Choosing an energy provider is about more than just keeping the lights on and equipment running for the lowest cost possible. Granted, minimizing your overhead costs, including those from your monthly electricity bill, is always a chief business concern. Beyond price, however, here are four strategic considerations for securing the best energy provider for your small business.
1. Reputation of service and customer support
In addition to a fair price, reliability of service is of utmost importance. An unreliable supply of electricity could be detrimental to your small business, costing you revenue and sullying your business's reputation with your customers. Therefore, you'll want to find out what you can about other customers' experience with your potential small business energy supplier before entering into a contract with them.
Conduct a basic internet search to see what, if any, issues other small businesses have experienced with your small business energy provider options. There are some websites out there, like the one you're currently reading, that aim to provide a one-stop shop for comparing energy providers, particularly for consumers in the crowded energy markets in deregulated areas of the country. If two or more energy providers are quoting you similar rates, what their customers have to say about them may be all the info you need to make your decision.
Beyond what their customers have to say about them, also pay attention to how long a small business energy provider has been in operation and whether it serves multiple deregulated markets in the country. An energy provider with more extensive experience, both in the number of years and markets served, is likely a safer bet than a younger company just getting started in one area.
You could go one step further than just browsing reviews. Press any potential energy provider to specify exactly who will be managing your account and how best you can get ahold of them via phone, email, video chat or face-to-face meeting should your account need attention. Of course, they're going to be exceptionally nice to you before you sign a contract: they want to make a sale. Let them know you expect that same kind of positive customer support post-sale as well.
2. Experience supplying your type of business
Unlike residential households which have rather predictable energy needs, small businesses can have unique needs depending on the type of machinery they need to power. A good small business energy provider will be interested in your business's specific needs, considering such variables as your max energy usage, peak and off-peak energy usage for your operation, and how seasonality may affect your level of busyness. Feel emboldened to ask them if they've ever supplied a small business like yours beforeor, at least, a similarly sized business with similar energy needs.
A great small business energy provider will appoint a dedicated customer service representative to your account and ask you questions like the above. Then this point person will be able to direct you to the most sensible plan for your business, whether that's a flat-rate plan that offers the most predictability for your monthly budgeting, a plan that takes advantage of market-based rates and running equipment during off-peak hours when energy prices are discounted or some custom combination of both that best suits your operation. Furthermore, consider your business's future energy needs. If you're planning on scaling up your business, ask your customer service rep how their energy plan will be able to adjust to your business's growth.
3. Green energy options
For businesses of all sizes, sustainability targets and responsible energy stewardship are becoming increasingly urgent concerns. If this is true for your small business, then you'll want a small business energy provider that can help you achieve your green energy goals.
Many energy providers these days offer the option to supply your energy, either partially or fully, from local renewable sources. In addition to these options, you may want to ask if your potential small business energy provider offers Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or has experience with on-site power generation if you're looking to supplement your energy supply with your own solar panels or wind turbines. The quality of responses you get to such queries may help you decide between energy providers that, all else considered, seemed more or less indistinguishable.
4. Transparent pricing and clear contract terms
Finally, before signing any energy contract, you should be able to clearly explain its terms to someone else, like a business partner, family member or close friend.
What's your rate in terms of cents-kilowatt-hour and is that rate fixed or does it vary according to market value? Will you be charged extra for exceeding a certain energy threshold?
How long is your contract forsix months, one year, two years? And what happens when it expires? Does it auto-renew, expire to a month-to-month contract or require that you choose a new rate?
And, lastly is there a cancellation fee for getting out of the contract or any barriers to switching providers in the future?
If these are hard questions for you to answer, then perhaps your energy provider's contract terms aren't that straight forward. Clear contract terms will help you choose not only the best small business energy provider but also the best energy plan.
Business success depends on reliable energy supply
Like air and water, electricity is one of those things in contemporary society that we tend to take for grantedthat is, until something goes awry. Minimize the chance of that happening by doing your homework on any potential small business energy provider. While cutting your overhead expenses is always savvy business goal, you'll also want to know you're entering into a partnership with an energy provider that has a strong reputation for customer service, experience in powering your type of business and isn't looking to pull the wool over your eyes when it comes to pricing and fees. For further reading, consider this article that offers more info on different plan options, provider reputations and provider values.