In these tighter-than-ever times, small business owners have had to face up to operating-on-a-shoestring realities. It’s a wakeup call to the necessity of a sink-or-swim mentality. So how can this be done without sacrificing value and credibility? You may be surprised how easy it is to tighten the belt effectively, as the following ten tips attest:
1. Combine lifestyle with business. You could call this the new green. It’s about establishing a sustainable lifestyle and business pod. When you create a home office for one or more persons, make sure there is a separate entrance so that business guests can come and go and not interfere with the activities of the household. By utilizing a fully-functional home business space, with access to kitchen facilities, accompanying costs, such as a vehicle and food, can be drastically reduced.
2. Multi-task, multi-task, multi-task. Easier said than done for many, but how a small business owner can wear many hats could very well turn out to be the difference between success and failure. So you have to sit down and go through a ‘to do’ list and make some hard, honest calls. Any task you feel qualified to take on, do it, and then find a way to fit that into your work schedule. The savings will be considerable.
3. Become a social media wizard. Yes, ideally an employee would handle this increasingly time-consuming, but necessary, part of the business. There are many duties associated with a daily impactive presence on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, et al., however with careful, precise time management, this absolutely critical aspect of small business today can be handled by you, and you alone.
4. Get with the times. Eliminate traditional and outdated office procedures – once considered standard, now an absolute recipe for disaster for the savvy small business owner. Scrap the in-person meetings – virtual is the way to go. Skype one-on-ones and conference meetings fill the bill. And don’t forget the old standby – the paperless office. Be even more diligent, all-digital is doable. That leads us to travel and commuting. Be hard-lined, avoid at all costs.
5. Give yourself a shake. Do you really need these: Business lunches, elaborate wardrobe, new vehicle, the latest technological gadgets or drinks with clients. Those that ‘get it’ in this age of accepted frugality will understand. The bottom line: A constant assessment of wants versus needs.
6. Find free help. Do your homework and seek out fits with volunteers, interns or other non-paid assistance. Figure out what would make them want to join your team. Is it to get experience in their chosen field? Exposure? Mentorship? All of these things can be of great value to both sides. You gain needed help, you can guide them and assess their capabilities. You could even end up with a trained, valued employee down the line.
7. Dare we say it: Bartering. These informal business relationships often come in handy for both sides, however the fact of the matter remains that anyone conducting business in this manner has to be aware of any legal or tax ramifications. So investigate what is possible. While Revenue Canada provides information of tax implications involving barter transactions, an accountant can usually advise on bartering scenarios that are either taxable or non-taxable. Even if only one or two scenarios fit, every little bit helps.
8. It’s not called nitpicking. Minimize unnecessary costs. Calculate the real value of things such as business phone lines, ads in the Yellow Pages or subscriptions. There are a lot of small, monthly expenditures that can be trimmed (even a little) to help with the bottom line.
9. Don’t be afraid to haggle. It may not be the norm in North America, but when you do ask if someone ‘can do better’ on a price, they often can... and they often will. Be prepared to pay with cash and you can push a little harder. This way, the vendor doesn’t have to pay credit card fees or wait for payment.
10. The clock is ticking. Closely track your most valuable resource – your time. Be careful not to waste even a minute on activities that take away from your primary aim. There are likely many more ‘good’ things to do than there are hours in the day, so carefully choose how you channel your energy. If there’s no upside for your business, it’s okay to politely say ‘no’ to those asking for your time.
Greg McMillan, partner at TheGreenHub.ca, a new media green news and information web portal, has experience over a lengthy journalism/communications career at both The Globe and Mail and Hamilton Spectator newspapers. He practises what he preaches with a project called This Really Old House Goes Green.