Smart Business: 16 Tips to Save Time and Money
1. Take early lunches. When eating lunch at restaurants, you’ll find service a lot better at 11:00-11:30 than during the rush starting around noon. Servers will take and deliver your order quicker, and you’ll reliably trim 15 minutes or more off the time it takes to eat. Construction people typically start work earlier than the typical 8:30 to 9:00 starts for most businesses, so your stomach ought to be growling well before noon anyway.
2. Shop with promotional cycles. Study the flyers put out by office supply stores, Home Depot/Lowe’s and your supply houses. You’ll start noticing patterns to their product discounting and that’s the time to stock up. Bargains are available on many things after the holidays and January typically offers many clearance sales by retailers. Learn these rhythms and capitalize on them.
3. Buy private labels. Big office and construction supply stores typically carry a slew of private label merchandise that functions just as well as the brand names they carry but at a much cheaper price. Does it really matter whose name is on the scotch tape and paper clips or hammers and nails?
4. Buy used tools and equipment. Used tools don’t necessarily mean broken-down tools. Many contractors have gone out of business in recent times and are selling off assets to pay bills and keep a roof over their head. You can find great bargains on eBay and from other secondary markets for tools, equipment and other merchandise still in good condition.
5. Stop buying stuff you don’t need. This is a discipline that needs to be enforced in conjunction with items #2, #3 and #4. By all means shop for bargains, but just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you need to buy it, or buy it in greater quantity than you can use in a reasonable time frame. Paying $90 for 10 widgets gets a better unit price than $10 for a single widget but isn’t worth doing if you only use one widget a year.
6. Get the best banking deals. Most successful businesses have longstanding banking relationships and there’s something to be said for that. At the same time it also makes sense to shop around for the best rates on CDs and savings accounts. Banks frequently come out with new financial offerings and introductory rates that aren’t always publicized to existing clients. Tell your account rep that if s/he values your business, you wish to be informed of all new offerings and be given the chance to take advantage of them even if they are aimed at new customers. Park as little money as possible in checking accounts, a lot more in accounts that earn more interest but whose funds could be swept into your checking account when needed.
7. More email, less telephone. Routine information can be exchanged much more quickly via email than telephone. It’s also more precise and provides ready-made documentation. Where phone contact is important, set up conversations in advance via email, telling what you want to talk about, whatever information is required and decision deadlines, then nail down an appointment time for the call. This will avoid a lot of phone tag.
8. Exert “reply to all” discipline. Encourage everyone on staff to minimize “reply to all” responses. It’s hard to set precise guidelines because this is a judgment call, but so much time gets wasted copying everyone on messages relevant mainly to one or two recipients. Simple “thank you” or “you’re welcome” courtesy replies in particular don’t need to extend across the board.
9. Photograph job mishaps. I used to advise contractors to supply cheap cameras to their work crews to document jobsite damages, accidents or other conditions leading to disputes. Nowadays most people have cell phones with photo capabilities, so you don’t even need to issue cameras in most cases. Simply instruct your crews to use their cell phones to document situations where visual evidence could prove helpful.
10. Eliminate paper wherever possible. Printouts waste time, ink, paper and wear out equipment, so minimize them. Get in the habit of keeping electronic files (with automatic backups-very important) for routine business tasks. Set the fax machine to print out reports only for transmissions that don’t go through.
11. Get the best gas prices. A station near my office almost always sells gas for at least 10 cents a gallon cheaper than anywhere else around, so I do almost all of my fill-ups there. This seems a no-brainer, but I’m astounded by the number of people who don’t look around for the best gas prices. This is often the case with construction crews driving company vehicles. Warehouse stores like Costco offer member discounts on gas prices and you can often negotiate discounts if you operate a sizable fleet.
12. Organize batch work. Henry Ford revolutionized industry by coming up with the assembly line to boost productivity and the same principle applies to many tasks in both the field and office. Let certain kinds of tasks accumulate until your people can group them into a single kind of work, such as billing, mailings, filing, etc. Shop prefabrication can save a lot of time and material compared to assembling things on a jobsite where weather and other conditions may hamper productivity.
13. Strive for productive meetings. Few business activities waste more time than pointless meetings where everything gets discussed but nothing resolved. Don’t hold a meeting without a preprinted agenda and then stick to it. Establish times for both beginning and end of the meeting and what is to be accomplished. The person in charge of the meeting takes responsibility for moving it along, even if that means curtailing discussion and stopping digressions. Take detailed notes and record who is expected to do what with deadlines. The follow up to make sure everyone performs as expected or can explain why not.
14. Be an energy miser. Even small offices can save thousands of dollars a year in electricity and fuel bills by eliminating bad habits. Turn off all lights, computers and copiers for the night, unplug chargers, replace incandescent lights with fluorescent bulbs or the new LEDs. Consider timers if appropriate. Use programmable thermostats and consider ceiling fans to help reduce a/c costs in summer. Humidifiers in winter can make the surroundings feel warmer and enable you to turn the heat down 2 to 3 degrees with no loss of comfort. Reduce water temperature settings, change furnace filters regularly and wash full loads. Individually all of these things contribute rather trivial savings, but when done together as a matter of habit they add up to big bucks.
15. Buy bundled telecommunications. Fierce competitive battles are taking place by telecommunications providers and the best buys are for their bundled services-phone, Internet and TV for a single price. Cell phones can be added to the plan in some cases. Just like banks, the telecoms often offer steeply discounted specials to new customers. Existing customers often can get the same deal by simply calling the customer service department and ask for it (I tried this with my cable provider for a getaway home I own and got the newcomer deal without an argument).
16. “Measure twice, cut once.” This old construction adage applies not only to field work but also to drive time. Every time you’re tempted to run out to a jobsite or visit a business contact in person, think of any other stops you might make in the same direction. If the activity can be postponed, wait until you can make several appointments along the way to save time, fuel and vehicle wear and tear. Speaking of which, be sure to have all work vehicles on a maintenance schedule. This does not cost money, it saves a bundle in the long run.