a consistent style overall.

As far as standard ecommerce features go, it’s a tough call between Wix and Squarespace. The two platforms take a slightly different approach, so you’ll have to decide which features are a priority to you. For example, if you want an abandoned cart recovery tool and the ability to connect with popular third-party apps like accounting and shipping/fulfillment software, Squarespace will suit you better. I’d recommend skipping over the Business plan and going straight for one of the Commerce plans if you’re at all serious about selling.

Quick Pricing Comparison

Before I share my final thoughts on choosing the best ecommerce website builder for your store, here’s a quick rundown of the monthly subscription costs for each of the platforms we’ve discussed:

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Squarespace

Business: $26/mo.

Commerce Basic: $30/mo.

Commerce Advanced: $46/mo.

  • Available features
  • Squarespace’s commission per sale

Remember that traditional website builders like Wix and Squarespace typically lead with “when paid annually” pricing, so we’ve adjusted the figures to reflect the cost if you pay month-to-month. All five services offer some sort of discount if you pay for at least a year upfront.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited about test-driving one or more of these ecommerce website builders. My guess is that you’ll probably figure out if you’re in the Shopify/BigCommerce/3dcart or the Wix/Squarespace camp first, but there’s no reason you can’t check out both types of software.

That said, anyone planning to scale their product and sales numbers dramatically over time should probably stick with one of the three ecommerce workhorse platforms. There’s a reason sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace cap their ecommerce plan subscriptions at under $50/month, while platforms like 3dcart, BigCommerce, and Shopify can charge upwards of $200 per month for their best ecommerce packages. You’re usually paying for a larger quantity and better quality of features that help you manage the complicated logistics of selling online.

It’s a safe bet, in this case, to use pricing as a general guideline for the ability to shore up and scale your backend functions as your store grows by various dimensions. Still, Wix and Squarespace would not be included here at all if they weren’t both excellent options for smaller stores.

The thing that’s hard to nail down in a summary article like this is the quality and usefulness of the features you’ll need for your store. By listing a few highlights for each sitebuilder, we’re just giving you a flavor of the software. While we can confidently say that all the platforms in this article cover the “basics” of running an online store, that assurance is no substitute for your own experience. If you’re still stuck or confused after your research and testing, turn to the platform’s customer service and sales support for clarification. You need a good excuse to put those support systems to work before signing up anyway, so go for it!

Happy software testing!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Website Builders Explained

Website Builders Explained

Website builders are a type of software that turns visual design elements into HTML / CSS files that browsers can show as a website. Modern website builders are usually bundled in some form with hosting to provide storage & server abilities for those files.

As an analogy, imagine a website is like a physical home. Website builders are a bit like pre-built houses or condominiums with infrastructure & services provided. Usually the land (hosting), address (domain) and services are bundled with the home. There are usually costs & limitations, but also much more convenience compared to building a home from scratch.

That’s the short version. But there’s more to website builders than the definition. I’ll cover common questions like –

  • What Are Website Builders?
  • How Do Website Builders Work?
  • Are Website Builders Worth It?
  • Are Website Builders Good for SEO?
  • What Makes a Good Website Builder?
  • What Website Builders Are Best?
  • What Website Builder Should I Use? & Next Steps

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 Are Website Builders?

Website builders are a type of software that turns design and content elements into valid HTML / CSS that can show up in an Internet browser. They have a long history, but have dramatically changed in recent years.

As long as the Web has been around, people have wanted to create websites without writing the underlying HTML & CSS programming languages. Back in the early days, website builders were actual desktop computer programs that you had to download and use (FrontPage FTW!!). They were called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software.

But as the Internet, software, and consumers developed, website builders started rapidly evolving and changing. Nowadays, very few people write HTML & CSS from scratch.

Everybody, including seasoned front end web developers, use some form of what used to be called a “website builder”. Everyone is looking to build websites faster with more features and better design elements. The “website builder” market has shifted so that now it’s much more common to hear people using templates, libraries, themes, theme frameworks, content management systems, scripts, etc to build faster and better.

Because of this shift, what we now call a “website builder” really refers to a web-based software that provides not only the actual HTML & CSS conversion but also the hosting, security, customer support, integrations, media storage, and marketing tools that most people want when they say “I want a website”. The technical term should be “hosted website builder.”

For an analogy, think about different housing types. Originally, a “website builder” was simply pre-cut construction material to help you build a house quickly. Nowadays, a “website builder” is more like a condominium or townhome development. You have way less say over what you want. But – you have a home that you can customize while simply paying a fee for garbage pickup, lawn care, maintenance, etc.

For the rest of these FAQs, we’ll be focused specifically on hosted website builders that not only build your website’s HTML & CSS but also bundle hosting, security, support, etc into a single subscription fee.

How Do Website Builders Work?

Website builders usually use proprietary software, so it’s hard to say *exactly* how they work, but they all work in broadly the same way.

When you sign up for an account, hosted website builders will carve out server space that runs proprietary software that provides both a “backend” where you can login and manage your design & content along with your actual website files that browsers will use to create the “frontend” that visitors will see.

Here’s a backend example from the Wix backend…

Wix MenuAnd what shows up on the front-end…

Double Arrow Vet

This setup is exactly the same as it would be if you bought your own hosting and installed your own software (ie, WordPress).

But – their software is built to have a drag and drop interface that allows you to literally drag and drop and edit your website. When you save your work, the software will convert your backend work into a combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript files that will render in an Internet browser. And – your hosting usage is automatically optimized and calibrated to their platform.

Are Website Builders Worth It?

It depends on your goals, need & knowledge.

If you are confident in your abilities to solve problems and you want to build a long-term project with lots of versatility, then I highly recommend that you stay away from hosted website builders, and learn how to set up a website on your own hosting account – that goes for a multitude of different types of websites.

If you value convenience and speed, have budget for the monthly fees, and want to DIY, then yes, website builders are absolutely worth it. They provide most everything you’d need in a single, predictable monthly price. They have tailored customer support and handle all the updates.

It really is like shopping for a house vs. a condominium. Homeowners may swear up and down about owning a home. But the thing about a house is that…like you are responsible. Even if you don’t cut the grass, you have to pay someone to. And you have figure out who to call. You can build a pool…but you have to maintain it.

Condo owners just cut a check to the Homeowners’ Association. But – they also have to abide by the HOA’s rules and are inherently limited to what they can do to their property,

Are Website Builders Good for SEO?

It depends on your goals, needs & knowledge. This question is a bit like asking whether a condo is good for hosting parties.

There’s a few variables to clear up – like, how hands-on are you with parties? Do you just want the place to look nice so that you can focus on the food or are you looking to build out the ultimate party pad over the course of a couple of years?

Website builders do have a bit of notoriety with SEO because of Flash. Back in the day, every website builder used Flash for their drag & drop functionality. They would also have some weird URL structures. Due to that the old school Googlebot had an impossible time crawling & indexing websites built with common web-based website builders.

SiteBuilder SEO Duplicate Content

Most of the big brand website builders do not have this issue any more, and Googlebot is much better than circa-2012. Some website builders do still have lingering issues, but general “SEO” is no longer the main purchasing concern in my opinion. The main concern should be what *you* want to do with SEO. Here’s some examples from past clients / readers of mine.

Client A wanted to build out a large presence in a sub-market of the senior housing industry. They wanted to rank for certain high-competitive terms and wanted to update & revise many pages with Schema markup and roll out a regular content strategy. They were using Wix. My first recommendation? Stop everything and leave Wix. Spend money to rebuild the entire site on self-hosted WordPress. Using a hosted website builder like Wix would simply not have the flexibility to run the type of content & integrations that we needed.

Client B wanted to build a website for a hyper-local deli & restaurant. They wanted to rank for specific local terms & brand names. They had no time or budget to keep the site updated – other than the menu, which they needed to edit every week via smartphone. They had used Wix in the past, and knew how to add food integrations. I told them to go with it – and they do very well with the SEO that they need (ie, Google Maps, local terms, and menu terms).

Client C launched a side-project on personal fitness. They didn’t have huge plans for it – and just wanted to get going. Due to time and simplicity, they just got going on Squarespace. It worked for a few years until all of the sudden, their blog took off. They need plugins & capabilities that you can only get with your own hosting account. So they bit the bullet and built their own site with WordPress on a self-hosted VPS account and migrated away from Squarespace. Organic traffic has since dramatically improved but mainly because they can easily manage the content – not because Squarespace’s SEO was “bad”.

As so on – see it depends on what “SEO” you need. Website builders are not “bad” for SEO. But they aren’t “good” for SEO unless they match what you want to do.

What Makes a Good Website Builder?

A good website builder is one that helps you succeed at your project. That’s all.

If the “BEST!” website builder has so many features or limitations or whatever that it keeps you from achieving your goals, then, well, it’s not the “BEST!”.

Sure, there are absolutely some website builders that are better than others. Some I wouldn’t touch with ANY project – no matter what.

But for yourself, write out some features that you want. Rank the features. Write out what your goals are. What you write is not as important as the fact that you are thinking through what you want.

For some people, drag and drop might not be as important as data export…which might not be as important as phone customer support.

A good website builder should, though, produce readable, crawlable, and indexable HTML & CSS that visitors can access. Beyond that – it’s up to you.

What Website Builders Are Best?

Again – the implied preposition here is “for you.” With that in mind, I created a little quiz and summary to help you find the best website builder for you.

I’ve reviewed some of the big name brands like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, GoDaddy and WordPress.com. But there are plenty of options out there – and even some hybrid options like BoldGrid which overlays a drag and drop functionality over a self-hosted WordPress install. There are brand new ones like GATOR and plenty of others. Read all my website builder reviews here.

What Website Builder Should I Use?

It depends! Go to these resources to figure out some ideas –

  • Best Overall Website Builder
  • Best Simple Website Builders
  • Best Online Store Builder
  • Best Wix Alternatives
  • Best WordPress Alternatives

Next Steps

Your next steps should be to go research based on your goals – and get started with your project! Most website builders offer a short free trial period. Take advantage of those to make a final call.

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