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What to Look for in a Photographer

  
  
  
  

Watch to hear our interview with Winn Fuqua, owner of Fuqua Photography, about what to look for in a photographer besides quality of photos.

About Photographer Winn Fuqua (03:23)
What Makes Winn's Business Different (01:49)

Mobile POS Guide

About the Author

Jackie ClewsAt NTC Texas, Jackie Clews works with the team on content marketing strategies, campaign execution, and analysis. She also hosts the NTC Texas All Star Experts video series and is a Co-Founder of Digital Marketing Direction, a digital marketing agency. As a Dallas native, she has a weird obsession with finding and discussing the best BBQ and salsa. You can talk marketing (or food!) with her on Twitter @JackieClews.

Holiday Marketing: Tips and Tricks for Small Businesses

  
  
  
  

hliday business marketingTis the season for mistletoe and bright lights across every city. It’s also the season of buying, buying, buying as consumers search for the perfect holiday items for everyone on their lists.

And you, Business-Owner, have a chance to reap some of the benefits.

The Holiday Season is one of the busiest times of year for retail businesses, but larger businesses, of course, seem to catch most of the glory. As a Small Business-Owner, you have to be creative to make the most of the holiday season and below are some ideas of how to drum up the business you need.

Special Events for your Special Customers

Most Small Businesses thrive only because of smart thinking and a very loyal customer base. They can rarely offer the lowest price for many items because of the bigger companies who can buy in bulk or outsource their production to drive costs just that little bit lower that often wins the majority of consumers. But, as a Small Business-Owner, you have already found a way to make your business unique and if you have found success, that uniqueness—be it through specialty items, approach, or marketing smarts—has won you a customer base that is willing to ensure your business thrives. Don’t forget to make them feel special this holiday season through any number of the following ways, which will benefit you and them equally:

  1. Hold a thank-you dinner or special event for your most loyal customers—invite only
  2. Send out real holiday cards instead of ecards—let them know they’re special (and they’re more likely to notice them too)
  3. Hold a special sale—best customers only—and invite them to shop on a day the store would normally be closed.
  4. Pick a charity and get your customers involved—make them feel like your business caters to a special community and that community is a giving one. You can even offer gift cards or discounts for those customers who volunteer the most time, making it a fun competition.
  5. Create personalized gifts, such as food baskets, personalized candy, or a calendar, and give them to your best customers—let them know they’re appreciated.

Give it Away—Or Make it Seem That Way

You know that saying, nothing is free. Well, during the holidays, that’s not entirely true. Many stores hold giveaways or special sales events that offer free items or sales good enough that the customers feel like they’re walking away with something for practically nothing. If you do this in a smart way, you can increase profits even when it doesn’t seem possible.

  1. Food—you cannot go wrong with feeding your customers as they shop, and, as a Mom, keeping treats on hand for kids always goes over well with the little ones and makes Moms feel like their kids are welcome as they shop (keeps them busy too!).
  2. Two-for-one sales—everyone loves these and it works great on subscription items in particular. You can either do a full-on BOGO or you can sell the second item for half price. Either way, the incentive is enough that many shoppers will consider it if they like the item enough.
  3. Hire a masseuse—depending on your business, this might or might not work, but I can guarantee holiday shoppers will be thankful for the reprieve.
  4. Free items or gift cards with purchases—you can do this as part of a special sale on special days, such as with Black Friday sales, or you can do this based on the amount customers have purchased. You’d be amazed how many  people will spend $20 more to get a $10 gift card.
  5. Give them wrapping paper—or tissue paper and bags, whichever works. But make it easy for them to give the gift and they will thank you for it.

Get Festive, Get Friendly

While Christmas has become a huge consumer holiday, there’s no reason why people can’t make purchases and enjoy the spirit of the holiday all at once. Create environments where people can feel the festive cheer and goodwill in the air and you will get a better turnout than you might think—especially events that are kid-friendly and provide distractions for children. The less stressed the parents, the more shopping they can do.

  1. Hire a Santa—One of the best Christmas experiences I had when my son was about 2 ½ was visiting a small, privately-owned coffee shop to see Santa. Instead of waiting in long lines at the mall and putting up with my difficult, bouncy kid in a huge space, I was able to let him talk to Santa in an intimate environment without a massive wait. Advertise this for your customers, have someone take pictures, and trust me: the Moms will come.
  2. Hold special events for kids—ornament-making events or other crafts projects are always popular and can make an effective, fun draw for families.
  3. Hold a 12-days of Christmas sale—this would also work as an event or contest with giveaways and prizes, along with special items that are on sale. Make sure you advertise and offer incentive for both new and established clientele.
  4. Provide entertainment or display holiday-themed art—people often just need a small moment of interest to take that step forward into your store instead of someone else’s. Good art and good music have always been known to draw a crowd.
  5. Join forces with other small businesses and make an event out of it—a sidewalk sale, holiday block party, or other holiday event is always popular. Creating a fun, friendly environment for kids and adults can drum up business for the whole area.

As a Small Business-Owner, you are in a special position to be able to do something above and beyond what bigger companies can do, by creating a sense of community for your business instead of just the lowest possible price. Offer your customers something special, and they will remember how special your business really is for years to come.

  iPad POS Prezi


AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Top photo courtesy of Cliff @ Flickr CC.

B2B Buyers Want the Same E-Commerce Luxuries as B2C Buyers

  
  
  
  

b2b ecommerceStrangely enough, in today’s Internet driven world, most B2B businesses have neglected to give their customers the same E-commerce options, with ease-of-use and mobility enhancements that most retailers provide for consumers. Well, according to a recent survey from Forrester Consulting, they may need to rethink that approach.

After studying feedback from 930 B2B buyers in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany, Forrester reported that 49 percent of respondents would prefer to make work-related purchases using the same format they use for personal purchases and 25 percent stated that they start purchasing using general search engines instead of going directly to a manufacturer’s website.

At one time, distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers could expect a certain level of exclusive purchasing from businesses, but the internet and modern technology has changed the E-commerce market drastically, and B2B sellers will need to step up their game to compete.

Increased Competition

With major global E-commerce retailers such as Amazon offering easy-to-use systems and low-priced products, the B2B market is up for grabs—to those who can offer what buyers want to see. Forrester even reported that 41 percent of B2B companies are in direct competition with their own wholesalers, distributors, and suppliers. But as every good businessman knows, price alone isn’t the major draw: the customer experience can be a game-changer.

Ease of Use

Whether your customer is another business or a personal consumer, the buying experience should be easy, clear, and dependable. Just as private consumers are relying more heavily on mobile and online purchasing, businesses are trending in the same direction. Forrester’s research found that 52 percent of B2B customers are using smartphones to research future purchases, which is not unexpected considering the high number of personal consumers who also utilize mobile technology on a regular basis. Forrester also reported that online customers tend to purchase more items in bulk and often purchase on a repeat-basis, which provides an even greater motivation for B2B companies to enhance their online customer experience.

Accuracy and Speed

Of course, web technology are only as good as their accuracy and speed. Of those surveyed, 77 percent reported that real-time inventory information was vital to online purchasing. Modern technology makes this all too easy for those companies that have taken the time to develop such capabilities. Receiving products on a next-day delivery basis is also ranked very high on B2B buyer priorities, with 72 percent of respondents stating that this was important or very important.

Companies that may have once cornered the market on B2B sales may find themselves falling behind if they have not upgraded their buyer-purchasing experience. Forrester has encouraged B2B retailers “to offer an Amazon-like, customer-friendly model,” especially in this world of smartphones, tablets, and abundant internet access channels. Mobility, dependability, and simplicity are the buzz words of modern sales and, in this way at least, businesses are no different from any other customer: they want it easy and they want it now.

Watch a quick video about our Online Bill Pay product by E-Processing Network HERE.

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Top photo courtesy of Maria Elana @ Flickr CC.

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New Business PCI Guidelines: Will They Work?

  
  
  
  

PCI complianceIn the last few years, the theft of personal contact and payment information has occurred regularly—through individual identity theft in many cases, but also on a larger scale with several major business breaches. Both Target and Home Depot, major chain retailers, as well as JP Morgan Chase, Adobe, and several others have all experienced theft of client information within the last two years, each reporting several million consumers affected.

In an effort to put an end to this violation of consumer privacy, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council issued a new set of guidelines for securing consumer information last year and indicated that compliant businesses were expected to be up-to-date by Jan. 1, 2015. If followed correctly, these new standards should limit the severity of business breaches in the future—if not prevent them outright.

But, will they work?

The council’s requirements hinge on the following three components:

  • Training/Communication. Unfortunately, people are flawed, which often makes them the weakest link in data security. Just one person can cause a data breach by presenting hackers with an entry point (this is what occurred with Target in 2013). But, better training can help prevent many mistakes. Those who handle consumer information directly must be trained in how to best secure that data. Equally important is good communication between the business and third party service providers. The new standards require that businesses clearly articulate what aspects of data-security compliance service providers are expected to undertake, as well as their level of responsibility for any breaches. This prevents businesses from taking the fall for  third-party service provider mistakes.
  • Third Parties. The new standards also require updates to how third parties handle client information. Instead of assigning one set of credentials to all clients, services providers, such as Web hosting companies or payment gateways, are now required to create unique authentication credentials for each PCI client. (For instance, if Susie’s Muffins uses an outside merchant to process credit card payments and Joe’s Shoe Mart uses the same provider, Susie’s authentication information would be different from Joe’s credentials; even if one was compromised, the other would be safe.) In this way, even if an unauthorized party somehow gained access to one merchant’s account, the others would still be protected, limiting the scope of the breach. Additionally, third parties would have to identify themselves through a two-factor system in order to access client information for any reason—giving hackers two hoops to jump through and making it harder for them to break into private systems without a lot more work.
  • Testing Standards. Another aspect of the new standards is an increase in the level of penetration and vulnerability testing required. While many companies have stated in the past that they had a firewall in place, thereby meeting the security requirement, the level of security provided by that firewall might have been minimal at best. Not all firewalls are created equal. As consumer privacy is vital, the PCI Security Standards Council is expected to push both merchants and third party providers harder, by requiring that their systems be thoroughly tested to ensure that any potential vulnerability is discovered and neutralized.

While the implementation of new standards has the potential to increase security within smaller organizations and will bring definite changes to many external service providers, some security specialists advise that these standards should be viewed as a rough minimum for larger organizations, whose security needs may differ from the broad strokes of the PCI Council’s mandates. In order to maintain consumer trust, additional measures may be necessary.

The truth is: once the information is out there, it’s vulnerable to attack. Our great Golden Age of Information flows both ways and can be used against us by those with greater knowledge of the technology at hand. But without risk, there can be no reward and in this case, the ability to upgrade technology and make smart choices can minimize the amount of risk to both consumers and businesses.

The new PCI standards are intended to help in transitioning to a more secure consumer world, and I think I speak for all consumers when I say I really hope they work. 

iPad POS Prezi

 

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Top photo courtesy of Philip Taylor @ Flickr CC.

Change Across the Nation: How Midterm Elections Might Affect U.S. Businesses

  
  
  
  

2014 midterm electionsChange is inevitable, and elections are America’s preferred way of enacting changes on a state-wide or nation-wide scale—with the hope that we might choose how our country will evolve. Last week’s 2014 Midterm Elections brought about several changes in both economic and political scenes across the country, several of which could have wide-ranging impacts on U.S. businesses. 

While many of the hot-button issues of this past election concerned social reform, some were entirely focused on businesses and how to improve our lagging economy. Each state has its special challenges, but four main issues have arisen across several states as major concerns for local businesses.

  • Increasing the minimum wage:

Four states--Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota--approved minimum wage increases this election, while the Illinois ballot included a non-binding advisory question that also proved support for a wage increase in that state. Wage increases were actually proposed within 34 states across the U.S. during the 2014 session, making this an issue businesses may face again in the future. Each state, thus far, has increased at different rates, but small businesses are advised to review and monitor these laws and legislative proposals carefully and plan accordingly for future adjustments.

  • Immigration:

Within states such as Arizona and Nevada, an influx of unskilled labor willing to work for less pay has always been a concern for both business owners and local workers. One business owner, Ron Nelson who runs Pioneer Overhead Door in Las Vegas, Nev., told the Washington Post that immigration was his biggest concern for this election. “As a small business owner,” he wrote, in an email correspondence to the writer, “I’m invested in improving the quality of our country’s workforce. I would benefit from more skilled workers, and I see immigration reform as a path to those changes.” While no specific bills appeared on the state ballots for the 2014 election, there is no doubt that voters within the states along our southern border were considering this issue closely when electing both their State and House representatives, as well as their gubernatorial leadership.

  • Taxes (this one’s always an issue!):

Taxes are pretty much a constant concern within elections, regarding both income and sales taxes. They are also extremely complicated, providing breaks in certain circumstances or increases within others. Consumers and certain business owners in Massachusetts, for instance, will be happy to hear that a law was repealed that would increase gas taxes each year according to inflation—so no more increases. However, Illinois citizens will see a small increase in income tax to provide additional revenue to schools. Business owners should always pay close attention to changes in state income or sales tax laws. Both could have direct or indirect impact on their bottom lines.

While the election did allow each state to address local concerns, the bigger battle occurred on the federal stage where Republicans took the House and the Senate, resulting in an all Republican legislature led by a Democratic President. While this circumstance has occurred many times in the past, especially during the latter half of a president’s second term, political advisors are concerned that major initiatives may be stalled out due to infighting among the parties or veto by the President.

Small Business owners do have hope, however, that one of the major issues will be addressed, if not resolved, by the new Republican-led Congress:

  • Reforming The Affordable Care Act:

While a complete repeal may not be practical, small businesses would benefit from repeal of some of the act’s more burdensome requirements, such as removal of the “full time” distinction for employees working 30 hours a week, as well as the exclusion of former VA and Department of Defense employees who received insurance through those agencies from consideration when determining the size of the business. If the latter groups could be excluded from the business’s number of employees for health insurance purposes, more businesses might then be exempted from the law, removing some of the financial strain the bill has caused. 

The results of the 2014 Midterm Elections could very well mean positive changes for businesses. However, concerns still exist about the discord within the legislature and between the President and Congress. Combined indignation over past Presidential actions and general unrest between the parties could possibly result in the same budgetary standoff that occurred last year, which would not be good for any U.S. businesses or for the nation’s citizens.

In the coming months, the new congressional representatives could bring about great positive change for the climate of our economy, removing barriers for small businesses and facilitating growth. Or, what little growth we have enjoyed over the last couple of years could backslide. But the worst possible outcome might be if they end up gridlocked and doing nothing. In a constantly evolving world, we must change with it or end up being changed by it—in ways we cannot control.

 

Mobile POS Guide

 

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Top photo courtesy of ChristiNYCa @ Flickr CC.

Should Your Business Be Using Mobile Credit Card Readers?

  
  
  
  

mobile credit card readerOnce upon a time, business was simple: something of value exchanged for something else of value. Trade or barter systems ruled the markets. Haggling and aggressive negotiations were common and sales tracking was done in rough tallies on sheets of parchment or--very long ago--on stones or clay pots.

Today’s world is vastly different and providing customer convenience, upfront knowledge and friendly service, and the ability to pay by credit or debit card are practically essential for any business to thrive. Knowing your merchandise, sales statistics, and inventory are equally vital.

And mobility is king.

Within the last couple of decades, the idea of stationary, storefront-only business has faded away to make room for more mobile approaches—where businesses can take their wares to the consumer—not unlike the outdoor markets common to many cities long ago. It’s just history repeating itself--with a modern twist.

The market concept has come back with a force, but the barter system is dead and even cash seems to be a thing of the past.  With consumers moving more and more towards debit and credit card purchases only, businesses-- especially those needing flexibility and freedom of movement--have had to move on as well.

Have you?

While it’s true that Mobile Credit Card Readers are not necessary for all businesses, most businesses today would find that the ability to take mobile payments would increase revenue and provide new opportunities for cultivating a greater consumer base.

The most obvious businesses that would benefit from Mobile Credit Card Readers are the strictly mobile types:

  • Food Trucks
  • Off-Site Caterers
  • Jewelry, Wares, and Artistic Merchants who frequent outdoor markets
  • Local Farmers who sell at farmer’s markets
  • Personal Trainers & Fitness Class Teachers
  • Dog-Walkers & House Cleaning Services

These types of businesses rely entirely upon mobility to bring in revenue. If they aren’t taking mobile credit and debit payments yet, they’ll find they are losing potential consumers on a regular basis.

Outside of these obvious choices, though, are businesses that might also thrive from having the option to sell outside of their storefronts:

  • Small Boutique Owners
  • Concert Venues & Large Auditoriums
  • Home Service & Landscape Companies
  • Bakeries & Delicatessens
  • Any sales-based organization—including insurance sales, cable and wireless companies

While these organizations will often have a storefront or main office through which retail items or food items can be purchased, or through which services can be set up and paid for by phone, etc., the ability to take advantage of mobile payment opportunities could help them increase sales and customer satisfaction.

For instance, many small boutique owners struggle to contend with larger corporate companies for business. The ability to take their wares to one of the many outdoor markets that are present in almost every city would give them the opportunity for greater exposure and possible future business in-house or online.

And for those Luddites out there (those afraid of unfamiliar technology), have no fear: mobile payment systems are incredibly easy to use.

According to the Javelin Strategy & Research market research firm, nearly 80% of sales will be conducted through credit and debit cards by 2017. Since these systems can also be used in-house, I predict stationary cash and credit systems will be going the way of the landline telephone: obsolete. Don’t get left behind.

iPad POS Prezi

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 

Will Apple Pay Transform Payment Processing?

  
  
  
  

Apple PayPayment processing technology has grown and changed in many ways over the last decade, making it easier and safer for consumers to make purchases without using direct cash exchange—and it’s continuing to evolve. On September 9, Apple announced what might be a game changer in the payment processing market: Apple Pay.

Will this new technology change the way we do business or will it fall flat on all it promises?

Apple Pay technology is revolutionary for several reasons:

Incredibly easy. This is America; we like things easy. With Apple Pay, consumers won’t even need a card to make purchases. Instead, they just hold their phones up to an NFC reader at the store and the payment will be processed—with a few security measures added in. 

Secure. Many people might be nervous about uploading credit or debit card information into their phones, because most of us have lost our phones at one time or another, but the Apple Passbook and Apple Pay systems are actually very tight on security. Consumers do load their information into the Apple Passbook (by simply taking a picture of the card—no number typing!), but instead of impersonal button-clicking that can be done by anyone, Passbook requires a fingerprint for the transaction to be approved.

Additionally, instead of card numbers being transmitted by the retailer in order to process the payment, Apple Pay uses a “device account number,” specific to each device and account,  and a transaction-specific security code, a randomly generated number for that specific transaction that would be useless to anyone who might intercept the information. Considering how many people were affected by the Target and Home Depot breaches over the last couple of years, this safety feature would put a lot of minds at ease.

Private. To ensure customer privacy, Apple will not store any data or track any customer purchases. Also, retailers won’t even be able to see private customer information or any other details, such as billing address, etc., because of the way transactions are processed. It’s all kept private by the Apple Pay system.

No additional fees. From the retailer perspective, Apple Pay means increased convenience at no additional service charges. Apple has spent the last two years working with major credit card companies and banks to establish an understanding. Apple Pay service charges will actually come from the existing credit/debit transaction fees instead of generating new fees for the consumer.

Sounds great, right?

Well, as with most new technology, there will certainly be bugs and kinks to work out, but there are other drawbacks to the change as well.

Both the customer and the business might have to upgrade. Apple Pay uses near field communication (NFC) technology that is present only in their iPhone 6 model phones so far. Customers with iPhone 5 models can download an app called Apple Watch in 2015 to make use of Apple Pay, but reports are that the app is less dependable. In turn, retailers will need an NFC terminal in order to take these payments. The question for retailers: is the potential gain worth the additional expense?

Online shopping not supported. At this point, the system is not set up to handle or service online shopping. Of course, many people make purchases using separate apps on their phones, etc., but the current technology does not utilize the benefits of Apple Pay for online shopping transactions. Maybe the ability will be offered one day, but for now, it’s just not there, missing out on a huge potential market for those iPhone 6 users, who are probably pretty likely to shop online as in the store anyway.

Will the fees stay gone? As most of us know, the deal may sound good now, but will it last? If the payment system catches on and people become dependent on it and more likely to use this system of transaction, there is a strong likelihood that additional fees could be tacked on later. There’s no way to know what will happen for sure, but savvy business owners who are looking to adopt this system would be smart to budget for additional fees later on, just in case Apple, banks or credit card associations change their minds.

Overall, the Apple Pay system offers a lot of potential benefits to both consumers and retailers. More importantly, the technology that Apple is putting into place may change payment processing technology entirely. The increased security, in particular, is a major plus for everyone, and the companies that produce payment processing systems will most likely begin to offer similar options to consumers. Phone retailers, too, will have to jump on that band wagon to make the shift successful. More evolutions are likely on their way, meaning even more options for both consumers and businesses alike.

Mobile POS Guide

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 
Top photo courtesy of Omar Jordan Fawahl @ Flickr CC.

Do Small Businesses Need More Support To Comply With ACA Mandates?

  
  
  
  

Sam Graves, Official Portrait, c113th CongressSince the earliest discussions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012, America has been divided. The ACA offers several provisions that, many hope, will secure health insurance for the millions of Americans who have lived and died without healthcare coverage. Unfortunately, while the law was undoubtedly formed with good intentions, some unintended drawbacks have surfaced. 

According to an article from SUNY Buffalo published October of 2013, individuals and families who were previously uninsured stood to benefit the most from the plan, especially since premiums are regulated and denying coverage is no longer allowed. While the article goes on to propose that individuals in states that decided not to expand Medicaid stood to benefit the least, I propose a bigger picture perspective: small businesses may be getting the raw deal here.

According to Forbes Magazine Contributor Holly Magister, whose opinion piece was published April of 2014, the early assessments that small businesses would not be affected by the ACA were destroyed by renewal rate increases for small business group insurance plans scheduled for 2015.

While the 5.8 million firms, according to ObamacareFacts.com, that are under 50 employees would “not be penalized for choosing not to provide health coverage to their employees,” most of those firms already covered full-time workers. Now, because of new standards by which insurance companies must measure the risk of insuring the group, these same small businesses are looking at increases of up to 97% or more to cover the same group of employees. As Magister wrote, “That certainly feels like a penalty to me.”

The question now: Should small businesses receive more support to meet these unexpected challenges?

Representative Sam Graves of Missouri certainly thinks so. Earlier this month, Rep. Graves sent a letter to the IRS Service commissioner, John Koskinen, to request greater outreach and education for small businesses dealing with new forms for the ACA. Tax-wise, no doubt most will need some extra help.

According to the 2014 Small Business Healthcare Survey, recently published by the National Small Business Association, “Despite increased reporting on ACA, the majority of small firms still have a limited to no understanding of how they will be impacted by the law. When asked about the real-world costs of understanding ACA, small businesses report spending on average 13 hours and $1,274 per month—and that’s just on the administrative side of understanding the law itself.”

Aside from the additional administrative costs associated with simply understanding the provisions and compliance requirements of the new law, employers, especially small firms are struggling with how to adjust to managing the increased cost of plans themselves. According to the survey, when asked the impact of rising health insurance costs, the majority have responded by increasing employees’ deductibles as well as holding off on salary increases and more than one-in ten reported having to lay off an employee due to rising health insurance costs.

Finally, the survey also reports, when asked about their level of understanding in how the Affordable Care Act is going to affect their business more small businesses have a clear understanding of the provisions, but the majority (58% of respondents) still have a limited or unclear understanding of the law itself.

And amongst one of the most disturbing statistics reported, “One third of small firms say they are purposefully not growing as a result of The Affordable Care Act.”

Essentially, the system seems to be set up to benefit the individual instead of companies, especially smaller ones, that would have received better rates under the previous system. It seems in healthcare, the tables have turned—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, some serious changes may be necessary in order to achieve the plan’s ultimate goal: affordable healthcare for all. 

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 
Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

5 Things Every Business Should Know Before Accepting Payments

  
  
  
  
accepting paymentsIf you’re planning to start a business, or have recently started one, you may be under the impression that accepting payments is a simple matter. Once upon a time, a vendor or service provider would simply exchange goods or services for coin or equally valued item--money and barter systems. Simple.

Well, since most of us don’t even carry cash anymore and the barter system is long since dead, business owners have ventured into a whole new world of payment and credit card processing—and to be successful, it’s vital to know what to expect.

Here are 5 important concepts to implement or consider before accepting payments.


1.    More options mean fewer excuses. The fact is: the more forms of payment you accept, the fewer excuses a customer will have to not purchase what you’re selling. Think of how many times you have been caught in a cash only situation--when you had no cash. Of course, you simply can’t purchase the item. Done.

You don’t want to find yourself losing a sale simply because you didn’t offer debit or credit card processing, especially when there is so much technology available to make credit card processing an easy reality for your business.

2. Don’t be afraid of technology. While incorporating technology into your business structure can seem daunting at first, especially if your business is more established and has established ways of operation, you will lose out on potential sales and satisfied returning customers if you don’t get with the times.

Besides, there are so many new, technologies that are very easy and affordable to implement: mobile credit card readers that attach to tablets or phones, iPad POS systems to integrate and report sales information, internet-based payment processing and online purchase options for your website that will increase sales across a wider customer base. Why ignore all these amazing technological tools when they could make your business stronger?

3. Do your research. While upgrading your methods of accepting payments is smart in the long run, you do have to be aware of the costs and misconceptions involved in debit and credit card processing. First, you have to understand the differences in the fees:
•    Monthly fee: a regular fee to use the service, if a processor is not charging a monthly fee, processing rates will be much higher.
•    Transaction fee: flat or percentage rate, charged with each transaction
•    Interchange fee: bank-charged percentage of the transaction, which goes to the card’s issuing bank for expenses

One misconception to note: Many business owners believe American Express is a very expensive type of card to process, but it’s not – it’s on par with Visa/MasterCard. Additionally, customers paying with an AmEx card tend to purchase more than a customer paying with Visa or MasterCard.

4. Find the best merchant card processor for you. Now for the more complicated part of debit or credit card processing: you’ll have to enlist the help of a credit card processor.

But no worries--you have options. In this case, you will be the customer, and you will be the one bringing business to them. They’re going to want to provide you with competitive rates, but only if you know your options and do your research well enough to be competent in general service rates and fees. It’s also important to note that the bank is not always the best option. There are plenty of third party merchant card processors that can get you better rates than going directly through your bank.

But here’s the catch, it’s not just about the rates. Sure one company may give you great rates, with minimal fees but are you getting your money on time (or at all)? Can you call and get a hold of a knowledgeable customer service representative if there is a crisis? Will the company help you through the process of becoming PCI compliant (necessary to process credit cards)? Will this company keep your sensitive business information secure? Does the processor allow your business the ability to accept credit cards via mobile devices or online? These are all important factors to consider outside of just getting a good rate.

5. Set strict payment rules and guidelines. Finally, communicating with your customers about payment expectations is essential. Some businesses will offer products that require payment arrangements, payment plans and scheduled payment terms. If your business is one of these, select a strict set of guidelines and expectations and make sure your customer is aware, both verbally and in writing, of these expectations.

Be creative about it, too. Offer incentives for early payoff or discounts for meeting regular payment schedules—anything to ensure that your customers want to pay their bills on time.

The moral of the story: be knowledgeable about your options and the costs you might accrue to upgrade your payment processing system. But with more options for your customers and increased technological support, you can ensure your business will be strong and successful.

If you are already processing credit cards, contact NTC Texas for a free rate review – our specialists will help you to understand your existing statements and how your rate and fee structures can be improved. No obligations!

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 



Top Three Reasons Why Businesses Should Be Tracking Sales Data

  
  
  
  

NCR Tracking sales dataSales—the flow of funds into the capital stream—is the lifeblood of the business world. The products or services may be the bones of the operation, but the marrow will always be the money. Now, the human body—to continue the analogy—has a few mechanisms in place to help maintain good health: a central network that never fails to let you know exactly when  your body might be hemorrhaging  So why wouldn’t  your  business need the same thing?

The fact is: if you’re not tracking your sales, you could be losing money, either through missed sales opportunities or poor planning. With more knowledge about seasonal trends or customer preferences, among so many others bits of information, you can track patterns that can help you better understand how your business functions and how you can improve it over the long haul.

How it works. Some businesses have classically tracked sales data through spreadsheets. This means keeping detailed notes on a daily basis about the items that were sold and the totals for cost vs. profit. With this information, over time, you can compare data from previous years on the same dates to understand how sales trend from year to year.

Of course, that was mainly before the invention of computers. Today, there are much easier options for sales tracking, using simple, affordable systems and easy to implement technology. According to one CNBC article, Macy’s, one of the largest retailers in the nation, only updated to an integrated sales tracking system about four years ago. When they did, their sales increased by 10%.

If you’re a smaller business, making the step to a digital, integrated system may be the best choice you ever make, especially in the fight to remain competitive against larger businesses.

The three main benefits:

  • Setting realistic sales goals. Projecting sales and anticipating revenue are essential for good business investing. With an integrated sales system, like an iPad Point-of-Sale (POS) system, your sales data is automatically tracked and logged into a system that allows you to run reports and pull together different bits of information about your customers and profits. From there, projecting the “shoulds" and “should nots” is much easier.
  • Planning for the big picture. Day-to-day and week-to-week projections are just the start. Once you have utilized an effective system of sales tracking over a longer period of time, you can better understand the fluctuations of the industry and how your business will be affected. This knowledge puts you in a position to make well-educated decisions about your business’s future, about inventory levels, whether to invest on that new location or perhaps to hold off, when sales generally  decrease (?) for your particular product or service. These kinds of decisions make a world of difference in a difficult economy.
  • Increasing your confidence. Most importantly, understanding detailed information about sales profits and trends will help you feel more in control of your business’s future. Small business owners are often very dedicated to their product and the quality they can provide. This is as it should be; however, focusing completely on the product or service can make it easy to lose control of the other aspects of business. Integrated sales tracking systems do most of the work for you, tracking information you might not even think to look for and giving you the chance to keep your focus where it should be: on providing a quality product or service to your consumers.

iPad POS systems are an inexpensive and efficient way to effectively track sales data  insuring a healthy business with a long life.


Mobile POS Guide

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 


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