It has been said that the best things in life are free. This could be true in business as well.
As businesses downsize and unemployment mounts, many companies are trying to trim costs before laying off employees, which reduces potential productivity, adds the expense of paying unemployment and can lower company morale. Here are 10 cost-cutting measures that businesses can use to conserve cash and increase productivity.
1. Capital: Free money almost always comes with strings attached. But if you really need capital, here are some ways to get cash, for a limited time or a small fee:
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is a way to find private lenders who will lend money in exchange for equity or some other security. Prosper.com is one source.
- Microlending groups offer business loans at very low rates. These are not exactly free, but they come close.
- Most anyone with a good credit score and a mailbox knows that many credit cards offer introductory zero-percent interest rates, usually for six months to a year. These cards can be a short-term solution for funding limited purchases, but not advisable if you don’t foresee being able to pay them off in a short period.
2. Labor: If the nature of your business permits it, creating an internship program is an excellent source of cheap—or free—labor. Arranging with local schools to provide interns with course credit is especially effective in attracting unpaid interns. Enrollment is expected to increase as people young and old seek to ride out the downturn while expanding their knowledge, which could mean a larger pool of potential interns. Outsourcing is another way to find inexpensive labor. You can find workers at bidding sites, such as Elance.com. These days, workers in third-world countries aren’t the only ones bidding low—Americans are bidding as low as $4 an hour, too.
3. Business coaching: You can pay hundreds of dollars an hour to hire a business coach—or you can find one for free at SCORE, an organization of successful entrepreneurs who want to give back. SCORE’s advisors meet “clients” in their place of business, on the phone, online or at a coffee shop. They come from a variety of skills and industries, so you are likely to find one that fits your business. Find a local chapter at Score.org.
4. Internet marketing: In this economy, the name of the game is marketing, marketing, marketing. And the name of the marketing game is the Web, the Web, the Web. If you don’t know how to maximize your internet marketing, you can get free training at local continuing education colleges or online. Many adult education centers offer free classes. You can also take online courses or teleseminars on skills related to Internet marketing, including writing blogs, using search engine optimization, joining affiliate programs and using Google ads.
5. Office space: Get free office space by letting employees work at home. Many companies now have “virtual” offices of employees based in home offices around the country and the world. Free teleconference call services and file hosting programs, such as Google documents, allow employees to access communicate and collaborate online. By switching even a portion of your workforce to “virtual offices,” you can significantly reduce overhead costs.
6. Accounting systems: You can keep track of your finances with free online accounting tools. Mint.com alerts you of when you have exceeded your budgets. Intuit, which makes the popular Quickbooks software, offers free online services. A simple search engine query for “free accounting software” will yield many more options.
7. Knowledge: Of course the Internet has become the easiest place for most people to do quick research on a topic, and library attendance has dwindled in some areas in recent years. Though never truly overlooked, it seems that many people began to see the process of going to the library, researching and returning materials as too inconvenient when compared to just buying the book. However, in the last few months library attendance has increased as more people seek in-depth knowledge on a dime. If you are one of those people who can’t remember the last time that they borrowed a book instead of ordering it from Amazon, you may want to dust off your library card.
8. Barter: Need a handyman? Graphic designer? Or massage therapist? In this economic climate, many professionals are willing to barter services in lieu of cash. The trouble for most people is finding a tactful way to suggest a non-cash transaction. Barter and trade exchanges often charge dues and fees for using their services, but there are free websites and forums devoted to connecting professionals who are willing to barter. U-exchange.com is one, and its help section offers advice on negotiation and etiquette to barter novices.
9. Exercise: Fighting stress and staying healthy can seem like a low priority in a down market, but considering the climbing cost of medical care, “The best investment you can make is your health,” said Robert Campbell, financial consultant and author of Timing the Real Estate Market. Encouraging employees to stay healthy is never a bad idea, but particularly in a down market when productivity losses caused by illness can take a huge toll on a company. Even if you don’t have time for the gym, small changes make a difference. Take the stairs, walk the neighborhood or do yoga stretches in your office.
10. Nature: It has been proven time and again that a little exposure to nature can go a long way in reducing stress, but it can also inspire you and your workforce. Xerox sponsored 300 of its employees to go on a Native American “vision quest,” involving 24 hours in a desert area. The goal was to connect with “inner wisdom” and enhance creativity for new ideas. One idea that arose was an eco-friendly copier-fax-printer, which later became on of the company’s best-selling products.
Helen Kaiao Chang, a business journalist and ghostwriter, can be reached at www.oceancloudmedia.com.