What kind of system do I need?
There are a few ways to charge a credit card.
A point-of-sale (POS) system . Best for in-store sales. You’ll need a card reader too.
A card reader . Best when you’re out in the field. You can attach it to your phone or tablet.
An online payment gateway system .
If your business is complex enough, a POS system is useful because it can also tie in other things besides credit card processing, like inventory management, appointments, accounting and sales reporting.
Do I need a Merchant Service Provider?
A Merchant Service Provider (MSP) acts as a middleman between a small business and the customer’s credit card or bank. They’re generally recommended when you’re charging higher amounts.
The money may take one or two days to show up in your account, but you’ll generally have good fraud protection. If an MSP makes sense for you, read the contract carefully and check for a strong rating from the Better Business Bureau. Make sure your service comes with good tech support.
What’s a mobile credit card processor?
Processors like the ones you can get from PayPal, Square and Stripe let you take credit cards from anywhere as long as you have a phone or tablet on you. They’re generally easy to use, don’t usually charge monthly or annual account fees and often include some sort of POS system. But you’ll have to keep an eye on how much you get charged for processing. Fraud is also a higher risk, and it can take longer for the money to show up in your account.
How much will I have to pay in fees?
Transaction fees are based on your merchant account provider or mobile credit card processor, the customer’s credit card company and whether you collect payment via credit card or debit card.
Fees vary from company to company, but you’ll likely pay for:
Card processing equipment (purchase or rental)
Monthly, quarterly or annual fees
Transaction fees (anywhere from 10 to 30 cents per transaction)
Percentage of the sale (anywhere from .05% to 5%)
What else should small businesses keep in mind about taking credit cards? Tell us in the comments.
... View more
Kenneth Vaughn is a former restaurant industry executive turned academic who is now a full-time golf instructor. Learn how he’s hitting all his business shots at age 75.
I graduated college at age 71 with a 4.0 and a PhD in American Political History. I wanted to be a professor. But after a year and applying to 32 teaching positions without getting any interviews, I realized that my age might be an obstacle to getting a professorship. So I sat down with a piece of paper and listed out my strengths.
I have a passion to teach.
I have always been athletically gifted.
I love the game of golf.
I went with my assets and passion. I’m 75. I was the Vice President of Operations and Training for several major restaurant chains. I was one of the founders of the Spaghetti Warehouse. Now I teach. I had always enjoyed playing golf but never thought about doing it professionally. But when you live to be 75, you end up doing a lot.
... View more
1. Know your worth.
“Don’t undersell yourself. People won’t always pick the cheapest quote. Help people see your worth.” - Meghan Aro
Negotiating price isn’t easy. Make sure you do the math on your value and costs — and scope out what your competition charges. If you need to research market prices, Thumbtack has cost estimate pages for hundreds of services, like photography , wedding planning , and life coaching , which are based on millions of real professional quotes to customers.
Of course, if you’re new and need to build up reviews, you should take on smaller jobs or offer discounts. Then ramp up your prices as you build your business. But if you’ve been in the game for awhile, you could play it safe with average prices — but why play it safe? Customers hire pros who deliver the best value and experience. So think about what makes you stand out from the crowd. Build up your profile to show you’re the kind of pro who genuinely cares about their work.
2. It’s ok to be persistent.
“People can be forgetful, so follow up with your job requests after a day or two. Remind them you still want to work with them and do your best to meet in person.” - Meghan Aro
Let’s say a customer contacts you. They have a couple of questions. You answer quickly — and then you don’t hear anything back. Should you follow up? Maybe they won’t like it if you send them another message. Maybe they’re busy and another message will just annoy them. Maybe —
No. Stop. Your customer may just need a nudge. Follow up. Keep your message polite and quick to show that you’re respectful of their time.
3. Know your limits.
“Once I became more conscious of my personal limit, I was able to create a schedule that allowed me to be truly present, energetic, and the best coach I could be every session.” - Kaitlyn Noble
If business is booming, you might be tempted to do it all. But if you go too hard, you might overbook your schedule — or overwork yourself. Know your travel, time and energy limits, especially if you have regular sessions with your customers. Remember: it’s ok to say no to jobs.
Do you have some good tips of your own? Share them in the comments.
... View more
Review your expenses regularly.
Create a list that includes all of your overhead costs and expenses, including profit and loss statements, equipment leasing, office rental expense, internet services, utilities and travel. Review that list regularly to scan for items you no longer need or are paying too much for. It’s also a great way to track deductions when it comes time to file your taxes.
Hire an accountant.
Yes, it’s another added cost. But it can also save you time and money come tax season. Accountants will be able to recognize deductions you may have overlooked, as well as other savings opportunities.
Ask for deals.
You’ll never know if you can get a discount unless you ask. Reach out to all of your vendors and service providers and see if there’s any way to negotiate lower prices. Most companies would rather lower your bills than lose you as a customer altogether.
If you can, work from home.
Some small businesses require a physical office. If yours doesn’t, save that rent money to spend on something that will generate revenue. If you need to work outside of the home due to space constraints or distractions, consider using a shared office space, which has an existing IT infrastructure, low overhead, flexibility, and maybe even networking opportunities.
Almost everything, including contracts and invoicing, can be done electronically these days. That means saving money on ink cartridges, paper, postage stamps and storage for old-fashioned files. It’s also much better for the environment.
Save time with software.
Instead of manually entering and paying bills, use payable automation to have information from electronic emails automatically extracted and scheduled. There are also document management applications that eliminate the need for you to print out documents and get them physically signed. Time card services can do everything from tracking employee time to scheduling. And automated invoicing services allow you to send professional invoices via email and get paid.
Get creative with your marketing.
Think of ways to get the word out that won’t cost as much as traditional or online advertising. That might mean offering an incentive for referrals, asking customers to leave online reviews or ramping up your social media efforts.
Remember: Your time is money.
When you’re starting a business, doing everything yourself to avoid paying someone else seems like a good idea. But at some point, it makes more sense for you to spend your time on a task that actually makes money; not bookkeeping or website maintenance. Figure out tasks you can outsource or delegate.
What were your biggest struggles when you started your business? Share in the comments.
... View more
Great profiles win more jobs. Here’s how wedding officiant Kathleen Kraft, house cleaner Paige Rounds, and event DJ Rob Goldberg build a winning profile.
Wedding officiant Kathleen uses a great headshot.
Your headshot is the first thing a customer sees. A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure those words are “professional, trustworthy and talented” rather than “squinty, pixelated and unrecognizable.”
Check out the difference between wedding officiant Kathleen Kraft’s previous and current headshot:
Her previous headshot on the left is low quality. Plus she’s standing far away. Her current headshot is sharp, polished, well lit and framed nicely — it makes her look a lot more professional.
“I want my photo to reflect my personality — both my sincerity and my fun side, but also my professionalism,” says Kathleen. “I have the privilege of uniting two people as a job, my headshot should show that I take it seriously.”
House cleaner Paige has a lot of great reviews — and writes back.
Pros with five or more reviews are on average twice as likely to be hired on Thumbtack. At the moment house cleaner Paige Rounds of MaidPro Wichita has 26 reviews — the majority of them are 5-star reviews.
Obviously, customers like seeing 5-star reviews. But they also like to see pros writing back, even to the bad ones. Especially to the bad ones. Take a look at how Paige responds to both kinds of reviews.
For the great review, Paige thanks the customer for taking the time to say something nice. She also personalizes it (“I hope you’re enjoying your new place”) and offers her services in the future. In other words, she shows that she’s friendly, cares about her customer and that she’s always ready to help.
Let’s take a look at the bad review. Paige actually does the same things — she thanks the customer for taking time to leave a review. Then she explains the situation and offers a solution, because she cares about her customer. And she still shows that she’s always ready to help when she extends the satisfaction guarantee.
Any potential customer reading through Paige’s reviews can see that Paige is professional, responsive and friendly no matter the situation. She’s the kind of pro you’d want to hire.
Event DJ Rob wrote a quick introduction that sells his business.
Rob Goldberg of East Bay Digital Sound made his introduction perfectly skimmable. It takes under a minute to read. But it still manages to get the important points across.
“My bio was long,” says Rob. “I consolidated everything down to 3 key points. 1) When you hire me, you’re hiring a trained professional. 2) I use the highest quality equipment and the the most recent techniques. 3) I love what I do. That should be enough to get a customer’s attention. The rest goes in my Q&A.”
A high quality headshot, good reviews and a strong introduction can all make your profile stand out. Got any great profile ideas or tips? Share them in the comments.
... View more
Finding the right employees isn’t easy — especially when you’re used to serving every customer yourself. Here’s how to take it one step at a time.
Describe the job.
Be detailed about what you’re looking for. Your job description should include:
Hours per week
Employee status (full-time, part-time or contract)
Talk a little about why your company is a great place to work. You can mention the kinds of jobs you do, what your customers are like and what your employees might learn from working for you.
If you’re not quite sure how to describe the job, start by keeping a list of the things you need help with as they come up.
Figure out what to pay.
You might pay hourly or offer a salary. Don’t forget to think about benefits, bonuses and perks that can help you attract the right candidate.
Research pay rates for the kind of job you’re offering. Sites like Indeed have a salary research tool that can help with some kinds of jobs. Decide all of that before you start looking for someone so you can make sure you have the budget for an employee.
Post the job listing on job search sites, like Indeed, CareerBuilder, Craigslist, and LinkedIn. Tell your friends, business connections and any local colleges or training schools in your line of work. You can also ask current employees for referrals.
Narrow the field.
Set aside specific times to look at resumes and applications. It’s easier to compare candidates side by side and you’ll waste less time. Pick the three most important things from the job description — the “must have” qualities you’re looking for. Put any candidates who have all these qualities in one pile, then sort other resumes into another pile as backup options.
Call your shortlist.
Spend 10-15 minutes on the phone with any candidate who looks like a good fit. The point is to figure out if it’s worth meeting them in person. If you decide not to invite someone in for an interview, it’s thoughtful to send them an email thanking them for their time and letting them know you’re going a different direction.
Make a list of questions that you’ll ask every applicant. Start with easy ones to help the candidate relax, then move onto trickier topics. Take detailed notes.
Don’t forget: It’s not legal to ask about an applicant’s age, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or marital status.
If you’re ready to hire someone, make sure to ask for and call their professional references. You’ll want to know about their strengths and weaknesses, performance at prior jobs and soft skills. Don’t go out of your way to find reasons to disqualify the candidate. The point is to make sure you get a complete view on their work and how they handle real-world challenges.
Remember your paperwork.
Hiring even one employee means a different set of government regulations to comply with. This could include getting an EIN (Employer Identification Number), setting up records for withholding taxes, making sure they’re eligible to work in the U.S., getting workers’ compensation insurance and more. This all needs to be done before your new employee’s first day.
The right hire can make all the difference in a small business. You should be slow to hire and quick to address any performance issues. Make sure you set your new employee up for success by clearly outlining expectations, working hours and any information they need to do their job well. If you do end up hiring someone who’s a bad fit, it’s better to cut the cord as soon as possible to save money, keep up employee morale and protect your business.
... View more
Looking professional is key to your company’s growth, especially when you’re just starting out. But things that help your business look legitimate — reviews, customer testimonials, photos of completed projects — are collected over time. So how do you stand out when you’re starting out?
Create a professional website.
Here’s why: It’s been said that if you’re not online, you don’t exist. Not only do you miss out on customers searching online for businesses like yours, you risk losing potential clients because you appear less legitimate without an online presence. Think of your website as home-base for your business. Use it to educate people about your products or services, pricing, hours, and accomplishments. It’s also a tool for gathering customer data and email addresses for future marketing efforts.
Here’s how: Your website will often be your customers’ first point of contact with your business, so you want to make sure it’s well-designed, easy-to-use, and that every link/page works (that means no “coming soon” pages). Luckily, thanks to website platforms like WordPress, this is easy to achieve without a lot of time or financial investment.
Handle the legal stuff in advance.
Here’s why: If you want people to trust you enough to hire you, you’ve got to have the administrative aspects of your business buttoned up
Here’s how: That includes making sure you’re legally allowed to use your company name (and considering whether you should file for trademark protection), obtaining all of the proper licenses or permits, getting insurance, understanding all of the regulations surrounding your business, forming an LLC or corporation, and getting a Federal Tax ID number. You may need to hire an accountant or attorney to help you accomplish these tasks, but that’s money well spent if it means you’ll avoid problems down the road.
Invoice promptly and professionally.
Here’s why: Invoicing isn’t the most exciting part of the job, but it is certainly one of the most important. If you don’t send your clients a bill, you won’t get paid. Invoices are also a branding opportunity and sometimes your last chance to make an impression that can bring your client back for more business.
Here’s how: Ideally, you should generate invoices using billing or accounting software, which will look more professional than something created in Microsoft Word or Excel. Either way, be sure to include the invoice date, invoice number, a clear description of each charge, the total amount due and the due date, terms, and payment options. Don’t forget to say “thank you” at the bottom.
Ask for feedback.
Here’s why: Anyone just starting out in a new business has a few things to learn. Some of those things will be obvious to you. Some will be more obvious to your customers. By making it a point to ask the people who are interacting with your products or services what they like and what could use improvement, you’re not only getting valuable feedback, but you’re showing your customers that you are aware of the fact that your business model has room to adapt and grow.
Here’s how: It’s important to note that even if you get negative feedback, you should thank the person giving it to you. It shows a level of respect and gives you a chance to walk away and think about it without reacting. In addition, keep an eye out for any patterns to what your customers are saying, and be sure to ask questions. You never know, your customer may have a solution or suggestion you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
Use social media.
Here’s why: Though keeping up with multiple social media accounts can be time consuming, it’s also one of the most inexpensive ways to market your business. And you don’t need to have social media accounts on every single platform.
Here’s how: Choose the platforms that make the most sense for your business. Not only is it relatively affordable to run targeted advertising on social media platforms, it’s also a chance for you to get to know your customers and boost your SEO.
How did you get started? Share your tips with new pros here .
... View more
Top pro Mic Mell of Eleven Coaching talks about the importance of marketing when running your own business.
I got one important thing from my career coach, “If you’re not willing to spend a big chunk of your money on marketing, you shouldn’t go into business for yourself.”
I leaned into it. My marketing guy and I spent 6-8 hours over three weeks refining my profile. Here’s what I learned:
You don’t need a full website to generate business. But you do need at least a one page website. People want the veneer of legitimacy. It’s important to pay to get a good logo, not the crap your cousin made.
You must know your specific target market and it cannot be vague. If you say you want all people, you will not be able to succeed. Coca-Cola serves all people, but unless you can rival their marketing budget you need a specific target market.
Hire specialists. It hurts me to pay my accountant each month, but I do. And thank God I don’t have to learn the new tax law. So I hire people that work with me on my branding and marketing. Don’t try to be the master of all things. You can’t do everything.
... View more
This article is the final part of a 3 part series. Make sure to check out Part 1: How to create your social media strategy, and Part 2: How to create a social media calendar.
You’ve got all of the basics down — now it’s time to start posting, get followers, and work towards your goals. Here are some social media best practices to keep in mind as you move forward.
Figure out what types of updates you’re going to post.
There are a lot of different ways to post on social, including links, shares, videos, images, quotes, and plain text. Choose one type that you’ll use the most and plan to post a different type for every four posts.
Follow and engage with relevant people and brands.
Building a following takes time, but a good way to start is by following people who are relative to your business. Share their content, like their posts, join their conversations, and ask questions.
Engage with your audience.
As your follower count grows, be sure you’re taking time to engage with your audience — whether they’re potential or existing customers. Listen. Answer their questions on time. Respond to complaints and work to make the customer happy. Even a simple thank you if they pay you a compliment will go a long way.
Create a hashtag for your brand.
Put a hashtag on all of your marketing materials. Encourage customers to share their experience and use the hashtag. One great way to do this is to give away something small once a week/month to everyone who posts it. It’s a good way to get people talking about your business without spending a lot.
Post content that fits your brand’s personality.
It’s ok to go off topic once in a while with a funny meme or photo, but the majority of your content should fit your brand. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it, but keep things as consistent as possible. Otherwise you’ll confuse your followers.
Monitor your goal progress.
There are lots of tools out there that can track your efforts. Most social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, offer their own stats trackers for business profiles. But there are also different social media tracker tools that give you a more detailed analysis, such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social.
Make changes and improvements.
As you continue, you’ll notice what’s working and what isn’t. Tweak your schedule and content based on that information. If something is working well, do more of that. If something is falling flat (i.e. not getting any response), don’t continue to post things like that. You want to monitor your social media results as you go, so that you’re not wasting time on something that’s not working.
Consider paid advertising.
If you’re not getting the results you want as quickly as you’d like, consider advertising on the platforms you’re using. It’s highly targeted and pretty affordable, so it’s a good way to get your message in front of potential customers.
And finally — keep going.
Social media marketing takes time and effort. But stick with it. If you do it well, it will pay off in the form of new business.
Do you have a post that you’re proud of? Or a piece of content that got a lot of engagement? Or maybe you have a really great profile. Share your social media achievements here in the comments.
... View more
Going with the flow is fun in life, but less advisable in social media. Figure out your posting calendar to understand of how much time social media will take you. Then you can save time by scheduling posts.
But first you need to know what to post, which means you need to figure out your brand voice. Your brand’s voice is its personality. It needs to be consistent across all of your marketing efforts — otherwise you’ll just confuse people. Here’s how to figure out your voice.
Choose three adjectives that best describe the voice you want.
Will it be professional? Authentic? Quirky? Lively? Empathetic? What does the adjective you pick mean and how is it going to translate into your brand’s personality? How you describe your voice should help you determine how you deliver your message, including the rhythm and vocabulary you use.
Define your brand’s tone.
Voice is personality. Tone is how that personality behaves depending on the circumstances. How you talk to your mom versus your landlord sounds different — but you’re still the same person. Once you know your brand’s voice, figure out which tone that voice will have in different situations. What’s its vibe? If your brand voice is authoritative, you might be formal, assertive or calm. Depending on the content you’re creating, the tone can and should change. A meme, for example, would be more playful, while a case study would be more straightforward.
Once you have your brand voice and tone, you should have a general idea of what content fits your brand. Now you can build your social media calendar. Here’s how:
Create a posting schedule.
At first, plan your schedule for just a couple of weeks. Don’t go any further because it will definitely change as you see the days and times when your audience engages the most. The schedule keeps you posting regularly and holds you accountable.
Plan to post frequently — but not too frequently.
According to the pros, this is a suggestion of how often and when you should be posting on different social media platforms to get you started:
Facebook: 1-2 times a day; start by posting between 1-4pm
Twitter: 3-10 times a week; start by posting between 1-3pm
Pinterest: At least 5 times a day; start by posting between 2-4pm and 8-11pm
Instagram: 1-2 times a day; start by posting between 5-6pm
LinkedIn: 1-2 times a week; start by posting between 7-8:30am and 5-6pm
Categorize your content.
Assign each post on the schedule a content category. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re going to be posting, but try to figure out if you’ll be sharing someone else’s content, posting original content that’s promoting your business, posting original content that is business-related but not a direct promotion, sharing something simply to entertain, etc.
Follow the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule says that around 80% of your content should provide your audience value of some sort, while 20% of your content can be used to promote your business.
So now you have your strategy, your brand and your calendar. It’s finally time to start posting. Check out Part 3: How to post on social media , to learn best practices and how to track your progress.
How often do you like to post on social media? Let us know in the comments.
... View more