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The Pros and Cons of being a Cash-Only Business

  
  
  
  

cashRunning a business is hard. Some business owners across the U.S. have been tempted to keep it as simple as possible by accepting cash only in exchange for merchandise or services. However, that up-front ease is deceptive, and it could be holding your business back from future success and expansion. On the other hand, every business is different and what is good for one business may not be good for another. Consider the following pros and cons of only accepting cash, so you can make the best decision on how to operate your business:

Pros

• Cash means immediate payment and value, so the extra step of waiting for transactions to process is removed entirely from the equation.
• Transaction fees and third parties are also eliminated. You will have cash in hand immediately so no middle men or additional processing is required.
• The chances of fraud or reversed bank transactions are vastly reduced. Counterfeit cash may occasionally come your way, but the possibility is less and less common with electronic theft offering a greater draw for high-level thieves.
• Keeping track of incoming and outgoing funds is also easier if funds are coming in through one channel. Tallying amounts from online payments, card payments, mobile payments, checks, and/or any other forms of payment (Applepay, Paypal, etc.) on top of cash payments, along with the potential for reversed transactions and fraud, can make for challenging bookkeeping and, especially, taxes. Cash only tends to simplify this quite a lot.

Cons

• Considering that about two-thirds of transactions in 2012 were conducted via payment card (debit, credit, etc.) -- that number continues to increase -- the biggest loss to your business if you choose to only accept cash: money. In fact, consumers estimate that 15 million businesses who only accept cash are missing out on $100 billion in sales annually.
• The average amount a consumer will spend on a transaction via card payment vs. cash payment is also a big difference. According to a CNBC article, consumers will, on average, spend up to 120 percent more through card transactions than through cash transactions. So, maybe a small sale is possible, but big ticket items are much harder to sell in a cash only business.
• Today, how many people do you know who even have cash all the time? You may have to turn potential buyers away, which is always disappointing.
• You may miss out on multi-channel marketing opportunities, such as mobile payments, online sales, etc. Yes, it’s a huge hassle to keep track of all those different forms of payment, but if more money is coming in, isn’t it worth it?
• Keeping track of large sums of money on a daily basis—and making sure you have trustworthy employees—can also be a challenge. The lack of a paper trail can make it hard to track your funds and the large amount of on-site cash may require additional hassles to make sure it’s kept safe.
• Tracking sales, keeping records, and understanding your customer base will take more time and more energy from you. While the technology required to process card payments can be obnoxious and expensive, it also has a lot of built-in goodies—if you choose well—that can help your business grow much more quickly than the old-fashioned manual way.

If your business is truly tiny, you may want to wait to invest in some of the higher-end technologies available. At the same time, a small business can grow much more quickly with all the advantages that technology, card payments systems, online marketing, etc. can provide. It may be tempting to stick to old, simple methods, but risk is a big part of business—and some risks are just worth taking.

Tax Tips for Businesses

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. .

Research Shows POS Systems Enrich Customer Experience

  
  
  
  

talech posToday, good business begins and ends with the customer. For that reason, creating a rewarding and efficient consumer experience is vital. Depending on size, as well as products or services, every business approaches this goal differently. Some use pretty window displays and cushy or posh storefronts, while others provide special events or special sales. Still others accomplish this goal through ease-of-use and the creation of a seamless purchasing experience—which businesses like Amazon, among others, have proven very effective for attracting and retaining customers.

Improved technology such as Point of Sale (POS) software could strongly assist with enriching the customer experience, and, according to a recent study from the POS tech consultancy, Software Advice, small business-owners, in particular, are pushing for greater functionality of POS systems to help provide customers with an experience they’ll return to again and again.

The study, based on a random sample of 385 interactions from 2013 to 2014, evaluated various aspects of business owner (software buyer) preferences. It should be noted that those involved in this study specifically contacted Software Advice regarding potential software purchases. The sample largely covered smaller businesses, most operating only one store location, however, the findings were very informative of the average small business owner’s preferences for a POS system and potential reasons why many businesses have not yet adopted one.

A POS system, if well-developed and capable of being adapted to the business’s specific needs, can offer several benefits, such as: 

  • Processing multiple types of payments securely
  • Collecting information on customer interests, demographics, and purchase history
  • Engaging customers through loyalty programs
  • Driving sales through both online and offline methods
  • Integrating online commerce with in-store sales
  • Tracking inventory and predicting buyer demands

The study found that while 37 percent of businesses polled currently used POS software, another 31 percent still used old cash register or accounting software systems such as Quickbooks. Another 27 percent had no specific method at all, though 90 percent of these cases were due to the business being new and not yet fully launched.

Out of the entire group, 49 percent of participants sought a POS system that could offer functionality based around the customer. The most desired functions were accurate inventory management (to avoid confusion about whether or not an item might be in stock or not and to meet customer demand), customer relationship management (CRM--knowing the customers and stocking what they need), ecommerce integration (seamless melding of online and face-to-face purchasing for ease-of-use and interaction), and customer loyalty programs.

As Janna Finch, Market Research Associate at Software Advice, wrote in a summary of the study’s findings, “Retailers are clearly aware of the importance of being where their customers are and optimizing their interactions at touch points on multiple channels—and they’re searching for software to help.”

Using multiple channels, known as an “omni-channel” approach, has proven difficult for many smaller companies. Through this method, customers can purchase through website, face-to-face, phone apps, etc. with ease. However, sometimes businesses find it difficult to accomplish the seamless functionality that is so greatly desired because matching the technology to their needs has been difficult. The more specialized the merchant, the more specialized their needs.

While finding the perfect POS system may be elusive for many specialized retailers, a system that helps track customer wants and needs and assists in improving the customer experience is still highly desirable, especially for a small businesses. As Finch stated, “Retailers are adapting to the ‘consumerization of retail’ trend . . .[and] nearly half are looking for software with customer-centric functionality—including CRM and loyalty programs—to manage interactions and give their customers the experiences they expect.”

While an effective POS system isn’t the only tool available to optimize customer interactions, it can be a valuable resource for many small businesses, as indicated by the nearly 400 participants in this study who were all seeking information about POS system options.

Furthermore, with studies such as the one completed by Software Advice, now that buyer preferences have been honed and targeted, the functionality of POS systems promises to improve with time and development. It will be fascinating—and hopefully beneficial—to see what POS systems developers do with this information and what improvements they can provide for both customers and business owners.

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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. .

5 Ways to Prepare for the Shift to EMV in 2015

  
  
  
  

credit card with chipThe threat of virtual theft is real. We’ve all heard of it. You may even know someone who has experienced identity theft or a stolen credit card number—it may have already happened to you. But there is a solution the major credit card companies have been pushing for a few years to protect personal payment information: EMV chip and pin.

Many business owners or general members of the financial community may already be familiar with the concept, as Europe has used the system for some time. In fact, the term “EMV” is actually an acronym for Europay International, MasterCard, and Visa.

That being the case, consumers might wonder why the system wasn’t adopted in America sooner, but the answer is the same as usual: money. The hardware and software requirements for the system would need full updates across the board, making the change somewhat expensive and time-consuming on the front end.

This year, however, the choice is being pushed much harder for American merchants, as the major credit card companies involved have announced a “liability shift” that will occur in October of 2015, making any breaches from that point forward the responsibility of the business if EMV technology was not used in the transaction. For obvious reasons, American businesses need to embrace the change. Below are five ways to ensure your business is fully prepared for the EMV shift.

Know the requirements. Both the business and the POS providers need to understand the major points of what the change means. EMV-accepting terminals need to support both contact and contactless acceptance and software updates that allow for transmission of the different data elements to be included. A more complete understanding of these requirements can be found here.

Hardware and software. As mentioned above, the cost for updating both software and hardware can be a bit steep if businesses are not prepared for it. Most should have already included the costs in their budgets, but if your business has not yet planned for this change, start now. The liability obligation that would fall to you after October 2015 would be more costly by far than the up-front change. Additionally, the security the changes provide is worth the cost.

Read up on incentives. Visa and MasterCard have been trying to draw merchants into the shift for a while, most heavily since 2012 when they started offering certain incentives for upgrading sooner rather than later. As soon as your EMV-processing terminals are active and software is up-to-date, you can benefit, and not just from the increased security. Read up on all the changes and benefits for upgrading to determine if complying earlier rather than later might be good for you.

Stay informed. The shift to EMV has been in the works for a while, so most of the kinks have been worked out of much of the system, but keep informed about changes to requirements and technology as much as possible. At least make sure your POS provider is current. This does not mean that you need to memorize every piece of legislation or publication about the matter, but make sure you have feelers out for the highlights. Sometimes the smallest things can have the greatest impact.

Own it and expand. While it’s true that the cost might be hard to manage up front, the opportunity inherent in the change should not go unnoticed. Many merchants have been using outdated technology for some time, smaller businesses more so than larger ones. Look at this change as a chance to upgrade your systems so that they run more smoothly and efficiently than ever before. You might be able to wrap a few more benefits into the shift than just those offered by the credit card companies, such as software than can save you time and money as well as handle EMV transactions.

For the sake of customer protection and satisfaction, the upgrade to EMV technology appears to be a necessary one, especially considering all the breaches within the last few years using the outdated technology. If seen as an opportunity for growth, this change could mean great things for businesses both small and large, as long as they are prepared and knowledgeable about their options.

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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. .

Do’s and Don’ts of Customer Loyalty Programs

  
  
  
  

coffee barEstablishing a loyal customer base is no simple matter. Most customers are much like five-year-olds in their purchasing preferences: they want what they want and they want it now. Interestingly, some retailers have found ways to latch onto this, giving customers the ease of purchasing and other benefits they want while profiting from it—a quid pro quo relationship that can build up profits quickly and easily. And when consumers find the company that offers them that perfect purchasing niche, they will return again and again. This inclination, combined with a few incentives and benefits, can create loyal customers who will be more likely to purchase from your business first and foremost, every single time.

Below are a few Do’s and Don’ts to remember when establishing your Customer Loyalty Program.

Do Know Your Customer’s Needs. Whether your business is a small boutique or a larger chain retailer, or even a service-based business, an effective program for customer loyalty must offer incentives that will specifically benefit your customers and encourage them to return, whether that means tailoring the benefits to each customer’s needs, offering a small range of options in benefits depending on customer preferences, or offering a broad type of benefit that all customers would enjoy.

For instance, grocery retailers who offer coupons that are tailored to the customer purchases see a 10-20 percent redemption of those coupons, compared to a 1 percent redemption on generic coupons. For more broad-based programs, look at Amazon.com Prime members, who receive free two-day shipping on most orders (those specifically through Amazon or specially selected Amazon retailers), among other benefits. Prime members pay a yearly fee for this service, but it’s effective in seeing them return and the fee is low enough to be reasonable. Another broad-benefit Customer Loyalty Program is a grocery store’s deal with a gasoline station. For certain purchases that are marked throughout the store and based on a percentage of the total amount spent, the grocery store card holders receive a discount on gas purchases—something everyone could use in this economy.

Don’t Overcomplicate It. If customers can’t directly see or feel the benefit, then the program is ineffective. Additionally, if calculating percentages and loopholes and adding up special circumstances is too complicated, then it’s also going to cost you more time and devalue the experience for the customer. An effective Customer Loyalty Program is simple and direct, and it provides value to the customer. Keep in mind, your program doesn’t have to be based on percentages of money back, for instance, which can cut into profit margins. You can be creative. A special discount or gift after a certain number of purchases, a special shipping program as with Amazon (a lot of people order online these days and this would be a smart way to compete with this specific company if you’re a retail store), or even an invitation to special events just for loyal customers.

Do Make Sure You Can Sustain It. While rewarding your customers with a money back incentive may seem like the easiest way to go, you have to be careful that the program doesn’t build-up and backfire by cutting into your profits. As I said, it’s not always money back or even direct money incentives that will most benefit your customers. Many restaurants, for instance, use a card stamping or punching system so that a patron will receive a free meal or a free drink after so many purchases. In this way, customers have to bring in so much profit before a benefit can be received, instead of immediate rewards.

One rule to live by: the loyal customer should have some kind of reward at least once every 12 visits. So, if you intend to offer a gift, make sure it’s one that is both valuable and whose cost would be covered by 12 purchase visits on average from a regular customer. The key is to make your customer feel special and rewarded for continuing to frequent your business.

A couple of final notes for any effective Customer Loyalty Program are: following up, reminding your customers of their benefits, and monitoring the effectiveness of your program. Once your customers sign up, you can’t just forget about them and expect them to remember. This goes back to making them feel valued: set up a regular email schedule with benefit reminders or with sales exclusives so that they remember how much they love your business. With that, you should also monitor these return customers to better understand how much profit might be resulting from their repeat visits. You can always tweak your program to be more effective, and you can and should ask for customer feedback on what they would like as benefits or rewards for their continued business.

While establishing customer loyalty is not easy, it’s worth the time. Not only will you increase profits through repeat business, but these customers become an invaluable marketing tool. They are your ambassadors to the world, singing your praises to others with purchasing power. If you treat them with the respect that role deserves, you will not be sorry.

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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. .

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. .

 

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