Whether you are an indie-green, small businesses or multinational, it always pays to review how you run your business and whether you are doing things in the most efficient and cost effective way possible. It’s especially important in an era when technological advances are happening so quickly that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with all the opportunities available. With internet start ups and the sharing economy it is becoming easier than ever to save operating costs or time by handing over parts of the business that you don’t enjoy doing to a freelancer or an app.

1. Move onto the cloud

Most freelancers need to be out and about, on site, commuting or on holiday on the beach, and still be able to get at all their documents. You can have everything on a laptop, but what if that goes on the fritz or gets stolen? Even if you have been meticulous about backing everything up, chances are you’ll have lost data and time in retrieval. It is much more efficient to store your data in the cloud. There are plenty of cloud computing options that are free (Google Apps and Dropbox) and, believe me I speak from experience, a lot more secure and stable than an in-house intranet. If you need more data security there are also plenty of paid for options.

If you are a small organisation/ sole trader with tight finances you certainly don’t have the capacity to install and maintain an intranet and manage a freelance IT consultant, or even to make sure all your IT security is up to date and your documents are backed up. If you go onto the cloud they do set up, updates and security for you, saving you time and stress. You can also share documents with your customers/ clients more easily, no more emailing back and forth, share documents on-line instead.

2. Is there an app for that?

It’s amazing how many useful apps you can find these days, far too many to mention them all here. My favourite solutions have been for member management and finance. CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management) are great, they help you keep track of your customers, members, service users, and service providers and up until recently the cheapest CRM on the market was in the tens of thousands. But IT services are evolving rapidly and there are a number of cloud based Apps that can be really helpful. Try Capsule, it’s free up to a certain number of records and then costs £4 per month per user. It’s basic but better than Excell and it updates automatically. It also links in with other apps like Mail Chimp (great for newsletters) and Xero  finance software. So now you can have a more efficient, automated customer tracking, communications and bill payment.

3. Automate what you can

It’s amazing what you can get done on-line nowadays. Eventbrite  is a great example of nearly entirely automated bookings. You fill in information on your event and it will do everything else for you including generating name badges and sending out pre-event reminders to people attending. The best bit is that if your event is free Eventbrite won’t charge you for it. If it’s a paid even they take a small fee from the customer. The time it saves you more than makes up for the fee. You can also reach a far wider market as your event is advertised to the world in general via the Eventbrite site.

4. Do you really need an office?

Many freelancers already work from home, and with cloud computing, video conferencing and ever more accessible mobile devices, is it any wonder? However if you are looking to grow you might be thinking it’s time to find office space. There are pro’s and cons. The pros are people can find your physical address (if you have customers who need to meet you) and staff can meet up and share intelligence. Very small teams can be claustrophobic however, and experience more strife than you might get in a large organisation where people who don’t like each other can just avoid each other.

I have found that recruiting the best people for the job can be frustrating if you have an office, it automatically reduces your recruitment pool to the people within commuting distance of your office. If you don’t have an office you can recruit people from across the country, or even the world if you like.

You obviously make savings from rent, tax and services but you also save money in staff time lost to chores. As a small business you are most likely occupying a self managed office, which means that someone in the team has to take charge of things like changing light bulbs, calling in plumbers when the heating fails, organising a cleaner, or getting everyone to clean for themselves.

5. Use a co-working space

Just because you don’t have a full time office doesn’t mean you can’t have an office at all. It helps to have somewhere you can use to not go stir crazy at home and can also be used for meeting clients and post delivery. Co-working spaces are great places to occupy for a day a week or more. Co-working is far friendlier and more supportive than hot-desking. Here a concerted effort is made to introduce people to each other and encourage them to work together. My favourite co-working spaces are the Impact Hubs, where you will be working side by side with highly motivated start -ups, sole traders and charities.

Because you are sharing the space with web designers, accountants, policy consultants, marketing experts, artists and small business start-ups you have almost immediate access to their services, which are often very reasonably priced. You can also gain free expert advice, and training (which is often free or very affordable) through Hub events. So whilst your organisation may not be able to afford an events manager, you might be sitting next to one at the Hub. The other advantage of a co-working space is you can increase number of desks you’re hiring overnight and only need to give a month’s notice to quit. Most offices are rented for a term of at least a year and often five or more.

6. Outsource

As a freelancer or small business owner, it makes sense, instead of having a member of staff, to consider whether the role can be done by a freelancer. There are lots of tasks that sole traders and small businesses need to have covered but where you can’t afford the cost of a full time or part time member of staff. Everything from day to day admin and social media to sending out press releases and organising events can be covered by a freelancer or agency. Digital Mums are a very affordable and, more importantly, reliable way to cover your social media. People per hour http://www.peopleperhour.com, is a good place to find, amongst other things, people who can design your logo for you, write a press release or design a website. This route is especially useful for jobs that are seasonal or annual events such as a conference.

7. Don’t get tied into long term contracts

Be wary of signing up to anything with long notice periods. Business phone companies and the broadband phones I signed up to tied us into three year contracts. They’ll increase number of lines rented immediately, but will force you to pay the full cost of use for the term of the contract if you want to drop a line or two due to a project ending. Task agencies that have sprung up claiming to cover every task under the sun from admin to fetching your laundry may also be more costly and less flexible than they lead you to believe. They tie you into a contract that requires you to spend a minimum number of hours per month, so you have a regular monthly outgoing and a three month notice period which can land up costing you a lot of money. Maintain your flexibility and wherever possible avoid long contracts.

8. Let staff bring their own devices (BYOD)

Nowadays almost everyone has a laptop and smart phone and most people will also have a tablet and whether you like it or not they will bring these devices into work. Although it gives most IT managers nightmares about data security, there are a lot of advantages to allowing people to bring their own device, especially in a small organisation where you don’t have an in house IT manager. Firstly they will be using a device they know and like, which improves productivity, secondly it means you don’t have to pay for expensive IT equipment. BYOD is really only workable if all office documents are stored in the cloud. There are pros and cons to using BYOD which are covered in detail here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bring_your_own_device

9. It’s ok to fire bad clients

This may be controversial, but the client isn’t always right and it isn’t necessary to hang onto every single client you have. Some clients absorb a disproportionate amount of your time and time is money. If their requests are unreasonable, and this isn’t always deliberate sometimes just thoughtless, it’s ok to contact them and tell them that you probably aren’t the right person for them. Recommend they move their business somewhere else, or accept what you have to offer without demanding all the add ons.

10. Join a network

Sharing information always helps which is why there are a number of membership bodies to support freelancers and small businesses from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to IPSE. There are more informal groups like the I am Group, and the groups that set themselves up on meetup and then there are the very local groups, check out your area on Facebook, you might find there’s a local group of freelancers meeting just around the corner from you. Never underestimate the value of networking, we are all stronger if we help each other.

I hope you find this blog helpful. I am always looking for new ways to save time and money so if there is something you’ve done that saves money please share with everyone in the comments.