5 Ways Small Businesses Can Use Tech to Save Money

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

It goes without saying that small business owners are always looking for ways to save money. And technology is a great way to do just that.

By its very nature, technology is intended to make complicated things simple and expensive things affordable. Think about sending a bill to a customer; back in the day, it took paper, correction fluid, a stamp and a trip to the mailbox to accomplish this task. These days, it can be as quick and cheap as sending an e-mail.

Here are five easy ways small businesses can save money using technology.

1. Go Paperless

Invoicing, accounting, HR and other business processes are complicated enough without mounds of paper stuffed into alphabetized files. The more paper you keep, the more work-hours you spend tracking that paper down. In most cases, it’s possible to go entirely paperless with the majority of your record-keeping while simultaneously making your data easier to organize, store and link when needed.

A paper-free system is not only more green; it’s also a huge time-saver for you and your staff, and it will save you more than a few expensive trips to the office supply store. We estimate that more than a few of your customers will appreciate the change, too.

2. Go Distributed

You can use technologies such as IM clients, VOIP calls, video chats, project management software and in-the-cloud document storage to get a lot done from remote locations. In the short term, this can save you overhead (and earn you major brownie points with your staff) if you let folks work from home on Fridays; it can also ease the pain of sick days and vacation time when urgent tasks pop up. In the long term, being able to have employees work remotely can allow you to hire offsite workers; one thing we’ve learned about Gen X and Millennial employees it that many of them are willing to take a lower salary in exchange for the ability to work from home. In cases such as this, you save on both salary and capital expenses.

3. Go Open Source

Free and open-source software (FOSS) can be far and away less expensive to obtain and maintain for a small business owner. For example, you could spend hundreds on programs like QuickBooks, Microsoft Word and Photoshop, or you could get GnuCash, OpenOffice and GIMP absolutely free of charge. The interfaces are generally of great quality, and will contain all or most of the familiar tools you’re used to using in industry-standard, professional software. In all likelihood, your clients will never know the difference, and you’ll save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in software licensing fees.

4. Go Beta

“Beta” has come to have different meanings for different kinds of software; essentially, the term means you’re working with a not-quite-there-yet product. Oftentimes, these beta products are actually quite polished — some even have fewer bugs than what you see in major proprietary software releases! If you get onboard with an early-stage software company, you might get to use their software for free while they work out the kinks.

If you hear of a new company doing work that would directly benefit your business, get in touch with them and ask to be a beta tester. Keep in mind, though: There likely will be kinks, so be prepared and back up any essential data. If you’re not “beta friendly,” this might not be the best option for you.

5. Go Social

Guess how much it costs to create a Facebook Page or Twitter account to promote your business within your local community or to your target audience? Nada. Don’t let the “social media experts” convince you that there’s some big mystery to marketing on the web. If your customers are online, be present there, too, and see what happens. Read up on social media marketing on blogs, and keep an eye out for industry experts.

Most of all, listen to what your customers are saying about you online to figure out how you can serve them better and increase your own revenues. Free tools for social media monitoring and marketing abound, and it’s up to you to use them. Many small businesses have cut marketing back to social media alone and have seen substantial returns from focusing their efforts on a medium that truly works.

Whatever you do, though, don’t adopt a new bit of technology that will increase the number of steps your team has to take to accomplish a simple task. Organization is good, but process overkill is very bad, indeed.

If you’ve got tips to share or ways you’ve used technology to cut work hours and save money, be sure to let us know about them in the comments.

For more business coverage, follow Mashable Business on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More business resources from Mashable:

5 Ways Small Businesses Can Leverage LinkedIn’s New Features

How One Small Biz Turned Their Company Retreat Into Social Media Success

Growing Your Business: 5 Tips From the Founder of Foursquare

5 Simple Tools for a Paperless Office

HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Pgiam

Tags: business, facebook, List, Lists, money, open source, OpenOffice, paperless, save money, small business, social media, tech, twitter

Comments 16

  1. I need some serious advice on what to do!! Please help…?
    Okay, so i have a 40 hr a week job as a manager of a Small company growing….but small. I have a 6 year old and her father does not help with child support or child care. My boyfriend and i live together he has a 6 year old as well. We are happy but financially distraught right now…(go figure)
    So, back to my predicament. By beau and i talked about me taking on a different career (we need more income) I took a small paycut when taking this job because i believe that one day they will be very successful but unfort right now i have to think about my familys needs first. (My boyfriend is a heavy equipment operator and deos make good money but it doesnt help when im not making good money) I make 10.00 an hour right now. Summer is up in two weeks and im going to have to pay 130.00 a week for childcare for my daughter…unfor thats half my paycheck…So we diecided that i quit my job watch a few kids and go back to school for medical assisting or radiology tech. Saving the 130.00 a week plus bringing home an income. I put in my notice (I was sad because i do enjoy working here and my boss {the owner} and i work very well together) a couple of days ago. Well….My boss and i talked today and he offered me 2.50 more an hour for me to stay.
    12.50 an hour……i just dont know what to do please help me i like my job i care about the business but its possible that it may flop like much other companies have and he may have to lay me off because he is compensating for my "income" then ive missed the chance to get an education in the medical field. Do i accept the counter offer and appreciate the fact that i am importaint to his business or do i leave and take my chances of earning an education and watch children (which by the way i only have one full time child right now set up for two weeks from today.

  2. If you need extra money you should try working from home part time. Theres literally hundreds of different ways to do it online.

    I got a free kit about how to make money using Google for free, only had to pay like a dollar for the shipping. I make more money online than I do with my crap day job.

    Here’s the site I got mine from if you want to check it out: http://tr.im/hwF3
    References :

  3. Working online takes a while (about a year) to set up to getting steady income. You need solutions now, so ignore any crap about that.

    I don’t see why you couldn’t get an education and work at the same time? It will be very, very stressful, but I know a woman who has two kids she is raising on her own, she works, and she goes to school. What I’m saying is, it’s doable.

    Many community colleges will offer very flexible class schedules.
    References :

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