Forget the checkout counter: Small businesses today are using mobile devices to accept credit card payments from anywhere.
By coupling your smartphone or tablet with a credit-card-reading add-on, it's easy to process transactions — whether you're at a conference, at a client's remote work site or simply at home.
But the market is crowded by a dizzying array of options for merchants looking for an easier way to accept credit cards.
Read on for six steps you can take to begin accepting credit cards on the go.
1. Own a business
It might sound obvious, but most mobile credit card payment providers require applicants to prove they have a business before they can sign up to use the service. The good news for business owners is that these platforms were designed with small businesses in mind.
That means virtually any business of any size can get approved, whether you own a boutique, run a handyman service or sell wool socks you knit in your spare time.
The smallest businesses have the most to gain by opting for mobile credit card readers, which are cheaper and far more portable than traditional options. Businesses that don't accept credit cards are virtually guaranteed to miss out on some sales.
2. Pick a device
Before you pick up a mobile credit card reader, you'll need at least one compatible mobile device. But don't worry: There are options for virtually every mobile platform, including iOS , Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.
One major benefit of modern credit card readers is that they work with the devices you already own. That means there's no need to carry around additional hardware, aside from the reader add-on itself. Most credit card readers attach to your device via the headphone jack or charger port, and are small enough to fit in your pocket.
If you'd prefer to process payments without a separate adapter, many services allow users to complete a transaction by manually entering credit card information into any Internet-connected phone. But for the sake of convenience, lower fees and privacy, most small businesses should spring for a card reader add-on.
3. Pick a service
Choosing the right service for your business is the most complicated part of the process. You'll have to include the startup costs, fees and compatibility in your business plan.
The best services offer competitive transaction fees, a fast and free application process, and a high approval rate. Many of the leading services offer similar functionality, but fees and other costs vary widely. And some lack a few basic features, like the ability to capture a written signature or void transactions directly from your mobile device.
4. Secure your device
Before you process your first credit card payment, take a few minutes to ensure your device is secure and all software is up-to-date. That includes checking to make sure you have installed the latest updates to your mobile operating system.
Only install apps from trusted sources. Apps that you download from the Apple App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry World or Windows Phone Store are probably fine; apps downloaded from elsewhere on the Web may not be.
During business hours, consider keeping the device you use for mobile transactions locked with a password. If the device is lost or stolen, you'll rest easy knowing your data is safe.
5. Set up shop
You're almost there. Most services will ship you a free card-reader attachment for your mobile device when you sign up. Once you've received your reader, you'll probably have to download a corresponding app for your device.
Each app is different, but most will have to be set up. You will likely be able to specify whether or not to display a field for tips and prompt customers to enter their email address, among other options.
6. Promote your new payment option
What good is having a new mobile payment option if nobody knows about it? Potential customers might steer clear of your business if they think it isn't equipped to accept credit cards.
Make sure to mention that you're now accepting credit cards. And if customers visit your place of business, put up a sign explaining the new payment option.
You can also use your website and social media outlets to spread the word.