Today, no meetings management solution is complete without an online component. You'll have to determine which option is right for you, and that probably will be based on three factors: how much time you have to implement a system, the extent of your technical knowledge and, of course, cost.
Build Your Own Believe it or not, building your own system might be easier than you think -- and just what you need. If you're running smaller meetings and capturing basic registration information, you might be able to create a simple online registration form (or have one developed for you) that is hosted elsewhere and can be linked to your client's site or your site. When attendees complete and submit the information, it is e-mailed to you and then manually entered into your registration database.
If you already have a hosting service (an ISP, or Internet service provider), then you might check to see what services or tools are available. Most content management systems (CMS) -- the programming tools used to manage your website -- provide the ability to build pages and place fields on those pages that can store information that is then sent to you via e-mail when someone hits the submit button.
If you don't already have a web presence, a number of companies can help you get established. Two such services I recommend are 1&1 Internet (1and1.com) and GoDaddy.com. Both companies offer a range of affordable services and have easy-to-use tools to help you develop a website and database. They both offer domain registration, e-mail, hosting, web development tools, e-commerce and much more.
Subscribe You may want to subscribe to one of the many online services available from companies that specialize in the registration process, housing and e-commerce. Some have additional services for generating requests for proposal, venue searches and even membership management.
Some of these companies specialize in conferences, continuing education or sporting events, like golf tourneys, to give a few examples. Several that should be on your short list include Certain Software (certain.com), Cvent (cvent.com), EventBrite (eventbrite.com), MemberClicks (memberclicks.com) Registration123 (registration123.com) and RegOnline (regonline.com).
These are but a few of the many outlets that offer such services. Many charge on a per-registration basis, so you can figure the rate into your charges to your client.
Subcontract Another option is to subcontract your registration. In this case, you would hand over the online (and possibly all) registration activities to a company that provides a full range of services. This often is done behind the scenes, so the client and the registrants perceive they are dealing with you directly.
Often these companies have developed software to handle the registration process, or they have a volume contract with one of the online companies named above and can provide you with a lower per-registrant rate. The advantage: You can provide a full-service registration process and have time to focus on other aspects of meetings management. Check out AttendeeNet (attendeenet.com), Technical Registration Experts (trexperts.com), ThinkReg (thinkreg.com) and Wyndham Jade (wyndhamjade.com).
Determining the best option will depend on the type of meetings you're managing, the services you plan to offer, your technical skills, and whether you are managing your own meetings or contracting with an association or corporation.
Bob Walters, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.