Business owners are always trying to save money. But these days, even small savings can make a big difference to the bottom line. What's more, there are an increasing number of innovative ways to make a budget go further -- if you know how.
If you're seeking new ways to do more with less, consider the following tactics other small-business owners have adopted to stretch a dollar.
How I Saved $6,000 Per Year on Servers
Money saver: Cloud servers
We saved about $500 per month by switching our servers to a cloud-based system. Since selling textbooks is largely a seasonal business, our demand spikes at a few different times of the year. We use Amazon's system and, like others, you only pay for the server space you need. When demand goes up, it scales to what you need, then it adjusts when demand slows. Absorbing all of that unnecessary bandwidth at times we don't need it would cost us an average of an extra $500 per month. The only issue was when Amazon crashed for a couple of big sites, but that was fixed pretty quickly, and there's no guarantee that in-house servers won't go down. But we haven't had any issues personally with moving to a cloud-based system. It's been a good choice for us. -- Jonathan Simkin, founder and CEO of online textbooks seller SwoopThat.com, San Diego
How I Saved $86,000 Per Year on Inventory Tracking
Expense: Tracking Inventory
Money-saver: Automated barcodes
As an environmental remediation rental company, we have more than 150 specialized assets--water-level indicators, water-interface probes and gas-detection equipment--that are leased to environmental technologists, engineers and field personnel. Tracking the items by hand--recording the five- to 12-digit serial numbers--was a monumental task with a 20 percent error rate. That meant missing or double-booked equipment and rentals we couldn't track or bill for. It took three months to implement an automated bar-code system, but our error rate fell to less than 2 percent. By automating our inventory, the time we spend tracking assets has been cut in half, saving us $50,000 a year and at least $3,000 a month in lost revenue. -- Wesley Hutchen, co-owner of Oak Environmental, Calgary, Alberta
How I Saved $5,500 Per Year on Lighting
Money-saver: Utility-subsidized retrofitting
My company is concerned about our environmental footprint, but 2009 was a tough year for Fireclay financially. While we invested every dollar we had in our product and our customers, internal upgrades were put on hold. So when I found out about the Bay Area Green Business Program, a local nonprofit that helps businesses navigate the maze of subsidies and credits for incorporating energy-saving upgrades and other green business solutions, I called them. They connected us with our utility provider, PG&E, who we were paying more than $7,000 per month. The utility surveyed our location and connected us with a lighting retrofit company. After the subsidies, the cost for retrofitting our two factories was about $2,825. Our annual savings is $5,500 per year, so the investment paid for itself in about six or seven months. Most utilities have these programs, so I'd recommend that businesses contact their energy providers to see what's available to them. -- Eric Edelson, co-owner of Fireclay Tile, a sustainable tile manufacturer in San Jose, Calif.
How I Saved $6,000 Per Year (So Far) on Customer Service
Expense: Customer service
Money savers: Online video tutorials
Our video production company works with customers through an online platform. Our production manager was spending a lot of time on the phone with clients, explaining the platform and answering questions. So earlier this year, we created an introduction video to help clients understand the platform better and address many of the questions we had answered time and time again. In the first quarter, the video saved our production manager and our editors 135 hours of work. I was floored--the whole thing was created in less than eight hours.
Since then, we've created more videos and house them on our website in a section called Pixability University, which teaches people how to make better web videos, including how to improve content, on-camera appearance and other aspects. We estimate that every hour saved is a dollar savings of about $50 in employee time. That first quarter savings was more than $6,000. If this works out and we can roll out the other videos we have planned and save 1,200 hours of work for our 11 employees, that's $60,000 per year. -- Bettina Hein, founder of video production company in Pixability, Cambridge, Mass.
How I Saved $20,000 Per Year on Employee Turnover
Expense: Employee turnover
Money-savers: Internal promotions and rewards-based pay
Since our founding in 2008, Food Tour Corporation has expanded to eight cities. We used to hire full-time managers in these cities, starting between $30,000 and $35,000 per year. Sometimes they wouldn't work out because they weren't a good fit--they didn't understand that our company tries to blend cuisine and culture in our tours. So we changed our hiring practices and now promote people who have been trained from within. They are compensated based on the amount of responsibility they take on, as well as on the event. If they do more tours and increase attendance on those tours, they earn more money. The more motivated they are and the better tours they deliver, the more money they earn. We have some managers earning more than they did before, and we've saved about $20,000 a year on salaries because people choose the level at which they want to work. -- Jeff Swedarsky, founder of Food Tour Corp., a culinary tours company in Old Town Alexandria, Va.
How I Saved $46,320 Per Year on Leasing and Printing
Expenses: Leasing and printing
Money-saver: Negotiating in a soft real-estate market and using modern technology
We took advantage of the recession to make changes that have yielded significant savings. First, because the Miami real estate market is so soft, we were able to negotiate a lease in a better building for less money. That's saved us about $3,000 per month. As part of our service to our clients, we produced slick catalogs that we have since moved almost entirely online, which saves about $8,000 per year and is better for the environment. We've also discouraged printing in our offices when possible, and when we do, the printers are set to black-and-white, double-sided. That's been about $400 per year in savings. We also switched to a water-filtration system that lowered our water charges from $200 per month to $40. All of this has let us redirect that money into growing the business, which has been critical in weathering the recession. -- Max Borges, founder of Max Borges Agency, a consumer electronics public relations agency in Miami
How I Saved $2,500 Per Year on Everyday Purchases
Expenses: Everyday purchases
Money-saver: Online coupons
I've adopted one of my consumer practices for my business and have saved a lot of money. Every time we're about to purchase anything, I do an online search for a coupon code. Sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com have codes for many of the purchases we make. I like to send flowers or wine as business gifts, and I can usually find a coupon code that will save me a percentage off. We saved more than $800 on computer monitors through a coupon code. Last year, to boost confidence in our company, we were looking at pursuing a VeriSign Authentication Services Trust Seal, which confirms that VeriSign has verified that your business is authentic and that your site is free of malware. I searched for a coupon code. I found one that reduced our cost from $299 to $1 by simply searching for "VeriSign" and "coupon code" in a search engine. Altogether, we saved about $2,500 over the past year. It's something many people do as consumers, but something I think a lot of businesses overlook. -- Sara Sutton Fell, CEO, Flexjobs, a job search service in Boulder, Colo.
How I Saved $540 Per Year on Web Hosting
Expense: Web hosting
Money-saver: Consolidating domains
We're a small software firm that develops apps for the Mac and iPhone. We're constantly looking at expenses to find new things to cut. By converting all of our dozen domains to one shared deluxe, combined plan through our domain host, we cut our annual costs from $718.56 to $83.88. We also found that we weren't using our phone lines as much as we used to, so we eliminated our 800 number and all of our landline phones. We chose to simply redirect our phone calls to our mobile phones using Google Voice, which announces the caller to us and allows us to make free outbound calls on the web and on our iPhones. That cut $119.88. Finally, we cut our online newsletter costs by breaking down our mailing lists into smaller mailing lists and using a service that offers free mailings to lists of 1,000 or fewer subscribers. Our average savings is $540 per year. -- Ashli Norton, co-founder, SimpleLeap Software, Atlanta
How I Saved $10,200 Per Year on Inventory Management
Expense: Inventory management
Money-saver: Low-cost order-fulfillment and shipping service
After I opted to shut down my warehouse and use inventory management software and off-site shipping for e-commerce fulfillment for my 23 websites, I began to save time--but it was expensive. I was paying about $900 per month for inventory management software before I found out about Shipwire Anywhere, a competitor of the inventory management software I was using. By using its free software and only paying for the cost of shipping labels, I receive orders processed through the system and am able to pack them myself. Once the items get to be big sellers, I can use Shipwire's expanded services, ship my products to its warehouses and have it handle the picking and packing. Altogether, I'm saving about $850 per month--plus I'm saving several hours a day on inventory management and administration. -- Andrew Simmons, ThoughtFish Media, Seattle
How I Saved $4,000 Per Year on Everyday Purchases
Expense: Everyday purchases
In 1994, we joined a barter organization [International Monetary System, formerly Rochester Trade Exchange] because it seemed interesting. It works. We've remodeled our restaurant facilities and purchased advertising, window cleaning and even food items through the group. Our purchases work like a credit card--we buy something, it goes through the barter service, then they debit our account and credit the other individual's account. We still have to pay sales tax, which we would pay anyway. We also get a 1099-B for anything we've purchased, but from that we can deduct the expenses of what we have provided. We do about $20,000 worth of barter per year. We save an average of about $4,000 per year in the difference between the value we receive and the cost of the items we provide. -- Bob Syracuse, co-owner, Pizza Plant Italian Pub, Williamsville, N.Y.