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Entrepreneurs can be so enthusiastic about sailing toward the goal in front of them that they forget to take the time to be sure their ship isn’t leaking. It’s worth taking the time to check your hulls and see if you aren’t missing an opportunity to save money.
Every six months, small-business owners should do a review of their business plan, looking in every nook and cranny for hidden savings, says Deborah Sweeney, chief executive of online document-filing service MyCorporation. Twice a year, she has her top managers each come up with two ideas for cost-cutting, as well as two ideas for revenue generation.
"Some of the [costs] that business owners don’t think about are those expenses they pay daily," says Sweeney, whose Calabasis, Calif.-based company has 47 employees. After considering all the ideas her team comes up with, Sweeney decides which ideas are the most viable and prioritizes them. "We say: ‘Which are the most important? Which can have the best impact on our business? And, which can we actually do in a relatively short period of time?' "
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If you are going to renegotiate rates with service providers, it can be tempting to put down an ultimatum: Give me better rates or I will hit the highway. But, often, that sort of tone will be met with resistance, says Sweeney. She recommends being team-oriented to get more productive results. "Rather than come out with this negative approach, I say, ‘Look at all the great things we are doing as a team,' " she says. It’s not just polite, it’s practical, too. Often, it is expensive and frustrating to have to switch your contract over to another provider.
Here is Sweeney's list of the five hottest areas for cost-cutting opportunities:
1. Shipping. Especially if you are a retail business that does a lot of shipping, you may be able to negotiate with FedEx or UPS for a lower rate. Generally, as the volume of goods that you ship increases, you gain leverage to bargain for a lower rate.
2. Credit-card processing. Taking a close look at how much you are paying for your customer’s credit cards to be processed each month is often worthwhile, says Sweeney. When you are just launching a business for the first time, it’s very likely that you do not know how much is too much to pay for credit-card processing services. It’s more than likely that you end up overpaying. With a bit of payment history under your belt to prove that you are a low-risk customer to the processors, you will likely be able to negotiate better rates.
3. Insurance costs. From business insurance to health insurance for you and your employees, it’s important to review what you are spending on insurance to see whether what you are paying is appropriate and to be sure you are still buying the right kinds of insurance. "Every year, I fill out my [insurance] forms. But I also have a call with my insurance providers," says Sweeney. "Over time you can learn what kind of coverage that you are likely to need and what will be overkill for your business."
4. Overstaffing. While it can be one of the toughest areas of your business to consider trimming, it can also be one of the most important, particularly in a small business where each employee is so critical to the performance of the whole operation. "Being a smart business person is evaluating whether you have the right people on your boat and whether they are all rowing in the same direction," says Sweeney.
5. Marketing costs. Make sure that you are really getting a measurable return on your marketing investments. It can be easy to find yourself throwing money at the same marketing strategy month after month, rather than thinking critically and creatively about how to attract new customers. But, says Sweeney, if that marketing investment is not paying off, be honest about it and move on.
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