7 Best Payment Gateways and Online Payment Systems 2022

We review the pros, cons and costs of the most popular online payment gateways, to find you the best deal on the perfect small business payment system.

Our Research

Our expert team of writers and researchers worked to identify the best payment gateway providers by focusing on the factors small businesses care about most – value for money, including fees and hidden extras; security protocols and fraud protection; customer support, and ease of access across platforms including mobile. This article was co-authored by:

Our independent reviews and recommendations are funded in part by affiliate commissions, at no extra cost to our readers.

We think the best payment gateway for small businesses is WorldPay. Its payment plans are flexible, making it good for scalability, plus it has smart security features to ensure customers feel confident when purchasing from your site.

WorldPay isn't the only payment gateway option. There are plenty of other brands shouting about being the most affordable, or the most feature-rich, which makes finding the right provider a difficult and time-consuming task for busy small business owners.

Brexit has also added to woes, with many providers introducing dramatically increased transaction fees now that Britain has left the EU.

Our experts have more than twenty years of experience with small business payment solutions. In collaboration with an independent analyst, we've reviewed the top providers for important cash flow considerations including transfer time, hidden fees, and security features.

Using those results, we've developed a simple cost comparison tool. It's free to use, all you need to do is answer a few questions for a bespoke payment gateway recommendation.

Or, for a more detailed breakdown, read on for our list of the 7 payment gateways.

Top seven payment gateway providers at a glance

0 out of 0
Cheapest paid-for plan:
Best for:

Worldpay

PayPal

Stripe

Amazon Pay

Shopify Payments

Opayo

Cardstream

£19 per month

or 2.75% + £0.20 transaction fee for pay as you go

2.9%+ £0.30 per transaction (no monthly fee)

1.4% + 20p (no monthly fee)

2.7% + £0.30 (no monthly fee)

£22 per month

£32/per month for 350 transactions

£18/per month for 350 transactions

SMEs with software developement experience

Service firms that need to take payments quickly

Retailers that sell worldwide

Startups looking to attract new customers

Retailers that built their online store using Shopify

Firms making less than 350 sales per month

Building awareness of your brand

Pricing is correct as of June 17 2022

1. Worldpay: Best for SMEs that built their store using a software developer

Worldpay is the UK’s most popular payment processing company. It currently processes around half of all payments taking place in the UK – and has some of the most flexible plans for small businesses.

However, dealing with Worldpay is like dealing with any large provider. Some customers have reported that its support tools are somewhat hit and miss.

It's also not as intuitive as tech companies based entirely online, like Square. Instead, the WorldPay payment gateway needs to be built into your website in the backend as an API.

Because of this, we'd recommend it to small businesses that have designed their website with a third-party tech team. Managing the code or integrating it with other tools will be complicated without software expertise.

Still, there are a lot of benefits to choosing WorldPay. Its huge market presence means it has a wide range of processing options available like POS systems, EMV terminals, digital and mobile wallets, FastAccess funding, extensive security features, and gift cards.

Overall we think the WorldPay payment gateway product is a solid choice for SMEs coming from a trusted brand.

Pros
  • Easily set up regular billing for subscription payments
  • Ultra-secure payments thanks to WorldPay's Risk Management Mechanism (RMM)
  • Live dashboard view lets you monitor orders in real-time
Cons
  • Pay-as-you-go option has high transaction fees of 2.75% + 20p
  • Customer support is built for software developers - bad if you're not tech-savvy

Worldpay Fees and Costs explained

Pay as you go package: 2.75% + £0.20

Fixed monthly: Gateway Standard plan costs £19/month, plus a 2.75% (credit cards) or 0.75% (debit cards) transaction fee.

Worldpay payment gateway example

Which businesses should use WorldPay?

WorldPay's commitment to security and its ability to integrate with a range of ecommerce website builders and invoicing software doesn’t make it cheap, but as a trusted brand with a fairly decent customer service reputation, it’s probably worth the investment if you have budget to spare.

Order management specifically is simplified by the WorldPay platform. Procedures like issuing a refund can be done instantly, which makes WorldPay a good option for clothing firms that are more likely to deal with returns.

Just make sure you’re aware this isn’t an end-to-end ecommerce solution. You will need to team up with a third party ecommerce platform like Wix or BigCommerce in order to get online. Plus, as we mentioned earlier, WorldPay's complicated back-end means it's best for those with software development experience.

Would you like to know more about Worldpay? Read our dedicated Worldpay review.

WorldPay vs. Rival Payment Gateways

Because it's largely based offline, WorldPay outperforms most other brands on this list for hardware and software options. The brand boasts a wide arsenal of payment solutions including card machines and POS systems, unlike alternatives like Stripe.

Because of this, you get a powerful, simplified approach to operations that reduces admin tasks, such as reconciliations.

WorldPay's monthly plan of £19 per month isn't unaffordable for small businesses. But it is considerably more than competitors like PayPal and Amazon Pay, which allow you to get set up and accepting payments for zero charge. 

Plus, higher-than-average transaction fees of 2.75% + 20p mean we don't recommend WorldPay to businesses looking to save money.

Still, no payment gateway will cater to all the requirements of a company. That's why you should thoroughly explore their pricing plans with our simple cost comparison tool, so you'll know exactly what you'll get for your money.

Need to build an online store for your business?

If you need to make online sales then you will also need an ecommerce website to host your product and service.

Check out our review of the best free ecommerce website builders for small businesses to find the best builder to design your online store.

2. PayPal: Best for takeaway or service firms that need to take payments quickly

You may remember PayPal from such hit ecommerce websites as eBay, where it made checking out more pain-free than we ever thought possible. But PayPal is just as user-friendly for businesses as it is for customers.

Today, its payment gateway – named Payflow Gateway – is widely trusted, with over 220 million users worldwide. With variable transaction fees, this payment gateway is nice and budget-friendly for small business merchants.

There are some drawbacks to the system that exclude certain businesses from its softare. You'll be charged an additional 1.5% per transaction for international payments, for example. If you're selling to European customers, those costs could add up quickly.

Our researchers found that PayPal also does does not refund the transaction fee when customers return their purchases. Square, on the other hand, does not have a chargeback fee and will refund your transaction fee when a customer makes a return.

Still, we like PayPal as a good option for domestic firms that need to accept instant payments.

Pros
  • Excellent for mobile use if your customers are ordering through apps
  • Trusted brand with good name recognition will put customers at ease
  • PayPal offers a Seller’s Protection Program for eligible merchants, good for those selling highly-valuable items
Cons
  • Some hidden fees for refunds or chargebacks

PayPal Fees and Costs explained

PayPal's transaction fees can differ depending on a payment's country of origin. Domestic transaction fees are currently 2.9% + plus 30p.

PayFlow

Which businesses should use PayPal?

PayPal’s online payments system is flexible and intuitive enough to work wonders for small businesses and start-ups, even first-timers.

We think it's best for time-conscious businesses that need to take payments quickly, such as takeaway or taxi firms. 

PayPal announced their Instant Transfer feature in 2019 as an expansion of their current payout features. Our testers could transfer money between the designated PayPal wallet and their bank account or debit card within just 30 minutes.

And don’t worry, your customers don’t need a PayPal account to use PayPal Payments Pro – software you can integrate with Payflow Gateway to create a customisable online payment solution.

PayPal vs Rival Payment Gateways

PayPal's name is one of the most trusted on this list. Many of your customers are likely to already have a PayPal account and will instantly recognise this payment option when at the checkout, unlike more low-profile options like Opayo or Cardstream.

It also transfers payments into your account instantly, which is a big bonus if you need to deliver a time-sensitive product.

However, PayPal underwhelms when it comes to international payments. Stripe's EU transaction rate of 1.4% looks very generous compared to PayPal (4.4% plus 30p).

Want to learn about some of PayPal’s other offerings?

Check out our dedicated review of PayPal Here, the company’s card reader.

3. Stripe: Best for retailers that sell worldwide

Stripe is a full service payment provider – that means it includes your payment gateway and your merchant account – and is the go-to for creating your own customised payment system.

Despite being trusted by huge brands including Deliveroo, Booking.com, and ASOS, Stripe is designed for businesses of all sizes, and gives you the option of a hosted payments page (designed using code) or the website integration Stripe Payments (added to ecommerce websites with the click of a button).

The latter system system will probably be preffered by SMEs and gives you access to your sales in a Stripe Dashboard (via web or mobile app) through which payments, refunds and disputes can be managed.

Stripe's biggest benefit is undoubtedly its global payment features. If you're shipping products internationally, Stripe is your best option.

Pros
  • Supports a wide range of payment types and over 135 currencies
  • Dropshipping firms can facilitate direct payments between third-party businesses and your customers
  • Design your own personalised checkout form for added aesthetic
Cons
  • Up to seven-day settlement delay - an issue if your business does not have a steady cash flow
  • If a customer pays with card in a different currency from your your checkout’s, a 2% currency conversion fee is applied on top of the base transaction fee.

Stripe Fees and Costs explained

Like PayPal, Stripe does not charge a monthly fee or any set up costs. Instead, you'll just pay transaction fees.

For UK cards, Stripe charges 1.4% + 20p.

Stripe payment gateway

Which businesses should use Stripe?

Stripe is a great online payment gateway for small to medium businesses that operate in a range of industries, especially across Europe – in addition to a full-stack pay-as-you-go solution, it offers favourable rates for European cards. 

The transaction rate on European cards is low compared to many other payment gateways such as PayPal Checkout. Stripe also supports processing payments in 135+ currencies, allowing you to charge customers in their native currency while receiving funds in yours

Transaction fees are lower for European cards (1.4% + 20p) than non-European (2.9% + 20p), so it will cost you more to deliver to other continents. But it should be noted that the latter costs are actually similar to WorldPay's normal UK-based transaction fees anyway.

One thing to note is it's not a good option if you need fast payouts – Stripe can take up to a week to deposit money into your business bank account.

Stripe vs. Rival Payment Gateways

Stripe is a competitive provider for lots of elements including international payments and slick checkout design. Plus, with no monthly fees it outstrips Opayo and WorldPay in terms of flexibility.

However, Stripe only offers an onsite payment option, so you'll have to search for separate tools like ecommerce builders, card machine providers. In comparison, Shopify offers products for every aspect of the payment lifecycle.

Want to learn more about Stripe?

Read our dedicated Stripe review for all the hidden costs, pros, and cons so you know if it's the right payment gateway provider for you.

4. Amazon Pay: Best for startups looking to attract new customers

Many of us will know how easy Amazon makes the whole checkout process – over 310 million of us to be exact. And if that’s what you have in mind for your own marketplace, Amazon Pay is a great option.

It cuts down on admin both for you and your customers by recycling the details you and your customers have already provided in Amazon accounts, so people can sail through the purchasing stage – certainly a way of ensuring customers check out before they've had the chance to change their mind!

You can sign up to Amazon Pay online through the Amazon website. As long as you have a business account with the platform, you'll be able to add it to your website or list products on Amazon marketplace.

Unlike other payment processing solutions, Amazon also has the benefit of completing your payment processing inline. This means that once you integrate Amazon Pay with your website, your customers won’t have to leave the site to complete a transaction with you.

One thing to mention is Amazon won't allow customers to pay with PayPal. However, there are ways around this if your customer has a PayPal cash card.

Pros
  • Integrates with over 200 ecommerce platforms including Shopify and Wix
  • Customer details are already inputted so the checkout process is very quick
  • Voice transaction support available for added accessibility
Cons
  • Customers need an Amazon account to make a payment
  • Doesn't support PayPal purchases which could affect your sales opportunities
  • Users need to fill in a registration form to sign up

Amazon Fees and Costs explained

Amazon Pay comes with no hidden costs, lock-in, or monthly fees. In fact, with this online payment system you only pay a processing fee of 2.7% + 30p for each transaction you make.

Amazon pay

Which businesses should use Amazon Pay?

We recommend Amazon Pay to new businesses that aren't established on the market yet and need a way to build trust among new customers.

Amazon's reputed brand name will give you a boost of credit for those that haven't bought your products or services before. Plus, the Amazon Pay website has a list of downloadable marketing assets – including logos and banners – which you can easily add to your sales channels to use as trust signals.

One potential issue with Amazon Pay payment processing is that customers get access to Amazon’s popular A-to-Z guarantee.

This is obviously great for customers but it also means that, if you're a dropshipping firm relying on a third-party seller, the onus will fall onto you to refund the item, which could be costly.

Amazon Pay vs. Rival Payment Gateways

PayPal is Amazon Pay's closest rival and boy, are they closely matched. There are no startup costs, monthly or termination fee for both Amazon and the standard version of PayPal. You'll get the clout of being associated with a big brand for either, and you'll have access to 24/7 customer support.

However, while it might seem like a fairly equal fight, PayPal just takes the crown.

Both platforms have similar transaction fees (Amazon's are 0.2% higher), however you need an account to use Amazon Pay whilst PayPal lets anyone with a debit or credit card use its service.

Similarly, if you're selling internationally, PayPal is more expensive but also has more options. PayPal is available in more than 200 countries and regions, and supports 25 currencies. In comparison, Amazon is accepted in just 16.

5. Shopify Payments: Best for small retailers that built their online store using Shopify

As well as providing a payment gateway, Shopify is a popular complete ecommerce system in the UK, offering everything you need to start selling online.

For obvious reasons, Shopify Payments is the best choice for Shopify users. It keeps your payment gateway under the same roof as your website tools. It also offers zero transaction fees, which will significantly boost SME profits, particularly if you're selling big-ticket items over £100.

Bear in mind that if you choose to move away from Shopify Payments and integrate a third party payment gateway provider into your Shopify website, then you'll pay significantly increased transaction fees ranging from 0.5% – 2%.

If you already have a Shopify account, you can quickly add the Shopify Payments tool into the backend. Just navigate to Settings > Payments and click ‘Activate Shopify Payments' to fill in the relevant information.

You can find out more about this online store builder by reading our full Shopify guide.

Pros
  • Completely avoid transaction fees if you already have a Shopify account
  • Shopify's ecommerce add-on Shop Pay allows customers to save their payment information for future purchases securely
  • Built-in fraud analysis tool conducts in-depth checks including whether a registered card address matches a billing address
Cons
  • Costs £10 in chargeback fees if a customer successful appeals for a refund
  • Shopify Payments often freezes payments for any suspicious activity

Shopify Fees and Costs explained

Once you've purchased a monthly Shopify plan for £22 per month to build your ecommerce website – which comes with web hosting, a shopping cart, a blog, and an SSL certificate – card processing fees are all you'll pay. 

Shopify payment gateway

Which businesses should use Shopify Payments?

Merchants that sell using Shopify should use its in-built Shopify Payments app to accept sales. You'll pay nothing in transaction fees and you'll be able to integrate with Shopify's vast range of hardware, like the popular Shopify card reader, and software options, like Shopify POS.

As Shopify’s point of sale system, Shopify POS allows you to process in-person transactions on a mobile device or a tablet. It can also sync inventory information between online and brick-and-mortar stores – great if you're selling both on- and offline.

Thanks to a combination of attractive templates, search engine optimisation tools, and – most importantly – its in-house payment gateway, Shopify offers an easy and cost-effective way for small businesses to expand their sales channels. Read our full Shopify review to find out more.

Shopify Payments vs. Rival Payment Gateways

Alongside Opayo, Shopify is the only brand on this list that does not have associated transaction fees. However, Shopify's monthly plan costs £10 less than Opayo, so it takes the crown in terms of value for money.

Shopify is also easier to get set up with than many other brands. Any level of tech-know-how will allow you to get started as all users have to do is click a few buttons. In comparison, WorldPay requires users to install its software as an API.

The one area that Shopify, understandably, falls down is flexibility. You have to use Shopify to host your store if you want to use it as a payment gateway.

Given its reputation as an outstanding software brand, however, this won't too much of a drawback for most subscribers.

Want to learn more about Shopify?

You don't need to spend any money to test this platform out, just give their two-week free trial a go to get access to tonnes of clever payment tools and features.

6. Opayo (formerly Sage Pay): Best for side-hustle firms that don't make more than 350 sales per month

Opayo is an all-in-one merchant account and payment gateway service. It's recognised for offering exceptional levels of security, while providing small businesses right through to large corporations fair rates for processing transactions.

The Opayo payment gateway is fully customisable, which means you can create a checkout system that suits the feel of your website, and you can even choose Opayo for your face-to-face sales to keep all of your payment data in one place.

Plus, its flat-rate monthly fee of £32 means you don't pay anything in transaction fees – great if you're selling more expensive items.

Pros
  • Integrates with Sage accounting software so you can easily view and measure your financial incomings
  • PCI compliance rating of 1 means it's great for security features
Cons
  • Support calls to the Opayo helpline cost 2p per minute, meaning it is potentially expensive to fix an issue
  • If you want to take more than 350 sales per month, you'll need to spend £10 more to upgrade

Opayo Fees and Costs explained

Opayo's cheapest payment plan is Opayo Flex. This tier is currently priced at £32/month for 350 transactions, after Opayo increased its prices by £7 per plan, per month in June 2021.

Opayo

Which businesses should use Opayo?

Although Opayo, formerly Sage Pay, has grown over the years, it still remains favourable with small businesses. The payment gateway provider hasn't forgotten its roots, with its small business packages ideal for those getting their online business off the ground.

Opayo's online flex package costs £32/month, which means it is a great, full-featured package for side-hustle businesses that don't take more than 350 transactions per month.

The downside to Opayo is that you'll be tied into a 12-month contract. That said, the provider gives little reason to leave, with package upgrades, reasonable rates, and decent customer service all part of the deal.

Opayo vs. Rival Payment Gateways

Opayo's lack of transaction fees is a huge bonus for SMEs. As an easy method for preserving profits, it outpaces WorldPay (2.75% + 20p) and PayPal (2.9% + 30p) to help you retain more of your sales revenue.

However, entrepreneurs also get no transaction fees with Shopify Payments for £10 less per month. We'd only recommend Opayo if you're already hosting your website with a different provider. Otherwise, Shopify is the decidedly-better option.

7. Cardstream: Best for brand-building and creating customisable payment pages

Cardstream is a fully customisable payment gateway provider, enabling you to make branded payment gateway screens and receipts.

Unlike Opayo, Cardstream doesn't tie you into a lengthy contract. And while bigger payment gateway providers like WorldPay struggle with customer service, Cardstream seems to excel in this area. 

Because it's not attached to an acquiring bank, and its solution is white-label, it means there's certainly more to do when getting it set up. So, those looking for convenience may wish to choose an all-in-one solution.

However, once you're up and running, Cardstream will take responsibility for anything that goes wrong with the service and work on a patch or upgrade. They will also provide support and gratefully accept input to better their operation. This frees you up to focus on your core business and service.

In addition to being a white-label supplier, Cardstream isn't attached to an acquiring bank. This means you're free to choose a small business merchant account provider that offers the best rates for your business.

Pros
  • Customisable payment gateway helps to improve boost your brand's awareness during checkout
  • Painless online sign up process means you can get started and selling quickly
Cons
  • Only available as a 12-month contract so you might want to trial other brands first
  • Our research found that many clients report Cardstream's customer support as slow

Cardstream Fees and Costs explained

Cardstream's pricing is not very transparent and it does not display its plans on its websites.

Our research found that, on average, Cardstream charges £18 per month for 350 transactions. After 350, Cardstream charges businesses 9p per transaction.

Cardstream

Which businesses should use Cardstream?

As the only ‘white label' payment gateway provider, businesses can use Cardstream to create branded payment pages and receipts, ensuring familiarity throughout the entire user-journey.

Because of this, we recommend it for businessses that are looking to brand-build. Having your logo at the top of a payment page will not only promote trust and improve client satisfaction, it will also increase your brand's exposure.

Cardstream vs. Rival Providers

Perhaps Cardstream's most obvious weakness, compared to the other providers on this list, is there is no flat-rate cost for its services.

Unlike rivals like Shopify and Stripe, customers need to contact Cardstream's support team for a quote. This is an unfortunate trait of the payment gateway market. Pricing information is often opaque and contracts come with lots of hidden fees.

That's why we designed an exclusive cost comparison tool to give you bespoke quotes based on your specific requirements from a payment gateway platform. Simply tell us a few simple facts about your business and we'll match you with a platform that suits your budget, without sacrificing your needs.

How do I choose the right payment gateway for my business?

The best payment gateway will make it cheap, easy, and safe for your customers to pay you, from wherever they find your products. It will be secure, allow you to control your customers’ data, and offer a seamless customer journey that accepts all major payment cards.

Plus, it should sit well within your budget.

We’ve created a handy list of what to look out for when it comes to choosing the perfect payment gateway for your startup.

  1. Security – This is important for both you and your customers. Keep your eye out for PCI compliance (crucial for accepting credit card payments)
  2. Data portability – Who owns your customer’s data if you choose to leave your gateway? Make sure you know how to download and move the data you need to sustain your merchant services without breaking GDPR
  3. Hosted/integrated gateways – A hosted gateway will redirect your customers to the payment processor’s platform (they’re easy to set up and ideal for new businesses). An integrated gateway connects to your eCommerce website via the gateway’s provided API (meaning that your customers will never leave your site to input payment information)
  4. The customer journey – Customers will be looking for convenience, clarity, and security – things to avoid include too many steps and too many details required from the customer. This will take too much time and increase the chances of the customer abandoning the purchase
  5. Cards accepted – It’s standard for payment gateways to accept all major credit and debit cards, but double-check (and if the gateway accepts American Express, that’s a bonus – be sure to check the processing fees though!)
  6. Mobile optimisation – Phones are the future of e-commerce, and if your payment gateway isn’t geared up for smartphones, then you’re probably missing out on some serious sales opportunities
  7. Fees – Each payment gateway charges a different amount for credit, debit, and overseas transactions – so be sure to read up on what the charges are and make sure you’re not going over budget
  8. Customer support – If your gateway goes down, you won’t be able to accept payment for your products (which is bad news for business) –  so it’s important that your payment gateway provider has an efficient customer support network that can help out with any problems, any time
Still not sure which payment gateway to choose?

Save yourself time and energy, and make use of our specially-designed merchant services comparison tool.  In minutes you'll have free, no-obligation quotes from payment gateway providers that's the best fit for your business.

What are the most affordable payment gateways?

If you're operating your business on a tight budget and need to keep costs to a minimum, the three cheapest providers – who offer exceptional value for money, are:

  • Paypal 
  • Amazon Pay
  • Stripe

These providers proudly sit on the cheapest payment gateway podium, because unlike their competitors you pay zero monthly fees. All you are charged is a small transaction cost, which for each provider is less than 3%.

How we chose the best payment gateways

Our experts have worked with online retailers since 2000. The market is moving quickly, with astronomical growth post-COVID, which can leave some small businesses in the dark about the features you need – and can avoid – to sell online in 2022.

We tested each of the above payment gateways for several factors that can influence merchant experiences, and to identify their strengths and weaknesses. One of our key priorities was value for money, as it has the biggest impact on profit margins. We highlighted every hidden fee and bonus perk that each platform provides.

As more businesses sell online, we know that speedier transactions can often come at the expense of security protocols and fraud protection, putting small businesses at risk of cyberattacks. That’s why we specifically chose brands we know offer effective data protection tools and PCI-compliance as well as customer support in case an issue should arise.

Today’s consumers favour ease of access as they buy products using everything from desktops to watches. We analysed each of the above brands to ensure they worked well across multiple platforms, especially mobile devices. We also looked for payment systems that can integrate with both ecommerce and POS systems to prioritise flexibility in the customer journey.

Next step: compare payment gateways

You now know all about the best payment gateways, you're ready to nail down the right merchant account service for you. So what's next?

Answer a few quick and easy questions using our payment gateways comparison tool to receive custom quotes from the top providers, many of whom are featured in this article.

You can get quotes based on your industry and sales requirements, allowing you to find the best deals, features, and support tools for your business needs.

Do you currently accept online payments?
Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is a payment gateway?
    Payment gateways are a type of technology used by merchants to accept debit or credit card purchases from customers. The term includes not only the physical card-reading devices found in physical businesses, but also the portals used by online stores.
  • What are the benefits of a payment gateway?
    Payment gateways are the only way for ecommerce stores to take payments, which makes them a necessary purchase for all online stores. They can integrate with shopping carts and provide faster payment processing. They are also very useful for fraud protection and management.
  • Is there any free payment gateway?
    There are lots of free-to-install payment gateways, like Stripe and Amazon Pay. However, be warned that most of them charge transaction fees, which can be expensive depending on the provider.

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Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website.

Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism.

Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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