Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Festival Season is Coming - are you ready to make more sales on the go?

Spring and summer are festival times.  In Dunwoody, you have Lemonade Days and the opening of the Green Market, then there's the Art Festival, the Beer Festival and winding up with the Music Festival in the fall.  You've got similar festivals in Roswell (Alive After 5), Norcross (Norcross Art Fest) and Atlanta (Dogwood Festival).

All of these fairs are the bread and butter of many local artisans, microbusinesses, and family farmers.  The good news is that more mobile technologies for receiving payment are available to microbusiness owners and individual freelancers.  That means more opportunities for sales at fairs, especially those all-important impulse buys.

For all of you artisans and business owners out there who are going to make the regional rounds this summer, START PLANNING NOW.  There are lots of mobile options to choose from with a variety of equipment and costs.  Decide what will serve your customers best before you have to take your show on the road.

1)  Do I need a mobile online payment solution?
Is your business mobile?  Yes?  Then that's the answer.  Customers want mobile solutions, either by accepting their credit card on the spot, or even using their smartphone for payment.  That doesn't mean you have to forego cash and checks but those are just not enough anymore.

2)  Where do I start?  How do I find a solution?
They're not hard to find.  Google "merchant services" and you'll get a long list of companies of various sizes offering the ability to accept credit cards, including equipment at various prices.  The best place to start may be your own bank:  ask about merchant services where you do your regular banking.  Some offer the latest in mobile payment via smartphone (more below).    If you're dipping your toe into sales for the first time, many beginners start with PayPal.  PayPal was revolutionary in that it was the first service to allow individuals access to merchant services and the ability to accept credit cards without long term contracts or equipment purchases, and made transfers based on an email address.

3)  What are my options?
There's lots of 'em!  First, decide what kind of payments you want to receive at the market or fair.  Do you want to swipe credit cards?  Select an option that will plug into your cell phone via a smart phone case or even plugs into the audio jack.  Options include the new startup Square, which is a description of the device as much as a name.

Another option comes from Intuit, the same people who created Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax.  GoPayment involves either an iPhone case with a classic card swipe device attached, or the new audio-jack-plugin model.  Downsides are this is only available for iPhone (not Android, etc) and Intuit has some higher-than-average fees for their services, per their usual.  Intuit financial options are usually better for more established businesses, rather than beginners.

Finally, PayPal is rolling out "PayPal Here", its own card reader.  It's not widely available yet, but when it is distributed it will be the most flexible (for both iPhone and Android), will accept the widest variety of payments/credit cards at a single rate for all card brands.  (This is important because many merchant services will process different credit cards at different rates.)  Downside is PayPal's transaction fee, at 2.7% of the transaction amount is well above the industry average of 1.5-ish %.

4)  Do I absolutely, positively, have to have a card reader?
Not necessarily.  Mobile banking and payments have made quantum leaps this past year alone.  Chase Bank has been pushing its personal QuickPay service in its TV ads.  All three of the above options have personal mobile payment features that allow payments via free smartphone apps, rather than a credit card.  However it may be worth the extra effort to cover all your payment bases.

When you finally decide on what option works for you, take some time to test it out with friends and family.  Then don't forget to advertise the fact that you're taking mobile payments.  Post it on your website, in your emails, your Etsy store, social media, your signage, wherever.  While we're on the mobile subject, make sure your print materials and merchandise tags include a QR code.  QR codes are (usually) square, 2-dimensional bar codes that can store much more and more complex information.  Use them to link to your website, your Facebook, or to download your contact information into your visitor's contact list.  If you use PayPal for payments, you can link to your payment gateway too.  Make your QR code online for free.

Online payments are not just for big businesses anymore.  Even individuals and private groups can use these tools.  If your club or civic association holds, say, an annual picnic or garage sale, or your extended family is organizing a reunion or vacation, these online payment tools can be very useful for collecting payments.

Have fun and have a great summer!  Best of luck to all of the artisans and micro-biz out there making a living this season!

No comments: