Owning a small business used to mean that you couldn’t afford an 800 number. Not so anymore. These days it is just as easy to get an 800 number for your small business as it is to have the electric turned on for your small business.

Having an 800 number is great way to attract new customers and entice more people to call you which will hopefully lead to an increase in sales and your bottom line. The best part is the 800 number you choose will not cost you an arm and a leg anymore.

With the invention of what is known as a virtual 800 number it is no longer necessary to have a main phone line that routes all the calls to various extensions throughout the office. In fact, you don’t even have to have all the extensions in the same office, city, state, or country for that matter. Here is how a virtual 800 number works and how you go about getting one for your small business:

o Choose a service provider: Start by conducting an online search for ‘virtual 800 number service provider’ and what you will get is a number of different companies who all offer similar services at similar prices. You need to take some time to go through the different companies and decide which one is the one you want to use for your 800 number needs.

o Choose a number: This is done with the 800 number service provider and can be done in one of two ways. You can let the 800 number service provider choose a random 800 number to assign you or for a few dollars more you can choose a vanity number such as 800-DOG-TOYS.

o Set up extensions: A virtual 800 number will act as your personal switchboard operator. When a customer calls in they will hear a recorded voice that prompts them to push a certain extension in order to reach the department or party of their choice. These extensions are set up ahead of time by you. You can designate any phone to be an extension and the person calling in is none the wiser. One extension can be your mobile phone, while another extension can be an office line. So long as it is a phone, an extension can be plugged into it. You can also switch the designation of the extensions as your needs and travels change.

o Check messages: If you do miss a call you will have a pre-recorded message play letting the person know that you will call them back as soon as possible. You can check your messages from any phone or have the 800 number service provider e-mail you the message, fax you the message, or even send it to your iPhone or other portable device.

Cashflow is defined as “The total amount of money being transferred into and out of a business”, it is much more about the amount of cash your business has at that moment in time than metrics like profit. Cashflow can cause big problems for small businesses, particularly for seasonal businesses. That painful time between invoicing and payment is felt by most small businesses but if you pay attention to your business’ cashflow this pain can be minimized.

The first step in good cashflow management is to set cashflow targets. By preparing and maintaining a cashflow forecast that you update regularly (cashflow is an ever-changing situation) you are able to get an idea of the financial outlook of your business for the next six months or so. This cashflow forecast will demonstrate to your credit controllers that you are giving this area attention and create the opportunity to assign cashflow responsibilities out to appropriate people within your team.

Once you have your cashflow forecast in the bag, the next thing to think about is establishing agreed payment terms. Once you know payment terms it will be so much easier to know when payments are going to be overdue and manage your cashflow situation.

Your business will have control over certain factors which affect cashflow. One such factor is invoicing. Your business will have the power to control when invoices get sent out. It is best practice that you send out client invoices as soon as possible after the work is finished. If you wait a week or so until after the work is finished the money will probably not be in your bank account until about three weeks after it has been completed. If you issue the invoice by email this process will take much less time and there will be an easily accessible record of the invoice.

Another factor which your business may have some control over is customer payments. The customer payment process should be made as easy as possible. Offering your customers ways of paying that are more timely and suitable to your business like paying online and deterring customers from paying by check is a good way to ensure a good cashflow.

In some instances you may be able to make direct debits the norm for your business. Establishing direct debits will allow your business to scale without an increase in the cost of collection.

If your business can afford to do so, than it is really time and energy saving to be able to use technology to manage your cashflow. There are almost endless ways that your business could use technology to help manage your cashflow. Something like cloud accounting software can save people working within your business time and help you keep track of your finances. Budgeting software is another great way for small businesses to stay on top of cashflow.

In today’s tough economic climate it is more important than ever to save money wherever possible. This is doubly true for a small business or start-up business whose cash flows are not yet fully established. Here are 5 great tips on how to save money as a small business.

Money Saving Tip #1 – Pay strict attention to metrics, especially your sales volumes and expenses

It is generally acknowledged that one of the greatest businessmen of the modern era was John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870 and went on to become the world’s richest man and first American billionaire, and is often regarded as the richest person in history. However, when Mr. Rockefeller was just 16 years old he landed his first job. What was that job that set the foundation for a business career as illustrious as any man ever had? He became an assistant bookkeeper. John Rockefeller earned just $50 salary for his first three months’ work. But what he truly gained was an appreciation for financial detail and discipline.

So it is with your small business – you need to have a detailed understanding of what your finances are at any given time. Note, I said a detailed understanding of your finances. The most important numbers to focus in on are your top line sales volumes and revenues and your bottom line expenses. By focusing on top line sales volumes and revenues you get an appreciation of what your business is actually able to earn in a given time period. This assists in setting budgets and goals. Focusing on the expenses gives you a realistic idea of how much money you need to earn to keep your business afloat. It is a good practice to review your finances in detail every single month. This is the first step in understanding where you may be able to save the most money in your business.

Money Saving Tip #2 – Cut out the olives

Robert Crandall worked at Eastman Kodak, Hallmark, and TWA before joining American Airlines in 1973. In 1980 Mr. Crandall became president of American. He was a notorious cost cutter and helped the airline survive and even thrive in a period of deregulation. One of the most famous and oft told stories of Mr. Crandall’s business thrift has to do with the salads served on American Airlines flights at the time. You see, Mr. Crandall carefully examined the companies finances and discovered that the addition of olives to the salads was costing the airline company a great deal. Figuring that no one would really miss a few olives in their salad, Mr. Crandall ordered that the olives be removed from the airlines salads. His savings? More than $100,000.

The lesson for your small business is obvious. Look for items that you are spending money on, but that aren’t giving your customers or clients any appreciable extra value. When you find them, cut them.

Money Saving Tip #3 – Renegotiate with vendors

Every business is the customer of other businesses. You get all sorts of supplies from other companies that help you to conduct your day to day business. No matter what the status of your current relationship – whether you have a long term contract, or whether you are just repeat buying the same items out of habit – it pays to examine and renegotiate with vendors on a continuing basis.

Are you getting the best deal on your phone service? Are you sure? Have you considered switching to a VOIP (voice over IP) phone system? What about using Skype for either internal or external communications? Each system or expense that comes up in your business is a potential area of savings. Challenge your vendors to sharpen their pencils and give you their best deal. Here are a few ways you can save:

Ask for volume discounts – even if you aren’t at the exact volume yet. If you grow you will hit higher volumes.

Get quotes from multiple vendors and then compare them – and share them with the vendors to let them see what your costs are with their competitors.

Consider alternative solutions. For example, maybe your salespeople can share a room on a trip instead of booking two separate rooms.

Money Saving Tip #4 – Start a website

We are very fortunate to live today in an era where just about anything can be sold online. From real estate to retail to consulting, it has become natural for many people to turn first to the Internet when investigating or purchasing goods and services. In the early days of the Internet, small businesses were excluded from competing on the Internet due to high complexity and the costs associated with hiring experts and programmers to create a viable website. This is no longer the case.

One can easily find a freelance web designer for a fraction of what it used to cost by using services such as Elance.com. This is a marketplace where designers and programmers compete to earn your business. You can easily get quotes for website work in a short period of time and also see references and prior work samples to aid in your decision.

You will also need to work together with a web hosting company to house the site. Daniel Foster is co-founder of UK web hosting company 34SP.com. Mr. Foster suggests, ”Do a comprehensive search on Google for the company you are considering. Look for reviews from current or former customers. You can also use forums such as web hosting talk to help inform yourself and narrow down your choices.”

Shopping around can help you save money on everything from your site design to your domain name to your web hosting.

Money Saving Tip #5 – There is only one boss

Sam Walton is a legend in business and in saving money. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Mr. Walton understood the value of a dollar. Three days after graduating from college, Mr. Walton was hired by JC Penney as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa. Taking his knowledge of retailing and his cost cutting mentality and focusing them on the retailing sector, Mr. Walton founded Wal-mart in 1962. The first Wal-Mart opened July 2, 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. Wal-Mart eventually became the world’s largest retailer. And Sam Walton was at the head of it all. Leading the company by example. The rest is cost cutting history.

The true lesson that comes from Sam Walton and Wal-mart for your small business comes in the form of a quote. Never forget what Sam Walton himself said, ”There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Don’t ever cut costs at the expense of angering or disappointing your customers. Those savings will be short lived.

As most small business owners know there is a difference between the average employee and true talent. The problem for small business owners is how to attract talent to their business, when so often large businesses are able to outbid and out-perk them, which gives them a decided advantage when it comes to attracting talent. However, there are ways that small business owners can overcome such obstacles and find truly talented applicants anxious to put their skills to work to make that small business successful.

Often, talented people are motivated by more than money. Money matters, of course, but for many of the best and brightest, they are seeking something more. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in “How to Attract Talent to a Small Company,” the more personal atmosphere of a newer business may very well be more attractive to certain types of talented people. The anti- corporate sentiment that is on the rise throughout the nation can serve as a real advantage to a company.

A small business may not have the financial ability to offer more money or costly benefits to potential employees. However, flexibility in scheduling, such as the ability to telecommute part time, may mean a lot more to people. Get creative with what can be offered, such as a child care co-op or participation in an organic food buying cooperative. Think about the personal needs of the types of talent that you hope to attract to your organization and how they could be met.

Don’t automatically rule out potential employees with a record that demonstrates a bit of a rebellious spirit. They may be just the sort of forward thinking people a small business needs on staff. Diversity should be cultivated, not because employment law encourages it, but because that is the best way to develop a talented workforce and original thinking able to compete with the big boys.

Finding such talent can be difficult for a new business, but using tools like job recruitment software can help locate specialized, stand-out talent. Applicant tracking software can aid in achieving and maintaining a productive labor force balance, ensuring that the right talents come together to form the productive whole for a company.

When courting talent for a small business, it is important to consider the big picture. View the organization as a whole and make an honest appraisal of what qualities are missing. Think about the type of talent necessary to take the small business to the next level of competition, as well as what obtaining that talent is worth investing. Using job recruitment software complemented by applicant tracking software, you can target exactly what your small company is lacking in terms of talent and skill.

According to the New York Times small business blog, You’re the Boss, the main reasons small businesses fail range from poor accounting to lack of a good business plan and a declining market. Other reasons include over-expansion and business owners who are unable to get out of their own way because of pride, greed, or perfectionism. Sometimes it’s hard to see the cause of the failure because of our proximity to the situation. For this reason many entrepreneurs continue making the same mistakes again and again.

Entrepreneurship is high-risk. It takes heart. It takes guts. But, for true entrepreneurial spirits the reward far outweighs the risk. So, the question becomes not if they will try again, but how they can learn from past mistakes and move from failure into growth?

Start by asking yourself these four questions:

1) What can I learn from this experience?

Assess everything that went wrong. Was it unavoidable? Was it a careless mistake? Was I the problem? Answer with brutal honesty. This is not an easy process and there may be a long list of shortfalls, but it will help ensure success in the future.

2) What can I appreciate from this experience?

Now it’s time to understand what went right. Be thankful for those things. Carefully look at these pieces to understand how and why these particular things worked in spite of the others.

3) What can I take away from this experience?

Understand both what went wrong and what went right and how they work together. Do they relate? Are they independent of each other? Create a plan of action to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated in the future.

4) What’s the next step?

What would you do if there were no limits? Would you attempt the same venture again? Would you try something completely different? Whatever the case, the important thing is to do something! This failure has not defeated you. Get to work!

4.1 Do I need help? If so, seek help. Learn from others and allow others to offer advice and support. Who says you have to do it all on your own? People want to see you succeed. Let them help.

Once you have the answers you can begin to look at your past mistakes objectively and move forward on to your new venture.

Owning your own business is a challenge. It requires persistence and more hard work than most are capable of. But when successful, the business in exchange offers endless opportunities to learn and limitless possibilities to grow.

The ability for small manufacturers and other modest sized service organization to break through the veil which shielded them from participation with the U.S. Department of Defense and other national security agencies has been penetrated. The Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative (DeVenCI) has developed a program that helps managers within these agencies bypass the usual larger defense contractor and deal directly with small scale enterprises to seek new rapidly deployable technologies. Under the direction of Bob Pohanka, DeVenCI matches defense manager who have problems they need solving with small companies that can offer solutions.

DeVenCI sponsors events several times a year in the Washington, DC area where the small companies get the opportunity to pitch their technologies and wares to an audience of defense agency manager in the hope that a match will occur. To stay on top of which companies and what specialized technologies are available, Pohanka enlist the aid of volunteer venture capitalist across the country. The venture capitalists are provided extensive briefing on the Department of Defense and national security agencies needs. Armed with this information, they network to locate the relevant companies and invite them to a DeVenCI sponsored event.

If a match is made the selected firm is invited to working group meetings to learn more about the potential government buyers needs and is provided with information to help them customize their offer to fit the agencies needs. Once a firm has been accepted, the potential to talk with other defense agency managers also becomes available.

According to Pohanka, DeVenCI initially focused only on the Information Technology needs of the defense agency managers but has since expanded to include offerings from small business involved in biotechnology, sensors, energy, electronics, space, and nanotechnology. Smaller organizations have the ability to quickly adapt to defense agencies needs and make changes without extensive internal reorganization, massive re-engineering, and on a lower budget. This makes small business defense contractors the perfect solution for small level projects which were once assigned to the big company defense contractors.

If you are a small enterprise that is involved in goods or services which may benefit DeVenCI’s defense manager’s needs, but are not on any of the list within the volunteer venture capitalist network, there is still an opportunity for you to get invited to a DeVenCI event. You can submit your company information directly to them at their web site. Go to deveni.dtic.mil and complete their information form online. The ability to become a national defense contractor just got easier.