We all know the economy is struggling, which puts a strain on nearly all businesses. In fact, a recent Citibank survey found that more than half of all small business owners have gone without pay in order to stay afloat and pay their employees, and almost a quarter have done so for a year or more.
To keep from falling into one of those groups, it helps to get creative when it comes to cutting business expenses. Fortunately, there are a slew of things you can get for free to assist in running your business, as long as you know where to look. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Business Classes
If you think you know it all as an entrepreneur, think again. In order to stay ahead of the competition in almost any field, you need to continually improve yourself. But instead of shelling out big bucks for a paid curriculum, investigate what you can get gratis.
Check out the Small Business Administration, which offers free online courses on how to manage a small business, obtain financing, contract out to other operations, and more. You can also look to your local community colleges for free workshops and seminars on a variety of small business–related topics, such as accounting and marketing. There's plenty of continuing education to be had free of charge if you do some digging.
2. Office Supplies
These may not seem high on your list of expenses, as each outlay is generally not too large, but office supply expenses do add up. If you sign up for a loyalty program at your preferred office supply retailer, you'll get email updates as to when all kinds of office supplies are available for free via a 100 percent cash-back rebate. Some typical items include batteries, printer paper, pens, pencils, and Post-Its. These items typically go on special around back-to-school time, but they're available at other times of the year as well. The key is to stock up when you see the deals.
3. Antivirus Software
In many cases, a free antivirus software product, such as those offered by AVG or Avast, is plenty of protection for your small business. I run a reselling business where my credit card and other personal information is constantly entered online, and I've yet to have a problem. However, if this will keep you up at night, invest in a paid version. All of the antivirus sites will attempt to get you to upgrade to a paid version from time to time, but it's not a requirement to maintain service. Just make sure you sign up for the "free" version and not the "trial," which always evolves into charges.
4. Accounting Software
There used to be plenty of free accounting software options, but not so much anymore. If you're willing to try out a new kid on the block, consider services like Outright or Wave Accounting. They're free, offer double-entry accounting, and save time on manual data entry. They do have their limitations (for instance, no merchant accounts), but if it the offerings fit in with the needs of your business, why pay for something you can get for free? There are also free versions of billing services FreshBooks and Zoho Invoice for smaller operations with only a few clients.
5. Employee Incentives
Keeping your staff motivated is a key to maintaining high levels of productivity. But that's not to say you have to break the bank to do it. Consider offering non-monetary rewards, such as paid days off (which doesn't cost you any net dollars, and can actually increase productivity), dress-down days, birthday celebrations, and flex time. Better yet, let your employees write their own schedule for a week, and see if that doesn't invigorate them. You could even offer telecommuting one day a week if it's conducive to your business. You don't necessarily have to throw cash at your team to keep them producing at a high level. Many times, just a hearty pat on the back along with a "thanks for doing such a great job" will carry you far.
Once you've taken advantage of all the free stuff, look for other ways to save money on your small business. Work toward going paperless and using less energy in the office. Look to free marketing options to advertise your business, such as social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Start your own blog, which you can promote from all of these places. As the economy struggles, any way that you can boost your business without digging deep will put you closer to thriving when things recover.
What other items can you get for free for your business?
David Bakke is a small business owner and contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance, an online blog dedicated to helping readers save money and build wealth.