Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tool Tuesday: Appointment Scheduling

Photo by gjbell/Creative Commons
Setting up appointments and meetings can be a pain in the rear, especially if you're trying to get more than two people together at the same time.  Everyone's schedules are bulging with demands on their time.  Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to automatically schedule meetings and appointments without the hassle of checking multiple calendars?  There is.

Appointment scheduling programs let others see where you have time available and book appointments.  Using these types of programs have shown to reduce the number of skipped appointments you have and ends up helping you close more new business because the person you're meeting with has had a hand in the scheduling.  It's definitely a recommended tool every small business and freelancer should have in their toolbox.

If you search the web, you'll find dozens of appointment scheduling programs, costing from nothing all the way up to hundreds per month.  Some are designed with specific industries in mind, while others work for anyone.  To dig through the noise, I tested three of the top calendaring programs over the last month or so.  Which ones?  Calendly, Appointy and TimeTrade.

All three programs work the same at their base.  They all can connect with your Google calendar and, while hiding the details, will block out already-scheduled appointments.  On your side, you can set up specific appointment types or different services and you're given a link to share with others.  When they click on the link, they can choose which appointment type or service they're booking, then they're shown your available times.  They pick the time that works with their schedule and boom - a meeting is scheduled.  All give you the opportunity to sign up for a free trial, although they vary in length.

That's where the similarities end.  Each has different user interfaces, pricing plans and only one has the ability to collect your fee before the meeting happens.  Let's take a look.

Calendly

Calendly is the standard of the industry.  Most of the business owners I work around use Calendly as their first stop, which says a lot about how easy it is to use on both ends.  It's been around for quite a while, so they've had time to work out the user interface and their services.  It's fairly straightforward.  It lets you set up your appointments by length of time and how many each day.

When you set up Calendly, you can designate how much time you'll need between appointments to avoid going back-to-back-to-back with meetings and appointments.  Once scheduled, you and your client each get an email and, depending on which package you choose, you can set up reminder emails and follow-up emails before and after your meetings.

Calendly is used by a diverse field of companies, from HubSpot to the University of Georgia.  Teams can use it and it can also be used to schedule group events.  It even will connect to Microsoft Office 365.

Calendly has two pricing options.  You can sign up for a free, limited account that gives you one user, one event type, and automated standard notifications; no event scheduling, though.  The premium subscription goes for $8 per user per month, so if you're on your own, it'll just be $8/month if billed annually or $10/month if billed monthly.  With the premium, you get unlimited event types, personalized branding, group events and customizable notifications.

Appointy

I really like Appointy, mostly because it's easy to remember the customized link; I can give it to clients on the fly without having to look anything up.  It also allows you to set up your appointments as services.  If you charge for your appointments, if, for instance, you're a consultant and charge by the hour, Appointy lets you set up your PayPal or Stripe account and they'll collect your fees up front.

The user interface isn't as easy as Calendly.  If you have a free account, you're limited to five services or events, so you can set up an hour meeting, a 30-minute meeting and a 15-minute meeting plus two other types.  You then set how many people can be in each of those meetings (if you want to do group meetings) and the cost per person, from free to whatever your hourly rate is.

Appointy can connect to your company's Facebook page so appointments can be scheduled from there.  And, with one of the paid accounts, you can schedule recurring appointments.

The free option gives you one user, five services, unlimited appointments and website integration.  There are three other paid options, each billed annually, ranging in price from $19.99 to $59.99, depending on how big your business is.

One drawback to Appointy the others don't have - all times are based on where YOU are, not where your customer is.  If you work with clients across the country, you'll have to remind them the calendar is set to your time zone, not theirs.

TimeTrade

TimeTrade is a simple appointment scheduling program and I like it a lot.  You can do a trial of their professional version, which I highly recommend.  The scheduling interface is very easy to work with and it's not complicated to set up.  You simply put in the type of appointments you'd like to set, put in your buffer between meetings and you're ready to go.

Unfortunately, as simple as it is, it's not as robust as the other two I tried.  It's simply a scheduling tool, which is great if that's the only thing you want.  Another drawback?  There is no free option after the trial.  There are three payment options:

  • Professional, which gives you one user, Outlook, Google and iCal integration, and one-to-one appointment scheduling.  It runs $49/year, with an optional $29/year if you want to add customization.
  • Workgroup lets you set up additional users for additional fees, central billing and admin and Salesforce integration.  It's $99/year.
  • Workgroup Plus is their highest level and includes the above PLUS a host of additional services.  At $299/year, the options you get aren't up to the level of Appointy's free version, so it might be a bit steep for small businesses.
As I said, there are dozens of other options, including probably some for your specific industry.  What appeals to you about a scheduling program won't necessarily match what works for someone else and vice versa. 

My best advice?  Try two or three for a few weeks and see what works best for your business.  Regardless which one you choose, the most important thing is to choose one and start using it today; you'll be surprised at how much your business improves.