How to Compare & Choose Online Programs
I get asked all the time to help business owners choose the right online programs for their businesses.
They want a program that’s easy to operate, connects to the software they already use, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
With lots of competing programs on the market, finding the right one for you comes down to these five things: functionality, integrations, scalability, price, and ease of use.
I even created a free online programs comparison chart you can download to help you research and compare programs.
Before starting your research, I recommend writing down all the things you’d like the program to be able to do. Next, put a star next to any deal-breaker items.
For instance, if you already have a Shopify store, having an email marketing platform that integrates might be important. Or, if you like being able to work from your cell phone, you’ll need a program with an app or mobile-friendly website.
Once your list is ready, it’s time to start researching! As you look into each program, compare what they offer against the list you just made and eliminate any programs that don’t fulfill all of your deal breakers.
Whatever you do, don’t skim! A program that offers online bookings is great, but I encourage you to dig a bit deeper and review the FAQs or Support page to find out more about how the online booking process works. For example, does the booking feature integrate with your digital calendar, allow you to ask questions before allowing people to book, etc. This helps to ensure you’re making a true, apples-to-apples comparison.
When you’re researching programs, be sure to look for a list of available integrations. Since most of us are juggling multiple online programs and platforms, companies often make an effort to integrate with other programs and promote it as a benefit and time-saver to business owners.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as connecting to your Google Calendar and automatically adding events, and other times, the integrations are more robust, allowing you to integrate with Mailchimp, Google Calendar, Zapier, and more.
Integrating and connecting your online programs can be a great way to save time. You may not have initially thought of integrating your new CRM system with Asana, but discovering it can automatically create new tasks on your behalf every time you add a new client, would likely be a huge time-saver.
PRO TIP: Even after deciding on a program, be sure to check the integrations list on a regular basis to see if anything new has been added.
Price may seem like an obvious one, but there are actually a few different things you want to look at when it comes to price.
First, check to see if the company offers a free trial or plan, and be sure to scroll to the bottom of the pricing plans page. Sometimes they hide the details for the free plan underneath all the paid plans.
Next, review the different price plans and ALL the items included and not included at each level. The website may boast about integrating with Mailchimp, but it may not be available to free or first-level paid plans.
Decide which pricing plan you would likely need if you chose that program, noting both the monthly and annual rates. I always suggest starting with the monthly plan first, because companies will sometimes send expiring trial customers and new subscribers a coupon code for an upgrade to an annual plan.
Plus, starting with the monthly plan gives you a little more flexibility with your decision. If you decide in a few months the program isn’t the best fit, you can easily cancel without having paid for an entire year of service.
While I always recommend starting with a free trial or lowest-level paid plan, it’s important to consider how the online program will fit your needs as your business grows.
For instance, most email marketing systems base your monthly rate on the number of contacts on your list and the number of emails you send. This means, as your list grows, your monthly cost will also increase, and you want to make sure it’s something you can still afford.
Equally as important is your ability to downgrade your subscription. For instance, with Freshbooks, your plan is based on the number of billable customers you have, so if your business slows down, you’ll want the ability to switch or downgrade your plan as needed.
Ease of Use
The final, and in some cases most important thing to consider when evaluating online programs, is its ease of use. You might find a program that checks all the boxes in your research, but if it’s confusing and infuriating to use, it is NOT the right solution.
That being said, all new programs take time to learn, so give yourself at least a week and a lot of grace to truly get acquainted with them. Try different features, review training materials and tutorials, and chat or reach out to the company’s support team, to help you test out how the program works for both your current and future needs.
This is one of the reasons I love trial periods or free plans, because it allows you time to truly assess the program before making a larger financial commitment.
One thing to know about starting a free plan or trial period is that many companies automatically give you access to their premium plan features. This means you might be seeing some options or functions that wouldn’t be available at the free or starter plan level. Be sure you're aware of which features come with each plan level so you can accurately access the program and its functionality.
If you’d like help researching and comparing online programs, download my free comparison chart, or schedule a free consultation to learn more about how I can help you choose, set up, and automate your online programs.