Displaying articles for: 07-15-2012 - 07-21-2012
Costs are rising while bank lending is becoming more constrained. Small businesses are seeing a steady rise in raw material prices, energy bills, insurance costs, with costly overheads thwarting growth, according to a recent Forum for Private Business poll.
Cloud-based services are providing some respite, cutting the costs of business travel, marketing, admin, software itself, and even recruitment.
They are making it easier to develop smarter buying tactics – something small businesses tend to overlook, often using haphazard systems that can be time-consuming and costly.
The CIPS and the Buying Support Agency are long-time advocates of purchasing strategies. The UK government has also stepped in, launching the Better Buying Together Challenge to support the development of digital purchasing groups for small businesses.
- Shop around: Make it Cheaper, a utility buying site, claims to saved the owners of the Manor Arms pub £15,000 in energy bills alone. Using it or other price comparison sites -- uSwitch for Business, Moneysupermarket.com – takes the legwork out of finding cheap deals. For more impartial advice, check out energyhelpline and Moneysavingexpert.com. Business networks – LinkedIn, Meetup, Twitter – can be especially useful for sourcing professional services.
- Buy collectively: Group purchasing is a booming sector for start-ups, but there are established options, too -- the BSA’s Buying Group, or trade bodies that offer discounts to members, such as the Forum for Private Business. Daily deal sites for businesses – think GroupPrice, Huddlebuy – can be a good source of one-off offers.
- Barter: A longstanding, low-cost supply option, bartering still has a bit of an image problem, but this may improve as ‘social’ funding becomes more mainstream. There are several established barter businesses: Bartercard claims to be the world’s largest B2B trade exchange service, Itex and business-centric IMS are a couple more. Expect to see more service-specific bartering sites, such as Miroma, which focuses on media services. Trade body the International Reciprocal Trade Association is a good first stop for the barter-curious.
- Go hyperlocal: Co-ops and community currency projects such as the Brixton pound can be a neat way of building a local support network while saving on services and supplies. Northumberland’s Allen Valleys Oil Buying Co-operative uses group purchasing power to buy cheaper oil for regional organisations.
- Power by the hour: Whether it’s software, conference facilities, office space or online talent pools, it’s possible to ‘lease’ skills and services on a needs-only basis.
- Evaluate: Save time and wasted effort by focusing on the suppliers that ‘add value’. Decide what’s important to you – price, service, after-sales maintenance -- and create simple metrics to classify multiple vendors and to evaluate offers. Compare prices, but also credit terms. Funding Options, which helps SMEs apply for finance, automatically compares lenders’ terms. Regularly review supplier and vendor performance. Often, utilities and property contracts include initial sweeteners: make a note of when these end. Automated online services are also a handy way to anticipate cost rises: the Business Cost Index, an inflation tracker for small businesses, is one source of data. But don’t bulk buy items whose price is rising, advises Entrepreneur.com – buy little and often instead. (For more on supplier evaluation, check out this Inc.com post and the CIPS’s straightforward guide to supplier appraisal.)
- Negotiate Could you be getting a better deal from your priority suppliers? The BSA advises going in with a ‘plan B’ that is already underway and is real, practical and understood by your team in advance. Give yourself time, too: if you’re under pressure, you may be forced to accept less favourable terms. Consolidate your purchasing with a smaller number of suppliers to increase volume and get a better deal.
Businesses lose money every day to energy vampires. Half your electricity bill may go toward the cost of powering your workplace outside of normal business hours with nobody there. Forty-two percent of energy powering office equipment and information technology is wasted. All around your workplace, any machine plugged into an outlet — on, off, and on standby alike — is a potential vampire, invisibly sucking energy with very visible cost consequences.
You find trails to weak spots in your business, such as poor employee performance or inefficient work flows, by reviewing your books. However, identifying the weakest links impacting your energy costs is more difficult. First you have to measure your power consumption to get baseline readings to know where, when, and how to deal with the leakages. Access to information about power consumption through energy monitoring can result in cutting energy bills by up to 15%.
Monitor your energy using a smart meter. Smart meters clip onto or wrap around the power cable running into your conventional meter. They display real-time digital readings of measurements such as kilowatts (kW) and kilowatts per hour (kWh) of electricity and the correlating monetary cost depending on the tariff rates that you input (you can find these rates on your bill or through your provider). Some smart meters can connect to your computer or the web, where you can store and view data. Some also measure your carbon footprint.
Smart meters are often portable and light, designed for the home and small offices. Monitors like AlertMe, OWL Intuition, and Current Cost products offer smartphone apps which allow mobile readings and remote control of appliances. Smart meters can be basic, or very data-rich, like the Efergy, or the Current Cost EnviR, which can forecast consumption and costs while storing data up to eight years. The Wattson is probably the most stylish, colorful energy meter for the décor-minded. Check out this useful comparison chart and FrequencyCast for some helpful information and reviews of smart meters on the market.
Businesses in larger offices may have to ask their energy supplier about energy monitoring or turn to meters that plug into power sockets, measuring individual devices. Plug-in monitors, also known as socket monitors, measure the energy consumption of a single appliance, typically showing measurements such as voltage (V), amps (A), watts (W), volt-amps (VA), hertz (Hz), and power factor (PF). (The Department of Energy & Climate Change and Farm Energy Centre provide handy glossaries to electrical and energy terms.) Two popular plug-in models are the Belkin Conserve Insight and Energenie Plug-in Power Meter.
It’s fun to watch real-time readings of power consumption, experiencing the invisible made visible. What differences do water boiling in the kettle, putting your laptop on standby, or keeping your printer unplugged make? Just keep in mind that baseline measurements take some time to account for all the variations and patterns of power consumption to work themselves out.
For all our talk about environmental sustainability, we are still buried under piles of paper. We’re continuing to consume huge quantities of paper. In the UK, we get through four trees' worth a year, according to the Economist. These easy tips should help keep the dead tree count down.
- Reformat. Reduce font size and margins in your document before printing.
If you must print out PowerPoint or other slideshow presentations, configure your print job to options like the Handouts View where you can choose a multiple number of slides to print per page.
Solutions like HP Smart Print cut out unnecessary information, such as banners and adverts, when printing material from the web.
- Double up. Isn’t it great when the store has your favorite item on a two-for-one sale? Get as excited about winning two for one with every sheet of paper! Print on both sides. Make double-sided printing your default setting.
- Portable Document Format. PDFs are the new paper. “Save as” or print directly to PDF. Scan paper originals to use, save, or distribute instead of making paper copies.
- Print Preview. Take a few minutes to preview your print. Say good-bye to the single straggler line of text on one page, and avoid making a copious paper trail of your quest to perfection.
- Print on Demand. Use print on demand capabilities. Publications and documents are not printed unless actually needed.
- Streamline Access. Print release technology such as pull printing and access control forces users to physically log in or input a code at the printer to start the actual print job, preventing mounds of unclaimed papers.
- Take the paperwork and cost out of admin. Did the term paperwork become synonymous with administrative forms around the same time that the phrase “lost in the paperwork” came into use? Paper is also expensive; Europe wastes €40 billion a year on paper invoicing.
Administrative management software and web programs such as Turbine handle a range of tasks from record-keeping to performance reviews to invoicing to accounting, tying all your employee management into a single affordable, accessible, searchable system.
- Collaborate online. Use online collaboration tools like Google Drive or Dropbox to access and work on the same documents.
- Stop printing your email. Printing does not equal saving. Email is already storable, savable, and sendable. Plus mobile options these days give you easy access to email and calendars.
- Stop printing the internet. Instead of printing online material, use services like Instapaper or Pocket, which will save and store articles and pages you want to read and provide easy-to-read online and mobile formats.