Are you one of the many sports facility owners who have let the search for new scheduling software fall to the bottom of their to-do list?
I get it.
Adopting a new scheduling system means learning how to use it, which takes hours. It also means changing routines that your clients and staff may already be comfortable with.
Even if you have a completely new facility and are starting fresh, a simple Google search for “scheduling software” returns hundreds of results to comb through.
But it’s time to stop procrastinating. If you’re scheduling with forms and calendars, or even using a “free” system or one that isn’t designed for sports facilities, your business is losing money every day to unnecessary admin costs, poor customer service, and mistakes that a better scheduling system could prevent.
So, what should you look for as start your search for a scheduling system?
I know a lot about sports facility scheduling software because my company built our own system: eSoft Planner. But I also know about all the other schedulers available. The best fit for your business will depend on your needs and your budget. Each system you consider should have three important qualities: optimal pricing, great support, and of course, features that will make and save money for your business.
When you look at scheduling software costs, focus on value first.
The most expensive system you find may also be the one that saves you the most money overall due to better features or customer support (which we’ll discuss next). So, you shouldn’t reject any scheduler based on price alone before you know what it can do.
That said, web-based scheduling systems usually charge their clients each month based on different factors. Some structures will work better for your facility than others.
eSoft Planner uses a simple pay-per-feature structure; you pay the same amount each month based on which parts of the software you use. Other schedulers’ pricing is based on the number of scheduling locations or clients in the system. That can make costs lower for some smaller businesses. However, costs may also increase seasonally or as you expand or restructure.
If you’re going to accept online payment, you’ll also need to pay fees for processing credit card transactions. The fees may be rolled into your software’s monthly service or charged separately, so make sure you’re using the total costs when you’re ready to do a final price comparison.
Most major scheduling systems offer customer support. However, you should always find out when and for how long that support will be available after you sign up for the program. Are there any limits to support requests? Will you be assigned a dedicated rep who understands you and your business?
Reliable customer support is even more important if you don’t consider yourself a “computer person” and want to regularly work with someone who will pay more attention to your account.
Without support available when you need it, cool software features don’t mean much.
Features That Increase Profit
Finally, the big one: What can the software do for you? As we move through a list of possible features, keep your eye on the bottom line. Your scheduler should make or save your business money in tangible ways, such as:
- paid admin staff hours saved because clients can schedule and view account details online
- paid admin staff hours saved because the software auto-bills your memberships
- extra revenue from online stores or services that the software makes it easy to promote and sell
- money saved from reduced late cancellations and no-shows because of automated reminders
Once you add up how much money each feature could save your businesses, it will be easier to evaluate final software costs.
First: Scheduling Software Should be Web-Based
As little as 5 years ago, many facilities were still using scheduling software that was installed on computer hard-drives. That meant that if the computer crashed or was stolen, the program and the data went with it. It also meant that clients would have to call to make sure they had the most updated version of any schedule.
We developed eSoft Planner in 2007 because we knew that a web-based system for sports facilities would save users from worrying about servers, backups, or updates.
Of course, many other scheduling systems have joined us online since we got started. Web-based is now the default option for most. So, let’s review a list of recommended features you’ll find with web-based schedulers (not exhaustive, but just a jumping off point):
- operating hours – customize the times of day and year that your clients can schedule, and put them on repeat so you don’t have to update them often
- locations – use levels of categorization to help you customize facility
- client groups – give certain groups of clients special benefits, such as advanced scheduling, special discounts, and exclusive access to certain programming
- client and staff management – track and quickly find information on all your clients and staff, including client family member relationships and scheduling and payment histories
- staff permissions – create custom permissions levels for each of your employees
- rentals – rent out locations and sub-locations, change prices automatically based on time of day or season, determine how far in advance clients can schedule or cancel, add optional equipment or services to rentals
- lessons – schedule both one-on-one and semi-private lessons, the ability to restrict the types of lessons that can happen in each location at your facility, add optional equipment or services to lessons
- camps and classes – set age limits, size limits and enrollment dates, charge per session or for a group of sessions
- memberships – check clients into the facility using cards or by name, or just bill clients monthly for regular services (lessons, rentals, etc.)
- packages – group all types of your services together for sale
- retail – track inventory and sales for concession stands and pro-shops
- leagues – create teams, schedules, post results
Payment and Pricing Features
- online payment – let your clients pay for their services online; this is a huge convenience for both of you (most major schedulers incorporate this feature)
- refund policy – establish a refund policy for all of your services and have it apply automatically to your clients’ cancellations
- upfront payment – require upfront payment for scheduling and then waive it as necessary to let trusted clients pay later
- account credit – give clients the ability to add credit to their accounts for easy spending in the facility, such as parents adding money to a child’s account for the concession stand
- email and text notifications – let clients and staff decide when and how they want to be reminded about their upcoming schedules
- customizable messages – choose what the reminder messages say – personalizing the messages is a great marketing opportunity and also reinforce your brand
- messages to clients – let your clients know about your new programs and services through the software. eSoft Planner, for example, lets you add messages to the login page and user dashboard.
- email marketing – compose and send emails to clients and manage your client email lists, either with a third-party email program or directly through the scheduling software
- brandable interface – the system can look like it belongs to your company, with your own logo and colors
Reports & Displays
Make a list of your essential reports, and make that sure each program you consider has them. Same goes with displays; for example, are you used to checking a weekly calendar with hour-by-hour lessons? That specific view might not be available in every system you consider.