Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Does Your Small Business Cut Energy Costs?

Small businesses have endless expenses, but one of the largest is the cost of energy.  Almost every small business must use energy in one way or another.  For small, local companies that are competing with larger conglomerates, fluctuating energy costs can be quite a hindrance, to plan for and to pay for.  Businesses are continuously looking for ways to cut back on the cost of energy.  Particularly in the wake of rising energy costs such as gas prices, most small businesses are forced to find new ways to ensure they are not losing too much money.  

Small companies that rely heavily on transportation and delivery can save money on energy costs by doing some simple planning ahead.  For trips that require numerous stops, companies should map out the most effective route that encompasses all needed destinations.  Some businesses tack on fuel surcharges when making deliveries at times when energy costs increase and then remove them when they decrease.  This trend began in 2008 when gas prices sky-rocketed.  

In the age of online communication, most meetings can be done via Skype, Google Chat, or in conference call.  Instead of using the money to pay for fuel to drive to meetings, small businesses are choosing to communicate via the internet, setting up meetings online or over the phone. Some businesses have chosen to eliminate their land line and do all of their telephone communication either by cell phone or VoIP.

Another crucial way to save money when energy costs fluctuate is maintaining your business vehicles.  Make sure, particularly after harsh winters, that engines are finely tuned, oil has been changed, and tire pressure is where it should be.  All of these can positively influence your car’s gas mileage.  When gas prices rise, the costs of shipped goods also increases. Small businesses especially must find ways to combat the expense of energy, so some choose to increase the price of their product or service.  Even a small increase can help balance the books.  

Gas prices fluctuate for several reasons.  Generally, the change in season from winter to spring brings more drivers out, which causes prices to rise.  The trend is that prices decrease after the initial spike in beginning of the summer, but after Memorial day will increase again with the amount of travelers on the roads.  Prices also follow the fluctuation of global oil costs; rising and falling when they do.  Another reason prices may rise is seasonal maintenance and upkeep of refineries.  

Small businesses have obvious budget adjustments to make when it comes to fluctuating energy costs.  There are some obvious ways companies cut energy costs such as regular vehicle maintenance.  But also underlying ways that may not be as apparent to the consumer eye but are in direct correlation to the increase in gas
prices, such as product cost inflation.  However small businesses choose to adjust; energy costs have a large impact on net income and in turn, on our local economy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Small Businesses and Rising Gas Prices

Rising gas prices can be stifling for all of us, but the effects for small businesses can be much worse.  Numerous factors play into the negative outcome that spikes in gas prices can bring to small businesses.  Companies that rely on local transportation and delivery as a large part of their profit can be hit very hard.  

David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas stated, “Spring is a difficult time for drivers, when gas prices typically rise due to refinery maintenance.  The tightened supply throughout the country results in higher gas prices.”  An increase in prices can also be correlated to the higher demand of drivers after the brutal winter most of the country experienced this year.  Seasonal maintenance at refineries is an additional factor for increasing gas prices.  

Small businesses that are already competing with large conglomerates have a more difficult time coping with the spike in gas prices that can come seasonally.  Delivery costs for businesses that base much of their profit on the transportation of their product suffer exponentially when gas prices increase.  They look for other ways to cut costs which can come as cutbacks, shorter business hours, even moving manufacturing out of the United States to countries such as Asia.  For some small businesses, an increase in gas prices may mean an increase in the cost of their product to make up the difference.  

Fuel usage is a major expense for small, local companies.  Especially businesses that focus on packing and delivery as the main source of their profits can be highly affected by soaring gas prices.  The arrival of spring can mean greater business and easier travel for small companies, particularly after this year's horrendous winter weather.  Increased gas prices work against this potential of growth for small companies.  

The trend that gas prices generally follow is to rise in the spring, come back down around Memorial Day, and then increase again through the summer. Businesses must find ways to work around the spikes and sustained rises.  By cutting costs, carpooling, organizing deliveries accordingly, and preparing ahead of time, local companies can generate as much profit as possible during the high-cost period.  Although they adjust, small businesses are one of the sectors of the economy most affected by gas spikes. And since much of business consists of small businesses, this problem affects all of us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Does your business need a lawyer?

Every business owner is loath to spend income on unnecessary expenses, particularly smaller, newer or home-based businesses on thin margins who have yet to make much profit. It's much more satisfying to pay someone to make you an impressive website or even keep your books. However, the United States currently has a very litigious climate; as a country we spend about 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product, approximately $1000 for each person on tort litigation. In these circumstances finding a good lawyer is like hiring a bodyguard - with his presence and expertise, he'll stop attacks from happening as well as deal with any that do actually occur.

There are a number of areas a small business owner will need to consult a lawyer about: contracts, taxes and licensing, and real estate matters such as purchasing or leasing property or equipment. Over time matters that should be rather simple have become increasingly more complex because of other lawsuits. The legalese on these documents gets denser as sued parties attempt to reassert control. If the average person doesn't understand a basic user contract for an internet site like Facebook, how is he expected to know what's been inserted into his rental contract as a disincentive for his company ever to sever the relationship? No one wants to sign a lease from the Hotel California, after all.

At the outset of your business, you should consult an attorney about the legal basics of business formation. A number of things can be done without a lawyer's involvement. You don't need a lawyer to name your business, claim a trademark, hire employees, create buy-sell agreements, or file initial paperwork, but the Small Business Administration recommends consulting a lawyer to:

  • Form a corporation
  • File a patent
  • Buy or sell a business
  • Handle litigation
Particularly when dealing with litigation, it's advisable to have an attorney who is already familiar with your business and, preferably, has the kind of clout necessary to intimidate instigators of frivolous lawsuits or ambulance chasing. If you have not yet consulted an attorney to represent your business at least in times of legal necessity, start asking around for recommendations now - because when you need one, you really need one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is it time for your business to ditch the landline?

CDC data from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey show that nearly 40% of American homes now use only cell phones for telephone communication. An additional 15.7% of the population had landlines, but still received all or almost all their calls on wireless telephones. Poor Americans reported higher rates of complete dependence on wireless phones - 55 percent of adults below the poverty level had only wireless phones at home. Having a landline and a cell phone is a double expense, after all, and when money is tight can't always be justified.

Many small businesses are run from home and have limited budgets. Small business owners may feel there is no good reason to add a landline number and pay another bill. But having a landline has its advantages, including:

  • Clarity of sound - background noise is far more minimal on a traditional landline and voice quality is better than on cell phones or VoIP. 
  • Accessibility - landlines do not need a clear wireless signal or an internet connection to operate.
  • Sturdiness - by virtue of being less portable, landline telephones last longer and get lost less often. Their batteries also last longer. Those old phones your grandparents had in the 1970s still probably work. Does the cellphone you dropped in the toilet or left in your unlocked car?
  • Features - many of the features businesses have come to expect from telephone systems are only available on pricier wireless systems.
There are, of course, advantages to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and cell phones including significant cost reduction, portability, and the ability to route multiple numbers to one phone - a clear advantage to a businessman on the go. 

Still it's clear that communication technology is changing rapidly and will continue to change. At some point, even those who are entirely satisfied with the old way of calling will be forced to update their systems because telecommunications companies will find it prohibitively expensive to offer options that satisfy every user, from techie to Luddite. So small businesses should keep the shift in technology in mind for tomorrow, even they hold on to their landlines today.