Save Energy, Save Money

You can save office energy from common sense; turn off the lights, printers, and PCs when you go home. But other, more nuanced tips can help you save even more. From laptop and gadget battery use to hardware leeching energy even when off, here are some of my favorite ways to save energy and money.

Manage laptop and gadget batteries
Your laptops and portable devices likely run on Lithium Ion batteries, the current standard for rechargeables. But advice that had been good for previous battery technologies now differs with this current crop.

Recharge the batteries as often as possible. With Lithium Ion, there's no benefit in letting the batteries run out to the end before recharging. You should leave laptops plugged in while working, too.

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Get Free Office Gear and Employee Perks

I rarely buy office gear at full price, thanks to sites like Dealnews. But when I'm feeling particularly miserly--and that's part of running a business, right?--nothing beats free. Your selection and quality can plummet when you spend nothing, but here's how to walk away with great finds.

Freecycle sets the standard for quality, free goods. Think of it as a Craigslist free section, but with a slightly higher bar of entry. I had to join a Yahoo Groups mailing list first, but I soon had access to local giveaways. You might find old computer hardware, but your best small business bets are to keep an eye out for office furniture, microwaves, and other items that seem to normally cost more than they're worth. Then, when you're finished with some of your hardware, post it back on the list to complete the cycle.

You can also find a lot of free deals online. I like the forum-driven free section of Fat Wallet best, although Totally Free Stuff and FreeStuff.com occasionally post items of interest. Track your free deals from an RSS reader, instead of bouncing back to the website all the time. Fat Wallet, Totally Free Stuff and FreeStuff.com all support that feature.

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Get Free Business Advice

Many free, online resources can help answer your business questions. While some sites are skewed towards single-person startups, you can still find a community to help an established, larger business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is densely packed with information. You can learn basics about writing a business plan, establishing a trademark, and managing business operation. You'll find ways to apply for government financial assistance, loans, and tips on applying for grants.

The nonprofit, SCORE, takes this kind of assistance to a personal level, offering free, online or local counseling. You'll be able to talk with people who have already been through situations you face for the first time, getting invaluable tips. In addition to many other resources, the site also hosts a range of template documents, such as a bank loan request and profit-and-loss projection.

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Reduce Ongoing Expenses Just By Asking

If your business has lost clients or needed to scale back, take action. Don't just wait for a rebound; use the moment to renegotiate terms with your suppliers and service providers. You might be surprised that many will be willing to cut you a break to keep your business... and keep you in business.

Call everyone. Contact your land and mobile phone companies, ISP, web host, and private courier. Get in touch with your office supplier, delivery company, and other contractors. Scrutinize every bill; especially if you're paying for ongoing service, such as a cable TV connection, ask those companies for a break.

Remember to think even bigger. Renegotiate your office lease and other major expenses. Offer to to trade services where appropriate, if that's an option. Just approach those contacts with humility and try to work something out.

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Slice Your Cell Phone Spending

However many people are in your business, mobile phone costs can eat a serious chunk of your budgets. Reign in fees with these tips and suggestions for deeper bill analysis.

Save On Directory Assistance
I can't think of the last time I dialed 411 on my phone, given all of the Internet-based ways to answer my queries for free. But if you're out and have to make that sort of call, do it with a different number; mobile companies often gouge for their assistance.

Pick a free service, such as 800-GOOG-411 (800-466-4411). The voice-based system can get you the same information as regular directory assistance, even connecting you to the end number or sending you back more details as a text message. Or you can ask Google simple text message-based searches by sending them to 466453 (which spells "Google" on most devices).

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Free Network Management Tool Saves Your Budget

Spiceworks IT Desktop replaces your current, paid IT management software with a free administrative interface. Or--perhaps more likely--it offers robust management tools to companies that hadn't been able to afford products aimed at large businesses. Plus, its generally simple interface could work for tech-savvy workers without dedicated IT staff.

Spiceworks IT Desktop handles many IT tasks. It'll automatically recognize most network-connected computers to manage your inventory, plus you can manually add other hardware to its catalog. Help-desk tools let users file tickets, so you can track the progress and solutions to problems. Windows event monitoring identifies PC issues, including antivirus and Exchange Server status. Other monitors track bandwidth use, printer status, and other basics. You can also set up email alerts for any issues.

This common package of features makes Spiceworks IT Desktop a fairly typical network management package except for its free price--and that's a good thing. However, if you'd rather pay and remove the ad sponsorships, the company offers a $20/month option.

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Verizon 3G Hotspot Saves Money Without Subscription

Verizon Wireless has announced that it will carry the Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot. Instead of needing individual broadband cards for your laptops--or bothering with tethering a mobile phone--this portable Wi-Fi router broadcasts a Verizon EV-DO data connection to five users. Best of all, ongoing subscriptions are optional; you could instead opt for a $15 day pass only when needed.

If you choose a two-year contract, the hardware will cost $100 after a rebate. 250MB of monthly content will cost $40, while a 5GB plan will cost $60.

Without the contract, you'll have to pay the full price, which will likely be more than $200 at retail. But if you only occasionally need to tap into the network--and don't want to worry about overage fees--the $15 day pass could offer substantial savings over time.

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