scheduling

Event Management / Scheduling Software Options We Know About (Part 2)

If you read our previous post about events, you might be reading this post because you figured you need some kind of event management on your site. If you haven’t read it and want this to be in context, check out Part One here.

I’m going to divide this into three categories for information digestion purposes!

Option One: Stuff That Sort Of Integrates With Your Website Software

Great if: You don’t need something robust, you are using something that already sort of works.

There are a variety of options that *sort of* integrate with your website.

For example, you could have a Gravity Form (Wordpress plugin) and use a Zapier ‘zap’ to send the information from a form to a Google Calendar, blocking it off.

A real life business example of this is my coworking space has one room that is rentable. Not 16, not 25. One. So I just need the one form that concerns it to connect with the calendar used to manage it (a Google Calendar). It would be total overkill to install a full booking system for this one room.

Because there are a whole category of things that don’t need deep integration but just have to communicate with one another, you have a whole robust category of websites:

Zapier
IFTTT (short for ‘if this then that’) 
Automate.io
Workflow…

You get the idea. Programmers are hip to the fact we have lots of tools and sometimes there just needs to be a connection.

So if you are already using a calendar and some kind of RSVP mechanism, rather than adding a whole booking system into your website, it might work best to connect what you’ve got online already.


Option Two: Stuff That Integrates Directly With Your Website Software

Great if: You’re going to do a ton of events, you already have a robust website

Now clearly if you start getting into multiple events that have to communicate with each other (or concern other factors like notifying instructors or closing automatically when full), that’s when you need a real system.

The two main Wordpress plugins I’ve used for this purpose are Event Espresso and Event Manager (free or Pro version).

I personally like Event Espresso for really complicated setups. Like you are running a regional camp for three weeks that has over 100 classes and different parameters (special pricing for students under 16 for Class A, needing to be able to email all students in a particular class in case the location of Class B moves, etc.) It can be overkill for some things, I won’t lie but it lets you set specific parameters for specific events and add things on (like a seating chart in case you want to have people pick out a particular seat as part of their booking and having that seat be a particular price).

Event Manager is a great option too because the free version does a lot but the paid one will let you sell tickets in the system. But let’s say you’re a downtown association that does a lot of free events and you just want people to be able to search them, have each event have a layout, and be able to print a calendar of all events in a certain category. Something like this can work really well

I like both these plugins too because you buy a yearly license that is relatively reasonable ($50-$200ish/year). So you could have like 50 or 500 or 50000 events and not be stuck paying a percentage of registrations or some monthly fee. They also do things like support recurring events (goodbye needless data entry), have great tech support, and a TON of settings (just Event Manager, ie the simpler one, has about 250 that I’ve noticed). In other words, you can set it up just for YOU, which is both a blessing and a curse.


Option Three: Third Party Options

Great if: You are uncertain about the capabilties of your own website, are not at all tech savvy

Listen, this is a totally safe place to admit it: “Nicole, I have no desire to mess around with tech settings. I just want something that’ll work in about 1-2 hours setup time.”

Third party solutions (which will link to your website not not integrate directly with it) are going to be both the easiest thing to do (and by default, offer the least customization). But there is a saying that good enough is good enough and if the thing does what you need it to, great. Bonus is whole companies have been set up to handle certain kinds of bookings.

Here are some examples:
ChowNow – For restaurant ordering, $200ish setup fee plus $100ish monthly fee for mid tier plan
EventSmart- For events, $10-$100+/month
Calendly – mostly an appointment thing, I know a lot of consultants who use this $0-12/month
Acquity Scheduling– booking calendar mainly for spaces $0- $50/month
Eventbrite – 6% of your ticket sales (remember 6% of $0 is zero so that’s why a lot of people use this for free events)
Fare Harbor- some of my boat tour clients use this but the fact their pricing information is buried on their website- so much so, I couldn’t find it easily and according to the internet, they only charge for credit card processing, I find it a bit suspect.

There are about 10,000 of these and you can find similar options if you go to similarweb.com, putting in the website, and clicking on the ‘Competitors’ section.

You’ll notice with third party options, you have to be careful. You start out as free or cheap and then suddenly, ‘oh you have more than 50 events so that bumps you to our next tier!’ They want you to be invested enough to say ‘meh, it’s just $20/month and I really don’t feel like moving everything to another software.’

These can be a great solution, just remember the devil is in the details and as long as you know yours, you can make a good choice.

If you aren’t sure what to do, before you pay an intern 20 hours to move your events into a system or buy $400 in software you don’t entirely understand, consider having a consult with a tech person give you a consult on what could work best for you. They could save you time, money, and headache looking out for things you aren’t.

Congratulations on being open to letting your customers book online. In the end, you might be surprised with how profitable (and accessible) it’ll make your business.



Why You Might Need Event Management/Scheduling Software (Part 1)

Do you schedule your own meetings and appointments? Depending on how often you do this, manually scheduling can be a huge hassle. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have all of this taken care of for you?

Something to consider is adding some type of online scheduling to your website.

Examples where this might be a useful feature to have:

  • Scheduling employee shifts
  • Booking an appointment with you (if you’re a personal trainer/masseuse/hair dresser/therapist/anyone who trades time for money)
  • Selling tickets to an event

Before you wade through the variety of options available, take some time to consider what you’re looking for in scheduling software. Some ideas:

Frequency of Booking. What is the common duration of time that will be scheduled? Is it by hour, day, week, etc.? Some programs you pick have pricing determined by number of events/appointments so even having a range is helpful.

What are people scheduling? A common example is time (appointments, meetings, etc), but it could also be something physical (rooms, seats, a car, etc). Some programs are built for theaters, allowing people booking to pick specific seats or allowing the venue to set different prices for different seating areas. Thinking about what information you need to collect might help you pick between options.



Does it need payment processing? Some businesses prefer to take payment at the time of booking, while others prefer to use the scheduling simply to make the reservation but accept payment at the time of service/pickup. Note: if you already have an online processor and want to use it for your online booking, make sure the payment processor and your software are compatible.

Do others need to be able to collaborate? If you have a team of multiple people scheduling things, or if they need to share their own availability, it may be helpful to have them able to access the scheduling system on their own. Some software charges by number of users so this is also helpful to know.

How much control do you want over it? Do you mind if all bookings are automatically approved, or do you want to manually approve because only certain people can book 1-2 p.m. on Thursdays and interrupt your yoga class? Remember in general manual equals more work but also more control.



What do you need to integrate? If you already are using a POS system or run a Shopify website, you may want your new event management software to integrate with it. Thinking about what you are already using might help narrow the field.

How much are you willing to pay? Depending on the features and control you would like to have, you may need to throw down some extra money. If you just need something simple, you’re more likely to find it for free. As far as software goes, some charge you a flat fee, some for a number of events/users, and some based on the features (for example one price based on basic ticketing and a second higher priced for a package of software with flashier features).

What online scheduling options do we know about? Join us for the next blog post where we’ll talk about the ones we’ve worked with and what we like/don’t like about each. In the meantime, what could you be booking/scheduling online that could free up your time?



When Automated Marketing Goes Wrong

Earlier this week, I received the following email from Pinterest:

iamthemorningrun

You may wonder why this is at all significant. Kassie, Pinterest sends emails like this all the time…Yes, they do. But guess what? I don’t hate running- I really, really love it. “Embrace the morning run” makes it even better-I pretty much only run in the morning. Maybe Pinterest and I need to spend more quality time together, because we clearly don’t know one another well at all…

While this was ultimately a hilarious experience, I would be mortified if I was the person who sent this email. It’s a great example of when automation goes wrong.

Scenario 1: Pre-Scheduling/Automated Posts

Not all automating is bad. I use it to schedule Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts in advance. The thing is, you can’t just put this stuff on autopilot- consider Murphy’s Law. Facebook, for example, went through a month-long phase where it wasn’t publishing any of the posts I had pre-scheduled. It made it on my radar, and for awhile I had to manually publish everything, but it would’ve made me look lame if updates weren’t publishing for a month because I scheduled them and forgot about it.

Another potential danger to look out for in pre-scheduling  is the actual content. You don’t want to schedule things too far ahead, because new information is constantly coming in and you don’t want to be known for posting month-old articles. In keeping scheduled posts relatively short-term, it’s also more likely that you’ll remember what you’ve scheduled to go out and make adjustments as necessary. For instance, if an event that you’re promoting gets cancelled, but you’ve scheduled some status updates to build excitement, it’s really awkward if those end up getting published because you forgot about them.

You can also set up automated posts to respond to mentions on Twitter or Facebook (or anywhere else). As a warning, the results are often hilariously terrible. For example, this automated response from Dominos Pizza:

Dominosfail

 

This person had an excellent Domino’s experience…but Dominos apparently believed it needed a different PR approach on it’s Facebook page…and apologized for the inconvenience.

Scenario 2: Automated Names

These often fail the hardest, and are the biggest giveaways that robots handle your marketing. If you have no interaction with a person besides him filling out a form on your website, you don’t necessarily need to be on a first-name basis. This chart below (from Beachhead) shows the most common reactions to errors in a personalized email.

Costofautofail

 

If it’s a larger corporation, I generally assume most of the marketing emails I get have been automated, so I’m a bit more forgiving (it’s not like the CEO of Old Navy knows my first name). But, if it’s a smaller business and I’m a loyal customer, getting a personalized email for “Amanda” would be a bit offensive. On a scale of “Never visit the website again” to “Automatically delete emails,” I’m probably more of a “Continue receiving emails for mild amusement but never take this business seriously again.” Depending on the individual, you may get more of a “Meh” response to a “This is totally a personal affront” repsonse.

Fun fact: we don’t have first name fields enabled on our email newsletters, and it’s not because we don’t appreciate our individual subscribers- it’s because we read about automation fails and know how potentially damaging a glitch in the system can be).

Scenario 3: Marketing the wrong things to the wrong people.

This tends to be more of a large scale business problem that comes from sending automated sales emails. It’d be kind of embarrassing to send out an email trying to sell a specific type of lawnmower to someone who just purchased one from you earlier in the month. Being on the receiving end of that email would also be confusing: maybe the customer and salesperson had some lengthy phone calls/email exchanges about the purchase, examining options in a way that made the customer feel really, really awesome about his/her new lawnmower. I’m talking zero-buyer’s-remorse positive. This person was raving about how attentive the business was to the needs of individual customers. And then…this tragic email.”What the…it’s like they don’t even know me…

Heavy automation takes away the humanness of marketing. The risk, especially with smaller businesses, is that your existing customers feel undervalued. The reason people enjoy small business interactions is because there’s a unique quality of service implied: a genuine friendliness, a concern for the customer’s needs (in other words, they kind of expect that warm and fuzzy feeling).

This is where something like email segmenting can come in handy, if you have the time and patience to sit down and go through it all. This can help add a personalized element to your automation, plus, your messages are going to get more bang for your buck when they get to the people who will benefit from them.

Takeaway: “Ultimately people buy from people.” Automation clearly has benefits, otherwise no one would be doing it. Find a happy automating medium that feels right for your business.