My husband and I have an ongoing discussion about the fact that I am ridiculously frugal. I’ve been that way since middle school when I would duct tape my penny loafers to keep them from falling apart. I think, in a way, he appreciates my tight-fisted ways. But one thing he cautions me about over and over is how my inclination for selecting the cheapest item available sometimes means I overlook the value of quality and functionality. “Cheap” is not always the least expensive option, especially if it costs you more (in the long run) through upkeep or replacement.
That’s good advice to keep in mind when selecting membership management software. Making comparisons of equal items is essential to good decision making. If you don’t take all of your current and future needs and uses into mind, you’ll run the risk of paying too much or not getting a robust enough system. Asking your organization (and potential software vendor) the following questions will help you narrow down your search and price out the best option for you:
1. Price: this is an obvious one but not all companies are straight-forward about their pricing. Some want to know who you are and how you plan on using their software before they will talk price. As long as they are not customizing their offerings why should it matter whether you have 20 members or 20,000? I’ll tell you why — because some companies base their pricing on your revenue. As a small membership organization that may make you very happy but if you have plans to grow and be successful, you may find yourself on the losing end of that number. Don’t penalize yourself for future success.
2. Support/Training: Is support included in their software pricing? For how long? Are there a limited number of hours or calls you receive a month? When comparing a membership management software option that gives unlimited support and one that does not, do not assume that you will learn the software and know exactly how to use it the moment you log in. You will need training. You will have employee turnover and need retraining. You may get stuck with questions and should have someone to turn to without the concern of how much it will cost you. What about new features the membership management software provider might add in the future? Will there be training on those? Ask. If they hesitate, they either don’t want to tell you the true costs or they don’t roll-out new features.
3. Design: What will the initial design of your site include? Can you make changes? Are there costs associated with those? How often can you redesign your site? Can you switch out colors, fonts, logos on your own? Will your membership management software vendor to do it free-of-charge? Maybe you don’t have any design concerns now because you have adequate staff on site to handle such things but what if they leave? Can you handle the site upkeep? Can you turn to your vendor partner to help and at what cost?
4. Admin spots: Do you have community managers, content people or administrators for your site? How many do you have? Are the job responsibilities for online community management being divvied-up among multiple individuals? Upon exploring the different membership management options out there you’ll discover vendors who will charge per admin license or seat. Before you give in to my inner-cheapo and go with one seat, ask your organization can one person handle all administration of the site, member approvals, store processing, blog approvals, content additions, design changes, photo approvals, commenting, blogging, forum moderation and the list goes on. (Not sure what your needs are, ask the vendor how many admins are used by their current customers who have similar-sized memberships to yours. This will give you an idea of not only the costs you’ll face but the ease of use behind the software.) Maybe you have a superhero in your midst who can do it all. But what if that person leaves? Will a mere mortal be able to handle the workload alone? What happens when you become even more successful and your member organization grows exponentially? Can one person still handle the workload? What will additional licenses/site admin seats cost you?
5. Convergence: What systems can be eliminated by the implementation of membership management software? Can you give up your email program? Can you cut back on your printing costs? Can you eliminate your CMS? Can you do more with less (programs) and will this new software help you do your job more efficiently? If you eliminate the redundancy of several (even if they are not costly on their own) systems with one robust, integrated system what will your cost savings be? Take the time to do the math.
6. Off-setting costs: are there other ways to pay for your management software? Can you create site sponsorships and help defray the cost of your site? Does your new software allow you to add your own revenue-making ads to your site? Is there a cost (to you) associated with that? Can you create multiple member types within your online community (including corporate) that would allow a group to pay more and off-set expenditures that way?
It’s easy in these times to write-off what potentially could be a large capital investment and either select a free version of membership management software or add a cheap plug-in to existing software in the hopes of a patchwork solution to your member woes. But cheap is not the same as affordable. You don’t have to invest large amounts of money to get robust software offerings; you just have to research the options and ask the right questions. Knowing that you are comparing like systems and factoring in differences in your final costs should help you find the perfect membership management software for your current organization and the one you’re destined to become.