Personal Finance

What Is Square?

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Square makes software and hardware that helps small businesses run, including a point-of-sale system and services for payment processing, administering payroll, customer engagement and employee management. Square also offers banking services and small-business loans.

Square’s product lineup is modular: For the most part, you can choose to use one, a few or all of its products. Square promises increased convenience the more you commit to its ecosystem, but its POS system works well enough as a stand-alone product. Overall, the pricing is competitive, transparent and generally doesn’t come with long-term contracts. While larger, complex businesses might face some limitations, Square is a solid option for many small businesses.

What is Square best known for?

What put Square on the map (and gave the company its name) is a white square about an inch across that plugs into your smartphone and lets you process credit card payments. More than a decade later, Square’s POS systems remain at the center of its product line. The little white square is still available, though it sits alongside a wider range of products, including iPad-based terminals and a custom-built hand-held device.

Who does Square work best for?

  • A small business could benefit from the efficiency found in using a single system to perform multiple functions, including HR, marketing, web and finance.

  • A new business could benefit from Square’s straightforward subscription pricing model and easy-to-use interface.

  • A growing business could quickly and easily add features and services on demand.

Square’s POS system serves as a central hub that supports many of Square’s other products.

For example, you can pay employees instantly if you use Square Payroll and your employees use Square’s Cash App. And if you use Square’s checking account, you can access funds from sales instantly.

When does Square not make sense?

While a small business might benefit from a single provider for multiple services, a larger business might have more specialized needs that can better be met by separate providers for different services. For example, a larger business with high sales volume might pair a payment processor that uses interchange-plus pricing with a POS from another provider. Some businesses might also have specific business needs — like high-risk payment processing or a broad international reach — that Square’s products don’t support.

Complete lineup of Square products

Point-of-sale systems

Hardware

Square’s hardware comes in three broad categories:

  • A $799 high-end desktop terminal that includes a customer-facing touch screen.

  • A leaner (and cheaper) iPad-based desktop terminal for $169, plus the cost of an iPad.

  • Mobile devices that range from a free card reader that plugs into a mobile phone to a Square-built hand-held device that includes a built-in printer for $299.

Square also sells accessories, like cash drawers and barcode scanners, as well as a kitchen display system for restaurants.

Software

Square offers retail- and restaurant-specific versions of its point-of-sale software in addition to a standard version, which is designed to accommodate a variety of business types. The differences include industry-specific features, like kitchen and table management for restaurants, and barcode printing for retail. In addition:

  • All versions come with inventory management.

  • Every version of Square’s software has a free option.

  • Paid versions, which start at $60 per month, offer more features, like 24/7 customer support and loyalty program management.

Payment processing pricing: Processing card payments costs 2.6% plus 10 cents for most in-person purchases. Online purchases cost 2.9% plus 30 cents.

Additional Square products

Square Invoices helps you send bills to customers, track the payment status of each invoice, and process payments when customers pay with a card.

Pricing: 

The free version includes:

  • Recurring invoices and the ability to save customer payment information.

  • Automatic payment reminders for customers who haven’t paid yet.

  • Support for ​​Apple Pay, Google Pay, ACH and bank transfers in addition to card payments.

  • Send invoices via text or email.

The premium version costs $20 per month and comes with additional features, including:

  • Create and save custom invoice templates.

  • Send a customer an estimate and later convert it to an invoice.

  • Create milestone-based payments to account for projects that take place in phases.

Square Messaging is a centralized platform for communicating digitally with customers. In addition to combining text messaging and email in a single place, this free service lets you manage appointments and send invoices and payment links.

Pricing: Free.

Square Marketing lets you manage contact lists, create email or text campaigns, and track results. Other features include:

  • Customer contact information can be gathered at checkout — either at one of Square’s point-of-sale terminals or through a Square-powered website.

  • You can target specific groups — like repeat shoppers, high spenders or new customers — with a text message or email.

  • You can set up automated messages, like birthday or anniversary discounts.

  • Reporting allows you to quickly see which messages drive the most business.

Pricing: Starts at $15 per month for up to 500 contacts.

Pay employees and automatically file taxes in any state with Square Payroll. Information gathered on Square’s POS system, including clocking in and out and tips, syncs with this service. It also integrates with QuickBooks and other services.

Pricing: 

  • $35 per month, plus $5 per employee.

  • If you only pay contractors, the cost is $5 per month per person paid.

All photos courtesy of Square Inc.

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