Small businesses do not have the luxury of a bail out in today’s topsy-turvy economy. Instead, small business owners are forced to make cut backs, from supplies to employees to health insurance benefits to employees. You can save money by following these budget minded tips in the office.
1) Use your printer ink cartridges economically.
This is an old college trick that works like a charm. Did your black ink cartridge run out? Spending $35 on a cartridge not a possibility this month, especially for five work stations? Then print everything in a dark blue or dark red. Most printers will be smart enough to use the color cartridge to reproduce your print, and the color is still professional. Ran out of color? Then just go black and white for everything. Save ink by learning your print settings and using the “fast print” mode when printing things like directions, e-mails, internal memos, and anything that does not need to go to a client directly.
2) Have a central location for all office supplies.
Avoid duplicating office supplies and wasting money by locating all office supplies and putting it in a central location. Use everything in the closet before purchasing new items, even if that means using pastel paper to print memos.
3) Ensure job security for your best employees.
During time of severe economic stress, some business owners make the mistake of making their employees feel as if everyone is expendable. While it is good to be honest with your employees about the company’s financial situation, when employees feel insecure in their job, they will produce less, have a changed attitude toward their job, and will be on the lookout for the next opportunity that comes their way. The better employees will leave first, because their excellent qualifications and work ethic will ensure them a job, even in this struggling economy. Once the exodus of good employees begins, others may follow, leaving you with the employees that either feel that they have to stay because of various commitments or with employees that cannot gain employment elsewhere. Depending on your business, your productivity may suffer because of the weakened employee pool. Be smart, and meet with your best employees privately and ensure them that you value their work.
4) Incorporate non-monetary incentives for employees.
Cannot afford to give raises or bonuses this year, or are afraid that you are going to have to fire half of your staff? Offer non-monetary benefits, like flexible hours, telecommuting, casual Fridays, casual attire, a break room stocked with an expresso machine and donuts, a relaxed office atmosphere, sick kid day allowances for parents, an office commuting pool, a monthly drawing, etc. to keep employees happy in their job and producing for you.
5) Cut the fat.
Spend a month quietly observing your staff members. Putting friendships, prejudice, and family ties aside, watch for which employees work hard, which gossip, which work hard, which stir up trouble, which mind their own business, which may be stealing, which take excessive breaks or extended lunch breaks, attitudes, and which produce least and the most. Most supervisors only base observations based on production levels, but if you have an employee that regularly causes office strife but is a high producer, they may be causing internal problems that are costing your company thousands in wasted time because of conflict or retraining for employees that leave because of this employee. Instead, look for workers that work hard with high production, have a positive attitude, and exhibit loyalty to your company, and eliminate those that cause trouble or do not work. A quick side note, be conscious to be honest with yourself about any friendships or societal stereotypes that may be influencing your decisions, and put those in check.
6) Get your product out there.
During tough economic times, it is difficult to market products when there is little revenue, however, there are many methods of reaching potential customers through local and online sources at little business cost. Recent studies have even shown a correlation between companies that are actively involved in charity events and profits. There are also companies using the latest technology on the web to their advantage. Encourage your employees to each come up with five different ways to get the word out about the product and offer an incentive for those who implement these ideas.
7) Be loyal to your employees.
You may have earned that $150,000 bonus, but if your employees have recently seen a hike in their health insurance costs and have not had a raise in three years, pocketing your bonus may breed a host of ill will toward you and the company, which leads to lower production. Instead of pocketing your bonus, reinvest it in the company, or even better, the employees. This is not the time to flaunt the fact that you are the wealthy owner of a successful small business. Instead of purchasing that yacht you wanted or renovating your house, divide your bonus up and give it to your employees. You may not be able to do that next year, but guaranteed your business will be able to survive another year with a team of employees that know and care about you and your company.
8) Exhibit excellent customer service.
Again and again, studies have shown that excellent customer service trumps even overall cost of a product. Customer service costs your company nothing more than a few smiles and politeness. Train your employees to treat your customers with respect and honesty. Depending on your community, you may have to emphasize the importance of age disparity, economic class, gender sensitivity, or diversity. This is important whether you are the local dentist or doctor, the grocer, or run a construction company. If a customer/client feels that they have been mistreated, especially because of gender, age, or ethnic background, guaranteed you will lose an entire segment of your customer base.
9) Keep your prices competitive, but realistic.
Large superstore retailers have eliminated hundreds of thousands of small businesses through outsourcing to foreign countries and providing cheap products to a strapped consumer. How can a small business compete? Focus on your quality, your excellent customer service, your one-on-one customer attention, going the extra mile, your use of local services and products, the importance of your business to the community’s success, and be visible, very visible, at all types of community functions. Believe it or not, there is already a very strong movement of Americans that are leading a quiet boycott against superstore centers, consciously choosing to buy local at all costs. Find where these people are in your community, and reach out to them with your services.
10) Form relationships with other local businesses.
Alone, your business may not be able to reach a broad base of customers, but if you partner up with another local business, you may be able to jointly reach a broader base of customers and offer a broader array of services. Although you would not want to join up with a competitor, multi-business corporations have already proven that some ventures (like copy shops with mailing services), can be successful. Look around at other small local business owners and arrange for a meeting of ideas that are mutually beneficial. These partnerships can be permanent (like a grocer and local pharmacy) or for one-time events (like radio stations at the local BBQ joint).