Small Biz: Need to cut costs? Start with your energy bills

Small business owners know better than anyone that they have to reduce expenses during shaky economic times. But if you're looking around for costs to cut, you don't have to go straight to payroll. One painless place to look that might not be on your radar is energy savings. As energy prices rise, the savings you can net from a few simple changes become much more significant.

The key to saving energy at your small business is exactly the same as it is at home: Turn off what you're not using and find more economical alternatives. It's really that simple.

Here are some tips:

Turn off your equipment when it's not in use: Begin by turning off computers, monitors, printers, and copiers at night and over weekends and holidays. It's tempting to leave that computer running. The screen saver is on, so you're probably not thinking about the energy it's using overnight. But think of it this way: A computer left on all night is using over twice as much electricity as one that is turned on only during the working day. I know it's faster to not have to wait for the computer to boot up in the morning... But, come on. Go get a cup of coffee while you're waiting!

Get employees in line: Many employees are more liberal with energy usage at work than they are at home, so this is an area in which you might be able to find some decent savings with a few simple management directives. Many employees are probably thinking "green" at home, so encouraging them to do so at work is just smart, hands-on management.

Buy some new office gear: I'll admit that until recently, I never even thought of finding more energy efficient office equipment. I'd buy what I needed based upon the features, and never even consider electric usage. Now is my time (and yours) to become a bit more cost conscious in this area. Energy Star electronics and appliances are known for being more energy efficient, using about half the electricity of standard equipment. But Energy Star isn't just for the kitchen or the laundry room. Check for the electricity-saving seal on copiers, fax machines, printers, scanners, and computers.