I have been using and buying software for almost 30 years now (as well as helping to build it for the last 10), and what a strange journey it has been. I can remember buying my first computer like it was yesterday (well, almost); it was a Commodore VIC-20 on which I played interactive games like Voodoo Castle and built my first primitive programs in BASIC. Then I moved on to building spreadsheets on the Apple IIe, using the first MacWrite and MacDraw programs, slogging through server-based software like early versions of Statistics Program for the Social Sciences (or SPSSX for those of you who geek out for this kind of stuff) and then in the early 90s moving on to oh-so tedious electronic typesetting applications for printing presses.
So if that doesn't give me the geek cred I need to provide some tips on evaluating event software and technology, I don't know what does.
But seriously, my business partner Steve and I were buying, trying, testing software for years before we started building it. And we have definitely used some great programs and some complete duds (which then motivated us to build better tools than the rather mediocre ones we were forced to use at times).
For the sake of full disclosure, we do offer our own event management software product, but I don't want this post to be about our software. In fact, no one piece of software is the perfect fit for 100% of a target audience; this is why there are many event planning apps out there that are successful. Different strokes for different folks.
Instead, I wanted to put myself in the shoes of an event professional and talk about what criteria I would use to evaluate and find the best event software options if I were out there looking for myself. So here are 5 things I would personally look for when evaluating and deciding on the event management and planning software.
1. Something that fits your specific needs
This is by far the most important and probably the most obvious criterion for evaluating software, but it still needs to be said. The important thing to note here is that you first should come up with a wish list for what the software needs to do for you, and you should do this BEFORE you look at your first piece of software.
That is, don't be biased by the existing features on what is already out there but instead come up with your own list of desired features and functions and see if anything matches your needs. Having your wish list ready will allow you to quickly weed out the options that don't meet your minimum requirements and focus on those that do.
2. Solid help resources and support
Before you pay for anything, find out what the application's help resources look like (such as help documentation, tutorial videos, etc.) and what kind of support the event software company offers to get you up and running (like training, email/phone support, etc.).
We made a BIG mistake a decade ago in a previous business when we signed up for a $400/month Web-based software that had paper-thin help documentation and email support with a 2-4 day response time (no, that's not a misprint). I fault that ridiculous application for practically all of my hair loss.
3. The development arc of the software (and philosophy of the software company)
Does the application look a little dated? Is it coasting on past success? Has it offered updates lately? And do those updates really improve the product? And on the flip side ... How much experience does the company have? Will it be in business next year? Does it have the infrastructure to support your needs? And what version of their software are they currently offering?
These are all questions to have in mind when poking around the software's web site and questions to ask other people in the industry who have used the software (getting peer opinions is a critical part of software research). Basically, you are looking for an event software company that has lots of energy and ideas as well as the experience, desire and commitment to improve its products.
4. Value for what you get
This can be more subjective, because a bargain for one person is a rip-off to another. For example, I once paid $500 for a piece of Web marketing management software that, frankly, ended up doing about 10% of what I needed it to do; hence it was a horrible value for me. On the other hand, I pay $10 a month for online appointment scheduling software that does 150% of what I expected it to do and makes my life sooooo much easier, so it is an incredible value to me.
This brings me to my next point. Price isn't the only way to gauge value ... you also need to consider how much time the event management software will save you. Any piece of event software you invest in should make your work life easier ... that's the whole point of it. So you should consider price and features as well as time savings and convenience when determining the value of the software to you.
5. Feel and vibe
This is even more subjective because it has to do with how using the software feels to you when you use it. Every piece of event organizing software has a learning curve (especially when you start adding on more and more features). And you will have to adapt to some extent to any event software application, whether you like it or not. Yes, this requires you to change your habits to some extent, and none of us like change all that much. So you just need to be prepared to change your habits to some degree if you want to use any kind of event planning application.
But how steep is the learning curve? And how much do you have to adapt vs. setting up the software to work with how you function? These are personal questions and require poking around the software and getting acclimated to its structure. Are tools and functions easy to find and use? Do you find yourself moving around easier after 30 or 60 minutes, or is navigation still a struggle? Is the layout clean, or is it cluttered and confusing? All these are great things to keep in mind as you try out different applications to decide which is the best event management software for you.
In the end, the best event software for you needs to rank well for many, if not all, of the above criteria. Best of luck in your search, and please provide any criteria you use in the comments link above.
Want a good staring point on researching event management tools and trends? Try here. Then try our online event planning tools for free.