Magid: Online tools give do-it-yourself projects a boost

Magid: Online tools give do-it-yourself projects a boost

As you may know, I run a small nonprofit internet safety organization called ConnectSafely.org, and like most nonprofits, we’re always looking for ways to save both time and money. There are situations where spending a little bit of money can save you time, but we’ve discovered some tools that help us save both.

For example, until about three years ago, the CPA firm that did our tax return was also doing our bookkeeping. It was not only expensive, but we still had to do a lot of the work to make sure they got the receipts and expense reports they needed. Now we use QuickBooks Online, and it’s a breeze.

My COO or I simply sign into our account on the web and enter any expenses as we incur them. It actually takes us less time to do it ourselves than it did to interact with the CPA firm. We also changed CPA firms to one that is willing to import our QuickBooks data when they do our “990” non-profit tax return.

Quickbooks has a special sign-in for tax preparers who are able to import the data into their own software to make it easier for them to do the returns. As a result, we not only save on bookkeeping but accounting, too, because everything is ready and machine readable, making the CPA’s job easier too. QuickBooks Online costs between $10 and $30 a month, depending on the features you need.

We publish printed parents and educator guides, brochures and a new one-page Quick Guide series on subjects like cyberbullying, security, teen sexting, fake news and numerous other subjects, and, until recently, we would submit a Word file to our designer who would import it into a professional page layout program, add graphics and provide us with two PDFs — one for a professional printer and to post on our site so people could print them at home or school.

We love our designer, but in addition to paying her fees, it took us time to work with her, and every time we needed to make a change — whether it was a revision or just correcting a typo — we had to go back to her and wait for her to do the work and send it back to us. Sometimes we need our materials right away and can’t wait for her.

Now we do all work on a web-based layout service called Canva which, for about $10 a month, lets us design and layout our booklets, brochures and Quick Guides on their site. It’s relatively easy to use, comes with all sorts of graphics (some graphics have a nominal $1 fee) and all the tools you need for basic designs. It may not be as versatile as InDesign and other professional programs, but it works for us.

One of my colleagues does most of the work in Canva, but if I find something I need to change, I don’t even have to bother her. I log in and make the change myself. And, I’ve even created a couple of publications based on a design she already came up with, simply by copying one of her leaflets and replacing the text and graphics.

We’ve even taken some of our printing in-house. We still use a professional printing company for our booklets or if we want to print a thousand or more copies of a leaflet, brochure or Quick Guide. But, if we’re doing a short run, it’s a lot cheaper, faster and more flexible to do it on either our color laser printer or our HP PageWide Pro.

A few years ago I bought a small HP color laser printer for under $300, initially to print about 500 copies of a back-to-back color single-page tri-fold brochure. Fedex Office would have charged us $1.50 per color copy or about $750 for the entire job. I saved more than enough money on that first job to pay for the printer. Of course, there are costs to printing yourself. The actual price depends on how much toner you use (the heavier the graphics the more toner) but as a general rule, I figure it costs less than 25 cents a page.

We use the laser printer for jobs with relatively large photographs and images, but when printing jobs with smaller images, we get nearly the same results with the PageWide printer whose cost of ink is even lower. Again, the actual cost depends on how much ink you use, but it’s generally less than 10 cents per page. It’s also very fast, printing both sides of the page at once. One way to keep the cost down is to reduce the size of images and avoid elements like large shaded boxes. It does pay to use good quality paper, especially for two-sided jobs.

Our tri-fold brochure needs to be folded, and I’m not about to buy and fiddle with a folding machine. I sometimes take them to copy shops for folding, but if the quantities are low enough (say under 200), I sometimes just do it by hand while I’m watching TV or listening to a podcast. It’s slow mindless work but I actually don’t mind it. One time our organization needed to fold about 500 brochures so we did it as a group during a meeting and it took relatively little time.

I’m not suggesting that everyone do his or her own bookkeeping, printing or design — it’s not for everyone. There are a lot of things — like assembling furniture and  most home repairs — that I don’t do myself because I don’t have the time or the skills and I’m better-off hiring people who know what they’re doing. But when it comes to some “digital” tasks, our organization actually finds that doing it ourselves makes our jobs easier as well as less expensive.

Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

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Published at Thu, 09 Aug 2018 07:30:45 +0000