SME Tools: eight ways to rein in business costs

It’s easy for SME owners to overlook some of the outgoings that can seriously dent the bottom line. Here are eight ways to make smart savings.

1. Procurement tips for SMEs

When was the last time you took a step back and thought about the procurement process in your business? Is it time to reassess the buying decisions that are made with your suppliers? Are you negotiating and getting the best value for your money? Suppliers might well be working really hard for your account – but it’s sensible business practice to make sure this is the case.

You might have employees who are making quite significant buying decisions without negotiating. This is where staff training could be helpful, ensuring they’re motivated and incentivised and keen to get the best deal possible. The answer may be to bring in procurement consultants to negotiate better deals – but setting clear expectations and educating staff is a good place to start. 

2. Is your business missing out on capital allowances relief?

You could be sitting on a potentially significant tax windfall in the form of capital allowances relief. It lets you deduct some or all of the value of an item from your profits before you pay tax. Typically, it covers equipment, machinery and business vehicles, including ‘integral’ features such as pipework, air-con and heating systems.

There are different types of relief, such as annual investment allowance or 100% first year allowance, where you might buy an asset for which you can deduct the full cost from your profits before tax. This can be claimed in addition to annual investment allowance as long as it isn’t for the same expenditure. Research and development tax relief also applies to companies working on innovative projects in science and tech.

If you’re one of those businesses that has never made a claim, a tax consultancy may be able to tell you for free whether or not you’re eligible.

3. Don’t waste money on pay-per-click

Who wouldn’t want to see their brand on the first page of a Google search above all the organic results. But every click is going to take cash out of your bank account. It’s a fact that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad but this can mount up if you don’t set a budget. It’s important that you’re confident that visitors have a very real chance of buying, and that your margins make the cost of the advertising worthwhile.

While pay-per-click (PPC) can work when used correctly, there are often other basics that need taking care of first – such as updating your website so that it clearly reflects what you do. Once you decide to opt for PPC, monitor and track the results so that you can make adjustments to your ad. 

4. Review office contracts and outsourcing services

Businesses could save a significant annual bill by reviewing equipment leases, for example, which are sometimes barely used. Most renew automatically, with costs creeping up over time. Take vending machines – are staff interested? A kettle and some tea bags and coffee can be equally appreciated.

Is it worth outsourcing debt collection? Costs vary but it could still be a fraction of what you pay running up your overdraft, making late VAT payments and dealing with other cash-flow issues.

5. Online marketplace for digital services: do it for a ‘Fiverr’

If you know where to look you can find competitively priced services online, which could be an option for SMEs. Freelancers on global online marketplaces like Fiverr and People Per Hour are often keen to get jobs done quickly and cheaply – but check reviews and recommendations because it can be a false economy if you end up paying again to get the work done if it’s not up to scratch.

Fiverr in particular can be a boon for those in need of low-cost visuals like logos. But even complex areas into which you might want to make a tentative foray – such as market research and SEO (search engine optimisation) – may be worth a look when looking for someone with relevant knowledge and expertise.

6. Make pension contributions through your limited company

Why not use this opportunity to make the most of any potential pension scheme tax benefits? Your company can make employer contributions for you as an allowable pension scheme business expense. This means you can pay into your pension pot before your income is taxed. In this way you’ll boost your pension while reducing taxable profits, and therefore the amount of corporation tax you pay. It’s a win-win. 

7. Find partner brands

As an early-stage business, you might need to generate product awareness but traditional advertising channels can be expensive. Instead you could focus on cultivating pivotal partnerships with businesses that target similar customers with non-competing services. Each company stays independent but you share resources.

Examples of well-known brands collaborating are Adidas and Peloton: exercise equipment manufacturer Peloton teamed up with Adidas to create a new clothing line. While Uber riders stream their Spotify playlists, both personalising the journey and encouraging Uber riders to subscribe to Spotify.

These mutually beneficial relationships can generate faster volume at a lower cost. They often fall into two distinct types of partnership. The first is the promotional partner, such as a business that serves the same or a similar customer base and can benefit mutually from joint campaign activity. The second is the integration partner, a business that offers complementary products.

8. Bootstrap until you’re 100% ready to expand

Wait until you feel fully confident and prepared to embark on your next stage of growth – whether you’re a start-up graduating from your kitchen table or an established business moving to larger office premises. This also goes for investing in new equipment and staff. Remember you can outsource tasks and use freelancers you trust rather than commit to an investment that you aren’t quite ready for. While you’re waiting for the right time, stay on top of your projected cashflow, so you can plan ahead.

Find more resources at our Cost of Living hub.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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