A guide to card payments for small business

The essential guide to accepting card payments for SMEs.

With fewer of us carrying cash these days, offering card payments is essential – especially for smaller businesses. It helps make things run smoothly, keeps your customers happy, and prevents potential lost sales.

This step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about taking card payments, from choosing the right tools to keeping things secure, and we’ll break down the pros and cons.

How to accept card payments

Choose your payment processor.

This is your partner for all things card payments. They handle the secure transactions between your business and your customers’ bank – from authorisation to transferring funds.

Fees, features and ease of use can vary, so shop around for a processor who matches your needs and budget. Just a few examples include Stripe, Square, Shopify and Worldpay.

Sign up for a merchant account.

This special bank account temporarily holds the funds from your card sales before transferring them to your main business account. Your payment processor will usually help you set it up.

However, not every payment processor needs you to have a merchant account. Stripe don’t, for example, and they’re not always necessary. Learn how to set up a merchant account here.

Choose your equipment.

Whether you need a complete point-of-sale (POS) system, a simple card reader, or an online payment gateway depends on your business. See our article on how to choose the best card machine for more information.

Most payment processors offer a variety of card readers, including:

Countertop machines. Ideal for physical shops—they connect to a phone line or internet connection and let you swipe, tap, or insert chip cards.

Mobile card readers. Perfect for travelling, on-the-go businesses, these connect to your smartphone or tablet for contactless payments.

Portable card machines. These connect via Wi-Fi or mobile networks and can be moved around, like in restaurants where customers pay at the table.

Virtual payment systems. These allow you to accept card payments if you’re an online business or handle phone orders.

For online sales, you'll need a secure payment gateway that connects seamlessly with your website. Find out more in our guide to payment gateway and online payment systems.

Start taking payments.

Once everything’s set up, you're good to go. The funds will be deposited into your merchant account – minus any processing fees – in around two to three working days of the transaction.

Advantages and disadvantages of taking card payments


Customers love the simplicity of paying by card. It also means no more fumbling for change, or lost sales because someone doesn’t carry cash or forgot their purse or wallet. Speedier sales also equal more satisfied customers.

Online and phone payments open your business up to a new world of potential customers who can’t visit you in person.

Less cash on site means less risk of theft, plus the fraud protection built into card transactions means more secure sales for extra peace of mind.


Card payments can come with processing or per-transaction fees and monthly charges. Always make sure you compare rates from different payment processors before choosing.

Card payments can always carry a slight chance of fraud. However, by choosing a reputable payment processor and following best practice you can minimise any risks.

How secure are card payments?

Card payments are generally very secure, but staying alert is key. Here’s how you can help ensure you and your customers stay safe.

Encryption. Make sure your website uses SSL/TSL encryption[5] (that all-important ‘https’ that tells people your online transactions are secure). Most payment processors need you to be SSL-enabled before accepting online payments.

Compliance. Follow the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) – a globally recognised security best practice.

Stay updated. Keep your payment systems and software up to date to patch any vulnerabilities and stay ahead of the game.

Fraud prevention. Use the tools provided by your payment processor to help you detect and prevent fraud before it happens.

Offering card payments keeps your customers happy, increases sales, enhances security, and opens doors to a wider market. It’s a simple step to a smoother, more profitable business.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about navigating the world of card payments, contact our V-Hub Digital Advisers for 1-2-1 support.

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