Feeling the burn in the UK

When I was at college I took a weekend job in a petrol station to raise some cash to keep my student standard-issue VW Beetle on the road. At the end of each shift I had to log how many litres had been sold at each grade of fuel. This seemingly harmless task appears to have afflicted me with a mental version of RSI since to this day it remains indelibly burned in my memory that in 1987 a litre of petrol used to cost 38.5p.

This useless fact, no matter how hard I try to unthink it, always flashes across my consciousness every time I fill up my car. Lately though, what used to be just an annoying mental twitch now also makes me sigh with utter exasperation in the face of ever escalating fuel costs in the UK.

Even accounting for twenty-odd years of inflation, that same litre of petrol should only cost about 95p today, but prices in some parts of the UK are now nudging an eye-watering £1.50 a litre – that’s getting on for almost £100 to fill up a family sized car.

Some travel is genuinely unavoidable but web technology can play a ever growing part in mitigating the need to jump in the car to do business.

So, here’s a short list of some of the web tools and tricks the Xero UK team uses to keep a lid on the cost of doing business here without suppressing our productivity or our growth – these suggestions won’t work universally in every business context, but you might be surprised…

  • Coffee Shops : This is one of my favourite tricks. Aside from now serving up great flat whites, most UK coffee shops offer some kind of wireless internet access if you don’t already have it through a mobile phone tether or a 3G data stick. So, rather polluting the atmosphere and hurting your expense account with a customary journey to the office, if you’ve got a half-day of solitary report writing, spreadsheet wrangling or just some billing in Xero to do, set up camp in your local coffee shop and do it there. Less travel, better coffee – everyone’s a winner.
  • Skype: If you don’t have Skype – get it. It’s totally free unless you make calls to regular telephones, runs on virtually anything – including smartphones – and alongside free audio chat (including free multi-party conference calls) it also offers useful instant messaging and presence awareness for both your colleagues and any Skype connected customers. Skype won’t completely replace physical meetings with co-workers or customers, but if it eliminates just one in four car journeys, that’s a 25% cost saving and with today’s sky high fuel costs, that kind of saving could rack up very quickly.
  • GotoMeeting: Skype is ideal for ad-hoc 1:1 calls or with small groups, but what if you need to share more structured information with a larger group of people? Web presentations or webcasts are an excellent way of scaling up from Skype. Affordable tools like GotoMeeting are perfect for hosting things like regular sales calls or presenting data to groups of people, or just sharing information with any group of staff or customers. Cutting down on travel costs where large groups are involved in this way can also return huge cost savings.
  • EchoSign: We use Echosign as an efficient way of capturing someone someone’s signature on a contract without jumping in the car, burning costs on a courier or wasting valuable time using regular mail.

These are just a handful of obvious webby things to try, so if you have any other suggestions or ideas that work for you, please drop them into the comments below and I’ll certainly give them a shot.

5 Comments

Nic Wise
March 18, 2011 at 3:37 am

With the exception of the 3 months we just spent in NZ, I’ve bought maybe 10 tanks of gas in nearly 4 years (in the UK), and all of those were in rental cars. We use Streetcar (aka ZipCar, who, I think, bought them recently), and the gas is included in the hourly price of the car, so even if I do need to fill up, I dont directly pay for it, which is fantastic.

That also said, I almost never get in a car (except a london black cab!) – I walk, bus or take the tube everywhere. If we are going on holiday out of London, we get a train to the nearly “big” city (eg York) and hire a car from there. 2.5 hours on a fast train is a lot nicer – and a LOT cheaper – than 6 hours in a car on the A1.

I never have to travel to see my accountant (keeping it mostly on topic), because I do everything over the internet with him (he’s based out of london) – I’ve never even talked to him, tho I have numerous emails and twitter conversations with him.

I know there is a big need for a car in New Zealand, mostly because the in-city public transport is pretty awful (compared to the likes of London), and inter-city transport (or out of city) is almost non existant, except flying. But in a city like London, or a country like the UK, not having a car is not at all a handicap.

Jerry Zhao
March 18, 2011 at 11:16 am

what would you use for keep tracking your schedual and plan for the day? I just use Outlook but thinking there must be a better way to do it…

Richard Francis
March 21, 2011 at 10:01 am

Good post.

We decided to go ‘sustainable’ in 2007. This has meant reappraising unnecessary travel and using alternatives like Skype and GTM. Our cloud-based apps – Xero, Workflowmax, Spotlight Reporting – mean that I often work from cafes etc.

When we do travel, we offset where possible – most airlines offer this option.

NZ petrol prices are now over $2 per litre! Erk.

Richard Adams
April 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Great article Gary definitely on the money for today’s businesses. Just one point though, although fuel prices are constantly rising the actual cost of fuel hasn’t risen that greatly, this is because when you consider average fuel economy on modern cars is around 50% better than anything from the 1980’s we are using considerably less.

However I have been driving my business towards greener vision, including the fact I now cycle to work each day (20mile round trip) dropping the kids off on the way thanks to the new bike trailer. Will take some of your recommendations above and look at other ways to reduce travel. Keep up the excellent work. Loving Xero!

concebir una niña
August 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

I’ve been working like you for 2 years and my results are excellent. The only thing you have to be is constant and responsible.

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