For small businesses and nonprofit organizations, free online tools and programs can be lifesavers for producing efficient and quality marketing. Most small enterprises have limited funds for paid software solutions, yet still have marketing needs to be met to woo customers, donors, volunteers, partners, and the like. Happily, this blog contains a treasure trove of free (or low cost) marketing tools that I’ve learned about recently and started piloting for our firm and clients.
I attended a workshop by marketing expert Tim Vasquez on behalf of one of our nonprofit clients, Dallas-based Project Unity. In his workshop, Tim covered free resources that nonprofits might find helpful when marketing their mission. Additionally, we are always researching and seeking out the best and most cost-effective solutions for our clients. This blog contains a recap of ideas from Tim’s workshop as well as research from our team.
Video is a powerful medium for connecting with a target audience—be it a prospective client for your business or donor for your charity. In fact, behind Google, YouTube is the second most used search engine out there today.
And, a huge benefit for small organizations, the expectation of production quality today is vastly different than a decade ago. Yes, the video should be cleanly shot and with crisp audio, but production studio quality is no longer necessary for most videos…especially one-time promotion or announcement varieties.
AND…bonus, even production studio quality is now very affordable. Our MPD team even handles video production for clients, and we tend to have one to two videos in some stage of production at all times.
If you go the do-it-yourself route, here are some tools to consider:
- Adobe Spark is graphic design software that helps you easily create videos, graphics, and webpages. For video creation, Adobe Spark provides tutorials to get you started and themed templates with questions to spur creativity along the way. You can also add videos and narrate each slide. Plus, you can download the video, copy its link, or share via email, Twitter, or Facebook. Adobe Spark also offers a Premium plan for $9.99 per month.
- Another video tool is Screencast-O-Matic, which allows you to record a screen share, record from your web cam, or both. Screencast-O-Matic is a great tool for how-to tutorials that walk viewers through an online or computer-based process step by step. The Pro plan is $18 per year.
If you’re new to creating video content, YouTube is a good place to start uploading and housing videos. Learn how and why to set up a YouTube channel here.
From figuring out hosting to entering content, building a website can be daunting. We love WordPress as a platform for businesses and nonprofits alike; it’s open source, user friendly, and updated often. For those clients with online shopping, WordPress has plug-in options that work well but we also adore Shopify for online stores. These sites do cost funds for initial setup, but overall are very cost-effective and certainly amp up your sophistication and later scalability, if you need.
Now, here are a few ideas for those small entities that need free, easy solutions:
- SITE123 is a free website builder that handles the search engine optimization (SEO), coding, and design that many think you need to be an expert on in order to build a website. Some important features:
The Premium plan for SITE123 is $9.80 per month and includes higher storage, custom domain options, and more.
- Websites are accessible from multiple devices (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc.)
- SITE123 provides layouts and stock photos for use
- Create multiple websites under one user account
- Strikingly is another website builder option. There are three plan options: Free, Limited ($8.00 per month), and Pro ($16.00 per month). Some Free plan features include:
- Unlimited free sites
- 5 GB bandwidth (monthly)
- Simple Store – 1 item per site
Additionally, many hosting providers also offer template, easy build solutions that are quite affordable. We’ve had a few clients work in the templates from GoDaddy with good success.
Now, the caveat with all the free or low-cost solutions is that customization is often limited—you may not like some aspects, so go in with this understanding in mind. That being said, a clean, nice-looking site is better than no site, and you can build up to something more elaborate as you grow.
When you’re leading a myriad of projects for your organization, you need the right tools to get the job done. For social media, that means advanced scheduling for already-known or evergreen content.
Now, as with the online website tools, social media automation tools also offer many platforms and plans. The free plans are great to get you started but are limiting in that the volume of content that you may preschedule is limited. But, prescheduling still provides ample opportunity to save time and automate for several days to get ahead of manual posting.
Two options for social media scheduling are Hootsuite and Twittimer. Twittimer works with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Hootsuite, which we use frequently for our clients, is more well-known and is compatible with a wide variety of social accounts.
Compare their Free plans:
|Hootsuite Free Plan||Twittimer Free Plan|
|Scheduled Post Limit||30||10|
|RSS Feed||2||1 (with 2 latest posts)|
In addition to these features, Hootsuite’s Free plan also offers app integration, free social media training, and social contest capabilities.
As expected, more features are available with the paid Hootsuite plans and Twittimer plans. While Twittimer is more affordable, Hootsuite is more sophisticated. It all depends on your needs and budget.
One last social media tool I’d like to mention is Buffer. While the Free plan is more limiting in some ways than the others’, Buffer’s Awesome plan ($10 per month) adds features such as a calendar and higher scheduled post capacity.
If social media is crucial for your business (and let’s be honest, it’s important for almost every business), it may well be worth considering one of the starter paid plans to help free up your time and work smarter.
Earlier this year, we posted a blog about websites that make creating social media graphics easy.
Thanks to Sprout Social, we recently discovered a new tool called BeFunky that could easily be added to the list. With BeFunky, you can edit photos, create photo collages, and design graphics. No account is needed to use the free version of this online software, which helped me make the below photo collage.
The left photo is the original, and the other two have been edited using BeFunky. There are many cool features and effects to choose, like turning your photo into an impressionist painting, but most bells and whistles come with their paid plan, only $2.91 per month if billed annually.
Online Stores for Fundraising
Many of our nonprofit clients want to get the word out and raise funds for their missions. There are a number of options that exist across channels.
Some that tend to be a perennial favorites are custom t-shirts or mugs, but inventory and fulfillment used to pose a challenge. Not today, with these websites:
- Gearbubble is an out-of-the-box tool that many of us would not even think existed, let alone use. Through this platform, you can open your own online store for free and sell branded merchandise. You create your own design, upload to the store and denote what product, price, and description you want. A great solution for fundraising campaigns or branded items.
- CustomInk is a more well-known website for t-shirts. You’ve seen them promoted for everything from teambuilding and family reunions to charity race teams and schools.
There are three little-known, nonprofit-specific resources that I’d like to touch briefly, in case any nonprofit readers didn’t know about them:
- Google for Nonprofits provides nonprofits with a package of Google products and services
- Google Ad Grants (part of Google for Nonprofits) gives nonprofits the chance to receive up to $10,000 of in-kind Google advertisements per month
- AmazonSmile allows shoppers to choose a nonprofit and have a portion of their purchase benefit that nonprofit
Whew! It’s a lot to take in; I know. I hope you found these tools helpful and intriguing. If so, please share this blog with others, because some of these free resources are just too good not to share.
AND, if you have other tools you love, please share your thoughts in our comments section below. We are always on the lookout for new tools and resources to help make our clients’ lives easier and more productive.
As always, we’d be pleased to chat about your small business or nonprofit needs. We love helping raise brand awareness and generate support for our clients.