Memories of the summer sun beating down as you sat in your beach chair might still be fresh, but the reality is that the holiday season is just around the corner. Taking time now to set the stage for Black Friday is a decision you will never regret.

Keep Up With Your Competition

One of the biggest reasons to start setting a Black Friday strategy in advance is that your competition is probably already doing the same thing. Whether you sell online, at a brick-and-mortar store or a combination of the two, keeping up with your rivals is more important than ever.

That’s because your customers are savvier. And thanks to the internet and online mega-giants such as Amazon, it’s easier than ever for them to find the best deal. Figuring out ways to rise above your virtual and real competitors is an absolute must, and it’s not going to happen magically as you take your last bite of turkey on Thanksgiving. These strategies require time, attention and often help from professionals.

Identify Your Customers and Engage Them

You may already have a good idea of who frequents your retail store or shops at your e-commerce site. Often, the very nature of your products dictates who is attracted to purchasing them. Thanks to today’s modern point of sale systems or other retail marketing tools, you can take what you may already know about your most dedicated buyers and easily store it in a loyalty database.

Long before the holiday season arrives, you will be able to tap into this gold mine of contacts, making your most valuable consumers aware of upcoming sales and promotions and even obtaining their opinions about what they would like to see you carry during Black Friday and beyond. Complement this with a dynamic social media campaign, and you can remain a step ahead of your competition when the crucial time comes.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help

Many business owners are fully occupied with the countless tasks involved in running their enterprise. You may be one of them if you often put necessary administrative tasks or long-term goals on the back burner because you spent your day running from one fire to the next.

A short-sighted management strategy is harmful in a number of ways. For one thing, it raises your stress level into the stratosphere. Moreover, the quality of what you do is probably not as high if you are constantly rushing from one crisis to the next. In the end, you will put off equally important but less glamorous priorities.

For many entrepreneurs, developing marketing strategies and preparing for tax time are two tasks they often put off. Instead of allowing these vital business tasks to languish, hire professional help. Whatever you may spend to enlist the services of a marketing firm or an accountant may pay for themselves many times over in added sales and financial security.

Do Some Advanced Inventory Planning

Once again, your point of sale system can be the star of the show when it comes to projecting what products you want to stock and in what quantities. Instead of making a blind stab in the dark about what items will fly off the shelves and which will languish, your POS solution has the capability of generating reports from last year and/or showing recent trends.

With just a few clicks, you can print out a spreadsheet that shows in clear detail what worked and what flopped. That will certainly make projecting and ordering much easier. And if you couple that strategy with an active social media presence, you can get a sense from your customers about any tweaks they would like to see you make in your offerings. After all, fads and trends take on lives of their own on the internet, and you would be a fool if you didn’t put your ear to the ground in that respect.

Make Physical and Staff Preparations

It’s never too early to start planning what your virtual or brick-and-mortar store will look like during the holiday season. Start moving things around to ensure that the most sought-after products are visible and within easy reach. Begin thinking about how many sales floor and checkout staff you will require for each shift, hiring new people now before the best ones are snatched up by your competition.

The autumn months also provide you with the calm before the storm, a time when you can provide training in sales procedures, the use of your POS solution and the full range of your product offerings. By planning ahead, you will have competent, relaxed staff and products that customers want the moment your doors open on Black Friday.

Optimize for Smartphones

With each passing year, more of your customers are carrying mobile devices. If you have an e-commerce site, be sure that it is set up for mobile phone purchases. Even if you only have a physical storefront, cash in on the smartphone phenomenon by sending location-based messages to your customers when they come within close range of your store. Take the weeks and months before Black Friday to come up with some eye-catching promotions that will entice your loyal customers to heed your notifications and walk or click into your retail arena to take advantage of promotions or discounts. There is so much money to be made via mobile technology that you definitely cannot afford to pass up this important and profitable avenue.

Don’t let your competition jump ahead of you this year. With some careful planning now during the slower months, you can increase the chances of skyrocketing your profits once the holidays get into full swing. If you play your cards right, this year’s Black Friday might take on a decidedly green hue for you and your business.

Forty-five U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia levy sales tax; only New Hampshire, Oregon, Delaware, Alaska and Montana are sales tax free. If you have an e-commerce business in a state that levies sales tax, you are legally required to charge sales tax to your online customers. That makes learning the ins and outs of sales taxes a must for most entrepreneurs.

General Facts about Sales Taxes

States choose to use the proceeds from sales tax levies in a variety of ways according to their needs. Among the most common are to fund schools, pay for infrastructure initiatives and support programs for the elderly.

Each state determines the sales tax rate it will charge, generally between 4 and 7 percent, but often that isn’t all. That’s because counties, towns and cities can also add their own burden. Consequently, figuring out what your customer will pay is no easy task for most e-commerce entrepreneurs.

For merchants, these levies are considered to be “pass-through taxes.” In other words, the business owner does not benefit from these funds but instead merely remits them to the state on a regular basis, usually monthly, quarterly or annually.

Because the rules governing sales taxes vary from state to state, it makes sense for business owners to consult their local authorities to learn about any idiosyncrasies that may exist in their state. For example, some places impose sales tax on shipping charges while others do not. There are even parts of the country where a local city or county sales tax is charged even when it does not exist in the state. To ensure that you are in compliance with all laws, consult your state’s department of revenue.

Understanding Sales Tax Nexus

In simple terms, sales tax nexus refers to a significant presence in a state that charges sales tax. In other words, you have nexus if you have an office, a warehouse or an employee in that state. Once you have nexus, you must charge sales tax even if you ship your product from a location outside the state. By the same token, if you have credit card processing and sell to online customers in a state where you do not have sales tax nexus, you need not charge sales tax.

Once you determine where you have sales tax nexus, you need to obtain a license or permit. If you sell merchandise that is warehoused in another state that charges sales tax, you have nexus and must jump through the necessary hoops to remit sales tax there as well. To make it easier for e-commerce merchants, most online credit card processing platforms contain sales tax calculators that automatically figure out the amount to be added to each customer’s purchase. If you are uncertain about your point-of-sale system’s capabilities in this regard, contact your payment processing provider. Their customer support staff should be able to provide you with easy-to-follow instructions in how to set up an automatic sales tax charging system for all of your customers’ purchases.

Origin-Based vs. Destination-Based Sales Tax States

Another factor to consider is whether your home state is origin- or destination-based. An origin-based state requires that sales tax be collected at the rate effective at the point of origin, i.e. your office or warehouse. By contrast, destination-based states require that the sales tax be charged at the buyer’s address.

After Getting Your Sales Tax Permit

Now that you have determined where you have sales tax nexus and have obtained the necessary licenses, it’s time to start sending in your required taxes. Depending on your sales volume or the amount of sales tax you collect, your state’s taxing authority will assign you a frequency with which you need to send in your taxes.

States vary greatly in their due dates, so don’t assume that your payment is due on the 20th of the month even though that is the case in many places. Even if you owe no sales tax for a period of time, most states still require that you file a report. Make sure you thoroughly understand the sales tax rules in all states in which you are required to remit these surcharges.

Avoid Common Sales Tax Mistakes

Since all is not black and white when it comes to the collecting of sales tax, it is far too easy for small business owners to make mistakes that can lead to unpleasant audits when tax time rolls around. Therefore, do your best to avoid these often-made sales tax errors:

  • Failing to file when you did not collect any sales tax
  • Failing to understand and comply with local county and city sales tax variations
  • Failing to take different states’ rules into consideration

In all of these cases, meticulous record-keeping can inoculate you from any number of headaches. In addition, it is in your best interest to keep your accounting software up-to-date. Hiring a CPA or other reputable bookkeeper to monitor your records is another effective way to keep yourself and your business on the right side of the law.

For most e-commerce business owners, sales tax is a fact of life, like it or not. If you are among this majority, take the necessary steps to ensure that your company complies with all of the sometimes complicated and ever-changing rules that are a part of the sales tax world. A few ounces of prevention now are definitely better than suffering aggravation when it comes time to settle your score with the IRS.

The age of cloud computing and the internet is here to stay. That’s good news for you as a business owner because these innovations have the potential to maximize your efficiency and cost effectiveness while helping you get a head start against your competitors. However, if you don’t have strong security measures in place, the technology that once seemed like your best friend might just come back to bite you.

What You Have to Lose

Think of the internet as a wild frontier land, a place where laws exist but are not always enforced. Even when they are, sometimes new types of criminals come into town that the police have no weapons against. The land is beautiful and the potential for wealth is great, but law-abiding citizens must constantly struggle to stay ahead of the predators who have nothing but evil and mischief on their minds.

For you as a mobile business owner, this means that you need to do all you can to guard against violations of your privacy, liability, data breaches and damage to your reputation. Just one of these incidents could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars and could even bankrupt the business you have worked so hard to build. Although no security measures are foolproof, there are effective steps you can take to protect yourself from hackers and criminals.

Research and Implement a Mobile Device Policy

If you allow your employees to use their own smartphones or tablets to do their work, run transactions or to access company email, you have opened the door to numerous questions that need to be answered in a thorough and clear policy that is shared with everyone. Among other things, this document must address the following:

  • What will happen to company data on an employee’s phone if they leave? Do you have permission to erase it?
  • If an employee has work data on their phone and it is lost or stolen, can you remotely erase the phone, meaning that personal information would be wiped as well?
  • Are employees allowed to take work home? This is particularly important to clarify if your business deals with sensitive health, insurance or credit card information. In fact, it may be illegal to exchange certain types of information on an unsecured device.
  • What, if any, modifications to company phones can employees make? Are workers allowed to “jailbreak” a phone to circumvent any security protocols you have installed?

The clearer you are in the wording of your policy, the less vulnerable you will be to security and privacy breaches. Be sure that all employees receive and sign a copy of your policy and that you periodically review it with everyone.

Keep Mobile Devices Locked Down

No one loves passwords, especially now that we have so many unique strings of letters and numbers to try to keep in our heads. Even so, they are as crucial as locking your doors. Predators are far more likely to victimize an easy target. Using passwords that have at least eight characters and contain a mix of upper and lowercase letters and numbers with at least one symbol will help. Always require that a password is entered before your or your staff’s cellphones will unlock. These gate-keeping strategies, like your locked doors, can often be an adequate deterrent that will cause a criminal to move on to an easier target.

Obtain “Remote Wipe” Software

In spite of your best efforts, bad things still happen. Phones and laptops can get lost or stolen, and you need to have a plan in place ahead of time to protect your sensitive data should the worst happen. So-called “remote wipe software” allows you to totally erase all of the information on a device even if you don’t know its exact location.

iPhones come with a feature called “find my iPhone” that you can require all staff to activate if they have company information stored on their device. In the event that the phone is lost, it can be erased remotely from another iPhone or from a PC or Mac. Since many people also back up their devices to the cloud, chances are good that they will be able to retrieve most or all of it should the lost device either be found or replaced.

Do Not Allow Unauthorized Downloads

You have probably heard of various viruses that are spread when an unwary person opens an attachment that appeared to be from someone they knew. This malicious behavior goes on all the time, and the only way to protect your system, your vital data and your employees from a potentially fatal crash or worse is to strictly prohibit any downloading on your system. Be sure your system is locked down to the extent that only the administrator is allowed to add or upgrade software.

Keep All Systems up to Date

These days, everything seems to be moving at lightning speed, and that includes security breaches. As fast as a virus or piece of malware is neutralized, criminals come up with another that must be analyzed and obliterated. That’s why it is vital that you regularly upgrade all of your security software since it is constantly being equipped with the latest bug fixes and antivirus patches. If your employees use their own devices for work purposes, your best bet is to remotely monitor their phones and laptops to make sure they are being regularly backed up and updated. Of course, you need to notify all employees that this is one of the conditions to which they must agree if they wish to use their own devices for work reasons.

Take Precautions Before Accepting Mobile Payments

Using smartphones and other devices equipped with mobile POS card swipers is becoming commonplace now. And if your business is mobile, it’s a necessity. It’s a great way to streamline the purchasing process and is very popular with customers. Before you accept your first card, take these steps to maximize your security:

  • Be sure that any mobile devices you use for this process are not “rooted” or “jailbroken.” Your carrier will not support a device that has been hacked into to allow for more customization.
  • Update to the latest processing system, e.g. IOS, Blackberry, MS or Android, to be as secure as possible.
  • Update all apps to their latest version and remove those you are no longer using.
  • Install an anti-virus/anti-malware app for maximum protection. Many of these are free, and you can find customer reviews in your device’s app store.

While the internet may still be the Wild West, that does not mean you are unable to take full advantage of all its benefits. The process of protecting yourself is straightforward. By investing some time into securing your equipment, training your employees and establishing clear protocols, you can drastically reduce the chances that you will be the victim of cyber-crime.

Customers expect their favorite merchants to accept credit cards, debit cards and near-field communication (NFC) payments. Investing in a reliable credit card reader allows you to compete in the modern marketplace by increasing the accessibility of your products and services.

The VX520 by Verifone provides an easy-to-use platform your business can rely on to offer the fast, secure transactions customers want.

Unboxing the Verifone VX520

A streamlined countertop design makes the VX520 suitable for use anywhere with access to a power supply and a phone or internet connection. Your setup for the unit should include:

  • VX520 terminal
  • Power supply
  • Phone cord
  • Ethernet cable
  • Roll of receipt paper

Verify all the components are present before beginning setup.

Connecting the Unit

Getting the VX520 ready to accept payments is simple. Turn the unit over, and open the bottom compartment. You’ll see several different connecting ports with corresponding colored labels. The ports used depend on the type of connection over which you’ll be processing payments.

Plug in the power supply first. The port for this is located above the labeled area. Connect the quarter-inch plug to the port, and ensure it locks into place.

Locate the appropriate icon for your communication connection, and pair up the corresponding cable. If you’re on a dial-up connection, look for the phone icon and plug in the phone cord. For Internet payment processing, plug the Ethernet cable into the port labeled “ETH.”

The VX520 also has two USB ports so that you can connect external units as desired. Plug these in if you’re using them, and replace the back panel of the unit.

If you’re still having trouble, this guide to the Verifone VX520 can give you additional instructions with pictures for each step.

Prepare to Print Receipts

Load the receipt paper into the VX520 by lifting the cover of the top compartment. Place the roll inside with the feeding edge facing toward the screen. Make sure the paper feeds from underneath the roll instead of from the top. Pull a short length of paper up and over the screen to get it started, and close the compartment. Push gently to latch the cover into place.

Running Transactions with the VX520

Depending on the model you purchase, the VX520 has options to accept magnetic swipe cards, chip cards and electronic NFC payments. The more payment types you can provide, the more customers you can serve. Verifone’s gateways are secure and PCI-DSS compliant, so you know customer information is safe during processing.

To complete a transaction, simply swipe or insert a customer’s card or, for NFC payments, have them pass their phone over the terminal. Follow the instructions on the screen to process payment, including having the customer enter a PIN if necessary. Once you’ve collected the customer’s signature for your records, you’re all set.

With its easy setup and straightforward operation, the Verifone VX520 is a powerful solution for your everyday business needs. Customers enjoy the flexibility of choosing between several payment types, and your business benefits from being able to offer a variety of options through one credit card reader.

Consumers are already becoming accustomed to the power of sound as they interact with machines. Smartphones come preloaded with digital assistants that answer questions and otherwise do the user’s bidding, and now home-based devices such as Amazon’s Echo help you shop, play games and look up information. It should come as no surprise that sound solutions are also soon to revolutionize the way that point-of-sale transactions occur.

How Credit Card Transactions Are Processed

Today’s credit card transactions are processed in several different ways:

  • A customer pays using the old-school swipe method. This leaves them open to cloning and other security breaches.
  • A customer uses the more recently developed Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) card with an EMV-enabled POS. Security is much tighter with this method since the transaction is encrypted and the card never leaves the customer’s possession. However, this method can be slow, taking up to 15 seconds.
  • A customer uses their digital wallet in their phone along with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology in a merchant’s credit card reader. The mobile device only needs to be placed near the reader for the encrypted transaction to go through once the user has verified their identity via fingerprint. The downside is that the customer must have a NFC-equipped phone and be willing to attempt this sometimes temperamental transaction with a line of impatient buyers behind them.
  • Barcodes and QR codes enable customers to make payments with a quick scan and have been successful at retailers such as Dunkin Donuts and Walmart. However, merchant accounts charge more for these transactions. Worse still, they are not as secure.

How Paying by Sound Would Work

After years of trial and error, it finally appears that inventors have figured out how to use sound waves to communicate sensitive customer data quickly and securely. This technology is still being tested and is not available to the public yet, but it does have several differences from current payment processing methods:

  • It works with any phone that has a speaker, requiring no upgrades.
  • Transactions are completed in about two seconds, which also enhances the security of the encrypted transaction.
  • Security is also more ironclad than ever because a timing mechanism prevents criminals from recording the transaction.

Using sound to transmit credit card information from a customer’s smartphone into your POS could be the next revolution in the payment processing industry. Ease of use, cost effectiveness and an emphasis on security are features that virtually any retailer can’t help but love. Don’t be surprised if you hear a great deal more about this innovation in the not-too-distant future.

Taking credit card payments at your small business doesn’t require a pricey investment in new equipment. All you need is a reliable card reader to integrate with your current POS system.

The iCT220 from Ingenico is a simple, compact unit you can use with a dial-up or high-speed internet connection. It only takes a few minutes to connect and provides a range of intuitive functions to make credit card processing easy and convenient.

Getting Started with Your Card Reader

Setting up the iCT220 requires just a few steps. Unpack the unit and the associated cables, and locate the “magic box.” Connect either the phone cord or Ethernet cable depending on the type of internet you use, and plug in the power supply. Open the clamshell compartment on the top of the unit, insert the paper roll, pull out a short length of paper and close the door. The iCT220 is now ready to use.

Processing Payments

Customers can make purchases through the iCT220 using magnetic swipe cards, chip cards and near-field communication (NFC) services (such as Apple Pay on a smartphone). To take any type of payment, begin by pressing the green button to turn the unit on and hitting the “F” key to access the main function menu. From there, finish the transaction by:

  • Pressing “1” for transactions
  • Choosing option “1” for purchases
  • Entering the total amount and confirming with the green button
  • Taking the customer’s preferred payment method
  • Having the customer key in their pin if necessary

Once authorization is complete, print a receipt and get the customer’s signature. Pressing “1” prints a customer copy, and pressing “2” skips this step.

Cancelling Transactions

If something goes wrong with a transaction, the iCT220 lets you cancel it by:

  • Accessing the transaction menu
  • Choosing option “3” for reversal
  • Entering the password
  • Keying in the transaction amount

Receipts are printed at the end of a cancellation. This option is only available for the last transaction processed.

Issuing a Refund

Refunding a customer for past transactions is similar to a cancellation. Go to the transactions menu and:

  • Press “4” for credit
  • Enter your password
  • Enter the transaction amount and date
  • Process the customer’s payment method

Be sure to print a receipt for your records and sign it as confirmation of the refund.

Closing Out the Day

Batching credit card transactions through the iCT220 is necessary to transfer funds from payments to your business bank account. To do this, turn on the terminal. Hit “F” to open the menu. Choose “2” for balances and “3” for daily closing. Make it a habit to perform a closing at the end of each business day to ensure you get paid.

The Ingenico iCT220 adds credit card processing to any standard POS terminal, making it easy for your business to start accepting several new payment methods. Once you familiarize yourself with the basic functions, processing cards becomes second nature. Adding the iCT220 to your payment setup helps you serve a wider audience and grow your business with increased sales.

If you choose it well, your point-of-sale (POS) system can become an invaluable tool. Think of it as the Swiss army knife in your arsenal, always there in many capacities to make your life easier and to contribute to your commercial success as well as to the satisfaction of your customers.

What Is a POS System?

On the surface, your POS is a way to accept customer payments from a variety of sources, including chip, swipe and debit cards. However, that is only the beginning. The benefits of your POS are manifold:

  • You can seamlessly accept customer payments in many forms
  • Thanks to your reputable payment processing company, you can count on transactions that are not only fast but also secure. The adoption of chip technology in today’s EMV cards makes payments even safer.
  • Sales reporting in real time. With your POS, sales reports are in your hands with just a few clicks. Poring over spreadsheets can become a distant memory.
  • Make your POS’ back office capabilities go to work for you. Payroll, inventory management and customer loyalty tasks can become automated, reducing the chance of human error and helping you make the best use of your staff’s precious time.

Common POS Hardware

What can you expect when you unwrap your brand new POS? Most systems will come with the following hardware:

  • Register screen. This enables you to clearly see your transactions as they are taking place.
  • Barcode scanner. You will be amazed at how fast and error-free your checkouts can become with the use of barcodes and a device to quickly scan them at checkout. What’s more, the nightmare of inventory management is made much simpler when you and your staff can simply swipe codes instead of painstakingly writing down names and numbers.
  • Credit card reader. Your new POS will be capable of both reading a card when it is swiped and when it is dipped. The latter occurs if your customer has an EMV card equipped with a chip.
  • Your receipt printer gives your customer proof of purchase in case an item needs to be returned. Most modern POS solutions also give you the option to email a paperless receipt.
  • Cash drawer. At the heart of your POS, your cash drawer can be either terminal or printer driven and can connect to your receipt printer. Having a cash drawer that is easy to use is vital.

Must-Have Capabilities of a POS System

Today’s POS solutions are both multi-faceted and affordable. Be sure you make the most of this critical business investment.

  • Sales reporting. With these capabilities, your POS can help you project your inventory months in advance. By generating reports on how you did during last year’s holidays, for instance, you can make smarter plans for the one to come. What’s more, you can buy less of what didn’t sell and more of what did.
  • Customer management. Your POS has the potential to house an entire database of customer information that can be used to entice them back to your store again and again. Take a little time to gather email addresses and other data, and you can easily send out promotions for flash sales and customer loyalty.
  • Inventory control. Let your POS monitor and adjust your inventory count after each sale. The days of running out of products because you forgot to reorder or buying too much can be over if you use your POS inventory capabilities to their full advantage.
  • Employee tools. Imagine automating your payroll and employee time sheets. Picture how helpful it would be if schedules were always organized and at your fingertips in your POS system so that you could easily make changes to optimize efficiency. Many of today’s POS solutions make this possible.

Choosing the Best POS System for Your Business

Your first step is to determine what you want your POS to include. Some models are best for e-commerce companies, others work optimally for brick-and-mortar retailers, and others are great multitaskers. What will you be asking your POS to do for you?

Cost is always a consideration. Practice due diligence and shop around to find the system that contains the features you want while being as affordable as possible. Many business owners consult with their peers to see what they are using.

Be sure you choose a system that allows you to keep records of what is most important to you, including sales reports and payroll.

Before obtaining a POS, be sure you spend time discussing all of its features. Of paramount importance is the security of the system. A reputable vendor will ensure that the system’s software is upgraded to address any ongoing security threats.

By the same token, choose hardware that will stand the test of time. If your business colleagues have issues with a particular company’s equipment, consider buying something different.

Finally, know exactly what you are signing if there is a contract involved. For instance, some processors may provide free equipment if you meet volume requirements and/or sign a contract. If you are given a contract to sign, be sure you understand all of its caveats before making the commitment.

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The duties of an entrepreneur are seemingly nonstop. Even so, you surely have heard about the virtually endless stream of credit card fraud and other types of data breaches that are plaguing many well-known U.S. companies. Although these stories may seem far removed from you and your little enterprise, think again.

Why Your Business is Vulnerable

While large corporations have millions of customers and may offer a bigger pot of money and resources to plunder, thieves frequently tend to target even the smallest businesses. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, there are good reasons to target smaller sellers. Like mega-retailers, small companies often collect and store customers’ sensitive credit card data. However, security is often not as high of a priority, leaving these micro companies more vulnerable to attack.

They are also more likely to become victims because many have still not adopted the more secure chip card readers that have been strongly encouraged by credit card companies and other financial institutions since October 2015. Sometimes known as chip cards, EMV cards, named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, have become the industry standard. When placed in an EMV-enabled reader, this card is read and the entire transaction is processed in a fully encrypted way without the card ever leaving the customer’s hand. No longer does the merchant have access to the customer’s card number, expiration date or 3-digit security code.

Although EMV cards definitely have their advantages in terms of security, many small businesses have not yet upgraded their credit card scanner and swipers to accept the new cards. As a result, these merchants remain particularly vulnerable to criminal activity. What’s more, because they have failed to make the mandated updates, these sellers may be required to pay for the costs associated with any breach or fraud that occurs. That could amount to a daunting sum of money for a struggling small business.

Ransomeware: The Newest Type of Cyber Crime

Recent headlines have been brimming with disturbing stories about malicious emails that are sent primarily to those in financial positions at companies both small and large. If opened, these pernicious emails can hijack your entire data system, including all of your sensitive financial information. The creators of these types of malware then send a message indicating that you will never again have access to your vital data unless you pay a ransom. This latest trend in cybercrime is destructive and upsetting on numerous levels and looks to be on the rise.

Additional Costs Associated With Data Breaches

A small service business or retailer that is the victim of ransomware, fraud or other types of cybercrime also may potentially face other damaging hits to its bottom line. For one thing, you might be sued by your customer if you failed to have adequate security procedures in place.

In addition, you will probably incur expenses as you seek to understand the nature and extent of the breach that occurred, including legal fees. You will probably also be required to notify your customers about the data breach, and in most cases your merchant account provider will increase the fees you pay or even impose fines.

Intangible Costs

As you can see, fraud and data breaches can separate you from your money fast, but that’s not all they do. Consider the less concrete but equally disturbing possibility that your reputation may be seriously damaged. Once word gets around that you have been the victim of a serious data breach, it’s quite likely that you will lose a significant chunk of your profits as customers take their business elsewhere to a seemingly more secure vendor.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of becoming a victim of these types of devastating crimes.

  • Draft a privacy policy that details your company’s obligations when it comes to data and thus limit your liability. Stipulate that consumers and employees are responsible for the safe-keeping of their own information. Specify what data is collected, where it is stored and processed and what protocols are in place to protect it.
  • Educate your employees on how to safeguard their data and that of your customers. Establish protocols, provide regular trainings and specify what happens if someone fails to follow the rules. Also, provide clear guidelines for what employees should do if they believe a data breach has occurred or if equipment has been lost or stolen.
  • Make sure your protocols address whether employees can use public networks and include requirements to lock PCs and laptops and to use complex passwords.
  • Carefully examine your insurance coverage. You may not be aware that cyberattacks are not covered under most general liability insurance policies. Therefore, it is important that you speak with your agent about your business’ level of risk in order to purchase a rider that covers both first- and third-party expenses and liabilities.

The sad reality is that identity theft and cyberattacks are here to stay, and your business is vulnerable regardless of its size. That being said, you can keep your risk to a minimum by being proactive. Reduce your odds of becoming a cyberattack victim by educating your employees, keeping equipment up-to-date, following industry data protection standards and having safeguards in place such as comprehensive insurance coverage that will provide a financial safety net should the unthinkable happen,

Developing an app for your eating establishment might appear to be a virtual necessity now that everyone seems to have a smartphone with them wherever they go. But as with anything else, making an app for your restaurant has its pros and its cons.

Alert Passersby to Your Deals

Thanks to modern technology, there are ways to entice people who are in the vicinity of your restaurant to come inside. Once they get close, you can automatically send them a push notification about your soup of the day or your chef’s special plate.

Reward Your Loyal Customers

You might already be offering loyalty cards that can be used whenever customers buy food from your restaurant. The problem is that these can often be lost. By contrast, people always have their smartphones close at hand, and they interact with them countless times a day.

This makes responding to push notifications and email incentives a much more relevant way to thank people for their loyalty. Furthermore, you can use alerts and email to let your customers know when they are about to reach a reward milestone, thus encouraging them to grab their next meal at your restaurant.

Make Ordering a Breeze

With mobile ordering, customers can communicate directly with your staff who are making the food and filling the requests. No longer will they need to try to decipher scribbles or understand someone’s shorthand. If your system allows for in-app payments, you don’t even need to use your portable credit card reader or worry about security.

Help Customers Make Reservations

As in the case of ordering via mobile technology, reserving a table in advance using a smartphone can save customers time and frustration. No longer will they have to wait for someone to answer the phone and contend with the possibility of being misunderstood because of loud noise coming from other diners. Plus, a confirmation email that can be imported into their phone’s calendar will help to ensure that they make it to your door at the appointed day and time.

Encourage Social Sharing

You are probably well aware of the power of sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Yelp and YouTube, and you may have already integrated them into your marketing campaign. If you develop an app for your eatery, you can also tap into those resources to encourage customers to review their dining experience.

Set a timer to send customers an alert a few minutes after they order or check out using the app, and you have a much better chance of getting accurate, instantaneous feedback. Sweeten the deal even further by rewarding them with loyalty points.

Provide Access to Your Menu

One great way to stimulate a customer’s desire to come to your restaurant is to let them see what you have to offer right on their smartphone. Letting customers read your menu while they’re on the go can give you a competitive edge over other establishments that only display menus in their window.

Make Calling Easy

One feature of your app can be a “click to call” button. It enables customers to get in touch with you without needing to look you up on Google. If you make contacting you easy and seamless, it will cut down on customer frustration and give people a better overall impression of your restaurant.

Offer Coupons

Not so long ago, people needed to carry tiny slips of paper to a store or restaurant if they wanted to redeem a coupon. Thanks to the mobile phone revolution, redeeming coupons is now as simple as customers showing servers their phone screen.

Use Visual Appeal

One of the best ways to attract people is through their eyes. With your mobile app, you can tap into customers’ primal desire for food by taking pictures of your most attractive offerings and showing them prominently on the app. If something looks so good that a customer can almost taste it, imagine how much more likely they will be to act on their craving and walk through your door.

Consider Other Options

While developing an app for your restaurant obviously has many compelling advantages, it isn’t the only way to get the word out on what you have to offer. One alternative is to develop a mobile-friendly website or make your existing one compatible with smartphones. Tasks such as digital ordering, reservations, and online payment processing for your restaurant can be accomplished just as easily via this portal.

It also does not take up space on consumers’ phones, something that is often in short supply. In fact, the average person has fewer than three restaurant apps. Therefore, you might find it to be less time-intensive and easier to simply upgrade your website and bolster your social media marketing campaign.

You have probably heard the saying, “There’s an app for that.” Indeed, the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to games and entertainment options that can be downloaded onto smartphones. As a restaurant owner, your challenge is to decide if the many advantages of an app are worth the time and expense of developing it or if you can just as easily give customers what they want via your website, email and social media marketing strategies.

Do your eyes start to glaze over when you try to read through the contract from your merchant account provider? While your boredom and confusion are certainly understandable, it’s wise to have a complete idea of the terms you are agreeing to. One particular concept often appearing in these contracts that you need to understand is the idea of volume commitments.

Volume Commitments Defined

As the name suggests, a contract with a volume commitment stipulation requires you to process a specified amount of money each month through your merchant services accounts. If that doesn’t happen, you may be charged a penalty or experience a hike in your discount rates. For instance, let’s say you agree to process a minimum of $15,000 in sales through your credit card processing account each month. If you have even one slow month of sales of $13,000, your costs and penalties could go up.

The Advantages of Volume Commitments

For larger businesses or even smaller ones that are well-established and stable, contracts with volume commitment clauses can be advantageous. This is because in exchange for these commitments, you are often given a lower rate. However, if you even have an inkling that you might not meet your specified monthly or annual volume, these lower costs could vanish. Therefore, don’t gamble on a contract with volume commitments if your company is new or if you have stiff competition that is giving you a run for your money.

What Should You Do?

The good news is that there are plenty of merchant services accounts out there that do not require that you agree to volume commitments. While their rates may not be quite as tempting, you can at least rest easy knowing that you do not need to scramble to meet a minimum that may be difficult to attain during particularly slow sales months.

That underscores the importance of giving your account provider an accurate estimate of your monthly sales volume. If you low-ball it, the merchant will consider you to be a higher risk. On the other hand, exaggerating your figures can set you up for commitments that you cannot possibly meet.

The contract you sign with your merchant services account provider is a legal document. As such, you are held to its terms. Therefore, be sure you understand everything before you sign. If that includes volume commitments, think long and hard about your company’s stability, competition and sales prospects before you put your name on the dotted line.

Near field communication (NFC) is one of the most exciting innovations to come down the pike in recent years. This contactless interaction between two NFC-compatible devices allows your customer to send payment information to you just by waving their smartphone near your NFC-equipped credit card reader. It’s cool and cutting edge, but NFC brings many more benefits to the table for your business.

Get an Edge on Your Competition

No doubt, you have rivals who are doing all they can to steal your customers away from you. NFC helps you retain them by leading to increased positive shopping experiences in your store.

A customer’s payment experience is made fast, secure and even fun thanks to NFC. Most people love the speed and efficiency of transacting their purchases in this way. They also can use NFC to take advantage of any coupons or customer loyalty programs that you or many mobile wallet providers have put in place. This is a win-win for both of you: precious customer contact information for you, savings for them.

If you haven’t already upgraded your systems to accept NFC payments, the time is now. This technology can boost your ability to maximize the performance of your staff and, most important of all, lead to happy customers. As you know, satisfied buyers are the ones who will not only come back again and again but also will tell others about your business.

Your point-of-sale (POS) system is an invaluable tool that can help with numerous aspects of your business’ day-to-day operations. Much more than just a means of processing customer payments, your POS system is also an automated inventory manager, accountant, report generator and marketing assistant.

In addition, it can help you to manage your employees with a higher level of efficiency and fairness.

Take the Glitches Out of Time Clocks

Remove the guesswork from time tracking with your POS. Each employee receives a secure PIN that is entered when clocking in and out. With this system, your workers can also check how many hours they have worked.

Supplement Your Training Tools

Many POS systems are equipped with demo features that allow your new employees to practice tasks before actually encountering customers in real time. This can cut down on human error and lead to more relaxed, positive interactions with your valued patrons.

Enhance Employee Efficiency via Access to Scheduling Tools

With the help of your POS, monitoring and changing employee schedules is a breeze, and it can be done from anywhere. Thanks to these capabilities, you can optimize your staff’s time and ensure that you have enough coverage during the busiest times and not more than you need during quieter periods.

Create Accountability

With your POS, each transaction is marked with the name of the employee who completed it. When staff members know their activity is being monitored, the temptation for theft is reduced and people are motivated to be careful not to make mistakes.

Secure and Compartmentalize Financial Data

Staff members who are only responsible for counter duty do not need to be privy to sensitive financial details. You can set up your POS system to ensure that only employees in vital management positions have access to this information.

Make Tipping Transparent

If you own a restaurant, you know that tips can be an ongoing source of tension among your employees. Your POS can generate reports that enable you to track all of the tips your employees receive, thus making it easier to resolve disputes.

Provide Incentives and Assistance to Staff

Your POS’s ability to generate reports can enable you to help your employees in two important ways. First, you can see who is performing above all others and reward the person accordingly, thus providing ongoing incentives for everyone to improve.

Second, the same report can give you insights into which of your employees might be struggling with their duties. This gives you an opportunity to provide targeted, preemptive training that can not only improve the person’s efficiency and morale but also enable him or her to relate better to your valuable customers.

As you can see, your POS system is much more than a payment processor. By taking advantage of all of its capabilities, you can catapult your business to the next level. As a result, you, your staff and your customers will benefit.

Personal trainers are in a highly competitive service business that presents its own range of special challenges. As a trainer, you might find yourself spread thin between visiting clients with sessions in their homes and meeting clients for workouts in various gyms, not to mention keeping up with the latest fitness and nutrition trends. As a result, the bookkeeping for your business may be suffering. That’s where payment processing for personal trainers and gyms can give you a competitive edge.

Provide Several Ways for Your Clients to Pay

None of us loves paying bills, but people are much more likely to do so in a timely fashion if they have a range of ways to pay and if the process is simple and straightforward. When you sign up with a merchant provider, your customers gain access to several ways to fulfill their financial obligations to you.

If you have an internet-based payment terminal, you can provide customers with a number of payment options including credit and debit cards, e-check, by phone or even by fax. In the end, your client is happy because the billing process is so seamless, and you win because you receive your money quickly and easily without needing to have an awkward conversation.

Another choice that merchant account providers furnish to personal training businesses involves upfront versus recurring payments. With upfront payments, the client is forced to pony up the entire cost of all upcoming sessions in one single payment. This can often be daunting and can lead a person to buy fewer sessions than they might have if the charges were more manageable. In addition, when the sessions are done, customers often do not renew.

A second way of financing is to allow people to pay on a recurring basis, providing smaller payments on a pre-agreed time schedule, usually automatically withdrawn from a credit or debit card account. This method spreads out the financial burden for the consumer and gives you a steady and dependable source of revenue over a longer period of time. You can ask your merchant provider about enabling you to bill in a variety of frequencies and even on the day of the week of your choice.

Customizable Solutions to Match Your Business’ Needs

Whether you are just starting out and have five clients or you have a flourishing enterprise with a staff working for you, there is a merchant account that can fit your company’s needs. Once you become acquainted with a merchant account provider that you trust, you can begin to tailor your website. Include a payment portal that makes billing easy, and be sure to prominently feature your complete list of services so that your new and existing customers have a comprehensive idea of what you have to offer. Consult with your merchant account provider to be sure that you understand all of the features available to you so that you can select the ones that can help you run your business more smoothly.

Enhanced Security

No one wants to be the victim of fraud or a data breach; the damage can be enough to send a fledgling small business straight into bankruptcy. When you sign up with a high-quality merchant account provider, you can expect to have a system that makes data security a priority. Look for one that is PCI compliant, freeing you from the burden of being exposed directly to clients’ sensitive debit or credit card data.

Bring Your Marketing to the Next Level

Marketing is one of the most overlooked yet crucial parts of most fitness businesses. The problem is that mounting a successful campaign requires time and persistence, two things you may not have in huge supply as you scurry from working with one client to the next. Luckily, a good merchant services provider can give you the tools to market your business with far less effort. Imagine having a reliable partner or tool to compile client databases and send out promotions to your loyal customers.

Everyone loves loyalty benefits, so why not set up and implement special promotions for customers who refer others to your business or who have perfect attendance at all of your sessions? Combine what your merchant services provider can do for you with a little social media presence and some positive reviews from your happy customers, and your fitness business can virtually market itself.

Harness the Power of Gift Cards

Did you know that payment processing providers can generate customized gift cards that you can sell to your customers? When you recognize that most people spend more than the amount on the gift card when they redeem it, this is a win-win for you. In addition, gift cards are a very effective way for happy customers to spread the word about your personal training business to their friends and family. So often, the hardest part about becoming physically fit is going to the gym or to a personal trainer for the first time. Gift cards provide huge incentives that can get even the most hesitant couch potato off the sofa.

Intelligent Analytics

Your payment processor can also help you pull reports about your sales and what products and services are selling at what times. Is your business slumping when summer comes and more clients are spending time outside with family and friends? Maybe that’s the best time to send an email blast with an enticing boot camp promotion.

After the holiday rush, you might want to take advantage of the New Year’s resolution craze by providing loyal customers with a free aerobics workout included in the purchase of three sessions. When you know where your successes and weaknesses lie thanks to your merchant account software, you truly can make decisions that benefit your business.

As a personal trainer, you might often see clients who have ambitious fitness goals so daunting that they feel paralyzed. Believe it or not, the same thing can happen as you seek to grow your business. Fortunately, a high-quality merchant account provider can give you the tools and support to help strengthen and expand your company. As with becoming physically fit, it takes time, work and persistence, but in the end, you will be glad you put in the effort.

Many entrepreneurs wishing to start an e-commerce business become fixated on one specific element, the payment gateway, to the exclusion of the many other important factors that must be put into place before an online store can get up and running. Once you see the big picture, you can methodically take all of the steps in the right order. Doing so will help you get your site off the ground with the best chance of success.

The Payment Gateway

For those who might be fixated on the question of how to take payments, let’s get the payment gateway out of the way first. If you already have experience as a brick-and-mortar retailer, you probably know a good deal about accepting customer payments via credit and debit cards. Upon swiping or dipping a card, the buyer’s transaction was handled by your point-of-sale (POS) system or terminal, which transmitted the data for authorization and processing.

When you run an online operation, that same task is accomplished through what is called a payment gateway, which transmits credit and debit card data for authorization.

Maximize Your Success by Making the Right Product Choices

Long before your first customer puts a purchase into their shopping cart, you need to be sure that you are selling the products or services that people both want and need. Competition online can be cutthroat, and the last thing you want to do is pour your time and money into an endeavor that no one is interested in supporting. For that reason, you need to use multiple strategies to determine the best items to sell and to whom.

If you either are or can hire someone with the knowledge to research keywords for search engine optimization (SEO), you can get a good idea of what trending items people are searching for and can jump on that bandwagon. Alternatively, find goods or services that uniquely satisfy a previously unmet customer need, desire or passion.

Another idea is to find something that you yourself believe deeply in, using your enthusiasm and knowledge of your product to attract people who are equally dedicated. You might also take advantage of a deficit or gap you see in the way existing products are marketed. In other words, do things better or in a different way than your competitors to land those sales.

Finally, if you see a trend coming down the pike that interests you, jump on it right away. You just might be the early bird that gets the worm.

Obtain Your Products

Your next challenge is to determine the best way to obtain the items you wish to sell. There are several options:

  • Make them. Doing it yourself gives you the ability to control quality for your brand. This method can give you low startup costs, brand and price control and maximum agility. However, you need to purchase and store raw materials and find the time to do the work or hire people to help.
  • Find a domestic or overseas manufacturer. With this strategy, you can control your prices, create your brand and have the lowest cost per unit. However, you generally need to order in bulk and pay accordingly. This method can also take more time as well as leaving you open to fraud, particularly if you are using overseas manufacturers.
  • Buy wholesale directly from the manufacturers or from a third party. You then resell your inventory at a higher rate. With wholesale, you are dealing in already established brands and usually don’t need to purchase in extremely high quantities. However, keep in mind that your competitors are also selling these brands. In addition, you may be required to price your products according to the manufacturer’s rules. If you sell various products wholesale, you will probably do business with several partners, which can be confusing.
  • Dropshipping. With this strategy, you sell items that you don’t actually own or store in inventory. You take an online order and forward it to your dropship partner, who in turn fulfills the order and sends it to the customer. Dropshipping enables you to have a diverse, ever-growing product offering without having to worry about inventory management. Costs are low, and you don’t need to worry about the details of packing and shipping. The downside is that you need to give the dropshipper a cut of your profits on products whose margin may already be small. What’s more, competition is fierce, and problems often arise with back-ordering products.

To decide which of these methods is right for you, think about your products and the marketing niche you are seeking to fill as well as your financial situation. In many cases, your choice is a relatively easy one.

Craft Your Plan and Get Started

Dedicating time and careful thought to a comprehensive business plan is one of the best gifts you can give to your e-commerce store. This is an indispensable road map that will help you to explain your company and its needs as well as its competitors, express how you plan to market your products and services, how you will go about getting your wares into the hands of your customers, and how you will finance your business. No investor worth their salt will put any funds into your company without this document.

With a completed plan in place, your next job is to register your business and your domain name as well as create a logo that will be both attractive and compelling. Follow that up by writing descriptions of your products that are easy to understand and explain why what you are selling is better than other brands. Then take product photos that pop, and you’re ready to build your store.

Get a Merchant Account

Now we return to the original issue of accepting payments. In order to do so, you are required by law to set up a merchant account with a bank. This enables you to process customer credit card payments through your website. If you already have a gateway, that company will generally be able to set you up with a merchant account after checking your and your business’ credit.

Pay Attention to Your Website

Remember, your website is the first impression that online shoppers have of your business. Be sure yours is clear, uncluttered, easy to use and descriptive. If you don’t have the time or technical knowledge to make this happen, there are numerous templates that enable even neophytes to set up an adequate e-commerce site.

Alternatively, you can hire a professional web designer to make your site stand out from the rest. However you set it up, be sure your site includes a shopping cart that allows customers to securely input credit card information and make encrypted payments. To that end, it is crucial that you get a security certificate for your website from an established company such as VeriSign or McAfee. You will be required to have a payment process that includes SSL data transmission, AVS, address verification and CVV2.

As you can see, a great deal of work goes into your e-store long before the first product is sold. While it might seem daunting, taking each task step by step can enable you to slowly but surely accomplish each necessary goal. Before you know it, you will be open for e-business.

You enjoy fixing things around the house, are good with your hands, and like to interact with people. These things in mind, you have decided you are a perfect candidate to start a home repair business. So now what?

After you determine the services you want to perform, the customer base you will serve, the name, structure and location of your shop and your marketing strategy, there remains only one major issue: How can you ensure that your customers pay you for the work you provide?

1. Clarify Your Processes

For your own protection and in order to provide full transparency, make a written payment policy document that you give to each customer before a job begins. This document should include comprehensive information about billing: how often invoices will go out, your late payment policy, how your payment rate is structured (hourly, daily, etc.) and the payment types you will accept.

The more flexible you can be in giving your customers numerous payment options, the better. If you accept credit cards online, allow for recurring billing over time, and take in-person swipe and chip cards as well as NFC transactions, you will make the payment process convenient, thus maximizing your chances of receiving the money you are owed in a timely fashion.

2. Protect Yourself from Undesirable Clients

When you’re just starting out in your home repair business, you might find yourself wanting to work for anyone and everyone who contacts you. Sadly, this inclusive strategy will open you up to exactly what you don’t need: clients who complain unreasonably about your work and who either submit their payments late or not at all.

The importance of protecting your good name and reputation cannot be overstated. Preserve both by being as careful to choose the people for whom you work as they should be in choosing you. If your gut tells you that a prospective customer spells trouble, bow out gracefully. Some red flags include people who question every detail of your work above and beyond the norm; bargain hunters who want you to reduce your already fair rates to an unreasonably low level; and potential customers who fail credit checks or whose references seem hesitant about vouching for them.

In all of these cases, politely and firmly terminating contact can save you from a world of invoicing nightmares in the months to come, leaving you with more time to find the solid, conscientious customers you deserve.

3. Take a Hands-On Approach to Late Payments

Perhaps you dislike confrontation and would prefer to simply wait for a customer who is delinquent on payments to eventually do what’s right. Although this might happen once in awhile, the reality is that the longer you allow an overdue payment to extend, the less likely it is that you will ever receive what you are owed.

This is where establishing a relationship with your customers can really come in handy. If someone forgets to pay their bill, give them a call and remind them of the written payment policy that you provided before the job began. Give them a full 30 days to make the payment and then charge interest. If the customer contacts you to make payment arrangements, consider this to be a minor victory; receiving a smaller payment each month until the debt is satisfied is better than demanding it all up front, only to end up with nothing if the customer does not have the means to pay it all right away.

If your phone calls and emails do not produce any payment results, draft a firm letter specifying the legal consequences of non-payment. If worse comes to worst, hire a collections agency.

If you are a conscientious home repair business owner who consistently does excellent work and spends time understanding your customers’ needs, delinquent payments will hopefully be few and far between. As long as you keep your promises, make customers aware of your payment expectations and weed out those people who seem likely to default, you are likely to garner a great deal of success.