Coping with Inflation in Your Small Business

Inflation is the leading challenge facing small businesses this year. With inflation rates reaching a 41-year high this spring, many small businesses are getting caught between that proverbial rock and hard place. On one hand, they’re seeing their costs of doing business skyrocketing. On the other hand, their customers are looking for bargains and cutting back on discretionary spending because inflation is taking a big bite out of their budgets. 

Although skyrocketing inflation is troublesome, there are steps your small business can take to mitigate or eliminate the effect of inflation on your cash flow and profits. Here are strategies that help small businesses combat inflation. 

Pay more attention to your cash flow

Keeping careful watch on your cash flow is particularly important when inflation is an issue. If your expenses are increasing and you’re losing sales or customers are slowing payments, you need to take appropriate action quickly. Here are several steps you can take.

  • Invoice quickly. Don’t wait until the end of the month to send out invoices. Send them out as soon as work is performed or products are delivered. The sooner you send out invoices, the sooner you’re likely to get paid. Simplify the process by using ZenBusiness Money to create and send out one-time and recurring invoices at any time or from any location. 
  • Review expenses weekly. If your expenses are going up, you don’t want to wait until the end of the month or end of the quarter to find out and make adjustments. Here again, ZenBusiness Money helps by giving you real-time reports that put expenses and other financial data at your fingertips. 
  • Run a credit check on new customers. If you have a new customer who places a large order, run a credit check before filling the order or signing a service contract with them. If the credit check shows a problem, ask the customer to pay in advance.
  • Stay on top of accounts receivable. Don’t do more work or sell more to past-due clients until they’ve paid their outstanding balance. 
  • Require immediate payment. Avoid slow or late payments by requiring immediate payment. Make it easy for your customers to pay you by accepting credit cards and other common forms of payment. 

Related: Find more ways to fix cash flow problems

Reduce costs to combat inflation

Although prices may be increasing, your business may be able to counteract inflationary trends by reducing or eliminating some expenses. Here are some suggestions:

  • Reduce credit card processing fees. Credit card processing fees take a significant bite out of small business sales. Although average credit card processing fees range from 1.5 to 3.5%, it’s not unusual for small businesses to be paying a lot more.  If you’ve been in business for a while, have steady sales, and get few if any chargebacks, contact your merchant card provider and ask for a lower rate. If they won’t lower your rate, contact other providers and ask what their rates are. Depending on the volume of business you do you might be able to save hundreds of dollars every month.
  • Switch from landline phones to VoIP. If your business is still using traditional phone services, you may save 30 to 50% of phone costs by switching to VoIP. VoIp stands for voice over internet protocol. In other words, phone calls go over the Internet, instead of through conventional phone lines. If you have just a few phone lines, making the switch is relatively easy. 
  • Ask for lower prices from service providers. Some of the services you subscribe to may automatically increase their rates once a year. Find out what deals are being offered to new customers for such services, and then contact customer support and ask for a reduction in your price, or ask about reducing the level of service. One micro-sized business that used their local cable company for the business’s internet and two telephone connections saved more than $30 a month by calling the company and asking for the same pricing new customers were being offered. 
  • Ask for a rent reduction. Do you rent space for your business? Is there a lot of vacant business space in the area? If there is, check what the going rate is, then ask your landlord if they’d lower your rent. If your lease is up for renewal soon, or if there’s an “out” clause in the lease that would let you end the lease early without penalty, the landlord may agree. Getting less money from a good tenant is better than getting no money while the space is vacant. 
  • Downsize your office. The pandemic showed us that many businesses could operate as well remotely as they could from dedicated office space. Not surprisingly, it also revealed that many employees would rather work from home some of the time or all the time. If you’ve seen that your business functions well with fewer employees in the office, downsize your space when your lease comes up for renewal. Or, work virtually all of the time.  If your lease is long term and you don’t need all the space, check the lease terms to see if you’re allowed to sublet space you aren’t using. 
  • Reduce computer printouts. How many documents are you and your employees printing out each day? How many are never looked at again?  And if they are looked at again, why do they have to be looked at in print? Save money on paper, printer ink or toner, and wear and tear on your printer by storing documents on your computer or in the cloud instead of printing them out. The less you and your employees print, the less filing cabinet space you’ll need, too. One caveat: be sure all computers are backed up daily. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary expenses. Are there services or subscriptions you’re paying for that you no longer need? Check your credit card bill to see if there are any monthly recurring charges you can eliminate.
  • Pay business expenses with a cash-back credit card. If you pay off your business credit card balance in full every month, use the card to pay as many bills as you can. Internet service, cell phone service, cost of inventory, are just some of the recurring costs you may be able to charge that you aren’t charging now. (Just be sure you don’t get charged a surcharge for paying with a credit card.) If you use the cash back reward as a payment toward your balance and if you pay your balance in full, you wind up reducing your out-of-pocket expenses by the cash-back amount.

Related: 47 Cost-Cutting Tips for Small Businesses

Increase your prices

Small business owners often worry that they’ll lose customers if they raise their prices. But if your expenses are going up and you don’t raise prices, you could lose your business. Although customers won’t be happy with a price increase, given all the publicity inflation has gotten, most will understand, or at least not be surprised by, an increase. While you may lose some customers, you may find the customers you lose are those who are least profitable.  

Create product bundles to upsell customers

Everyone loves a bargain. Say you provide different services that cost $50 each, and some of the services are more popular than others. Offer customers a package deal where they pay $90 for the two most popular services. Create a third “Platinum” level deal for $130 that adds the third service. Often, that top level package winds up making the mid-level package look like a good bargain, increasing the number of people who opt for the two-service deal instead of just purchasing one service. That will increase the dollar amount of your average sale. 

Eliminate less profitable or unprofitable offerings

Are you stocking a lot of products that don’t move? Do you waste food because some items on your menu aren’t very popular? Is your profit margin too low or non-existent on some offerings? If you have products or services that aren’t profitable, stop selling them. Run sales to clear out old inventory to bring in cash. 

Increase productivity

Look for ways to streamline and automate routine tasks. If you have “contact us” or other types of leads forms on your website, use email automation software to send the initial follow-up to the lead thanking them for their inquiry. You can also use automation to deliver any downloadable freebies you might be giving away to entice website visitors to give you their email address.

Increase productivity in other areas of your business by streamlining processes and eliminating unnecessary reports, meetings, and other activities.

Use email marketing to increase sales

Email is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools for small businesses. If you have an email list, send out regular mailings to keep your name in front of your customers and prospects. Provide informative industry information, tips to help your customers succeed, and links to your products, services, and special offers. If you don’t have an opt-in email list, start building one. 

Target more profitable customers

Analyze your business and look at which sales are most profitable. What characteristics do the most profitable sales have in common? Are they from larger businesses? Consumers from a certain neighborhood, or who are over a certain age? Determine what the most profitable customers have in common, then target new customers who are most similar to them. 

Be sure to look at all the details involved with the sales, too. An order for $1,000 worth of product that must be split up and shipped to 50 different locations is going to cost a lot more in staff time to process than if the 1000 products were shipped to one location.

Look at your competitors that attract a more upscale clientele, too. What do they do differently than you? Do you need to update the look of your store or your website? Increase your prices and promote the value you provide? Provide some type of service you don’t provide now?

Be creative

These are just some of the strategies you can use to cope with Inflation. Look at your business objectively and look for other ways you can cut costs and increase sales and cash flow without cutting corners that will alienate customers. If you have employees, ask them for ideas, too,  on how to streamline business operations, eliminate waste and cut costs. They may have insights you’re missing.  

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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