Event Registration Software: What’s Out There, and When to Build Your Own

Event Registration Software: What’s Out There, and When to Build Your Own

Event registration is one of the most important processes in event set-up. Do it poorly, and at best, you’ll have a ton of complaints. At worst, you’ll see a significant drop in attendance as frustrated would-be guests decide they don’t have time to bash their heads against your sign-up form. So what are the best tools available to event planners looking to get their online registrations rolling in?

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Cevent is the industry’s heavy-lifting event registration system, and its development team is clearly catering to high-demand events. Sadly, as with most big, feature-rich systems, Cevent’s website and application design is starting to feel a little bit early-2000’s-trade-show dated, and the event website templates they offer leave your event looking a bit clunky as well. We’re hoping they update their look and feel soon, because their feature list is nice and robust.

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Eventbrite is kind of a dual-sided deal. For event planners, it offers ticketing and event management tools. For the public, it offers localized event listings. This symbiotic relationship allows event organizers to publicize their shindigs while handling sign-ups. In terms of their event management toolkit, Eventbrite feels a little more accessible to plebs and smaller event organizers (though larger events are absolutely supported) and has more of a modern, usable interface. They make their money by charging a portion of your ticket sales (around 5%, give or take, which includes the credit card processing fee), so if you’re organizing a free event, Eventbrite is completely free. Eventbrite, however, is not very customisable, and if their suite of tools doesn’t include one particular feature, there’s no real way to get that feature added.

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Etouches is much more than registration software: it also comes with a bunch of venue management features, a budgeting system, automated badge creation, travel management features, and a bunch of other goodness. Etouches has a clearly international bent, with multi-currency support a bunch of major international brands touted as clients.

Those are your three major players, and there are a ton of smaller management software providers out there as well. Not too shabby a selection, and one of those options should work for most situations.

When to build your own

The problem enters in when you’ve got very specific event requirements not covered by traditional features. Example: when running political events based at the White House, the U.S. Secret Service typically requires personal information on attendees in advance in order to be able to run pre-event background checks. If you’re looking to automate a registration process like that (we did that once!), you’re gonna have to custom-build.

A word of warning: Building your own is not a process to be undertaken lightly, but if you have the budget, the time, and set of system requirements that can’t be met by out-of-the-box software (security requirements for political event registration, for example), it may be the best way to go. Realistically, you’re looking at a 6-month design and development period for your registration system, and that’s providing you choose the right team. You’ll want to ensure that whoever you choose has experience building secure systems that are user-friendly, and you should specifically ask to see examples of similar work.

In terms of budget, a very basic system is likely to cost somewhere in the $30,000 range (for basic registration management only, say), and prices for building complex systems can jump as high as $500,000 (ouch!), so unless you’re swimming in time and money (and who is, right?), building something just for a single event isn’t terribly cost-effective. The best idea here is to think long-term:

But I’m not a techie… where do I even start?

First of all: avoid part-time freelancing sites like Odesk, eLance and Getafreelancer. Producers on those sites are rewarded for getting in and out of projects quickly, and they often deliver cheap, fast, poor-quality code. You are unlikely to get any hand-holding or support for the product you are given. What you want is a reliable freelance team that can stay in close contact with you during the build, installation and deployment of your system.

You’ll need, at the very least, a designer with experience designing websites and other interface, and a developer (coder) with experience creating database-driven applications. One of the best places to look is on developer- or designer-directed sites like Stack Overflow or Creative Bloq. Good luck!

David Sonntag
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