If you are self-employed or own a small business, you know all too well that out-of-control overhead costs can be crippling. Operating costs are a necessary evil– you need to spend money to make money, after all. But for businesses trying to weather tough economic conditions, or for start-ups just trying to break even, one month with too much overhead can be the kiss of death.

Overhead can include expenses like rent, utilities, office supplies, and advertising. And while all these expenses seem pretty normal, it doesn’t mean they are necessary. If you’re serious about cutting costs without cutting corners, the following tips can help reduce overhead in your business.

1. Go Paperless

This should be pretty obvious by now, but going paperless is a great way for a business to decrease both clutter and expenditures. You can store important documents in the cloud or on disks, sign all contracts electronically, and help save the environment as an added bonus.

You won’t have to pay for paper or ink cartridges. You can sell your printer on Craigslist. And if you back up all your paper files digitally, you might even be able to downgrade to a smaller (and cheaper) office space, saving even more money each month.

2. Splurge on an Accountant

It may seem counterintuitive to shell out big bucks for an accountant or tax service professional to do your bookkeeping. After all, these people generally charge a lot of money for their services. But if you have someone at say, H&R Block look over your taxes this April, the company’s policy is to pay any penalties or interest caused by an error on their part.

Best of all, tax and accounting professionals will be more likely to find deductions that you might have overlooked. It’s a big investment, especially for a small business. But it’s an investment worth making. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.

3. Evaluate Your Needs

Look around your office. Now, ask yourself, “What do I see here that I don’t use every day?”

Do you really need business cards in an age where you maintain a web site, a Twitter profile, and a Facebook page? How much are you paying for “premium” web hosting each month?

You shouldn’t be paying for anything you don’t need, whether it’s office equipment, supplies, or space. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Find the Perfect Space

Is your office currently in a location that makes good financial sense? Do you need to maintain a downtown storefront, or would you be better served by working from a smaller office? Do you even need an office/studio space? Could you work from home instead? How often do you need to interact with clients face-to-face?

The answers to those questions will vary depending on your industry, the size of your company, and your financial outlook for 2011. By securing a space that really suits your business, you will likely save time and be more productive.

5. Ditch Your Phone

There’s no reason you need to pay through the nose for phone service. Not in this day and age.

Again, how much you can cut back depends on the size of your company, how many employees you have, and what industry you are in. Between Skype and Google Voice, paying for phone calls and voicemail is a thing of the past, though you may still need to pay some money for international calling. Both services also have mobile apps, meaning you can stay connected on the go.

And if you need a “traditional” land line, consider VOIP over the standard offerings from phone companies in your area.

6. Make Smart Hiring Decisions

If you have to hire a new employee, hire someone who has multiple strengths. They don’t need to have a degree in Computer Science, but if your new sales rep also knows how to check your TCP/IP settings and craft press releases, that’s a huge plus. Investing in professional development for your employees is another way to keep them happy and promote long-term growth and success for your company.

7. Develop Brand Ambassadors

Advertising is expensive, and can’t guarantee consistent or impressive results. You might pay a couple hundred dollars to run a TV, radio, or print ad in your area, only to find that you drum up very little business.

A smarter idea is to get your clients to become brand ambassadors. Offer your current clients and customers incentives for talking you up, and for referring new business to you. Word-of-mouth is still a persuasive tool in our digital age, and one that people tend to take for granted. Get satisfied customers to tweet about you for discounted services, or offer current customers free services for every new client they refer to you.

The Bottom Line

It’s almost impossible to run a business without some overhead. But these operating costs can be minimized or eliminated in many cases, leaving you with more profits in your pockets. A business with streamlined operating expenses will have the best possible chance for success, so make sure you’re running a tight ship.

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