Solution 2: Share Business-Related Equipment and Purchases

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When you share work space, you can also share some of the resources needed to run your business. Some of these possibilities have come up already: For example, office sharers can share a copier or fax machine, and art studio sharers can purchase expensive equipment together. People in every field—plumbers, sound technicians, landscapers, and contractors—can share supplies, purchases, and equipment.

Office Equipment

In addition to a copier or fax machine, there are a number of other things you can share when you are sharing office space with others:

  • a shredder
  • a computer printer (using a network) or high quality printing equipment (for graphic designers and desktop publishers)
  • a telephone and answering system
  • furniture for common spaces
  • a paper cutter, three-hole punch, and binding equipment for publications
  • kitchen equipment, such as a coffeemaker, teakettle, microwave, stand mixer, or refrigerator
  • a fireproof safe for important documents, and
  • a handcart.

Storage Space

Certain types of businesses, such as manufacturing, shipping, and retail, may need more storage space than is available at their primary business location, or they may need temporary storage when receiving large shipments of inventory. If you need extra storage and know other businesspeople in the same boat, you could share storage. Or, you could advertise for shared storage space in trade publications.

Subscriptions

Most fields, whether professional, retail, manufacturing, or artistic, have their own trade-specific publications and other resources. Often, these publications can be very expensive, and sharing might bring them within your price range. For example, many lawyers subscribe to legal research databases that allow multiple users on one account; sharing is an easy way to save money. Sharing software programs can also be cost-effective, as long as it doesn't violate the license. Trade publications like magazines and reports can also be shared among businesses. Even daily magazines and newspapers can be shared in an office or waiting room, or with nearby businesses.

Supplies and Inventory

You can save on office supplies by sharing with another business or professional. If you buy enough, you can also take advantage of bulk discounts on necessary supplies. Everything from paper, toner and ink cartridges, and binders to cleaning supplies, light bulbs, toilet paper, and candy for the bowl on the reception counter is cheaper when you buy it in large amounts.

In some fields, like retail, a business must purchase a minimum quantity of goods for inventory. Joining with another retailer to make the minimum can help you avoid spending more than you can afford on inventory you may not be able to sell. And restaurants, caterers, and cooks can make local, sustainable products more affordable by purchasing in bulk.

EXAMPLE: A book store owner purchases greeting cards from a company that requires a $150 minimum order. She's friendly with the owners of a pet store a few miles away in another business district. The pet store owners want to carry animal-related cards, but only a few designs—not enough to make a minimum order. And the bookseller wants some, but not a lot, of the same type of card. They agree to buy a number of designs, enough to make the minimum, and then split the cards. Each business spends what it can afford on the cards it needs.

Services

Businesses in close proximity can share services they need regularly, such as janitorial services, a security guard, a dedicated delivery person, even food service for their employees. You can also share occasional services, such as window washing, carpet deep cleaning, gardening or landscaping, regular maintenance of equipment, such as furnaces and air conditioning units, or even piano tuning. The service provider may charge less if one trip will result in business from several customers.

Delivery Vehicle

Many businesses have a recurring but relatively infrequent need for a truck to make deliveries, pick up inventory, or otherwise move stuff around. Chapter 10 explains how to work out a vehicle sharing arrangement.

Advertising

Businesses in the same business district can join together to purchase advertising that promotes the entire district as a shopping area and lists each establishment, or to publish a book of coupons or a list of discounts for area businesses. As the "buy local" movement grows, more small business districts are developing merchants' associations and sharing resources to get the word out about their businesses.

Want more information on buying local? The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is a national organization devoted to educating businesspeople and consumers about the value of producing and purchasing local goods and services. Look them up at www.livingeconomies.org. There are "buy local" organizations in many cities all over the country. Try putting "buy local" and your city's name into an Internet search engine and see what pops up.

Tools and Machinery

Business owners who work in construction and the trades can share expensive equipment and tools. Tool and machinery sharing often goes hand in hand with sharing shop space or a storage crib for tools and supplies. These businesses can also benefit from buying supplies in bulk and using fellow sharers' leftover wood, sheetrock, or other materials.

Landscaping and Gardening Tools

Professional gardeners and landscapers can often get by without heavy equipment, but they may need more expensive equipment for certain projects. For example, a particular job might call for a stump grinder, rototiller, or cement mixer. A group of landscapers could purchase items like these together. Gardeners could share soil-testing supplies and other tools and equipment.

Expense Sharing Worksheet for Businesses

If you spend a few minutes brainstorming, you may come up with quite a few work-related expenses you could share. Use this worksheet to consider the possibilities.

Worksheet: Work Expenses to Consider Sharing
ExpenseAmountSharing Ideas

Rent

$1,500/mo.

Could rent a larger office and share cost, probably reducing individual cost.

New York Times

$200/yr.

Yes, with attorney next door.

Janitorial services

$50/wk.

Yes, with upstairs suite.

Table saw

$400

Yes, with the contractor who uses the storage and work space across the street.

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