Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Saving For Retirement: What Do You Know About Annuities?

Nothing? Well, then, here's a little bit of information. An annuity is a vehicle (no, not a car) in which you can place your money for the purpose of preparing for retirement. Is it a savings account? No. Is it a life insurance policy? No. Can it sort of be both? Yes.

The money placed in an annuity will go directly to a beneficiary when you die. It is a trust of sorts. No need to go through probate, because it is handled like a life insurance policy. Wills are contestable, trusts are not. No attorney fees here. Just a check to your beneficiary.

The purpose of an annuity is to provide income that will outlive you. No one wants to be alive when their money runs out. Money placed in an annuity grows with interest that is tax deferred. So, this means that you do not have to pay taxes on the interest until you draw the money out of your annuity years later. At that point, you only pay taxes on the amount gained from interest, not the principal.

Since this is the case, generally speaking, you fund an annuity with money that you will not need to use for several years. Years ago, most all annuities were set up in a way that the money you placed in them was left there for at least 10 years. These days, there are annuities available for 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 years or more options.

Why the "years left in" requirement? The insurance company that holds your annuity will use the interest they make on your money to invest in stock accounts. In this way, they make money on your money. They need you to agree to leave your money in the annuity in order for them to make their money.

In exchange for using your money, they promise you a base interest rate that your money will make for you. So in effect, they are sharing with you the money they made off your money. As your money grows over time, your annuity gains value so that when you are ready to use your money, you will have more than you originally deposited.

There are basically 3 types of annuities: Traditional Fixed, Indexed and Variable annuities. Traditional Fixed annuities guarantee a fixed interest rate during the agreed upon term or years that your money remains in the annuity. Lately, that figure has been ranging from 2% to 3%. Compared to a traditional bank savings account with only .5% interest gain, this number may sound good to you.

An Indexed annuity interest rate is tied to the S&P 500. The interest rate may rise and fall according the changes in the financial world. Usually, however, there is a base guaranteed rate. There is a possibility for higher gain with this type, but there is also a possibility that your money may lose value if interest rates fall very low. This is also true with a Variable annuity.

Variable annuities may begin earning very high interest rates, such as 5%, 7% or even 9%. But if the market crashes, your money could lose value. Your money in these annuities is invested in the stock market, some in general accounts and some in more volatile accounts. The potential for higher gain is there, but the potential for loss is there too. Agents selling Variable annuities must possess a securities license as well as a life/health license.

If you have money that you can afford to lose, then Indexed or Variable annuities might be the way to make some higher amounts of money. If you are like most people that are saving for their retirement, money is precious and there is no desire to lose any of it. A Traditional Fixed annuity will likely be the better choice.

Let's say for example, that you had $20,000 to put into a fixed annuity. Let's say, you agreed to leave the money in the annuity for 7 years. Let's say that you were promised by the insurance company a 3% interest rate. The first year, your money would make $600. If your money was in a bank savings account, it would only have made $100 at .5% interest.

Also, you would have to pay income taxes on that $100 at the end of the year. Whereas, if your money is in an annuity, you would not have to pay any taxes on it until you draw the $600 out in 7 years. Now, in the second year that your money is in the annuity, $20,600 is now gaining 3% interest. So at the end of year 2, you now have gained $618, making a total of $21,218 in your annuity account.

At the end of year 2 in a bank savings account with .5% interest, you now only have $20,200.50. Now, with the end of year 3 upon you, your fixed annuity now has $22,266.54, but if your money had been in a bank savings account, you would only have had $20,301.50. I think you get the idea. There is a much greater rate of increase with annuities.

However, the downsides to an annuity is the lack of liquidity for most. This means that you must agree to leave your money in the annuity for the agreed upon time or else there is a penalty. Usually, the penalty ranges from 10% to 7%. That's a pretty big loss should you need to get your money out. So, it isn't recommended to put your money into an annuity unless you are pretty sure you won't need it for the specified time.

United American insurance company has an annuity available that is fully liquid or will not impose a penalty when you draw out your money. The interest rate at present is 3% with a 6 year term. AIG presently is offering 2%, but you can draw out 12% each year without a penalty. North American is offering 2.2% with a 10% penalty if you draw out more than the year's annual interest gained.

Let's say you put $200,000 into an annuity when you were 58 years old for a 7 year term with 2.45%. When you are 65 years old and ready to retire, you would have $236, 926.55. You basically made $36, 926.55 in those 7 years. That's pretty awesome! You would not have made a fraction of that amount in a bank savings account.

Now comes the point in time when you are ready to annuitize your money. At the end of the 7 years, you will receive a notice from the insurance company that you may annuitize your money or leave it in there if you wish. There will be a new interest rate at this point that they will offer you. You may choose to get your money in a lump sum or annuitize.

Annuitizing your money means that you will begin receiving monthly payment amounts until your money is all gone or you are dead. You choose how to annuitize your money. You can receive a set amount each month until its gone. Of course, now you begin to pay taxes each year on the interest portion of the amount that you are drawing out. But likely, you will be in a lower income tax bracket because you are retired.

If you die during this period, your beneficiary with receive the rest. You can alternatively choose to have a monthly amount paid to you as long as you live. If this is your choice, the insurance company will figure your life expectancy at this point and then divide those years into the money and promise to pay you until you die.

They are taking a risk here and so are you. If you live longer than your money, the insurance company continues to pay you until you die, even if your money runs out.  If you die sooner, the insurance company keeps the rest. Maybe I've seen too many John Grisham movies, but this concept has always made me nervous.

There are a few different options at this point for annuitizing your money and your agent would likely discuss them with you before writing your policy and then go over them in detail when the time comes to annuitize. An annuity is a legal contract with an insurance company and there is a bit of paperwork involved: applications, disclosures, replacement statements, etc.

Only a licensed agent in your state can write such a policy for you. Be sure to check out your agent's qualifications, licensing, etc. and the insurance company's financial strength and ratings before entering into such a contact.

There are definite advantages and benefits to annuities. There is more money to be made in preparation for retirement, but the money needs to come from a place where it is not needed for daily living expenses or even needed for occasional rainy days or emergencies.

Happy Saving!

Suzanne Lender is a licensed insurance agent in the states of Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Humility - Considering Others Superior To You

Humility is one of the hardest qualities to cultivate. Many struggle to obtain this quality. It's not just about being proud and arrogant. Sometimes it begins with low self-esteem. 

We sometimes have the tendency to be very hard on ourselves. We work very hard to accomplish good things in our personalities. We watch ourselves and reprimand ourselves when we fail. We strive to do better and then fail again.

Then, when we finally do reach a personal goal at attaining some particular quality, then we may become so proud of ourselves for reaching that goal that we are now really hard on others for not being where we think they should be in their personal goals. 

What we are forgetting is that others are likely working just as hard to become better people as we are and we should be encouraging them instead of judging them. It's like two friends struggling with all their might to reach the top of a mountain. 

But when the first friend gets close to the top, he turns and gives a hard push to the other friend so that he falls down to a lower ledge. But in doing so, the first person is now no longer a friend but has also lost his own footing and begins to fall.

How much better it would be when nearing the top, to reach out and extend a hand to our friend and help him reach the top before us. Then, our footing would be more stable and it's likely that our friend would then extend his hand to us and help us easily step up onto the peak.

Humility lets us extend our hand to others to encourage them, believing that they deserve to reach their goals before us because they are superior to us. This removes the focus off of ourselves and our achievements and onto others and their needs.

What a wonderful world this would be if everyone worked at possessing the beautiful quality of humility. That is, after all, the way we originally were designed. -Genesis 1:27

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Important Is Rapport? Sales Workshop #2

We talked about gaining the trust of your customer in the previous article and how they simply won't buy from you unless they trust you. So, questions arise about how to earn trust from a potential client or customer.

One important way to earn your customer's trust is to let them see and feel that you believe in the product that you are selling. There is no faking it. You must believe in the product that you are selling. You must sell your product to yourself first.

If you are simply going through the motions of your sales presentation and you don't sincerely believe that your product is worthwhile or necessary, it will be written all over your face. Your presentation will come across as phony, rehearsed and shallow. You will be doing a job to get paid for instead of providing a valuable product or service to your customer. When customers genuinely sense that you are passionate and sincere about what you are doing, they are more likely to trust you.

When you are genuinely concerned about your customer's best interests, they sense it and they begin to trust you. These are the first steps to building rapport. You can chat with them all day about their kids and grand-kids, their dog, their favorite sports or favorite food, but this only builds a surface relationship, one that feels forced and mechanical. Sure, personal interest is great, but your customer is not stupid. They know that you have been taught to ask those types of questions and that you really don't care about those answers.

But when you are passionate about your product, you will be asking a different type of question. You will be asking the type of questions that searches out and discovers what their product needs are. Let's use an example. If you are selling a long-term care insurance product, you might ask them what their plans are in the event of a long term disability.

You might ask them tactfully if they believe that their mate or other family member could lift them if they weren't able to care for themselves. This shows the potential client that you are thinking down the road for them and that you care about whether or not they are going to be in distress if difficult times come to them and they are unprepared. Showing concern about your customer builds trust and rapport.

Here's another example. When you are trying to sell a business loan to a landscaping or lawn maintenance business owner, you might ask them if they might be needing some new equipment as the season begins to ramp up. You might express understanding about the fact that cash flow is usually tight at the beginning of the season. If they say that they don't want to add any more debt, you could suggest they use a loan to consolidate their other debts and free up some cash.

Many times, the best way to discern what questions to ask is by listening better to the reasons behind the "No's". Customers will usually tell you how to fill their product needs when they express their objections. If they say, "I want to think about it", this usually means that you have not convinced them that they need your product, that the product is worth the price that you are asking or they are not sure they trust you or your company.

It's easy to see that the opposite is true. If someone likes and trusts you and your company, if they are certain that they need what you are selling and that the price is right, they will buy from you. Think about it, if you trust that a restaurant is friendly, clean and safe, if you are hungry and this restaurant provides the food you need and it's priced fair, there is nothing to stop you from eating there. That's rapport. A close and harmonious relationship between people who understand each other needs and communicate well.

The key words there are: understanding needs and communicating.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Is The Hardest And The Easiest Thing To Sell? Sales Workshop #1

A recent sales training class revealed that the hardest thing to sell is money. There have been dozens of financial institutions in recent years that have tried and are still trying to make lots of money selling loans with high interest rates. But business owners are skeptical about being offered money and rightly so, because a struggling business adding a new debt to its problems might not be the smartest move.

On the other hand, it has been speculated that the easiest thing to sell is food. There are literally millions of businesses offering food products as their main sales item and unless the business is off the beaten path, it usually doesn't even have to advertise much. Especially if the food is any good, the business will be booming in no time due to word of mouth. People have to eat.

But the question arises as to why money is so hard to sell and food is so easy to sell. The answer revolves around one word: trust. When someone offers you money, its the natural tendency to wonder what they are up to. Money peddlers usually don't take the time to earn the average business owner's trust and so its not likely that they will take the bait unless a fool proof sales pitch and strategy is employed.

But when people offer you food, the natural tendency is to connect that offer with someone in your past who you trusted, like your mother or grandmother and so you immediately trust them without question. Sharing food is a naturally neighborly thing to do, one that is associated with bonding. What could possibly go wrong? It's food after all.

Years ago, an independent research company discovered that it is literally impossible to stay mad at someone that you share a meal with. The sharing and eating of food is an intimate activity. Put that together with the fact that people get hungry at least three times a day and then all of a sudden you are willing and ready not only to accept offers of food, now you are willing to pay for it.

So, the lesson here for salespeople is that no matter what you are selling, you must earn the trust of your potential customer. It doesn't matter if you are selling the absolutely best product in the world. It doesn't matter if the most famous celebrity endorses it. If you don't earn the trust of your customer, you are not likely to sell anything to them. People only buy from you because they trust you. End of story.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Would Your Business Benefit From A Small Business Loan?

In today's economy, it's tough to stay in business, especially at certain times of year. Some businesses are seasonally very profitable and then, at other times seasonably starving.

Take for instance, the typical lawn care maintenance business. Everybody wants their lawn cared for in the spring, summer and fall.

But when winter hits, most of these guys get laid off and have to look for other types of jobs until spring. Then when spring hits, these businesses might need some new equipment to be able to service their return of clients but their cash flow is now too low to provide for them.

Here's more examples. Businesses that sell fireplace inserts or firewood have a tough time during the summer. Greenery's that sell flowers, trees and other plants don't do well in the winter. One business in Arkansas sells fireplace inserts in the winter and plants and greenery in the summer to survive all year. Construction companies in certain northern parts of the country struggle during very harsh winters.

Restaurants and novelty shops in tourist towns starve for business during winter months and some others starve in the summer if it's a tourist stop for skiers or other winter fun seekers. But you get the idea. Getting your business to survive in this economy is tough enough even without the seasonal factor. But add the slow times of year along with the economy and you've got trouble.

It might just be that a business needs some extra capital to progress further, say... for advertising or for a new LED sign and all of their extra cash is tied up with expenses. Business owners may feel stifled and unable to grow without a little help from a small business loan. Think of what an extra $10,000 to $50,000 would do for the growth of your business.

Because of this, some banks have found an opportunity to make reasonable profits from this situation. They are offering business loans for short periods of time, maybe a year or two to help these businesses out. The interest rates may likely be a little higher than with a traditional loan because these banks don't ask for collateral and may even allow business owners to apply who have less than perfect credit.

Most of these banks have a basic criteria of being in business for at least six months and having a monthly business income of at least $4500 in order to qualify. But these requirements are a lot less strict than most other traditional bank loan offers and leasing companies who ask for a 5-year business life and a very high credit score and some hefty collateral as well.

One such company that offers these types of business loans is Opportune Financial based out of Tampa, Florida. They have hooked up with several banks across the country that offer small to even larger business loans to businesses who are struggling with cash flow as they try to grow their business. If you or someone you know has owned a business for at least six months and can show monthly deposits of at least $4500 during this time, you or they may likely qualify for some cash.

The minimum to borrow is $10,000 and it can go all the way up to $100,000 or more if needed depending upon your business income range. You can qualify even if you have poor credit. It's a simple one page application and a loan specialist will be happy to see if their company can help your business out.

Check out this website www.opportunefin.com and then shoot me an email at sueleamarketing@gmail.com and I'll connect you with a loan specialist who will give you a call the same day. Be sure to mention your name, your business' name and phone number in the email. Or you can contact a loan specialist through the above mentioned website on the "Contact Us" page. Be sure you mention in your message that you saw it here first on "The Research Nerd".

Then, when your money comes in, you can breathe a sigh of relief and... try not to spend it all in one place.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Plastics Pollution Problem

NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) reports that there is a massive amount of micro plastic particles floating around in two major places in the North Pacific Ocean as well as other locations in the world. Apparently it is so large that to clean up less than one percent of this mess it would take approximately 67 ships a whole year to do the job.

However, this wouldn't solve the problem because in no time the micro plastic pieces would return by way of ocean currents that are carrying plastic trash that break down into these tiny particles of micro plastic. These smaller than visible with the naked eye pieces get swallowed by birds and marine life, seep toxic chemicals into them and kill them by the millions.

A study conducted at the Nihon University in Chiba, Japan discovered that plastic bottles, bags, etc. decompose and break down into smaller invisible plastic particles in warm sunshine and ocean water within about one year after it has been deposited in the ocean or washed up on a beach. This is called photo-degradation. In a landfill, bacteria eats wood, grass, food scrapes and other items in a process known as bio-degradation.

However, plastic waste could possibly last forever in a landfill. Bacteria won't consume or breakdown plastic waste. This is the main reason that governments around the world are encouraging, even demanding that plastic product manufacturers utilize recycled plastic within their processes of plastic product making. Individuals are encouraged to recycle their plastic bottles, bags, Styrofoam and other items to keep them out of landfills and ocean currents.

When you throw away a plastic soda bottle on the beach or off the side of your boat, it eventually floats out into the ocean, gets caught in a current, washes up on another beach across the world, breaks down into micro plastic and floats out to sea again, getting caught in these large pools of micro plastic garbage. These pieces can look like food for fish, dolphins, birds, turtles and other creatures, so they swallow them and then they die from the toxicity.

There was recently some hope offered by a student named Daniel Burd at Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario. His research and discovery of a certain type of bacteria that does in fact break down plastic won him a total of $30,000 in cash and scholarships. It takes time, however, to duplicate his research and then implement this process at all the waste treatment facilities in the world. Until that happens, there are a couple of ways that the average person can help reduce the plastics pollution problem.

Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. Also, you can participate in a beach cleanup event. But, first and foremost, don't throw plastic into the ocean. Or you might end up eating the sick fish that swallowed your trash. Payback's a beach.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Truth About The Egg

About twenty to thirty years ago, we started hearing information from the medical society telling us that eggs were bad for us. They told us that the egg had too much cholesterol and that we shouldn't have more than two per week. Then in recent years, we have started hearing from that same medical society that the egg is good for you and that we can have as many as we want. What's the truth?

The reason for the first concern about the egg was the cholesterol content. According to some new USDA research, eggs now contain approximately 185 mg. of cholesterol, down from 214 mg. that was previously found. Why the change? Who knows. One theory is that stricter and higher standards for raising chickens might have made some chickens healthier, thus producing healthier eggs.

Chickens used to spend their entire life with their head in a box to be fed out of and their bodies in another part of the box to dispense eggs. They were not allowed to roam freely and they were pumped up regularly with laying pellets (hormones) and antibiotics. These chickens were fed very cheap feed that consisted mostly of sawdust, road kill and who knows what else. They were sick and unhappy, but nobody cared as long as they produced eggs. But for the health conscious community, that has changed.

For example, organic, free range and cage free chickens mean different things that contribute to the overall health of the chicken. Chickens that get to live and run around freely in an open pen and spend their days acting like normal chickens without getting hormone pellets and antibiotic shots are healthier, happier chickens that produce healthier eggs.

Healthy chickens that run around their enclosures build up lecithin in their bodies and pass it on to their eggs. Lecithin is a precursor to choline, an essential nutrient that lowers cholesterol. Recent studies have shown that cholesterol containing foods have nothing to do with cholesterol buildup in your arteries. Plaque buildup in your arteries is caused by the health of your liver and your artery walls.

Things like processed sugar, food allergies and other toxins can cause your artery walls to be inflamed and unhealthy. Natural and Whole Vitamin C (not Ascorbic Acid which is only a fractionated part of Vitamin C) helps restore the health of your arteries and veins. Milk Thistle helps detox your liver as well as Turmeric. High fiber foods like oat bran help to naturally clean out your liver of fat and cholesterol. Moderate exercise also helps rid your body of excess cholesterol.

Some websites promote the idea that the healthiest way to eat an egg is raw because cooking can destroy some of its valuable nutrients. Unless you're Sylvester Stallone, it's very hard to eat raw eggs. So it has been recommended that if you must cook your eggs, cook them as little as possible (maybe sunny side up) and on very low heat to help preserve their nutritional value.

So it seems that the truth about eggs is that they are very good for you if you are careful about choosing eggs from healthy chickens and if you prepare them in a way that preserves their nutrients. So, crack an egg and enjoy!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Technology Review: Shopify’s POS System

It’s the dream of almost everyone to own their own business, to be their own boss, to reach new levels of income, to work in a field that they are passionate about.

Many have ventured into this world and many have failed. Starting a business is lots of work, long hours and sleepless nights. And the overhead? That can be a nightmare.

The cost of getting licensed, leasing a storefront, setting up the utilities, contracting with suppliers, finding the right sources for advertising, hiring an accountant and purchasing store equipment is enough to intimidate the faint of heart. But what about those last two things?

Purchasing equipment and hiring an accountant just got easier with Shopify’s POS technology. Shopify.com is a website that allows you to create an ecommerce website easily and professionally even if you don’t know anything about html code. But what if you only want a brick and mortar store and you’re not ready to take your business online?

Then Shopify has a solution for you that can save you the cost of purchasing a cash register and maybe even hiring an accountant. It’s a point of sale software application that loads onto your iPad 2, 3, 4 or the iPad Air that functions much like a cash register. It’s a cash register with benefits. You can also use an iPad Mini, but this version won’t fit into the Apple Windfall iPad stand. You will also need a wireless internet connection for this app to work because it constantly syncs with your Shopify online account.

Shopify’s POS allows you to accept credit card payments with a Shopify credit card reader that plugs into your iPad and integrates with the POS software or you can integrate your own external credit card terminal into the POS system. If you use Shopify’s merchant account with a free card reader, you pay between 2.7%, 2.4% and 2.15% for all transactions that are in-person swiped depending upon the package you purchase. If you enter the credit card number manually, then the transaction fee is 3%.

To get started, you must initiate a 14-day free trial of Shopify. Even if you don’t want an online store, the administration part of your account will manage all of your store’s data. If you already have an online store, then your products will be automatically downloaded to the Shopify POS app when you first log into the app. You can get the Shopify POS app from the iTunes App store for free. If you don’t have an ecommerce website store, then the POS app lets you enter and manage your entire inventory with no limits on product number.

As items are sold, the POS app automatically updates your inventory and syncs with your online account and your mobile app if you have one. Quickbooks can be integrated into the POS app so sales and other financial information is kept automatically for you. One cool thing about the POS app is that you can check out customers wherever they are in your store or outside the store. Just pick up your iPad and walk with it wherever you need to go. Try doing that with a traditional cash register.

The Shopify POS software application system certainly has the appearance of state of the art professionalism and heightened technology. When it’s time for the customer to check out their purchases, simply enter the product items into the app or use your handy Apple certified wireless barcode scanner that’s “paired” to your iPad and then let the app do the work. Taxes and other fees are automatically calculated based on your location and a total is presented to you on the screen.

Of course, in order to use your barcode scanner, first you would have to create and print barcodes from a thermal barcode printer and attach them to all of your products. The Dymo barcode printer and Socket Mobile barcode scanner are pieces of hardware that can be purchased in the Hardware link on the Shopify website. There are two types of barcode scanners.

The 1D model runs approximately $219 and will work up to 100 meters (328 feet) away and the 2D model is priced at $399. What’s the difference between a 1D and a 2D? The 1 dimensional barcode scanner reads the row of vertical lines that are basically codes for data. The 2 dimensional barcode scanner reads an entire database of information that might only look like a small dot. An entire Excel spreadsheet can be encoded into one 2D barcode.

The barcode printer costs $99. These pieces are optional but will speed up your customers check out process once installed. What Shopify considers necessary hardware is bundled into a nice kit that costs $649. The kit includes an Apple Windfall iPad stand, a Shopify credit card reader, a lockable metal cash drawer, and a Star Micronics Bluetooth wireless receipt printer.

The price packages for a Shopify ecommerce store are $29, $79 and $179 depending upon the features and benefits that you choose. If you only want the POS system for your store, then add $20 to each of those package prices. If you want both, then add $40 to each of those package prices. Those prices include unlimited products, unlimited staff and unlimited registers.

Getting setup for Shopify’s POS system may be a little bit more complicated than simply plunking down a cash register on the counter, but the convenience and ease of use once it’s all setup will definitely save you time and headaches later. Maybe you’ll even get to sleep every once in a while.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Website Review: Wix.com

Wix.com is a cloud based website development platform with over 54 million worldwide users. It is extremely easy to use with no coding skills necessary to build a beautiful personal website or a professional looking ecommerce business website fully loaded with shopping cart and credit card checkout capabilities if you choose to upgrade to a premium package. Wix utilizes fully customizable HTML5 templates that are pretty much drag and drop options.  
Wix.com is the only website builder that allows you to build and keep a website with completely free hosting. However, if you decide not to upgrade to a premium monthly package, then Wix ads will appear on your site in small print at the top and at the bottom of your pages. If you do decide to upgrade, Wix.com’s packages are definitely some of the lowest prices in the industry. 

Plans start at $4.08 month, but with this price, you and your viewers will still see the Wix ads, but you are allowed to connect your own domain name. Otherwise, with the free hosting, Wix will assign you a sub-domain name based on your account setup information. With the $4 monthly package, you only receive 500 MB of storage and 1 GB of bandwidth. Social plug-ins for your website are available in all plans.

The next plan is $9.25 a month and this package is best for a personal website like a blog or a family website. This one comes with 3 GB of storage and 2 GB of bandwidth. If you are an entrepreneur or you work as a freelancer and your business needs a website to establish credibility or a look of success, then you might consider the $12.42 a month plan that comes with 10 GB of storage and unlimited bandwidth.

This $12 a month plan comes with 2 business applications, Site Booster (a traffic builder application) and Form Builder (an application that helps you build forms to collect customer contact info, collect leads or offer customer support). With all of these plans, you have the option to pay monthly or yearly. Paying yearly for the $12 and up plans, brings you some extras like $350 in ad vouchers for Bing, Google, Facebook and local listings. Paying monthly adds a couple of dollars to your monthly price.

If your website needs to be an ecommerce store, then the $16.17 a month package allows you to enter products and collect payments via PayPal, WebMoney or Skrill. This comes with 20 GB storage and 10 GB of bandwidth. If you need VIP priority support for building your ecommerce website, then the highest package will cost you $24.90 a month. Choosing a theme for your ecommerce website is easy with over 425 free templates and an additional 112 templates designed for use with ecommerce stores. They are free, but you must upgrade to an ecommerce package to use those templates.

When you first land on Wix.com, you will immediately notice that everything looks easy and free. You are invited to browse through the templates for your website category or theme and encouraged to get started. Once you choose a template that you like the look of, hovering over that template invites you to get a closer look at it. 

Clicking that button brings you to the Wix editor page. Now it feels personal. If you click on the bright orange Edit button at the top of the page to start building this website into your personal website this will open up an account setup popup box. Once you enter an email address and password, you are on your way to building your ecommerce or personal website. The Wix editor is clean and easy to navigate. Each page also has a slide out box to enter SEO information so your website will be seen in the search engines.

Wix uses CDN (content delivery network) cloud technology to assure that your ecommerce website will be up and running 99.7% of the time. Basically this means that instead of just one server distributing your website data throughout the internet, CDN uses multiple servers in multiple data centers across the internet. So it’s less likely that your website will be down, keeping business losses at a minimum. 

One thing that you will notice when scouring the website for information on secure checkouts in your ecommerce website’s shopping cart is that there doesn’t seem to be any. When you go through all the FAQ’s, you won’t find any questions about this subject nor in the training videos. Wix’s site has SSL in the https address when you check out for purchases, but it doesn’t appear that this is offered for your ecommerce website.

When it comes to your ecommerce website, it seems that you will only be receiving payments through safe sources like PayPal, etc., so maybe this isn’t a concern for your customers. Some customers like PayPal and others don’t. Even if your customers don’t have an account with PayPal, this merchant account provider accepts all major credit cards.

Wix was founded in 2006 by Avishai Abrahami, Nadav Abrahami and Giora Kaplan. Avishai Abrahami is a technology entrepreneur that has founded a couple of successful startups including AIT and Sphera software companies and then sold them. Avishai’s brother Nadav is a senior programmer, software designer and game developer. Giora brought with him to the company extensive experience in the digital publishing field.

The company is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel. Wix also has two offices in the US (San Francisco, New York City) as well as an office in the Ukraine and in Lithuania. The original platform was based on Adobe Flash and by 2010, the company boasted of 3.5 million users. 

In 2012, the Adobe Flash technology was replaced by a new HTML5 editor. The popularity of Wix grew to over 54 million users with over 45,000 new users signing up every day. In November of 2013, Wix officially had a public offering on NASDAQ and raised $127 million for the company and its share holders.

The most notable thing about Wix.com website builder is its ease of use and low cost of premium packages. This website builder caters mostly to the small business person and the individual simply wanting to have an online presence.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Website Review: BigCommerce.com

BigCommerce was born in September of 2009 by two guys who lived near Sydney, Australia. Eddie Machaalani and Mitchel Harper are the founders and present CEOs of BigCommerce.com. They had met almost 6 years previously in a chat room and discovered that they both were working in the fields of content management system software. Together they built and launched in 2004 Interspire, a content management system that was similar to WordPress but was licensed to businesses and individuals that were looking to build their own website.

As time passed, they realized that there was a greater need among website store owners for a cloud based ecommerce store platform with its own shopping cart software. Customers were looking for a hosted version of the licensed version that had been previously installed on their own servers. BigCommerce has received $75 million in investor funding so the company could continue to build brand, add features and continually expand and improve the shopping cart experience. At present, BigCommerce boasts over 55,000 clients and have additional home offices in San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX. 

Clicking on the BigCommerce.com website invites you first thing to get your own ecommerce store ”up and running in no time” without entering a credit card. If you have ever thought of selling products online, this is very tempting. Of course, BigCommerce is in the business of selling ecommerce store platforms and shopping cart software, but what they are offering is a free 15-day trial. This gives you the opportunity to build your ecommerce website the way you want it to look before you have to pay for anything. 

BigCommerce is hoping that once you have your store looking exactly the way you want it, you will purchase a monthly package. The monthly packages vary in price and features and offer a 10% discount if you pay annually. The prices range from $29.95(with 3 GB storage) to unlimited storage at $79.95 and $199.95. All three packages offer unlimited products, a built-in blog and SEO features, over 60 different options for receiving payments, single click apps and over 150 different app integrations, the ability to offer discounts, coupons and gift certificates, social plug-ins and a feature that lets customers leave ratings and reviews. In addition, BigCommerce offers a custom tailored Enterprise package for high volume or multiple store clients.

All three packages come with 24/7 email and chat support and BigCommerce University that helps to educate you on how to set up a successful ecommerce website. On a personal note, a few minutes after joining the website and initiating the setting up of my BigCommerce 15-day free trial, I received a phone call from a member of the support staff offering assistance. I have joined the top 5 ecommerce websites and BigCommerce is the only one that did that. Now they may have been hoping to encourage the purchase of a monthly package, but that was still impressive customer service.

Once you enter your store’s name on the website’s home page, you are asked to enter your email address and choose a password. Then you are asked a little bit about your store’s category or product line. Once this is done and you click submit, your store is built for you in seconds. All you need to do now is personalize your store by entering your own product descriptions, images, prices and shipping info. The dashboard for editing this information is pretty user friendly and easily navigated. I did notice that when I went to add a quantity of 2 to one of my products, the store viewer then showed unlimited quantity and this could cause a serious problem when the store goes live. It may just be a glitch that customer service may be able to help with.

If you wish to change your store theme, you have over a hundred different free themes available that are professional and beautiful in appearance. If you don’t like any of those, then there are hundreds more with a price tag that you can browse thru. One setback for setting up your store is that the theme template comes loaded with sample products supposedly in the category that you selected when you joined the site. These may or may not match your store’s category, but the reason for their presence is to give you an idea of what your ecommerce store could look like. These have to be deleted before your store’s products can be uploaded, wasting some valuable time.

One of the biggest features of the $199.95 package is the High Volume API (a software system that allows different websites to share data and software). This feature allows three times the amount of API calls, acknowledging that higher volume stores will need and use more of this data and software sharing across many different types of websites, social and informational. This feature also has troubleshooting services should these custom integrations include problems involving changes in the way the origin website dispenses its data. 

White Glove Setup is another feature of the $199.95 package whereby BigCommerce takes customer service and support to the next level. With this service, you will have a personal concierge guiding you through the entire process and setup until your store goes live. This makes the ecommerce website setup experience easy, seamless and very quick. This is especially helpful since setup issues like taxes, shipping and payment gateways can be a bit confusing to the novice seller. Security is another thing that can be confusing with an ecommerce website, but BigCommerce makes it easy by providing a free shared SSL certificate with every plan. 

BigCommerce will allow you to use their merchant account for accepting payments for a transaction fee of 1.5%, which is cheaper than most ecommerce websites. Or you can use PayPal or Google Checkout for free. Once your store has been live for a few months, then you might want to open your own merchant account. You will be able to integrate this account with your BigCommerce store thru your store’s dashboard control center. All three packages give you unlimited email accounts so you can receive personal customer requests or feedback.

Overall, the navigation of this ecommerce store builder is easier than some of the other top ecommerce website builders. The pricing for monthly packages and transaction fees appear to be extremely competitive and customer service was very impressive. BigCommerce’s About Us page is a bit cheesy, but it’s not likely that that will affect the success of your ecommerce website.