The Small Business Blog from National Funding provides information on topics important to small business owners. National Funding is a respected and recognized financial services provider of choice nationwide, helping small businesses achieve the American dream.
Whether you own a neighborhood deli or a fine dining establishment, you probably started your restaurant because you have a passion for food. As a business owner, you also have a desire to provide great customer service. Installing one of the top restaurant POS systems can help you exhibit both of these traits in your business.
Restaurants often process a high volume of cash and credit cards, especially during peak hours. A POS (point of sale) system will help you handle those transactions seamlessly. In fact, a reliable restaurant POS system will eliminate that outdated cash register and add efficiency to your operations, from taking orders to managing inventory.
The most popular POS systems for restaurants streamline daily tasks so you can focus on serving great food and staying on top of restaurant industry trends. While a food truck has different needs than a coffee shop, certain features are helpful for all restaurant types. Our guide to the top restaurant POS systems covers those must-have features, the top five systems to check out, and how you can afford one.
6 Features of Restaurant POS Systems
1. Inventory Management
The worst thing that can happen during the lunch or dinner rush is running out of your most popular menu item. That’s why a good inventory system is critical. You can manage your inventory the old-school way, with a clipboard and checklist, or you can use a POS system to automate it.
POS systems will keep track of your inventory, including fresh and dry ingredients, paper products and cleaning supplies. As orders are taken, quantities will be adjusted, and you’ll receive alerts when products are running low.
The top restaurant POS systems will calculate your food costs and profit margins, so you don’t have to worry about doing all of that math. A POS system will also generate reports, such as usage patterns over time, so you can adjust your buying each season. And it will help to reduce waste by noting product surpluses, prompting you to run a special or eliminate an unpopular menu item.
2. Order Taking
A POS system will seamlessly send orders from servers to a kitchen printer, where your cook staff can receive and fill them. This will speed up the amount of time between ordering and delivering your customers’ food. Faster orders will lead to faster service, which your customers will appreciate.
The most popular POS systems for restaurants will allow your servers to customize orders. For example, a customer orders a hamburger, medium rare, with avocado and light mayo. With written tickets, this type of instruction could easily get misread or overlooked.
By using a POS system, the waitstaff is also less likely to make a mistake when entering orders — another way to ensure a good customer experience. The POS system will create a tab for the customer, leading to an accurate bill.
The top restaurant POS systems will also allow you to easily update the menu; you can add daily specials, introduce new menu items or remove old ones. And if you own a sit-down restaurant, hand-held POS systems speed up food delivery; the kitchen will send electronic messages directly to servers notifying them that food is ready.
3. Table Management
The top restaurant POS systems will also help your restaurant course out meals. Diners usually aren’t happy when their entrée comes soon after their salad was delivered. A POS system can help enhance the dining experience by spacing out the delivery of courses.
If your restaurant has seating, a POS system will also help you track the status of your tables at any given time. You’ll be able to better estimate wait times during your peaks or accommodate large parties by pulling tables together.
The top restaurant POS systems offer an option for taking reservations or call-ahead seating. While not all POS software systems have reservation capabilities built-in, many are compatible with third-party apps such as OpenTable.
Of course, you’ll need a POS system to process payments, including debit and credit cards and restaurant gift cards. You’ll want a reliable system with the ability to split checks or comp meals. The top restaurant POS systems include software that performs updates in the cloud or has a server onsite, so you don’t lose a sale if you experience a technical issue.
If your business is mobile, such as a food truck or sidewalk kiosk, consider a mobile restaurant POS system, which can process transactions on the go.
5. Loyalty Programs
A loyalty program is a popular marketing tool for many restaurants. According to Upserve, 30% of restaurants offer some type of loyalty program, and 57% of consumers say they’re more likely to dine in a place that offers one.
The most popular POS systems for restaurants integrate loyalty program capabilities or work with third-party apps. You can use a loyalty program to reward customers for purchasing a set number of items, such as getting their 11th cup of coffee for free. Or you can offer discounts or free bonuses after customers spend a certain amount in your restaurant.
Finally, a restaurant POS system will help you manage your employees by allowing them to clock in and track sales and tips. Staffing reports can help you decide the number of staff members you need during peak shifts. POS systems can also generate payroll reports, onboard new servers and provide training.
The Top Restaurant POS Systems
Now that you know the features you want, here are five POS systems designed specifically for restaurants. They offer the capabilities you need, plus options that can enhance your business.
Toast is one of the most popular POS systems for restaurants. From a pizzeria to a fast-casual chain, this system syncs your front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH) operations and processes payments. Set time-specific menu pricing, such as happy hour specials. Or create different menu sets that allow customers to order online and pick up their meal at your restaurant.
Toast’s equipment keeps up with the busy pace of a restaurant. Its hardwired terminals work in offline mode so you don’t have to worry about processing transactions, as cloud-based access keeps you connected to your business from anywhere. And Toast is one of the few providers that offers an Android POS system.
Toast’s software package starts at $79 per terminal per month, and hardware packages start at $899.
TouchBistro is another leading POS system, catering to fast and full-service restaurants, including bakeries and coffee shops. The iPad-based system allows your waitstaff to take orders and process transactions tableside. The POS system lets you hide menu categories that aren’t relevant, such as your breakfast items during dinner, speeding up order input. And reporting tools include sales, void reports by employee, credit card payments and shift details.
TouchBistro also offers a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so you can track your regular customers’ favorite orders and personal details. For example, make a note that one of your customers “hates onions” or “loves the Chicago Bulls.” These details help servers build relationships with your customers who will keep coming back because they feel valued.
TouchBistro software packages start at $69 per month while software and hardware packages start at $105 per month. The company also offers a free trial plan.
Another one of the most popular POS systems for restaurants is Lavu, which features specially designed software for a variety of restaurant types, such as single-location restaurants, chains, bars, ice cream shops, food trucks, wineries, coffee shops, breweries and pizzerias. This system runs on iPad devices that can be used tableside to take orders and payments. Customers will appreciate that their credit or debit card is processed in front of them. And Lavu accepts contactless payments, such as Apple Pay, which are growing in popularity with customers.
The Lavu POS system includes enhanced HR functions, such as onboarding and new employee training. And you can use its equipment to set up self-serve kiosks or digital menus that allow customers to place their own orders. Lavu’s platform can be customized to a restaurant’s specific needs and integrated with several third-party applications, such as Chowly, which syncs your system to delivery-ordering platforms like GrubHub or UberEats.
Lavu software packages start at $69 per month and starter hardware kits start at $399.
4. Lightspeed Restaurant
Lightspeed Restaurant is another one of the top restaurant POS systems that offers tableside ordering. The cloud-based software is easy to use, helping your servers deliver accurate orders in a timely fashion to make customers happy. The system lets you create custom floor plans so you can keep track of table status. It also helps you create menus; you can upload images and customize descriptions.
Lightspeed Restaurant integrates with several third-party apps to add features like loyalty programs and employee scheduling. The system provides end-of-day reports so you can stay on top of your business operations. And you get 24/7 premium support as well as access to training materials to onboard new employees.
Software packages start at $69 per month, and the company offers a free trial. Lightspeed Restaurant also offers an individualized hardware package quote.
Upserve (formerly known as Breadcrumb) is another popular restaurant POS system. Compatible with iOS and Android devices, its features include table maps, updates to menus, and sales monitoring in real-time through its mobile app.
Upserve offers restaurant owners a range of packages that are based on the features you need. If you want inventory or loyalty programs, for example, you’ll need to upgrade to its Pro level. While this POS system is more expensive than many of the others, its features are more advanced. In fact, the system was designed by restaurateurs. One example of its innovative offerings is the menu inventory countdown that warns servers when a menu item is running low, including how many more orders of the item can be taken.
Software packages start at $119 per month for the core package and $249 per month for the Pro package. The company also offers a la carte pricing so restaurant owners can create a package that’s best for them. Hardware can be purchased or leased through Upserve with individualized quotes. The company also offers a free trial.
How to Afford Restaurant POS Software
Upgrading to a restaurant POS system will require an upfront investment as well as a budget for the monthly fees. Your immediate needs will depend on your individual business. A food truck, for example, will likely need a single POS terminal while a fast-casual restaurant might want to have enough devices so that each server can use their own to process orders and transactions. If your needs are somewhere in between, consider choosing a system that allows you to add equipment over time and as your budget allows.
The initial purchase of a restaurant POS system may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the size of your restaurant. How are you going to pay for it?
Some of the providers offer financing on their equipment, but another option is to choose restaurant equipment leasing. Leasing allows you to continually upgrade your equipment to the latest offerings so your establishment is up to date. When you expand your restaurant in line with industry trends, you become known as an innovative business — one that creates a buzz among customers.
If you know you’re ready to commit to new equipment, consider restaurant business loans instead. You can use these loans to acquire the POS software and hardware, as well as any other business needs you might have, such as new furnishings, kitchen or bakery equipment, or updates to your physical location. By obtaining a business loan, you can combine all of your financing needs into one payment.
When you choose one of the top restaurant POS systems, you make an investment in your business that will pay off. Faster service and loyalty programs will keep customers coming back. An effortless inventory system will mean that you don’t run out of important ingredients and disappoint customers. And real-time reports help you prepare for your busy times and manage your staff members.
A reliable POS system will quickly become your trusted business partner, helping you run FOH and BOH operations with the touch of a screen. Choose the system that is the best fit for your restaurant and you can focus on your passion — creating amazing food.
The recommendations, opinions or views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the recommendations, opinions or views of National Funding.
There’s a new small business tax break that may lower the amount you pay Uncle Sam. The deduction for qualified business income, also known as the pass-through business income deduction, allows eligible business owners to deduct up to 20 percent of qualified income on their tax returns.
Here’s a quick rundown on this tax law change and how it affects your small business.
What Is Qualified Business Income?
According to the IRS, the qualified business income definition is “the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified trade or business.” In other words, it’s your net business profit.
Certain professional services, financial services and performing arts businesses earning more than $315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, or $157,500 for all others, are ineligible for this small business tax break.
What Does ‘Pass-Through’ Mean?
This term refers to business income “passing through” the business to the business owner, who pays individual income tax rates on the earnings.
Does the Deduction Apply to All Business Structures?
Sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations qualify for this deduction.
Income earned through a C corporation is not eligible.
How Do I Calculate My Deduction?
The 20 percent deduction will apply to the lesser of:
Your qualified business income
Your taxable income minus your net capital gains
Check out our piece on how the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affects your business to learn more about this small business tax break.
Running a farm often involves dealing with uncertainty. On top of the typical risks of owning a business, you also need to worry about uncontrollable factors like bad weather, a poor harvest or political roadblocks like tariffs. Given all these challenges, it’s understandable if your farm faced financial stretches that hurt your credit score and made it difficult to land farm loans with bad credit. Fortunately, there are still financing options available. Let’s dive into the current state of farm financing and your options for how to get a farm loan.
The State of Farm Financing
A Need for Capital
The farm business model depends on flexible access to credit. Not only do you need to borrow money to buy equipment and land, but there’s also the seasonal need to restock fertilizer and seeds, buy livestock, and hire staff to get through your busiest time of the year. You also might need money to get through unexpected problems like a poor crop yield, a natural disaster or lower-than-expected prices.
Once you sell your harvest, you can pay everything back. It’s a business model that’s worked for hundreds of years. But while farmers depend on credit, it’s getting harder to find.
Tough Times for Farm Loans
The farming industry is going through a difficult stretch. Net farm income has fallen nearly 50 percent since 2013 and is at the lowest point since 2009, according to Farm Aid. As a result, the financial condition of the average farm has weakened.
The farm sector is seeing an increase in debt-to-income and a fall in working capital, meaning farms have less in cash reserves. The Associated Press reported that farm loan delinquencies just reached their highest point in nine years, as farmers are not earning enough to keep up with their payments.
Given these difficult conditions, traditional lenders have become reluctant to set up farm loans, and when they do, they require more collateral. For a farmer with bad credit, this is a tough landscape to navigate.
How to Get Farm Loans With Bad Credit
In this section, we look at who lends to farmers, how to get a farm loan, and what it takes to qualify.
Traditional Lenders: While traditional lenders do offer farm loans, their standards have gotten tougher over the past few years. To qualify, you’ll need a proven track record of farm income, valuable assets to put up for collateral, and a strong credit score. Their lending process can also take several weeks or months as they review your application.
One benefit of working with a traditional lender is that, if you do qualify, you could receive a larger amount of money through a long-term loan. This can be useful for buying more land or adding new buildings to your farm. But when your credit score is below average, it can be difficult to qualify. You may need to delay using traditional loans until you rebuild your score.
Government Programs: The government can help you qualify for farm loans with bad credit through the Farm Service Agency of the USDA. In this program, the agency guarantees partial repayment of the loan so if a borrower can’t pay it back, the traditional lender gets part of their money back. As a result, these lenders may be more willing to take on someone with a lower credit score.
However, similar to traditional lenders, it can still be difficult to qualify. Aside from a credit score, the lender will look at other qualifying factors, such as whether you have a long track record of farming (10 years or more), a low amount of other debt, a cosigner and collateral.
Alternative Lenders: Alternative lenders are the easiest way to borrow farm loans with bad credit. These lenders base their decision primarily on whether your farm is bringing in income. You may be able to qualify so long as you earn at least $100,000 a year.
Since alternative lenders do not review a complicated list of requirements, they can process your loan application within a couple of days. This comes in handy when you’re in a sudden cash crunch, like after your tractor breaks down, and can’t spend months waiting on a traditional lender. These fast loans are for smaller amounts of money, between $5,000 to $500,000.
Alternative loans often give you the flexibility to pay off the debt as soon as you want without a prepayment penalty. You can pay everything back right after you sell your crop. If you’re a farmer with bad credit, alternative lenders can be a quick and effective way to gain access to the money you need now. Plus, making the loan payments will allow you to rebuild your credit score.
How Financing Can Help Your Farm
Your credit history shouldn’t stop you from considering new paths to growth; a farm loan can be used for more than bridging a financial dry patch or unexpected setbacks. By taking advantage of farm equipment loans, you can free up the cash needed to run your business during tough times and expand operations when you see the opportunity. Think of what you could invest in:
Buying New Machinery/Equipment: Whether it’s updating your tiller, buying a new tractor, adding a conveyor belt or installing a generator, farm equipment financing gives you the money you need to make these investments today. You can also use a farm loan to cover any emergency repairs during harvest, when you can’t let a broken piece of machinery hold you back.
Upgrading Your Systems: You can also use farm loans to improve your current processes, like redoing your irrigation system or building a new silo for your increased harvest.
Adding Another Crop: If you want to diversify by adding another crop or type of livestock to your farm, a farm loan will help you purchase the new seeds, equipment and buildings needed.
Hiring Farmers During a Cash Crunch: If your business is going through a tough financial stretch, it may be tempting to downsize your staff, but ultimately, you can’t harvest all those acres on your own. You’ll need employees to help you. A farm loan can cover their pay until you sell your crop and get back on your feet.
Whatever you’re looking for, make sure to work with a financing company that has experience lending to farmers, especially those with bad credit. They can help you identify how to get a farm loan while also explaining any possible tax breaks you could earn through farm equipment financing.
Don’t let your credit score hold back your farm. With these options, you can raise money and make all the investments you need during dry spells and high-yield harvest years alike.
If you’re performing double duty as the strategic leader and marketing expert in charge of your company’s growth, rest assured that email marketing is worth your time. According to HubSpot, the return on investment for email marketing is $38 dollars for every dollar invested. Email marketing helps you build stronger relationships with your customers, and it’s an effective way to share thought leadership, promote sales and stay connected. Finding the best email marketing software for small business outreach will help you engage your customers in a new way. Here’s a closer look at four features of email marketing tools that should be on your list.
Templates for Easy Newsletter Creation
A busy small business owner doesn’t have time to code a newsletter by hand. The right email marketing provider will offer a range of tools that make it simple to send professional, engaging newsletters. When Jim, a bookstore owner, decided to launch a newsletter, he needed something as easy as possible. He’s busy and not very tech savvy, so intuitive software was his top priority.
You’ll be able to choose between preexisting newsletter templates or custom templates that you can align with your branding. Adjust colors, add your logo, and customize the newsletter to build your brand. Using a template will make the process of creating a newsletter as simple as adding a subject line, text, any images or links you want to include, and then previewing the final product before you hit send.
Contact Management for Organization and Compliance
The best email marketing software for small businesses include features that make it easier to manage your contacts. When someone signs up for your newsletter, email marketing tools will capture that email address for you. Ideally, they’ll use what’s called a “double opt-in” to make sure that you have the person’s permission to email them. With many strict data privacy regulations emerging, the best solutions ensure you comply.
Jim does business with online book buyers in other countries, and he needed a software solution that simplified the compliance process. He also looked for two other contact management features. The first was the ability to segment his list by reading interests so he could better target his newsletters. The second was the ability to see when people weren’t engaging so he could remove those email addresses to keep his newsletter current.
Survey Features for Customer Feedback
Have you ever wished that you could ask your customers questions and then easily gather the feedback? The best email marketing software for small business outreach will let you integrate surveys into your newsletters. Create a poll and get quick feedback on new products to offer, subjects to cover in your newsletter, or which day of the week would be the best to hold a marketing event.
By consolidating surveys with his email newsletter, Jim saw a few benefits. First, he saved money on software subscriptions. Second, he was able to ask his audience questions, and the responses helped him improve customer service, focus on products customers want, and ultimately drive more business.
Data Reporting and Dashboards for Performance Data
The final key features to look for in an email service provider are data reporting and dashboards. When you’re sending emails, it’s important to have access to data on whether emails are being received, opened and acted on. Providers offer the ability to look at your newsletter’s performance overall, as well as how specific subject lines or content performed.
Jim wanted to understand what resonated with his audience. By leveraging the data features of email marketing tools, he was able to understand the subject lines, content types and topics that get customers to buy. Performance data allowed him to strategically plan his newsletter subjects in advance to generate a positive return.
Email marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies. Streamline your workflow so that you can focus on delivering engaging content to your audience on a consistent basis. Your business will forge stronger customer relationships, build more buzz for sales, and cultivate an important marketing channel that builds the foundation for future growth.
As a small business owner, you’re open to risk. But whether it’s a natural disaster heading straight for your area or an employee getting injured on the job, business insurance can limit some of that risk. There are a few types of business insurance required by law, but most small business insurance policies just make practical sense. To ensure you’re protecting your business and employees, we break down some must-have policies, plus a few you may want in your back pocket.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
The law requires nearly all employers to provide workers’ compensation for their employees; state law dictates the minimum coverage requirements. The insurance helps to cover employees’ medical expenses and wages should they get injured on the job.
Your industry can help determine how much coverage you need. Suppose you run a construction business. Even when you have a solid construction safety program in place, serious injuries can happen. The same is true of the restaurant industry. Kitchen staff can get themselves in serious trouble with sharp knives, whirring food processors and flaming stovetops.
When it comes to a medical practice or beauty and wellness establishment, the injuries might not be as acute, but even a simple slip and fall can land an employee in the emergency room.
Disability is another category of business insurance required by law in a handful of states – California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Puerto Rico also requires it. It pays a portion of an employee’s income if they can’t work for an extended period of time due to a non-work-related injury or illness.
If your state doesn’t require this insurance, you may want to buy some anyway. If a valued employee has a serious illness or injury (not work-related) and needs more time to recuperate than your sick leave policy allows, this insurance helps to cover their income until they’re feeling better. You will have to invest in the coverage, but you will save money on hiring and training a new employee. Your budget and the premium cost can help you determine whether to buy this insurance and how much coverage you’ll need.
Property insurance covers damage to your tangible assets, including real estate, equipment, supplies and inventory. While not legally mandated, you might be required to buy it if you have any loans secured by property. It’s similar to when a mortgage company requires a homeowner to buy homeowners’ insurance: The lender needs to protect its collateral. However, not all lenders require collateral.
If you’re not required to have property insurance, should you buy it? The answer depends on how much tangible property you own, and how much money you have on hand to replace it if it’s damaged or destroyed by an insurable event, like a fire, storm or theft. For example, if you rent space for your business, own very little equipment of value, and your bank account is healthy, you might pass on property insurance or opt for minimal coverage. If you recently invested in a new retail storefront and your warehouse is stocked with inventory, you may want to consider this backup plan.
If a customer gets injured on your premises or harmed by one of your products, liability insurance could cover you against those claims. Perhaps you build custom furniture, and a customer wanted to see a new chair stored in your warehouse. Unfortunately, your employee just mopped and your customer slips and injures his leg. If he needs to seek immediate medical attention, liability insurance will have your back.
Liability insurance will also cover you if you get hit with an unexpected lawsuit. For example, maybe you own a restaurant and a regular customer appeared in a photo you used on your website. Unless you got her permission, she could sue you for an invasion of privacy. The cost of defending yourself or compensating the plaintiff could be covered by this insurance.
The cost of these small business insurance policies are based on the insurance company’s assessment of your risk profile, your claims experience, and the competitive environment for a given category of insurance within a particular market.
Take workers’ comp, for example. Covering an employee in an accountant’s office might cost you as little as $44 a year, while a roofing contractor employee earning the same wage might set you back more than $8,000. A restaurant employee might cost you around $800.
For many types of business insurance, you can opt to accept higher deductibles in exchange for lower premiums. That means taking on more financial risk, however.
Once you decide what insurance to purchase, be sure to add the resulting premium payment obligation to your cash flow budget going forward. Covering yourself, your business and your employees will require an upfront investment, but one that you’ll be thanking yourself for when the unexpected strikes.
It’s time to get ready for Prime Day. On July 15th, 2019, Amazon will run a series of Black Friday-like deals for Amazon Prime members. If you run an e-commerce business, this annual event can be a great way to boost sales, move inventory and connect with new customers. TechCrunch reported that small and midsized businesses made more than $1 billion in sales on Prime Day last year. These quick tips can help you know how to sell on Prime Day for maximum profits.
1. Plan Your Inventory in Advance
Retail optimizes for busy periods. You’ve probably planned how to manage your inventory for holidays, back-to-school months and other major shopping events. Get ready for Prime Day in a similar way, by stocking up ahead of time. July can often be a slower sales period, so don’t be caught unaware if your business gets slammed with orders. Evaluate your typical lead time for replacing inventory, and then finalize those orders at least two weeks ahead of your normal schedule. Being proactive helps eliminate the risk of delays or running out of stock during this big event.
2. Pay Attention to Advertising
Create an advertising and marketing plan to help you reach your Prime Day goals. When shoppers are browsing for items, make sure your brand and products are what they see first. For example, general approaches to advertising — sponsored search ads, banner advertising and social media promotions — can pay off significantly. It can also be useful to leverage your own marketing channels to alert existing customers to deals. Post discounts on your social media accounts, send out an email newsletter or write a blog post on your website that reminds customers to check out your Prime Day deals.
3. Optimize Your Listings
Help your listings stand out among a sea of ads. An optimized listing increases the chances that your product will be found — and that customers will convert to a sale once they click on it. Start with your images. Do your product listings include high-resolution, appealing photos? If not, now’s a great time to make that update. Ensure your listings are well-written and accurately describe the product; highlight key features and other information your customers would want to know. Lastly, evaluate your keyword strategy for each listing. If needed, strengthen your keywords and work them into your listings naturally.
4. Run the Numbers
An influx of sales can impact your bottom line, but it’s important to understand the economics. Begin by assessing the fees you’ll have to pay for setting up a Lightning Deal, or flash sale. Last year, Amazon charged businesses $750 per Lightning Deal, according to CNBC. You’ll also need to determine which discounts will attract customers while still keeping your margins and profits intact. Typically, discounts range from 20%–50%. One way to test your discounts, beyond scenario planning and financial modeling, is running a Lightning Deal ahead of time to collect data. This method can offer insights into both pricing strategies and inventory needs to help you maximize your Prime Day ROI.
5. Develop a Follow-Up Plan
Amazon has specific rules about how sellers can follow up with the people who buy from them. You can’t market or advertise. However, you can check in about their orders, make sure they don’t have any questions, and ask them to share a product review. The influx of customers can help you build your ratings and reviews on the site, and a positive customer experience could bring them back to your brand when they’re buying more. Design these messages well before Prime Day, and create a schedule to follow up in a timely fashion.
If you’re looking to grow your retail business this summer, Amazon’s Prime Day can be a great choice. When you learn how to sell on Prime Day ahead of time, you stand a better chance of making money, connecting with customers and reaping long-term benefits for your participation. Spend time understanding the pricing, inventory and marketing strategies that will help set you up for success, and turn this Prime Day into a profitable sales opportunity.
If waiting for customer payments to roll in is causing a cash flow issue, in-store financing could be a solution, and it’s not just for the huge box stores like Best Buy and Home Depot. By working with a third-party financing company, your small business can also set up a program where customers buy now and pay later. With this type of arrangement, you could increase sales, boost customer retention and even improve your cash flow.
How Can I Offer Financing to My Customers?
When you think about offering financing to your customers, you might imagine that your business would extend the credit directly. In other words, you’d give customers the product or service with the promise that they’ll pay you back later.
While you could set up this arrangement, it’s more complicated and won’t fix your cash flow issues since you’re waiting on customers to pay their bills. There are much easier alternatives. It’s more common for small businesses to work with third-party financing companies like ViaBill, Financeit or Snap Finance. These companies offer point of sale financing, where your customer borrows from them to make the purchase and your business gets paid right away. You benefit from making sales on credit without taking on the financial risk.
How Do I Make a Sale?
When your business signs up with one of these financing companies, they’ll give you an online and/or mobile program to process sales. As customers make a purchase, they can apply for delayed payments through the system. The financing company will review their credit score and make a decision on the spot.
If customers qualify, the financing company will pay your business in full for their purchases. They will then be in charge of setting up payment plans for customers and collecting money in the future.
You’ll need to pay a small fee for the service. It could be a monthly charge or a percent of every sale, like for processing credit cards. Your customers could also owe interest on their installment payments.
What Are the Benefits of Financing?
In-store financing could make the difference between a sale or someone leaving to “think about it.” A customer might not be willing to spend or be able to afford $1,000 all at once, but if it’s broken down into five payments of $200, that’s a lot easier to stomach.
Even though your customer gets to space out their payments, your business doesn’t have to wait on the cash. You’ll get paid in full right away and it’s the financing company that waits on collecting their money. Customers also appreciate having the flexibility to pay later. They’ll remember that it was easy to pay in installments and your customer retention may improve.
Finally, the amount of work you need to do is minimal. The financing company reviews customer credit information and decides whether they qualify. They also take the risk of someone not paying the bill after setting up payment plans for customers. Your business just makes the sale and then you’re done with the transaction.
Does It Make Sense to Offer Financing to My Customers?
While there are many benefits to offering installment payments, it’s not a perfect fit for every small business. The financing companies require a minimum amount of monthly sales or minimum transaction size, like a few hundred dollars. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort of processing everything. If your typical sale or volume is too low, you might not be eligible to use these programs.
In addition, you will be paying an extra fee to the company. If all your current customers switch from paying cash to this new system, your total revenue could take a hit.
Finally, not all of your customers will be able to qualify for financing. You need to be careful about how you present this program, mentioning that acceptance is not guaranteed. Otherwise, you’ll get someone’s hopes up about buying your product or service only to let them down.
How Does Financing Impact Cash Flow?
Offering financing to your customers can be a long-term solution to improving your cash flow. You’ll generate more sales and get paid immediately by the financing company. However, it still will take some time to land these future customers.
If your business needs cash today, another option is to take out a short-term cash flow loan at the same time. Alternative lenders offer small business loans in as little as 24 hours so your business immediately gets money to manage payroll, cover your lease and pay your suppliers.
Once you start making more sales from your new financing system, you can pay off the debt right away as these loans don’t charge an early payment penalty.
If a financing program makes sense for your business, you get the benefit of offering customers credit while still getting paid upfront. That combo is hard to beat. No wonder all the big guys offer financing.
As a business owner, you may not be familiar with all the available online marketing tools for small business needs. Yet all too often, you’re the company’s chief marketing officer in addition to all the other hats you wear. It’s important to invest in marketing that pays off, and today’s hottest option is digital marketing. One study from Small Business Trends found that 83% of small business owners believe their digital marketing efforts are effective.
You may be hesitant to invest in the cost, but luckily, there are a host of free and affordable online marketing tools for small business owners. Here’s a closer look at the top digital marketing tools to help you connect with customers, build your brand and grow your bottom line.
Why You Need Online Marketing Tools for Small Business Growth
One of the most common challenges small businesses face is getting the word out to potential customers. It can be hard to know where to find customers — and reach them once you do find them. Consider the case of Ted, a local retail entrepreneur. When Ted opened a local fishing store, he wanted to find the best way to connect with buyers in his area. For him, that meant choosing the best way to identify and market to outdoor enthusiasts and fishing fans in his city and the surrounding areas.
It’s difficult to find the best advertising tools for small business needs, and decide where to spend your time and money. However, there are a number of platforms and tools that make it easier to do everything from building a website to sending an email marketing newsletter. Plus, many of them are free, and if you find them useful, most offer paid options that have even more advanced features. To help you get started, we’ve identified some of the most critical online marketing tools for small business owners — which also provide the highest return on investment.
Build a Website With WordPress
Building a website is one of the most important growth steps you can take for your company. In fact, a website is one of the best advertising tools for small business owners. Customers often begin their buying journeys with an online search and will visit a business website to learn more about services, products and pricing. Luckily, you don’t have to spend the hundreds or thousands of dollars it can cost to hire a professional designer to build an effective website. Online marketing tools for small business needs like WordPress make it easy to create your own website.
Ted decided to invest in a website as his first marketing priority. He bought the domain name for his store, found an affordable hosting provider, and then set up WordPress. Using an existing template, he was able to have a professional website up and running in less than a day. WordPress also offers additional features, such as the ability to add a blog to your website and easily factor in search engine optimization (SEO), which will help your customers find you in search results.
If WordPress isn’t the right fit for your needs, there are other user-friendly options to consider. Wix and Squarespace are both easy-to-use options that eliminate even more of the design work involved in creating your own website. They may be more costly than WordPress, but they can be good options when you’re evaluating how to get your website started.
Optimize Your Website Keywords
SEO is another cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy. SEO starts with understanding the keywords your customers or prospects are likely to search for and then making sure those keywords are included in key areas of your website. For many small business owners, this often includes terms related to their industry and locale. When Ted made his website, he used two tools to help him navigate the SEO process.
First, he used Google Ads Keyword Planner to discover target keywords. His research revealed that terms like “fishing store” and “bait supply” were important to his customers, along with a few specific geographic terms such as his city’s name and zip code. Then, since he used WordPress for his website, he installed the basic Yoast SEO plug-in. A plug-in is a small add-on to a WordPress site that adds additional functionality. The free version of Yoast made it easy for Ted to optimize his entire website, as well as its individual pages. This optimization increased the chances that potential customers using search engines would find his website.
To get the most value out of a keyword tool, start with a basic search. Choose the terms you would look for when searching for a business like yours. Check to see what the search volume is for those phrases, and then look at the recommended options. For example, more people may search for “bait and tackle shop” than “fishing store.” This information can help you better target your needs and understand the language your audience typically uses. The more dialed in you are to that language, the more successful your marketing content will be.
Manage Your Social Media Accounts
Customers are active on social media and often follow the brands they love for news, fun content and discounts. Social media accounts help you get your brand in front of customers and prospects every day. But what if you don’t have the time to post to your social networks every day?
Enter social media management tools. Providers like Hootsuite make it easy to manage your social media accounts. You start by signing up for an account; most providers offer a free option as well as paid subscriptions with more advanced features. Then, you connect your business social media accounts, like your Facebook page and Twitter account, to the social media management software. Using a social media management platform, Ted was able to write his social media content, upload it once a week, and schedule it to post throughout the week ahead. It dramatically cut down on the time he spent online, freeing him up to interact with customers, answer questions and respond to reviews.
As an online marketing tool for small business needs, a social media management platform can help you get the word out about your business. They allow you to batch your content creation and schedule it in advance. Many also let you watch for mentions of your brand name or important phrases related to your industry. Managing your posting and engagement from one interface helps you stay connected, while also streamlining the time you spend on your social media accounts.
Stay in Touch With an Email Newsletter
An active email newsletter is one of the best advertising tools for small business owners. Customers who sign up for your newsletter invite you into their inbox, providing a touch point that isn’t affected if a social media network disappears or an advertising venue goes out of business.
When Ted opened his fishing store, he invited customers to visit his website and sign up for his newsletter. People who subscribed received a discount to use at their next visit — which often brought them into the store. As the store adds new inventory or runs sales, Ted can send out a quick email notifying those people on his email list.
Online marketing tools for small business owners make email marketing easy. Take Mailchimp, for instance. It’s free to sign up, and then offers paid plans for a variety of features. The program lets you store your email list and choose from professionally designed templates, making it easy to send out email campaigns. Reporting features help you keep track of what’s working and other factors, like when your audience opens their messages. Reviewing this data periodically helps you dial in your campaigns to be even more effective over time.
Manage Your Reputation With Review Sites
Customer experience is king, and customers are increasingly using sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to share their opinions. Many customers also consult online review sites before doing business with a company. A slew of great reviews can be all it takes to get them to use your services. By contrast, too many negative reviews can send potential customers to your competition. Online marketing tools for small business operations make it easier to keep up with what customers are saying about you online and let you respond as needed to maintain your reputation.
Ted discovered that customers had been leaving reviews for his business on Yelp. By going through the process to claim his store’s page, he gained access to additional features. He was able to update contact and store information, respond to positive and negative reviews, and build more of a community around his business. Most importantly, Ted was able to connect with his customers and keep a pulse on what mattered most to them. Ultimately, being active on review sites provides real-time information on how your business is performing and lets you take action if a problem arises.
Learn Basic Online Advertising
For a long time, retail advertising meant printing an ad in the local newspaper or putting a flyer in nearby mailboxes. Today, growing companies have access to digital ads. Some of the most common options include running pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines, so your ad appears in the sponsored section when someone runs a search. Another one of the best advertising tools for small business needs is social media advertising. With social media ads, you can spend a little money to boost the visibility of your posts or increase awareness of your account.
Online marketing tools for small business needs specialize in helping you navigate the process. For example, Facebook Business allows you to create a campaign, upload a budget and manage your campaign. Over time, Ted noticed that his customers were very active on Facebook. He created a Facebook ad with a small budget to start, and when he saw that it was bringing customers to his store, he created an advertising plan that fit his budget.
The key to online advertising on digital platforms is starting small. It’s easy to quickly spend a significant amount of money on online ads. Making sure that your advertising is successful before scaling up keeps costs under control while letting you experiment. There are many good resources on digital ads that can give you an idea of how different platforms work and let you explore whether they’re the right fit for your business.
Use Task Management Software
If you’re working with another person, a task management software solution is an essential online marketing tool for small business owners. When Ted was planning a marketing strategy for his shop, he decided to hire a freelance designer to create some basic graphics.
By planning ahead, he was able to develop a calendar and forecast a budget to cover his needs. The designer created simple social media graphics and images to be used for online advertising. Creating a calendar that matched up to his planned advertising campaigns — and helped him track the different projects — was essential. Ted decided to use the project management software Trello. Trello is a visual tool that lets you capture ideas, categorize them according to keywords, and tag team members for review.
Digital marketing has many moving parts, and staying organized is a key to success. Finding the right online marketing tools for small business needs and your specific budget can help — and project management is no exception. Look at the different features that solutions offer. Consider how many devices will need the software, how many people will be using the system, and whether you’re looking for a to-do list or a more robust project management software. Options exist across the spectrum to help you get more done.
Ted, like many small business owners, saw a significant return for his digital marketing efforts. Get more bang for your buck and grow faster by finding a few online marketing tools for small business needs to help you achieve your goals. But keep in mind, not even the best advertising tools for small business owners can help if it hurts to afford them. Working capital loans can help you invest in these tools without stressing out your cash flow.
If you’re ready to make an investment in growth, digital marketing offers one of the most important — and most accessible — avenues for getting started. Not only can investing in this area help you attract new customers, but it can establish the foundation for long-term growth and financial stability.
The recommendations, opinions or views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the recommendations, opinions or views of National Funding.
There are several pitfalls on the road to maintaining a positive cash flow that even experienced construction business owners encounter. Cash flow management in the construction industry involves several unique challenges, including long periods between billing and collection, as well as unpredictable events related to weather, suppliers, and contractors. Any mistake in this process can have serious consequences for your business.
Awareness is the key to making your cash flow management work for your overall business state. Here are some of the most common mistakes in managing the cash flow of a construction business.
1. Not having a cash cushion
There are few things worse in business than having large unforeseen expenses, and in the construction industry, this happens all the time. The industry relies on accurate estimates and forecasting but deviations are common. Unexpected expenses will happen so all cash flow managers need to be prepared by having a cash reserve.
One major reason why construction businesses need a cash reserve is seasonality. The construction industry experiences peak seasons and slow times all throughout the year. Weather conditions also impact the start of the project, its duration, and whether it’s going to be on time or delayed. This makes construction businesses vulnerable to cash fluctuations. Without a cash cushion, the business will suffer a negative cash flow.
It is an absolute must for businesses to have cash reserves for contingencies. The unexpected is guaranteed to happen. When things go wrong, that cash reserve will keep your business in operation. Start building your cash reserve today.
2. Passive collection of receivables
The construction industry is notorious for having a lengthy period between billing the client and collecting payment, as well as payment delays and nonpayment. If you are passive in contacting clients and collecting receivables, they will be more likely to stretch pay periods and delay paying you.
For better cash flow management, you need to hit your accounting books and check customer accounts that are due. Start making calls and sending follow-up emails to these clients, especially those that may turn delinquent. If possible, impose additional fees for late payment to incentivize clients to pay on time. Of course, it’s always prudent to send preliminary notices to your clients to protect you. Preliminary notices secure your right to file a mechanics lien in case a client ultimately fails to pay. This should not be seen as a threat but just part of the professional way business is handled in construction.
To ensure the timely collection of receivables, include a billing schedule in your contracts and follow it. This way, clients know when to expect the invoice to arrive, keeping your company at the top of their minds.
3. Poor data quality
The construction industry has a problem with maintaining good data quality. Since the industry is one of the least digitized in the world, it is slow on the uptake of tech solutions that make data management easier and more organized. Not only does this cause inefficiency, but poor data management also affects a company’s bottom line.
One common example of poor data management is errors in data entry. A client may mistype their contact information or an employee may put a different address accidentally. These errors will cause delays in processing. The invoice may be sent to the wrong address, resulting in delays in payment if not detected immediately.
4. Closing deals without vetting the client
A fairly common mistake in the industry is granting credit without vetting the client. It is important to check a client’s history or else you may face the risk of nonpayment.
Getting references is a surefire way to check a client’s history. Ask your contacts if they have partnered with a potential client before and if they have a history of timely payments. There are also online resources that you can check that include court records and notices of liens regarding the potential client. Finally, you may also refer to reviews and complaints that may have been posted against them.
Cash flow management is a huge challenge for all business owners. Don’t let your business be trapped by these common pitfalls. By taking note of how these mistakes can affect your business, you will be able to avoid financial issues and keep your company afloat.
About the Author:
Chris Woodard is the Co-Founder of Handle, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and materials suppliers secure their lien rights and get paid faster by automating the collection process of unpaid construction invoices.
Whether you sell clothing, hardware or groceries, one of the most important pieces of equipment in your store is retail POS software. It enables you to complete the transactions that support you financially, and helps you to build relationships with customers, leaving them with a positive impression of you and your business.
With so many options available, however, you’ve probably wondered how you can find the best retail POS system. Not all businesses have the same needs. If you sell sporting equipment, for example, you probably don’t want a system designed for a restaurant that provides a way to split a check. Too many unnecessary options can clutter the checkout process.
Instead, find the retail POS software that will deliver what you need by searching for the features that are important to you and your customers.
Customers like quick and easy checkouts. A slow checkout process could cost you business — 86% of shoppers will leave a store without making a purchase if a line is too long, according to an Adyen study on PR Newswire. The best retail POS software processes transactions quickly using magnetic stripe, chip and contactless payments. They also offer options for receipts based on customer preference, including text, email or paper.
For retailers, using an inventory management system is a vital part of doing business. You need to keep track of your products so you can reorder items that are getting low or create discounts on inventory that isn’t selling. How detailed you need your inventory management system to be will depend on the complexity of your store. For example, if you sell shoes, you will need retail POS software that can keep track of a variety of details within a certain product, such as size, width and color.
In addition, if your business has multiple stores or an e-commerce division, you’ll want a system that can keep track of inventory across your locations as well as online, with real-time updates that ensure you don’t sell a product you can’t deliver.
Bar Code Creation and Scanning
Retailers also need a way to create stock keeping unit (SKU) bar codes for their products, and the best retail POS systems include that capability, as well as a bar code scanner to read them. This equipment helps you log in and track inventory. Bar code scanners also speed up checkout by adding an item to a customer’s bill much faster than it takes to key in the information manually. Plus, these scanners read universal product codes (UPC) if your store sells items that are already coded.
Discounts and Loyalty Program Processing
Offering discounts, such as coupons or sales, can entice shoppers to your store. Your retail POS software should make it easy to create, process and share offers with customers. In addition, a loyalty program can encourage return visits from customers and increase your average sale amount. Many shoppers adjust their spending to maximize their loyalty points. The best retail POS system would integrate this capability into their software or offer it as an add-on feature.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Retailers will also want the ability to track customer purchases. This information helps your sales team provide personalized service and recommendations by reviewing a customer’s history. Increasingly, consumers prefer to shop at stores that personalize the customer experience. If you own a garden nursery, for example, it would be helpful to track a customer’s previous purchases to better recommend the right lawn care products for them.
Affordable Credit Card Processing Rates
Your retail POS software will process credit card, debit card and mobile payments, and you want to find a system that has affordable payment processing fees. Most retail POS providers charge a percentage of the transaction total plus a flat fee, while others allow you to choose your own merchant account. Determine your average order amount to find a provider that works within your margins.
Finally, you want to choose a retail POS software that performs updates in the cloud or has a server on-site, so you don’t lose a sale if you experience a technical issue. Nothing will frustrate a customer more than not being able to make their purchase because your system is down. Choose POS software that offers the ability to accept transactions offline that can be uploaded at a later date. Also, consider wireless mobile POS devices if you want to process transactions outside of your location, such as at a pop-up shop or community event, or even at a location within your store, like an aisle or dressing room.
5 POS Systems for Retail Business Owners
Now that you know which features to consider, it’s time to choose the best retail POS system for you. We’ve identified the top five systems specifically designed for retailers. They’ll cover all of the retail features you need and provide a few more capabilities that can enhance your business.
ShopKeep is an easy-to-use POS system that works on iPads. Its inventory management feature lets you track multiple variants, which will come in handy if you sell items in different sizes or colors. The inventory feature also lets you set levels that automatically reorder items from vendors. If you have multiple stores, you can view all of your locations on a central dashboard.
Other important retail features include the ability to create your own bar codes and SKUs, and charge different tax rates if you have locations in more than one state or city. ShopKeep offers its own payment processor as well as the ability for a merchant to add their own provider to its software.
ShopKeep’s analytics provide reporting on sales by hour, department and employee, as well as shift performance. Loyalty programs and marketing can be integrated through third-party vendors.
Pricing (obtained from third-party sources):
POS app: starts at $69 per register per month
Bluetooth credit card reader: $329
Mobile register kit with iPad mini enclosure and magnetic card reader: $198
Basic hardware kit with cash drawer, printer, iPad enclosure and card reader: $809
If you have an e-commerce element to your retail business, Shopify integrates online and offline sales into one seamless system. Using Apple and Android devices, it offers features such as an ability to create and scan bar codes, sell gift cards, and track customer order history to provide service and recommendations. Product information is updated in real time, so an item that’s sold in your store will instantly sync with your online inventory.
Shopify’s software also offers retailers a way to sell via social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The POS system offers its own payment processor, Shopify Payments, as well as a selection of other processors that are integrated into its system.
POS app: ranges from $9 to $299 per month
Online payment processing fee: ranges from 2.4% to 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction
Additional fees for using payment providers other than Shopify: ranges from 0.5% to 2%
All-in-one basic mPOP (combined receipt printer and cash drawer): $379
iPad bundle (uses your existing iPad), includes iPad stand, receipt printer, card reader and cash drawer: $656
3. Square for Retail
Square for Retail is a cloud-based system that works on Apple and Android devices. Its inventory management system tracks and adjusts inventory across all of your locations in real time. It provides automatic alerts for low inventory and will send purchase orders to vendors. Plus, you can create an unlimited SKU count.
Square for Retail also includes CRM features, such as customer profiles with credit and debit card transactions, tracking customer purchase history. It can sort customers into groups, such as loyal, casual or lapsed, which can help with a retailer’s marketing efforts. Square also comes with built-in payment processing and offers an integrated customer loyalty program as an add-on feature. Square for Retail charges no upfront cost for its magnetic card reader or monthly app fees.
Processing fee: ranges from 2.5% to 2.75% + 10 cents per transaction, depending on the equipment type
Square Reader for contactless and chip cards: $49
Square Stand iPad POS for contactless and chip: $199
Square Terminal all-in-one device including receipt printer: $399
Square Register with customer display: $999
4. Clover Station
Clover Station is another good cloud-based POS system for retailers. It offers the features retailers need, including inventory management, CRM, loyalty programs and analytics. You can set low-stock alerts, create SKUs with variants, and accept payments in offline mode. You can also run promotional campaigns by text or email. Clover Station offers a way for customers to give feedback, so you can engage with them and resolve any issues.
Unlike the other options, Clover Station doesn’t require a smart device. It’s an all-in-one system that includes a cash drawer, receipt printer and a built-in bar code scanner. This is an advantage if your retail store doesn’t currently have a dedicated smart device system. You can process magnetic stripe, chip and contactless payments.
POS app: starts at $14 per month
Payment processing fees: start at 2.3% plus 10 cents per transaction
Complete POS package: starts at $599
5. Lightspeed Retail
Finally, Lightspeed Retail is a good choice for stores with complex inventory to manage, such as a clothing boutique or footwear store. You can keep track of multiple stores, and create, track and assign SKUs by product and product variants. You can also upload vendor catalogs to easily reorder low inventory. Lightspeed Retail’s analytics track your best-selling items, your highest performing employees, and your sales and profits over time.
Lightspeed Retail offers a robust CRM, with an ability to create customer profiles. Its loyalty add-on feature lets you create a rewards program as well as automated email marketing campaigns, coupons, and deals for your best customers and other groups.
POS app: $99 per month
Payment processing fees: 2.6% plus 10 cents per transaction
iPad hardware kit with stand, printer, cash drawer, Bluetooth scanner and receipt paper: contact for a quote
How to Afford Retail POS Software
Retail POS software typically requires an upfront cost to get the system in place, plus recurring monthly fees for the app and payment processing based on sales. The initial purchase of your equipment will likely cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on how many locations and checkout stations you need. Though your immediate needs will depend on your individual business, you might consider a system that lets you add equipment over time and as your budget allows. Some of the providers offer financing on their equipment, but another option is to choose retailer and equipment financing from a third-party lender. If you have additional financing needs, it might be a better option to consider retail business loans as a way to combine everything into one simple payment.
Choosing the best retail POS system is an investment in your business that will pay off. The right retail POS software will help you to better run your store by ensuring your inventory levels are maximized for sales success. You can create reports at the touch of a button, providing you with valuable information that can help you make better business decisions.
With the right retail POS software, your customers benefit too. You’ll streamline the transaction process so you can quickly serve customers with the checkout options they want most. Plus, you can engage them by using enhanced product information and marketing services, such as loyalty programs.
Finally, equipping your sales team with the best retail POS system turns them into trusted advisers instead of transaction facilitators. Your team will be able to check inventory and product information on the spot, which can make the difference between a sale and a lost customer.
Eighty-six percent of shoppers said they’d pay more for better customer service, something that will differentiate brands more than price and product by 2020, reported Forbes. If you base your decision on your company’s greatest needs and goals, the best retail POS system will feel like a partner in the success of your business, rather than another piece of technology.
The recommendations, opinions or views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the recommendations, opinions or views of National Funding.