How important is it for small businesses to save money? Very, seeing as how roughly the number one reason small businesses fail is due to cash flow problems.
But saving money is easier said than done. Smaller companies in a pinch may have to weigh their options between firing beloved employees to cut costs or trying to drum up new business quickly to cover rising expenses.
While making decisions about cash flow is never easy, there are certain things that small businesses can be doing throughout the year to save big. Understanding which areas of the business eat up the most money and how to make necessary tweaks before you’re faced with a financial crisis is half the battle.
With that in mind, here are a few ways that small field service businesses can save without sacrificing too much time, energy, or employees.
Field Tech Dispatch Costs
One area that field service businesses have to deal with that other small businesses don’t is the need to send field service technicians out to meet customers and perform jobs on site.
Workers in the field accrue costs faster than those sitting around the office due to additional expenses for driving time, equipment, and so on. That’s why it’s important to take a look at time loss incurred by dispatched field techs to see where money is slipping through the cracks.
Watch out for excessive windshield time. Windshield time is the time that techs spend moving from one location to another, whether from the office or shop to a customer’s location or from one customer location to another. Depending on the number of service calls the tech is addressing, time can add up quickly. Keeping careful track of hours spent on the road can help minimize this burden. Using GPS technology to find the fastest routes to locations or scheduling customer interactions for the same day or time can help minimize time going back and forth from the office to the field, saving countless hours each month.
Assess more situations over the phone. Sometimes field techs are dispatched on calls where the issue is quickly resolved. While that’s good news for the customer, that can still add additional windshield hours (and man hours in general) for your business, which can eat away at profits. If possible, try to address more issues over the phone first before sending in field techs to make sure that the problem can’t be resolved another way.
Fix the problem on the first visit. Having to repeatedly return to a customer’s location to resolve an issue is not only frustrating for the customer, but it means more time spent on the road. While you probably won’t be able to resolve 100% of customer issues the first go-around, training employees to spot problems during the first visit and resolve them quickly can help you save on operational costs throughout the year. Plus, happy customers are always good for the bottom line.
Field techs aren’t the only employees involved in your business, however. Keeping the administrative end of your business running smoothly takes a lot of manpower, and payroll issues can be a big concern for small or family-run companies.
Oftentimes the go-to solution for cost savings in times of crisis is to lay off employees, but that’s not always the best or most cost-effective solution in the long run. In fact, there are a few things you can do throughout the year to make sure that you don’t have to write any pink slips when times get tough.
Work with temporary employees during busy months. Hiring temporary or contingent workers for busy months can help you manage the workload. The best part is that you don’t have to keep paying them once jobs start to dip, and they don’t come with the additional expenses that full-time employees have, like salaries, taxes, insurance, healthcare, or other benefits that can add up over time. (By the way, we also wrote about the pros and cons of hiring contingent workers here).
Outsource tasks that don’t have to be done in-house. Not every task that you need accomplished has to be done by someone in your office. Salaries and other employee-related expenses are often the biggest portion of a small business’s budget, but outsourcing certain tasks, like marketing, customer service, accounting, and invoicing can help save money. And if you did run into money troubles, you can always find a cheaper third-party provider or move those tasks temporarily in-house without needing to fire anyone from your team.
Cut down on unnecessary employee time. You could also consider outsourcing enough of your operation so that your full time team can take more time off, which saves on payroll expenses. A four-day workweek, for example, not only has cost-saving advantages but has also been shown to improve productivity. Of course, it may not be practical for every field service business to operate only four days a week. But, if that’s an appealing idea, you could always have staff rotate (only working four days each) to cover the time needed, and outsource tasks that need to be handled 24-7.
Aside from people, the other area of your business that may be costing you is technology – or in this case, the lack thereof. Technology for the field service industry is designed to save time and money for both you as well as your customers, so not taking advantage of the tech available to you will leave you at a disadvantage.
Here are a few ways that you can use technology to reduce expenses and make you, your employees, and your customer’s lives easier.
Automate billing and invoicing. If you’re not outsourcing your accounting tasks to a third-party, consider automating as much of the process as possible. Our customer portal, for example, is designed to help the customer pay for their invoices quickly without having to rely on a phone call from your staff to remind them. If your staff is wasting time on invoicing follow-ups, consider switching to automation and leaving the human manpower for only the toughest cases.
Reduce paper waste. Another way that companies lose money each year is through paper waste. In fact, paper forms, invoices, and records could be costing you thousands of dollars without you realizing it. Switching to online forms, scheduling, and billing processes can help minimize this cost and reduce your annual office expenses. (We’ve also written about the huge costs of paper processes here).
Reduce money spent on other office essentials. There are many other costly processes that technology can replace to save you money. Using Skype or Google Voice instead of a landline can save you hundreds of dollars. Google Drive can help you store files electronically (for free) without needing to waste office space on paper files. The more free or nearly free technology you can use in place of traditional tools, the more money you can save over the long haul.
If you’re not sure which processes (or people) are costing you the most money, start tracking things like man-hours, windshield time, and other office expenses (paper, phone costs, etc.) that might be eating into your budget.
On the employee end of things, look at where the slowdowns are occurring. Are field techs spending too much time going back and forth between locations? Could scheduling fix this? Or are they repeating jobs that could have been finished the first time and simply need better training or equipment?
On the technological side of things, look at processes that could be replaced with cheaper online tools, or consider outsourcing tasks that don’t need to be done by your full-time staff. The more help you can get from the outside, the happier (and less expensive) your team will be on the inside.