Cost control is different from cost cutting. Learn this financial discipline to keep a lid on your costs and improve profitability.
Not to be confused with cost cutting, cost control is all about financial discipline and it involves planning, managing and preserving your financial resources. It’s good practice to follow in both good times and bad – and if you control costs consistently well over time, your business should benefit from a stronger operating position and better cash flow leading to a rise in the company’s current assets (such as more cash in the bank), which will undoubtedly strengthen the value of your company and its financial position.
In this article, our chartered accountants for small businesses in London aim to discuss all you need to know about cost control, including:
- The difference between cost control and cost cutting
- Cost control applications
- Who should be involved in the exercise
- Top tips to control costs
- Quick wins
- Habits to help you succeed
The difference between cost control and cost cutting
The main difference between cost control and cost cutting is that cost control is about the management of costs while cost cutting focuses on lowering costs.
Cost control is also about discipline and stewardship exercised throughout the business journey, during both good and bad times. Cost cutting, on the other hand, tends to kick in when the business is going through a rough patch and you want to save as much as possible.
Cost control is applicable to direct and overhead
Broadly speaking, costs can be categorised into direct and indirect. Direct costs are costs attributed to the production of specific goods or services.
Indirect costs or overhead costs, on the other hand, are ongoing expenses associated with running a business.
Here is a quick example – assuming you are a small publisher producing atlases to colleges. Your direct costs are cartographers, designers, printing, storage and the delivery charges from the warehouse to your clients. Your indirect costs are office rent, an e-commerce site to take orders, phone lines and emails to communicate with your clients, staff to support and market the products, among others.
Cost control can be applied to both direct and overhead costs. For example, you may engage freelance cartographers when possible and negotiate with your printer for a better deal to manage your direct costs. When it comes to controlling overhead expenses, you can choose to modernise your e-Commerce site and marketing efforts, implementing referral programmes that only cost you when a sale is realised.
Who should be involved in cost control?
Contrary to cost cutting which is usually a top-down approach, cost control involves your team members liberally, particularly your managers. Your employees are more likely to cooperate if they can understand how cost control can benefit the company and also themselves.
Here is an example – a client has three bank accounts in three different currencies and in the past, their in-house bookkeeper spent almost £1k a year on bank transfer fees because no one was ‘thinking about such small costs’. When the company director decided to make financial discipline as part of the corporate culture, ideas started to flow. The bookkeeper switched to using an online money transfer service when paying overseas suppliers and the company immediately reduced its bank fees significantly.
It is also possible to involve your suppliers as part of the cost control exercise. Once your suppliers know that you are taking a proactive step to control costs, they are likely to share with you options that can help lower your bills.
As cost control starts with a careful review of financial data, naturally you want to involve your accountant too. Talk to one of our small business accountants in London if you are looking for someone who can help you identify under-performing cost centres and suggest ways to reign in control.
Top four tips you can take to control costs
1. Reviewing the variances between actual costs and budgets
The main purpose of budgeting is to reduce careless spending and improve profits.
Every month our small business chartered accountants share a vital set of financial data called the management accounts with our clients. Among them is a document called budget variance which tracks how much you have budgeted to earn and spend in a particular month versus how much you have actually earned and spent during that period. Ideally, you want the actual figures to be as close to the budgeted figures as possible, as they indicate good planning, good execution, and less careless spending.
It is worth pointing out your budgeted figures must be realistic, based on historical data and market trends. For example, you shouldn’t expect to sell £10k worth of Christmas decorations to consumers in March (unless the figure is after some massive discounts). Equally, you can’t have a budget of £1k a month for marketing but choose to splurge on TV commercials.
2. Enhancing internal processes
Many businesses have their own set of procedures created years ago and some of these are so set in their ways to the point that no one questions if they are still relevant. Review every part of your internal processes and make the necessary changes to increase efficiency.
For example, your staff may still spend time on endless meetings, often involving everyone in the team and each meeting has a designated note taker. In reality, many companies have started to streamline meetings with clearly defined expectations and use apps to take notes.
3. Focusing on quality
Quality control is an essential tool in manufacturing, not just in producing an excellent product, but also in refining the production process as it can lead to zero wastage. Even if you aren’t a manufacturer, you can still apply the same principle to every product and service you offer.
Once you start to focus on quality, you will see an increase in satisfied customers, which is likely to lead to more sales and referrals. Together, they will create a positive feedback loop that will yield more favourable results, such as higher quality that will enhance value and allow you to potentially differentiate and charge higher prices to more customers.
4. Be well prepared
No business is risk-free and yet surprisingly, many small business owners aren’t prepared for the associated risks, let alone having robust plans to manage an uncontrolled loss of something valuable.
Risks that can affect a small business may include economic risk, compliance risk, financial risk, operational risk, fraud risk, reputation risk, and competition risk.
For instance, business owners know that the economy can fluctuate between periods of strong growth and weakness. As a business owner, you must be able to analyse the changes and trends pertaining to your industry. Your business must innovate, evolve, and adapt to stay relevant. Also, it is wise to set up a rainy day fund to tide the company over during an economic downtown.
A few quick wins
Controlling costs should not be a burdensome exercise and here are some easy savings you can make immediately:
- Finding alternatives to lower bank transfer fees – plenty of online money transfer services now charge less for each transaction than your bank.
- Using cloud computing – subscription-based or pay-as-you-go software and data storage remove expensive infrastructure in-house. At Tax Agility, we work with Xero, cloud-based accounting software that streamlines many common accounting processes, saving you time and money.
- Eliminate unnecessary costs – unneeded insurance, unused telephone lines, subscriptions that your staff don’t use, hiring staff when outsourcing can do the work, these are some costs you can eliminate immediately.
- Negotiating with your suppliers – apart from asking for discounts and better payment terms from your current suppliers, find out if there are alternatives. Also, look for alternative suppliers where possible.
- Rejuvenating your marketing programmes – try new approaches such as rewarding your loyal customers when they refer other buyers to you.
- Maximising your staff’s skills – many modern offices look for staff who can step up and be responsible for a variety of tasks. For instance, a marketer today should be able to manage a CRM system, design a newsletter, write compelling product descriptions, know how to take good product pictures and publish them online, among other tasks. If your marketer can only do limited functions, consider training and encourage them to grow, or find somebody who can.
Good habits can help you reach your goals
Financial discipline is about being consistent in your approach when it comes to planning, managing and preserving your financial resources. It is definitely not a one-time exercise. To be successful in cost control, you must be able to plan, set realistic goals, review results and spend time to sharpen your financial knowledge regularly.
At Tax Agility, we know that not every small business owner has the time to plan and interpret financial data, this is why our small business accountants are ready to assist. Our biggest strengths are in number crunching and applying solid financial principles to help you create and maintain the economic value for your company. So give us a call on 020 8108 0090 when you are ready to instil some financial discipline into your business.
Tax Agility can help you to control costs
Cost control often starts with a careful review of your major cost centres – your direct costs, sales and marketing, finance and administration, IT support, legal costs, to name but a few – over a period of six to 12 months. After that, you proceed to rank each cost and identify areas where savings can be made.
Your accountant is vital to your cost-control effort. At Tax Agility, our small business accountants have the experience to help you review your financial data and suggest ways which you can take to manage your costs and improve profitability.
We have three offices – in Putney, Richmond, and also at Cavendish Square in Central London – conveniently located to assist company directors and owners across London with a complete range of financial and business services, including Accounts & bookkeeping; Payroll management; Management consultancy; Personal tax planning and many more.
Call us today on 020 8108 0090. Alternatively, use our online form to arrange a complimentary, no-obligation meeting.
You may be interested in:
- Small business: managing rising costs
- Managing your business finance for success
- Actions you can take when your small business is in distress
This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.