How can small businesses take payments?

This Small Business guide looks at all the ways you can take payments, the best handheld devices for the self-employed, payment apps and finds the cheapest card readers out there

How you take payments is crucial for any small business. And the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the shift away from cash to contactless. According to UK Finance, the total value of contactless transactions in 2021 hit £165.9bn, more than double the amount recorded in 2019 pre-pandemic.

It used to be that taking card payments just involved renting a card reader, today’s payment systems connect your till, your inventory and even your bank account – which means you can even borrow money against real-time takings. Today’s payment systems are seamlessly connected.

But where do you start if you want to take payments?

With Small Business Pro, track your invoices as well as getting in-person and online transactions at one of the lowest rates on the market. It will also help with the heavy lifting of managing customers, insurance, finance and HR, plus you’ll get a host of personal wellbeing benefits.

You can find out more about Small Business Pro here.

How can small businesses take payments?

Every small business today has to be equipped not only to take debit and credit card payments, whether it’s Visa, Mastercard or Amex, but also new smartphone payment wallets including Apple Pay and Google Pay, and even cryptocurrencies.

>See also: Flexible payment options for your customers

Best mobile payment app for self-employed

It’s not just businesses with fixed premises that have to take payments. In today’s contactless world, fewer people carry cash. Which means that any sole trader on the move has to be able to whip out their own card machine.

Payment devices you carry around with you have revolutionised how customers pay.

One of the great changes for the self-employed on the move, whether you’re a mobile hairdresser or a masseur or even running a food truck, has been the advent of contactless payment devices linked to your mobile phone.

Even better than the on-the-go convenience is that, unlike the old days of fixed payment terminal card machines, you don’t have to enter a constricting fixed-term contract. You just buy the machine, download the mobile app onto your smartphone and off you go. Mobile phone payment is via a fixed rate per transaction.

Upfront cost vs cost per transaction

There are two parts to consider: the upfront cost of your mobile phone payment card reader and then the cost to you per transaction.

The mobile phone payment card reader can cost anywhere between £19 for a Square Reader up to £49 + VAT for the Shopify Wisepad 3; the cost per transaction ranges from between 0.8 per cent plus a £0.02 transaction fee if you’re a Revolut customer up to 1.75 per cent for Square and Zettle transactions.

6 mobile devices for payments

Barclaycard Anywhere

Revolut Pro

Shopify WisePad 3

Square Reader

SumUp Air

Zettle Card Reader 2

>See also: Best mobile phone payment for self-employed

Best payment apps for small businesses

With the number of payment methods increasing, there are many payment apps for small businesses to choose from. These payment apps are essential for small businesses and customers alike. With more consumers choosing to pay via contactless and suppliers invoicing online, businesses no matter how small need to be ready to process transactions.

Payment apps for small businesses – either payment gateway or point of sale (POS) – can be used to make bank transfers, mobile payments, online card payments and point of sale payments.

For retail businesses that are taking in more than £10,000 per month, it is best to use a payment app connected to a card reader.

Online payment gateway apps

PayPal for Business

PayNow for Stripe

Point of sale (POS) payment apps


Square Point of Sale

SumUp Payment Links


>See also: Best payment apps for small businesses

Are there any free card readers for small businesses?

Cheapest card readers for your small business

Price per monthTransaction fee
Clover Flex£14.99 + VAT1.5%
Barclaycard Flex£10 + VAT1.6%
Dojo Go£201.4%
Upfront costTransaction fee
Small Business Pro Wisepad 3 or WisePOS E£49 or £179From 1.25%
SumUp Air£391.7%
Zettle£29 + VAT1.8%
Square£16 + VAT1.8%
Source: Small Business

The short answer is no, but there are some lower-cost options out there. Cutting costs is a key consideration for small businesses given what’s been called the cost-of-business crisis.

When thinking about costs, consider your monthly fees along with your transaction fees, set-up fees and any other charges that may be hidden in the small print.

Cheapest card readers for your small business

Small Business Pro

Clover Flex

Barclaycard Flex

Dojo Go

SumUp Air

Zettle Go

Square Reader


>See also: Are there any free card readers for small businesses?

Next steps

Want to compare prices from all the best card payment devices so you can start taking payments? Why not use our free comparison tool to be matched with the most suitable provider for your needs.

Simply fill in our free quote-finding form, and answer a few questions about your business (it takes less than a minute). We’ll match you with the most appropriate card payment provider.

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...