It goes without saying that small business owners are always looking for ways to save money. And technology is a great way to do just that.
By its very nature, technology is intended to make complicated things simple and expensive things affordable. Think about sending a bill to a customer; back in the day, it took paper, correction fluid, a stamp and a trip to the mailbox to accomplish this task. These days, it can be as quick and cheap as sending an email.
Here are five easy ways small businesses can save money using technology.
1. Go Paperless
Invoicing, accounting, HR and other business processes are complicated enough without mounds of paper stuffed into alphabetized files. The more paper you keep, the more work-hours you spend tracking that paper down. In most cases, it's possible to go entirely paperless with the majority of your record-keeping while simultaneously making your data easier to organize, store and link when needed.
A paper-free system is not only more green; it's also a huge time-saver for you and your staff, and it will save you more than a few expensive trips to the office supply store. We estimate that more than a few of your customers will appreciate the change, too.
2. Go Distributed
You can use technologies such as IM clients, VOIP calls, video chats, project management software and in-the-cloud document storage to get a lot done from remote locations. In the short term, this can save you overhead (and earn you major brownie points with your staff) if you let folks work from home on Fridays; it can also ease the pain of sick days and vacation time when urgent tasks pop up. In the long term, being able to have employees work remotely can allow you to hire offsite workers; one thing we've learned about Gen X and Millennial employees is that many of them are willing to take a lower salary in exchange for the ability to work from home. In cases such as this, you save on both salary and capital expenses.
3. Go Open Source
Free and open-source software (FOSS) can be far and away less expensive to obtain and maintain for a small business owner. For example, you could spend hundreds on programs like QuickBooks, Microsoft Word and Photoshop, or you could get GnuCash, OpenOffice and GIMP absolutely free of charge. The interfaces and quality are generally of great quality and will contain all or most of the familiar tools you're used to using in industry-standard, professional software. In all likelihood, your clients will never know the difference, and you'll save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in software licensing fees.
4. Go Beta
"Beta" has come to have different meanings for different kinds of software; essentially, the term means you're working with a not-quite-there-yet product. Oftentimes, these beta products are actually quite polished -- some even have fewer bugs than what you see in major proprietary software releases! If you get onboard with an early-stage software company, you might get to use their software for free while they work out the kinks.
If you hear of a new company doing work that would directly benefit your business, get in touch with them and ask to be a beta tester. Keep in mind, though: There likely will be kinks, so be prepared and back up any essential data. If you're not "beta friendly," this might not be the best option for you.
5. Go Social
Guess how much it costs to create a Facebook Page or Twitter account to promote your business within your local community or to your target audience? Nada. Don't let the "social media experts" convince you that there's some big mystery to marketing on the web; if your customers are online, be present there, too, and see what happens. Read up on social media marketing on blogs such as this one, and keep an eye out for industry experts.
Most of all, listen to what your customers are saying about you online to figure out how you can serve them better and increase your own revenues. Free tools for social media monitoring and marketing abound, and it's up to you to use them. Many small businesses have cut marketing back to social media alone and have seen substantial returns from focusing their efforts on a medium that truly works.
Whatever you do, though, don't adopt a new bit of technology that will increase the number of steps your team has to take to accomplish a simple task. Organization is good, but process overkill is very bad, indeed.
If you've got tips to share or ways you've used technology to cut work hours and save money, be sure to let us know about them in the comments.Image credit: DavidDMuir