61 Ways to Save Money in a Small Business
Saving money in a business is often a chief concern of small business owners. Maybe cash is tight and you’re looking to extend your runway. Maybe things are fine and you’re just looking for creative ways to tighten up your operation. In any case, here is our fantastic list of ways to save money in business.
- Negotiate With Everyone
When it comes to business transactions, no price is set in stone. You should always be keeping track of various prices for the supplies and services your business pays for. Know what your neighbors are paying. You can use this knowledge to negotiate prices on everything from insurance to property tax. Always shop around for suppliers and contractors, and always negotiate on the goods and services you receive.
- Grow your business incrementally
If you’re low on cash, it’s okay to scale back a little and recharge in a place of safety before making aggressive investments. Grow when you can, and don’t overextend your business when you don’t have the capital.
- DIY When You Can . . . And Don’t When You Can’t
Know when you should and shouldn’t “do it yourself”. You can learn just about anything from the internet— everything from online advertising to HR management. Doing it yourself can be a valuable way to save company money during one-off projects. However, if there’s going to be something recurring, or very complex, consider hiring a contractor or freelancer. It frees up your more valuable time for other cost-saving activities and gives the project the individual attention it deserves.
Payroll and HR Savings
- Go Virtual
Allowing your employees to work remotely can boost morale and translate to office savings for your small business. At the very least it’s helpful to allow people to skype into meetings when they wouldn’t have needed to come in otherwise.
- Remember – Experience Is as Good as a Paycheck
Rather than looking for new hires who are experienced and set in their ways by other companies, look for inexperienced recruits who are hungry to learn. New college grads will often trade a high pay offer for a job that gives them the experience they’re looking for. Training them yourself will result in a higher-performing worker who is better suited to your workplace culture, all without paying a higher salary premium for experience.
- Perks > Benefits
Studies show that great workplace perks can be as valuable to employees as more expensive benefits. This doesn’t mean you can just buy a ping pong table and call it good— make them personal. What do your employees value? What do they do in their free time? Cater to that and make them feel loved.
- Review Your Healthcare Plan and Consider Reasonable Changes
Reviewing your healthcare plans can often reveal ways to reduce expenses. Just be sure you aren’t ripping your employees off or you’ll have an entirely different set of problems.
- Use Social Media as a Hiring Tool
Posting job offers to social media can be incredibly effective— among your followers are people who love your product. Who makes a better employee than someone who is converted to the brand? Beyond this, social media is free. You can’t beat free.
- Don’t Overstaff
Is your business seasonally busy? Do you have hours of the day when 5-10 of your employees are idle? For busy seasons, find temps who can take part of the load but won’t become a burden in the off-season. If you have slow hours, consider structuring shift times so you aren’t paying for employees who aren’t being used.
- Examine Salesforce Commissions
If you have a sales force but are in hard times, take a good look at their pay structure. By shifting to a lower base wage, (but offering higher commissions) you can both make your best workers happy and save your business money from inefficient wages.
Employee Productivity and Morale
- Lean up your meetings
We’ve all been there— in a company meeting, listening to four other people work on something completely unrelated to us. It’s frankly a waste of time. Elon Musk encourages his employees to get up and leave if a meeting is not serving them. Make sure your meetings are valuable— or simply cut them to save time and money.
- Consider Going ROWE
A Results Only Work Environment is a pretty extreme, but very effective, way to structure a small business. The concept is to stop evaluating employees on how much time they put in, or even how hard they work, in favor of evaluating purely based on results. Did one employee bring complete her work in 20 hours while another took 40? Compensate them the same. It typically only works in businesses where results can be clearly measured, but it certainly promotes efficiency, time management, and employee morale.
- Reward Profit Drivers, Let Go of Dead Weight
You know who your best employees are. Incentivize them to stay, as this investment will pay off in the future. The same goes for your favorite contractors and freelancers. The employees who are simply there sucking money out of payroll? Work with them and train them, but in the end, if they are going to remain parasitic you need to be okay firing them. Just be careful to not create an environment of fear among your better employees.
- Simple Ways to Make Culture Great
Company culture is not an air-hockey table. Company culture is about people making connections and feeling safe to “have fun” at work. Do this cost-effectively by instituting little traditions, like anonymous hand-written compliments on post-it notes that float around the office. Making it fun doesn’t require shelling out cash.
Budget, Accounting, and Finance
- Leverage Tax Deductions
This one comes back to being positive even your smallest expenses are tracked. Knowing how much you spend where not only allows you to make savvy decisions on what to cut and what to keep, it helps when the taxman comes around. This is especially important for at-home businesses. Have you considered that your lawn care might be a business expense?
- Make Your Paystubs Top-Notch
Many small business owners don’t even give official pay-stubs to their employees. It’s technically not required by law, so it’s an easy oversight for small and medium businesses. When your employees apply for an apartment and ask you for a paystub, it’s easy to make a few with our fantastic pay stub builder. Simple, easy to use, and compliant with tax laws. Not to mention immediate delivery.
- Take Off the Blindfold— Budget, Track, Review
Many small business owners are lax in what expenses they track, simply because it seems like a lot of work. This is a terrible idea. Making money decisions in business without financial awareness is like navigating a minefield with a blindfold on.
Take off the blindfold by:
- Establishing a realistic budget
- Tracking your expenses (all of them)
- Reviewing periodically and adjusting as needed.
Even the smallest petty cash expenses can make an ENORMOUS difference over time. You may think that getting lunch on company dime isn’t an expense worth tracking, but a $15 meal 3 times a week is well over $2000 by the end of the year. Combine this and all your other “small” expenses, and you won’t only hurt when tax season comes around, you won’t be able to diagnose problems with your business.
Some small business owners become confused as to what metrics to track— there are so many different ways to slice and dice your company’s financial health. Make sure that you are at least tracking the items necessary to determine your net profit margin. That’s the key to knowing when your expenses are outweighing your revenue. Taking the extra time to track all expenses will save money for your business in the long run.
- Say Goodbye to Bad Customers
Literally, say goodbye to them. Too many small business owners cling to each and every client, not realizing that there is value being lost to their cheapest, most abusive and hard-to-work-with clients. These contracts need to be renegotiated for more pay or more reasonable work. Client won’t have it? Let them go entirely, and use your newfound time to get a better contract.
- REALLY Shop Around for Your Bank
Your bank is one of the most valuable— and long term— partners you have. It’s worth taking the time to investigate different ones. Compare interest rates on savings, fees on accounts, and international accessibility if you need it. For most small businesses that are working in one area, credit unions offer the best interest rates and lowest fees. However, if you plan on scaling to many different areas it may not be the best option.
- Best Friend, Worst Enemy— Credit Cards
Like banks, credit cards can be your longest-term partners. They can consistently reward you— or consistently hurt you. Take the time to find the best card for your business.
- Location, Location, Location
Do you know what your neighboring state’s property taxes are like? What about typical commercial rent rates in the city over? What if by moving to a state with a lower minimum wage you could save your company 20% of your payroll expense? These questions are important to understand. Don’t be tied down to one area simply because that’s where you already are. If it will save your business significant money in the long run, it may be worth a total relocation.
- Work to better understand your customer
Many businesses don’t understand the cost of not really knowing who their consumers are. When you know what your target audience’s habits are, where they spend their time, what problems they have, and what they think of you, all of your marketing becomes more effective. Find an online buyer persona tool, and make a quick and dirty buyer persona. You can always refine it as you learn more.
- Think Laterally
It’s easy to think of marketing as a set of actions you just dump more or less money into to generate leads. Need more customers? “Buy more [billboards][Facebook ads][mailers]” is not a cost-saving way to think. Instead, check out examples of guerilla marketing. Think about adding a bit of class with handwritten thank you cards. Find ways to connect and impress people without just pumping up the ad spend.
- Leverage Social Media
Social media is a wonderful thing. If you really know who your customers are, it will be clear what kind of content they want to see. Even if it’s only tangentially related to what you sell, just delight your followers. Thoughtful quotes, inspirational stories, amazing photos— gain their trust through honest connection and you’ll be amazed at the cost-effective lead generator social media can be.
- Your Best Customers are your Best friends
You’ll find that many of your loving customers will also become your best (and lowest paid) salespeople. Find ways to make it easy for customers to evangelize- shareable posts and personal shoutouts on social media will go a long way towards letting customers become evangelists. If you receive a raving five-star review, don’t hesitate to reach out to that person with a perk or a gift- they’ll be telling their friends about it for weeks to come.
- Structure a Referral Program
For the rest of your less-vocal customers, a simple referral program can go a long way to incentivizing them to onboard their friends. Something as simple as 15% off for them and a newly invited friend can move the needle in word-of-mouth selling.
- Scrub your Physical (and Digital) Mailing Lists
Physical mail can make up a significant portion of some company’s advertising costs. If your list hasn’t been trimmed for a while, go run your addresses through CASS certified software that will verify that addresses and names are up to date. At the very least, you should hop onto the USPS’s free zip code tool. It will both correct mistakes as well as make barcoding (and the associated discounts) available for your bulk mailing.
Digital email lists can become a mess over-time as well. If you are paying a bulk emailing service based on the number of contacts in your database, it can save your business money to be sure your contacts are only people you really want to be talking to. Take the time to cut back archivers-only and wrong addresses, and replace them with digits in your bank account.
- Become Your Own Content Marketer (and a Thought Leader Along the Way)
Doing your own content marketing can be a terrifying task, but if you are stretched for cash it is a responsibility that can be effectively done by a small business’s leader. Just make sure to do all the planning in advance and it becomes a much more manageable task. Plan out 6 months’ worth of blog posts/infographics, and then you only have to do a couple of pieces a month.
- Seek Speaking Gigs Industry Conferences
Sponsoring events isn’t the only way to get your thought-leadership on stage. Many lower-level industry events are actively looking for speakers and industry professionals to lead breakout sessions of their conference. This is a great (and usually free) way to connect with a lot of people at once in a very personal way.
- Create marketing partnerships
You’d be amazed at how many companies you work with feel the same lack in marketing that you do. Network with industry connections, and offer to “scratch their back if they’ll scratch yours”. Really follow up on this and send a couple leads their way, and you’ll quickly see them returning in kind.
- Become a passive evangelist
Attach your company information to everything you do. Put it on your email signature line, in your voicemail, and (obviously) on business cards. If you are active in any social media groups, make sure the other members of your group know what you do.
If you want to be a bit more proactive, go on sites like Reddit and Quora and offer your expertise when users have questions. Just make it so other users know what you do while you do it.
- Update your Technology
Still on a landline? Worse yet, do you still have a dedicated fax machine? There are web-based services for both phone calls and faxing that are often cheaper than staying in the old ways.
- Find Open Source and Free Software
Between freemium models and open-source software, there are plenty of low-cost or discounted business software options. Doing a quick search for “open source [insert software type here] will yield solid results, especially if you are a small business with needs that are still scaling.
- Cloud Server Options
Do you have an on-site server, and accompanying configuration and maintenance expenses? Move your storage to the cloud and you’ll almost definitely see business savings.
- Designing Your Own Website Is Easier (And Cheaper) Than You Think
There are many easy to use graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that make web design something you can do in-house without hiring an expensive web development team. Don’t have an eye for design? Contact a nearby university and see if they have a student who would do a good job on a simple website. Hiring them for the one-off job will still be cheaper than using a full-fledged web development team.
Save Green on Overhead—Go Green on the Environment
- Make a “Green Game Plan”
You can definitely save your company money while also saving the environment. Just sit down and make a “green game plan”, deciding where you will and won’t invest in long-term energy savings. The following are a few specific ideas you might take for your plan.
- Smart Thermostats
Don’t need heat all the time? Don’t pay for it all the time! It’s one of the single largest steps you can make to lowering your utility bill and your carbon footprint. Smart thermostats can seem pricey until you find that residential savings with a smart thermostat can be above $180. Scale that up to an office and you quickly see the value.
- Solar May Be a Better Option Than You Thought
Solar systems are definitely an investment, but if your roof has appropriate sun access, your business could save money compared to simply paying the electricity company. Additionally, once your solar system is paid off, all your generated energy is free. Add to that the tax subsidies that are offered by the federal government for solar users, and it becomes an option worth looking into.
- It’s 2020. Go Paperless.
Just imagine- clean desks, nearly empty wastebaskets, and fewer filing cabinets. Going paperless is not as difficult as it may seem in this day and age. With the clever implementation of Microsoft Office or Google Drive, it’s easy to get your teams off paper forms and onto the cloud. You can save your business all the money of buying paper and printing out forms, not to mention the time spent looking for that document you “had just one second ago”.
- Save Passively.
There are plenty of low-tech ways to improve your office’s imprint on the environment. Think of installing double-paned windows, or drawing blinds that block sunlight entirely in the hot late afternoons. Just by properly sealing your doors you’ll cut down on unnecessary utility expense, saving money in your business.
- Garlic Won’t Save You From Vampire Power
Many appliances- computers included- draw power even when “off”. It’s called vampire energy, and it sucks. The best way to avoid it without going around unplugging the whole office each night? Connect your whole office to easily accessible power strips and switch those off at night. You could also connect everything to smart outlets that can be controlled from your smartphone- just be sure not to turn off a computer when someone doesn’t have their work saved!
- Use Recycled Printer Cartridges
Many printing companies have special savings to offer businesses willing to use recycled printer cartridges. Contact your provider and ask if they have a recycling program. If they don’t? Use it to leverage them into a discount to keep your business.
- Motion Sensor Lights
First, choose LED lights or something similarly energy-efficient. Then, make it even better by connecting them to a motion sensor. Not only will you pay less for energy when the last person out forgets to turn off the light, but your lights will last longer, saving your business money in lighting expenses.
- Find Vendors Who Are Similarly Green
By going green, your business saves money that translates down to its bottom line. In the same way that this can pass to your consumers, making sure your suppliers are green can translate into savings on your supplies and services.
More Ways to Save Company Money on Overhead
- Find an Electric Plan That Matches Your Usage
Does your business use energy day and night at roughly the same rate? Maybe you start your peak usage in the early morning? Many electricity providers offer rates that vary by overall energy demand— if you use energy during off-peak hours you can save company money and get your energy at a fraction of the typical cost.
- Buy used office equipment and furniture.
Furniture is easy. As long as someone has a little taste for decorating, send them to a community buy and sell site, or even to the local Savers to find discounted furnishings. Equipment can get a little trickier depending on what industry you’re in, but asking around will direct you to either hubs or individuals who have what you’re looking for, secondhand. Do a thorough quality inspection on anything bought used— you won’t be saving your business money if you have to repair or buy new in six months.
- Find OEM Products
Instead of buying used, you can save money on business equipment by finding original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products. These companies are manufacturers that typically sell to other businesses wholesale, but by hopping on AliExpress or a similar site you can find individual items at hugely discounted prices.
- Negotiate With Your Landlord
Landlords don’t want to go to the hassle of finding new tenants and losing money while offices remain empty. You can approach your landlord, especially around renewal periods, and request lower rent rates or even favors on utilities, deposits, or other fees. Always ask to have standard fees waved, especially if you’ve been a great business tenant.
- Get More out of Less Office Space
There are plenty of ways to make use of the office space that you have. By going paperless, for example, you can untether your employees from specific desks. When they come into work it can be a “free-floating” atmosphere, without assigned seats. This works great for businesses that rarely have their whole workforce at the office at one time. Why have 70 available desks when you only ever have 30 employees working? Combine ideas like this with other seating arrangement ideas and you can make a little office space worth a lot of business savings.
- Coworking Office Options
If push comes to shove and you need to downsize, you can often find a shared office or coworking office. Sharing rent between two small businesses can often translate into powerful savings for both companies. There are also structured coworking office providers who only make you pay for the number of desks you use- leave utilities, maintenance, and property taxes up to them.
- Sublet Unused Space
If you have a little too much space in your office or find that by implementing some efficiency tactics you can create enough space to be useful to someone else, don’t hesitate to look for someone to sublet to! It can be a great way to get your rent expense lowered without interrupting your flow deeply. Just be sure that whoever you sublet to is a good fit for an office-roommate.
- Turn a VERY Critical Eye to Monthly Subscriptions
There’s been a remarkable surge in subscription-based services lately— while valuable, they often cost more than they’re worth. Find them, and ask “Is this service totally necessary? Is it saving company money somehow? What could I do instead of paying this monthly?” Cut mercilessly on anything unnecessary.
- Garage Sale! Clean up and Throw Out
Go through your office, and find unused items. Yes, even that closet where everything accumulates over the years. Especially that closet. Throw out anything useless, and hold a digital garage sale on Craigslist for everything of value.
Playing Well With Others
- Barter, Swap, and Haggle
When you’re low on cash, there aren’t many better ways of negotiating contracts with vendors and suppliers than offering an exchange of goods and services. This can keep costs low while also expanding your network and portfolio.
- Outsource the Right Kinds of Work
Outsourcing administrative work, customer service, or menial data entry tasks can be a surefire way to save money your business would have had to put into paying an existing employee (also taking away time from their other responsibilities. If you have one-off jobs, freelancers are a fantastic, low-cost option to complete projects. Consider your employee’s pay rates when you assign them tasks. Is it worth 7 hours of your assistant’s $14 per hour time to complete a project? Phrasing it this way helps put the real cost of jobs in perspective.
- Band Together! Join a Trade Association
Trade associations can have massive perks to small businesses. Large businesses like Walmart use their bulk needs to get discounts from suppliers and resources at lower costs. Small businesses can get these types of discounts by banding into a trade association, making purchases in greater bulk. Everything from office supplies to insurance can be discounted through a trade association.
- Stay Informed to Negotiate Discounts With Suppliers
Keep an eye on what other suppliers are offering for the things you buy. Often you can use this information to negotiate discounts with your current supplier— and if they won’t budge on prices, it frees you to leave and get your supplies from a better vendor.
- Don’t Discount Coupon Sites
Coupon sites aren’t only for household items— business suppliers also post their discounts there. It’s worth investigating to see if you can save money in your business by investigating these sites.
- Buy in bulk . . . Or Don’t
Buying in bulk is clearly a good idea, except when it’s not. Bulk purchases have obvious advantages in lower prices per unit, but only buy them when it makes sense. If you make a bulk purchase that you don’t use before throwing out the excess, you probably should have just purchased a smaller quantity.
- Ship Early in the Day for Free Expedited Shipping
If you can make it to the post office early, you can often get your package in with the first shipment of the day, often getting you 2-day shipping at no extra cost.
- Shop around for an overnight courier
In shipping, as with everything else, take the time to compare couriers. The extra time investment will pay off as your business ships it’s cargo over time.