With a challenging economy, tight credit for small-business projects and some clients who are cautious about spending money on travel, many home-based agencies are tightening their belts. Here are 12 top tips for slashing home-business expenses. Evaluating phone service is a good way to cut down on business expenses
• Corral Your Team: If you have employees working in your home or if you have affiliates working for you in their homes, form a team to identify cost- cutting ideas, suggests Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners (www.cruiseplanners.com), Coral Springs, FL. "Hey, let's face it...if you can save your company a few bucks, it might save your job," says Fee. "It's a time when your team has to become 'a team.'" If you're a solo employee, ask your family, trusted (non-competing) business colleagues or friends to be your team and think of creative ideas.
• Check the Thermostat: Adjust the temperature on your air conditioning/heating system up one or two degrees in summer, and down one or two degrees in winter. According to Southern California Edison, if you typically set your air- conditioning system at 72 degrees, for every degree you hike that temperature, you'll save 3 percent on the cooling portion of your electric bill.
• Save Gasoline: Combine business car trips around town to save gasoline. If you need to make a trip to the printer's office, visit the bank, or drop off client documents, arrange your schedule to drive out once per day, not more. And ask yourself if you can complete the same task online or over the phone.
• Use Cheap or Free Marketing Tools: "One of the best ways to cut expenses is to utilize cost-effective marketing tools," says Andi McClure-Mysza, president of Montrose Travel's hosting division, MTravel (www.montrosetravel.com and www.mtravel.com), Montrose, CA.
Investigate host-provided e-mail marketing programs and customizable supplier marketing tools, often at little or no cost. "The name of the game is to remain top-of-mind with your customers, but it doesn't have to be expensive," stresses McClure-Mysza. "If you're spending too much on marketing, you should reevaluate your efforts and align yourself with a host offering the tools you need." She also says many hosts offer reduced-rate, professionally designed direct-mail programs via their consortium.
• Co-Market: Consider co-marketing with appropriate, non-competitive businesses. Partner with a local day spa or restaurant to split the printing and mailing costs of a direct-mail piece. Keep promoting, but slash your costs in half.
• Review P&L Statements: "Check every line on your profit-and-loss statement," says Fee. "It could be that you're spending too much money on outlays like office supplies or staff lunches." Do you need 10 boxes of felt-tipped pens or just two or three? Are you buying brand-name products or the more affordable store brands? Partner with other local businesses to buy in bulk for a lower unit price on necessities like paper or printer supplies.
• Cut Fees: Pay bills on time to avoid those onerous late fees. If you have an unexpected bank overdraft fee and haven't had a slew of overdrafts in the recent past, ask your bank branch manager if he or she would waive the fee this one time. Also, pay bills online whenever possible to generally avoid $8-$20 phone payment fees; if you talk to a "live" person when paying a bill by phone, ask if they'll waive the fee on a one-time basis.
• Barter for Services: Barter or trade with other local businesses for products or services. For example, secure a free limo ride to the airport in exchange for an ad on your website. Be sure to inform your accountant, though, as there are tax implications. Barter resources include www.irta.com and www.barternews.com.
• Lower Credit Card Interest: Talk with your business credit card provider about lowering your interest rate. Many banks are willing to deal. If your business is really struggling, ask whether the bank has a hardship program; you might be able to pay back an existing loan or credit card with lower payments, a lower interest rate or both. Not all financial firms will do this, but many will. Make the initiative.
• Buy Used Not New: Avoid unnecessary purchases. If you must buy a piece of office equipment or furniture, consider buying "used" not new. Check out local consignment or pawn shops. Peruse yard sales. Search the classified section of your local newspaper. And, if you have unused office equipment that's gathering dust, sell it to generate extra cash and fund new purchases.
• Evaluate Phone Services: Talk to phone companies about any benefits that may result from new or alternative plans for both cell and land lines. If you're not using your full allotment of minutes each month and overpaying, consider a lower usage plan. If you're using too many minutes and paying overages, adjust to a more robust or flat-charge plan. But evaluate carefully and ask if any changes will extend your contract. Some firms may tack on two more years for any changes.
• Evaluate Joining a Host Agency: If you're not associated with a reputable, full- service host agency, evaluate all costs that can be eliminated by joining forces rather than going solo. "Most agents find that the costs to join a host are more than offset by the ability to drop annual or fixed-cost business expenses," says McClure-Mysza.
Finally, write down every business purchase. At week's end, review your track record. Repeat on subsequent weeks. What opportunities exist for further cost cuts? If keeping expenses in check is top-of-mind, you'll likely find beneficial results to the bottom line. Following all of these steps could lead to a better business.
—Susan J. Young