Four dollars a gallon! That's the cost of regular gasoline where I live — and the national average has skyrocketed to more than $3.60. Four years ago, when I last wrote about the effects of high gas prices on small businesses, the price was a seemingly crushing $2 a gallon. Wouldn't you like to have those prices now?
But while high gas prices are tough on everyone, they place a particularly tough burden on small companies. Everything we order or ship, every sales trip we make, every flight we take costs more. I'm in the publishing business. Books are heavy; they cost a lot to ship cross-country but I can't raise prices.
What's a small business to do? We've got to find ways to save money, especially on anything involving gas or fuel. It's the only way to survive. But cutting down on gas and shipping is not only good for your budget — it's good for the country. If each of us could eliminate even a couple of gallons of gas a week, we'd help make America less dependent on oil companies, with their record-breaking windfall profits.
What can entrepreneurs do to save money on gas?
•Go digital. It's time to switch to electronic solutions for many aspects of your business. What can you do digitally rather than by physically sending paper, products or people? Can you hold Web conferences instead of traveling for meetings in person? Create digital catalogs instead of printed ones? Send invoices, bills, proposals electronically instead of by mail?
In my company, we're investing in developing electronic "review copies" of our books instead of sending professors the physical texts as a way of cutting down on shipping (and printing) costs. With the price of gas so high, the cost of developing digital alternatives is likely to now be affordable.
•Reduce shipping expenses. Shipping costs have gone up and, with no end in sight to higher gas prices, they're going to continue to rise. It's time to seriously evaluate your shipping procedures and packing materials. Consolidate shipments, reduce waste, find lightweight alternatives.
•Use the phone. Take care of routine business over the phone instead of in person. Before driving to an appointment, call to make certain your meeting is still on.
•Make a driving plan. Eliminate trips by clustering appointments and destinations. I'm a realist: if a hot prospect agrees to meet you — but only Wednesday at 3 p.m. — take that appointment! But can you schedule another sales call before this one or go to the office supply store afterward?
•Park and walk. Park in a central location to your meetings or errands and walk between them. Don't keep looking for the perfect parking place. Instead, park and walk the extra block or two. It's good for your health, too.
•Keep your car in shape. Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure; check your spark plugs. Even small improvements in gas mileage make a difference.
•Encourage bike riding, public transit, walking. Reimburse employees for using public transit instead of driving. Set an example by walking or biking to work yourself. Moving? Look for a location where you and your employees can easily avoid driving to work. Even if rent is a bit higher, it will pay off in lower costs and higher job satisfaction.
•Lighten your load. The heavier the load in your car or truck, the more gas you use. Can you remove some of the tools, samples, or excess materials you're lugging around?
•Change working hours. Sitting in rush-hour traffic uses up extra fuel. If you or your employees commute — or have appointments across town — try to avoid prime-time traffic if possible.
•Buy a hybrid vehicle. If you're in the market for a new car, van, or truck — or will be soon — check out hybrid vehicles.
•Have lunch in your office. Get a microwave, refrigerator, some tables and chairs. Make it easy for you and your employees to have lunch without getting in a car. They'll save gas and money on food.
•Slow down. I've saved this for last, because I like driving fast. But speeding — along with rapid acceleration and braking — lowers gas mileage. And I have to admit, it's safer too.
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Their newest is Finding an Angel Investor In A Day. Register for Rhonda's free business planning newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com. For an index of her columns, click here. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2008.