These easy tips will keep your finances secure during the current downturn.
With the economy struggling, every business is trying to cut costs to make ends meet. Small businesses, which have fewer resources, especially feel the burn.
Not to fear. We’ve come up with a mega-list of ways to trim the fat off your enterprise so you don’t become a casualty of the latest economic downturn.
- Go green! Energy-efficient technology will save you money over the life span of your computers, phone systems and other tech tools. There are often tax benefits to green technology, too. Not to mention it'll help out the environment.
- Switch to open-source software. An open-source solution isn't the scary, "You're on your own!" proposition that larger software providers lead you to believe. Open-source software costs a fraction of the price as commercial products while still offering all, if not more, of the features.
- Consider a smaller ISP. If you don’t have a big-business budget, smaller ISPs offer good value for their cost. Check out The List to compare prices.
- Check out VoIP. VOIP is basically a phone service that uses the Internet. Many small businesses are opting for this cheaper alternative that can save them up to 60% over their traditional telecom costs.
- Get a cheaper business phone service. Try a hosted PBX system, like Virtual PBX. Unlike a standard PBX, there is no hardware or software to buy or maintain, so costs start low and stay low.
- Switch from a merchant account to an online payment service like Paypal. Say goodbye to statement fees and monthly fees. These services, however, do have a higher "per transaction" cost, so do some number crunching to see if making a switch will really save you money.
- Reduce the number of phone lines. You could accomplish this simply by configuring office PCs to send and receive faxes. The Windows XP operating system and Small Business Server both make it easy to set up fax services.
- Look for cheap or free web hosting. Check out this list of free Web space or read the reviews of hosts at Web Hosting Unleashed to see which providers have saved businesses money.
- Buy recycled printer cartridges. Printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids on the planet. Much of it is margin, so find low-cost sources.
- Reassess your phone plan. Even if you don't switch to VoIP, you can get service for cents per minute depending on your call volume.
- Eliminate unnecessary lighting. Install motion detectors to control lighting in frequently unoccupied areas, such as restrooms and copy rooms.
- Turn off equipment when it's not being used. This can reduce energy consumption by 25 percent; turning off the computers at the end of the day can save an additional 50 percent.
- Lighten up. Dark walls require more power to produce the same amount of light.If possible, repaint your walls or lighten up your office space with wall hangings to reduce the amount of energy you use.
- Time yourself. Install timers on outdoor lighting systems so they only operate from dusk to dawn.
- If appropriate, use laptop computers. These portable computing machines consume 90 percent less energy than standard desktop computers.
- Stop paying for software. Visit sites like Download.com to try hundreds of software products for free through trial downloads, freeware and limited versions. Also check manufacturers' Web sites for free trial downloads.
- Do it online. Do all of your sales calls need to be in person? Internet-based technologies like Web conferencing and tools like Microsoft Office Live Meeting let you make online presentations to customers.
- Share printers. If you purchase and maintain multiple printers at your office, you could save money by setting up a network that allows employees to share devices. Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 is an easy-to-use and easy-to-operate server solution that allows you to share printers and create a more secure and productive computing environment.
- Reduce your variable expenses. Variable expenses change depending on your consumption of a good or service. They can add up, so see where you can regulate or scrap spending all together.
- Do house cleaning on your weekly unneeded expenses. If you’re spending $50 a week on pizza for the office, you might want to consider brown bagging it.
- Get a freelancer. Don’t let Larry in accounting eat up your electricity as he checks his fantasy football league stats. Hire freelancers, consultants or contractors to work for you from home.
- Keep a close watch on energy consumption. Set your thermostats to a lower temperature, turn off all appliances when they're not in-use and encourage staff to shut down their computers when they're out of the office.
- Sublet office space. You’ll always need to pay rent, regardless of the economy. But try to avoid any additional bills and contracts that will come with having your own office. Subletting is a great way to accomplish this.
- Keep it in the family. Got kids? Hire them! You’ll get cheap help, your kid will learn responsibility and you may get some tax breaks, too.
- Hire college students or interns for credit. An internship program is a win-win situation for your business. You get bright, young and ambitious employees to do your dirty work for little or no pay.
Office Items and Office Space
- Take advantage of member rewards. Maximize your rewards points by double-dipping on programs for many of your office and electronics purchases. You can get points from your credit card provider as well as stores like Best Buy.
- Plan shipping or mailings. You can schedule your shipping, mailings or deliveries to take advantage of bulk transactions.
- Don't pay retail. Get purchase orders at trade shows, buy wholesale or even check out the local offerings on Craigslist to save big bucks on office essentials.
- Eliminate unnecessary paper waste. Implement paper-reducing strategies such as double-sided printing and reusing paper. You'll save some trees, too!
- Barter. Thought the days of trade were over? Think again. You can now exchange countless number of goods and services online on sites like Barter.net.
- Free form it. Don't waste time and resources finding writers to produce forms for your business. Search online for free forms you can download and print. Entrepreneur.com specifically has ones for small businesses.
- Buy used equipment. One person's trash is another guy's treasure, right? Sites like Capasset.com sell used computer equipment and copiers.
- Check out going-out-of-business sales. You're business isn't going to tank because you're reading this article. But other companies are bound to fail during this recession. Update your business's digs by capitalizing on the misfortune of others.
- Get creative and recycle. Refurbish old treasures with ideas from sites like Suite 101.com.
- Opt for industrial space over commercial office space. True, you won't be in the trendiest neighborhood in town, but you'll save a wad of cash each month.
- Clean up your mailing list. The U.S. Postal Service will clean up your mailing list for free, correcting addresses, noting incomplete addresses and adding ZIP+4 numbers so you'll be eligible for bar-code discounts.
- Use online coupons. Scour the Internet for coupons and promotion codes hardware, software and electronic equipment.
- Word-of-mouth marketing works. Use your associates to get referrals.
- Create an e-newsletter. It's much cheaper to market to previously acquired customers than creating new direct-marketing collateral.
- Use YouTube. YouTube is a great free way for you to get the word out on your business.
- Place an ad on local television stations. If you're not into YouTube, or want to reach additional audiences, local shows are amazingly easy venue to access. Advertising rates for local TV stations are much more negotiable than what you'd expect.
- Communicate on online forums and message boards. You’ll interact with potential clients and customers — for free.
- Start a blog. You can advertise, review your offerings and give free tips as often as you’d like without worrying about running up your budget.
- Use email. Similar to the newsletter, email marketing campaigns will let you interact with specific customers about new products that might interest them.
- Get to know your neighbor businesses. They might be up for splitting local advertising and promotion costs, such as sidewalk sales and mailing lists.
- Get your clients to advertise for you. Ask them to write a testimonial on your Web site or tell their colleagues about your products or services.
- Be a guest speaker. Speak at a community meeting or teach a business course to reach new potential customers.
- Join trade associations. You’ll get industry-specific information, advice, sales opportunities and other member benefits.
- Prune your mailing list. Direct Marketing Association offers this checklist of cost-cutting ideas. Eliminate nonresponders and marginal prospects; print "Address Correction Requested" on your mail; investigate comingling your mail with that of other small businesses to take advantage of discounts available to large mailers; and stockpile mail to build up larger volumes.
- Be an early bird. Send mail early in the day, and you can usually expect to get one- to two-day delivery for the price of a first-class stamp.
- Shop around for an overnight courier. Overnight delivery rates for the major couriers are competitive; however, if you're willing to wait a few hours — or even an extra day — you could save.
- Piggyback your advertising. Include advertising material in mailings such as invoices and sneak announcements or coupons into newsletters and other promotional fliers.
Insurance and Finances
- Re-evaluate your insurance coverage and policy costs. Ask your provider about an umbrella policy, which can be cheaper.
- Consider a four-day work week. Who's going to object to a three-day weekend?
- Bank on an early deposit. Make bank deposits early in the day so you get credit (and start earning interest) that day.
- Consider outsourcing your HR, benefits and payroll to an external provider. Handing over administrative responsibilities to another company will save you time and money.
- Order your checks from a printing company. Printing companies often charge less than banks.
- Consider raising your deductibles. Assess your risk against cash flow benefits by reviewing your insurance deductibles.
- Ask about cash management or sweep accounts. Visit Bankrate.com's Small Business account search for a comparison of corporate checking accounts.
- Take a stand on property taxes. If your business is new in the neighborhood, you may be at a higher tax rate than those who have been there longer. "Go to city hall to determine what your neighbors are paying, and use this to negotiate a better rate," advised Pete Collins of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. "Expanding businesses can often negotiate with community authorities, who want them to stay in town rather than move and take jobs elsewhere."
- Check up on your medical insurance. Before choosing a medical insurance carrier, ask for information on past claims and the loss ratio of paid claims to premiums.
- Consider a PEO (Professional Employer Organization). PEOs take over the administrative and legal responsibilities of managing your employees, effectively becoming "employers of record." This translates into lower HR costs, better benefits packages and reduced legal liability for your company.
- Try to bargin. The professionals with whom you work regularly are often amenable to bargaining, thanks to the rapport you've developed with them. Ask your insurance agent, accountant or attorney how you can cut back on their costs. You'd be surprised at their suggestions on ways to cut your premiums, reduce billable hours or avoid huge retainers. You might also barter your services as a substitute for payment.
- Time your payments. Ask suppliers if they give discounts for early payment. If not, it's to your advantage to pay your bills — including utilities, taxes and suppliers — as late as possible without incurring a fee.
- Seek at least three bids on everything. Even mundane purchases merit shopping around. If you quote a competitor's lower price, a supplier or vendor will often match that price to win your business.
- Commission your sales force. Overhead, salaries, incentives, training costs, fringe benefits and expenses add up when you're hiring your own sales representatives. Contracting independent manufacturers' sales reps, paid on commission only, is less expensive and often equally effective.
- Form a buying alliance. Join with another business or a trade association for bulk purchasing discounts.
- Don't overlook crucial tax deductions. In addition to being able to deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage interest and utilities as business expenses, you can also deduct a percentage of various home-maintenance expenses, along with a portion of the cost of services such as house cleaning and lawn care. Check out the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)'s Web site, or check with a knowledgeable tax adviser for more information.
- Save by association. When looking for insurance, check with your trade association. Many associations offer competitive group insurance.
- Temp it out. Rather than paying for employees who sit idle when business is slow, consider hiring temporary employees to handle surges in activity.
- Get the best business credit-card deal. Whether it's cash back or travel rewards, the right business credit card can yield big dividends.
- Shop for discounted fares online. Scour popular travel Internet sites for specials on major air carriers. Don't forget about regional and budget airlines, however
- Get your rental car through a discount broker. Companies like Rent-A-Wreck of America offer reduced rates as compared to mainstream rental-car businesses.
- Sharing is saving. Employees should share hotel rooms and rental cars as much as possible when traveling together.
- Go dutch. On the executive end of the spectrum, many private jet legs are empty or can be split with other business travelers.
- Don't eat where you sleep. Hotel restaurants are usually more expensive than other nearby options.
Think Outside the Box
- Get an "executive suite." You don't have to run your office full-time from an executive suite to benefit from its services. Many home-based entrepreneurs find executive suites meet a range of needs, including access to a private mailbox and a receptionist to answer or forward calls to your home office.
- Don't scrimp on disaster-recovery planning. It's cheaper to bend than break.
This is just a start, but these tips will definitely help your business make ends meet during the economic crunch. What steps are you taking to cut costs and save money in your small business? Leave your tips in the comments box below.