You, or your accountant, need to track your operating costs (B2B Services). Tracking your major costs is essential to determining the minimum cost required to perform each task successfully. Once you quantify each cost separately, it is easier to see where you can save money. Sometimes finding a dominant cost that can be reduced can be the difference between success and failure.
Operating costs generally include personnel, resources, loan payments, taxes, depreciation, licenses, Internet services, legal and professional services, subscriptions and hosting, and advertising or marketing. If you examine each item carefully, you will find that some licenses, for example, have few options for cost reduction because they include fixed fees. Other costs, such as personnel, are almost entirely within your control. Reducing costs in these areas can be as simple as conserving resources.
Many B2B and ASP companies provide services. They have saved many companies from bankruptcy and created unnecessary costs for others. You need to decide if and how they can help. These companies serve their customers by providing less expensive capabilities that their customers can use themselves. Emerging ASPs are helping small businesses by renting or leasing Internet access to software that they can use only when they need it.
B2B Services and Key cost-cutting areas
Several operations lend themselves to outsourcing for cost reduction. These include personnel, customer service, Internet services, legal and professional services, advertising, and travel.
Personnel costs can grow rapidly. You can use the Internet to find outsourcing resources for specific tasks, programs to reduce administrative costs, and specific job listings. Customer support can be one of the most time-consuming tasks for your staff.
It can involve answering simple questions, handling complaints, and sending reminders with offers of technical assistance. You may want to provide quality service as part of your overall business plan, but you don’t want to hire a team so large that it becomes a burden on your business.
You have several options for implementing these services. You can purchase off-the-shelf software to automate email responses and other common tasks. Another option is to outsource this work to an answering service. To find such companies, try eLoyalty and Concepts Fulfillment Inc. You can find many more by searching for customer service on the Internet. Another good resource is the Council of Public Relations Firms.
Another staffing cost is hiring and managing your employees, Krislyn’s business site has a list of resources you can use as recruitment strategies and find PSAs to store and manage employee data. You can also now easily find qualified employees on the Internet at sites such as Dice.com or Monster.com.
Internet service costs include your Internet service provider (ISP), merchant account provider, servers and host computers, and to some extent your information technology (IT) or information services (IS) teams. IT and IS can easily be outsourced and included with your hosting service.
You can also host your Web site for free or at low cost at places like BigStep.com and ixprss.com, where you can validate credit cards and register your site with search engines. In general, keeping your Internet costs down is a matter of finding a balance between price and service.
Many of these services are now offered for free, and you just have to decide how much service and autonomy you need. You can find some helpful guidelines and comparisons here at workz.com.
The cost of legal and professional services is more difficult to reduce. You have probably already spent a lot of time selecting lawyers and accountants. Common sense is the rule of thumb here, although many resources can be found online.
You can also research legal issues yourself at sites such as the Legal Information Institute (funded by Cornell University) or The Internet Legal Resource Guide. Advertising is a difficult issue for all businesses. You have to decide how much money and resources to spend in each medium.
Online businesses have more options. These include banner ads, email newsletters, and e-coupons. There are endless ways to spend your advertising dollars, and new models are being implemented every day. To save money on advertising, try these options:
Create or join alliances with other businesses. On CNET Shopper, you list your information with other competitors so customers can easily compare. You have to pay a commission, but the upfront fee is low.
Find banner deals. Banner ads are sold through many channels. Check auction sites like eBay or Amazon.com, and keep an eye out for other banner marketplaces.
Negotiate free links. Form a mutually beneficial alliance with other sites by exchanging free banners.
Advertise on discussion groups and forums. There are free sites where you can leave your links along with your message. Leave relevant messages that add to the discussion. Moderators will delete messages that are just warnings.
Create your own discussion group or e-mail newsletter. This can be an inexpensive way to promote your business and add value to your site. Be sure to produce the highest quality newsletter or moderated discussion group possible. You do not want to make a bad impression on potential customers.
For more information on the various Web advertising options, check out the list of resources at CNET Builder.com. And don’t forget to advertise your products the old-fashioned way: in print, on television, and on the radio.
Travel costs and expense management can be a burden on any business. Talking to several travel agents at once can frustrate you into accepting every offer. With the Internet, this nightmare can be avoided. Now you can comparison shop quickly and easily.
You can also make your travel arrangements online. Use the sites that let you search and book flights, hotels, and rental cars from your desktop. Unlike individual airline Web sites, these sites usually give you a list of the various providers that include your destination, so you can choose the best price, your preferred airline, the best departure time, or a balance of all three. Try Airdisc.com Inc, TravelForLess.com, or the Airtravel network for flight, hotel, and rental car searches.
Use the industry giants: Expedia.com, a Microsoft company, Travelocity.com, an independent, and DiscountAirfares.com. These sites offer a wider range of free services and deals, including weather information, city maps, and currency converters. The first two are the largest and most used. DiscountAirfares.com is a close third. They also offer newsletters and e-mail bulletins with special offers.
You can use travel account managers to track your miles, travel costs, reservations, car rentals, and other items. These tasks can be done locally with online support, or remotely through an online interface. This means you can outsource your entire travel management team. Their fees are based on the amount of travel and the number of employees or accounts they manage. For companies that spend a lot of money and time, travel account managers can be helpful. These companies specialize in complete travel account management (B2B Services):
The Corporate Team
European Route Planner
Gray Dawes Travel
Hogg Robinson BTI
You can manage your own travel accounts with online tools. Many of the major travel sites do more than book flights. Biztravel.com may be the most comprehensive, but Expedia.com is a free resource that not only lets you book flights, hotels, and car rentals but also lets you manage your frequent flyer miles and track your expenses.
They also offer e-mail newsletters that cover a wide range of travel information, and online newsletters are a way to stay on top of special airline offers. If your travel dates are flexible, which is rare for business travel, you can find good deals; onetravel.com and Biztravel.com distribute useful newsletters.
Also check out priceline.com, where you can quote your price and see if any airlines will match your offer, or VTS direct, which offers air/hotel packages and sends quarterly reports on your spending and suggestions for savings.
Knock on the door of the air traffic control system’s command center and get real-time information on delays at 40 major airports. Instead of hiring an assistant to manage your flight schedule, try when.com, a free Web-based scheduling service recently acquired by America Online.
This service keeps track of appointments and validates notes, much like an online Microsoft Outlook. ExecutivePlanet.com is a site designed to help international business travelers get organized while working in different cultures. Business Travel presents airplane layouts so you can request specific seats, aisles, proximity to restrooms, or other specifications. The Bellwether Group offers a free service to find the right resources for your business meetings.
Don’t forget to deduct travel expenses; 1040.com has a list of deductible expenses and printable tax forms.
The best way to save money on travel is not to travel. Instead, try a conference call or web conference. Web communications range from simple discussions to audio conferences with static graphics or full-motion video broadcasts. Many companies use an outside service such as AudioNet or NCBcC/cDow Jones to handle their Web-based events.
Reduce transaction costs with B2B Services
Traditionally, product manufacturing, distribution, sales, and marketing have been separate and distinct business functions, and companies within each of these parts of the chain have competed for business. The transactions required to perform these functions, whether informational or financial, were conducted primarily by telephone, e-mail, face-to-face meetings, or trade shows. Sales have often been based on long-term and long-standing relationships between salespeople and buyers. Time and money are spent on
Locating buyers or suppliers
Negotiating sales and purchases
Paying invoices and collections
The goal of some online B2B services is to use the Internet to create more efficient, less costly ways for buyers and sellers to meet and exchange information and money. Three B2B services that can help reduce transaction costs are online exchanges, online payments, and order fulfillment houses.
B2B Services. Online exchanges
Online exchanges (also called e-marketplaces) provide a way for multiple buyers and sellers to meet.
There are many types of exchanges, including popular auctions that allow small businesses to come together to increase their buying power by purchasing business services.
In sales, exchanges are emerging because they expand the marketplace for buyers and sellers and allow them to connect. A neutral third party acts as an intermediary, matching qualified buyers and sellers and facilitating the transaction. This type of online exchange can help reduce the time, cost and negotiation involved with suppliers.
For example, PurchasePro.com Inc. provides an online tool that allows buyers and sellers to find each other and facilitates the negotiation and transaction process. You pay to register, but then you can access a large database of suppliers, submit multiple bids, and save or order purchasing information.
Whether you need to buy hair care products or paper to sell to your customers, the primary benefit of such a solution is direct access to multiple suppliers, which increases the likelihood of finding low prices and forces suppliers to keep prices low. PurchasePro.com targets its services to small and medium-sized businesses.
Other online exchanges generally target specific companies that consume large quantities of specialized materials. For example, VerticalNet operates exchanges for used industrial equipment. VerticalNet also hosts communities (or portals) for many types of industries, such as communications and healthcare. Such communities or information portals do not facilitate transactions, but provide opportunities for buyers and sellers to learn about each other.
You are properly registered with the HyperChat service.
One goal of some B2B bill payment services is to facilitate financial transactions between businesses. For example, if you are a buyer, you can pay your suppliers online with services such as CheckFree. This service automates the payment process. It allows you to make payments online, view your account balance, schedule payments in advance, set up automatic recurring payments, check the status of a payment via e-mail, and cancel payments online.
Other services, such as Actrade, act as financial intermediaries between buyers and suppliers, enabling suppliers to be paid in full and on time. Actrade’s TAD program allows buyers to make deferred payments. They set up a payment plan with Actrade and Actrade pays suppliers immediately. This reduces negotiation and accounting time for suppliers and ensures that the supplier meets its obligations.
B2B Services. Fill in the purchase form
When you sell a product, figuring out the most efficient way to get it to your customers can be difficult. Dealing with suppliers, warehouses, and carriers is time-consuming, and you still have to track and ship purchases and service customers every day.
If you use a drop-ship method, where the manufacturer or distributor ships the product to your customer, you may not have as much control over the process as you would like, and you may end up paying more than you want. Order fulfillment companies such as iFulfill.com facilitate the order fulfillment process. This service is designed for businesses with fewer than 50 items that sell 1 to 50 orders per month, with or without a shopping cart or order secured on the in-house server. iFulfill.com takes control of the order fulfillment process, including product inventory, credit card processing, packaging, shipping and tracking.
B2B Services. A word of caution for small business owners
As you continue your search for B2B services that can help reduce your transaction costs, keep in mind that the best services are those that attract many participants. While anyone can start an exchange or portal, and many do, the only ones that are interesting to use are those that feature frequent offers placed between buyers and sellers or information about the ri