Since we've seen the markets go crazy for weeks, it's due time to take a closer look at how we can shave to save. Every little bit helps, especially in a small business, so I've compiled a list of places where companies can cut without feeling too much pain. No one knows how long it's going to be down, but it's a great time to take stock of areas where you can cut back so you're maximizing profit even if your business isn't feeling the pinch.
Credit Card Processing Fees. Banks are hurting, but it doesn't mean that you have to bear the brunt of it. Call your bank and see if it's possible to lower the percentages you have to pay when someone uses a credit card to buy your product. A fee reduction of only a percentage point or two can save your business thousands of dollars. When you're comparing bank rates, in addition to the fees, make sure you're looking at all the costs involved -- from the processing equipment and lag time for processing, to the extras built into the relationship that may off-set the hard cost. Extras such as bundling transaction fees in a monthly bill versus charging for each individually, or processing gift certificates as part of the deal, can save you money over the long run as well.
Paper Costs. With the exception of a few business types, it's becoming rare that you should actually have to print a document. You can read e-mail, you can read a document attached to an e-mail, and it's even quicker than printing on paper. So here's an idea: every time you go to print something so you can snail mail it, or read it on paper, ask yourself "Can I send this in an e-mail? Can I read this on my computer screen?" I bet you'll find that most of the time you can avoid the printer.
Another idea for reducing paper usage is to keep your documents online. Google Docs are free and you can invite people to share your documents and make changes to them. In addition to reducing paper, it reduces confusion because it offers version control and other management perks. I know an events manager at a local restaurant who was keeping event dates on a paper calendar until he was introduced to Google Calendar. Now he's keeping everything online. Added bonuses? He can access the calendar from wherever there's an internet connection, and even better, the owners can access the calendar without having to contact him.
And clearly I'm going to tell you to stop printing out and snail-mailing your newsletter. Sending a hard copy is not only environmentally unfriendly, but it's probably about 10 times the cost of sending an e-mail newsletter. Now is the time to convert your subscriber list into digital format. The upfront investment of getting all your content and contacts online pays for itself pretty quickly, because it's so much less expensive and more time-efficient to e-mail. Take a free test drive of VerticalResponse to do it, if you don't already.
Last, but not least -- stop faxing. Get rid of the fax machine! There are a ton of free services you can use as well as services that offer low monthly fees.
Travel. There are a lot of businesses that demand face-to-face meetings to close the sale, and if that's the case for you, then you probably can't cut down drastically. When times are tight, though, there are many ways to have meetings on the phone, even if you need to present. Check out InterCall and GoToMeeting for web conferencing, and Glance to share your desktop.
Also, have you looked at your frequent flier statement recently? Now is the time to pay for travel with rewards if it is an important part of how you do business. If you can sync some of your business spending with earning higher rewards, do it.
Supplies. Take a look at the monthly supplies you purchase for your office, warehouse, or other physical locations. Can you save money buying cheaper paper plates? Can you make a one-time purchase of real silverware for the lunch room instead of buying plastic utensils? Do you really need name-brand paper towels? Are there coupons you can use from the Sunday paper? It might not seem like a lot but it all adds up.
Phones. Do all of your employees need a phone? Of course you'll need them, especially if you have sales or marketing folks who have to speak to customers or order inventory. But, if you've got a group of employees that don't need their own, try setting up a phone for them to share. Also look at Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP allows users to access regular telephone networks anywhere through an internet service provider, which can help cut down on long distance charges. For a listing of providers go here.
Shipping Costs. If you ship a lot of your products, why not put a call into your shipper to see how you can reduce some of those costs. I also found this blog post from the Shipping Coach with tons of advice on reducing shipping costs.
Little by little it all adds up, so make sure you keep a close eye on everything you're spending money on!