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As costs have increased, small businesses are being forced to raise prices on the products and services they sell. But, as a recession looms, increasing prices isn’t the only way that business owners are navigating their way through these challenging times. Many small businesses in the Chicago area are turning to technology to help them control their costs, minimize overhead and increase productivity.

Chris Prodoehl, who’s a Vice President of Information Technology at Chicago Tube & Iron, a steel distributor and metals fabricator with locations throughout the Midwest, has been doubling down on his company’s accounting system – Epicor – to provide the data he needs to run his business and manage their four hundred employees. Prodoehl’s company has been dealing with a significant amount of volatility in the steel market this year and he’s been leaning heavily on his system to keep track of both costs and pricing. To do this, he’s demanded more metrics and has begun to push an initiative to use tablets throughout the company’s warehouses and on trucks. But that’s not all he has planned.

“We’re already taking advantage of some of the dashboards the application provides to keep up with our shipping activities,” he says. “We’re also planning on implementing document management and scanning for the many test reports and certifications we have to administer.” Chris also intends to use the platform’s expense reporting and automated workflows to eliminate some of the more menial tasks his employees are doing in order to increase productivity.

In slower economic times like these, revenues are critical. Which is why many companies have been expanding their use of customer relationship management (CRM) systems. One of these companies is Rework Office Furniture, a retailer located in Forest Park, Illinois that sells to both consumers and businesses. At Rework customers get follow-up emails to make sure they’re happy with the products they bought. The company’s CRM system – SugarCRM – has also been configured to send automatic messages every three and six months and to remind customers when a lease is about to expire or about new products available.

“It gives us a chance to make sure we’ve given good service,” says David Karnes, Rework’s President. “It also makes us aware if there’s something potentially going on with them, like they’re downsizing or moving locations or looking to do improvements. That could be an opportunity for us.”

Natasha Nicholes runs her Midwest community garden and nonprofit called WeSowWeGrow with her husband. It may not be a big organization, but as costs continue to rise she faces many of the same overhead concerns that are challenging all business today. To help control these costs, she relies heavily on a project management application called Asana.

“Our projects involve building out production farms which require many tasks like getting soil tested, filing paperwork, putting down barriers and making sure the soil gets turned over before it freezes,” she says. “All of this requires phone calls and tasks and coordination and we rely heavily on our project management system to make sure everything get done.”

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Nicholes also uses Asana to help with the planning of her events and to make information available for her board of directors. The project management platform helps minimize down time and automatically assigns responsibilities based on the work that needs to be done – with deadlines and reminders – in order to avoid conflicts.

“It’s definitely a marriage saver!” she says.

Some companies rely on a number of different applications working together – and separately – in order to get things done quicker and more cost effectively. One such company is runs Chromatic, a software development firm based in Chicago. According to Dave Look, the company’s CEO, collaboration platform GitHub is used to share their project progress and Ramp is used to manage expenses and credit card purchases. The company uses HubSpot for their CRM needs and MailChimp to automate their marketing campaigns. Besides QuickBooks for accounting, they use Harvest to do their time and billing and Basecamp for project management. Having all of this software is useful, but it has the potential to get unwieldy, which is why Look plans on re-evaluating all of their tools in the coming year to make sure they’re necessary.

“We do need to be more efficient with the tools we have,” he admits. “We are sometimes very slow to take away tools because we’ve gotten dependent on them. We have to be very careful about whether or not they’re helping us run an efficient and profitable business.” This is good advice for all business owners.

Finally, there’s a growing realization that the more a small business can rely on other technology companies to host their applications the more money they can save. Lori Tisinai, a technology consultant, has moved hundreds of her clients to Right Networks, a vertical cloud service provider that hosts the accounting software QuickBooks and many other financial and business applications.

“By hosting with a service like Right Networks our clients get access to their data wherever they are and whenever they want,” she says. “The company ensures that my clients’ information is backed up and – most importantly – secured.” Tisinai says that service providers like Right Networks save her clients money because they don’t have to buy hardware or pay for internal IT people and they can have more control over their monthly technology costs. Right Networks provides desktop and endpoint security in a cloud environment along with a community of support and though leadership experts.

“My clients are always looking for ways to do things quicker and more cost effectively, especially these days, and the cloud lets them do that,” she says.

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