Free IT Resources

How much money do you spend on software each year?  £100, £200, £1,000?  And do you have enough budget for all your software needs or does something have to give?

We all need to save money in the current climate – in fact, in any climate, it doesn’t do us any harm to save a bit of cash.  But if you’re trying to run a business – be it a social enterprise, charity, arts organisation or profit making company – you still need to have good IT resources that you can rely on.  Inspired by a recent IT Donut post on freemium services for businesses, I started to think about how these could be applied to the not-for-profit/social enterprise sector too.  So, in the interests of saving money while still saving a bit of cash, I thought it would be useful to list some of the ‘freemium’ IT resources available to you (incidentally, this isn’t a sponsored post, just thought it would be helpful to provide all the information in one place).  It’s also worth mentioning that it’s probably worth investing in your main software systems to make sure that you get adequate support but for market research; email marketing and images, there are ‘free’ alternatives that could help save you anywhere from a few £’s to a few £100’s.

The majority of these free services need to be downloaded onto your system but some are based ‘in the cloud’ and can be used entirely online.

1. Office Suite – Google Apps, OpenOffice
All of these systems provide the basic Office suite completely free of charge although Google has withdrawn a lot of its free software and moved onto a lower cost option.  OpenOffice has to be downloaded while Google Apps can be used online but, essentially, they can save a charity/social enterprise 100’s of £ in software licences.  It might be worth considering in the early stages of setting up or if you’re in a situation where you have people working remotely from your main office.

2. Cloud Storage – Dropbox
Back to the cloud again, essentially, this is a way of storing information online.  Using a system such as Dropbox means that you have the online back up facility – so don’t have to rely on someone in the office backing up their PC/Mac or your server every day.  More organisations are working collaboratively to enable them to work more efficiently and to greater effect and using cloud storage could be an excellent tool for project management, allowing you to share files in the cloud with others that you’re working with rather than emailing large attachments.  So, if you’re partnering with another organisation on a particular project or if you have remote sites all managing the one project, cloud storage provides an secure system that makes is easy for everyone to access and share the most up to date information about your project.  When you save a file, it instantly saves to your computer, smartphone and the Dropbox website and Dropbox will hold up to 2GB of files and documents for free.

3. Email Marketing – AWeber, MailChimp, Dotmailer
There are a huge range of email marketing companies out there most of which will offer some level of free service depending on the amounts of people you’re mailing to.  Each service varies – MailChimp for example, offeres 12,000 emails per month for free with updates available as your database and number of emails grows.  But even where there is a cost, these can usually be quite low.  An email marketing system  provides you with a resource to send professional looking email newsletters (rather than the costly printed versions); it gives you a way to not only contact your database with the most recent news from your organisation but, by segmenting your database, you can send tailored articles AND you can see at a glance who has opened your emails and what they’ve read – given you more opportunities to provide content that your subscribers will want to read.  You can also add a sign up button to your website – so subscribers are added in instantly without any additional admin required by your organisation.   Email marketing systems also have a social media function – which means you can neatly integrate all of your marketing communications/newsletter promoting them on Twitter, Facebook and any others that you use. For those of you that have a Raisers Edge fundraising database, MailChimp has just launched a plug in which enables their email marketing system to be integrated with the RE database given you increased functionality (although I should point out that RE isn’t free).

4. Market Research – Survey Monkey
We could all do with knowing our donors/audiences/clients a little bit better and carrying out online market research and surveys can provide your organisation with useful information that you can use to tailor your services to their needs; identify products or services that aren’t working for you; or carry out some market research into a new product or service prior to launch.  Survey Monkey has a free option – I use it myself – which, while it has limited functionality compared with the paid option – provides enough detail and information to give you excellent information on your target market.  The free version gives you 10 questions and up to 100 responses – so if you want to survey a larger number of people, you’ll need to upgrade but you can pay for this monthly so could, effectively, use it as an when needed.

5. Images – Flickr (Creative Commons)
Need some dazzling images for your website or e-newsletter but don’t have the budget to commission a photographer?  Pop over to Flickr, get yourself a free Yahoo account and start using Flickr.  If you use images on the Creative Commons, it’s courtesy to credit the photographers who’s images you’ve used – and email them to let them know where you’ve used their image – but it’s free gratis and you don’t need to pay copyright.

So, just a small round up of potential ‘freemium’ services – but are there any that you use that I’ve missed?


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