At the end of 2009, my company -- like many others -- was faced with the prospect of a very challenging 2010. We had taken measures to align our investment and operating expenditures with our expected sales, but I felt it wasn’t enough. It was important to squeeze out as much waste while we still had the freedom to do so. From this process emerged three simple and effective ideas that saved money without disrupting how we work.
Savings one: I started using BestParking.com (Savings: $5,000)
Given my schedule, using mass transit usually doesn’t work. I need the flexibility of driving to and from my meetings, which can traverse several states in a single day. Driving to, and parking in, New York City is very expensive. Parking an SUV for two hours can cost as much as $65 or more in certain parts of Manhattan. This can add up to thousands of dollars per year.
To help ameliorate the exorbitant cost of parking, I started using BestParking.com. Cutting costs doesn’t get much easier than this. BestParking offers guaranteed, discounted parking rates in cities and airports across the country. They currently operate in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington, DC.
When I schedule a meeting, I immediately go to BestParking.com and enter the appropriate address and time. The Google-based map pulls up all parking garages in the area with the estimated total cost of parking. Once I select the garage where I want to park, I print out the BestParking coupon. Some coupons provide a rate guarantee but don’t guarantee that the garage will have a space available for you. Others offer both space and rate guarantees. The latest iteration now offers information on street parking and even smartphone applications so you can obtain parking information on the way.
With this service I usually pay between $10 and $15 total (not per hour) to park. My savings were $5,000. But a company that has employees going into the city three times per week for meetings could save more than $20,000 per year.
Savings two: I tweaked our standard sales process (Savings: $9,500)
I have to remind myself regularly that we live in a digital world. Despite the ease and cost efficacy of electronic documents, we continually receive requests for printed materials from prospective clients. Our standard package consists of anywhere from 30 to 50 pages printed in color and bound (“clear front, black back, coil bind, please”). The cost of producing a single pitch book exceeds $70.
Now, we reserve the production of these books for a later stage in our sales cycle. After an initial meeting, we now produce a two- to three-page Word memo that outlines the key points from the meeting, provides a summary of our solution, and includes a preliminary budget range. We send it as a PDF attachment via e-mail. If the feedback is positive and it looks like we have a prospect, we then proceed with the printed presentations. Not only have we saved thousands of dollars in production costs, but the time we spend on “potentials” is reduced and the turnaround time on the electronic memos is much less than the printed books.
Savings three: We started using BaseCamp and Google Voice (Savings: $30,000)
As business started picking up in 2010, it become clear that I would need to hire an additional assistant project coordinator to help us manage meetings and assist us with basic project planning. Keeping in my mind that 2010 could have still turned out to be a slow year for sales, I looked for an alternative to increasing headcount. I had been hesitant to use formal project management software after several failed attempts at using MS Project. I found it too complex and somewhat of an overkill for our projects.
And that’s when I discovered BaseCamp. This web-based project management system produced by 37signals is simple to set up, simple to use and very cost effective. We use it to manage our ongoing projects as well as our more complicated pitches and proposals.
In addition to using BaseCamp, we also made the transition to Google Voice. With this solution, we can manage voicemails, text message, and incoming calls as easily as we manage our Gmail. This solution may not be appropriate for larger businesses, but we have found success with it.
Combining these two tools allowed us to work smoothly without the need to hire the additional assistant.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely! The effort required to make these changes was minimal. Implementing them took about one week total with another week or so of getting accustomed to them. Relative to the effort involved, these changes packed a very high ROI. I made another small change recently which is working surprisingly well. I’ll write about that change after we have more experience with it.