Running a successful business requires constant vigilance. This means always looking for new ways to grow, but it also means seeking out opportunities to save. Cutting back on expenses will not only make you leaner and more efficient, but it will also give you some extra cash to invest in the areas of your business that are more likely to produce a profit.
When trimming down your operation, you need to have a solid approach. It’s important to look in the right areas, and to only make cuts that will improve efficiency and not harm profitability. However, when it comes to cutting costs in your small business, theory and practice are two very different things.
It’s easy to know what to cut, but it’s much more difficult to know how to cut it. Luckily, though, there are lots of tools out there that will help you reduce expenses and be more efficient, reducing your need to guess and check. But, as with anything, not all of these tools are going to deliver on their promises.
So, to help you choose which tools are good and which are not, we’ve put together a list of some of the best out there. Take a look and see where you can be optimising and which tools you can use to help you do it.
Payroll and Accounting Automation
One of the biggest reasons any small business fails is because of poor cash flow management. This can be avoided though, if you implement sound accounting practices and processes. However, doing so with real people can be expensive, and it doesn’t guarantee that your accounting work will be error-free. As a result, a smart first move when trying to cut down on operating expenses is to automate payroll and accounting.
These programs can help you keep your accounting department small, saving on labour expenses, and they will also make sure everything is accurate and up to date. They will also help you ensure you never miss a payday for your employees and that no invoices go unpaid. But even more importantly, they will help you better understand your cash flow situation, which will make it easier for you to determine how much money you have to invest in growth areas of the business.
Cloud-Based IT Infrastructure
No matter the size or type of your business, you’re going to need a website for it to be successful. This much you should already know. However, what you might not know is that you could be saving money by switching how you run your website. For example you should, under no circumstances, be trying to host your site on your own servers. The physical infrastructure required to do this is going to bury you in unnecessary expenses.
The alternative is to host your website on the cloud, which is rapidly becoming the norm. For smaller businesses handling limited amounts of traffic, you can do this with services such as GoDaddy, SiteGround, Bluehost and HostGator. But if you’re already experiencing higher volume, or you expect to do so in the near future, then you may want to go with something such as Microsoft Azure of Amazon Web Services
The savings here is tough to beat, but the next biggest advantage is that these services will manage your website’s security for you. This is of utmost concern, considering most small businesses do not have the resources needed to come back from a cyberattack. So, not only will you be saving by going with a third-party cloud service, but you will also be ensuring the safety of all of the data that passes through your website. There are many other cloud-based solutions you can use to save money and boost productivity, the most popular and useful being Dropbox and Google Drive.
VOIP and Videoconferencing
We live in an era of smartphones, but this doesn’t mean there’s no place for a landline. In fact, having a fixed number for customers and clients to call is a near necessity if you want to be available and presentable. However, just because you need a landline doesn’t mean you need to get one from the phone company, especially since this will likely be your most expensive option. Furthermore, if you need to make calls to other parts of the country or the world, then you may want to explore other options.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) uses an internet connection to make phone calls, and this means it’s often much cheaper than a traditional phone service. VOIP is cheaper because it requires much less infrastructure. Specifically, the private branch exchange (PBX), which is the closed telephone network within a business that manages inbound, outbound, and inter-office calls, is stored on the cloud, reducing the need for costly onsite equipment. It also gives you access to a wide range of features that will help make your business more professional and streamlined.
For example, you can get hold music, auto-routing, conference calls, call waiting, call blocking, call transferring, and much more, all for a fraction of the price of a traditional landline. This option is great for businesses operating in a space where there wasn’t a business before since you will only need to worry about setting up an internet connection instead of both phone and internet lines. Some great options for VOIP are Nextiva, Ring Central. Verizon, 8×8, and Jive
In the end, the success of your business will depend on your ability to manage relationships with your customers. Keeping existing customers happy is key to maintaining revenues, but you also need to be paying attention to potential customers so that you can capitalise on opportunities to follow up and convert those who might be on the fence.
In the old days, this was done by keeping a Rolodex, but this hasn’t been the case for a long time. Instead, what you should be doing is using an automated customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This will compile all the information you have on current and potential clients and customers all into one spot. It will also produce reports that you can use to better target people with follow up emails and promotions.
CRM platforms can often be integrated into other software you use, such as an email client, to send out targeted marketing content. For example, you can set your CRM to email those who have done certain things on your website with a special offer that might be just what they needed to pull the trigger and make a purchase. It’s tough to underestimate the value of a CRM system. It will help you consolidate all of the information you have about your clients into one place so that you don’t need to worry about tracking data down and trying to figure out what it means.
Chances are you already have some sort of CRM system in place, but if it’s not automated, then you’re likely spending too much and not getting enough results. Some good options for automated CRM platforms are: Salesforce, Infusionsoft and Hubspot CRM.
It’s amazing how much you can learn just by looking at what people do on your website. Not only can you see what people are clicking on, but you can also track how much time they are spending on particular pages, which will help give you an idea as to how well your content is resonating with users. Perhaps the best tool for this is Google Analytics.
Setting up GA on your site will allow you to track the activity of your website visitors, giving you valuable insight into why conversion rates are what they are and what you might be able to do to improve them. One of the best things about GA, though, is that it’s free. However, it doesn’t tell you the whole story, and there is a learning curve involved that can eat away at your valuable time.
Some other options to consider using that provide you with the same information as GA but that are a tad more detailed and user-friendly are Crazy Egg.
Crazy Egg, for example, generates heat maps for each on your pages so that you know where users are spending the most time when they’re on your site.
Having valuable data to use as a base for making decisions is going to increase your rate of success and help you avoid spending money on things that might not work. You probably already have Google Analytics set up, but make sure you’re using all of its features, or switch things up to make sure you have all the data you need to optimise the growth of your business.
Email is ever present in our lives, and it can either be a huge time waster or a huge boost to productivity, depending on how you manage it. So, what’s the right way to manage it? You guessed it…automation. This is because automation will help you use email only when it’s going to be most effective. At its simplest, this could mean filtering your own personal inbox so that you’re only notified for certain emails.
We are all guilty of checking out inboxes whenever an email comes through on our phone, but this is a serious time waster that must be eliminated.
A service such as Zapier will help you change your notification settings so that you’re only alerted when the most important emails come through, helping you stay focused. However, email automation can do a whole lot more. For example, services like Drip and Pinpointe can be used to set up auto-responses that can drive engagement and boost sales.
To give you an idea of what you can do with these programs, you could set up emails to go out to people in the hours after they sign up for your newsletter or blog. This is especially important because people tend to be most engaged in the 48 hours after they give their email address.
You can also set things up so that emails go out after people do certain things on your site, such as click a link or add something to their cart. This will help make sure you don’t miss any opportunity to turn a lead into a sale, and because it’s all automated, you can set it and forget it, saving you time and money while boosting sales and revenue.
Everyone is on social media these days. Generally speaking, this is for good reason. Social media is great for driving engagement and traffic. However, as you’ve probably noticed, running a social media campaign can take up a tonne of time. But this doesn’t mean you should abandon social media. In fact, that’s the last thing you should do. Automating social media through platforms such as Hootsuite, AgoraPulse or Buffer, can have tremendous benefits.
Not only can you set posts to go live across multiple platforms, saving you the trouble of having to log in and post content yourself, but you can also keep track of how well these posts are doing in a central location. This will make it easier for you to measure the success of your social media strategy, providing guidance for how you should move forward. A lot of time and money is wasted producing content that doesn’t drive the right results.
By automating your social media efforts, you can eliminate this waste, allowing you to save money and boost profits.
Issue Tracking Software
Consumers these days not only demand high-quality products. They also want a top-of-the-line experience. They expect to be listened to when they call in, and they want their problems solved quickly and easily. Part of the way you do this is to hire good people to work on your customer service team. But if you don’t give these people the tools they need to succeed, then it doesn’t really matter who you hire.
Issue tracking software is one way that you can make your customer service operation far better at addressing customer needs. Essentially, when someone calls in, your customer service rep enters the ticket into your system. The software will then track the issues that come up and present you with options on how to improve.
You may even be able to implement automated solutions, preventing your reps from having to deal with customers who have easy to solve problems, giving them more time to spend with those who have more serious concerns.
However, the real value of issue tracking software is that it helps you identify recurring issues. If a problem is occurring over and over again, then you need to respond. We used to do this on a hunch, but in the data-driven world in which we live, working on a hunch is simply unacceptable, and good issue tracking software can give you the information you need to be proactive in serving the needs of your customers. Samange, Freshservice and Zendesk are all great options when it comes to issue tracking software.
You can take the automation of your customer service operation one step further by implementing chatbots. These automated chat platforms can be a great way to not only help resolve problems but also deliver a great customer experience. For example, when someone comes to your site, you can set things up so that a chat box opens up asking people what they need. Depending on what they say, the bot can then direct people to the resources they need, and because they’re automated, they cost way less than paying an actual person to reach out to people when they visit your site.
In this case, it’s important to think about your website as your virtual store. You would hire people to roam the floor and ask customers what they needed, wouldn’t you? Chatbots do the same thing, but they tend to be cheaper and quite a bite more effective, largely because they can be integrated with some of your other software to deliver more targeted messages.
Specifically, they can be programmed to say certain things to people based on what they’ve done on the site before or based on some of the information associated with their IP address. This type of personalised assistance is tough to beat, and it’s something you should definitely offer to your website’s visitors.
Aivo is a great option because you can integrate it with other programs such as Salesforce, Zendesk, and even WhatsApp. Botisfy and Chatfuel are also good options. They integrate with Facebook Messenger for a streamlined experience that can be tailored to each individual visitor.
These are just a few of the ways you can cut costs, but if you are willing to think outside the box, I am sure you can find many other ways to reduce your expenses. The tools you use as a small business are going to have a big impact on your success. It’s as simple as that. The tools discussed here will help you save money and boost profits, and what could be better than that!?