How to slash your operating costs

TechnologyTechnology has been the biggest factor in keeping our costs low and is at the heart of many of the cost-saving tips below. When we set up the company, we spent a great deal of time and energy investigating different options. Almost all of our management systems are web-hosted – we use e-conomic for our accounting and project costing, for example, and Xythos for our workflow and document management.

Web hosted software –sometimes called online, on-demand or software as a service (SaaS) – means that we access the software through a web browser and an internet connection anytime, anywhere. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s online and you pay for it on a monthly subscription that it will be a basic solution; many online software packages have superior depth of functionality than traditional software.

The beauty of web hosting is that it takes away a lot of the pain associated with IT management, such as installation, backups and upgrades, and it saves on operations staff costs as well. It also means that if the office were to burn down, then everyone could carry on working from home!

When we adopted e-conomic, our accounting and project management software, we calculated that it would save us in the region of £100,000 per annum. Without it we would need an expensive infrastructure (servers, software, connectivity, etc.), an IT manager, a full-time bookkeeper and an administrator to manage the timesheets.

Automating processes, an issue linked to technology, can also save costs in many areas. For example, we send out around 200 invoices per month. Our invoices are very easy to create because all the information is captured automatically in our accounting software. Invoices are emailed direct to the customer, saving us time and the cost of printing and postage. And because the software can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, all our project managers do their billing, timesheets and expenses from the client’s premises which means they can provide up-to-the-minute reports on project progress, which is extremely valuable for our clients.

CultureNow for the cultural cost-savings. No-one could have escaped the drawn out saga of MP’s expenses. It was a perfect example of how systems can become abused over time and the boundary of what is the "norm" can be pushed beyond the acceptable.

In our company, we have 38 project managers who travel to and work at clients’ sites everyday. We take great pains to ensure that they feel empowered to do the best job they can and are not constrained by petty or burdensome corporate rules. However, expenses are one of our largest overheads, around £10,000-£12,000 each month, so it has been necessary to put some guidelines in place and have checks and measures to ensure the system is not abused. But ultimately, you have to develop a good culture within the organisation and trust people to do the right thing.

EnvironmentIt is true that reducing your company’s carbon footprint also saves you money and we do the obvious things like turning off the lights, printers and PCs at the end of the day. We also have air conditioning that turns itself off if a window is open. But probably the one thing that saves us the most money and is best for the environment is our voice conferencing service (we use pow wow now conferencing). It saves on travel and it’s much more time efficient too.

SuppliersAs a service business, we don’t need lots of suppliers. However, we incur some large overhead costs like mobile phones and laptops, and there is often room to negotiate a good deal. I always make a point of meeting our most important suppliers to make sure I feel they are people we can work with and will get a personal service from.

It goes without saying that good accounting is crucial to managing your bottom line. You need to be able to see how your finances are faring at any time and it should be easy for you to access your accounts. Payment terms must be appropriate for your business and it’s vital to keep on top of debtors. That said, my ethos is do a great job for people then they don’t have any reason not to pay. Paul Garside is the managing director of project management services provider Symbiotic Projects.

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