As a small business owner, productivity and efficiency should be two of your top priorities. Incorporating various types of software tools into your company can enable you to make the best use of your time as you serve your customers and expand your operation. Whether you have a traditional storefront or sell exclusively online, these tools can become indispensable components to your success.

Payroll Software

If you’re taking care of getting your staff’s checks out using antiquated processes, here’s a piece of good news: Once you invest in payroll software, many of the tasks that now take you hours to complete and probably raise your blood pressure into the stratosphere can be automated. That includes dispatching paychecks, authorizing direct deposits and withholding the proper amount for every employee – and doing so in a timely and precise fashion. Software removes much of the chances for human error found in manually completing this task and can be a real life-saver when tax time rolls around.

Customer Relationship Management Software

Known in the industry as CRM, Customer Relationship Management software gives you numerous ways to keep track of, and communicate with, your customers. In an era when competition in almost every sector is fierce, you cannot afford to lose customers to your rivals. CRM helps you stay in touch and enables you to customize your communications. Best of all, even companies on a tight budget can afford it since there are many excellent free packages.

Budgeting Software

Keeping track of your income and expenses and paying your bills on time are perhaps even more important in your work life than they are in your personal habits. That’s because you never know when you might need a business loan, and the first thing financial institutions look at when you apply is your record of making timely payments. Not so long ago, ledger books and spreadsheets were the only way to notate income and out-flow, but today’s budgeting software has quickly left these antiquated tools in the dust. Once you set it up and as long as you keep inputting the data, your budgeting software will take much of the angst out of your financial planning and management.

Credit Card Processing Software

If your business is like most, you accept credit card payments from your customers and have a merchant account that is the link between your bank and theirs. Whether you have a stationary terminal or accept payments via a credit card reader, you have processing software that has a wide range of capabilities that go far beyond just accepting customer payments. Good point of sale software often combines many of the tools we have already discussed that can streamline all of your business operations. From inventory management to employee management to payroll to CRM, your point-of-sale system is a powerhouse that can benefit your company in numerous ways.

Backup and Recovery Software

Many small business owners have the mistaken belief that their company is too small to be a victim of data breaches or hacking. In reality, small companies are the most common victims of these crimes because many have not made security a priority. Investing in good backup and recovery software allows you to protect yourself and your customers’ sensitive data from hacking. In addition, it will save you countless hours of reconstructing your records should you have a fatal system crash.

These days, software enables you to put away the handwritten records and the spreadsheets and save untold hours of time and aggravation. Of course, you still need to be careful and watchful at the helm of the company you have worked so hard to build. But having a robust, powerful and useful set of tools at your side can help you every step of the way.

The U.S. Secret Service estimates that at least $1 billion each year is stolen by credit card skimmers. If you are a consumer, your personal information can be hijacked without your knowledge as you pay for gas or withdraw cash from an ATM. If you are a small business owner, even the best credit card reader can be transformed in seconds by criminals into a means of credit card fraud. Fortunately, new technology may make skimming a thing of the past.

How Does Skimming Happen?

It only takes thieves a minute to install a skimming device on the mouth of your ATM or gas station credit card reader. Once it is in place, it works by overlaying its own credit card reader on top of your legitimate one. Many models even transmit the purloined information back to the thief via text message, eliminating the need for the crooks to return to the scene of the crime to reclaim their device.

The University of Florida Comes to the Rescue

Fortunately, criminals aren’t the only ones who are constantly coming up with game-changing innovations. A team of developers at the University of Florida recently rolled out a device that could make skimming nothing more than a bad dream for businesses and consumers alike. Designed to slide easily into the card reader, the device, cleverly named the Skim Reaper, is the shape and size of a credit card and is attached by a wire to a small box with a display. When the machine detects an unauthorized second card reader overlaid on the original, the display indicates “possible skimmer!” Quick to recognize the potential of the Skim Reaper, the New York Police Department began using them in a pilot program earlier this year.

Far-Reaching Implications

The Skim Reaper has two major advantages going for it. For one thing, it is light and portable. Police officers on the credit card fraud beat can easily carry it along with their other gear. What’s more, this Florida-made invention currently costs only $50 to make, an expense that could drop if it is mass-marketed. If the price can be brought down enough, the Skim Reaper could become an anti-fraud tool that is placed inexpensively in the hands of millions of merchants.

With its potential low cost and ease of use, the Skim Reaper has a huge potential. It could single-handedly destroy the annual billion-dollar mass thievery that has caused misery to businesses and consumers for years. This is certainly a reaper that we can all get behind.

In today’s commercial climate, taking credit cards isn’t an option; it’s a necessity. With so many choices on the market, how is a business owner to know which is the best? These suggestions can help you to make the decision that’s right for you.

A Blast from the Past

Not so long ago, countertop terminals were the only game in town. In most respects, they were little more than simple machines that allowed customers to use their credit and debit cards at checkout. Unfortunately, the magnetic stripe cards that customers used at that time were highly vulnerable to fraud, leading to more modern and secure terminals.

Today’s Complete Point-Of-Sale Solutions

Nowadays, the magnetic stripe card has been replaced by the chip or EMV card, resulting in a higher level of security for customers and merchants alike. By the same token, many machines that are used to process EMV payments have gotten a major upgrade. Today, merchants have complete POS systems available to them at an affordable price. More than just payment processors, today’s POS systems are brimming with capabilities that include report generation, accounting, customer relationship management, loyalty, inventory, employee scheduling and more.

The Middle of the Road

What if you fall somewhere between old-school payment terminals and today’s whiz-bang POS systems? What if you want ease of use, modern capabilities and security without all the bells and whistles? A solution like the Verifone VX 520 is available and is a countertop solution that you can rely on for daily use.

One look at the Verifone VX520 quick start guide will give you a good idea of its features. It’s an excellent solution for business owners who want an EMV-ready countertop terminal at a moderate price. Fast and secure, it can connect via dialup, Ethernet, USB or 3G/2G (optional). If you often take your business on the road, you can purchase an optional battery for the VX 520 or move to Verifone’s wireless equivalent, the VX 680, which provides a portable and rugged way to accept your customers’ payments no matter where you may roam.

The VX 520 and VX 680 are flexible and diversified, capable of accepting virtually all types of cards and payments, including traditional magnetic stripe, EMV, gift and loyalty cards and even NFC contactless payments. Your staff can easily process transactions and returns and even accept gratuities. A limited selection of reports is also available.

Your business is unique, and so are its needs. What works best for the store down the street might be inadequate to meet your requirements. On the other hand, a high-end, multi-function POS solution could be overkill. Take time to assess your payment processing priorities, and you are sure to arrive at the solution that is optimal for you. And stay tuned for more solutions from Total Merchant Services and its sister companies as they work to ensure every business has a solution that is the best fit for their current and future needs.

On the surface, the question of whether to grow your business might appear to be a no-brainer. However, spend a minute to contemplate all of the ramifications of expanding your enterprise, and it won’t take you long to recognize the sticky points. Getting bigger without careful planning and a 100 percent commitment of your time and energy can quickly backfire. In the worst case scenario, it could even leave you critically over-extended, under-staffed, burnt out and even broke. If you’re thinking of enlarging your operation, give this idea very careful consideration.

Small Business Local Expansion Ideas

Your wares are what has gotten you to this point; they are the badges of your success, and they are what brings your loyal customers back time and time again. Now that you have cultivated their trust, you could try to diversify your offerings. For instance, let’s say you run a successful bicycle shop that features all of the well-respected brands of touring and racing bikes. One way to grow your business would be to begin also featuring products that bike enthusiasts would be interested in: clothing and accessories such as lights, bells and locks, for example.

You probably already pride yourself on your second-to-none customer care, but there is always room for improvement. Take some time to figure out what you’re doing right – and what you could improve upon – by soliciting customer feedback. Encourage reviews on sites such as Yelp!, and actively ask your customers how you can improve. Review your checkout process to ensure that people are able to cash out without long lines or other frustrating issues.

Upgrading your credit card processing equipment may seem overwhelming, but taking this step can revolutionize the all-important customer experience. Modern point-of-sale systems not only streamline the payment process but also have numerous features that let you enhance your relationships with customers and automate many of your back office tasks. Your modern processing solution will quietly and efficiently complete many activities that once took you precious hours to achieve, leaving you with more freedom and flexibility to run your company and serve your customers.

While caring for your existing customers is vital, you also must constantly be attracting new ones. Today’s technology, particularly social media, provides an excellent platform to make this happen. However, you may have neither the time nor the expertise to mount a full-fledged marketing strategy. That’s where paid professionals can be invaluable. Even if you choose to only hire someone to get you up and running, the investment could pay for itself many times over. Never under-estimate the value of local college students who need internships in order to graduate from business programs.

Part of your marketing campaign will, no doubt, focus on social media. In addition to the boost you get from your professional marketer, you can also encourage your customers to visit your social media page, write reviews and like the entries you have made.

One of the best ways to grow your local presence in your community is to make appearances at as many events as possible. Whether it’s sponsoring a Little League team, getting a group together for a charity race or buying and filling a table at a philanthropic dinner, establishing yourself as a pillar of your town is one of the best ways to generate goodwill, grow your customer base and plump up your reputation. It should go without saying, but the more genuine you are in involving yourself in causes you are passionate about, the more people will respond.

Constantly work on adding names to your email list. This database can soon become the lifeblood of your growing business. Each of these people has the potential to bring several other customers into your store, so treat your list like the gold mine it is.

Never underestimate the power of freebies and promotional merchandise. People love to get something for nothing, a trait of human nature that can definitely be to your advantage because it will get your name out there to people who might otherwise be unaware of your business.

Scoping out your rivals is a great way to learn about trends in your industry. It can also serve as a springboard that enables you to use your creative powers to build on what is working for others. If your competitor is running a mile, your job is to cross the finish line and keep going for another few hundred feet.

Small Business Global Expansion Ideas

If you have decided to take that huge leap and expand into another country, don’t place the entire burden of reconnaissance on yourself. Act in the same way that armies have done for millennia: Enlist the help of natives who understand the customs and preferences of the locals.

If you are lucky enough to be selling products that will be newly introduced into an area, take full advantage of this good fortune. Doing so will involve enlisting the assistance of those who understand the culture to ensure that you get the word out in the most effective way possible. In general, you can expect to be particularly successful in nations such as South Africa, China, Thailand and South Korea, all of which are quickly becoming very open and friendly to foreign businesses and products.

While your sights are focused abroad, never take your finger off the pulse of the original business that is the vital root of your enterprise. If you stretch yourself too thin and begin to neglect the nerve center of your company, things will begin to fall apart.

Customs and cultures vary widely as you expand your company to other countries. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that techniques that sell products in the U.S. or Canada might fall flat in Asia, Africa or the Middle East. Take full advantage of your staff members and contacts who are familiar with local practices. They are the experts, not you.

The products you sell globally might also differ from what people buy at home. Only by taking time to speak to focus groups living in your new business headquarters abroad can you understand how to modify or tweak your selection to satisfy the needs and wants of your expanded customer base.

Outside The Box Expansion Ideas

Sometimes success can happen so quickly that you cannot possibly do everything on your own. At times like that, you might consider expanding into a franchise business that you sell to someone else to manage. Although you relinquish some of the control, you can make stipulations and requirements that all franchisees must follow in order to protect the brand you have worked so hard to build.

If you have the capital, consider joining your business with a competitor that sells similar products. By merging, you can combine your customer base and capitalize on the positive aspects of each brand.

Tap into the gold mine that your existing customers represent. Nothing creates more positive buzz than word-of-mouth feedback from a satisfied customer. Generating new business in this way is free, effective and rewarding for everyone involved.

If you are starting to feel like you have exhausted all of your potential sources of new business, investigate the possibility of applying for government contracts. Selling your products to the state or federal government can provide a long-term, stable income stream that can keep you going through the hard times.

Finally, if you want to grow in an entirely new direction, use your knowledge to start something totally new. Follow your passion; if you perceive a need in your community that is currently not being filled, perhaps you have what it takes. Just be sure you accumulate the capital, support and staff and do your best to ensure that the market will bear your new endeavor. With energy, commitment, resources and a product or service that people want, the sky is the limit.

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Businesses that accept credit card payments online often work hard to maximize website traffic and sales by keeping up to date with Google’s changing algorithms, exploring targeted ad spends and consistently reviewing traffic sources in order to increase conversion rates. However, they may still at the end of each quarter find themselves unsatisfied with revenue. One avenue to increasing revenue is in your Average Order Value (AOV), and here are eight simple tips which will assist you in growing it.

Add a Free Shipping Threshold

Research indicates that 40% of customers are willing to purchase more items if their order will qualify for free shipping, and also that a lack of free shipping itself is direct cause of cart abandonment. One recourse is to offer free shipping on orders which skew slightly higher than you average AOV. To see the impact, try A/B testing with free shipping versus free shipping after a minimum order, and measure your cart abandonment rate, number of sales, revenue and AOV.

Establish a Limited Period Offer

In order to discourage shopper’s procrastination in their purchase decision, create a sense of urgency by instituting a limited duration applied to the offer, for example: “Receive 50% off on all items” might compel the shopper to peruse products, whereas “Receive 50% off on all products for the next 3 days” will elicit them to act immediately and will avoid shopping cart abandonment.

Offer a Minimum Purchase Discount

Looking to get rid of that dead stock by offering a healthy flat discount? Pair it with a minimum purchase discount of your choice, which will itself cover for any lost margins in offering that discount.

Offer Volume Discounts

Dependent on your type of business, offering discounts on bulk purchases of the same product may increase your average order value. Be careful in your decision on the correct discount value, since you want to attract shoppers while at the same time not cutting into your profit margin.

Upsell

If instituted correctly, upselling is an effective way to increase your AOV. The trick here is not to be heavy-handed. Make sure to offer additional products directly related to the ones being perused. Overly aggressive tactics here will lead to shopping cart abandonment, while tactful ones may deliver an increase in not only your revenue, but also in growing your customer base. Everyone likes a deal!

Try Cross-Selling

While upselling has proven to historically be more effective than cross-selling, the latter shouldn’t be forgotten. Say for instance that your shopper has added a set of wheel rims to their cart. Why not offer them related tires, anti-theft lug-nuts and tire black as complementary products relevant to their purchase?

Use Purchase Incentivization

Congrats! Your customer has made a purchase. But what about the next one? Establishing customer loyalty and fostering that all important second-time visit are tantamount to increasing your profit margins. Offers of a loyalty card, a cash back offer on a next purchase or a gift voucher are all great ways to encourage your shoppers to become repeat customers, and to grow your average order value.

If you run an ecommerce business, you probably already know the importance of keeping your customers’ private information secure. Failure to make their shopping experience safe quickly results in them abandoning your website in favor of your more security-savvy competitors. In 2013, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) was published in order to help businesses protect consumer data, and it has recently been updated to reflect even more measures to guard against fraud and identity theft. If you deal with customers’ cardholder data including customer name, credit card number, security code and expiration date, you need to know how to protect yourself and your customers from a data breach.

Determine Your Level of Compliance

If you accept payments through online credit card processing, you will need to comply with PCI standards. Depending on how you accept payments, you should do so either by completing a PCI self-assessment questionnaire or by having a qualified compliance assessor do the work for you. The short answer is that if you store, process or transmit your customers’ data on your servers, you must comply with PCI standards.

Check with Your Payment Processing Partner

If you partner with a merchant services provider using an online payment gateway, you may be able to avoid many of the steps lower in this article. Just make sure your partner is providing a solution that ensures your site doesn’t have access to information that falls within the PCI security specifications. For instance, with the right payment solution in place, you never need to store credit card numbers in your system. Instead, you receive tokens that represent card numbers and reference numbers recording sales transactions. This is most often the case if you have set up a hosted pay page with a payment gateway, where actual credit card transactions take place outside your website. The burden for PCI compliance thus falls on the merchant services and/or gateway providers.

However, depending on the size of your ecommerce site and the experience you want to provide your customers, you may set up another solution with your payment processor. Be sure to review your options carefully, and make decisions based on the time and resources you have available to ensure your operation meets PCI compliance requirements.

Shore Up Your Infrastructure

To protect against data breaches, you must first be sure that your systems are secure enough to store customer data. To that end, you are required to have a firewall and an antivirus solution in place, and you cannot use any of the system defaults on your machines. Access to your system, both physical and virtual, must be secure, logged and monitored. If people access your system remotely, the data must also be encrypted.

Be Careful with Your Applications

Any applications you use must be built from the ground up to comply with all of the PCI requirements. The infrastructure on which you host them must also be PCI compliant.

Enhance Your Procedures and Processes

In order to adhere to PCI standards, everyone on your staff should have a clear idea of all aspects of data management. To that end, it is essential that you draw up clear policies that address subjects such as working with data, who has access to it, deployment and general handling. To achieve this goal, you must provide training and regular information updates to your staff. Furthermore, your systems need to be routinely monitored and tested. In order to manage access to the data with extreme care, you should use unique IDs with 2-factor authentication. Only grant data access to trained and trusted staff members who absolutely need to have it.

Update Your SSL/TLS Certification

PCI compliance dictates that you use the most current Transport Layer Security (TLS). Certificates. Older versions have been found to have numerous security holes and vulnerabilities that can leave you open to hacking and fraud. Also, you must encrypt all cardholder data that is sent through open or public networks or stored on your system.

Complying with all of these standards can appear arduous and overwhelming. If you don’t have the time or resources to ensure compliance, check with your payment processing company or another professional to discuss your options. The bottom line is that PCI compliance standards are designed to both protect customers and safeguard your business, saving you from potential disaster.

April 15 is known throughout the United States as tax day since it the date by which citizens need to have sent their income taxes to the IRS. As of 2018, consumers will have another reason to remember April 15: It is the date beyond which customers no longer need to provide a signature when they make a payment using an EMV chip credit or debit card.

Mastercard, Discover, Visa and American Express are no longer requiring customer signatures in order for transactions to be processed. That being said, the ball still remains in the merchants’ court. If you still want to document the purchase via a signature, you are within your rights as a retailer to demand it of your patrons. For instance, restaurant owners who want to encourage tipping might still want to take the step of bringing the check/receipt to the table for a customer signature, at which time a gratuity is often added. Just be aware that people may become increasingly unfamiliar with the concept of signing on a receipt or an electronic signature pad as time goes by. As a result, they could get a bit annoyed with the extra few seconds it takes to provide their autograph before leaving with their purchase.

Now that signatures are not required for EMV card purchases, you might be asking yourself if the credit card companies are becoming lax about security. In fact, the opposite is true. Since encryption of transactions is built right into the EMV chip, a signed receipt is both ineffectual and redundant. Ask yourself how often cashiers actually take the time to match the signature on your receipt with the one on the back of your credit card, and this fact will become clear.

If you have recently upgraded your point-of-sale system and card processor, you may also be getting used to the idea that more and more people will be making mobile and contactless payments. Again, signatures are not a requirement for these modes of paying. In the end, you may start to see that your checkout lines are moving much more quickly and your customers are happier. There is nothing like a seamless payment process to put a smile on a harried patron’s face. What’s more, foregoing the customer signature has no effect on the ease of product returns since the entire transaction record is built into your EMV system.

April 15 will probably always be known best as the day of reckoning for tax filing. However, merchants can also recognize it as the day when the checkout process became easier and more streamlined. Whether you’re a customer or a business owner, that’s definitely something to smile about.

On May 25, 2018, a new set of privacy rules goes into effect in the European Union (EU). Known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this group of strictures pertains to the EU as well as to many businesses who sell globally. It affects how sellers handle the private information of their customers, and it may have ramifications for you even if your company is not headquartered in the EU.

The Foundations of GDPR

In some respects, the GDPR was a foregone conclusion, with its roots deeply embedded into the very charter of the EU. The charter states: “The protection of natural persons in relation to the processing of personal data is a fundamental right.” This line underscores the EU’s ongoing commitment to customer privacy. The implementation of the GDPR backs this mission with sharp teeth: those companies who do not obey these rules can be fined as much as 4 percent of their total global revenue, an amount that could seriously debilitate a business.

Why Are American Businesses Affected?

Although this is a set of rules that was created in the EU and affects companies doing business in any of the member countries, its scope doesn’t stop there. In today’s global e-commerce environment, consumer data can easily be shared in seconds with businesses outside the EU in North America, Asia, Africa and anywhere else that is connected to the internet. Since the GDPR is in place to protect the data of EU citizens wherever it may be, any U.S. companies which hold the personal data of their EU customers are subject to the GDPR. American companies who recognize that they have EU-based buyers must either comply with the GDPR or cease to sell products and services to EU-based customers.

In general, your business will be subject to the GDPR if:

  • You deal in information as a commodity.
  • You obtain personal data from EU customers and store it or use it elsewhere.
  • You have dealings with one or more EU countries.

What Does the GDPR Entail?

The GDPR is all about protecting private data at every turn. In order for businesses to comply, they need to put procedures and personnel in place to ensure that this goal is attained. The bottom line is that customers should be able to have ultimate control over their information, including the ability to change, monitor and even delete it at any time. To that end, the GDPR urges companies to provide pseudonymization, anonymization and encryption of all data. Anonymization is the process of encrypting data or removing it so that it can never be directly linked to the customer. Pseudonymization first anonymizes and separates the data but then provides a way that it can be recovered if necessary. An example is a system that gives a customer one identifier for their browser and a second for their location. These two identifiers will not be linked to the customer unless they are put together with their separately stored date of birth.

How the GDPR Protects EU Consumers

There are several ways that the GDPR works to protect consumers. These include the following:

  • Wide reach. The GDPR requires compliance from all companies that process the personal data of EU citizens regardless of where these citizens may live.
  • Severe penalties. If a company fails to comply with the GDPR, it could be fined as much as 20 million Euros or 4 percent of its total global revenue. This provides significant incentive for businesses both large and small to take the necessary measures to be in GDPR compliance.
  • Strong and easy-to-use consent mechanism. Consumers must be able to say “yes” or “no” to whether a company is allowed to retain or share their sensitive personal information. Consent must be given in a way that is easy to understand and accessible. The company’s purpose for keeping the customer data must be transparent, and there must be an easy-to-use procedure in place should the customer wish to reverse consent at any time.
  • Mandatory notification about data breaches. If any incident occurs that has the potential to compromise customers’ rights and freedoms, official notification must be given within 72 hours of discovery. Customers must be told about the breach “without undue delay.”
  • Description of consumer rights. When an EU citizen provides their personal data to a company, they have the right to get copies of the data as well as a description of how the company is using it. In addition, they have the right to erase their data or move it to another service provider.
  • Systems designed with data protection in mind. The GDPR insists that new company systems be designed with data protection as one of their core principles instead of attempting to retro-fit existing mechanisms to protect consumer privacy.
  • Protections for children. The GDPR is designed to protect the privacy of children, who can often be particularly vulnerable to breaches. For this reason, parental consent must be obtained before a company can ask for the personal data belonging to a child under 16.

Steps You Can Take to Prepare

If you operate internationally, protecting your EU customers’ data will soon become more important than ever. There are a few ways that you can get ready for the GDPR:

  • If your website contains a form in which the customer gives permission for their information to be shared with third parties, make sure the box is unchecked. The customer must be the one to take this action, not you.
  • If you have lists of subscribers, make sure that all participants have given explicit permission to be on the list.
  • Be sure that everyone on your staff understands the GDPR and how it affects your customers.
  • Document all customer information including where you got it, how it has been used and who requested it and why.
  • Update your privacy policy to reflect the GDPR. Describe why you retain data, what you use it for and how a customer can opt out at any time.
  • Have a procedure in place for erasing customer data that is clear and is available in a machine-written format as opposed to handwriting.
  • Have a procedure in place for quickly handling large numbers of customer requests related to the GDPR. You now have one month to comply.
  • Clearly state to customers why you are retaining their data and what you will be using it for. They should be able to refuse at any time.
  • If you process the data of children under 16, you must get a parent or guardian’s permission.
  • Have a plan in place should a data breach occur. Determine how you will notify customers and who will be responsible for doing so.

In this age of enhanced privacy cumbered by data breaches, the GDPR is destined to fill a very important need for consumers in the EU and EU citizens around the world. In the upcoming months and years, many of the questions surrounding implementation of the GDPR will be answered as the policies become clarified. For now, it is advisable to understand the general framework of the regulations and do all you can to prepare should your business fall under the GDPR’s scope.

Your company is prospering, and you’re starting to truly live the American dream. You love what you do and are excited about the future, but how do you know if the time is right to take the leap and expand your business? There are some powerful indicators that can make this decision easier.

Strong Customer Base

Regardless of the product or service you provide, buyer behavior is your guide to future success. Think about your patrons. If many of them give you repeat business and refer their friends, this is a very good sign. It’s even more positive if people frequently tell you how much they would like to see an enterprise like yours closer to where they live.

Sustained Profits

Making money can be intoxicating, and it can cause you to be impulsive. If you decide to expand, it should be a plan built on a foundation of long-term black ink. Many experts suggest that you should be making a profit for at least three years before growing your company.

You Have Employees You Can Count On

While capital is the lifeblood of your enterprise, employees are its backbone. A strong team of committed and knowledgeable workers can be an invaluable part of any expansion since they already are experts in your methods and work culture as well as your products and services. If you can get them to buy into your growth, you will be one step ahead.

There Is a Growing Need for What You Do

Before you take the expansion leap, be sure that there is an increasing need for what you are offering. That means scouting for competitors and looking at market trends. If after taking these steps you still believe there will be a growing group of customers paying for items on your debit and credit card system or online through your ecommerce website, it might be time to take the plunge.

High Demand

You might find yourself in this situation: No matter how many hours you work or how many people you hire, there is still more business than you can handle. Of course, your first priority is to ensure that this isn’t happening because you aren’t managing your time properly. As long as you are organized yet are still overwhelmed with demand, this is a great indication that taking the step of growing your business will lead to even more success.

There Is Demand for Related Services or Products

Many businesses start out with a very narrow focus, electing to sell only a small selection of products to test the waters. Over time, however, you may recognize that there is an unfulfilled need for similar, peripheral items or services. For instance, you may have begun your business by selling only guitars. Since many of your customers routinely request accessories such as strings, polish and even sheet music, you may well be in a position to enhance your offerings.

The decision to expand is one that should not be made impulsively. It’s a leap of faith that requires time, countless hours of work and a good deal of risk. Being as prepared as possible before you take the next step is one of the best ways to ensure that you are ultimately successful in your big move.

 

When you imagine a customer purchasing an item or service with a credit card, you probably picture someone running a piece of plastic through your physical card terminal reader. With the upsurge of e-commerce and mobile payments, that is not necessarily the case anymore. Virtual credit cards are starting to occupy a prominent place in people’s purchasing behaviors.

What Are Virtual Credit Cards?

In fact, there is no actual card at all when it comes to a virtual credit card. When someone makes a mobile or online payment, a unique number is generated. It is usually for the exact amount of the transaction and is only used once.

Virtual credit card numbers are generally associated with an actual credit card, and are provided usually as a free service by the original card issuer to their customers. Most often, the virtual card number is used as an added measure of security when making an online payment.

Advantages of Virtual Credit Cards

There are several reasons why virtual credit card numbers are used and accepted. They include:

  • Security is enhanced because the transaction is encrypted and single-use.
  • The user has control over many factors, including how much is spent and where and when the card can be used.
  • They can be more cost-effective for businesses due to the efficiency of automation and reduction in human error.
  • They makes accounting and monitoring tasks easier for businesses.
  • They offer efficiency, control and security when dealing with corporate travel, electronic accounts payable and mobile payments.

The Downsides of Virtual Credit Cards

As with any innovation, virtual cards also have their problems. Any entrepreneur looking into incorporating them should consider the following before taking the plunge.

  • Virtual cards do not offer the same level of consumer protections as do standard credit cards.
  • It can be more of a challenge to deal with a customer’s request for a refund.
  • Verification of a customer’s card may be a challenge as they may need to provide a standard card as backup, which could cause frustration.
  • Not all merchants accept mobile wallet payments, which are often the way that virtual credit cards are generated.

Should you accept virtual credit cards? After reviewing the pros and cons of this new technology, only you can be the judge. Just keep in mind that like standard mobile and online transactions, this could be a trend that only looks to increase in the upcoming years.

 

If someone fails to show up on time for a party or even a meeting, the consequences can often be minor. However, any business owner will be quick to agree that delinquent payments are much more than an inconvenience — they throw a huge monkey wrench into any company’s operations. Learning some tried and true ways to deal with chronically late clients can save your company’s bottom line.

Maintain Meticulous Records

Take a minute to list all of the small tasks you accomplish in a day while running your business. You’ll soon realize that the list is much longer than you may have first thought. Therefore, it’s no wonder that some important priorities fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, one of these might be keeping tabs on your invoices and which of your customers owe you money.

Even if you use a portable credit card machine to transact your customers’ payments, don’t forget the numerous capabilities contained in your point-of-sale (POS) system. One of the most often overlooked and useful is the software’s ability to help you to maintain a database of customers and outgoing invoices. Once you have entered your patrons’ names and purchase histories into the system, it’s just a matter of a few clicks to retrieve information about past-due bills.

An ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure, and that’s definitely true when it comes to late invoices. After your customer’s invoice or e-invoice has gone out, be sure to send a reminder email. If you prefer a more personal touch, make a quick phone call. Indicate that the invoice has been sent, and politely inquire as to when the customer will be sending the payment. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Make Your Payment Details Clear

In this fast-paced world, many people’s patience as well as their ability to concentrate are limited. Your customer might sit down with the best of intentions to pay your bill, only to become distracted and frustrated when they can’t see the bank details on your statement. Discouraged, they might then put the bill aside, resolving to deal with it later.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to do everything you can to make the payment experience as seamless as possible. That means making it very obvious how the bill is to be paid. Put all details in a conspicuous place on the invoice in a large, clear font. If possible, allow your customers the option to pay online as well, thus giving them the freedom to accomplish the task from work, home or even when they are on the road.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

As an entrepreneur, you are doubtless aware that all businesses go through ups and downs. There are times when you may be flush with money and others when you can’t even make ends meet. The customers who owe you money also might find themselves in either of these situations.

This is where good old-fashioned one-on-one conversations can make all the difference. Whether it’s over the telephone or in person, you can learn a great deal – and get results – by having a talk with your delinquent customer. Just because their payment is late, it does not mean that they are deliberately trying to cheat you. They might be able to give you a part of what they owe now, or perhaps they can’t give you anything this month but can totally erase their debt within 90 days. Regardless of what you may learn during this dialogue, you have laid the foundations of a positive relationship that you can carry through until the issue is resolved.

Be Willing to Compromise

Although there are many patrons who can pay within a few weeks with some gentle reminding and flexibility, there are others who simply can’t give you anything for the foreseeable future. In cases such as these, reminders and late fees probably won’t yield any results. However, you can still benefit from the same frank discussion we talked about earlier.

As difficult as it may be to muster it up, empathy can go a long way in these situations. Let your customer know that you understand their dilemma and don’t expect a full payment anytime soon. However, explain that at the same time, you need to keep your cash flow moving, and even a small token payment can go a long way toward helping that happen. Agree to an amount, however fractional it might be, and ask the customer to commit to it. While it isn’t a perfect solution, it ensures that the debt is not stagnating and that the customer remains accountable to you.

Seek Outside Help

While many delinquent customers fail to pay because they forgot to do so, got sidetracked or may be going through some short-term fiscal crisis of their own, there is that small minority that nobody likes to think about: the patron who has no intention of giving you what they owe. People in this category don’t respond to flexibility, reminders or empathy. Instead, they leave you with difficult choices. You can elect to write off the debt, which would make sense if what they owe is of little consequence to you and isn’t worth the time you would take with other collection measures. You can also go through the rather costly process of taking the customer to small claims court. Finally, you have the option to hire an outside collections agency.

No matter what strategies you choose to employ when dealing with late-paying customers, there is one more cardinal rule that you should absolutely follow: Don’t do any more work for them until they have completely paid off your debt. If you continue to put yourself deeper and deeper in a financial hole, your business could suffer irreparable damage.

Your payment gateway is one of the most vital components of your online business. With the help of your gateway, you can process all types of credit card payments because it transfers the card information your customer entered into your site to the bank. The quality and ease of use of your online payment page and payment gateway are crucial factors to consider since the better your customers’ experience is with the payment process, the higher your profits will be.

Customers May Leave Your Website or Payment Page if:

• It looks untrustworthy. Quite simply, if your aren’t credible, people won’t give you their money. To communicate your integrity, monitor the ad content on your site. Carefully choose a domain name that is not only easy to remember but connotes respectability and worthiness. Take pains to make your site searchable and easy to use. Make it a point to prominently display security and trust seals as well as warranty and money-back guarantee information. Finally, don’t hesitate to blow your own horn. If customers have given you positive reviews and testimonials, share them for the world to see.

• It is too complicated to use. Don’t lose a sale because a potential customer can’t figure out how to maneuver through your complex website. Keep it as simple as possible by removing all ads from your home page if possible. Seriously consider also nixing sidebars, which most people don’t click on anyway. Tailor your site and homepage to accomplish the one thing above all others that you want the customer to do while there. Limit menus to seven items or less since most people can’t remember beyond that. Make navigating as simple as possible by coming up with ways for people to get where they want to go on your site with just two or three clicks. While an abundance of color tends to overwhelm people, users respond well to images. They are pleasing to the eye and make people feel good about your website.

• It has limited payment options. With such a wide array of commerce choices available today, you can’t afford to limit the ways people pay. There are times when expanding payment options might be inconvenient or even financially challenging, but the benefits speak for themselves.

For one thing, you will gain more revenue by cultivating business from people who formerly went elsewhere to use their payment method of choice. Further, you can win sales from the younger demographic of millennials who tend to prefer to use alternative payment methods. When you accept most all ways to pay, you are sure to enhance the check-out experience of all of your customers. When you remember that happy customers tend to come back and bring their friends, the advantages of accepting numerous payment types speak for themselves.

• It forces customers to sign up or register. Simplicity means giving people choices about how much information to divulge. Sure, it would be nice to have a complete dossier on every customer in order to put them on your mailing list and encourage repeat business. However, some people would prefer to keep their data to themselves by checking out as a guest. You have a choice: Either respect their wishes and get the sale, or demand information they don’t want to give and lose them forever.

Avoid Any Cause for Alarm

Today’s customers are conscious of their security and wary of scams. What’s more, they have many choices. If you give them any reason to become squeamish through a disorganized or poorly written website, failure to display security seals or an excessive demand for information, they will abandon their shopping cart, which is the kiss of death for online businesses.

Make E-Commerce Mirror an In-Store Experience

Brick-and-mortar stores have certain advantages. Since they are housed in solid buildings, they have products and employees that people can see and touch. Potential customers can tell right away if a place looks fly-by-night or disreputable. Your e-commerce site should give people every reason to trust your company and what you sell. Clarity, transparency and friendly, readily available customer support are vital parts of making this a reality.

Paying on a Separate Site — Yes or No?

At first blush, it might seem that sending customers to a different site to make their payments is always a bad idea. After all, that process takes them off your page and requires them to put their trust in another entity. While this is true, there are certain situations where offsite payments make sense.

One of these is if your store is not well-known. Perhaps you are just getting started and have only a small customer base. In that situation, a gateway provider could impart an aura of stability and familiarity that your business does not have on its own.

Another such instance can occur if you are doing business in a country where buyers are used to going off-site to make their payments. In this case, asking them to complete the sale without going to a site they trust might make them queasy about buying from you.

In most instances, going with a third-party provider for your payment page will deliver the data security you can’t easily offer. Some gateway providers offer a payment page that will mimic the design of your website. With this type of hosted payment page, customers will have the reassurance of being connected to you while also having the peace of mind that comes with greater security.

Making Your Payment Page More Trustworthy

1. Don’t be shy about displaying logos and seals. Be absolutely clear about all of the payment methods you accept.
2. Of course, you don’t want to add artificial or fraudulent security logos. It’s all about establishing your integrity.
3. In the spirit of transparency, make your payment processing methods crystal clear. Customers will be far more likely to complete the sale in spite of being taken to a separate payment site if you have given them ample information that it is about to happen and why. Establishing the fact that this is a way to enhance the security of the transaction can be a big help.
4. Your gateway offers settings that, when properly configured, can increase your site’s security and minimize your chances of fraud. Be sure that your gateway and payment page is set to require credit card security codes. Require the customer to input their zip code–it’s a number that does not appear on a stolen credit card but which any legitimate customer would know. Be sure to flag suspicious transaction amounts so that you can review them manually before processing them. Finally, flag according to geography by setting your gateway to alert you if customers from parts of the world where you don’t usually do business are attempting to make transactions.
5. As stated above, use address validation sparingly since it can frustrate even valid customers.

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In recent years, there has been a firestorm of media attention devoted to the cryptocurrency known as bitcoin. While it at first seemed to fall firmly into the domain of only the most tech-savvy people, “Bitcoin” as a name has made it into the mainstream buzz. Does that mean you should begin to accept bitcoin at your business?

Exactly What Is Bitcoin?

Many initially dismissed bitcoin as a flash in the pan. Others worried that it was untrustworthy or too complicated for the general consumer or business owner to understand. Bitcoin is a virtual currency used to transfer payments or conduct business over the internet. It is known as a cryptocurrency because it depends on cryptography to authenticate payments. In fact, there is no entity that oversees bitcoin in the same way that, for example, the U.S. government has authority over the dollar.

Because bitcoin is not legal tender in any jurisdiction and is not accepted by any financial institution, it only has value within its own ecosystem. The value of all bitcoins is kept in a master database called the “block chain” which is maintained on a peer-to-peer network. Those who furnish the hardware and software to verify transactions and host the database are known as “miners” and are rewarded for their work with bitcoins.

How to Make a Payment with Bitcoins

If you are a bitcoin holder, you have both a public key and a private one. Your public key is a long series of digits; your private one, another large grouping of numbers, is kept confidential and is cryptographically associated with it. Most users store this information in a piece of software known as a wallet that is kept in the cloud, on a personal computer or on a mobile phone.

When you want to make a payment using bitcoin, you sign a transaction using your cryptographic credentials. Then you submit it to the block chain. Miners make the calculations necessary to validate your payment, with acceptance taking only two or three minutes. As for the value of bitcoin, it has fluctuated wildly over the years. In the beginning, it was only worth a few cents relative to the U.S. dollar. At its peak towards the end of 2017, it reached $20,000 against the dollar but since has dropped to less than half that value, with continued fluctuations up and down. Business owners should be aware that bitcoin is inherently volatile, and this is a risk that anyone accepting bitcoin implicitly agrees to bear.

Because of the volatility of bitcoin and the complications this can lead to at tax time, many business owners wishing to accept it use a bitcoin merchant services provider (BMSP) such as Coinbase or BitPay. These entities act as middle men, accepting bitcoin from the customer and furnishing dollars, pounds or other relevant currency to the merchant. Once you have signed on with one of these providers, you simply put a “pay with bitcoin” button on your checkout screen. The provider does the rest, notifying you when the transaction is complete. The BMSP thus takes on holding and accepting bitcoin, freeing you from the accounting burdens. That being said, it is vital to do your homework and hire only an established, registered and trustworthy BMSP that is in compliance with all federal and state regulations.

Should You Consider Accepting Bitcoin?

Now that you have a basic idea of what bitcoin is and how it works, you are probably asking yourself if it makes sense to incorporate it into your business model as a method of accepting payments. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Bitcoin won’t make or break you. Today, less than 1 percent of the population uses bitcoin. While this number may increase in the future, for now there is no need to rush into making bitcoin acceptance a priority.
  • It’s confusing, but BMSPs can take most of the guesswork away. As stated above, assuming you find a legitimate provider, the process of accepting bitcoin can become less confusing.
  • There’s risk, but bitcoin price volatility probably won’t affect you. When your customer pays with bitcoin via a BMSP, their bitcoin is instantly converted into your currency of choice. Therefore, you will receive the price you charged for the product the customer is buying regardless of what the fate of bitcoin values will be tomorrow.
  • While small, you could attract customers in the Bitcoin community. Bitcoin fans like to patronize businesses that use their cryptocurrency of choice.

So should your business accept bitcoin? Quite simply, bitcoin is still a work in progress. The fact that only a tiny fraction of the population even understands it means that it still faces an uphill battle if it is to become a mainstream way to pay.

That being said, as a novelty, bitcoin acceptance may have value, so you would need to assess your customer types to determine if setting up bitcoin acceptance is worth the effort. Whatever your decision, bitcoin likely will continue to be a compelling topic of conversation and speculation for the foreseeable future.

These days, fishing doesn’t just mean going after bass or perch with a baited hook. There’s a new and sinister form of fishing in town: It’s called “phishing” and involves unscrupulous actors fraudulently obtaining consumers’ sensitive identity and credit card information. As a business owner, you need to know how it works and how to spot it before this practice does damage to you and your customers.

What Are Email Phishing Scams?

Email has become a huge part of our lives. Over the years, we have become smarter at recognizing and immediately deleting junk or spam messages. However, savvy criminals always remain one step ahead. These days, they can craft messages so polished that they look like they originated from trusted vendors that we frequently do business with, including banks and credit card companies.

All it takes is one slip when a customer mistakes a fake message for the real thing. In an instant, their credit card and identity information can fall into the wrong hands, opening the door to fraudulent buying that empties out their account and hurts the merchants involved in the transaction on their stationary or wireless credit card terminal.

How to Spot an Email Phishing Campaign

There are several red flags that can help you and your customers to detect phishing:

• A request for confidential information via email or text message
• Urgent, time-sensitive demands to respond
• Misspelled words or unfamiliar domain names
• Links in the body of the message
• Failure to personalize the message or to provide partial account information such as the last four digits

Encourage your customers to contact law enforcement if they have good reason to suspect phishing. If you believe your business is being fraudulently represented in this way, get in touch with local authorities as well as your merchant account payment processing provider.

What Are Online Credit Card Phishing Scams?

In the past, the internet was often a dangerous place to make a purchase. Fortunately, recent security enhancements including seals from companies such as VeriSign, lock emblems, and an “https” heading in the internet browser provide evidence that the website is safe and the data the customer furnishes will be encrypted. Because of these online security enhancements, it is now more likely that customers’ personal data and credit card information will be stolen at the point of sale than online.

For that reason, merchants like you need to be vigilant about safeguarding your workplace against credit card fraud. That means paying careful attention to the following:

• Install high-quality antivirus and anti-malware software.
• Be suspicious of emails requesting that you update or verify your account.
• Limit the access your staff has to company email.
• Encourage staff to report anything suspicious without clicking on any links.
• If you know that your business or customer data have been compromised by a phishing scam, alert customers via all possible channels.
• Set up a dedicated email address where customers can forward false messages allegedly coming from your company.
• Publish a complete list on your website of all email addresses and domains from which you will legitimately send email.

Sadly, phishing scams are an unpleasant reality that will probably be with us for the long term. Your best defense against them is to plan ahead and arm yourself and your customers with information.

Today, women are finally being recognized for their power and equality with their male counterparts, and the retail and service world is no exception. In fact, being a woman and owning your own business can actually put you at an advantage. Get certified as a Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) and watch your profits soar.

Capitalize on Government Contracts

You have already done a lot to put your enterprise in line with your competitors. Among other things, that may include taking measures such setting up credit card processing for small business, including hardware and software. That’s great, but certification as a WOSB can give you even more of an edge.

Becoming certified on the federal and state level as a WOSB gives you much more than a piece of paper suitable for framing. It opens many doors to lucrative contracts that are set aside specifically for enterprises like yours. During the 2014 fiscal year alone, the U.S. government gave 267,168 contracts to Woman Owned Businesses to the tune of over $2 billion. Add to that the fact that many businesses award five percent of their subcontracting work to WOSBs, and the benefits speak for themselves.

What Certification Provides

The primary benefit that comes from getting certified is that you can gain increased visibility for your business. You should not think of it as charity or as any other form of entitlement. In the end, you will be expected to do the job you promised to do at the expected standard of quality.

There are two types of certifications you can receive. The Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) program is designed to help Woman Owned and Economically Disadvantaged Businesses by increasing their access to federal contracts. Overseen by the Small Business Administration, the Woman Owned Small Business certification requires that the enterprise is 51 percent controlled and managed by one or more women; these women must be U.S. citizens; and the industry must be considered a small business by SBA standards. As long as you can prove that your business meets these criteria and furnish the requested documentation, you can self-certify as a WOSB.

The other certification classification is Woman Business Enterprise. Unlike the WOSB which is strictly federal, the WBE covers state and local governments as well as the private sector. To qualify for WBE, the company must be over 51 percent owned and controlled by women, demonstrate their fiscal responsibility by regularly providing documentation such as tax returns and bank statements that show cash flow, and exhibit a capability to succeed in the market.

Other Advantages of Certification

Going through the process of being recognized as a Woman Owned Business can be time-consuming, particularly if you are trying to get your establishment off the ground. However, gaining access to contracts is just the beginning. Certification also grants you the following:

• The opportunity to network with other WOSBs
• Access to exclusive training and educational programs
• Direct connections to corporations and other entities offering contracts to WOSBs
• Access to sales leads
• Mentoring programs

Of course, certification is only the beginning, and potential customers probably won’t come knocking at your door begging you to bid on their contracts. You need to do your homework and research the steps that will allow you to make the most of your WOSB status. Once you do, however, all of your hard work might very well pay off in the form of increased exposure and higher profits.