Telecommunications slamming and cramming is back, with new twists on an all-too-tiresome theme. Complaints about hijacked phone accounts (slamming) and unauthorized add-on charges (cramming) have increased in the past few months, according to FCC officials. Even entrepreneurs wise in the ways of buying telecommunications services can be fooled by the latest scams.
Marc Goldman, president of Web services consulting firm Goldbar Enterprises Inc., in Briarcliff Manor, New York, tried last February to switch his long-distance service from AT&T to a new competitor. Shortly after the competitor took over the account, it mysteriously reverted to AT&T--a case of reverse slamming.
Goldman knew federal law enables slammed phone customers to enlist the help of their local phone companies to "freeze" their long-distance provider. He got Verizon to lock in his long-distance account with the new company.
Clerical employees often unwittingly agree to telecom trial offers, says Lee Biddle, a telecom analyst with the Utility Consumers' Action Network of San Diego. When the bill arrives, accounting gets stuck sorting out the disputed charges. Biddle urges, "Make sure all employees know you won't agree to anything."
Fit and Trim
Finding relatively easy ways to trim expenses is kind of like finding loose change in your sofa cushions: You're probably sitting on more than you realize.
Entrepreneur Carrie Governor recently snipped $5,000 a month in overhead costs. Some of that was through big changes-like moving to a bigger, cheaper, better-located office. But to her surprise, Governor, president of Caregiver Services Inc., a Medford, Oregon, in-home care staffing agency, found lots of ways to snip overhead expenses. Governor saved $200 a month, for instance, by having the cleaning service come weekly instead of twice a week. "Every decision we make now, we're conscious of the cost," says Governor.
Start by examining where your overhead is getting out of control, advises John Knoff, a financial and management consultant in Chicago. Compare your annual budget for each operational category to monthly purchases to see where you're leaking cash.
Hand small, specific decisions to staff members. For instance, let support staff choose whether they'd rather splurge on pricey disposable pens or colorful sticky notes. If one type of office supply has become popular in your office, negotiate a wholesale rate for it.
Analyze your local newspaper, magazine and Yellow Pages advertising to see which ads are least effective, and eliminate those. Or run a cost-benefit thumbnail on memberships in local business associations and national trade groups. If you're too busy to attend meetings, it might not be worth it to continue to pay membership dues.
Joanne Cleaver has written for a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Executive Female.