As Americans hit the road again, gas prices are soaring, hitting small businesses hard. Demand for gas hit its highest level since 1991, according to AAA, and gas prices have risen by a whopping 40% since the beginning of the year. Prices will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
Small businesses with vehicles on the road every day – construction, maintenance, delivery, transportation – see the costs immediately and directly.
Even businesses that don’t directly use many vehicles feel the pinch. Every order shipped, every sales call, every trip to the office costs more.
What’s a small business to do?
1. Drive less. Duh. This seems obvious, but to save gas, cut down on the number of trips you take. Cluster deliveries and appointments so you’re not backtracking or going on different days. Attach routine errands to other trips. If possible, use public transportation or park in a central location and walk to your meetings or hold them online.
2. Use a gas app. When you do have to fill up, use an app to find cheaper gas near you (as well as cleaner bathrooms!). These apps show you the actual prices at gas stations near you (or along your route to your destination). Two of the most popular are Gasbuddy and Gas Guru (You can download both from Apple's App Store or the GooglePlay app store).
3. Go digital. If there was one thing COVID-19 taught us, it’s that we can hold a whole lot of meetings and handle a ton of routine business matters without having to drive somewhere. Switch meetings to Zoom or another teleconference option. And don’t forget the phone! You can take care of a lot of business with just a phone call.
4. Look for gas reward programs. It’s great to get cash back or discounts. You can find all kinds of gas reward programs – from credit card companies, supermarkets, warehouse clubs and more. Find one that works for you, sign up and use it.
5. Reduce shipping expenses. Shipping costs have risen dramatically in the past few years, and higher gas prices mean ever higher shipping costs to come. Sit down and seriously evaluate your packing and shipping practices. Do you need to ship everything? Look for lighter-weight packing materials and use the smallest containers you can. Consolidate shipments whenever possible.
6. Keep your car in shape. Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure (it's posted on the driver-side door jamb); if your tires are deflated even a few pounds from maximum, you’ll lose gas mileage. Get a tuneup. An old car with mechanical problems uses more gas than a well-tended vehicle. And drive slower – you use less gas when you stick to the speed limit. (That’s a hard one for me!)
7. Switch to hybrid or electric vehicles. Time to trade in that old truck, car or van? Make the switch to hybrid or electric to cut your dependence on the gas pump. You may even qualify for a federal tax credit. You can check whether a particular vehicle is eligible at the Department of Energy website.
8. Lighten your load. The heavier the load in your car or truck, the more gas you use. Yes, I told you to combine trips, so that may mean a heavier load for fewer trips. Many small-business owners keep a whole lot of stuff they don’t need with them at all times. Can you remove some of the tools, samples or excess materials you’re lugging around?
9. Encourage bike riding, public transit, walking and carpooling. Your staff's highest gas usage may come during their daily commute. Consider reimbursing employees for some of the cost of public transportation or getting a prize of some sort if they ride to work.
Finally, there’s one terrific opportunity presented by higher gas prices. For entrepreneurs who create products or services that save money on energy, you’ll find more willing investors and more eager customers. If you’ve got a great idea for an alternative energy product or service, now’s the time to go for it!
Rhonda Abrams is a small-business expert and a “Top 30 Global Guru” for startups. Her book "Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies" was named one of the 100 best business strategy books of all time. Connect with Rhonda at facebook.com/RhondaAbramsSmallBusiness; Instagram and Twitter @RhondaAbrams. Register for Rhonda’s free small business newsletter at www.RhondaAbrams.com/subscribe.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gas prices on the rise: 9 ways small businesses can save money on fuel