In the “Computer Guy’s Toolbox” series, I highlight a product or service that I think will benefit the independent computer tech, with an emphasis on simplicity, reliability, and affordability.
In my previous post, I discussed the pros and cons of accepting payment immediately after service versus invoicing customers later. It turns out that both methods of payment collection have their place. If you want to provide superior customer service, you should offer both.
I’m a big believer in simplicity and interconnectedness, that’s what I look for in products that will help make my job easier. With that said, I have found two great tools to make each method of payment collection as hassle free as possible. Each are cutting edge services, with good reviews, that I have used myself with great success.
Collecting Credit Card Payments On-site
In order to be a payment collection ninja, you need to have the ability to accept credit and debit card payments. You may find at times that customers simply do not have the cash on hand, and personal checks can be risky.
There are many solutions available. Up until recently, the simplest solution was to have your customer pay online via a payment system such as PayPal. You could direct your customers to a “Pay Now” button on your website or log directly into PayPal and initiate a payment that way. That’s how many computer techs receive payments form customers and its a good system. However, it’s a bit laborious and not nearly as convenient as swiping your card at the register like many consumers are used to doing at their local shopping center.
Having the equipment necessary to allow your customers to swipe their card instead of entering the numbers manually not only saves time, but is also more secure. More secure because it avoids the possibility of key logging software, or someone with a photographic memory, catching the numbers as they’re being entered.
Back in the old days (a few years ago), mobile credit card processing involved lugging around cumbersome equipment and paying huge merchant service fees. This made mobile credit card processing out of reach for the average computer tech.
Fast forward to the not-so-distant future, with smart phones becoming a standard device for most people, there are now a few options out on the market that make it easy to swipe credit cards using a mobile device like your phone or tablet. Of all the options available for mobile payment processing, I’ve found Square to be the most hassle-free, affordable, and widely compatible solution on the market.
Square makes signing up almost insultingly simple. Just visit their website, enter a few details about yourself, and in a few days you’ll have a free little card reader dongle at your door. Then you simply download the Square app (available on iOS and Android), plug in your dongle, and swipe away. It’s really that simple. Checkout their website for more info (but there really isn’t much more to it).
Unlike other services, Square doesn’t require you to sign up for a merchant service or other additional accounts, it simply collects the money from your customer’s card, take it’s share (currently 2.75% for swipes and 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed-in numbers), and sends the money to your account. There are a few caveats, like if you collect more than $1k in a week, it may take longer to get your money, but otherwise, what you collect goes straight into your bank account.
I’ve used this system for a few customers already and it is so easy I really feel like there’s got to be a catch. And believe me, I’ll let you all know if I find one. But so far, I’m loving Square.
As I discussed in my previous article, sometimes collecting payment on-site just isn’t in the cards for whatever reason. For some of your customers it may make more sense to invoice them. I find this the best way to go for small businesses, as well as customers who you do a lot of work for, or do remote work for.
Again, in search of a sleek, simple, and interconnected solution, I stumbled upon Freshbooks. This is an online billing service that allows you to create and send invoices completely online. For a small fee you can have Freshbooks send a paper invoice via snail mail (I’ve used this for some elderly clients who don’t check email often). The beauty is Freshbooks handles the sending of the invoice and then keeps track of who still owes you and can automatically send follow ups to those who are past due.
Freshbooks will keep track of your clients and give you reports on your top paying customers, the customers that are usually late, and everything in between. For online payments, Freshbooks allows your customers to pay via credit card, online merchants such as PayPal, or by sending a check to you in the mail. The invoices that Freshbooks sends are branded with your company logo and look professional and clean. They are not fully customizable, however, and that has frustrated me a bit at times when I’ve wanted to add extra pieces of information to the form. But overall, it’s a simple and painless way to bill your clients after service. It can do a lot more, like tracking time on projects, but I haven’t used those features yet. You can find out about all that on the website.
The biggest reason I like Freshbooks is that it integrates with so many other online services. I tie my Freshbooks account with my Outright (accounting software) account so that all my paid invoices get recorded for accounting purposes. Freshbooks also has connectors for Basecamp (project management), ZenDesk (help desk support system), MailChimp (mailing list service), Shoeboxed (receipt and expense tracking), and many more online business automation solutions so you can potentially create and entirely interconnected system for the back-end of your business, saving loads of time. I hope to eventually reach the point where my business operations are almost completely automated and hands off, and Freshbooks is one of the first pieces in that chain for me.
Freshbooks does charge a monthly fee for use. I’m currently using the $19.95/mo plan which is all I need at the moment. You can give it a shot for free for up to three clients. This is great if you only send one or two invoices a month. If you reach your three client limit, simply delete one of the old clients and replace them with the most recent one. If you plan to invoice more than that, I’d recommend signing up for one of the payment plans.
Have you tried either of these services before? Any other recommendations? Let us know in the comments section!
Disclaimer: I personally use all the products and services I recommend and I am never paid to write about them. Some links to products may be affiliate links, and I appreciate you using them to help keep YFNCG up and running!