Even if you run a tight ship, you may be missing some cost-saving opportunities. Here are 13 areas—from human resources to finance, shipping to travel—that you might realize some savings.
1. Talk to staff about reducing their hours. "Many employees may want more vacation time that would essentially be a leave of absence," says John Reid, a Toronto-based partner at KPMG Enterprise.
2. Bonus down. If your company regularly pays cash bonuses, give staff non-monetary incentives, such as paid time off, instead.
3. Cut back on overtime. Invest more in planning to prevent situations in which employees must work overtime to complete projects or fill orders. "If times are tough, the first thing to go is overtime," says Claude Balthazard, director of HR Excellence at the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association.
4. Hit the classroom. Instead of hiring permanent staff when you need more hands on deck, tap local colleges and universities for interns and co-op students who can work in exchange for school credits.
5. Scale back on costly team-building events. Rather, consider volunteering as a group. This will boost morale and offer employees the chance to give back during tough times.
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6. Get referrals. A customer-referral program is a low-cost way to get new clients. Systematize the process and then let staff and clients know how to make referrals and what reward there will be for them.
7. Send e-mail blasts where previously you would have sent snail-mail pieces.
8. Use YouTube. Unlike TV, online video is an affordable way to reach a potential 20 million viewers, says Michael Miller, author of YouTube for Business: Online Video Marketing for Any Business. Videos of product launches, demonstrations or instructional spots can all generate buzz and increase direct sales.
9. Split your promotional costs. Instead of forking out for the full tab, ask a non-competing business to do a cross-promotion and share the cost. For example, a clothing retailer and a dry cleaner could do a coupon exchange.
10. Give away free samples or trial offers. Customers are more apt to buy a product they've tried, says Jane Applegate, president of Sharon, Vt.-based consultancy The Applegate Group and author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business: "The word 'free' is very powerful, especially in these times."
11. Use AdSense. With Google's pay-per-click advertising program, you specify the keywords that will trigger ads and the maximum amount you want to pay per click. Meaning, you don't pay for ads seen but not responded to.
12. Go for coffee. Face-time with business partners is still crucial. But if you previously took clients out to dinner, take them out to lunch instead. If you typically take them to lunch, try breakfast — or, better yet, meet for coffee.
13. Instead of attending expensive conferences, get creative about networking opportunities. For example, think about volunteering for a cause you're passionate about, says Len Robinson, a business consultant in Guelph, Ont.: "You never know where your next business opportunity is going to come from."