The Best "Financial Stack" For Web Designers (Services We Use)

By James LePage
 on January 17, 2021
Last modified on January 7th, 2022

The Best "Financial Stack" For Web Designers (Services We Use)

By James LePage
 on January 17, 2021
Last modified on January 7th, 2022

In this video and article, we discuss how we deal with payments as a web design agency. We'll cover all of the services we use, from payment processing, to invoices, to accounting, to banking... and everything in between.

Our "payment stack" has been ever-changing, and will continue to change, but over the past couple of years, we've experimented with a ton of financial services. For now, here's the list of the best solutions for us. I can wholeheartedly recommend all off these tools to any individual website designer, freelancer, digital creative, as well as agencies up to 5 people.

Service NameWhat We Use It For (& Why We Like It)Cost & Link
Novo BankPowerful online businesses banking with integrations and perks for website designers.Free | Novo Bank
AppBindSubscribe to software and ads for clients, while billing them directly (and adding a % management markup fee).1% Of Transactions | AppBind
StripeSecondary payment processor that allows us to collect CC and Debit Card payments.2.9% + 30c per | Stripe
PayPalLast ditch payment processor, only because it's industry standard.2.9% + 30c per | PayPal
ACHFree bank to bank payments for large $ values.Free With Novo Bank (Or Any other Bank)
MoneyInExcelMoney In Excel is a new feature in the standard Excel Software that makes it easy to track business expensive and Depends | Microsoft 365 Business
Perfex CRMPerfex CRM is built for our industry, and allows us to easily invoice clients, while tracking billable hours. Must have for freelancers to small agencies. And, it's a 1 time payment.$59 One Time | Perfex CRM

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This article is a part of the BizOfAgency Series, a collection of articles and resources by the Isotropic Agency discussing the business aspect of web design.

Previously published on Entre.Agency, which has been merged with the Isotropic Blog to make BizOfAgency.

Video Transcript:

Hi, guys, this is James with Isotropic, and in this video, I'm going to be talking about out agency payment stack - don't know if that is a term, I just made it up. So now it is a term.

And essentially what it means is I'm going to be going over every solution in regards to money, processing and storing it, paying other people, tracking expenses, all of that. And I'm going to just go through every product that my agency uses and that I've found to be really good solutions over four years of building websites professionally.

So hopefully you can take away a couple of insights from this, maybe some good products and services to check out for yourself. But here's how I process money for my agency. So we're going to work from getting paid to paying our employees and yourself and everything in between. So to get paid as an agency, we use three main methods. We use an automatic clearinghouse, which is a free bank to bank transfer, and we use ACH for really big payments for our projects.

We do a lot of bigger projects and typically take 50 percent upfront, which ends up being a very large payment to minimize the payment fees. What we'll do is have our client pay us through a bank to bank goes directly into our banking account, which is something I'll be discussing at the tail end of this video.

And that's that. It's a very simple, free, painless process. If it doesn't make sense to the client or if the payment value is lower, we'll use two additional payment processing platforms and we try to stay away from these, especially when the payment method is larger just because there are processing fees attached to these companies.

But we will use Stripe or PayPal. We really try to avoid PayPal, but I'm a big fan of straight, and there are a couple of things you can do to minimize your payments as well. So Stripe allows you to integrate it really integrates with many different platforms and allows you to process credit card, debit card payments, bank transfers, stuff like that. We use Stripe on our CRM system. We also use Stripe for our product based sales, which doesn't really relate to WordPress.

But it's a really great solution if you accept product based sales due to the fraud protection. However, Stripe costs you money, it costs you a processing fee every time you push money through it.

I believe that processing fee is maybe two point nine percent plus thirty cents per transaction. And this can actually add up to a lot. Say, for example, we're accepting a ten thousand dollar payment. That two point nine percent is like three hundred bucks, that that really adds up.

And that's the main reason we try to stick to for the larger payments. Stripe is also just a great platform because it integrates with the bank that we're going to be talking about. And there are two things you can do to minimize your payment processing costs.

The first one is if you don't have Stripe, when you sign up through a member institution, through a through a third party refer, you can typically get around twenty thousand dollars in fee free processing for the year.

So that's great because twenty thousand dollars would probably equal, I want to say like six hundred dollars in payment processing expenses and minimizing. That is just more money in your pocket. It's a good, good thing to do if you have access to that promotion.

Another method to minimize your costs are if you're a bigger agency, if you've definitely outgrown that twenty thousand dollar per year processing milestone, if you're pushing, say, fifty thousand and up through the platform per year, you can then go ahead and negotiate with the company to lower your rates.

And you do this by hopping on the phone and actually speaking to their representative and asking, hey, can you lower my rate from two point nine to maybe two point five? I push this much money through your platform. And in many cases, if you actually push a fair amount of money through their platform, they will lower your rates for you. So if you're looking to minimize that way, you can minimize that way.

The third payment processing platform is PayPal, and we really try to stay open because I'm just not a big fan of the company for support, at least in my opinion, and high processing fees.

But at the same time, PayPal is really a global payment provider. You can accept payments in different currencies and easily converted over to the dollar or whatever currency you use. And really everybody uses it to pay and get paid. So unfortunately, you have to accept it.

We try to work from ACH to Stripe to PayPal for larger payments. That company. You don't want to pay through, we will accept it through the restraint, but we'll also add that two point five, two point four percent that we are are billed for through straight processing and we'll just tack that onto their purchase price.

So that's how we kind of get paid. The next method of accepting payments is how do we actually initiate the the billing request? Like how do we get that client, the information that they need to then go ahead and pay us?

And we just have moved away from the solution, not because it's bad just because we've outgrown it. But I think the best solution and the solution that we've used for around the past three years, I want to say, is a self hosted CRM and a CRM is customer relationship management software.

And this tool comes with a lot of different features. And that's for another video. But it comes with a great payment system, payment tracking system, if you will. And this tool is called Perfex CRM. It's linked in the description.

There's also a big write up on it about our experience with the platform. Really great things all around. This tool is used to invoice the clients and it's also used to track our billable hours, track the project, progress track leads, emails, phone in, phone out, all of that.

But in terms of the finance stack, we use this to track our billable hours. If we're billing on an hourly rate, if we are billing on a fixed rate, then we go ahead and just use the invoice feature. If we're doing the billable hours, we will track the hours and then invoice at the end of the period.

But. The main thing we use this financial side of things for is to invoice the customer. Perfex CRM integrates directly with Stripe and PayPal. It also allows us to display the information necessary to make the transfer to our bank, which we're going to talk about in a few seconds.

But if you're looking for a platform that allows you to invoice customers that you only purchases a one time purchase instead of paying for a software as a service, and you can also track expenses and see money in money out how many hours your employees are working, stuff like that.

Perfex CRM is a perfect solution for that. So that's kind of how we say, hey, here's here's the work we did. Now it's time to pay us. And then we send the invoice and then they either pay us online through the platform, which integrates describing PayPal and directs them to those processing platforms to pay us or through the ACH And then we can also send out payment receipts. And it's great for taxes. Then the next solution in the payment stack is how we build for ongoing subscriptions.

So ongoing subscriptions for any website is just a necessary cost. And we'll do this in a couple of ways. Many of the WordPress plug ins we have, we will use our own agency license and we just subscribe to unlimited licenses. And that's a part of the project. Um, when the project is completed, they have access to our license. As long as we continue holding that agency license, that's just free. If the agency license expires, we will send them an email and say,

"Hey, this license is expiring. Go pick it up and you can use your maintenance plan hours if you really must, for us to go and install it and manage this for you."

We typically will not do an automatic monthly maintenance plan. Instead, our maintenance plans typically consist of blocks of hours that customers purchase. So customers would purchase, for example, 10 hours and maybe one hundred twenty dollars an hour. They would hold those hours. They're good for 12 months since the purchase date.

And at any point when they want to use them for whatever the case may be, they can use those maintenance hours when they need to. That's how we do that. But then also there are software as a service, subscriptions that are necessary, costs that will not be able to expire, or else the website will stop working. And for that, we use a tool called AppBind - a unique tool. I don't know how new it is, but it hasn't been around for a crazy long time.

We were really one of the first companies to ever use it. And what this allows you to do is manage your subscriptions and then build your clients through a white label interface rather than have the client either sign up for it or you sign up for it and then pay for it and then build the client separately and then get paid for it. And as you can tell, it's a complicated process.

If you do it that way, what app and allows you to do is set up a subscription, set up a bunch of subscriptions, consolidate that monthly cost into one payment that the client makes and really just build the client on their behalf for that subscription while managing the platform and managing the subscription.

So take a look at AppBind because it's a really powerful tool. And if you need to go ahead and get your client to have this subscription, but they don't want to manage it or it makes more sense for you to manage it, but you still need them to pay for it. This is a great solution, um, and really is helpful when you're trying to track expenses as well as make a little money on top. And by that I mean you can charge a maintenance plan or a maintenance fee on top of those subscriptions.

Automatically invoice and expense client subscriptions

So say, for example, you have an AWS subscription, Zapier subscription and a LinkedIn ads subscript, all things that you are managing through AppBind, but billing your customer through app and so you're not actually paying for it and then rebuilding the customer or the customers, just paying for it directly. Through this system, you can add a five percent maintenance fee on top of that and it'll just charge five percent on top of whatever that subscription costs, paying you for your time of managing these services.

So that's how we do subscriptions. And now the question is, where does all this money go? Because we have our payment processing, we're getting money in the bank, we have our subscriptions. But all this money needs to go somewhere. And that's where we come across the banking solution that we use.

And I think this is really a perfect bank for pretty much any small business, but especially if you are in the digital creative industries, specifically Web design, because it's just a really good solution and it's pretty much tailor made for what we do.

So first, let me tell you about my prior experiences with banks and my evolution to get to this bank. I started out with Capital One as a personal account when I was freelancing. I then ended up moving to Bank of America for my personal account.

So I just moved my separate checking account, which was still a personal account because I was doing freelancing under my own name. I moved to that personal account. Then when I incorporated the agency, we moved to Bank of America business banking just because I had a checking account with them and figured it would be an easy setup, easy move.

I already had a relationship with the bank in my area, but that business banking is really a legacy style of business banking because I'm webdesign, because I don't have a physical location for the agency, because my employees are spaced throughout the country. I really don't have any need for a bank with a physical location.

And because of that, why would I be paying for business banking when there are better solutions online that they don't charge for the business banking and also offer more features.

So I began looking for another solution for the agency which had grown in revenue, grown in employees and came across a Azolo and Simple banking. Both banks, which just recently shut down didn’t really cut it, so we took a look at Silicon Valley Bank.

Silicon Valley Bank is created for startups and digital companies like web design companies, but it just didn't really meet the requirements that I had. And I eventually stumbled across Novo banking --  this was really the perfect bank. And it's the bank that I use now, which is integrated with all of my methods of accepting payment.

So Novo Bank is a normal bank, so you can do with it. It integrates directly with straight and you can see your straight power balance in the novel banking application as well as the Web application. It also integrates with the PayPal account and the AppBind  account just empties all of the earnings every month from those subscriptions directly into our bank account.

That is the perfect place to store all of the payments. That's where all of the money goes, and it comes with a ton of perks for a company like yours and mine, which is a completely digital company that offers digital services.

We make websites. We accept payments online. I don't know of many web designers that accept cash payments or barter, like I'll take a cow for your website or something like that. So this is really a great bank. It's a completely online bank. But because of that, it's also a free bank. You don't have to pay for this service. And we do a lot of monthly revenue and it's it's worked out very well. This bank integrates with a ton of different services.

It also comes with a lot of perks. And literally today it added two new game changing features that I haven't really tested out. So I can't speak with authority on them, but it looks to be pretty cool.

First, we can track all of our income and spending. We can see how much money we made in the specific month that we're in. We can download this to a CSV  we can also export this to Money In Excel, which is the last thing I'm going to talk about, and we can integrate it with many popular platforms and tools out there.

So the integrations would be Shopify, Xero, Quickbooks, (both accounting platforms) Stripe, which is you can see the money in your straight bank account or straight account, Zapier and Slack. So these are integrations created with our type of company in mind, which is pretty cool. Then there are also perks. So as I was saying before, you get twenty thousand dollars from Stripe in fee free processing, if you just sign up through the Novo Bank link that amounts to a cash savings of five hundred dollars, you also get three thousand dollars in Google Cloud credits.

You’ve also got HubSpot credits, Zendesk Credits, Segment Credits, GoDaddy… Snapchat ads. This is a bank created for people in our industry and they offer offer perks for our industry.

They also have these two new features that they literally just added. So I couldn't try it out. But here you can add a reserve, which means you can set money aside for specific purchases and then you can also invoice directly through this platform using ACH or using the straight credit card and debit card processing.

With the ACH, you can forego any fees. So this is a free invoicing tool. And with this straight, you get lower fees and at least PayPal, which is kind of helpful there. Then with this money and with all this money in and out.

We also have employees, so we need to pay the employees and we use Novo Bank to pay the employees to this is pretty easy. All you need to do is add a payee. And the payee is a bank account of somebody who works for you or who contracts with you.

And this is very easy. You literally just add the payee. You set the amount of dollars that you want to send to them on Friday afternoon and then you'll send them the money on Friday.

Very simple platform if you need to pay people, pay employees, pay anybody. That's how we usually do it. And then if need be, we'll pay them through PayPal. But again, there are fees involved with PayPal, so we try to avoid that as much as possible.

The final thing is the accounting systems that we use. So I've never used anything like cookbook's or zero or any of those software as a service subscriptions. When we were on Perfex, all I did was use Perfex and then I would also track the money in money out with an Excel spreadsheet. I would use something called Money in Excel, which actually integrates to Novo Bank and Money In Excel just allows you to track the income, expenses, everything like that.

And we just keep it in a spreadsheet. And that was really my job. Uh, and with this new platform that we're looking at for our CRM, then then that's going to all be automated. But it was a pretty simple task with money in Excel because Web design isn't the most complex business. You have business expenses for plug ins and stuff like that. And then you just have money coming in, hopefully, and then you pay your employees out and that's really it.

So I would track all of that and then I just hand it off to the accounting firm in the accounting firm would take care of all the taxes forms, stuff like that for me. So that's really my financial stack for the agency.

And I think that pretty much anybody can adopt this, be it a freelancer or an agency, up to maybe like five people that doesn't do a crazy ton of work a year. Once you start managing employees, you may want to upgrade from Perfex, but if you're looking for just a basic payment stack, I'll go over it again and I'll put up a little graphic on the screen.

We use ACH, PayPal and Stripe to accept payments. PayPal is the worst, but we still have to accept it because everybody uses it. Stripe is good. You can negotiate rates down if you push enough money through them. You can also get twenty thousand in fee free processing. So that's really cool. For subscription management, we use something called AppBind and then we also I didn't mention this, but we also just use the standard Stripe subscription feature, which also integrates with Perfex if we're doing that.

When we were running our own hosting, we would use that. We don't do that anymore. We try to keep people as independent as possible and just have them purchase those maintenance hours. Um, if we're paying other people well, I'm getting ahead of myself for storing all that money, all that cash. And we have a business bank account with Novo and that Novo bank account allows us to pay our employees.
It also allows for integration to straight to the popular accounting platforms, Slack… really just a great platform. I track everything through Money In Excel and just use an accounting firm here in Charlotte to do my books for me. But other than that, that's really kind of the simple payment stack that I use. I've gone through a lot of iterations here and for me, at least in the States, this is the best solution.

There are definitely better payment processors for other international locations. But in the states, this is what I use. This is what I find to be best for me. The final thing that I kind of forgot to mention, but I should mention, is something like a business credit card. And this is an option that I need to be considering now because I have employees and I don't want to just give them my Novo debit card. When you have employees, it's important to have them be able to make purchases on your behalf when they need to get the tools to make their websites.

And we're very close team, so I'm able to pretty much pick everything up on the debit card. But as we grow, I'm going to definitely be taking a look at business credit cards, which allow us to issue specific cards with spending limits to our employees. So that's something else I'm going to be taking a look at. I'm strongly considering Amex simply because I have them for my personal cards. So that's just another thing to add on to the stack.

But if you're looking for business cards, credit cards, that might be helpful, especially if you spend a lot of money and you need to be spending a lot of money. If you're pushing a lot of money through your company, that could be pretty helpful because you can earn points, get free travel, get free rewards. All for business, all for spending, so something to consider there, just something I'm not fully experienced with yet. So that's my payment stack.

Hopefully you found it helpful. I don't think a lot of people know of Novo Bank, so it's something to check out completely free and everything's going to be linked in the description, as well as a supplementary article that discusses the payments stack in writing. Hopefully this video is helpful. If it was, give it a thumbs up, give it a subscription, and until the next video, I will not see you and I will see you in the next video.

Have a great evening.

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Article By
James LePage
James LePage is the founder of Isotropic, a WordPress education company and digital agency. He is also the founder of, a venture backed startup bringing AI to WordPress creators.
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