If you’ve ever tried working with, coding for or just thinking about anything to do with events, you know they are a total nightmare in every possible way. Repeating events, schedules, multiple days, multiple tracks, multiple prices, multiple speakers, multiple organizations, multiple payment options — the list goes on on for quite some time.
Today we’ll show you how to make event management an easy — nay, enjoyable — task by making WordPress do the grunt work for you. We’ll be looking at out-of-the-box WordPress features, plugins and themes and a DIY approach to managing events. Please do let us know if you have more or better ideas.
In A Nutshell
I know some people don’t like to read lengthy reviews, so here are my recommendations in the shortest possible form. We’ll look at all of these recommendations in depth, so read on if you want to know more about them.
If money is not an issue or you just want the best possible combination of products, I recommend using Event Espresso to manage the events and Eventure from ThemeForest to display them. This will set you back at least $125 (more if you need add-ons for Event Espresso), but it will give you one of the most powerful event-management setups you can get without touching any code.
If you don’t need a payment gateway, multiple-day event-specific options or other advanced features or you’re on a budget, you could use Events Manager Free Version, Event Espresso Lite or Events Made Easy. These are all free and easy to use, providing roughly the same functionality. You might also want to purchase a theme to display your events nicely, which will set you back at least $35, but this is in no way required.
Event Management Features
Before we get to specific tools, let’s look at some of the features we get from an event-management system. You might not need all of these, but looking at them is useful when planning your system.
Obviously, our event-management plugin should at least support events. The ability to create events that are separate from your regular posts is a powerful feature, allowing you to add events to your website’s existing content.
Allowing people to register for events right there on your website can greatly boost attendance. The path a user has to take from discovering your event to participating becomes that much shorter, which translates into a better user experience and more registrants.
You will also need to be able to manage registrations through the back end. Registrants should be listed somewhere, with easy access to their details.
The ability to accept payments online breaks down another barrier between your events and potential attendees. A feature that allows you to accept the widest variety of payment methods would be ideal.
As a software programmer, I don’t like when I enter data somewhere and it’s not stored in an easily reusable way. The ability to manage speakers across your events is a big plus because it opens up access to powerful features later on. This feature should include the ability to add biographies and photos of speakers to the website.
As with speaker management, having all your locations stored properly will make them ease to reuse in future. If you need to schedule another event at the same venue, there’s no need to reenter the details; just select it from a menu, and off you go.
Another nice feature is being able to attach companies to events. Companies will often host events, and giving them some recognition for it is a nice thing to do in return.
Almost all major events have sponsors that contribute in some way (usually with money). They often require you to add their logo in various places. Being able to add the names, descriptions and logos of sponsors for an event would be handy.
There are two kinds of notifications we might want to control. On-site notifications are shown to users once they perform specific actions. When a user successfully pays for a ticket or encounters an error while registering, an on-site notification should pop up to let them know what’s going on. Being able to tailor the language of these to your style would be a nice feature.
The second type of notification are email messages to participants. Confirmations, reminders and so on would all be customized to your style.
Controlling the information to gather from registrants is key to finding sponsors and making the lives of users easier. Being able to control this on an event-by-event basis would be best. Some events require less information from users, others more.
Many events offer coupons for promotional purposes. If you want to engage users beyond your website, then giving coupons for third parties to distribute is a great tactic. Creating multiple coupons for various events would enable you to manage a full-blown coupon campaign.
Another way to persuade visitors to register is to offer different price options, such as early-bird pricing, student discounts, last-minute offers and so on.
Multiple Day Events
Many events have so much going on that splitting them into multiple days is the only way to go. Being able to control this from the administration section would be a great plus, especially when coupled with price-management options (such as registration for one day only).
If you are organizing a repeating event, you wouldn’t want to have to create it from scratch a hundred times a year. Scheduling and repeating tools would help minimize your effort.
Powerful Global and Miscellaneous Settings
A great event-management system has to have great global and miscellaneous settings. Settings for creating an events listing page, changing currencies, setting time zones and so on are all part of a complete system.
All of the WordPress plugins in this section are paid plugins, but if you’re running a serious operation, then the first two listed here are well worth the money.
Event Espresso is the cream of the crop. It has built-in support for almost all of the features mentioned above (except perhaps sponsor management) — and much more! It enables you to set up multiple forms of payment, multiple event dates and times, multiple prices, discounts, promotions (coupons), locations (even virtual ones) and emails. It also creates posts for events automatically and does so much more!
Event Espresso also has a free “Lite” version, which gives you a taste of the solution. The lite version is actually pretty robust and can be used for simple situations. It includes event and attendee management, automated emails, customizable registration and PayPal Standard Payment.
You can easily tailor the design of event listings to your current theme. If you are willing to dish out the money for this plugin, I recommend getting a premium website theme as well and modifying that as needed.
Event Espresso is not cheap, but its feature set is top notch, so the price is justified. The basic version costs $89.95, which contains all of the features that 95% of people will need. From there, you can download free and paid add-ons to the basic system. Some free add-ons are for payment gateways, social media and calendars.
MailChimp integration, recurring events management, developer customization options, WordPress integration, Groupon integration, multiple event registration and shopping cart integration (coming soon) is available at between $25 and $35 a pop. Most of these are well worth their money, although getting the WordPress members integration for free would have been nice, because that’s not a huge programming leap.
Events Planner is another well-rounded system. It doesn’t have all of the features of Event Espresso, but it does give you a lot to work with. Event categories, tags, instructors, locations, companies, notifications, payments, registrations and more can be managed with ease.
The main difference between Events Planner and Event Espresso is that the former’s UI is less polished, and some features found in both are not as well implemented in it. Despite this, Events Planner remains extremely flexible and robust. If you don’t want to part with almost a hundred bucks, you’ll be able to grab Events Planner for $39, plus another $24 if you need plugins that supports advanced date- and time-specific functions.
Events Planner does not have a lite version, but you can create a custom installation yourself and test drive the pro version. This is a little unusual for plugins, but it does mean you can fully test it before purchasing.
Events Manager is very similar to Events Planner in many ways. Some features have a better UI in Events Planner, while others are better in Events Manager. Were the price not so different, it would be a matter of preference, but because Events Manager costs a lot more than Events Planner, I would not recommend this solution.
Events Manager will set you back $75, and the price buys you only one year’s worth of upgrades. There are no plugins or add-ons here (which could be a good thing), but the higher price and losing access to updates after a year seems a bit cheeky at this price point.
Events Manager has a free version that gives you a lot of functionality. It supports event and booking management, recurring events, locations and more.
Of the three, Event Espresso is the clear winner. It supports every feature the other two do and a lot more. It also has handy (albeit slightly expensive) plugins, with more to come. Even at $89, if you run a successful business (or plan to), it isn’t a high price to pay for the features you get.
If you can’t spend that much on a plugin, then Events Planner is a very capable alternative that will not leave you wanting. When all is said and done, it does cost less than half of Event Espresso and still has 80% of its features. I would still heartily recommend it.
If you don’t need payment options, however, and you need a free solution, the free version of this plugin might be your best option. Have a look at the partial solutions below.
Quite a few solutions do not offer advanced features such as payment gateways and coupon management but do allow some flexibility and customizations for events.
The best options for a simpler approach are All-in-One Event Calendar, Event Organiser and Events Made Easy, as well as the free versions of Event Espresso and Events Manager. In a showdown, it would be a close call between Event Espresso and Events Manager.
All-in-One Event Calendar creates a new post type for your events, allowing you to keep blog posts and events side by side. It supports event categories, tags and a few other options. Because it allows you to create a calendar page, it’s a great solution if you need something simple and workable in minutes.
Event Organiser has all of the same functions plus a lot more! It has permission settings, permalink settings, importing and exporting options and even venue support. In addition, it has an admin calendar view that gives you a useful overview of your events.
Events Made Easy has all of the features of All-In-One Event Calendar (except event tags), and it supports registrations and locations. If you absolutely need to support on-site registration, this would be the easiest to use. The UI is the least polished, though, so it won’t look as pretty in the administration section, but the features are solid.
Despite the great features offered by these plugins, I would stick with Event Espresso Lite or the free version of Events Manager. Apart from offering more functionality, they will also ease your transition if you need the full-blown system later on.
Using WordPress Out Of The Box
If you don’t need to manage data for each event, WordPress’s core functionality will do just fine. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use posts to store events.
- If you want to be able to have regular posts as well, distinguish them using categories.
- Create top-level categories for distinguishing organizations, sponsors and venues.
- Use your website’s registration functionality to manage past attendees, or use it as a master attendee list if separate registration is not required for your events.
- Create pages for important information such as payment options.
- Use PayPal buttons in event posts to let people register and pay directly through PayPal.
Many of these features are far from optimal for event-intensive websites, but if you just need something simple that you can set up in 10 minutes, give it a go.
If you do choose this option, pay close attention to consistency. If your goal is expansion, you are guaranteed to want a better system later on, and consistency will ensure that you can make the switch without a hiccup.
Comparing All Of The Options
There is a lot to learn and a lot of options if you want to get started with event management. To make your life easier, here is a table with all of the features discussed, along with the solutions that support them. Click on the image to go to the large version (it’s a bit small to look at here).
While the plugins do a nice job of helping you manage events, they are not designed to make your website pretty, which is equally important. No matter which route you take, you will need to do some work to make things fit perfectly, but some premium themes out there will shorten this process.
Whichever solution you choose, you will have to put in a few hours of work to make your website work well and look good. I usually advise using free software whenever possible, but this happens to be one of those areas where I would go with a complete solution. Getting it right from the get-go will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
If you can afford to spend over $100 on managing events, go for Event Espresso, coupled with one of the premium themes mentioned above.
If you want to spend as little as possible, then try Events Manager Free Version, Event Espresso Lite or Events Made Easy. If you don’t plan on expanding a lot or you need multiple price points, go with Events Made Easy because it is completely free, with no paid version, so supporting the developer by using his product would be a nice gesture.
If you do plan on expanding, go with Event Espresso Lite because the pro version will have everything you need when you’re ready to buy it and you won’t have any migration or data problems.