Guest Post by Ben Barnes By mid-April, eCommerce sales in the United States and Canada saw a 129 percent increase in year-over-year growth. A recent report by analysts at global retail insights firm Edge by Ascential anticipates COVID-19 will add £5.3 billion ($7 billion) to UK eCommerce in 2020, taking the yearly prediction from £73.6 billion ($97.8 billion) to £78.9 billion ($104.8 billion). As well as being a short-term boost for eCommerce retailers, this global upward trend is predicted to continue globally as shoppers experience the convenience and ease of shopping online. For eCommerce retailers, this serves as a wake-up call to review your existing eCommerce set-up, ensuring it’s fit for purpose as competition intensifies with increased consumer demand. To help kickstart your review process, we’ve identified six key signs that your enterprise eCommerce website isn’t fit for purpose and won’t meet the demands of consumers who are spending more money online than ever before. 1. You can't personalize the customer experience Personalization is extremely important for consumers when engaging with a brand. Because of this, it’s important to personalize the experience as much as possible across every touchpoint. However, this goes beyond simply personalizing emails and personal communications. One area eCommerce retailers can explore to enhance and personalize the customer experience is their own website. In-house marketers who are personalizing their web experiences and who are able to quantify the improvement see, on average, a 19 percent uplift in sales. With this in mind, if your brand is stuck on a platform that doesn’t allow personalization of the customer experience, or requires complex coding and bespoke work to do so, it’s a sign you need to make a change. Some of the elements that can and should be personalized on an eCommerce website include: Homepage offers Promotional banners Recommended products Cross-sell and up-sell products How products are sorted in category pages 2. Your site doesn't connect with your existing systems Given that personalization is a key success factor for online retailers ensuring that you have the right back-end systems in place and that your eCommerce site can connect to them is vital. Systems that enable retailers to deliver personalized experiences include customer relationship management software and email marketing/automation platforms. eCommerce platforms that connect to these systems usually do so through a patchwork of integrations. While this may work for smaller retailers we’re seeing a big shift in the way core retail systems like these are purchased and integrated into retail operations. Rather than relying on integrations to connect these systems, new Unified Commerce platforms that incorporate CRM, eCommerce, inventory management, and email marketing run from one central database with no integrations between systems. The result is that all data, from product information to customer purchase history, is available across all channels in real-time so are updated instantly. It helps brands to focus on real-time, data-driven decision making. From an eCommerce perspective this means that online stock will always be up-to-date, loyalty programs and vouchers can be used across all channels, and that customer data can be used to personalize the online experience without relying on multiple systems which have the potential to go wrong if integrations fail. 3. It’s not mobile-friendly We’ve known since a Google algorithm update back in 2015 that the mobile-friendliness of your website is a key ranking factor. If your site isn’t fully optimized for mobile and tablet users, it’s almost certainly having an impact on your rankings and the organic traffic coming to your website. The reason that Google made this change is because they recognize more consumers are reaching for a mobile device when searching online. Omnichannel shopping habits require your website to be accessible regardless of the device. According to Think With Google, 6 in 10 internet users start shopping on one device but continue or finish on a different one, and 82 percent of smartphone users say they consult their phones on purchases they're about to make in a store. Websites that are built on older platforms or that haven’t been refreshed or updated for two to three years may well benefit from an upgrade or even migration to another platform. In early 2020, we saw many eCommerce businesses move away from the Magento 1 platform as it reached "end-of-life." 4. You can't integrate a customer loyalty program Loyalty programs are important to consumers and brands need to work harder to develop programs that work across all channels. According to a 2018 report by Bond, over 70 percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand if it has a good loyalty program and 77 percent say that a loyalty program is more likely to make them stay with a brand. With this in mind, a loyalty program that only works in-store and not online, and vice versa, won’t satisfy the needs of your consumers. And, as an increase in online shopping continues to drive customers to your website, retaining your customers is just as important as winning them in the first place. A loyalty increase of 7 percent can boost lifetime profits per customer by as much as 85 percent. Ensuring that your enterprise eCommerce site allows customers to spend points and vouchers that they have collected across all channels, not just online is crucial. Typically, retailers are using different systems for their online and offline channels which can be a problem. If your eCommerce site can’t provide this cross-channel functionality, it might be time to consider a Unified Commerce platform if you are a multi-channel retailer. 5. There is no reporting functionality Any retailer that is operating online should be doing so with a data-first mindset. This could be using software to pull data from social media on the latest trends or using tools like Google Analytics to monitor and report on website activity. If you’re not harnessing the power of data you’re missing out on a myriad of opportunities. Although Google Analytics is the go-to for many eCommerce and digital marketers your eCommerce platform should also have its own built-in reporting suite. Google Analytics is great for telling you where your traffic is coming from, how your campaigns are performing, and other key statistics such as conversion rate, but it doesn’t give you the whole picture. An enterprise eCommerce platform that will do the job its meant to do and that will support your growth adds an extra layer to your Google Analytics data. For example, you should look for an eCommerce platform that offers a suite of additional reporting metrics including sales by category, brand and collection, best sellers, best customers, low stock, and search history. 6. You can't connect to third-party sales channels For some retailers, selling through third-party channels like ASOS marketplace, Amazon, and Zalando is just as important as selling through their own website. It’s therefore crucial that your own eCommerce website makes the process of uploading and supplying information to sites like these as easy and efficient as possible. One of the main advantages of having an eCommerce platform that connects to channels like these is that it saves information having to be inputted multiple times into multiple systems. The best eCommerce platforms allow users to list products on Amazon and eBay from within the CMS, without having to manage listings in multiple accounts and platforms. In addition to listings, consolidating sales data from all of your channels in your eCommerce platform helps to get a quick, clean, and holistic view of your online sales performance. It also means that you can manage shipping in one system saving your team significant amounts of time and effort. In summary COVID-19 has certainly had a big short-term impact on online shopping. With those effects also predicted to have a longer-term impact as more shoppers reach for their smartphone when feeling the urge to make a purchase, now is the time for retailers to be optimizing and updating their online shopping experience. The market is full of enterprise eCommerce options, although some of the bigger names may not provide the flexibility you need to get ahead of competitors and provide your customers with the personalized, optimized experience they expect. Our experience is that many retailers are moving away from "off-the-shelf" eCommerce solutions and looking for bespoke solutions that provide better value for money and that offer the flexibility required to meet changing consumer shopping habits. Ben Barnes (ACIM) is co-owner at Barnes & Shirley, a digital marketing agency that works with software businesses and manufacturers to generate more business using inbound marketing. Ben is a Diploma qualified CIM practitioner with eight years of practical experience implementing strategy reviews and day-to-day tactical plans. Follow our updates on LinkedIn.
This is part four of our small business owner expert roundup series. Creating a successful business from the ground up definitely comes with challenges. It can be anything from not having enough funding to not getting the right customers. You have to put in hard work, countless hours, and make several sacrifices just to keep your business running. For this final article in our expert roundup series, we asked the experts what their biggest challenges were when they first started their businesses. Here's what they said. Having several new responsibilities and limited time “The biggest challenge when starting my own small business was learning to navigate the myriad of legal responsibilities that a small business must abide by. Thankfully there are many new companies out there geared towards small business solutions — ad hoc legal services, payment processing companies, and payroll providers, for example — that make it much easier to navigate these complex spaces.” — Jhonn Thomassen, Owner of Marine Park Coffee “My biggest challenge was finding time to work and do everything exactly as I wanted to. That's one of the main obstacles for new business owners; you can't quit your full-time job (either in the workforce or as a stay at home parent!) but in order to succeed, you have to put 100% into your business. The only answer I have found to this challenge is creativity and coffee.” — Denise Stern, CEO of Let Mommy Sleep “The biggest challenge I had was being overwhelmed. When I started, I had a mile-long to-do list. In time, I learned that the list doesn’t become smaller, but it does become more manageable when you do one thing at a time.” — Jen Teague, Owner of Jen Teague, LLC “There's so much to do at once that you can't always devote the time to everything to make it perfect. Sometimes you just have to say 'good enough,' cross it off your list, and move on to the next thing. That was really hard for me. It might be your baby, but you can't afford to get so bogged down designing the website that you don't get anything else done.” — Lindsey Myers, Founder of Concrete Blonde Consulting Not knowing the everything “The biggest challenge I have had is navigating the unknown, especially when it comes to things like income tax. For the most part, I just keep track of my expenditures and work hard to be very organized.” — Ashlyn Biedebach, By The Brook Birth Doula “Conversion rates on our website. They were abysmal. The e-commerce average is somewhere around 2.3%. Ours was 0.25%. We really had no clue what the metric was at first and we struggled literally for a year to get our heads around why nobody was buying anything.” — Mark Aselstine, Founder of Uncorked Ventures “The biggest challenge was developing structure — putting the puzzle together, deciding how different tasks played to different people's strengths.” — Emily Wood, CEO and Creative Director of Raise Vegan Inc. “Having to figure out how to get things accomplished with little money and limited resources.” — V. Michael Santoro, Co-Founder of Vaetas, LLC Trying to build and maintain a customer base “Getting business! It is hard to network with credibility and prove you know what you are doing before you have actually done it. It really goes back to the who you know. Service type businesses are lucky because you know when you need a plumber, but in something like ours where we are creating video content and helping businesses understand how to develop a video program, it is tough. A lot of businesses don’t even know they need a video program, so it becomes a build and teach business. We create the business and then have to teach consumers how to use it. The challenge is to do all of that in a seamless, cohesive way to get their business.” — Kayla Flam, COO of Social Snacks “Making a website, learning SEO to get noticed, waiting for clients to call, and then dealing with the different personalities and expectations of clients.” — Jess Perna, Owner of JessPerna.com “The biggest challenge we had when we started our own business was finding how to cope with the number of new customers all at once. Sometimes when we are starting a new company we focus so hard on how to get to success, we don’t know how to handle the success when it comes. Planning ahead for almost any situation will get you in the perfect business mindset.” — Michael Russell, Ratchet Straps USA Dealing with money and payments “Keeping an even flow of revenue. Again, you have to stay on top of the sales pipeline and keep cash moving in quickly and profitably to ensure you have the money to maintain and grow your business.” — Gary Romano, President and CEO of Civitas Strategies, LLC “Getting paid on time! My biggest clients also took the longest to pay — much longer than the terms that we initially agreed upon. So while initially had an urge to go ballistic on them, I had to pull back because they owed me (and continue to owe me) a significant amount of money each month.” — Rafe Gomez, Co-Owner of VC Inc. Marketing Having to make the tough decisions “Making tough decisions. Starting a business requires you to make impossibly tough decisions — decisions that you just can't tell are right or wrong to make. It's not like a math problem that can be solved or reasoned out. Instead, these business decisions require you to go with your gut and trust your instincts, which was something that I, as a more analytical and cautious type of person, had to get used to.” — Peter Yang, Co-Founder and CEO of Resume Writing Services
This is part three of our small business owner expert roundup series In order to get your small business up and running, you have to consider how your customers will pay you. In today's world, accepting only cash is a pretty risky decision. It's clear that cash is becoming an outdated form of payment. To keep up with your competitors and be successful, you should focus on accepting a variety of payment types including credit card payments, debit card payments, mobile payments, online payments, and maybe even app payments from Venmo or Apple Pay. Basically, the more payment types you can accept, the more customers you will be able to service. We asked the experts if they had any tips or advice for small business owners who are looking into payment processing services. This is what they said. Think of your customers “Customers expect you to offer as many different payment options as possible. Your job as a small business owner is to meet the customer where they are and how they want to interact with you. More often than not the place a customer wants to interact with your company is online and the way they want to pay is electronically. This means you have to offer as many ways to purchase from you as possible. The best way to effectively offer as many payment processing services as possible is to establish a strong relationship with your financial institution and communicate to them what your customers value.” — Walt Capell, President and Owner of Workers Compensation Shop.com. “Make the paying process quick and easy while providing alternative methods of payment. Ensure that the payment processing service incorporates a mobile solution as well.” — V. Michael Santoro, Co-Founder of Vaetas, LLC “This advice hangs on the use of a content management system (CMS). If using a CMS, you can easily allow your customers a multitude of payment processors. For example my site is a Shopify site and at checkout we have four checkout options (Amazon pay, Apple pay, Shopify/Stripe, and PayPal). Between all of these options every major credit card type and currency form is accepted.” — David Barbour, Co-Founder of Vivo Life Sciences “First, make it as easy as possible for the customer to pay you (this could vary from business to business). Then, if there is more than one service that offers the same ease of use for the customer, pick the one with the lowest rates for you.” — Lindsey Myers, Founder of Concrete Blonde Consulting Consider your options “Lots of them are very similar. You're looking at a 2.9% fee + 30 cents for credit card transactions almost across the board. Build that into your pricing upfront. If you have recurring fees, make sure to get software that auto-invoices for you. That has saved us so much time and money.” — Brandon Anderson, Ceralytics “Work with a company that understands all of your business operations and can advise on multiple related areas such as PCI compliance, cyber-security, and revenue-enhancing technologies.” — Carl Mazzanti, Co-Founder and Vice President of eMazzanti Technologies “While the easy route is to sign up with the ‘plug and play’ apps, it's crucial to look at all processing platforms and how they translate into dollars for you. For higher cost transactions, for example, traditional point of sale services may serve you better. As with everything in business, time spent researching is never wasted time.” — Denise Stern, CEO of Let Mommy Sleep “There are several options available, and free! Even if you have good credit and can get a standard merchant account, the extra added expense is not necessary up front. Wait until you are processing heavy loads of transactions. I once thought PayPal was not a professional looking option to my clients, but soon came to realize that they are widely accepted with little disparagement. It allows those clients that don't have traditional sources of credit and banking available to them (as well as those keeping their spending off the grid) to become customers at ease. Stripe and Square have their place as well in online and offline purchases. Stripe works well integrating with websites and other back-end applications, whereas Square seems to be maintaining offline businesses, from the crafter selling at markets and mall carts to larger retail locations. It retains its edge against PayPal, with robust integrations and portals and a variety of new services. I have PayPal, Square, and Stripe, specifically for the reasons above, and none of them is costing me more than the other. I like the fact that I can have all three and it doesn't negatively impact my accounting operations.” — Karen Eason, Owner of KE2SUCCESS “Honestly, I’ve been through three and still don’t love the solution I have now. Stay open-minded to different ways to process things. Try not to get frustrated, and when you have issues, be honest with your clients! So many of my clients use their own payment processing and I don’t know too many people who say they LOVE their processor. I use Stripe now and it works.” — Emily Rowe, Chief Executive Sensei of Social Sensei “Look for ways to reduce your payment cycle in order to improve your cash flow. We adopted a digital payment system early on, which reduced our payment cycle from weeks to days. Our average time between invoicing and getting paid is now between 3-4 days!” — Gil Gildner, Co-Founder of Discosloth Think of your business type “Depending on the type of business you have, you should make sure to have the right sort of payment gateway. For example, if you have an online store you need to make sure you can process cards on your website. When you batch out your daily sales, the funds should be received next day into your account, so you don’t lag on cash flow. Also, you should work with a processor who can give a clear breakdown of interchange pricing and set fees. Many times, someone will offer free equipment, but it comes with strings like a long-term contract. Be wary of this; make sure you’re entering into 1-year contracts and you own your equipment outright.” — Jared Weitz, CEO and Founder of United Capital Source Inc. “Small business owners looking into payment processing services should always gravitate towards payment processing companies that specialize and focus on small businesses. Additionally, small business owners should look for payment processing that has a simple fee structure, allows you to own your payment processing equipment, and also allows you to accept as many types of payment as possible, including new payment options that emerge as technology changes.” — Jhonn Thomassen, Owner of Marine Park Coffee Know what to avoid and ask for help if needed “Do not tie yourself up to long-term contracts with monthly fees. Some expect a three-year contract and you have to pay even if you close the business. Look into Paypal and Squareup for the least expensive ways to do payment processing. They are dependable and no long-term contracts.” — Jess Perna, Owner of JessPerna.com “It can be a difficult task to find a payment processing service. Ask other small business owners what service they use and why they like it, as well as the downfalls.” — Jen Teague, Owner of Jen Teague, LLC Consider fees and money “Look at all the fees and weigh them against the impacts on revenue and cash flow. I say it this way because it isn’t as simple as going for the least expensive service. You want to also receive the revenue as fast as possible (cash flow is so important). Further, you want a payment system that will generate new revenue by allowing people to pay and make purchases who may not if you were using a more constrained system or stayed with cash only.” — Gary Romano, President and CEO of Civitas Strategies, LLC "Be prepared to wait for your money. A client can deliver, but depending on which processing system you use, it can take days to a week to actually be able to use that money. We have found that the more it costs, the faster we get access to the money, but the lower the monthly cost, the longer it takes to process. So with Quickbooks, we paid less, but it took longer to get access to the funds. Credit card payments are great, but you pay to be able to use them. Know your system and know the pitfalls and it will make your life easier.” — Kayla Flam, COO of Social Snacks Think of innovation “Pick one that is staying on top of their development cycle. I've seen too many that choose a processor that gets behind on the innovation curve, and they just stagnate because they can't afford to keep up.” — Stephen Alred, KnowCap IO
This is part two of our small business owner expert roundup series. It's hard to avoid making mistakes when you're new to small business ownership. In part one of this series, small business owners explained what they think you should know before you start your business. Even though their responses may have answered some of your questions, there are probably things you still don't know simply because you lack experience. We asked the experts what they wish someone had told them before they started their businesses. Here's what they had to say. You have to be tough, patient, and prepared “Starting a new business is exciting, however getting it off the ground and sustainable is not. I wish someone had told me that having grit was essential to success. Grit is the driving force that is required to deal with and navigate the continuous obstacles that are part of the journey.” — V. Michael Santoro, Co-Founder of Vaetas, LLC “Just because you provide a valuable service doesn't necessarily mean your business will thrive. You need to be very particular about how you spend the money you receive by providing your service or selling your product. If you can be frugal and provide a needed service/product, you have a good chance to run a profitable business.” — Patrick Wright, Senior Partner and Co-Founder of The Wright Firm, LLP “I wish someone had told me the enormity of how you can never turn off your business. When you're new, you don't have the funds to delegate and you likely will want to control everything and that constant weight on your shoulders can take a toll on your physical and mental health.” — Denise Stern, CEO of Let Mommy Sleep “That running a business is ALL about solving problems. They will never stop. Once I learned that lesson, I stopped feeling bad whenever there was a problem. Instead, I now know that's it's just part of the process.” — Fiona Adler, Founder of Actioned “Having patience while making urgent decisions is a key to building a company that lasts.” — Stephen Alred, KnowCap IO It can be worth it “I wish someone told me how rewarding it could be. I have always been a skeptic, I’ve worked for large corporations and small businesses, and favored working in corporate. When you start your own business you really see that you have the chance to create something unique. Maybe the rewards of working for a big corporate company (vacation days/family leave) are something you can offer your own employees, creating a positive work environment. The fact that you can develop your own company culture is incredible.” — Emily Wood, CEO and Creative Director of Raise Vegan Inc. Failure is normal and you need to be positive “You’re going to fail, things aren’t going to work out, it’s your job to turn every loss into a win. You need to be mentally strong to be an entrepreneur. The market demand is constantly changing, and you have to change with it which means you have to be flexible.” — Nate Masterson, CMO of Maple Holistics “Before starting my own business, I wish someone had told me to stay focused on the bigger picture. It's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day routine of running a small business, but you should always have your sights set on a bigger and brighter future for your company. It's incredibly important to continue to set aside time to plan for and activate on future goals, even when the business is doing well.” — Jhonn Thomassen, Owner of Marine Park Coffee Hire and surround yourself with the right people “I wish someone would have told me to work to build a strong team from the beginning, and I wish they would’ve told me how to do it with no capital. I didn’t have money to hire talent so, naturally, I used my friends and while they are amazing people, incredibly smart and talented in their own right, I really needed people with experience within beauty and/or retail. As a business owner, your growth trajectory is largely dictated by the other people you have to lean on, strategize with, and leverage.” — Melissa Butler, Founder and CEO of The Lip Bar “Look hard at your personal strengths and weaknesses. If you have specific strengths and weaknesses, then hire people that complement those skills in order to maximize your staff.” — Walt Capell, President and Owner of Workers Compensation Shop.com. “I wish someone would have told me that it is okay to delegate the unfamiliar tasks of running a business. We need others to provide us with their expertise.” — Jen Teague, Owner of Jen Teague, LLC “Your circle of influence can help or destroy you, there is no middle term. Leaving an open mind to the negative influence of other people is the most common weakness of new entrepreneurs. Inadequate influence choices lead to the reasons why entrepreneurs give up earlier.” — Sophie Miles, CEO and Co-Founder of elMejorTrato.com Know what your people actually want “Don't underestimate the need to truly connect with and understand the customer's wants and needs. This leads to an inability to market and attract enough business to be sustainable. Without a unique business proposition that differentiates you from the rest, you may have a decent product but will never differentiate from others in the same space unless you carve out that niche.” — Brock Blake, CEO and Founder of Lendio “I wish I would've been told: Be sure there is a demand for what you're selling and find proof; don't trick yourself into thinking what you offer will be bought like hotcakes.” — Andy Curry, Owner of AndyCurry.com “I wish someone would have asked me: 'Will your customer choose this product FIRST?' There are two concepts within this question. First, small businesses need to address how they will market and distribute their product/service so that it even has a chance of being chosen by your customer. Remember, you’re a small business and without tackling this issue, your product will never get into your customer’s hands. The second concept is that small businesses must differentiate their products in an attractive way when a customer chooses you. Your product must meet a need at an attractive price point that beats the competition. By choosing your product, customers must find it easy to use and of sufficient quality for the price to give it a try.” — Kelly Bedrich, Co-Founder of ElectricityPlans.com Stay on top of the numbers “Keep track of all the numbers! Numbers are your friend. Use numbers to track expenses, sales, teams with the most positive feedback from customers, where the customers found you... Use numbers to track everything so you can know the best course of action going forward. This is invaluable!” — Greg Shepard, Owner of Dallas Maids “That professional accounting programs and services are worth the money. There are so many things you can do yourself to economize or remain connected to the business. The financial aspects can be tricky and having a pro or a system to guide you can save innumerable headaches and distractions from your core mission.” — Gary Romano, President and CEO of Civitas Strategies, LLC Originality doesn't guarantee success “The execution is far more important than the idea. Aspiring entrepreneurs always obsess over finding that one unique idea that no other person in the world has thought of. While that could work, a completely original idea is not necessary towards starting a successful company. Just think about it. There are new restaurants opening up all the time that end up being extremely successful, yet the concept is as old as time itself.” — Peter Yang, Co-Founder and CEO of Resume Writing Services
This is part one of our small business owner expert roundup series. Becoming a small business owner means you have quite a bit of responsibility. The number of things you have to consider and think through before starting a business can add a lot of weight to your decision. There are countless questions you might be asking yourself right now because you know that starting a business isn't always the easiest thing to do. Do you have a good location? Do you know what payment processing system to get? Who is your target customer? One thing that can help you get on the right track BEFORE you become a full-fledged business owner is getting advice from those who have already made the same transition. We asked some experts what they think you should know before you start a small business. Here's what they said. Be sure of your product, services, and niche “The biggest tip that anyone should know to go into starting a small business is the niche that they are attempting to go in to. If you have done your research about the product or services that you intend on offering, you should be able to tell the average cost of the product, running expenses, as well as the profit margins in case of a financial switch that could be out of anyone's hand. You should also have a considerable amount of details of who your clients or customers will be and how to find the perfect candidate for a first time customer and how to reach them.” — Michael Russell, Ratchet Straps USA “Small business tends to be twofold. First and foremost, you'll need a product or service. So you need to know how to access that product or service. Secondly, you'll need to know how you're going to sell that product or service. Both are equally important, even if most small business owners really only have a handle on one or the other when first opening.” — Mark Aselstine, Founder of Uncorked Ventures “As the owner of a small business, I feel that one of the most important things you should KNOW before starting your small business is if there is a market for your product and do you have the knowledge and expertise in the business you are starting. Before starting a business, you should have adequate capital built up and money set aside for start-up costs and several months of income since it will probably take some time before you turn a profit.” — Mike Raines, Owner of Special Risk Term Know your target market “Have a complete understanding of your market and where you fit in. Do research on your customer, how to reach them, and why you have a superior product. If you can't answer this question well first, you're going to spend a lot of time and money figuring it out.” — Aubrey Young, Creative Brand Strategist and Owner of Babe Collective “Make sure that you truly understand who your target customers are, what problems they are experiencing and what your company is going to provide as a solution that is different from the competition. Do not take this for granted and assume you know because you worked in the niche.” — V. Michael Santoro, Co-Founder of Vaetas, LLC “Before starting a small business, you should know your audience inside and out. Who are the people you're working to serve? If you don't understand them, what drives them, and what compels them to make a purchase, then your initial months will have an added layer of difficulty.”— Ronna Moore, Owner of Fairy Homes and Gardens “Understand your customers. It’s a mistake to think that all customers are good for business. Successful business owners first understand who their best customers are and focus on acquiring more like them.” — Nishank Khanna, CMO of Clarify Capital “In the early going, it is hard to resist the temptation to offer discounts in order to win business. Customer Acquisition is important, but attracting the wrong customer at the wrong price is not a sustainable business model. If you are not careful, your business can find itself in a race to the bottom.” — Walt Capell, President and Owner of Workers Compensation Shop.com. Know that it's not going to be easy “One thing aspiring entrepreneurs should know is that you shouldn’t start a business if freedom is your goal. In start-up life, oftentimes your time is not your own. I largely spend my days catering to my staff to ensure they have the tools they need to be successful and meeting to drive long-term growth of the business. And when that’s all said and done, in my extra time, I do the work I need to do. So in other words, it’s non-stop.” — Melissa Butler, Founder and CEO of The Lip Bar “It's going to be harder than you originally thought. Make sure you are incredibly passionate about the endeavor you are about to undertake and be prepared for the tough days. There will be days when you want to quit. We all have them. And that's OK. But, if you are going to make it, then you need to be able to push past the rough patches and weather the storm.” — Lindsey Myers, Founder of Concrete Blonde Consulting “The biggest thing about a small business is that you’ll get work flexibility, but you will not work less. If you want to work 9 to 5 and keep your weekends, that’s cool! But if you want to work for yourself, you need to be okay with losing a lot of the free time you currently enjoy. I personally much prefer flexibility, but I know a lot of people who would prefer to leave their phone behind on the weekends.” — Emily Rowe, Chief Executive Sensei of Social Sensei “Before starting a small business, it is hugely important to know and understand that the majority of your time and energy will be spent running and operating the business, at least for the first few years. Don't underestimate the amount of attention a new business requires, because it will need that attention in order to thrive.” — Jhonn Thomassen, Owner of Marine Park Coffee “People should really know what the day-to-day life of running that type of business involves. It's all very well to think about the type of business you'd like to run or the problem you'd like to solve, but also get an understanding of what activities would take up the bulk of your time. Would you be talking on the phone, visiting clients for meetings, coding, managing developers, etc. My last business was an online reviews platform and I loved the idea of leveling the playing field with real customer feedback. However, I soon realized that the vast bulk of my day was spent running a call center — not quite what I had envisioned!” — Fiona Adler, Founder of Actioned “While you’re developing, it’s not going to be easy. Focus on your goals, make connections you need within your niche (and outside!). And just keep growing. The one thing I believe people should know is not to expect a wage to come from your own business in the beginning. You’re going to put your time, energy, savings into this, and it may take time before you’re able to pay yourself.” — Emily Wood, CEO and Creative Director of Raise Vegan Inc. Know that it takes time “That the result of all your hard work comes many, many months, or even years, after you start out on your journey. That means you need bags of stamina, conviction, and self-belief — but not delusion! You have to tread the fine line between confidence in your original vision for the business and also the ability to listen to hard facts and new realities when they stare you in the face.” — Alistair Clay, Co-Founder of Class:PR “You’re probably not going to make money for a while, but don't be discouraged. The average business doesn’t see a profit for an average of five years, so be prepared for famine before you feast.” — Nate Masterson, CMO of Maple Holistics “No matter how awesome your product or service, it will take some time to gain attention and credibility in the marketplace. Work smart, deliver fantastic results for your customers and clients, and don't panic if the timeline is longer than you think. As long as you're bringing valuable solutions and keeping your initial costs down, you'll be positioning yourself for long-term success.” — Rafe Gomez, Co-Owner of VC Inc. Marketing “Ranking a Website In Search Engine Takes Time. Generating website traffic via search engines takes time. Search engines tend to discover websites only after several months and — depending on the industry and competition — slowly increase position in the rankings. If internet marketing is a piece of your marketing puzzle, developing a website sooner rather than later is a difference maker in the first year.” — Earl White, Co-Founder and Vice President of House Heroes LLC “It's going to take longer than you think to succeed, and that's okay. We are surrounded by the message of how people get rich quick. Building a sustainable business that's going to provide you cash flow long term is going to take a lot of work and will take longer than you think initially. Have patience and don't give up on your dream. Make sure that your approach is proven in your niche so that you are not reinventing the wheel.” — Shawn Breyer, Owner of Breyer Home Buyers “You have to be comfortable with uncertainty and stay up on sales. You may not know where your revenue is coming from in 60 day or six months, and you need to be at ease with that uncertainty. Further, you don’t know when things will change. Even if you have a large number of sales lined up at the start, they aren’t going to last forever and you may not know when they will go south on you. Accordingly, you need to always keep up on your sales pipeline. Complacency with sales is the number one mistake I see entrepreneurs (new and old) make.” — Gary Romano, President and CEO of Civitas Strategies, LLC Try to get a mentor “There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Working with a mentor will save time, money, and headaches by avoiding pitfalls previously encountered by others. Don’t overlook or underestimate the value of the personal relationship with a mentor. Friendship, companionship, support, and life lessons may come your way in addition to solid business advice.” — Carl Mazzanti, Vice President and Co-Founder of eMazzanti Technologies Keep your day job if you can “You don't have to dive in head first. The best way to build a small business is to start while you have your day job. That way, you can build up income and clients. This makes the transition to running a small business full time much less daunting. It also helps you to grow a business organically and test your business ideas without putting everything on the line. — Ashley Heidemann, Founder and CEO of JD Advising Plan, be open to learning, and create habits "Know exactly what you want your company to be and what your company will do. Have the strongest, most solid belief in that. Then be totally flexible. If you are starting a business with any scalability or even sustainability to it you will completely remake that business over and over again as you adjust for every obstacle and twist and turn that comes your way The key to surviving in business is not to the tree that stands tall, but to be the one that can bend and sway with the winds to still be standing after the worst storm.” — Tracy Hatfield, CEO of Social Snacks "Know what you don’t know! There is a lot! Be comfortable with the fact you sometimes won’t have answers to questions. Sometimes you will be faking it, so learn to look confident when you are faking it. Then figure out how to make those things you were faking into something you are. You have to grow up fast when starting a business because no matter where you start in business you are crawling. It is a steep learning curve, so you have to be someone who is willing to remake yourself over and over again to push your company to grow with you.” — Kayla Flam, COO of Social Snacks “Habits prompt inspiration. Inspiration is necessary to create consistent actions, but habits will define your success or failure. It has been said that after the seminars and conferences only five percent of the attendees use what they learned. Why? It is because the inspiration is short-term, it feels good at the moment, but it does not reach the stage of production. The biggest inspiration is to see the progress and results. The great entrepreneurs focus on behavior and practices rather than thinking, thinking is important but doing is crucial.” — Sophie Miles, CEO and Co-Founder of elMejorTrato.com Think of your hiring process “Before starting a small business, it is important to find out how you want to hire. It may not be needed now, but when you do need to hire employees, this will save you time and big bucks.” — Jen Teague, Owner of Jen Teague, LLC
Part 2 of 2 As mentioned in part one, sustaining business growth, especially in the competitive market of 2018, can be extremely difficult. Even if your business is currently doing well, you never know when a roadblock will emerge. How do you prepare yourself for obstacles and ensure you are doing everything in your power to grow, avoid standstills, and keep your company from going out of business? You start by consulting business experts who have done just that. Here are even more tips from experts who have learned how to grow a business in demanding times: Choose the right shopping platform Brandon Chopp is a Digital Manager for iHeartRaves, a festival fashion shopping platform featured in the INC. 5000 four years in a row. His company also expands to two other brands, INTO THE AM and Emazing Lights. Chopp’s vast experience has shown that choosing the right shopping platform for your business is crucial. Chopp’s business originally used the e-commerce stor Magento and ended up losing money based on the shopping platform’s inability to handle a high volume of customers. After the company’s CEO was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, the site was hit with too many users at once, and Magento’s website crashed. After learning the importance of a shopping platform, Chopp’s company switched to Shopify and has been able to handle high volume traffic ever since. Chopp says, “The moral of the story is to take your time and research every possible option before choosing your shopping platform. It can make or break your company.” Thankfully, Chopp’s company bounced back after its shopping platform mishap, but other companies may not be as lucky. Invest in yourself first CEO of Velo IT Group, Taylor Toce advises investing in not only your company, but in yourself as well. “Invest in yourself first; make yourself better by constantly challenging yourself. As a rule of thumb, if I ever feel comfortable, I know I am not doing the right thing, that I need to do to scale my business. You must become comfortably uncomfortable.” By trusting and pushing yourself to improve, you will have a solid foundation for your business. In turn, your business will grow and improve as you personally grow and improve. Hire and properly train the right employees A business can’t survive without good employees. Founder of LUMAsearch, April Davis says businesses need to take the time to hire the right employees for the job. Simply selecting employees to up your body count isn’t going to work; you need to ensure the people you hire are going to treat it like it’s their company too, rather than just another job. Davis expands, “For a small business looking to grow, it's important to have the right players at the table. They need to be people who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves. The words 'that's not my job,' should not exist in their vocabulary. They have to be dedicated to the mission.” Davis also realizes that to have this type of staff, you need to provide them with extensive training that will give them a solid foundation at the company.A thriving staff is one of the resources you need to make sure your business thrives too. Identify core values Rob Braiman, CEO of Cogent Analytics, expresses the need to identify your desired core values at the birth of your company: “Most Entrepreneurs fail due to missing fundamentals at inception, or during the lifecycle of their business. Growth cannot occur in an environment where foundational business principles have not been adhered to.” When foundational core values aren’t developed, Braiman says, “Any weaknesses are exposed usually post growth when the aforementioned have not been shown appropriate diligence. Every aspect of operations is negatively impacted by an organization without core values and a mission. Lost opportunity due to employees playing fast and loose and negatively impacting a brand has a long-lasting effect, not just with the one sale lost, but most often in relationships where potential customers view the organization negatively over a long period.” Without values and a mission to build the foundation of your business, Braiman explains the high risk of failure. Whether it is right after launch or five years down the road, a cracked foundation will likely catch up with your business. Reinvent your business when necessary President of the highly successful business CelebriDucks, Craig Wolfe advises business owners to reinvent themselves when necessary. If what you’re doing isn’t working, consider coming from a new angle. Wolfe took his original concept of celebrity look-alike rubber ducks and instead of changing the ducks to look exactly like celebrities, he decided to produce “regular rubber ducks dressed up to give you the feeling of famous people.” Wolfe explains, “It was a bit of a different way of orchestrating our same concept.” Wolfe reinvented his product, which ultimately reinvigorated his entire business. Although it was strenuous, Wolfe’s company did at least five years’ worth of its best work within one year. And since its reinvention, the business has exploded, being voted one of the “Top 100 Gifts” by Entertainment Weekly, and being featured on The Tonight Show and Conan. A different approach to a similar concept was all his business needed to reach its potential. Reflecting on his success, Wolfe concludes, “It’s like a shark. They have to keep moving or they die. And so it is with business. You must always be reinventing what you do even if you have to undermine what you did in the past.” Create an extensive FAQ section Cristian Rennella is the CEO and co-founder of oMelhowTrato, a comparison tool of financial products, such as car insurance and investment funds. He suggests content marketing through an extensive FAQ section on your business websites.Through his years of experience, Rennella tried more than 54 content marketing strategies online. He says, “I can assure you there is only one marketing idea that generated the best ROI results for my company in 2018: Answering the questions of my users as an expert.” Rennlla’s company received more than 50 queries per week and the vast majority were general questions. Rennella’s company decided to use this to its advantage and created a FAQ section to answer commonly asked questions, boosting the company’s conversion rate on customers and its Google ranking. The precise responses to specific consumer questions were indexed by Google which then listed Rennella’s site as a top result, driving further traffic and potential customers to his company. Rennella expands, “This mechanism of transforming the traditional questions and answers (FAQ) section in a blog where we published all our answers helped us to grow by 34.7 percent.”Any business, small or large, can benefit from developing a robust FAQ section for its website. Focus keywords on voice searches Reuben Kats, the COO of Falcon Marketing, suggests implementing keywords into your website with voice searches in mind. Kats explains, “According to Google, one in every five searches comes from a voice search. This shows us that the rise in the digital assistant is real and is changing the way search queries are performed. Because of the rise in voice searches, it’s important to make sure that your SEO marketing strategy shifts to meet with this growing trend.” He suggests focusing on longer keyword searches for a more natural and conversational tone. Link build for quality over quantity Kats also suggests that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to link building for your business website:“The 2018 SEO trends that deal with link building sum up to one thing: quality over quantity. What you want to accomplish and acquire with your backlinks is to add value to your company, as well as become a stronger authority in your field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that backlinks should or should not come from the most popular sites; what is important is that they should come from sites which are the most relevant to your industry.”“The success of these kinds of SEO trends moves towards developing powerful contacts in your niche, as well as building a strong relationship in the long run.” Optimize your website for mobile users Kats’ last piece of advice for growing your business is to optimize websites to satisfy mobile users. With user experience becoming more and more crucial for e-commerce business success, Kats recommends delivering a hassle-free platform to increase the chances of people engaging with your website. Optimizing for mobile users does more than just increase customer satisfaction. It also “tells search engines which pages are more useful for visitors. Search engines will always favor a website with an excellent user experience.” Kats believes “SEO trends come and go, but these are three SEO trends that should be around for the long haul.” We know sustaining business growth can be anything but easy, but this expert advice along with the advice of experts from part one provides an inventory of skills and ideas to keep your business growing.
Part 1 of 2 Starting a business isn't easy, yet keeping that business afloat is often the more grueling task. According to recent research, 20 percent of small businesses don’t make it past their first year in business, 30 percent don’t make it past their second, and an additional 50 percent don’t make it past their fifth. Only 30 percent of small businesses survive past their tenth year in business. With such staggering statistics, new businesses are rightly afraid of failure.How do you beat the odds and ensure your business is part of the 30 percent that soars past the 10-year mark? How do you give your business the competitive edge to overcome obstacles and avoid standstills? Here’s the best advice from business experts about increasing business growth in the competitive age of 2018: Avoid complacency Kokulan Mahendiran is the Founder and President of an online retailer of respiratory medical devices (CPAP machines) and accessories, Maple CPAP. He urges fellow business participants to avoid complacency: “Don't ever let yourself become content with what you're already achieving. Finding comfort after a certain degree of success is entirely natural; however, it is important to keep pushing yourself, not only to keep your company growing but to keep it competitive.”Mahendiran continues to say, “always aim to beat your targets, and make sure to increase your targets every time you beat them.” Lastly, he reminds us that “sustained growth is essential for a sustainable company.” Start a podcast In light of our technological times, Doug Staneart, CEO of The Leader's Institute, suggests that business owners start a podcast. With podcast popularity rising, Staneart decided to start a presentation skills podcast called Fearless Presentations almost a year ago. Staneart says since then, “we have seen our registrations into our presentations skills class almost double in that same time period. We find that being able to communicate with a specific group of people on a weekly basis via a voice message is more personal and intimate, so our customers are even more loyal now.” Staneart explains podcasts work well to sustain and build business growth because “we are constantly building and strengthening that personal relationship over time with each of our listeners.” Staneart provides a couple statistics to back up his findings: “According to Nielsen Ratings, podcast listenership is up 157 percent since 2014 because of smartphones.” Consequently, Staneart’s business “had an additional 27 percent increase in repeat business over the next three months.” If your business doesn’t have the resources to start a podcast, there are still options; you could find local podcasters that relate to your industry and volunteer to be a guest on their show, resulting in more customers and better customer relationships as Staneart described. Use social media to your advantage Zach Hendrix, co-founder of the lawn care service GreenPal, recommends using Facebook Groups as a simple and effective method for increasing your business growth. Hendrix explains: “No matter your niche or vertical, there is a Facebook Group you can participate in to contribute to the discussion, answer questions, and develop a presence to refer people to your business, often times when they are looking for exactly what you offer.” He continues to say: “Facebook also just launched a dedicated mobile app to support their groups' communities, so now it's easier than ever to manage the groups that you participate in, monitor the conversations, and participate while on the go throughout your day.”Hendrix and his company use Facebook Groups to monitor local group conversation regarding lawn care. If anyone is searching for a lawn care service, Greenpal respectfully lets the inquirer know about the company. Hendrix’s business has had a great success with this strategy: “We track the success and 60 percent of the time we make a recommendation, they sign up for our services.”Hendrix adds that an additional benefit to Facebook Groups is that it could work for almost any business, regardless of its niche.Michael Arking, co-founder of Social Motion Films, agrees with Hendrix that implementing social media into your business is essential for growth. Arking’s advises to “Leverage video across channels on social, on your website and marketplaces like Amazon.” He continues: “Video today is not the same as 10 years ago; it needs to be short, entertaining, and on message. For instance, on Facebook, the cost of video advertising can cost pennies compared to still image ads because Facebook prefers video for engagement. Video on Instagram is also very important, as videos get close to 10 times the clicks and engagement.”With social media’s significant effect on businesses, Hendrix and Arking use these social media platforms to improve engagement with their brands and to ultimately increase their business growth. Find tools to automate parts of your business Owner of a marketing solutions company called Empty Desk Solutions, Brittany Hardy suggests automating parts of your business when possible and necessary. Hardy begins: “Seek out time-saving tools that can automate parts of your business. It’s more than just finding the right tool for one job and calling it a day; it’s being relentless in your search of the tool that can automate the most in your business without compromising your core promise or customer experience. It doesn’t matter if you offer a service or a product, there are always tools that can make you more efficient as a business owner.” Hardy believes that automating parts of your business can free up your time for other, more important tasks. Afterall, in business, time is money. Hardy provides an example of a problem that could be addressed with automation efforts: “Last month we decided that the ads we were running for our clients on Facebook while effective could probably take less time to set up, which would save our clients’ money, and we wanted to seek out a platform that would give us more easily digestible information for our clients. The reports that Facebook provides us don’t give our clients the level of detail they are looking for, and when we create a custom report, it’s no longer understandable.” Hardy acted right away: “We went on a search for a tool that could help us optimize the ads in less sets and provide us with a cleaner interface for seeking the reporting stats. Within a couple of hours, we found a tool that allowed us to set up 30 variations of one ad in less than 10 minutes. This is something previously that would have taken upwards of two hours. Sometimes trying out different tools and platforms can seem like a headache but when you find the right one, the time you stand to save can be absolutely game-changing for your business!” Automation not only helped Hardy and her business save time and effort, but it directly resulted in business growth and more efficient spending. Nurture your business community Caris, Accountability Coach and E-commerce Consultant at Learn With Caris, advises business owners to nurture and grow the community surrounding your business. She says: “When you nurture a community, you open up the opportunity for your potential clients to get to know you without you even trying or being ‘salesy.’ And when they get to know, like and trust you, they are more likely to invest in what you put out.”Caris proceeds by correcting a common mistake in business: “It's not about collecting a bunch of business cards; it's about building genuine relationships with people who eventually want to see you win just as much as you want for them.” Caris thinks that “having great relationships with the right people opens you up to opportunities you never knew possible.” Of all the business growth strategies Caris has implemented, she says nurturing the community and the relationships within it has been the biggest driving force for her business growth. Increase word of mouth through the Pareto Principle Regardless of the changing times in business, one growth strategy never seems to die out: word of mouth. Adam Jon, CEO of hollywoodmirrors.co.uk, swears by using word of mouth to keep his business growth booming. Watson uses the Pareto Principle, the idea that “80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your customers or 20 percent of your activities.” With this in mind, Jon urges business owners to focus on this group: “Treat your customers like a king and they will then refer their friends, and you will get natural organic growth through word of mouth. Only when you have tried and optimized this pipeline of 20 percent of customers should you start looking elsewhere to get sales.” Jon implemented this strategy by utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google AdWords to get better exposure and improved Return on Investment (ROI). Online marketing combined with customer satisfaction led to a 300 percent increase in his business. Identify the true problem, not just the symptom In business it’s easy to get tunnel vision, only focusing on one goal, such as sales numbers, and neglecting other areas that need attention. Sarah Brennan, CEO and Principal Strategist of Accelir, validated this fixation on what she calls the “problem area.” Brennan’s advice is to steer clear of this preoccupation: “It is important to look at growth as a holistic issue. Too often leadership teams focus on the ‘problem area,’ like lack of sales, and invests energy trying to fix that instead of looking at the product, marketing strategy, and current customer and employee satisfaction.” Brennan realizes that “it is easy to spend a lot of time, money, and effort trying to fix the symptom rather than the problem causing a stall in growth.” To fix this, identify the true problem area in the company, not just the symptom. Your business will get to the root of the issue immediately instead of simply treating the symptoms of a larger issue that needs resolving first. Take a listening tour Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO of a marketing consulting firm called Mavens & Moguls, explained a difficult time when her business hit a lull. What freed her company from this slump was a listening tour. Fenn encourages businesses to start a listening tour by making “a list of the movers and shakers, people you admire and prospects. Ask a few smart, open-ended questions, then sit back and take notice. They will be more than happy to tell you what is on their mind. If you listen to what they share with you, there will be plenty of opportunities to help them.” Fenn explains that listening with no strings attached allows people to be more open and considerate of what a business has to offer. Fenn started this outreach with simple emails and phone calls, and when the time came to meet with people, she brought a pen and paper to listen to potential clients and to ask what they needed from her. For the price of a few coffees and meals, Fenn tells us she got an earful and several new clients, getting her business growth flowing again. Sustaining business growth is difficult but these tips from business experts will help you achieve your advancement goals for your company. If you’re newer to the business industry and need additional help preparing your business for growth, check out the top merchant account companies to help you set up a merchant account and handle your future business payments. We also interviewed experts on merchant account services to make your transition into business operation as smooth as possible. Want more business growth tips from additional experts? Check out part two of this article.
If you’re in the business of making money, there’s an industry of merchant account providers ready to cater to you. Also known as credit card processors, merchant services providers created to enable merchants (businesses) to accept transactions through secure channels. Every merchant needs a merchant account in order to accept payment from credit and debit cards. The merchant, the bank, and the merchant account provider all work together to make these transactions possible. The merchant’s job is to sell products and the bank’s job is to store that money — pretty simple, right? So what exactly do merchant account providers have to do with all of this? What is a merchant account provider? Put simply, a merchant account provider allows merchants to accept credit or debit card payments over the phone, online, or in person. Merchants are paid through merchant service providers like iPayment, Flagship Merchant Services, or any other credit card processor. The main responsibilities of a merchant service company are to receive and process sales information from merchants, obtain money from the card’s bank, transfer money to the merchant from the cardholder, and receive authorization for all transactions made. Most credit card processors also offer anti-fraud services, POS terminals, merchant account analytics, virtual account terminals, and eCommerce services. Some merchant providers even offer mobile pay services that include geo-tagging and barcode scanners. Do you need a merchant account? Now that you know exactly what a merchant account provider is, you can start thinking about whether or not you need one. If you own a business and want to accept and process card payments without a payment gateway (service that authorizes online payments), you need a merchant account provider. The benefits of using a merchant provider include the customization of commission rates, payment schedules, and a more secure cash flow. If you like quality payment and transaction security, fraud protection, loyalty promotions, and business analysis services, your best option is to go with a third-party payment processor. Make sure you check out each company’s merchant services reviews in order to get the best merchant services possible. What are typical merchant account fees? In a fantastic article for Entrepreneur about choosing merchant providers, Ryan Himmel discusses the importance of understanding fees when choosing a good credit card processor. “The fees that processors charge can certainly add up over time,” Himmel writes. He gives an example of a company making $1 million per year and describes the difference in savings between a 1.75 percent rate and a 2 percent base rate, saying “it [the company] will save $2,500 or more.”Because providers usually apply fees according to business size, you should really pay attention to the type of fees charged by each merchant provider. For example, a merchant account provider that caters to small businesses will likely have fees based on “volume of transactions” as Himmel puts it; this type of fee would wreak havoc on larger companies. Generally, most banks that provide credit card processing services charge higher rates than third-party processors. Rates will also differ according to whether you process payments online or in person.
Picking and utilizing a merchant account company can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you know what to expect. Before you settle with a processing partner, let some of the leading experts in the industry tell you what you need to know about getting the most from your merchant account service. What to Look For Merchant account services should take care of your business. According to Samuel Ninh, a digital marketing specialist at Cayan, “You want to look for a company that truly cares about your business: A company that takes the time to learn about your specific business and customizes the account to your specific business needs. Not every business is the same, so not every merchant account should be the same.” Shawn Silver, executive vice president of Payment Cloud, believes that merchants should be looking for transparency and fair pricing and fees. Merchant services need transparency because merchants want clear communication. Merchants will feel more confident in their service providers if they feel like they know precisely how much they are paying and the services that are being provided. Ninh also agrees with Silver on fees. Ninh advises merchants not to sign up just because of rates listed online. Prices that seem great online may have a catch and leave you with a final bill you weren’t expecting. Companies with termination fees should also be avoided, because if by chance you do get involved with a merchant service that doesn’t work for you, you don’t want to be stuck with them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be persistent to ensure you are getting the right price for your business. Jenn Reichenbacher, the senior vice president of marketing and co-leader of direct sales at iPayment, advises merchants to look at the in-house service and support a processing partner offers after they have ensured a company has competitive and transparent pricing. “Solutions like point-of-sale, smart terminals, gift cards, merchant cash advance, etc. should all be an option for the merchant should he or she want a broader payment acceptance solution for their business.” What to Expect “Payment processors today need to be selling more than just a merchant account,” Reichenbacher said. Merchants need to expect more from their processing partner. After looking for the basics a company should have, you need to know what services you will be provided. When you first partner with a merchant account service, you shouldn’t have trouble getting started. “Being vocal about what’s needed to get the account setup in terms of documentation is important, as well as keeping merchants updated throughout the process,” Silver said. “Also, getting things done in a timely manner is expected as well.” Once you start working with your merchant service company, you should expect to have knowledgeable contacts in all areas of expertise, according to Nihn. This can include sales representatives, customer service, and tech support-agents. Any company can offer you a wide variety of services, but if they don’t back it up with good customer support, then it is worthless. You want a company that will support your business, not neglect it. Once you know your company will take care of you, you want the added features that set good merchant account services apart from the bad ones. For example, according to Reichenbacher, “...examples would include a solution like Clover, which is a completely customizable and flexible business management solution, or POS where the merchant has complete control. Companies should also be offering security assistance and breach protection especially in light of recent occurrences and, of course, complimentary, in-house customer service and technical support.” What Is Coming Up Your business is constantly growing and so is the merchant account industry. “There are always new advancements and trends on the rise in the merchant account industry,” Nihn said. Be sure to pay attention to what new technology and services your company might offer, because it’s one thing to take advantage of what your processing partner already has, but it’s another to stay up-to-date on how they are changing. Silver said payments are getting faster and contactless in terms of Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) technology. He has seen that merchants are getting smarter, so to compete with that, merchant account companies have to give them more. Security is something else that is updating. Merchants want to feel safe, and new technology is allowing that. “Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) for sure still need to find a secure, cost-effective solution for their business, whether it’s online, in-store, over the phone and/or on-the-go, but right now there is so much more value to the SMB that’s accessible through their merchant account provider partnership. Smart terminals, integrated loyalty, gift, and other powerful, yet affordable business management applications, more robust point-of-sale solutions and so much more.” Reinbacher said. Some of the most popular upcoming trends, according to Nihn, are different forms of payments such as EMV transactions, near field communication (NFC) transactions like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and other mobile wallets in addition to QR like transactions. Nihn would say Apple Pay and other mobile wallets are going to become more relevant and make a big splash in 2018. Whether you are looking for a merchant service company or are with one already, you should be making the most of what a company has to offer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to compare the strengths and weaknesses of different companies to find the best fit for your business. Tools like BestCompany.com can help you narrow down your options and make a decision.
Cash is going out of style. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, the majority of consumers now pay with credit or debit cards because cards are easier to carry, there is no need to count money because bank accounts do it for you, and losing your credit card doesn’t mean you lose your money, but losing a wallet full of cash does. With cards becoming popular among consumers, businesses are working to adapt and cater to this paperless form of payment in order to stay relevant. Many companies still do not have the resources available to accept electronic payments. Merchant accounts can help businesses keep up with new payment trends. If you are a business owner and do not have a merchant account, now is the time to set one up. What Is a Merchant Account? A merchant account is a bank account specifically intended to help your business accept and process multiple payment types, such as credit and debit card transactions. According to econotimes.com, the two different types of merchant accounts that coincide with credit card processing are “swiped” and “keyed." Swiped: A face-to-face payment, meaning the customer is at the place of business and is paying in-person Keyed: When the business gathers payment from the consumer through internet, phone, or fax It is important for business owners to recognize the difference between the two merchant account categories in order to determine what company is best suited for their business. From small to large businesses, merchant accounts are becoming more necessary as payment methods continue to evolve. Although the shift from cash to card may seem like a quick one, many companies have been expecting this for quite some time. For instance, merchant account companies have been popping up for years as cards have become a more popular form of payment. Small and Large Business Merchant Accounts In the past, large businesses have been the primary target of merchant account companies, yet small businesses are now in the forefront as well. Currently, there are merchant account services and benefits specifically tailored to small businesses. Leaders Merchant is just one of many merchant account companies that strives to service a variety of businesses such as “retail establishments, home-based businesses, mail-order companies, and internet accounts,” according to bestcompany.com. With these services, small business owners can expand their businesses and get on the radar with larger companies. Merchant Account Companies: Why These Might Be a Good Fit According to our in-depth research, the top-three ranked companies in the merchant account industry are Leaders Merchant, goEmerchant, and Flagship Merchant Services. Leaders Merchant was founded in 2000, goEmerchant in 1995, and Flagship Merchant Services in 2001. As you can see, these companies have been around for more than 16 years, which highlights their foresight into this paperless payment trend. Each of the top-three ranked merchant account companies provides a variety of options for businesses to choose from. If you are a business owner, you’ll need a merchant account provider that will present you with a wide range of services. Leaders Merchant provides a variety of services to fit the needs of different business models, ranging from point-of-sale solutions to restaurant mobile services. If, however, your company focuses on specific equipment, you might go with goEmerchant. This merchant account provider offers innovative technology services like advanced EMV and credit card machines. Lastly, if you are a company that is looking for specialty programs or management options, Flagship Merchant Services might be the company for you. It offers a specific digital loyalty program as well as a business management portal. Although these companies have been active for years and have a variety of options available, they still may not be the right fit for you. As always, it’s important to shop around before making a final decision. In the end, your merchant account choice is dependent on your specific needs and wants as a business owner. Merchant Accounts Takeaway Overall, there are definite pros and cons that come with each merchant account company; however, business owners need to remember that these companies have stuck around for a reason. The best merchant account companies, specifically the top three ranked on bestcompany.com, have managed to adapt with the times from online payments to in-store card processing. Merchant account companies have adapted to put an emphasis on servicing all business, small or large. Whether you are a first-time business owner or part of a large company ownership, merchant accounts might be your solution to keeping up with various payment transaction trends.