When Andrew McLeod wanted to outfit his team with MacBook Air laptop computers he skipped the Apple website and went right to the online store offered by the loyalty rewards program Aeroplan.
"Instead of using our Apple discount it was a lot cheaper to buy refurbished MacBook Airs through the Aeroplan site," says the executive director of global strategy for RentMoola Payment Solutions Inc., a Vancouver-based startup offering a platform for paying rent and condo fees using credit cards.
"I bought 10 laptops, spent around $10,000 and got 50,000 points," says Mr. McLeod, who used his Aeroplan-branded credit card to make the purchase.
To Mr. McLeod, loyalty programs make perfect economic sense, especially at RentMoola, which provides a way for consumers to earn rewards points when they pay their rent.
"As a business you need to manage your cash flow, and credit cards and charge cards are a good way to do so," he says.
And with many loyalty programs following the one-point-per-dollar-spent model, bootstrapped businesses can capitalize on that return. For RentMoola, that means deep discounts on technology and free flights – a boon for a company with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, London and New York.
"If you spend even $1-million – which for most businesses isn't that outrageous – you're getting $10,000 in value back for doing what you usually do," he says. "That's $10,000 that can be used toward the business."
The loyalty retail and reward sphere abounds with programs that pay dividends. Some even have offshoots devoted to small businesses, says Jeff Berry, research director at Colloquy, an organization that collects data on loyalty programs.
The programs recognize that the needs of small businesses are different from those of consumers, Mr. Berry says. He points to the newly relaunched Air Miles for Business program. "The focus now is really on providing the same sort of reward benefits that you would get as a consumer [such as flights] but at the same time earning on things like office supplies from somewhere like Staples."
The Air Miles program appeals to business owners by offering exclusive rewards, invitations to networking events and curated content of interest to entrepreneurs. "You also get an opportunity to win free consulting from experts in the space," he adds.
The retail chain Costco, although it falls outside of the traditional loyalty sphere, can help small businesses shave their spending, especially if they're a nuts-and-bolts operation such as a café.
"If you join their executive membership club then you get 2 per cent back on all of your purchases," Mr. Berry says. "If you're constantly shopping there it certainly has its benefits."
Telecommunications companies Bell, Rogers and Telus also offer small-business-focused bundles and programs. If you buy all of your telephony services from Bell, the company provides auxiliary benefits such as accounting software and other services outside their core offerings, he says.
The problem is that entrepreneurs tend to overlook these programs – they often sign up for the consumer-focused versions instead, Mr. Berry says. "You've got to make sure you actually put your hand up to say you're a small business owner," he says.
Another strategy is to consolidate spending under one or two loyalty programs. Don't split your purchases among multiple programs or your benefits will be lower, Mr. Berry cautions.
Kat Bouchard, co-owner of CROP Hair Boutique in Red Deer, Alta., pays all the salon's bills using one credit card. The collected points are used to send employees and herself to New York for training sessions run by Bumble and Bumble, one of the boutique's suppliers.
"Without the points there's no way we could afford to do it," Ms. Bouchard says. "It's been vital to growing our business."
It also builds loyalty among employees. "To go to New York City when you're from Red Deer, Alberta, that's a really big thing," she says. "It's been really exciting for everybody."
RentMoola uses a similar strategy, rewarding its employees by leveraging points earned from past flights and paying bills or rent with the company credit card.
"There may be someone in your organization who doesn't like to fly but would rather have a brand new Xbox – you can use your points to get them [one]," Mr. McLeod says. "There's a whole bunch of different things that these points programs allow you to buy which can be great incentives for staff."
Some businesses are so into earning rewards that they will buy only from suppliers who let them use credit cards.
"Most suppliers realize that they have to accept credit cards because cheques are disappearing," Mr. McLeod says. "They can rely on credit cards, they get paid faster and credit cards offer guaranteed funds – and I get my points."