Ideas For the Small Business – Tackling the Gas Price Crunch

The meteoric rise of gas prices has hit everyone hard. Small businesses are really feeling the pinch as the line between profit and loss can be slim when high gas prices drive the cost of everything higher and higher. Many small business owners have to balance their own needs, the needs of their employees and their customers against the cost of doing business, and finding ways to save money along the way is invaluable. There are many ideas for saving gas, some are easy, some are more difficult and a few are radical, so fasten your seat belts and take a look.

Small businesses can make changes in the way that they run their business to save themselves and their customers some gas money. Pioneering increased use of your website and alternatives to reaching out to customers can take the pressure of your sales team. If your company has office employees it is important to consider what changes can be made to allow them the flexibility they need to save money on their commutes as well. Here are some changes that can happen around the office:

1. See if you can arrange for clients to see you on the first visit or if you can meet in a central location to save you both some gas.

2. Most customers are well aware that the rise of gas prices will effect businesses. You may have to establish a fuel surcharge for deliveries or visits for service. If you already have a fuel surcharge you may have to raise it to meet the demand of rising prices. Just be sure to communicate that there is a surcharge and what the amount is so that no customers are caught off guard.

3. Add as much information as possible to your website so that clients can start the process of hiring your services or buying your products without actually driving anywhere. Post downloadable forms and pdfs, add web forms or emails so that you can capture the attention and the action of these potential customers.

4. If possible, change your work schedule. You can commute early when the traffic is lightest saving you time idling in traffic and since it is cooler you might be able to save on the A/C as well. Then, head home before the traffic starts in the afternoon allowing you to be home in time to enjoy an evening in the backyard!

5. Cut your workweek by one or two days. If you don’t need to be in the office every day, consider working from home one or two days a week available online and via phone. For your staff it might be worth looking into longer hours four days a week with one day off to save a day’s commuting expenses. You can stagger which day individuals have off so that there is always someone in the office to cover the phones and greet potential clients who come by the office.

There are a number of changes that can be made to your vehicle or style of driving to promote better gas mileage. With prices so high you will want to travel as far as possible on every gallon. Here are a few changes for on the road:

1. Lighten your car, van or truck as much as humanly possible. Take out any unnecessary tools, supplies or junk that you are carrying around. Your fuel efficiency improves by 1-2% for each 100 pounds you remove. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over a entire summer of record breaking gas prices every cent is going to help.

2. Do not put the pedal to the metal when the light turns green. Gentle, smooth acceleration can improve your fuel efficiency by as much as 14%, all that just for not acting like a teenager at the drag races!

3. Do not let your car idle. If you plan to sit for longer than one minute then go ahead and shut off your car, its eating up gas for no reason. If you have employees who drive company cars or make deliveries be sure to let them know that they should switch off the car whenever they are waiting for or making a delivery.

4. Use cruise control when you travel on the highway. Accelerations and rapid breaking really drive up your gas mileage. Rather than passing and weaving in and out of traffic, just pick the lowest speed you can live with and set the cruise control.

5. Drive the speed limit (or bellow!) and save a bunch of gas. Lots of people tell themselves that by getting there faster they are saving gas, but it is not remotely true. Driving 55 mph rather than 70 mph will allow you to get 20% more per gallon out of each trip. 20%! At the current price of gas that is about eight cents per gallon. If they were selling gas for eight cents less per gallon at a station near you, you would be in line, so put aside your need for speed and try and travel slower. Once you try it, you will be amazed at how many people actually drive the speed limit- and not just Sunday drivers!

6. Fill up your tank on the edge of cities and in larger towns rather than along major highways or in isolated smaller towns. Generally, the larger a population the more competition and the less expensive the gas. Plan ahead and gas before you wind up needing to stop along the highway.

7. We’ve seen conflicting ‘studies’ on this, but most seem to say that turning off your car’s A/C whenever possible you will improve your gas mileage. So roll down the windows and let your hair fly.

8. Make sure you have your vehicles tuned for optimum performance. This means that you lay out a bit of cash at the beginning, but in the long run you will get better fuel efficiency. Be sure to change your air and fuel filters when needed, inflate your tires to the proper levels and have your wheels aligned.

For those ready to make more dramatic changes, there are some more far-out there ideas to tackle the increasing price of gas for small businesses. This is just the tip of the iceberg if you want to throw the rule book out the window. If you are ready, tap into these radical changes:

1. Switch to biofuel. For most of us, it will be impossible, but for some it could happen. Do a little research and see if you can change any of your company vehicles over to a new fuel source.

2. Try using a moped or a motorcycle. Driving up to an important meeting on a moped is probably not a great idea (although if you’re supercool you might pull it off), but for other aspects of a business it might just work. Deliveries or short trips can be easily handled by a moped or motorcycle and with sixty to one hundred mile to the gallon, it could really pay off fast.

3. Buy a hybrid car. Yup, there are waiting lists for these babies, but it’s worth a try so get your name on a list and see what happens.

4. You can carshare. On average, a car sits idle 96% of the time in America ([http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2005/05/b669657.html]), and that is a lot of unused car time. Depending on your situation you might not need a car at all! If you live in a city or very small town you might be able to downsize to just using a car when you really need one by signing up for Zipcar or Flexcar. This is a big change for most individuals, and especially for a business owner, but if it works for you it will save you thousands of dollars, and you’ll be environmentally golden, too.

The internet is a gold mine of information, so use it! You can find information on gas prices, learn what people are doing to save money while still meeting their business goals and connect with like-minded individuals to share driving responsibilities. As a small business owner it is important to use all the tools at hand to succeed, so use your resources!

1. The internet is a treasure trove of information about the lowest available gas price in your area. These tools are great for home and even better when you are traveling and in unfamiliar territory. The largest and easiest to use of these sites is GasBuddy (GasBuddy.com), but you get good results with GasPriceWatch as well, so try them both and see what works for you. Mapquest (http://gasprices.mapquest.com/) has combined the lowest gas information with a mapping function that lets you know exactly where each gas station is located and what price they are offering. Very cool.

2. Plan your routes for the best possible efficiency. Combine client visits, on-site meetings, lunches and errands into the best possible route so that you don’t backtrack and waste your time and gas in retracing your steps. Using something like Mapquest can let you know how to plan a route and you can customize by using the routing options button to adjust for highway or side street routes. This has particularly been useful for real estate and other sales folks who are showing their clients houses all in one geographic location on a single day or meeting with sales clients in a series of near-by meetings.

3. For those who have ever considered it, carpooling is easier than ever. It can be hard to give up the American style of driving with one person in one car- king of the road! But those gas guzzling ways can drain your finances unnecessarily. There are several websites that can help connect people looking to carpool; eRideShare.com, CarpoolConnect and RideShare are three good starting points and sites like Craigslist also connect folks looking to share driving responsibilities.

4. Join a club! Large stores such as Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Costco, B.J’s and even grocery store chains offer discount gasoline. Many of the clubs have a membership fee, but others are free. Most save you between five and twenty cents per gallon depending on the group, which should earn your fee back in no time.

So there you go – some ideas relating to the small business gas crunch!