As an Executive Director of a nonprofit and a blogger, I use a variety of systems to manage my business and blog. Because I like to be money conscious in both of these environments, finding free or cheap business tools is very important to me, and I’m sure to many of you as well! While it’s not all about the money, let’s be honest – sometimes it is.
I always love seeing what other business owners use to manage their time, projects, finances, email list, website and more. I like to organize myself in both print and digital ways. Here are some of the tools I use on a regular basis to keep everything running smoothly.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive some compensation from items purchased – this is at no additional cost to you, and please know that I only list products I use and recommend.
1. An Annual Plan Binder
I keep one annual plan binder that houses important documents for my annual plan, budgets, projects and my ongoing work. Having all the necessary operational plans together in one place makes it easy for me to carry everything from meeting to meeting, or from my house to the office. Here are some of the things I keep in my binder:
- Annual Plan
- Annual Organizational Budget
- Project Plans
- Project Budgets
- Copies of Contracts
- Status Report Sheets (Weekly To-Do Lists)
- Ongoing important documents
I find my status report sheets/weekly to-do lists are the most-used items in my binder and I always place them at the front, so I know how to shape my daily and weekly tasks.
2. Gmail, Contacts & Calendar
I use a lot of Google products – don’t we all? –, and there are a lot of ways to set up what they offer. I first use a business Google account and have a branded email address for my nonprofit. Pro tip: for nonprofits, this is all free! We transferred all of our email from our GoDaddy email platform (yuck) to Gmail and it’s been wonderful. I also discovered Google Contacts this year, which organizes all of your contact lists and simplifies group emailing. It’s been a game changer for me, since I no longer have to copy and paste lists. I could be behind the game in this one, but definitely try it if you haven’t already. Also, Google Calendar is where I manage my day-to-day work schedule, life schedule and blog schedule. I never thought I would part with a paper planner, but having an online setup is much easier and more practical. Plus reminders are life-saving.
We use Dropbox for managing all of our files at work. Dropbox syncs to my desktop on my computer, so it is very easy for me to update files throughout the day. Also, everyone on our team can access them when needed. We do pay for a 1TB of space on our Dropbox account to host all of our files, including larger files like videos, etc.
Cost: $99/year for 1TB of space
4. Website – Hosting & WordPress
Other must-haves for your business are website hosting and a website platform. These are not always the cheapest, but having a professional, self-hosted website gives you so much return on investment that it is worth what you spend. Plus, you can do this for a low cost, if you want to research quality and affordable hosting services and perhaps learn some design practices so you can set it up yourself.
I currently use BlueHost (Plus Package for multiple websites) as my hosting provider, GoDaddy for our domain names, and WordPress for our platform. WordPress is free, and you can choose from so many themes out there on the market to personalize your website and give your online presence some flair. The price ranges on themes vary, but there are many free ones you can customize.
Cost: $11.99 / month for BlueHost Plus Package
If you want to get started with basic email marketing, you can create a MailChimp account, which is a great platform for beginning your email list. I started with MailChimp for my nonprofit and recently created a newsletter for my blog right here! There are a lot of other great options for email marketing too. I’ve found MailChimp to be intuitive, and it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers when you get started.
Data is more crucial and powerful than ever, and sending surveys helps you see data trends and success in your business or blog. It’s easy with SurveyMonkey and with its analytical features. Using SurveyMonkey has become an essential for tracking our program’s success at my work. Sometimes, you have to know what’s working and not working. You can also use SurveyMonkey for reader surveys and to receive feedback from your clients. There is a free version of SurveyMonkey and various paid versions. We use the Standard Monthly Plan with better tools for analyzing our data.
Cost: $21/month – lower rates starting at $13/month (billed annually)
Evernote has quickly become my favorite. I’m still super excited that I finally started using it to organize my thoughts for my blog, business and personal life. I love that syncs with the app on my phone, so I can take notes on the go—whether it’s a thought for an Instagram post or notes from a sermon at my church. I organize by notebooks, and I find it very easy to type up a blog post in a note and copy into WordPress. I like the writing environment it creates, instead of using Word or Google Docs.
We use PayPal to collect donations for our nonprofit. We have an online link, as well as access to card readers to make sales or receive donations at events or in outside venues. As a standard payment system, it’s recognizable and great for any nonprofit or business.
Cost: 2.9% of each transaction plus $0.30
9. Wave Accounting Software
I needed to find a budget-friendly (or ideally free) bookkeeping software, and I discovered Wave. Accounting isn’t the most fancy part about a business, but without an intuitive system, I would be drowning in spreadsheets. Wave is 100% free and connects to your bank, so you can easily track your transactions, categorize them and run reports. It’s a basic online system that does calculations for you, and it will sure simplify my workload.
Up next is my favorite event platform, Eventbrite. I setup all of our events on Eventbrite, and I highly recommend for either paid events or free events. Eventbrite gets great SEO and is one of the places people go to first to find specific events happening in their area. We do a lot of fundraising events, and Eventbrite can manage sales, attendees, order forms, emails, ticket distribution, name tags and more.
Cost: 2.5% of the cost plus $0.99 per ticket – You can also choose to pass on these fees to your ticket buyers, which we decide to do for our nonprofit.
Canva is a free online design tool, where you can create social media graphics, logos, brochures, flyers, marketing materials, infographics and other visuals your brand may need. The great thing about Canva is its templates and there database of free graphics, symbols, icons and photos. It’s pretty extensive for a free tool, and you can get more with their paid features. While I use Adobe InDesign and Illustrator for the bulk of my design needs, I collaborate with my coworker often in Canva, since it’s easy to do!
All of these resources keep me organized, inspired, and accountable to making my business and blog successful. These help in the day-to-day, so I can focus on the heart and soul of my nonprofit — serving kids with special needs, and my blog – helping creatives fuel their callings.
What cheap business tools do you find most useful?