There is much you can do as a small business to save energy and ultimately save yourself money. Whilst this article isn’t intended to be a full appraisal of a particular approach, it should help give ideas about where you can save money and reduce energy consumption in a small business.
One of the main costs of a small business is the building in which it operates. If you are running a small business that is largely internet based, it’s worth asking yourself if you can operate at home.
What advantages are there of running my business from home?
There could be a number of reasons why it might be cost effective to run your business from your home, considering:
- No increase in standing charges for electricity, gas and water (as you’ll already be paying these on your house)
- Renting or buying office accommodation isn’t required (if you have a space at your home)
- If your heating your house anyway because others are at home at the same time, it won’t cost you anymore money in real terms to heat another room
- Potential reduction or elimination of business rates
- There will be less bills for you to manage and process
You can potentially use your home internet connection for business purposes.
Nevertheless, working at home isn’t for everyone as it can often prove difficult to your separate work and home life and there may be many other reasons why it may now be practical to run your company from home. It’s always worth looking around for deals as there are plenty of office accommodations out there and it’s worth finding the most cost effective and suitable one for your business.
Shared Office Accommodation
Some estate agents offer offices with shared facilities such as meeting rooms, toilets and canteens. These are ideal for small businesses that need to keep their costs down and only require meeting rooms on occasion. Costs of heating and electricity can be included in the rent.
If you are a sole trader or a one person business, it’s worth seeing if you can share space with a friend. This can be particularly useful when friend’s business relationships complement each other such as computer support and web design.
The less equipment you use, the lower your energy usage will be. Using online software to run your business such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google apps can not only save you licensing costs, but they can also save you the headache of running and supporting a computer and server network considering:
- Expensive capital cost of servers
- Issues of backing your data up
- Air conditioning/cooling requirements for large servers
- Support contracts for ICT infrastructure
- Power requirements to run servers and peripherals (as they are usually left on all the time)
- Parts and extended warranty costs of expensive server parts
- Depreciation of value over time
- Need to keep ICT infrastructure current and consider replacements in the future
With hosted or “Cloud” (the new buzzword) applications, all this is taken care of by a hosting provider and they have all the hassle of points listed above.
Doing Business Online
The more you do your business online, the lower your costs should be. Just by doing simple things like emailing documents such as purchase orders, quotations and invoices will help you reduce costs such as:
- Printing and toner costs
- Storage and archive costs
How can a Document Management System help reduce costs?
Many years ago document management systems were about scanning huge volumes of paper based documents and turning them into electronic files. The need for this has now reduced as more businesses keep their source documents as electronic copies. Document management systems not only need to be able to archive copies of paper based documents, but electronic copies too such as word documents and email attachments.
By storing documents in electronic form, you’ll need to use less office space for filing cabinets.
By using power saving features in most modern operating systems you can help reduce your computer’s electricity consumption as the computer can be set to reduce power when not in use by turning off the likes of the monitor and hard disk drive. In Microsoft Windows you can easily adjust these setting in your control panel. However, the best way to save electricity is to turn things off when they are not in use for long periods of time.
Re-use of Old IT equipment
Although newer IT equipment is often more power efficient than older devices, old IT equipment can be re-used as dummy terminals for those interested in virtual desktops.
A virtual desktop is when you use your computer as a terminal only just to display images, play sound and take input through the keyboard and mouse. This has the advantage that processing takes place on a powerful server hosted in a data center. Using technology such as this, you can run very powerful applications on some very old equipment that would normally be obsolete.
Virtual desktops aren’t new; companies like Citrix have been providing them for many years in the shape of dummy solid-state terminals that have no moving parts such as hard drives or fans, therefore these are very energy efficient.
In the near future, the power and type of computer will become less important, particularly as applications like CamisOnline are delivered by web based technologies that only require a browser to operate.
Video Conferencing & Remote Support
Using software like “TeamViewer” and “LogMeIn” an IT support technician can connect to your PC and help you with a problem. This is also useful for other purposes too:
- Software demonstrations
- Remote presentations
This helps keep the costs down for both the customer and the IT service provider as there is less of a need to visit a customer to diagnose and correct a problem. This type of software is often freely available and quite secure as you have to give permission for someone to connect and control your computer.
Video conferencing can be easily undertaken with free software such as Skype. This is really powerful tool that I use to contact colleagues in Sweden who work with me. All you need is a webcam and a microphone; most new notebooks have these built in. Video conferencing can save you a lot of money in traveling costs such as transport and lost time. Whilst face to face meetings are still necessary for introductory meetings and new business, video conferencing is great for collaboration on projects.
For those interested in renewable local energy sources in the UK, there is only really one viable option for most: solar power; this is unless of course you live in a remote costal area. Power companies can offer feed in tariffs and the idea is that the solar panels will be supplementing the electricity supply to your premises from the grid with their own energy; what you don’t use gets sold back to the power company.
It’s beyond the scope of this blog to offer a full appraisal of renewable energy, but more useful information can be found at this link.
The disadvantage of solar energy as you’ll need to cover most of your south-facing roof in panels. To do this you need to get permission from your landlord if you rent and they may not be too keen on the idea as many companies that offer free fitting and installation usually require a minimum term for the solar panels to be fitted, sometimes up to 25 years.
Some landlords worry that this may cause issues if they want to sell the building in the future. Furthermore, you’ll need a south facing roof in the first place. It’s also worth reading the small print of any contract to see what costs you might incur, particularly if you may need to replace your building’s roof in the near future.
Rain Water Harvesting
It is terribly wasteful when we use treated tap water to flush the toilet; furthermore premises that have water meters fitted can save considerable sums of money by fitting a rain water harvesting system for flushing their toilets.
The idea behind a rainwater harvesting system is that rain from the roof of a building is collected into large storage tanks and used to flush the toilet. If you look at a metered water bill you’ll see your charges are not just for the fresh water you’ve used, but for sewage and treatment so they usually consider that whatever fresh water you use, will ultimately end up in their drains.
By using rainwater to flush your toilet, you’ll not only save on your freshwater charges, you’ll also save on your waste water charge too.
Rain water harvesting systems aren’t for everyone as there is a bit of plumbing work to be undertaken to fit them, but they are becoming more popular in both domestic and commercial premises. Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, UK has a very large rainwater harvesting system fitted.
It’s always worth insulating your home or business and there are schemes out there that will usually fund most of the costs. Many companies offer free surveys to assess the implications for you.
“Energy And Cost Saving Tips For Small And Micro Businesses” was originally published on the author’s blog.
Neil Cavanagh is CEO of Xpress Data Systems Ltd. He has over 15 years experience as Chief Technical Officer in large organizations in both the public and private sector. Having recently launched CamisOnline, an online Business Administration and Management tool, Neil is actively contributing advice to help businesses thrive on the web.