No matter how brilliant your business idea or customer service may be, controlling costs will play a big role in your success or failure. Keeping your ongoing costs in check is vital to achieving profitability in the long run.
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#1 Study your costs
The first and most important step in cost-cutting is discovering where you have waste. So start gathering granular data on as much as you can. You already track costs in aggregate, but what is the percentage of phone calls that are personal? How much of the paper thrown away has only been used on one side? How often are lights left on unnecessarily, or computers allowed to whir away at night?
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits recommends asking employees to help look at costs, as they often have a unique view of the business, and may be able to recommend alternatives or efficiencies. You may not need all those office supplies, and your staff are the ones that can tell you what is essential.
#2 Switch to "as a service" where you can
The past few years has seen more consumers move away from ownership and towards consumption and experiences. Rather than owning a car, you can rent or share one. Rather than owning a complete set of dusty tools, you can borrow them when you need.
Tools and software as a service may not make sense for all businesses, or all use-cases, but they offer several upsides. There's little maintenance or need for ongoing expertise on your part, fewer running costs like electricity or physical space, and you often receive a much wider selection and features without paying for upgrades.
A whole host of companies now offer their wares as a service, from data and email servers, to productivity software, financial processing and workspaces. Even a company as big as Netflix still uses servers as a service, rather than building or running its own. You can use this calculator to see whether "as a service" makes sense for your business.
#3 Emphasise efficiency
Efficiency can come in many guises, and small wins add up. The average office employee can go through up to 10,000 sheets of paper every year. And several studies have found that most of the paper thrown out is only printed on one side, and it is joined by a lot of barely-used office supplies. In this light, even small changes, like adjusting fonts, margins and spacing to fit more on each page, using both sides and printing only in black can add up.
There are lots of little wins to uncover in energy efficiency as well. The difference between an LED light and a normal bulb may not seem like much, but the increased life-span and lower power needs will add up over time. Even better, see if you can reduce your lighting use overall by installing motion sensors, and drawing in natural light through windows and even a skylight.
Energy efficiency can also be achieved with strategic use of gadgets. Laptops are not only more mobile, but use less power than your average desktop. Smart/programmable thermostats can keep your office at the optimal temperature for comfort and the bottom line - 24 degrees, every degree below that can cost you 15 per cent in running costs.
#4 Automate what you can
Technology is reducing the barrier to automation, allowing your employees to fly through routine tasks. Platforms like IFTTT allow you to connect disparate devices, tools and services. You can use these platforms to automatically send alerts, trigger events, launch tasks, activate smart devices and much more.
The next level are macros and shortcuts on devices. From as early as 1999, author Rebecca Morgan was using computer macros in her office to expand text, and programs to automate repetitive functions. These functions have only gotten better and easier. We've written before about programs like Alfred, to automate all manner of tasks.
The U.S. small business council recommends automating not only big processes like payments through programs like Xero, but also in coordinating your office. Tools like ScheduleOnce, for example, automate the process of scheduling a meeting by gathering everyone's availability, bypassing long email chains.
#5 Reuse and recycle wherever you can
Offices produce a surprising amount of waste, almost 90 per cent of which could be reduced according to Sustainability Victoria. Beyond better utilising all the paper and stationary we mentioned earlier, think about what you can re-use or re-purpose.
We've written before about re-purposing old doors to create workspaces. We've also got guides on turning regular old Ikea furniture into bespoke standing-desks, and a ceiling mounted projector. Brit co has more than 60 other idea to re-purpose supplies around your office, from three-ring binder hooks, to paperclip cable organisers. The only limit is your creativity!