Business owners are always looking for ways to save money. Even small savings can make a big difference to the bottom line.
From a savings of $600 using rebate programs to $3 million by investing in equipment, we've rounded up creative tactics for doing more with less from 12 small-business owners.Or view as a single page View As Slideshow
Joe Lore, partner, LoRe Sweeping Company, Nutley, N.J.
As fuel costs began to rise over the past few years, we really began to look at how we could be sure we are being most efficient. As we learned more about GPS systems in our trucks, it seemed like a good way to be sure that drivers were being as efficient as possible and not wasting fuel. Since we've started tracking drivers, we're saving about 2 gallons per machine per shift at a bare minimum. That's 12 trucks and 24 gallons every shift and 12,480 gallons per year. The Navman Wireless GPS units we use--which initially cost us $100 each per month and are now down to $30 each per month--also tell us when drivers are running the trucks too fast or when we can avoid other wear and tear, so we're saving on truck repairs. The trucks are being run more carefully since drivers know we can track them.
We estimate our minimum total savings at around $36,000 per year.
Karen J. O'Brien, owner of mobile notary and legal assistance firm KanDo Organization
I use a variety of rebate programs to get cash back for mybusiness and my husband's tax accounting firm. I sign up for the loyalty programs at stores like Staples and Office Depot, where we earn, on average, more than $50 per quarter we can use to buy more office supplies. I buy as much as possible through cash-back groups like FatWallet.com or Ebates.com, which send rebates for certain purchases.
I've received more than $100 in Ebates.com checks this year alone. When I shop through MyPoints.com, I get credits that I can convert to gift cards for office supplies or even restaurants, which we can use as client thank-you gifts. So far, I've received more than $300 in gift cards this year. When it comes to getting more for your money, seeking out cash-back opportunities is as important as looking for good deals or coupons.
Evan Saks, Create-A-Mattress, Needham, Mass.
Mattress businesses can be capital-intensive because of the inventory and other expenses. From the beginning, I wanted to create a virtualized approach where my employees worked from home, and I used just-in-time manufacturing to prevent tying up my capital in mattresses, which could be damaged or become obsolete while sitting in a warehouse. Instead, mattresses are produced with a fast turnaround from our suppliers as we need them. I use a web-based platform to handle all of our order processing, administration, customer service management and payment processing.
Our employees work from home, so I'm not paying for large offices or much warehouse space. By using the technology and advanced inventory approaches available from many of today's suppliers, which puts my fixed costs at a few hundred dollars a month in addition to the cost of the goods we sell, the business saves on most of the overhead. A typical mattress retailer our size would have to raise $1.5 million to get started. My business started on one-tenth that amount.
Thursday Bram, founder, Hyper Modern Consulting, Savage, Md.
I've recently started teaming up with other local businesses to share resources and place bigger orders to get discounts. When I needed new business cards recently, I didn't need enough to qualify for free shipping--and shipping on printing can get expensive. So I contacted two other business owners and placed the order for all three of us to qualify for free shipping.
If I travel to networking events in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., I'll find another local businessperson going, and we'll split the cost of gas, tolls and parking, which can be as much as $12 per hour. They're small savings, but they've added up to more than $1,000 so far. Bigger businesses could team up to negotiate better rates on printing and services by bringving a significant amount of business to a particular supplier or service provider.
Ryan Cheng, founder, Joolwe.com
My small, online jewelry retailer ships purchases through couriers like FedEx and UPS. Unless you have high shipping volume, it's hard to negotiate with the shipping carrier directly, because the volume isn't significant enough. About a year ago, we were contacted by a shipping broker who offered to review our invoices and tried to renegotiate our rates. We had nothing to lose; they didn't charge anything.
They were able to lower some shipping speeds more than 20 percent. Before we negotiated, we often shipped next-day air, which cost us $45. Now, it's about $34. That's a big reduction, and it can make businesses more competitive. Overall, we've saved about $3,000 on our shipping costs.
Brian Meert, CEO, Handbago.com, Los Angeles
When we first launched our handbag website, Handbago.com, I knew I wanted to use an open-source content-management system because it would be easy to use and I could update it myself. So, we bought a Drupal.org theme [website template] at Worthapost.com for $50. There are also good, easy-to-use WordPress themes at ThemeForest.net for about $35. I registered my domain and chose the cheapest hosting plan I could find--$15 per month at GoDaddy.com, which has good technical support. I hired a designer just to tweak a few things and get the site the way I wanted.
Altogether, I spent about $1,000 for a website that would have cost me about $9,000 if I had hired someone to create it from scratch. For the first year, we worked out the kinks and tested it, then we hired a professional designer to redesign it, incorporating everything we learned as we grew. If I had spent all that money in the beginning, I would have had to spend it all over again in the redesign.
Glenn Smith, president, Micro Integration Services, Medford, N.J.
After we had trouble moving our T1 internet line from one location to another within our building, we asked our telephone company about its business internet plan. We found out we could get service that was 16 times faster for about $100 per month.
It had been costing us about $1,100 per month. Then we switched our phone service to a VoIP provider that charges us $25 per line per month. We were paying $40 more per month for each of our six landlines. We had one glitch last year when our phone service was out for a couple of hours, but I've seen that happen on regular landlines, so I wouldn't say that's extraordinary. By taking advantage of these faster technologies, we're saving nearly $15,000 per year for comparable and, in some cases, faster service.
Chris Zane, founder, Zane's Cycles, Branford, Conn.
We use business credit cards with different cash-back programs to buy almost everything for our business. Eight employees (in addition to myself) are authorized to charge purchases. Most of our vendor transactions are done on a credit card that gives us 1.5 percent back on every purchase. Another card offers 2 percent back on travel, so we use that card for all our travel purchases.
I have an AmEx card that gives us 5 percent back on supplies and our cell phone bill, and 3 percent back on gas. Employees' mobile phone bills and our gas station speed passes are automatically charged to that card. People say, "Well, it's only 1.5 percent. How much can it really add up to?" That's the equivalent of 18 percent per year, minimum, on everything we buy. The key is to use [the cards] like cash and pay them off immediately.
Ryan Ozonian, founder and CEO, Mention Mobile, Los Angeles
We're a year-and-a-half-old mobile game developer startup funded by Mark Cuban, but we received $250,000 in funding, not $10 million, so we're always looking for ways to save money. We needed programmers, but they're hard to find and expensive--especially mobile development programmers. When you use a recruiter, you have to pay a $30,000 commission on a $100,000 salary.
I learned about my alma mater's new program, Trojans Hiring Trojans, named for our mascot, where University of Southern California alumni can post job opportunities for new graduates. USC also has a new master's program for game developers that is very well-respected, so I knew we could find good people there. By working through the school's alumni office, we found two excellent programmers and saved at least $60,000 in recruiter commissions.
John Paulsen, co-founder of Lost Coffee, Castle Rock, Colo.
We'd been selling coffee out of our truck, Brewtus, since 2010, but we knew from the beginning we wanted to have a store. Then a local Borders bookstore closed, and they liquidated everything, including the coffee shop. We went for everything we could get, spending about $15,000 for probably $250,000 worth of kitchen equipment.
We bought freezers, cabinets, even a high-end espresso machine. The money we saved helped us sign leases on not one but two locations, hire staff and free up the capital to refinish floors and do some other upgrades. We opened both stores in February 2012, and three months in, we were operating in the black.
Mike Stevens, president and CEO, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Our brewery was spending more than $70,000 per month renting kegs from a third-party provider. Based on our current growth--annual barrel output has nearly doubled each of the past five years--we knew it was time to consider an investment in our own keg system. We [evaluated] how our initial capital outlay and the associated ongoing costs would compare to our projected flat-rate keg rental fees.
Our end analysis showed a 10-year savings of almost $3 million and a return on investment over the same period of approximately 38 percent. In the end, we realized significant cost savings, and we identified meaningful quality improvements via the fact that only Founders beer will enter these kegs. When an investment in your business provides significant long-term cost savings and quality improvement, everybody wins.
Pete Marte, CEO, Hannah Solar, Atlanta
In addition to the solar business, we install charging equipment for electric vehicles. So I thought it made sense for us to have one. While the price of a Nissan Leaf was a hefty $41,000, after tax incentives and depreciation the cost came to about $15,000--far less than a gas-powered vehicle.
So we bought two. With unleaded at nearly $4 per gallon, our gas-powered cars cost about 20 cents per mile. The Leafs cost roughly 2.5 cents per mile. After we take the IRS deduction of $0.555 per mile, we save 53 cents per mile driven. With each car expected to go about 18,000 miles this year, we'll be saving $9,540 per vehicle per year.