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10 Tips for Keeping Overhead Costs under Control

Starting your own small business can be a thrilling experience! But, it can quickly become thrilling in the wrong kind of way if you don’t carefully monitor your start-up expenses.

While the old business mantra “you have to spend money to make money” has merit, you shouldn’t have to spend more than is truly necessary, especially when you’re on a tight budget.

While there are certain business costs that you can’t cut, there are a lot of ways you can save on your operational expenses. Here are 10 ideas to help you keep overhead costs low while getting your business off the ground.

Set Up a Home Office

One of the first things you should determine when you start a business is what kind of space you need.Click To Tweet

In some industries, you may need to rent an office space. Even so, you still have some control over where that space is. Do you need to be in the heart of downtown, or is there a less expensive space you can rent?

Some businesses, such as online stores, may discover that they can initially operate out of a home office. This will save money on rent and gas, and you can even get a tax deduction.

Shop Around for Discount Office Supplies

When it comes to office furniture and supplies, shop around online and look for good deals on sites like Sheepbuy and Craigslist -there’s no need to break the bank just to furnish your office.

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Look for Inexpensive Project Management Software

Even solo-preneurs sometimes need to use project management software in order to stay organized. Click To Tweet

The specific tools that you need will depend on your industry, but there are a few general tools that may benefit you no matter what type of business you’re running.

Toodledo, for example, is an inexpensive task management tool that allows you to create detailed to-do lists with task deadlines, a time-tracking feature, the ability to share your lists with collaborators, and more. If you don’t need something so elaborate, Google Calendars may also be a good option.

For managing your social media marketing, consider using Hootsuite, which allows you to plan and schedule updates for all your social media accounts from one dashboard. Hootsuite also allows you to collect and track data on your social media engagement.

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Manage Your Files for Free

Unless your business specifically requires that you keep a lot of paper documents, there’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars and fill up valuable space in your home office with a filing cabinet.

At the same time, you don’t just want to store all your important files on your computer’s hard drive, because it would be bad news if your hard drive ever died.

Instead, use free and secure cloud software to store your files. Dropbox is a popular choice for solo-preneurs – it’s fairly intuitive and can be accessed both through the Dropbox website and your computer’s desktop.

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Work with Freelancers

You may need assistance getting your business going, but aren’t ready to hire full-time employees. Instead of struggling to get everything done yourself, work with freelancers on a per project basis.

You can find writers, graphic designers, programmers, and even virtual assistants using a number of freelancer databases, such as oDesk and Guru. To make sure you get the best freelancer for your project, consider asking them to submit a couple of samples of their work first and provide references.

If they can show you good work and readily name past clients who can attest to their skills and ability to meet deadlines, then they could be a good fit for your business.

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Write Your Own Contracts

If you’re going into business as a freelancer yourself, you’re going to need clients to sign contracts to ensure that you receive payment for your work.

Having a lawyer write your contracts can end up costing thousands of dollars, so save that money by crafting your own contracts. If you don’t know where to get started, look up generic forms online and modify them to fit your business.

Unless you work in the legal field yourself, you will want to have a lawyer look over the contract you write. However, this generally only costs a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand.

Go Paperless

With secure cloud software allowing people to share documents from wherever they are, it’s incredibly easy to go paperless. It might not seem big, but going paperless will save you money on printers, paper, and ink cartridges, which can add up quickly.

Use Free Phone Services

Even if a lot of your business is conducted remotely, there’s no need to run up your phone bill when you can use free online services like Skype and Google Voice. If you think you need a landline, consider using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) instead of paying a phone company.

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Sell Unused Equipment

If you’ve been in business for a few months (or longer), take the time to look around your office and figure out what you’re not actually using. Maybe you thought you’d need that fax machine or extra filing cabinet, but have found that they’re just collecting dust.

Use a site like Craigslist to sell equipment. That way, you’ll get some money back while also freeing up space.

Set Up Your Website for Free

There’s no need to hire a web designer when some popular website platforms like WordPress let users set up professional-looking sites for free. Note that you will still need to pay for hosting and a domain name, but those should only cost $100 or less per year. WordPress itself is free to install, and has hundreds of free themes for your website.

You can also pay a monthly fee on sites like WordPress and Squarespace to get upgrades for a business website, so it’s up to you to decide if the extra cost is worth it.

And remember, if you’re not happy with the existing templates on your site platform, you can look for a freelance graphic designer to improve your site’s appearance (as mentioned above, oDesk and Guru are good places to search, as are CrowdDesign and Freelancer).

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Free is a Very Good Price . . . When You Can Get It

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to eliminate overhead costs completely, but if you take the time to get creative and compare different money-saving strategies, you can keep them low and free up funds for the things that matter.

What are some ways that you’ve found to help you keep your own overhead costs under control?  Let me know in the comments below.

About Josh Weiss-Roessler

Josh Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and co-owner of WRWriting, so he knows a thing or two about overhead costs for small businesses - mostly from trial and (lots of) error. Along with his wife, two tiny-but-rambunctious dogs, and a slightly bigger but no less rambunctious 2-year-old, he lives and works in Austin, Texas.


  1. Daryl says:

    Lots of really great advice here Josh! I’d never heard of Sheepbuy before, so I’ll have to check that out.

    Another great way to save on overhead is by reducing your Paypal fees with services like Freshbooks. Instead of charging a percentage of your payment, Freshbooks allows you to take Paypal payments and only charges a small flat fee (50 cents) per payment. This can save hundreds of dollars per month for even the average freelancer on onerous Paypal fees.

  2. Hiring an attorney to draft a form independent contractor agreement which is tailored to your business, then modifying that form with the terms that reflect each contractual relationship is an excellent way to leverage your legal budget.

    I recommend that technique to many of my clients who are in lean start-up mode.

  3. Thanks for all the comments! I agree with Elke that using your network is another great way to save. We’ve been connected to great vendors just by posting requests for referrals on Facebook and LinkedIn.

  4. Boomy says:

    Thanks for these excellent tips. They are truly money and time saving. I have been using the Google storage and I found it to be a cheap (not free) effective way of accessing and filing my docs.
    Another Freelance site to use is fiverr.com. You will need to patiently wade through the ineffective people but there are some gems to be found.

    1. Boomy – We’ll have to check out fiverr. We also use Google Drive for some business-related things, but have found other storage systems to be more effective and user-friendly. Also, we prefer writing in Word and there often seem to be small but frustrating conversion issues.

  5. Jessica ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    These are excellent tips for the bootstrapper! Craigslist was an important resource for me when I started out, not only to source out equipment and furniture but also to get new clients! I used to advertise in the services section – that’s how I got my first few customers. It certainly wasn’t targeted marketing, but it was free, and it allowed me to assess what kinds of customers I really wanted to work with. Good article!

    1. Jessica – That’s interesting. We haven’t tried advertising for work on Craigslist, but we did find a few clients there early on. One way that it was definitely amazing for us, though, was in helping to find an assistant when the workload became too taxing. We advertised there, took our time with the process, and got someone truly fantastic.

  6. Elke Feuer says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I liked what you said about your writing your own contracts.

    Personally, I saved thousand by reaching out to friends and family. I told them what I needed and they recommended people I could contact (many of whom I knew) who gave me a great deal or in some cases free services.

    The awesomeness of living in a small community!

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