Budget-Saving Tips

Like everyone else in America, distributors are looking for ways to cut costs any way they can. Here are practical ways to trim your budget and impress your clients. Consider it your very own economic stimulus package.

Not only is Linda Martin’s budget skinnier … so is she. The owner of Diamondback Promotions (asi/180200) recently realized how much money she was wasting on high-priced, on-the-run beverages.

“In 2007, I spent $6-$10 a day on coffee or tea drinks,” she says. Add it up and that’s $280 a month - hardly chump change in this economy. “When gas prices went to $4, I cut back to once-a-week Saturday morning Starbucks and went for the $2-plus-tip large coffee.”

Overcoming her addiction to café mochas gave her the added bonus of losing weight. “Now, I run in just two or three times a week for a regular coffee,” she says.

Drink and Eat Smarter

So there’s your first tip. Sometimes, even the most money-conscious salespeople don’t realize how much they spend on food and drink on the road – but it can add up quickly.

Mike DeNero, president of California Sunsations Inc. (asi/43528), recently decided to go on the “Mike Huckabee Diet,” referring to the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate who lost over 100 pounds while in office. DeNero follows Huckabee’s advice: “If it wasn’t here 100 years ago, don’t eat it, and if it comes through the window of your car, don’t eat it.”

These days, he’s brown-bagging it and saving money. Sounds like a plan that’s healthier for your heart and your budget.

One way to make sure you’re not slowly breaking your bank through take-out food is to offer to meet a client at his or her office, rather than at a restaurant or a coffee shop. “Many times, we as sales reps offer to meet at a location where we’re forced to offer drink or food, like Starbucks,” says Leslie Nollie-Hernandez, owner of the Hawaii-based Eillon Enterprises (asi/186312). “You can waste a lot of money by meeting at such locations. Start counting up the coffee bills at the end of the month for a taste of reality.”

Oftentimes, meeting the client at the office is more convenient for the client too, and most of the time, they’re the ones offering you something to drink. “I save a lot of money this way,” she says.

Save on Drive-Time

Martin is a big fan of e-marketing, as opposed to physically commuting from client to client to make her pitch. “We’ve used the Internet, video e-mails with products and ESP presentations to communicate,” she says. “The result is we have a lot more time that would have been wasted in driving.”

Web demos and conference calls save Tommy Lewis drive-time hassles too. “Never devalue a face-to-face meeting with a client, but you can save the client much-appreciated time as well by holding an efficient virtual meeting,” says the senior director of promotional marketing for WorkFlowOne (asi/333647).”

Nollie-Hernandez knows that e-mail-based marketing is both cost-effective and client-effective. “E-mail marketing sometimes crosses into the realm of spamming, but not if you are e-mailing valuable information to your clients,” she says. “We send out a monthly newsletter to our client list of 400 people. Now, while it’s not completely free, it sure beats sending out a postcard that gives little space to promote yourself, less access into your clients ‘me time,’ and less bang for your buck.”

Nollie-Hernandez says her company’s e-mail-based newsletters are effective because they come with fantastic promotion-based articles to go with the promotions themselves. “It’s helped us land several new clients from referrals,” she says. “Constant contact works great.”

Cut Car Costs

If you must drive to make a good impression on a current or prospective client, cutting down on fuel and maintenance costs should be a top priority.

DeNero suggests cutting down on the oil changes. While the general rule is still an oil change every 3,000 miles, it’s not a necessity with most vehicles that are relatively new. “Change your oil every 5,000 miles instead of every 3,000,” he says. “I used to work for a company that had a fleet of cars and their own service garage, and they changed the oil every 8,000 miles. Think of what that can save you.”

Irene Brec, marketing manager for CNIJ Inc. (asi/43008), says it’s time for sales reps to look into biting the bullet and spending some extra cash on a hybrid vehicle. “Hybrid cars are in fact more expensive; however, many governments provide tax credits to alleviate the purchase price,” she says. “If a rep is working as an independent contractor, this would certainly be an added tax benefit.”

“Regardless, although the price of gas is low at the moment, it’s only a temporary situation and the fluctuations of the prices make it very hard to budget your expenses properly.”

Target Clients by Zip Code

Prioritizing your potential client visits by zip code or street name has been one of Brec’s winning strategies. “Simply put, time is money and a rep has no money to lose running around without direction,” she says. “Planning your calls, be it by postal code or street names, will not only reduce driving time and gas and car maintenance expenses, but it will also help the rep reduce the dead time between one client and another.”

“When you’re hot in selling mode, it’s harder to get back to it after driving a few hours. Just like sitting down for a meal in the middle of housework; it’s hard to get back to it.”

Planning ahead like this also allows the rep to prepare for his or her surroundings, according to Brec. “If a rep knows which area she will be in, she will be able to plan where any points of interest are located nearby,” she says. This will also allow the rep’s employer to know how far away from the office the rep is in case she needs to be reached.

“I’ve been planning my client visits this way for quite some time and find I can be far more productive and meet a greater number of clients this way. It works for me,” she says.

Offer Virtual Samples

While many distributors pride themselves on offering a tangible sample that clients can touch and feel, it’s not always necessary when making a sale.

“A great way to cut down on costs is to use technology instead of ordering samples,” says Lillian DeAngelo, owner of Proforma Custom Business Services (asi/300094). “Virtual samples show exactly what the product will look like, and they can actually help close the deal.”

DeAngelo says that the customers who appreciate the virtual samples the most are those she calls “visual” clients, who appreciate the savvy approach that Proforma takes in cutting costs. “Most customers understand that we have to control all costs, and one way is by providing a virtual sample,” she says.

She recently impressed her clients at Arylessence with a virtual sample of four items: two travel cases, a luggage tag and a jotter. “I knew I had to wow them with a package of items,” she says. “I worked with Leed’s (asi/66887) to put together a package of gift ideas. They purchased a grouping of 250 of three items to give to their better customers, and 775 of the jotters were used to give to the balance of their customers.”

 Save Money Away from Work

The most effective way for a sales rep to save money might not be directly business related at all.

Lewis has taken several steps to save money at home. He stopped buying bottled water and invested in a disposable filtration unit for his tap water system. He keeps his blinds shut when he’s not home. “Living in the south, the summer sun can really heat up your house through un-shaded windows,” he says. He has even replaced most of the light bulbs in his house with Energy Star-rated CFLs. “This cuts the energy consumption by at least 80% per bulb,” he says. “There are even CFL bulbs designed to work with dimmer switches.” Even his exterior lighting is on timers.

Lewis has also slashed his dry cleaning bill by doing away with his traditional cotton shirts – “both dress and polo,” he says. “I’ve replaced all of them with industry-available shirts that are carefree and wrinkle-free. This has cut my dry cleaning bill by 80% and my fuel consumption as well. I only go to the dry cleaners once per month now instead of every week.”

He’s also taken a more conservative approach when he dines out – whether for business or pleasure. “I switched to drinking water with lunch and dinner when I eat out,” he says. “It saves about $3 per meal per person.”

Make Sacrifices

Smart money-saving techniques can sometimes mean swallowing your pride. DeNero is well aware of this, especially in a downturn economy. Sometimes, making a sale during tough times means going back to the well you never wanted to drink from again. “Contact old customers,” he says, “even the ones you don’t like, the ones that didn’t buy, or the ones you screwed up with.”

“Take a smaller margin, so you can sell for less,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to sell something even if you’re making zero if it helps you to keep your job and to keep the business alive.”

Sucking it up and taking what some would consider a drastic step, is a move that DeNero has seen successful sales reps make over and over. “I’ve been through several recessions and business always comes back to the one who hangs in there for the long run,” he says.