By Holly Mangan
NEW YORK ( Money Crashers) -- "Business as usual" is taking on new meaning as businesses small and large prepare for change. For instance, if you employ at least 50 people, you may be considering layoffs or reducing staff hours to avoid taxes resulting from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But even very small businesses remain nervous about the economic climate and whether measures such as Obamacare will hurt their bottom line.
As a business owner, it's prudent to streamline your operation by trimming the fat wherever possible, realizing that a series of small yet regular savings can mean the difference between making it in the new business climate or not.
1. Barter your services
When the economy struggles, bartering for services can be an effective way to get what your business needs when you don't have the money to pay for it. To address inherent differences in the values of goods and services, organized barter exchanges enable business owners to earn "currency" good with the other members of that exchange toward their services. For example, if you offer accounting services via a barter exchange, a fellow member would pay you in "trade dollars" (that they presumably earned from bartering their product or service). You could then use these dollars to buy, say, printing services from another member of the exchange.
2. Buy used
You can often find gently used items at substantial discounts on Craigslist, eBay (EBAY) and Amazon (AMZN). Even if you're looking for new, however, don't discount these sources. Many "used" products are simply open-box items that have been returned without being used. Do be aware, however, that warranties are typically voided if you are not the original buyer of an item. And always buy from a reputable seller with a solid return policy.
Going green doesn't have to mean overhauling the way you do business. Even simple steps such as offering paperless statements and billing and encouraging customers to enroll can mean big savings. Whether you work out of a home office or rent a designated space, get an energy audit performed by your energy provider to determine how and where you can reduce costs. Your provider may offer this service for free or at minimal cost. And don't overlook simple solutions such as CFL bulbs and encouraging staff and customers to turn lights off when not in use (in bathrooms, for example). 4. Maximize social media
You have your social media pages up and running. You even have a fair number of likes and followers. But are you getting the most out of your campaign? It goes without saying that platforms such as Facebook (FB), Twitter and Pinterest are great ways to get your brand in front of your market. But since every single business these days, including your competition, is on the social media bandwagon, what are you doing to differentiate yourself? Are you even measuring your results? Effectively tracking your campaign may not save you money outright, but it will help you get the most out of your investment. 5. Save on supplies
Most national office supply retailers have rewards programs through which they offer various office supplies essentially for free. Once you buy one or more of the promoted items, you get a rewards certificate for the amount of purchase. These office items may include printer paper, batteries and Post-it notes. This tip is especially useful for small-business owners who don't order enough to qualify for large-order pricing. Final thought
The Boy Scout motto -- "be prepared" -- is as applicable in the world of business as it is in the great outdoors. If you haven't already, educate yourself regarding how the impending changes will affect your small business and look at what you can do to better prepare. Also keep in mind that a small business does have an advantage over its larger brethren: the ability to more quickly adapt, be flexible and roll with the punches. What ways can you think of to save on you small business? Holly Mangan is the managing editor of Money Crashers, an online resource dedicated to personal finance education including such topics as frugality, money management, investing and retirement.