We are all aware of rising gas prices. At $4-plus per gallon, the hit is especially hard for small business owners.  My initial step was to trade in my gas guzzler for a hybrid car, and that has certainly paid off.  But what more can one do?

The issue has reached a critical mass, and the approach we are now using at my health-care consulting firm and at my two nonprofit health-care organizations has been to become less up close and personal and more virtual.

In today’s business climate, virtual is in.  We all use the power of social networking and ‘connecting’ online to meet and greet our business colleagues.  By taking it a step further to include webinars, Skype calls, OoVoo and more, we are saving about 18 percent on fuel charges.  And by having our not-for-profit annual meeting via OoVoo, we are assured of a visual meeting.

The savings are substantial as well; travel times are reduced and productivity is enhanced.  Avoiding long commutes makes the virtual audience ‘present in the moment,’ and when one is present, concentration is improved and outputs abound.  

Virtual meetings make it easier to gather folks quickly regardless of where they are, and the time zone in which they live. In our business, we have strong geographic representation across North America.  With plans to expand to 29 countries within the next five years, we need to watch travel expenses carefully. 

Finally, recording software makes it possible to record meetings and share files across timelines, seamlessly.

Here are some other gas-saving ideas, you might want to consider:

●Rather than picking up out-of-town speakers and visitors, suggest that they take the shuttle service. It will save money.

●Consolidate trips or better yet, have people come to you.

●Use public transportation.

We all multitask. And in my situation, I run a small business, two not-for-profits, I write, I teach and more.  I am stretched for time.  I have found that virtual approaches allow each participant to get involved at a higher level, while at the same time respecting their time commitments and schedules. 

As a health-care professional for 30 years, I worked unusual hours — offering training across three shifts to ensure inclusivity.  As a wellness professional, I sing the praises of virtual connections to grow my business, stay connected and positively impact my bottom line.

Virtual is in, and growing numbers of small businesses are realizing the advantages and the savings.

Sharon M. Weinstein is chief wellness officer at SMW Group LLC in Hawthorn Woods, Ill.