How To Build A Squarespace Website For Your Business The Easy Way

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Everything You Need To Know About Shopify POS Hardware: Cost, Where To Buy, & More

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What Is Squarespace & Is It Right For You?

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The Complete Guide To Customer Financing For Small Businesses

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How To Start An Online Tutoring Business: Prerequisites & 8 Steps To Success

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How To Sell At A Farmers’ Market (Plus 7 Clever Tips To Succeed Before You Even Get Started)

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Everything You Need To Know About Merchant Services

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The Truth About Third-Party Payment Processing

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The Best Free Credit Card Readers For Small Businesses

We’ve done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.

A lot of third-party processors are also mobile processors. Their primary offering is usually the mobile app and card reader. Sometimes, they make money not only on processing cards but also on other value-added services related to running a business in general, services such as invoicing and payroll processing. (Yeah, we’re looking at you, Square.) Once a merchant signs up, the processor will try to upsell and cross-sell these services to the merchant. It makes sense for some merchants — the centralized management of their business is an advantage.

Since an expensive reader can discourage signup, third-party processors often offer readers for free. They make it very obvious on their website that you can get a free reader. However, keep in mind that these services are designed for small businesses — they don’t expect you to need a lot of equipment. Your first reader might be free, but you will typically have to pay for any additional readers.

As to merchant account providers, they typically work with more established businesses that can afford (sometimes expensive) countertop registers and credit card terminals. It’s pretty rare to see credit card terminals given away for free. When they are, it’s usually only a “rental,” and you’ll have to return the equipment when you leave the processor. However, as mobile processing becomes more and more popular, many merchant account providers are starting to offer mobile processing services as a convenience to their existing customers. With these mobile processing services, the merchant account providers do tend to give away free mobile credit card readers. Sometimes the information is clearly advertised but not always. You might need to contact your payment processor and ask if you’re interested in adding on a mobile POS and card reader.

Let’s be clear: Just because you’ll get something for free doesn’t mean that you should immediately sign up with a particular processor. There are some negative issues you might wish to consider.

Why You Should Be Wary Of Free Credit Card Reader Offers

As already alluded to earlier, free card readers are generally provided as loss leaders — something provided for free or at a drastically reduced cost to bring in a new long-term customer. Often, this means that the reader will be a lower-cost magstripe reader, with no EMV capability. If that is the case, then you might not be able to recover losses from purchases made with cards using stolen credit card numbers. At this late date, there is very little reason to settle for a reader that doesn’t support chip cards, and doing so can make your business look a bit antiquated.

If you are getting a free mobile card reader (or a “free” device of any kind) from a merchant account provider, be aware that there could be a tradeoff. Of course, a top-rated merchant account provider such as Payment Depot will deal with their customers honestly and fairly and will give a free reader under their usual no-contract deal. Other merchant account providers, however, might require you to sign a contract to tie yourself to them for a more extended period. Read your contract carefully, so you understand which services you’ve signed up for and for how long. You should also understand how to get out of the contract if you’re not happy with the provider.

Despite the negatives and our caveats, all of these free readers will be serviceable. If you need one of these devices to get your business off the ground or for occasional off-premises use (e.g., trade shows), then these free readers should fit the bill.

How To Find The Best Free Credit Card Reader

Below, we will highlight four free readers currently available in the market. But, before we delve into the specifics of each, we want to point out a few benchmarks you should think about when considering any free reader.

  • Reader Type: Typically, these readers will read magstripe and potentially EMV cards. It’s unusual to get a contactless (i.e., NFC) reader for free. Keep in mind that a magstripe reader could create a liability issue for you under some circumstances, so it is better to have a reader that can take both magstripe and EMV.
  • Connection: There are two types of connections — physical connection or Bluetooth. The physical connectors can break off if you’re not careful, and a reader that uses a Bluetooth connection still needs to be periodically charged. We typically recommend a Bluetooth connection over a physical one since smartphones and tablets seem to be phasing out the headphone jack. For example, all the recent iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 do not have headphone jacks.
  • Software: A card reader is just a piece of hardware. Without its supporting software, the reader is useless. Each business is different, however, so its software needs are different. Some businesses will prefer a no-nonsense basic mobile processing app. Others might want additional functionalities, such as inventory tracking. Be sure to think through your software needs before you decide on a free reader.
  • Battery Life: Battery life applies to Bluetooth and/or EMV readers. Ideally, you want something that can last you at least one day, so you can process credit card charges without interruption.
  • Peripherals: A basic, pocketable magstripe reader that plugs into a headphone jack or Lightning connector won’t have any peripherals, but Bluetooth and/or EMV readers need cables to charge them up. Other nice-to-have items include carrying cases, docks, clips, and even lanyards that allow the user to carry the reader without losing or damaging it.

Now, let’s look at four simple readers that are available for free. For ease of reference, we’ve put the card reader comparison information into a table:

Payment Depot Swift B200 Square Magstripe Reader Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader
Reader Type EMV, Magstripe Magstripe EMV, Magstripe EMV, Magstripe
Connection Type Bluetooth Headphone jack (for Android) or Lighting connector (for Apple devices) Bluetooth Bluetooth
Processing Software SimpleSwipe Square Point of Sale Shopify Lite or Shopify POS PayPal Here
Battery Life 420 transactions Not applicable 400 chip or 700 swipe transactions “all day”
Peripherals Micro USB charging cable; mounting sticker None Stand, micro USB charging cable, mounting sticker, travel case Device clip, micro USB charging cable

There are plusses and minuses to any free card reader. Ultimately, the “best reader” is the one that fits with the specific needs of your business.

Swift B200 From SwipeSimple

The Swift B200 from SwipeSimple is a Bluetooth magstripe and EMV reader. The parent company, CardFlight, makes two models of readers: the B200 and the B250 (which we review here). The B200 is the less expensive of the two readers, and it lacks the NFC card reader function in the B250.

The B200 can pair with both iOS and Android devices. It uses a rechargeable battery that lasts about 420 transactions. There’s a battery indicator LED light on the device, and the box includes a USB cable. You also get a lanyard and a carrying case.

SwipeSimple’s mobile processing app is available through several providers, but we recommend Payment Depot. Payment Depot is one of our top-rated providers because of its great customer service and fair, transparent pricing. The company also offers a mobile processing plan exclusive to Merchant Maverick readers, which includes the B200 reader for free (you can upgrade to the B250 for $25). You’ll pay $10/month plus 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction with no monthly minimums or additional fees.

We like the SwipeSimple app, and you can find more details about the app in our review. The app takes care of all your credit card processing needs without the clutter of too many extra features. If you’re a no-nonsense kind of person, this might be the app for you.

SwipeSimple Swift B200 Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free (when you sign up through Payment Depot)
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: SwipeSimple
  • Connection: Bluetooth

Square Magstripe Reader

The Square Magstripe Reader is, as its name says, just a magstripe reader. This reader has been Square’s trusty free reader for many years, and it hasn’t evolved much. Of course, when Apple stopped providing headphone jacks on its phones, Square had to adapt to come up with the Lightning connector for its reader. (Soon, it will have to adapt again for Android phones, as Samsung seems to be phasing out headphone jacks too.)

Square


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Read our Review

The Square Magstripe Reader does not need charging, and it’s small enough to fit in your pocket to be carried around. There’s a certain elegance in that sort of simplicity, even though it’s only a magstripe reader that can open the merchant up to liability from fraudulent cards.

Square does offer a tradeoff for that liability, and, for some, the risk might be worth it. The Square magstripe reader works with the very robust (and free) Point of Sale app as well as opening up the rest of Square’s highly-rated (and value-added) services to you. In addition to processing cards at 2.75% per transactions, the Point of Sale app can also track inventory, manage employee hours, keep track of appointments, and do much more. So before you rule Square out based solely on its magstripe reader, we encourage you to think about your company’s future needs and see if Square might be a fit for you after all. Here are our full Square review and our Point of Sale app review to help you make a better-informed decision.

If you decide you want to upgrade to one of Square’s other devices later, Square offers financing for all hardware purchases starting at $49 — conveniently, the price of its Contactless + Chip card reader.

Square Magstripe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free (additional readers $10)
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe
  • Companion Software: Square Point of Sale
  • Connection: headphone jack or Lightning connector

Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader

Shopify is better known as an online shopping cart and eCommerce platform. With its free POS software and credit card reader, though, it appears to be branching into stores with physical locations. The Shopify reader is of a proprietary design. It’s a magstripe and EMV reader that comes with a charging cradle. Packaged in a neat little carrying case, you’ll also find a micro USB charging cable, mounting hardware, and everything else you need.

Shopify Lite


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Shopify’s Chip & Swipe Reader connects to a mobile device through Bluetooth. The reader can process 400 chip transactions or 700 swipe transactions on one charge. It works with Shopify POS, which runs on both iOS and Android devices. If you subscribe to any of Shopify’s eCommerce plans, the POS app and hardware are included as part of your service. However, if you’re just interested in the mobile app and some tangential eCommerce features, you can opt for the Shopify Lite plan, which goes for $9/month and 2.7% per transaction. It doesn’t include access to all of the advanced features, but as a mobile offering, it’s quite serviceable.

Be sure to check out our detailed review of the Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader. We have reviewed Shopify’s eCommerce plans as well as its Shopify Lite plan and Shopify POS software. Take a quick look at the reviews and see if Shopify is a good fit for you.

Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: Shopify POS (with eCommerce plan or Shopify Lite)
  • Connection: Bluetooth

PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader

PayPal first made its name as an online payments processor. These days it’s more of an all-in-one solution for businesses, including its free mobile software, PayPal Here, and the free card reader that comes with it. Like most other free readers in this article, the PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader is a magstripe and EMV reader that connects to a mobile device via Bluetooth. The reader comes with a micro USB charger and a clip for attaching the reader to the mobile device.

PayPal Here


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According to PayPal, the reader has enough battery to last all day. However, a little digging in the comments section of reviews and tech support messages suggests that some people have issues with the battery life. So you might want to proceed with caution if long battery life is important to you.

PayPal, like its closest competitor, Square, used to offer a free basic card reader. However, it discontinued that offer and implemented account restrictions on merchants who use the basic magstripe reader (see our PayPal Here review for more information on that). The free Chip & Swipe reader is a nice alternative to this policy. The mobile app is free to use, with transactions processing at 2.7%.

Signing up with PayPal gives you access to all its payment-related services. Make sure you understand the full scope of PayPal’s business as you consider whether or not to get the PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader. And if you do want a mobile card reader with contactless support, check out the PayPal Chip & Tap reader.

PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: PayPal Here
  • Connection: Bluetooth

As you look through the reviews, don’t forget to look at the upgraded readers available from each provider. You might wish to take these readers into account, so you’ll know how much more it might cost you in the future to upgrade.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Promise Of A Free Card Reader

Mobile card readers are usually loss leaders used to entice merchants to sign up with a particular card processor. The free readers tend to be a simple piece of hardware without a lot of extras, and they tend not to be able to read NFC signals, so customers won’t be able to tap to pay. For the card processors, free readers are merely a way to introduce you to their other services.

Before you sign up, it’s important to research the processing company to make sure the mobile software and other features are worthwhile and that the pricing works for you. Otherwise, while you might get your free card reader, you will suffer the administrative headaches or reduced profits that come with choosing the wrong credit card processing company.

Lastly, don’t forget to read our article, The Best Credit Card Readers For Your Small Business, for a truly comprehensive discussion on the best card readers in the marketplace today.

Have you used any of these free readers? If so, what’s your experience with them?

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Zoho Sites Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Zoho Website Builder

Zoho is a software company that has a suite of products designed to help business owners get their businesses up and running online. Their website builder, Zoho Sites, is an all-inclusive website builder, which means it includes everything you need to create your site (from the builder itself to the hosting).

See Zoho’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Zoho’s website builder a try for a full Zoho Sites Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

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

What Is Zoho Sites?

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

As far as competition, Zoho Sites competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, Strikingly, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and integration with their plethora of Zoho products. Zoho offers several website templates you can customize with no coding or design experience required, and also gives you the opportunity to integrate with their marketing and optimization tools.

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 Zoho Sites Website Builder

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

Easy Sign Up Process, Onboarding, + Free Trial

One of the biggest pros of using Zoho Sites is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s a few basic steps of entering your information, picking a theme, and then you’re in.

Zoho also makes it incredibly easy once you’re inside the platform. Their onboarding process (AKA the information they give you to get you up and running and actually using the software) is very straightforward.

They walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your website as soon as you choose a theme.

The entire process makes it easy to get your website up and customized in a matter of minutes, even if you have no online experience.

Zoho also offers a 15-day free trial when you sign up, and they don’t require a credit card to use it. Most software providers offer a “test run” of their products, but it comes with caveats. You either have to choose a plan upfront and enter your card info to be automatically charged when the trail is over, or have limitations on your features, or both. 

Zoho allows you to truly test out their platform for 15 days before you make a decision — no strings attached.*

*Note – so technically, you’d have to sign up for some of their product integrations if you want to implement them in the free plan. I still consider it no strings attached, because you get all of the basic functionality / inclusions in the free trial.

Template Design / Functionality

When I’m looking at all inclusive website builders, I want to be sure I look at both the templates’ design and functionality to get an accurate picture of what the builder can do.

Zoho also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). They have a lot of variable designs that you can use as the foundation of your website.

Once you choose a template, you can customize it to your brand. Zoho is what’s known as a “drag and drop” editor, where you can “drag” premade sections and “drop” them on your page. It makes customizing your site simple, straightforward, and fast.

With Zoho, can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), as well as the individual sections, and you can add new elements to a section layout. However, you can’t create a new section from scratch using the drag and drop editor.

You can, however, customize your template using the CSS and HTML editor, which is a big benefit if you have coding experience but want to use a template as a starting point.

All in all, Zoho’s Website Builder has a great balance of convenience and control in terms of template design, which is a big plus for an all-inclusive website builder.

Some Product Integration

Another thing that makes Zoho’s Website Builder unique is their product integrations. Zoho has their own CRM, Marketing, and Analytics products, and these integrations are easily accessible in the site builder.

Zoho-Integration-CRM

One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are all part of paid plans (more on that in a bit).

This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders (particularly if you went the self-hosted WordPress route).

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 Zoho Sites as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Zoho is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and business owners, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with some sort of limitation, whether it be pages, storage, or even the number of forms you can have on a site.

zoho pricing and limits

It’s also worth noting that Zoho doesn’t offer a free plan. There’s a free trial, which lasts for 15 days, but if you want to continue on with their service, you have to choose from one of the paid plans.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a “con”, but if you’re looking for a website builder for a short-term project, you can probably find a builder with similar features who offers a standard free plan (ie, Wix or Weebly).

Limited Feature Set – Technical

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, Zoho does include some product integration that’s built-in (like their CRM) or can be added on (like their MarketingHub). But when it comes to outside integrations, Zoho is fairly limited.

For example, let’s take a look at their apps:

There isn’t much to built-in from an integration perspective outside of what Zoho offers in their product suite, and even then, there’s not a ton of clarity around what these features actually are or do.

Now, you could add your own integrations through code snippets. However, if you want something that you can easily “plug in” to your site and have it just work without you messing with code, then Zoho leaves a lot to be desired.

Zoho Review Conclusion

Zoho makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, and they also offer substantial customization options for more experienced website builders through their HTML and CSS editing.

See Zoho’s current pricing 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. Zoho’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 Zoho fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

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

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