Many of us are spending a lot of time shopping during this busy holiday season – whether it’s online, in the malls or shopping “small” to help support small businesses in our communities. Shopping is definitely top of mind right now. Have you ever thought about selling products on your own website?  Have you wanted to offer your customers the ability to purchase your products online but hesitated because you just don’t know where to start? There are a few things you may want to consider.

What are the options?

There are several options out there and there are definitely some pro’s and con’s to think about. You could use Paypal, but there is a risk that some customers may feel that you are less credible because you aren’t processing payments like most other sites. You could use one of the gateways that don’t require a merchant account, but you may risk having to pay up to 10% more for each transaction. Some hosting providers also offer more automated out-of-the-box methods, but again…you may ultimately paying more per transaction. The method we recommend is obtaining a merchant account with payment gateway. This account will be a bridge from your website to the credit card processor. In other words, you don’t have to have the security concerns or the liability of maintaining or storing the credit card numbers yourself. It will all be managed directly by a regular bank. There is a small fee for this payment gateway but it’s the most secure and it’s an encrypted gateway offering protection to not only customers but for merchants as well.

How do you get a merchant account?

The best way to go about getting a merchant account is to apply to several different banks. They each dictate their own terms for these types of accounts, so it’s best to give yourself some bargaining power. Banks want your business, and they are sometimes willing to negotiate terms with you if it looks like you may take your business elsewhere.

When should you start the process?

Get your website up first – even if it’s just placeholder – because the bank will want to see your website during the application process (it doesn’t necessarily have to be the final website that you actually going to launch with). Be patient – the process of getting the merchant account can take several weeks and banks don’t always process these applications very quickly. So, it’s best to start the process as soon as possible.

What information will you need?

To get started, you need to:

  • Determine what products you want to sell online
  • Group your products in logical categories for customers
  • Get full size and thumbnail pictures of your products (preferably .jpg, gif or tif)
  • Create an electronic list or spreadsheet of your products, including price, weight, title, categories, sizes, colors, pricing options, etc.
  • Determine your shipping methods (USPS, FedEx, Expedited, US/Int’l, etc) and tax rate

Once you have the merchant account, then what?

Once you have obtained your merchant account, just provide the account number, user name, password and key to your web developer. Then, provide the product information that you have compiled along with the shipping methods, tax rates and product images you want associated with the cart. The developer will integrate all of this shopping cart information with your website and you’ll be ready to start processing transactions online!

Read More

Apple first introduced Siri (a speech-recognition “personal assistant”) to the world on the iPhone 4s. Siri attempts to translate human speech and provide relevant responses to the requests it receives.

Siri allows you set appointments, get the weather forecast and search for many other things, including businesses in your local area. How can this new Apple feature help your business? Well, think about how many iPhone users are out there and are currently using Siri to locate information or get directions using their voice. If your business isn’t showing up in Siri’s results, there’s a chance that you’re missing out on some new customers.

Have you searched for your business yet on Siri? When I search for our own company, Digital Dogs, I get asked if I am looking for dog breeders or kennels. We all know that Digital Dogs is neither of those, so I tried searching all businesses within walking distance of our location – still no luck! Many other businesses are running into the same issue, so I started searching around to see if I could find the solution to showing up on Siri.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

A large part of the problem is that Siri still has a lot of kinks that need to get worked out. Its system isn’t as refined as, say Google, in returning relevant results for users. In fact, some of the results (or lack of) that Siri provides have been the cause of recent controversy. As a result, many businesses will probably start to see improvement in their visibility on Siri only as Apple continues to work on and refine the program.

Even with Siri’s flukes, there are still some things you can do to help increase the chances of your business showing up in the results. From my research so far, here are some of the top factors you should address:

Purchase the Premium Version of Yelp
Many business owners have commented that upgrading to the premium service offered by Yelp seems to have helped their companies appear on Siri. However, this may not be a viable option for small companies with tight marketing budgets. If upgrading to the premium service isn’t an option for your company, make sure that you create a free Yelp account or check up on your current one to make sure it lists your company in the appropriate business categories and contains your company’s most current information.

Get Online Customer Reviews
Some business owners and webmasters have also noticed a difference once getting some customer reviews on Yelp. This clearly isn’t a hard set rule for showing up in Siri, since some searches bring up companies without reviews. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to get positive reviews about your business online, so if you haven’t been encouraging customers to post reviews on Yelp and other websites, now’s the time to start.

Include Keywords in Your Company Name
Having the keywords that people search for in your company name seems to help businesses be found better on Siri. However, I’m not recommending that you randomly include keywords in your company name. Only do it if they’re already a part of your company name. For example, if you’re the owner of Teaching Kids Elementary School, make sure that you include the words “Elementary School” in your Yelp listing and not just “Teaching Kids.”

Once again, none of these recommendations are guaranteed to get your company showing up in Siri. However, they can help, and they don’t require much effort to start implementing.

Read More