Of all the challenges small businesses face, holding the line on costs while trying to expand or with a slow economy may be one of the toughest. When sales slow or expansion eats into your profits, don't panic – consider these 10 easy ways to cut costs instead.
1. Get free press
Can you recommend the latest fashions that are affordable on any budget? Explain how to keep mice out of the kitchen and spiders out of the basement? Pitch ideas to your local media and offer yourself as the expert. The free press can help trim your advertising costs and boost your business' visibility in the community. Win-win.
2. Be flexible
Real estate can be expensive for any small business – up to $100,000 for a 10-year lease. Instead, consider setting up shop in a temporary space that doesn't require a long lease and allows you to move if business isn't good in that location. Another option is kiosks, external site, opens in a new window, which can cost from $2,000 to $10,000 and often allow license agreements to be renewed month-to-month. Or, consider sharing office space with other small businesses and pooling resources.
3. Buy refurbished or used equipment
You can save thousands of dollars on pre-owned laptops that often come with warranties. If your heart is set on new equipment, external site, opens in a new window, consider your timing: Black Friday is the best time to score a deal on a new computer, but there are also deals between July and September. Meanwhile, check Craigslist and eBay for deeply discounted secondhand desks, file cabinets, office chairs and other equipment.
4. Look for free software
Before spending hundreds of dollars on new software, check out Download.com, which offers free downloads of antivirus software, among other things. Many developers are moving to the free LibreOffice, external site, opens in a new window, which PCWorld called "the spiritual successor to OpenOffice." And don't forget to check out your computer manufacturer's website – many will offer a variety free software.
5. Call the interns
Students are often willing to be paid reduced wages for an internship that looks good on a resume or may be required before they graduate. But don't get hung up on only using college students; many high schools have career centers and can offer interns for various jobs.
6. Hire virtual workers
Nearly every kind of professional can be hired through online sites to perform tasks such as writing, customer service and accounting. Oftentimes, an online personal assistant is cheaper than hiring a secretary to sit in your office. You can hire them for just one job or during your busy season.
7. Be more diligent about expenses
It's easy to forget about the miles you drove to pick up a piece of office equipment or meet with a potential client, but those are the small things that can pay off at tax time. Track all of your costs, even if that means keeping a notebook on you at all times or using an app like Expensify to record your expenses.
8. Join an association
Industry associations don't just provide valuable contacts and advice, they often can get you discounts on everything from car rentals to phone service. Do some research to see if the cost savings outweigh the cost of association fees.
9. Ask for discounts or learn to barter
If you're a loyal customer, ask for a discount. Many companies now have a rewards program for business customers or are willing to cut costs to keep your patronage. Other small companies may be open to exchanging services or products with you at little to no cost. Remember: You won't know unless you ask.
10. Search for online options
Small businesses can cut costs simply by taking advantage of services offered online. For example, send invoices via email instead of paying for postage, use free online forms for invoices, and turn to pdf downloads instead of mailing catalogs or brochures. You can also find helpful research and advice online without paying an outside consultant – the U.S. Small Business Administration is a great place to start. The SBA offers insight on everything from how to do market research to disaster planning.
Freelance writer specializing in workplace issues. She is the author of two career advice books and has been quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour and BusinessWeek.