Alright Betty, put the event binder down and slowly back away. That 40-lb. albatross is weighing you down and destroying the environment. How many trees have to die before you acknowledge there's a better way to plan and manage your meetings and events? Don't believe me? Check out these digital project management systems.
- Cost: Free 60-day trial. $20/month for up to 10 active projects and 3 GB of storage; $50/month for up to 40 active projects and 15 GB of storage.
- Who it's best for: People who know what they need to do, but need an easy way of keeping track of what's been promised, achieved and must be done in a way that they can see on a calendar.
- What it's good for: Setting goals, managing deliverables, eliminating email chains, creating project checklists, keeping all your documents in one place.
- Why it helps: You can assign tasks to specific team members and they'll receive alerts when assignments are due. Aren't sure if something was done? You can click on the task or the person and start a conversation and copy anyone else who needs to know.
- What you need to do: Give uploaded documents labels so you can find them easily. Teach team members the difference between to-dos and discussions, and train people how to communicate via Basecamp instead of using email.
- Mobile friendly? There's an iPhone app, and mobile web versions for Android and Windows mobile users. Slightly tweaked versions of the system are available as iPhone, Android and Window Mobile apps as well.
- Cost: Free for up to five employees and five external team members. $9/month per employee beyond that with free external team members. Enterprise versions also available.
- Who it's best for: People who don't have procedures in place or who are charged with handling many elements at once (e.g., event design and marketing strategy).
- What it's good for: Helping you visualize all the components of the event, assigning tasks to team members, tracking the deliverables and creating marketing or client retention strategies.
- Why it helps: Rather than being checklist-based, Podio is centered around workspaces that can be pre-populated with free templates from its app store. This is a boon for newbie planners or ones who are trying something new, like using social media to promote their event or entering data in CRM systems. Another advantage Podio has is it integrates with Google Drive, so you can share your Google Docs with team members and know that everyone will have the most up-to-date version.
- What you need to do: Before you invite anyone in, create your workspace(s) and sketch out your deadlines. Then take plenty of tutorials to understand how best to use the platform and train your team.
- Mobile friendly? Podio apps are available for iPhone and Android mobile devices.
- Cost: Free 30-day trial. $50 for each event binder, including event website, marketing and registration capabilities.
- Who it's best for: People who are perfectly happy with their Outlook calendars, but who want to manage all of their event info online and who would love to have an all-in-one solution for promoting the event, registering and managing attendees.
- What it's good for: Sure, it's a great place to park your BEOs and essential event information and you can share it with others, but the real attraction is having a DIY way to create an event mini-site, send invitations, conduct registration, track sales and manage attendee data for peanuts. Ability to set dates for tasks is coming, and if you already have a registration system you're using, it can integrate with EventDawn.
- Why it helps: If you like doing things by the book, you'll love EventDawn, which is organized to be compliant with the Convention Industry Council's APEX Standards. They've literally taken all the pages of your binder and put them online, so it is an easy transition from paper. (And, yes, it does give you an option to print it out.)
- What you need to do: Once you start your event, create "functions," which are the agenda items comprising the event. Then you can add details and assign elements to staff members from there. When you're ready to publicize the event, "publish" it and start marketing.
- Mobile friendly? The website features responsive design so you can use it via mobile, but there's no specific app for phones or tablets.
Are there alternatives to the above? Of course! I know planners who dig Asana as a project management tool and Liz King has written much about eTouches, which offers a suite of tools to source, plan, promote, market and matchmake at your events. Tied to your tablet and phone? Then you might prefer planning using these apps. And there are seven other event management software companies you can research on this site.
Just remember: Online project management tools are only as useful as you make them. If you don't like the user interface, or if you don't understand how it will save you time, you'll never use it. Similarly, it's no use committing to a platform without training your team on best practices. So set yourself up for success and build in time to learn before you plunge in.