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February 25, 2009

Saving Money: Ten tips to help arts groups save 10% in tough times (or anytime!)

A recent article in our local paper mentioned that arts & cultural groups should have a plan in place to cut their expenses by 10%, before they need to use it. Just so the plan is ready to go. We think that’s a great idea, and decided to pluck out some ideas. While the following is certainly not an extensive list, a few easy ways to save 10% came to mind: 1. Prepay and save with your 3rd-party subscriptions — check out your organization’s monthly credit card bill for the 3rd-party companies you use for a variety of business services, such as Quickbooks Online for accounting, Constant Contact for email marketing, or Salesforce for CRM. Most organizations give you a substantial discount (10% to 20% for paying up front for 6 or 12 months. If you know for sure you’re going to use it for that amount of time, sign up in bulk, and save. 2. Renegotiate your ticketing contract — when you signed up with tix.com or ticketweb.com, or whomever, you no doubt signed an agreement on fees, percentages you get to keep, etc. Maybe the fee is $1 a ticket or something like that. Now that you’ve been with them awhile and been a good customer, call them up and ask for the fees to be reduced. If they balk, tell them “every little bit helps” and mention you may have to look at other ticketing vendors if you need to. Most small to mid-sized players will quickly consider adjusting your rates for you. 3. Simplify your printed programs — a glossy program looks great and gives off a professional feel. But people won’t remember the program, they’ll remember the production. Cut out as many pages as you can and go with fewer colors (or switch to black and white) to save costs on printing. In your curtain speech, ask folks who don’t wish to keep their programs to please recycle them in the lobby on the way out, and provide an easy-to-see bin to do this. Pass the recycled ones out to tomorrow’s audience so you can print fewer of them. 4. Ask for discounts from your advertising outlets — people know budgets have been cut way back on advertising, which means you can get a lot more advertising exposure for your money right now. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Get their price and make a counter-offer, stating that budget is tight. They will often go for it, especially if it’s near their deadline for submission. 5. Use freelancers — if you’re contemplating hiring a full-time person but don’t have enough work for a full-time person, avoid paying benefits and extra expenses by hiring a freelancer to do specific tasks for you. (In all fairness, this is a tip that benefits GroupOfMinds too, since we offer by-the-hour arts marketing and consulting services, but it can be applied to many other types of things you need done.) Save your full-time staff for jobs that must be done in house, or that require communication with many established relationships. 6. Save energy — this is an old one but a good one, and green too. Close doors in your office that don’t need to be heated if they are not being used. Replace any bulbs you have with compact fluorescent bulbs (did you know you can get dimmable ones now? Awesome!) wherever you can. Unplug “phantom power” devices that are plugged in and waiting to be turned on by remote — this can be everything from clock radios to TVs to coffeemakers and more. It’s not difficult to reduce your utility bill by 10% with a little thought to your everyday behaviors. 7. Shared mail databases — contact your local arts council or arts service organization, and ask them if they offer access to a shared mail database. Using a SMD allows several arts organizations to pool their patron snail mail addresses and buying history, and to then buy the names back out to mail to. The idea here is that the best prospect of getting a new arts patron for your organization is to market to “arts people” that usually go to other arts organizations. Getting arts groups to work together like this can be like herding cats, but once you get past the idea of “protecting” your patron information, and that people will go to more than one arts group,  the benefits are huge. I know a large regional ballet company that went from spending more than $100,000 a year on mailings to only spending $35,000 and getting a higher hit rate. Huge. 8. Use a discount code online — need something printed? We like psprint.com and vistaprint.com for low-cost and great-quality printing. Both of these internet print houses always have different coupon codes that are easy to find online. Do a google search for “psprint discount code” and you’ll find them. Both also offer discounts if you sign up for their email newsletter (though vistaprint sends a little too often). Discounts of way more than 10% are easy to get. 9. Find a local buddy arts organization, and share — that flat you just bought to turn into a castle wall in Camelot can be repainted by the theater down the road for Guys and Dolls. Share sets, props, lighting equipment, storage and rehearsal space, etc. 10. Save on software: go freetech or opensource — are you paying $40 a year for each of your email accounts and getting bombarded by spam? Google Apps allows you to have email in the yourname@yourdomain.com format for free, and gives you a swell suite of other free collaboration tools. Need Adobe Photoshop but don’t have $600 per license? You can use The GIMP instead — it’s a great opensource (and free) image editing software. OpenOffice is a free suite of software that mimics Microsoft Office. If you can think of it, there is probably an opensource version of it somewhere. With a minset to save and collaborate, savings of 10% is not only possible, but may open up new doors of collaboration that you haven’t considered thus far. The arts will weather this downturn — people still need to escape and hear a good story, see a wonderful piece of art, or listen to a musical journey. And when times are good again, you’ll still be saving money. Have other ideas to save 10%? Stick them in the comments! -Ron Evans If you’re looking for one-on-one arts marketing and audience development assistance, please contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help you increase attendance and impact using technology. 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About Ron Evans

I am an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Group of Minds. I advise leaders on behavioral psychology, marketing & technology to nudge audience behavior. Get in touch via email, on Twitter, or Google+: +Ron Evans