When starting a business, one of the early decisions you’ll need to make is how you’ll accept payments. You want to make sure your customers can pay you in a way that’s convenient and cost effective for both you and them.
There’s been a large influx of new digital payment methods and tools available to businesses and consumers in recent years—creating a sometimes-bewildering array of options.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all decision,” says Ellen Cibula, a payments specialist based in Cedar Fort, Utah. “But it’s important to get it right.”
Here are three key steps to finding and setting up payments for a small business:
Research the different payment options available.
Payments aren’t limited just to cash, check and credit card anymore. Today, there are digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo and Zelle. (Venmo offers business accounts that allows for customer refunds, for example; Zelle does not have business-specific accounts, but charges no fees.) Electronic transfers via the Automated Clearing House and eChecks are also options. And more businesses have been rolling out “Buy Now, Pay Later” payment options that let customers pay for large-ticket items, such as furniture or exercise equipment, in monthly installments.
Choosing which types of payments to offer is a balancing act. Each payment option generally comes at a cost, including fees and the time it takes for your business to manage it. At the same time, you want to give your customers enough flexibility so you’re not turning away their business by not offering them a viable payment option.
Navigating this decision means looking at your primary customer base and the various ways they interact with your business. Do your customers come into your physical business to pay (in which case, they may want a mobile payment option) or even to pay with cash? Or do they mostly pay online or remotely?
“You’ll need to decide which option is best for your business, based on your products or services, your customer base, and your overall business goals,” Cibula says.
If you’re not sure, you can survey your target customers before opening your business to find out what kind of payment options they would appreciate and use most. Most small businesses will want to offer at least a few different payment options.
Choose the right payment processor.
If you accept debit and credit cards—which still account for half of all small business sales—as well as mobile wallet payments, you’ll need to choose a payment processor. The processor is essentially the conduit that facilitates the payment transactions and communications among the various parties involved, including your bank and the customer’s bank.
Many small businesses have gravitated toward payment processing companies that integrate with their point-of-sale system and can facilitate various payment types—whether mobile payments, virtual payments or physical credit cards. Many processors, such as Clover and Square, offer payment terminals and can provide a gateway for facilitating online payments. Keep in mind that many of these systems also include analytics to help you track purchases and payments.
When choosing among them, it’s important to compare their fee structure and their customer support—in case you run into issues or questions. “Read the small print, as it can get complicated,” Cibula says. “Make sure you know what you’re getting into, and that there are no hidden fees.”
Test out your payment system.
Before you roll it out to customers, spend a little time making sure your payment system is working correctly. “Look under the hood before you start accepting payments from customers,” Cibula says. “It’s important to make sure everything is working seamlessly.”
A payment processor, she says, can set up a test run to uncover any kinks.
It’s important to make sure your payment options and processes keep up with the times and how your customers want to pay for things. So it’s a good idea to stay up to date on trends in small business payments and consider offering new payment methods when it’s clear your customers are adopting themPrint this article