Technology – It’s there to simplify our lives, increase efficiency and to help us get a job done with less effort or time. But for business owners, choosing whether to buy new technology comes with important decisions that need to be considered first.
Small business owners have to control the impulse to buy something just because it’s “cool, new and hip.” We have to be fiscally responsible. There is no room for “extras” and with current economic conditions, sometimes we have to put off buying something that we know will improve the work environment, simply because the money is not there.
There are options available that can directly lower your business costs – not simply in terms of increased efficiency and productivity – but in terms of your actual out-of-pocket expenses.
Over the course of the next few weeks we are going to be sharing ways that small businesses can use technology to save money and to cut IT expenses. The focus of this series will be on reducing tangible expenses and fixed costs – not just ways that technology can make life easer and help to increase productivity in the workplace.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started thinking about technology in a new way…
#1. Take advantage of Online Training. Because of technology, business owners have a wealth of knowledge and resources that are available to them 24/7 – and a lot of them are FREE. If you have not read, “What can I learn from (and about) IT?” yet, it’s a great place to start learning about online training for small businesses.
#2. Ask your employees to BYOD. Consider allowing your employees to use their own devices rather than purchasing company equipment. Here’s a good place to start learning: BYOD Policy for SMB: What things should you address?
#3. Use a virtual solution for Appointment Scheduling. Small business owners can utilize the power of technology to handle appointment scheduling (and payment for services at the same time). If you are a sole proprietor, just think about the time you will save not having to take appointments by phone. And if you do have a receptionist, offering online appointment scheduling will free up some of her time to do other things.
Later on in this series, we will discuss the features and benefits of some of the top Appointment Scheduling services for small businesses, but here is are two you can check out on your own – Depending upon the size of your business and your actual needs, Book Fresh and Click Book both have free versions that may be enough for you.
#4. Switch to (or add) Email Marketing. Today just about every one of your customers has an email address – are you getting them? There are several companies that offer free email marketing accounts for small businesses (for example, icontact is completely free until you have 250 subscribers). These accounts come with simple templates that you can use to create an e-newsletter or to send out information about sales and promotions.
Instead of printing out coupons, simply send out an email. It always costs less to market to existing customers than to get new ones! By the way – if you have a sign-up link on your website, you can send information to prospective clients too.
#5. Use Virtual Assistants. If you are a sole proprietor or a business owner with only a few employees, this is definitely something that you may want to consider. Because of technology, it is now possible to have business related tasks completed “virtually” (or in simple terms – from a distance, through the use of the internet). One benefit of a hiring a virtual assistant is that they are considered Independent Contractors, meaning you are not responsible for dealing with the “expenses” related to having an employee complete the same tasks.
In future articles we will be covering tips for finding and using virtual assistants, but for now, here is a place to start: A Dummy’s Guide to Hiring a Geek.
#6. Look for Open-Source and Free Software Options. This is a topic that we will be exploring in upcoming articles but it is worth taking a minute to introduce the concept now. Depending upon the needs of your business, it may not be necessary to purchase traditional software programs to get a job done.
For example, you may not need to invest in Microsoft Office – Open Office by Apache, is a free alternative that may be enough for your business. Or, if you do not convert documents to PDF regularly, there are several free pdf converters available. Two of my favorites (which do not require you to download anything to your computer) are Nevia Document Converter and Free PDF Converter.
#7. Explore whether Receipt Scanners and Software are a better solution. Okay, this one has an initial out of pocket expense but with it comes an elimination of other expenses (and a potentially quick ROI). As a business owner, you know that keeping track of receipts is absolutely essential – it’s how we keep track of how much money is coming and how much is going out.
Think about what you are doing right now to manage and organize your receipts. I’ll bet there are some of you who are still using a shoebox – and who break out in cold sweats come tax time. Or if you are proactive, you are taking time from your busy schedule to enter the receipts into some type of database (or you are paying someone to do it).
By using a receipt scanner, not only will you eliminate the need to save (and store) piles of receipts, but there is software available that will pull the information that you need from the receipt and automatically categorize it so that the information is available to complete expense reports and prepare taxes. Many will automatically transfer the information directly into accounting software programs.
#8. Choose Cloud-Based Solutions. In a previous article, we discussed the benefits that Cloud Computing can offer a small business. During the course of this series on Cutting IT costs, you can look forward to hearing about many fantastic ways that your business can save money with The Cloud.
#9. Consider Going Green. Our next article in this “Cutting IT costs” series will cover ways that choosing environmentally friendly technology can help to save your business money.