Authorize.Net partner, 71lbs, has made a name for itself by helping businesses optimize their shipping spend. We invited Christine Ridgely, partner manager at 71lbs, to share her thoughts as our guest blogger.

Why Understanding your Shipping is a "Merchant Must"

As a merchant, you may know how important it is to stay on top of your business transactions. Shipping spend influences your overall profit margin. However, analyzing shipping spend often goes undone.

If the details of your shipping activity are not reviewed and understood, it can be very difficult to fully capitalize on each transaction processed. Many businesses do not actively monitor their shipping because they lack the time and resources to do so. Others expect late deliveries to occur as a part of conducting business, so they don’t hold their shipping carrier accountable for service failures. Some are simply focused upon fulfilling orders and don’t look back, only forward. The fact is that businesses are doing themselves a disservice if they are not auditing their shipping activity and the associated costs.  

By actively monitoring your shipping, you can ensure that your business not only pays for the service that is promised by the carrier but also optimizes your overall shipping spend. Are you aware that if you ship with FedEx or UPS, the service includes a 100% money-back refund when a package arrives late, even by 60 seconds? 

The first step is to commit to tracking your shipments on FedEx.com and/or UPS.com and then cross reference deliveries. Once you identify a service failure, you must file a claim. Note that the process of manually filing a claim is highly intricate and difficult to successfully navigate. Claims need to be filed within 15 days of the package’s delivery and should include all necessary documentation and inspections.

Build your business smart and do not stand idle as it pertains to your shipping spend. It is more important than ever for merchants to stay informed about all facets of shipping, especially if refunds are involved. Whether you handle it internally or externally through a third party, you can and should identify and understand exactly where your shipping dollars go. 

71lbs is a leading expert in helping businesses optimize what they spend on shipping. Their human-powered software solution monitors, identifies, and files claims on your behalf, allowing you to focus on your business and not use up valuable resources. All found refunds are credited directly to your FedEx and/or UPS account. No start-up or monthly maintenance fee is necessary. 

Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

 

Authorize.Net Merchant Amy’s Candy Kitchen named “BEST  CARAMEL APPLE” by the Wall Street Journal and featured on the Food Network, tells us how their small chocolate shop in Cedarburg, Wisconsin achieved their success.

We spoke with Paula Heupel, VP of Sales, about their journey that began 20 years ago with a goal to perfect the art of the caramel apple.

What makes Amy’s award winning?

It comes down to our passion for quality, that's the Amy's difference. We use extra fancy jumbo granny smith apples in every luxurious caramel batch we make.  Our caramel is always freshly made by hand in small batches. Our toppings are hand packed and garnished on every single apple we produce by our chocolatiers. We use only velvety, world-class Belgian Chocolate from Brussels as our base chocolate in everything we make. This uncommon attention to detail gives you a gourmet apple beyond compare.

How did Amy’s go from being a small chocolate shop to such a big success?

We started by making Amy’s Candy Kitchen a destination for locals and tourists. People walking through downtown Cedarburg couldn’t resist the heavenly aroma of our caramel that fills our store. Our award winning caramel is hand made from premium quality natural ingredients in old world copper kettles which cooks our caramel at a slow consistency to provide a gourmet, buttery flavor that no one can match.

In 2002, our owner expanded the business and launched www.AmysGourmetApples.com making our best-selling apples available everywhere in the US and Canada. It's a favorite treat for so many people, so we're excited that Authorize.Net enables us to quickly and easily take orders online so we can offer our award winning caramel apples to customers even outside our Cedarburg community. 

How has the word about your amazing apples spread?

Our gourmet apples have been featured in many different media outlets including winning the "BEST OVERALL" by the Wall Street Journal. We have also been featured on the Food Network as well as Roker on the Road, Martha Stewart, Epicurious magazine and local news media.

What would be your business advice to other small businesses out there?

Focus on one thing and do it well. Once you’ve achieved success give back to the community that supported you and helped made you successful. Amy’s Candy Kitchen / Amy's Gourmet Apples takes pride in being a stronghold in the local Cedarburg community. We donate to the local Festivals, Chamber of Commerce, Santa’s Workshop, the local food pantry and rescue farms. By donating products and providing discounts to the local schools, churches, the Humane Society, among other county programs, we help to make Cedarburg a great place to live, work, and visit.

Amy's Candy Kitchen/Amy's Gourmet Apples would like to thank our customers, as well as the local community of Cedarburg for supporting our business for the past 20 years! Try Amy’s Gourmet Apples for yourself. www.AmysGourmetApples.com 

Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

If you run a business from your home, you know it comes with amazing freedoms and challenging distractions. It's important to take steps to optimize and maintain your effectiveness so you can continue to enjoy the excitement and freedoms of being your own boss. The following tips will help you be productive as you run your home business.

1. Create an Office

When running a business from home, it's easy to work from your living room or bedroom, but doing so can add unnecessary distractions. Having a dedicated work area will help you to stay focused. You can turn a basement, spare bedroom, or garage into an office. If doing so is not an option, consider turning a small section of one of your rooms into an office and make it the dedicated space. The Internet also has lots of good ideas for how to turn a vintage trailer or backyard shed into a workspace. 

2. Create a Schedule

Many business owners who work from home say they are “always at work” since there is no separation between their office and house. The work day doesn’t end when you leave the office like it does in a traditional job. Some make a habit of working all day without taking any breaks, which can cause stress. Others fall into the trap of not getting started at the same time each day. To help you stay on track, set a daily schedule and stick to it. Let work time be work time and off-time be off-time. Having a set schedule and taking planned breaks will help you be more effective when you are working.

3. Remove Distractions

Distractions can be an issue for those who work from home, so you need to prepare yourself. To stay on track, let your friends and family members know that you have dedicated a certain amount of time to your business each day. Getting distracted is easy, so setting and enforcing boundaries will allow you to keep your business moving in the right direction. Apps like RescueTime and MyMinutes can track how you are spending your time and even block distracting websites while you work to stay focused.

4. Separate Your Personal Life

Working from home makes it easy for your business responsibilities to conflict with your personal life. Avoid taking personal phone calls during your work hours and doing personal chores like cleaning the house, cooking meals, and grocery shopping. Even though you are home and doing these things is tempting, you need to limit them to your off hours. Similarly, avoid engaging in work-related activities outside of your normal schedule.

5. Keep Records

Some business owners procrastinate when it comes to keeping meticulous business records, but doing so can make things that much more difficult in the future. Keep separate bank accounts for your business and personal items and keep accurate records at all times. You can use software programs like QuickBooks that are designed to make the process simple.

6. Stay Social

Running a business from your home and potentially staying inside most of the day makes it easy to lose touch with people, but not socializing can impact your emotional health in a negative way. No matter how busy you are, always take the time to stay in touch with your friends and loved ones.

Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

We spoke with Amy Lebo, operations manager at Crazy Skates USA to learn the Crazy Skates story and the secret to their success.

Tell us about Crazy Skates.

Primarily focusing on roller skates and inline skates, Crazy Skates specializes in multiple markets within the industry. From roller rink rental skates and recreational children's skates to adult "retro" skates and roller derby equipment, we take pride in helping people enjoy what we believe is one of the most wonderful pastimes! We are based in Indianapolis, Ind., with headquarters in Australia. 

How did Crazy Skates get its start?

Our founder, John Moore, owned and operated a roller skating rink in Australia.  Not happy with the quality of skates available to his customers, John decided to create his own skates. Word spread and fellow rink owners asked John if they could purchase his skates for use at their rinks. What began in 2007 as a “crazy” idea has now developed into an internationally recognized roller skate brand of choice. 

What is special/unique about Crazy Skates?

Skate production is a competitive market with the focus being on price, which can lead to a decrease in quality. This is where Crazy Skates is different. We take all of our passion for people enjoying the pastime of roller skating and put that in the development and manufacturing of every product. We then figure out how we can produce a high quality product at the very best price. Traditionally, skate manufacturers work with wholesalers who in turn sell the skates to the end user. Crazy Skates acts as both the manufacturer and distributor, which helps us control costs.

What do you love about the roller skating business?

Roller skating is a pastime that has a way of bringing people together. Putting on a pair of skates allows us to enjoy the moment and the sensation that only being on eight wheels brings. Roller skating just tends to make people happy. It is more than just a sport. At Crazy Skates, our goal is to improve the experience people have when they ride skates. We truly believe that this is the quintessential difference between our brand and any other.  

How do you use Authorize.Net?

As the world moves faster, Crazy Skates has had to review the ways we serve our customers. The reliability and ease of Authorize.Net was a logical fit. Authorize.Net is fully integrated with our accounting system, which is critical for our supply chain management. We are happy to be associated with a payment provider that gives us flexibility, and most importantly, after-hours service to ensure that our payment system is operational at all times. Authorize.Net is our choice in both the USA and Australian operations. Just like us, Authorize.Net understands the needs of local financial transacting! Choosing Authorize.Net was and will remain part of our success story for years to come. A great partnership that truly keeps the wheels turning!

Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

Our Advice

Every business needs to give their customers a reason to buy from them and not elsewhere. That’s why we believe that building relationships with our customers is just as important as making sales. We believe that clearly understanding what it is your customers really want is at the center of every successful business. Once you have this understanding you can encourage potential and existing customers that buying from you is the best option.

Our Story:

Merchant Automotive provides industry leading customer service and support. The staff of professionals has intimate knowledge in all the Duramax/Allison platforms and is dedicated to achieving 100% customer satisfaction. Merchant Automotive provides highly specific technical information not found anywhere else. Many products are custom-designed and manufactured in-house to provide the customer maximized performance and reliability. The emphasis on product design and specialized manufacturing means that Merchant Automotive can offer low pricing on products not found at other companies.

Merchant Automotive was founded in 2004 by Eric Merchant. Eric got his start in high school where he discovered his passion for anything with a motor. He took his passion and turned it into a career in 1993 working in a small shop doing brakes and alignment work. He accumulated knowledge daily and soon took a position at a GM dealership in 1995, and advanced up the ranks over the next 10 years. Along the way, Eric dedicated himself to studying the business, taking over 3,000 hours of GM training and maintaining ASE Master Certification since 1998.

In April 2008, Merchant Automotive moved into its current location in Zeeland, MI. The move was a huge undertaking that involved a complete remodeling of the building. That building, having over 10,000 square feet of space, has allowed for greater expansion and a large retail front.

How We Use Authorize.Net

“We switched to Authorize.Net for their Advanced Fraud Detection Suite that comes as an additional service included with the monthly payment gateway,” says Jereco Price, marketing manager of Merchant Automotive. “Advanced Fraud Detection Suite helps us to identify, manage and prevent suspicious fraudulent transactions that with our previous service was becoming costly.” We now use Authorize.Net to accept payments on our website www.merchant-automotive.com. The website is the largest portion of our business but we also use Authorize.Net to accept payments in our retail shop and to check out customers in our service shop.

To learn more about Merchant Automotive, visit: www.merchant-automotive.com.

Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

Holiday sales can bring cheer to the heart of any small business owner. However, you need more than Santa's magic to have a successful holiday season. Good preparation is one of the key ingredients to produce a record-breaking holiday season for your business.

Prepare Inventory Early

If you don’t prepare your inventory ahead of the holiday season, you may find your shelves empty of your biggest sellers, forcing you to miss out on big sales. Consulting previous holiday season sales records can help you determine which items you need to stock in large quantities. If you're running special promotions on certain items, be sure to stock up with extra quantities of those items. Check with the sales representatives of your most important vendors; they may be running holiday specials of their own to make it easier for you to stock up ahead of the holiday season.

Refresh Your Website

Updating your website with a seasonal look will inspire your customers to start thinking about their holiday shopping. In addition to giving your website a facelift, an investment in upgrading your server’s capacity can help you meet a rush of demand from your customers. Make sure your website also offers the latest security measures. Help minimize and prevent authorization and chargeback fees as well as possible inventory loss resulting from fraudulent transactions by adding Advanced Fraud Detection Suite included with your Authorize.Net Payment Gateway account.

Plan Promotions

Promotions are an excellent way to attract new customers and bring back former customers. If your business is online, free or reduced shipping is always an attractive choice. You can also offer coupons and discounts on orders. You'll also need to decide if you want to offer special deals on popular shopping days, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Once you've decided on your promotions, you can use your social media profiles to advertise your special deals and keep your customers in the loop about shipping deadlines and your store's holiday hours.

Hire Seasonal Employees

Seasonal employees are a great way to handle the extra large crowds that often accompany the holiday season. Carefully consider where you need the most help; you may need extra hands on deck to staff your warehouse or run the cash registers. Hiring extra help before the holiday shopping season starts can give your temporary hires time to become fully trained before the rush of crowds overwhelms your business. 

Add Flexible Payment Options

During the holidays, your customers may feel stressed with party planning and long shopping lists to complete. Offering easy and flexible payment options is a great way to remove some of the stress from holiday shopping. With Authorize.Net you can accept payments anywhere. Accept credit cards and eCheck.Net® on your website. Accept payments in person using the Authorize.Net mPOS mobile app and secure card reader available here. Or set up Visa Checkout where your customers can easily pay online with a single sign in.

Brush Up Customer Service Skills

Good customer service is always a plus, but during the holiday season your customers will appreciate it even more. Take time to work with your employees to instill a positive customer service attitude and teach them conflict-resolution techniques. Delight your customers with candy canes in their shipments or hot apple cider in store. Employees who can handle difficult situations with a smile will be remembered by your customers and boost your company's reputation.

The holiday season can bring challenges to small businesses, but also opportunity for great successes. Planning your holiday strategy early can help you meet those challenges and make your customers happy.

For more business tips and advice, visit the Authorize.Net blog weekly. Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

Shayna Vest, of Dress Like A Pirate.com, an Authorize.Net merchant, shares her story and business advice.

Tell us about your business Dress Like A Pirate.com

Based out of Portland, Oregon, Dresslikeapirate.com is one of the world’s most popular theatrical costuming, pirate, theme wedding and roleplay garb sites.

I'm a single mom, entrepreneur, goddess and pirate and I started Dresslikeapirate.com in 1996. I was selling vintage clothing on eBay. One day I attended a co-workers wedding where all of the women dressed like fairies and the men like pirates! My passion found a niche market.

After receiving the first 75 pirate shirts and selling out in three weeks, I was told by the post office clerk “Did you know that September 19th is Talk Like A Pirate Day?” Well, I rushed home, looked it up, found out the Pirate Guys were right down the road in Albany, Oregon, and exclaimed, “You guys will be my friends for life!” I named the new venture Dresslikeapirate.com. To this day, the Pirate Guys are my friends, my son has played with Chumbucket’s son, and I dressed his wife for the pirate episode of Wife Swap.

What Makes You Successful?

I think what makes me successful is that I steer my vision to the road ahead and am constantly trying new ideas and ways of reaching people instead of trying to counter copycats and competitors. I've found my particular talent is the original ideas and designs.

What would be your advice to other small businesses out there?

My business advice to other entrepreneurs is based on inspiration I found in a book I read by Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. You have to have something that no one else has, or do it in a way no one else does, that’s what sets you apart.

How have you been able to reach this niche market?

Authorize.Net enables us to accept payments on our website so we can offer our high quality pirate costumes, clothing and accessories to the world. Authorize.Net is the only processing gateway I'll ever use. The customer service is fantastic. They've helped me in a number of situations that required extra information and help.

To learn more, visit www.Dresslikeapirate.com

For more business tips and advice, visit the Authorize.Net blog weekly. Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

The Business

Since 1985, the Downtown Statesville Development Corporation (DSDC) has worked with the city, local downtown businesses and other community organizations to help drive revitalization efforts in Statesville, North Carolina. These efforts have included a massive downtown streetscape improvement project, a downtown marketing program and over 20 downtown events to help attract visitors and citizens to help grow the local business economy. 

The Challenge

In 2016, the DSDC wanted to find a way to promote downtown city events, including creating an online ticket purchasing solution and an online vendor booth application system. They also wanted their local bank, Yadkin Bank, to be the credit card processor.

DSDC Director Marin Tomlin contacted Cashklick, an innovative local marketing and technology company, to create various custom solutions to fulfil the needs.

The Solution

Cashklick created several custom pieces of software to help implement ticket sales and vendor applications, as well as promotional software to help market events. Cashklick’s solution included an events calendar on both the website and Facebook for ticket sales. Cashklick also provided DSDC with a promotional newsletter solution to help market events complete with "buy now" or "apply now" buttons.

This feature has proven popular with users who can now purchase tickets for events or sign up for tours. Vendors can use the system to apply for booth space and submit payment and gives DSDC the chance to approve each application via the backend.

“Cashklick is integrated with Authorize.Net and we are a resale partner,” says Sharon Wahrmund, VP product and operations. “Three years ago Cashklick switched to Authorize.Net when we started to experience some issues with another vendor. Cashklick takes ecommerce seriously, we searched for a reliable solution and a vendor that would work with us as a partner. Our team has been quite happy with the results too. The Authorize.Net solution is extremely dependable. We recommended using Authorize.Net's secure payment gateway solution and Virtual Point of Sale to DSDC to meet their online payment needs.”

The Result

The DSDC first event, a wine walk, sold out. The organization is currently setting up new events including a Ghost Tour, Hops & Harmony Craft Brew Fest, and Pumpkin Fest. Cashklick has future plans to expand even more programs with DSDC.

"By implementing these solutions, DSDC has helped spur our local economy and helped create our first sold out ticketed event," says Tomlin. “We’re very happy with the work that Cashklick provided and thanks to Authorize.Net we’re thrilled to be able to accept payments online and use our local banking credit card processor Yadkin Bank. It’s been a win/win for our local community."

To learn more about Cashklick, visit https://www.cashklick.com/

To learn more about Downtown Statesville, visit http://www.downtownstatesvillenc.org/

For more business tips and advice, visit the Authorize.Net blog weekly. Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

Business owners face new challenges constantly. These challenges can be particularly daunting for new business owners as they trade their 9-5 job for a 24/7 passion. Learning the attributes of successful entrepreneurs can help new business owners understand they are not alone, and provide motivation to keep navigating to their own success.

See the Big Picture

Many new business owners get caught up in the present. They are focused on navigating the problems that arise each day. However, successful business owners focus on the future. It is key to see the "big picture" and remain on a path that keeps a company meeting long-term goals. The market moves quickly, so it is essential to stay true to your vision and map out a road that gets the job done for tomorrow and beyond.

Experience Failure and Move On

Failure is an inevitable part of life. However, the way a person handles setbacks can have a profound effect on their business. A successful business owner works to understand the reason for the setback and understand how to avoid similar setbacks in the future so that when the next opportunity pops up the business will be well-positioned to achieve a positive outcome.

Take Risks

Taking risks may seem scary, but it extends the possibility of achieving success. A strong business owner assesses a situation and tries something that has the potential to maximize success without causing unnecessary jeopardy.

Mark Pincas, founder of the gaming company Zynga, walked away from a guaranteed source of funding for his first venture. Despite being short on cash, he decided against the deal, which did not fit with his vision. Not accepting the investment was a worthwhile and successful risk. Pincas secured money from a different source, remained in control, and eventually sold the company, which allowed him to establish Zynga. 

Hire People Who are Better Than You

Winning business owners understand the importance of surrounding themselves with smart people. Learning to work effectively with others and use their strengths will help you gain success. For instance, if you develop a message that must be presented to the public but have poor social media skills, it might be wise to hire a person who knows the ins and outs of these platforms. A solid company has a team with various abilities and employees who unite their talents to form a powerhouse.

Find Trusted Partners

Partnering with trusted companies can help business owners run their business smoothly and effectively by taking the daily minutia off their plates so they can focus on growing the business. Partnering with Authorize.Net means business owners do not have to worry about how to accept payments from customers. From marketing needs to shipping products to customers, Authorize.Net has a Partner Directory and a Merchant Toolbox to help business owners find the right partners for their business needs. 

Have a Competitive Spirit

A strong business owner usually has a competitive spirit and enjoys winning. Since starting a business is a big challenge, it is the perfect way to harness this energy. A competitive spirit is essential to win customers and increase market share.

Help Others

Leaders of successful businesses recognize the importance of networking. Although it is common to take help from others, a successful entrepreneur gives assistance without haste. He or she shares useful information, helps finish tasks and presents opportunities to colleagues.

Conclusion

Beginning a new business is not easy, so it is important to examine the traits of successful business owners. Although these qualities do not ensure success, they can help provide a better chance of growing a business and enjoying prosperity. 

For more business tips and advice, visit the Authorize.Net blog weekly. Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.

Wedding season is in the air and Authorize.Net merchant Raymond Miller of My Wedding Reception Ideas, shares his small business advice including what inspired him to start his business and what lead to its success.

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
– Zig Ziglar

This Zig Ziglar quote inspired Raymond Miller, founder of My Wedding Reception Ideas, to create a business that helps couples prepare for what can sometimes be one of the most stressful times of their lives. Thirteen years later, My Wedding Reception Ideas has helped thousands of couples make one of the most important days of their lives more special and memorable.

How did you get the idea to start your business?

My Wedding Reception Ideas was conceived in 2003 when a friend asked me if they could use my fruit press to press grapes. They were making homemade wine to hand out at their wedding the following year. On the way home that evening after pressing grapes with my friend and her fiancé, I thought to myself, what a wonderful business it would be to help couples make one of the most important days of their lives even more special.

We’ve now helped thousands of couples make their wedding day extra special AND make the process as stress-free as possible. At the end of every day, my staff and I take great pride and satisfaction in knowing we are part of so many lives at such an important time of their lives.

What kind of items do you have at My Wedding Reception Ideas?

At My Wedding Reception Ideas, you will find an exquisite collection of wedding décor, gifts, stationery and accessories perfect for weddings and receptions. We invite couples to create their dream wedding with our creative and customizable wedding decorations, favors and reception gifts to add a unique and personal touch to their special day. 

What is your small business advice?

Always give a little more than you promise. Don't set customer expectations higher than what you can provide, be it service, product quality, or shipping. For example, let's say it takes four business days to normally turn your product around or provide your service, add an extra day and tell the customer that it may take 5 business days. This does two things; 1) an extra business day allows for any unforeseen delays; and 2) your customer will be elated when they receive their product or service faster than what you originally promised.

To find out more about My Wedding Reception Ideas, check them out at www.MyWeddingReceptionIdeas.com.   

For more business tips and advice, visit the Authorize.Net blog weekly. Have a great small business tip or want your business to be featured with your small business advice? Submit your story.