With a recession looming, these technologies are helping companies save money and increase productivity

As costs have increased, small businesses are forced to raise the prices of the products and services they sell. But with a recession looming, raising prices isn’t the only way entrepreneurs are navigating these challenging times. Many small businesses in the Chicago area are turning to technology to help them control costs, minimize overhead and increase productivity.

Chris Prodoehl, Vice President of Information Technology at Chicago tube and irona steel distributor and metal manufacturer with operations in the Midwest, his company’s accounting system has doubled – epicor – to provide the data he needs to run his business and manage their four hundred employees. Prodoehl’s business has experienced significant volatility in the steel market this year, and he relies heavily on his system to keep track of both costs and prices. To do this, he has demanded more statistics and has started promoting an initiative to use tablets in the company’s warehouses and on trucks. But that’s not all he plans to do.

“We are already using some of the dashboards the application provides to track our shipping activities,” he says. “We also plan to implement document management and scanning for the many test reports and certifications we need to manage.” Chris also plans to use the platform’s expense reporting and automated workflows to eliminate some of the more menial tasks his employees perform to increase productivity.

In slower economic times like these, revenue is critical. That is why many companies have expanded their use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. One of these companies is Rework office furniture, a retailer in Forest Park, Illinois that sells to both consumers and businesses. At Rework, customers receive follow-up emails to make sure they are happy with the products they have purchased. The company’s CRM system – SugarCRM – is also 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 that are available.

“It gives us an opportunity to make sure we’ve provided great service,” said David Karnes, president of Rework. “It also makes us aware if there might be something going on with them, such as downsizing, relocation of sites or improvements. That could be an opportunity for us.”

Natasha Nicholes runs her Midwestern community garden and has a nonprofit called WeSowWeGrow with her husband. It may not be a large organization, but as costs continue to rise, it faces many of the same overhead issues that challenge all businesses today. To help control these costs, she relies heavily on a project management application called asana.

“Our projects involve building production farms that require many tasks, such as testing the soil, filing paperwork, putting down barriers, and making sure the soil is 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 is done.”

Nicholes also uses Asana to help plan her events and make information available to her board of directors. The project management platform helps minimize downtime and automatically assigns responsibilities based on the work to be done – with deadlines and reminders – to avoid conflicts.

“It’s definitely a wedding savior!” she says.

Some companies rely on a number of different applications working together – and separately – to get things done faster and more cost-effectively. Such a company is run chromatic, a software development company based in Chicago. According to Dave lookthe CEO of the company, collaboration platform GitHub is used to share their project progress and driveway is used to manage expenses and credit card purchases. The company uses HubSpot for their CRM needs and MailChimp to automate their marketing campaigns. In addition QuickBooks for accounting they use Harvest to do their time and billing and base camp for project management. Having all this software is useful, but it can get impractical. That’s why Look plans to re-evaluate all of their tools over the next year to make sure they’re needed.

“We have to be more efficient with the tools we have,” he admits. “We are sometimes very slow to take away tools because we have become dependent on them. We have to be very careful if they help us run an efficient and profitable business.” This is good advice for all entrepreneurs.

Finally, there is 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, en technology consultanthas moved hundreds of its customers to right networks, a vertical cloud service provider that hosts QuickBooks accounting software and many other financial and business applications.

“Hosting with a service like Right Networks gives our customers access to their data whenever and wherever they want,” she says. “The company makes sure that my customers’ information is backed up and – most importantly – secured.” Tisinai says service providers like Right Networks save its customers money because they don’t have to buy hardware or pay for in-house IT people, and they 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 leadership experts.

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