5 Small Business Resources to Cut Costs and Red Tape - Page 2

By Drew Robb
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3. Improve Local Conditions

Small business owners often face problems like dealing with potholes, graffiti and other issues that might dissuade customers from visiting their establishments. It can be difficult to find the right municipal employee to call, and if you do, action is not always forthcoming.

A firm called CitySourced created a mobile app that acts as a civic engagement platform. This technology lets citizens identify issues in their communities or near their businesses and report them to the appropriate cities and counties. And it makes the process easy.

Let’s say a massive pothole opens up at the entrance to a small strip mall and inhibits traffic. In the past, you had to call a manned phone line or email the information. Someone then had to write it up, and that might result in a piece of paper lying in a pile with other similar sheets. CitySourced automatically uploads this information to the city database along with photos of the problem, its location, and a map showing all similar incidents.

"This is a smart phone app you can download in seconds," said Jason Kiesel, CEO of CitySourced. "The business owner can snap a photo of the situation, enter some data quickly and transmit it along with the exact location. That is far easier for government to understand, it lets them deal with complete data that's immediately available in their database."

4. Mobilize Your Community

Citizinvestor provides an interesting way to fund projects. The company developed a civic engagement platform that people can use to propose community improvements and have them funded. For example, say a business owner owns a piece of undeveloped land beside his or her property that acts as an eyesore. That owner (or any citizen for that matter) can propose to the city that they turn it into a park.

In many cases, the city might be interested in the concept, but lack the immediate funds due to ongoing priorities. Citizinvestor has partnerships with more than 140 municipal governments in the U.S, whereby the city green lights the project if the citizens or businesses in the area are willing to make donations to fund it. This is known as crowdfunding. All of a sudden, the $40,000 needed for the project is available, and the city can get it done.

small business resource: Citizinvestor

Figure 2: Citizinvestor is a crowdsourcing platform where you can propose and raise funds for community improvements.

"Small businesses can use this service to motivate the community to help create something for the general benefit," said Jordan Raynor, co-founder of Citizinvestor. "If a pet shop owner proposes a dog park on vacant land and the people in the vicinity are keen to have it, they're often willing to make donations to cover the necessary construction and park renovations."

5. Find Affordable Technology

When it comes to cheap technology, most press coverage is on buying second-hand computers, or renting equipment temporarily. What isn’t realized, however, is that a revolution in microprocessors has made a whole lot of technology inexpensive that used to be pricey.

For instance, sensor networks used to cost a lot. You had to buy proprietary systems and set up expensive sensors around a facility. Now, however, the hardware that can be used has become so cheap that it is far more affordable today. This opens up many possibilities for small businesses.

Lorenzo Gonzalez, chief software architect at a small business startup called Valarm, provides the example of sensors that vineyards use to detect an imminent freeze. In cases of extreme cold the sensors activate the sprinkler system, which forms an ice barrier that protects the grapes. Such systems used to come with a high price tag. But Valarm provides mobile sensors using commodity hardware—old Android smartphones. They're readily—and cheaply—available because no one wants a 1- or 2-year-old smartphone.

"Using older technology reduces the price of these sensors to a tenth of what they used to cost," said Gonzalez. "You now have small vineyards that can afford to deploy these sensors when they couldn't before. You can use the same affordable approach to monitor a small fleet of vehicles and track deliveries and the drivers' current location."

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on February 25, 2014
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