If you ask a small business what’s one of the most difficult operational tasks that need to be dealt with, staying on budget with monthly expenses will likely be a top contender, especially in these challenging economic times. And chances are your business faces the same obstacle every month.
It seems every time you turn around, there is another expense, a delay in payment, or some other circumstance that has a negative effect on your cash flow. So instead of putting a little something away for an even rainier day, you find yourself sweating it out until it’s time to flip to the next page of the monthly calendar for a fresh influx of cash.
If you want to make the money and the month line up better, you may need to rethink some of your business assumptions – including what constitutes a must-have expense. Following are a few ideas that can help improve your overall cash flow.
Get rid of your business land line: According to CTIA - The Wireless Association, 23% of U.S. households are wireless, meaning they no longer have a traditional land-line phone. One of the driving forces behind this epidemic is the desire to cut costs, especially in today’s down economy.
Now you might think what works for households won’t work for your small business. But believe it or not, there are simple technologies available today, like virtual phone services for small business, that will help your company run more efficiently than it would through the use of a land line.
With a virtual phone service, you receive your choice of a toll-free or local phone number that goes to a phone you already have. It allows you to assign extensions to all your employees, whether they are full- or part-time, in the office or virtual. When customers and prospects call your my1voice business number, the service’s virtual receptionist allows them to select the extension they need. The call is then forwarded to that person’s mobile. Your mobile number still works independently too, so any incoming personal calls will still be routed directly to you.
In addition to the one-number convenience, virtual phone services come equipped with robust features such as smart call forwarding, enhanced voice mail, call screening and more.
Virtual phone services for small business provide all those big-business capabilities while costing as little as $10 per month. Compare that to just the base cost of a land line for your business and the savings are worth noting. But add in the cost to maintain the lines, taxes and the cost to purchase and maintain telephone equipment, and the savings add up quickly.
So in short, there’s no real reason to keep your business’s traditional land line anymore. It’s money you don’t need to spend.
Take your office virtual: Office space is usually one of the highest fixed costs a small business has. While it’s nice to have an office where everyone can gather and work more collegially, if you’re looking to reduce expenses, taking your landlord off the payroll is a good way to do it.
Of course, sometimes you do need a formal office – particularly if you need a place to meet with customers. If you can’t travel to your customer, you can always look into renting a common conference room area from a local business and have your customers come directly to you. Even then, a virtual-office strategy helps you keep that expense to a minimum, freeing up more cash for other aspects of the business that have more impact on your success.
A virtual phone service can also help your small business if you decide to reduce costs by going virtual because it isn't location-dependent. In other words, phone extensions can be assigned to anyone anywhere on any phone, so a customer calling the single business phone number can reach the person they want whether that employee is in Paris, Texas; Paris, Canada; or even Paris, France.
Eliminate specialty or limited-use business tools: Look around your office, or through the applications on your desktop computer. How many things do you own that have only one function? Can that function be performed by something else?
A fax machine is a good example of a piece of office equipment that is only capable of performing one task. All it does is send and receive faxes. Yet there it sits, costing you money for a dedicated phone line, paper, toner, even the power to keep it running and ready to receive an incoming fax.
You can eliminate almost all of those additional costs that are making your small business go over budget by moving to an Internet fax service that allows you to send and receive faxes on your PC or mobile phone. This will not only keep a little more green in your wallet, but also adds convenience, since you can send and receive faxes anywhere you can get an Internet connection.
When it comes down to the software you are using to run your small business, consider a pay-as-you-go or Web-based service model. With this model you pay a small monthly fee rather than buying the software upfront at a cost that is certain to make you go over your company’s monthly budget. You then gain access to feature-laden applications that have the sophisticated capabilities normally found only in expensive software packages.
For example, for roughly $10 a month you can access applications that help you design, manage, send and track promotional e-mails to your customer and prospect lists. With these applications you can build high-value e-mail campaigns that look as if they were created by high-priced professionals, but were actually created by you on your own PC or laptop.
Let’s face it: While operating a small business is challenging even in good times, it can be particularly difficult when the economy is taking a beating. But with a little creativity and some unconventional thinking, you can help ensure the month runs out before the money does.
Kevin Baker is the product marketing manager for my1voice (www.my1voice.com) a virtual phone service for small business from Protus, Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.