by Bob Walters | September 01, 2005

While the number of organizations that use some form of online registration tool has grown dramatically in the past few years, there still are a number of holdouts. Following are some tips on what to consider when investigating the options.

Once you’ve decided to go online, decide which of the following routes you will take.
    " Use an existing interface to your database developed by the database vendor (if it offers a registration system). If the vendor does not charge transaction fees, this option can be very cost-effective and time-saving, as it avoids the necessity to re-key or import any data.
    " Have your IT department build a program for your organization. This can be a very lengthy and time-consuming route, but can save money in the long run.
    " Use an existing service that provides an online registration system.
Most organizations opt for working with an established registration service. Today, numerous solutions are available. An Internet search for “online registration solutions” will provide the names and contact information for the market’s dozens of vendors. When weighing different products, consider the following.
    " Costs. Is there a flat rental rate per month, or will you pay a fee per attendee? Be aware some providers charge per access, meaning the organization pays for the initial registration activity and again each time an update or change is made to that record.
    Many services will charge a flat rate based on expected volume, and if that volume is not met, the price is adjusted. Since the industry is competitive, planners have some leeway to negotiate rates based on the number of attendees, specific features needed and flexibility required.
    " E-commerce activity fees. If the organization is accepting online payments, you will need to set up a merchant account and an account with an online processing service such as VeriSign (, Skipjack (, Paymentech ( or PayPal ( Some providers already have these services set up but might charge a fee either a flat rate or a percentage of each transaction. Note: These can add up quickly.
    If the organization decides to accept online payment, make sure the providers   both the processing service and the host of the online registration pages have a current and valid SSL (Secure Socket Layer certificate, which means they provide a level of encryption for the data being entered and returned from the server). Note: Before investing in this option, be sure members/attendees are comfortable sharing their credit card information online.
    " Other services. Is there a help desk? Can the provider handle fax or phone registrations for attendees who do not want to register online?
    " Interface. What will the user interface the look and feel of the registration pages be like? Will it appear as part of the organization’s website, or is it locked into a standard set of pages that only allows the organization to change the background color?
" Frequency. How often will the organization really use the registration system? If you have just a couple of small meetings per year or one large annual meeting, it might be more economical to contract online registration only for the registration period, typically a few months prior to the event or events.

Going online can be an expensive initiative, so make sure it makes sense for the organization, and be sure to consider the time and long-term savings potential (typically, the cost of one full-time employee) before making the final decision.

Bob Walters, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.