Saving a few $$. Ok, I’ll admit it, my finances are a little shaky, hell, at least I’m not alone! Times are tough and many of us are working twice as hard for less return compared to this time a year ago. But that doesn’t have to spell disaster, it just means that we need to work not only harder but smarter. I’ve adopted a few tricks and tools that enable me to do just that; work a little smarter and save me a few dollars at the same time. Some work smarter tips for 2011:
Embrace Google Apps… Don’t have access to Microsoft Office?? No worries… as a Google account holder all you really need is Google Docs. Other free apps that you can leverage include Google Voice, Google Calling, and Google analytics… all free to use and very powerful for your business. Starting a blog… just grab yourseelf a blog from Google’s Blogger service (blogger.com)
Internet Access… in the USA get Comcast – I’ve tried a few Internet ISPs including a local, cheapo firm. I can confidently tell anyone that depends on Internet and communications for business (particularly if you work from home) that Comcast is by far the smartest choice. Great support, always online, fast, and most important, very affordable. In Canada go for Shaw… take advantage of bundled services, although don’t get sucked into a phone line if you really don’t need it… its a waste of $$. Are you on the road loads of the time? If so then connecting via netbook (who needs a DVD drive or disk drive for that matter?) is a breeze and free or cheap WiFi is all over the place.. take advantage of WiFi.
Ditch the land line – seriously, do you need a land line?? I’m totally land line-free now that I use Skype (PC and mobile) and Google’s free Calling service.
Upgrade your technology – Indeed it takes money to make money and if you depend on computer hardware in your work make sure your home PC (or MAC) are not more than 3 years old. PCs are dirt cheap and so are the peripherals. Are you still lugging around that 6 year old, 12 lb laptop? If so its time to pass it on to your kid or donate it to someone who can use it. Forget that it cost you $1200 because you can replace it with a slim, 3lb netbook for under $400. Most important, invest in an external storage device. For under $100 you can have a small, external hard-drive, ideal for backing up all your data (priceless) and easily portable so you can bring it with you when you travel.
Embrace open source software and web services – Thinking about purchasing a new Office Suite? Forget about it, why not just use Google Docs or an open source office suite solution? Need a blog or CMS for your website? Don’t spend loads of cash on software that you don?t need. For a powerful CMS invest in an open source solution like Joomla or for your blog , use Blogger (Google) or even better, WordPress, use free web hosting for personal blogs or invest a few $$ in a hosted WordPress solution – make sure you spend a few $$ a grab a custom domain name for the measly $8 per year that it will cost you.
Bakup, Bakup Bakup – whatever you do, make sure you back up all of your data (docs, email, websites, photos, videos). It takes no time to burn a DVD (you do have a CD or DVD burner right??) or simply store your data on a USB drive or even better, an external hard-drive. If none of these solutions sound doable to you there’s always hosted (cloud) storage available for very little cost. Be sure to create a Backup plan and schedule as well as plan for a recovery solution.
A few other suggested money and time savers:
Invest in your health and get a gym membership. Perhaps it’s not for you but it’s something to consider. A little exercise rejuvenates the body and the mind, it gets you out of the office (huge for you home-based workers) , will save you tons of $$ in health care in the long run, and then there’s the social benefits – potentially priceless. If you have a gym membership and are looking to trim some monthly expenses, don’t you dare cancel the membership! If times are tough, save on the gym membership and buy yourself some good running/walking shoes and a $14 excercise ball… it’s all you really need to get in shape!
The Library – I don’t know about you, but our area has some fabulous new libraries. They typically offer free Internet access and computer use as well as free check out of books, CDs, Wii games, and videos too.
Coffee Time – Again, important for the home-based worker, use your local coffee shop or find a favorite. You’ll likely be treated to free WiFi, a comfortable place to think and work, and then there?s the social benefits. I purchase punch cards saving me a ton of $$ on the cost of coffee (I save about 50% this way) and best of all, coffee shops tend to be magnets for social media savvy people and are great places to not only meet some local Twitter connections, you’ll likely also hear about some free educational opportunities that are hosted in your local area, possibly even taking place at the coffee shop. Do you work from hom full or Part time? Consider checking out a local Co-Working office space… these are fab resources and can help you tremendously!
Craigs List – I’ve had great luck on craigs List lately, finally getting rid of loads of clutter from the basement. I?ve made a few $$ and cleaned out the house a little as well. The biggest benefit is the great feeling you get when you start getting clutter free. Be sure to also use it for service work (like hiring a trades person or sub-contractor). Just recently I got some work done on my car for a fraction of the cost I would have paid at the Ford dealership. Investigate “local” knock off services too as there’s many around, including new Groupon-like deal providers with HUGE reward deals.
Rewards memberships – Be sure to sign up for all the loyalty programs you can, particularly at computer/electronic stores and office supply stores – the savings are awesome. Be sure also to save your printer cartridges and take them into the office supply store – many give a $4 refund per cartridge. Oh, and don’t buy cheapo ink for the printer as you won’t save any money as they typically last only a fraction of the time that a quality ink cartridge will last!
Educate yourself – Social media is hugely popular and /I guarantee that there’s plenty of meet-ups, tweet-ups, and educational sessions taking place in your area. Connect with some local businesses, the local chamber of commerce, your customers, heck, even your competition. Be sure to also scout out some local social media “experts” and listen to them on twitter or face book so you can hear about social opportunities and free training opportunities. Even if you don’t care about LinkedIn, Twitter, or face book it really wouldn’t hurt to learn about them and you may be surprised at what you find out. Companies faced with cash shortfalls, i encourage you to motivate your team by providing educational opportunities for them – its a great way to motivate the team and it’s a win-win!
Go Mobile – I’m sure you have a cell phone… If it’s not a smartphone then now is the time to go and get one! Regardless of your carrier, you can get yourself an iPhone, blackberry, Android smartphone, Symbian smartphone, or other powerful device. If at all possible avoid locking into a plan (if not, bit the bullet and extend your contract) and invest a little more per month in your cell phone bill? the benefits will be huge. Sure I pay about $35 a month more for my iPhone than I did for my Nokia Smartphone, however, I’m far more productive, I’m staying ahead of technology, aware of all the new mobile apps and trends, and the cost is tax deductible. Invest in technology and don’t sweat it! Be sure to also check your plan to make sure you aren’t going overboard. IF a 500 MB data plan is all you need then why pay for the 1 GB plan?? Check out contract-free options if available. You can do so by purchasing an unlocked device online (there’s tons around) or, here in Canada we have discount carriers (like Virgin Mobile) who offer no contract requirements… when you have no contract you are the boss!
Finally, I encourage you to pay for some applications and services (I know this may contradict my call for the use of open source) – don’t simply rely on free apps, free data, free music etc… It’s time that the user start paying, perhaps not for everything but consider going “pro” on a couple of services that you depend on (LinkedIn, Flickr) and consider buying a software license of two for apps that you really can take advantage of in your business. Free is fine in many cases, however, if the free version is restricting you and limiting your productivity then what is there to think about? Support some of the fabulous start-ups and application developers by purchasing their goods. If nobody bought their apps they would disappear before you know it. I’m actually hoping that some of the big names in the Internet (Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, face book, LinkedIn, you tube, etc?) become more aggressive really soon and start forcing users to pay. The web economy would boom, we’d have massive job creating and opportunities abound. Finally, ask yourself if you’re entire business model is reliant upon a free, web-based service (like facebook or Twitter) then ask yourself, what would happen to my business if this service goes away or throws the pay-per-use switch?
Happy New Year To All – Glenn
Some of the “newer” ways that I’m saving $$$ include:
- Groupon and related knock-offs
- Searching for deals via Twitter
- Free blog hosting from blogger
- The Library (free books, movies, and music CDs)
- Staying Fit – I eat better (and cheaper), less junk, fewer days sick
- Online travel booking via ChepoAir and related services
- Hotel booking via name my price deals
- Print from the cloud services
- Using online GIS basemap data services like ArcGIS Online, WeoGeo and other related cloud services.
- Consider investigation Cloud service providers like Amazon, WeoGeo, SkyGone and others… think pay for what you use.