The 5 Hidden Costs of Free Scheduling Software
Pamella Shaw doesn’t own a sports facility, but her sewing school in Alexandria, VA offers similar products: lessons, classes and equipment. When she started planning for her new business, she began looking for scheduling software right away.
“I was not going to start a business without it,” she said. “I wanted to be able to focus as much as I could on the sewing side of the business. You would think that the product and service side would always take precedence, and it should, but unfortunately it tends to get sideswiped by the marketing and accounting side.”
Pamella was entering the small business ownership game with very valuable knowledge – knowledge that too many sports facility owners learn the hard way. They usually start with the passion for instruction and a great base of clients, but quickly get bogged with administrative details and marketing struggles, which is exactly why so many close their doors.
Pamella was determined to avoid that fate. She did extensive research on how other sewing schools scheduled classes and accepted payment, and she found examples of a wide range of practices. When she came across the web sites of some of my other clients, Sassy Sewer and Bits of Thread, she knew she had found her software solution in eSoft Planner. But she was still mystified as to why other sewing schools were trying to make extremely basic programs work for their scheduling and enrollment.
“It’s amazing how many are using really simple e-commerce systems, and honestly I don’t know how they keep track of anything,” she said. “Some were using Google Docs where people pay and it gets added into a spreadsheet. I think the time they spend maintaining that costs a lot more than the free-ness of it.”
I couldn’t agree more with Pamella’s point about “free” scheduling systems, most of which hinge on basic spreadsheets or even paper calendars. Most sports facility owners come to this same conclusion eventually, but first they spend hours and hours trying to make the “free” tools work. When you need to track both instructor time and facility space in addition to accepting payments for those services, these seemly free systems start to cost a lot. Here are just a few things you’ll end up paying for.
- The time required to set it up from scratch. It isn’t exactly a breeze to set up a spreadsheet that tracks all your scheduling and/or payments in a clear, concise way. However, even if you’re starting out with what you think is a good system, it’s inevitable that you’ll soon realize that you need to restructure it. Maybe you initially overlooked some details that you’d like to track, or maybe the way you organized the spreadsheet it makes it too complicated to calculate totals. Either way, you’ll likely have to re-work the system a lot until you get it right. That all takes time that your competitors can save by talking to a someone who has helped hundreds of other businesses just like yours get established.
- The value of facility reports. Maybe you’ve already figured out how to use a simple spreadsheet system for scheduling and payment. Maybe, in the best case scenario for using spreadsheets, your facility is very small, or you’re only tracking your own hours as an instructor. What happens when you need to analyze your business operations? What if you need data on total lessons scheduled, or want to compare the profitability of different factors such as student age, lesson type or class size? You aren’t going to get that data without a lot of extra work, but professional software provides it instantly. If you’re running a side business for a few hours a week, you don’t need those reports. If you’re serious about your company, you need those reports.
- The value of customer data. I could fill pages describing the features that an industry-specialized software provides that spreadsheets alone can’t. I’m not going to list them all here, but I’ll mention what might be the most important features that you’ll miss without a professional software: access to a sophisticated customer profile. You can schedule your customers using a calendar or spreadsheet, but where can you look to see their scheduling history so you can recommend the best products and services? What about a record of the times you’ve called them, or that they’ve called you so that when you speak to them you have all their information at your disposal? Where are you tracking their goals and interests? In any service industry, customer experience is absolutely essential. Unless you have fewer clients than you have fingers, you need a sophisticated program to serve them properly.
- The cost of mistakes. Speaking of customer service: Your customers certainly do not appreciate when their payments get lost, their instructor gets double-booked or their time slot gets overlooked. All of those mistakes are much more likely to happen when you’re using a basic spreadsheet to track scheduling and payment. For every person who has access to your primary scheduling document, the risk of mistakes and confusion grow exponentially. Just one scheduling mistake can result in an hour of scrambling and questions as to what happened. Just one lost client could cost you hundreds of dollars of potential revenue that could have been saved with a small monthly payment for a professional software.
- The loss of consultative knowledge. This is where I think eSoft Planner, in particular, is a little different from other scheduling programs. You’re not the first person to open a facility like your own. Our staff has taken many, many businesses through this process and have plenty of insights into what works. I own a sports facility myself, and the eSoft Planner team all have experience working in and managing it. We’re not just showing you how to use the software – we’re showing you why we built the software the way we did based on the feedback of dozens of businesses just like yours. When you go it alone, you’re losing hours and hours by making the same mistakes that others have already made and learned from.
I love running small businesses. I love to see other small businesses succeed. Frugality is important, but please don’t lose sight of the big picture by trying to cut corners on your scheduling and payment system. If you want to see how eSoft Planner works, I can show you in a free demo. If you have other questions, or want to talk about sports facility management, you can call me at (513) 791-4940.