Whether you’re the head of a department at a big company or you’re self-employed, one thing is certain; a bad economy forces you to scale down. Unfortunately, many bosses go for the easy fix and lay off employees in order to get the bottom line down to a number that everyone can live with (everyone, that is, except those left without jobs).

However, there are ways a smart business leader can streamline overhead without eliminating the workforce. Depending on how hard the financial meltdown has hit you, it could be your business simply needs a makeover in order for it to be financially fit again. So before you hire some corporate consultant bozo bean counter to come in and fire everyone (leaving you to do all the work), try these five business makeover strategies first.

1) Go Virtual All the Way

Yes, it might be time to give up the big, fancy (expensive) office space in favor of letting everyone work at home. Next to employee salaries and benefits, office space rent is the second biggest expenditure a business has (sometime it ranks first, if a small business has few employees). Email and the Internet are virtually (no pun intended) free by comparison. With communication so readily available in the form of iPads, smart phones, chat rooms, Skype, video conferencing, conference calls, etc., there’s really no reason you and your employees have to all be under one roof in order to get things done.

2) Send Your Travel Budget Packing

For a multitude of reasons (Hello, TSA!) business travel has lost its charm. Plus, it’s more expensive that ever to fly. Most airlines now charge for EVERYTHING from checked luggage to peanuts. I expect any day now they’re going to make us all step on a scale before we board and charge us to fly by the pound!

If your employees can drive to a business location, rather than fly, have them do it. But for business meetings, employee reviews, even sales calls that can’t be reached by car in a reasonable amount of time Skype is the way to go. As mentioned above, a Skype meeting is free, but just like a regular meeting you can still see your employees smiling faces (and you don’t have to spend a small fortune to do it). Plus, they still get to sleep in their own beds at night. It’s a win win situation.

3) Trade Extra Hours for Vacation Time

I used to work for a company where I had to fly out on Sundays to be at a customer’s site by Monday morning. Instead of paying me for my time, my boss gave me an extra vacation day. In a time where everyone is so busy no one can think straight, trading vacation days for extra work is sometimes equally (if not more) valuable to an employee. If you can’t afford to pay your employees for their vacation time, make sure they know it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.

Also, encouraging your people to take some time off makes for more rested and relaxed employees after they come back to work. Or they can choose to stockpile their extra vacation time in their sick leave bank. This is especially attractive to parents who may have to take time off to take care of sick kids.

4) Buy Used Equipment

With E-Bay, Craigslist, and online classifieds there is a plethora of options when it comes to buying stuff used. If you’re looking for something specific for your business anything from computers and printers, to ergonomic chairs can be found used online at places like UsedBusinessEquipment.com or UsedBizStuff.com.

If you’d rather touch and feel your used stuff before you buy it, resale shops, garage sales, and estate sales are greats place to hit when you need to furnish an office. True, you can’t be as picky as when you buy new (and most don’t come with guarantees), but wouldn’t you rather be more flexible about your business purchases if you could shave a few hundred (or thousand) dollars off the cost?

5) Cut Employee Hours

If you give employees the choice of reducing their hours versus a company-wide layoff (or closing the doors for good), which do you think they’d choose? However, be prepared to possibly lose employees if you cut back on their time too much, as they still have to make enough to earn a living. Also, if you provide benefits DON’T cut back on those just because you’re reducing work time. The idea behind this option is that it’s a temporary solution to a long-term problem. People don’t mind giving up one day a week of work, but they don’t want to give up health insurance.

Running a business (or a department) is never easy, but it’s even trickier in a bad economy. However, a company makeover can mean the difference between business as usual or becoming an overworked one-person show. And with all the other concerns a bad economy thrusts upon you, do you really want to have to figure out how you’re going to add more hours to your day?

Have you already given your business a makeover? If so, what are some of the things you’ve done to keep your doors open? We’d love for you to share your insight.

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