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5/20/2010
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10 Tips For Processing Payments

Getting paid is crucial to success for any SMB and processing payments efficiently and effectively and offering customers appealing payment options can let any smaller business compete with bigger companies.

Getting paid is crucial to success for any SMB and processing payments efficiently and effectively and offering customers appealing payment options can let any smaller business compete with bigger companies.With the economy still limping along, maintaining cash flow is crucial for SMBs. Strong sales are critical of course, but getting paid in a timely manner is every bit as important. Too often, smaller businesses stumble when it comes to payment processing from not offering customers convenient payment options, which creates a barrier to sales and exposes the limits of the business to wasting valuable resources on poorly selected payment processing vendors.

Greg Hammermaster, president of the payment solutions division for Sage North America is in the payment processing business. Though there's an implicit endorsement of Sage from him, his tips for processing payments remain solid advice for any business owner or business finance manager eager to impose order on payment processing and project a professional image to customers and partners.

The following are Hammermaster's top 10 suggestions and tips about processing payments for small businesses:

  1. Consolidate payment vendors -- Each vendor relationship costs time and money. It's usually more cost-effective and efficient to use a full-service payments provider who can process all payments (credit cards, debit cards, ACH payments, check services and gift/loyalty cards), and using all methods (retail POS, web, phone, mobile, check scanner).
  2. Maximize your sales channels -- "Close the sale" by being accessible in all the places your customers want to buy from you: over-the-phone, on the web, at the tradeshow, in-the-field, etc. Forcing your customer to call you or go into your store to make the sale limits sales opportunities.
  3. Embrace credit cards -- Customers buy from stores/vendors they feel comfortable with. Asking your customer to not use a credit card might make you lose future sales. Additionally, if you're a business-to-business (B2B) shop, being credit card friendly can position your business as the first alternative when your competitor is out of inventory.
  4. Integrate payments data with your accounting system -- A best-in-breed practice is integrating your payments data into your accounting system. Not only will this eliminate the inaccuracy of manual data entry, but it will reduce your days sales outstanding (DSO) and enhance your audit and compliance positions.
  5. Have a mobile payments strategy -- The infrastructure is there. The technology is there. Are you there? Mobile payments are more than an iPhone that can process a credit card, or a mobile phone that replaces a credit card; it's also about delivering information and building loyalty through an array of mobile devices that your customers use.
  6. Have a check payment strategy -- As e-payments replace more and more checks, don't lose sight of the potential increased exposure with fraudulent checks. Converting paper checks electronically to ACH, checks-by-phone, web, Check 21, and check guarantee can increase cash flow and mitigate losses.
  7. Choose a technically savvy and financially stable payments provider -- Due to product complexities and ongoing investment in infrastructure and security, payment systems have moved from being bank owned to business software-company owned and operated. Select a technically savvy and financially stable payments provider that can meet your business's unique needs in a safe and secure environment.
  8. Get PCI certified and scan your PCs -- Payment Card Industry (or PCI) is a requirement of all businesses that interact with credit or debit cards. PCI certification ensures that you're up-to-date on the latest best practices to protect your business and customers from payment fraud. And, just as you use virus software on your PC, you should use payment security software that scans your PC and alerts you to potential security leaks.
  9. Use a payment provider that supports end-to-end encryption technology -- End-to-end encryption (E2EE) starts with your payment capture devices, and goes all the way to the transaction being authorized. E2EE prevents the card account data from being stolen electronically and lessens the cost and impact for your business to become PCI-certified.
  10. Understand cost vs. product & service -- Using the low-cost provider comes at the expense of limited product functionality, potential security holes, and lower levels of customer service. In today's competitive environment, take the time to study the best practices of your competitors and understand how your payment system touches your customer and your back office operations. Taking the lowest cost route could cost you business.

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