The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Scheduling Software
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
(Imagine this scenario)
It's just hit you that there is a better way to scheduling appointments.
In the spur of the moment...
You start a mad hunt to solve this problem and make the switch from scheduling by hand, to taking appointments online.
... But, about 30 seconds into the "mad hunt," you're exhausted by all the different features, pricing structures, and information these software companies are throwing at you.
Quickly, you to turn back to your old ways, scarred for life by the traumatic experience of searching for an online appointment scheduling software.
Has this been your experience?
If so, we want to make it a little easier when it comes to finding the scheduling software of your dreams.
We'll talk about everything, from features you NEED to have - all the way to how to pick the right pricing plan for your business. I'll make sure to break down each point we are talking about, so it's super clear.
Features Here, Features There, Features Everywhere
When it comes to finding and comparing features to other solutions, it can become pretty daunting.
You've got industry specific scheduling software, lightweight scheduling software, mobile scheduling software, small business scheduling software, and so on and on.
Which do you pick? What features do you really need? Is it really necessary to choose a software that was specifically built for my industry?
Well first, no, it's not necessary to only consider the options that claim to be built specifically for your industry. At the end of the day, you're looking for what best suits your needs.
When it comes to finding features, here are some you should watch for.
1) People can schedule appointments online.
This is a given right?
I mean for goodness sakes, you're looking for a "scheduling software," you'd hope that it can take appointments online... right?!
Well, most of the time yes. But, not everything out there takes online appointments. Some products are purely just an online calendar with a few extra features, which isn't a large step from a Google or Outlook calendar (and in some cases a step down).
When you're looking for a software like this, you may want to ask yourself these questions:
Do I need a website for this to work?
When my customers use it, will it be easy for them?
Will this work on mobile browsers?
The first question is based upon preference, if you want something that works really well with your website, it may be worth looking for something that wasn't built as a stand alone web page. On the other hand, if you are looking for a stand alone scheduling page and have it on your website as well, see if the scheduling page can be embedded on your website.
The other two questions are essentials. If your scheduling page isn't simple, customers will likely get frustrated and quit, that's not good.
Along with that, if your scheduling page doesn't work with the most used device, nowadays, your business will struggle to grow. People want absolute simplicity when it comes to scheduling appointments and it's important you give that to them.
2) It integrates with your existing calendar.
This can be a deal breaker for most people...
If you've had a business that has taken appointments over any period of time, you're going to want something that integrates with the calendar you've been using all that time.
If you don't use a software that integrates with your calendar, you'll have to either take several hours out of your day and move all of your appointments to the new calendar or, at the very best, you'll have to work out of two calendars until you can get the new one caught up.
One wise individual sums this up perfectly with just a single quote, "Ain't nobody got time fo dat!"
I'd highly recommend finding an appointment scheduling software that integrates with your existing calendar. Regardless of whether it's missing a feature you were looking for, there's not much that compares to having all those appointments/jobs come with you in the transition.
Aside from the awesome benefit of not spending hours moving your data from one calendar to the next. Having an integration feature allows the software product to do a few more cool things:
Appointments and jobs will automatically be added to both you and your customers calendar after being scheduled.
Your availability can be updated to only show the times that are truly available (see more on feature #4).
When something changes, such as a rescheduled or cancelled appointment, your calendar will automatically reflect the change without you ever having to change it yourself.
3) It automatically sends appointment reminders.
Not every business is in need of appointment reminders. Typically a business that needs reminders are the ones where customers come to them and not the other way around.
But, if you are a business that could use appointment reminders, then these are definitely something worth looking at. These are great because they reduce appointment no shows, which can end up costing your business a lot of money if left for too long.
Not only can they save you money, but they can save you time as well.
Normally, you may have to remind your customer by sending a text or email letting them know of a nearing date. The magic of AUTOMATED reminders is that you don't have to send them, hence the word "automated" in the name.
Most online scheduling software will have a feature like this. The difference between softwares comes down to the channels they send the reminders through.
For example, most will send automated reminders by email, but do they send reminders via text message?
From the looking around I've done, it's all over the place. Some do just email, others do both, and past that there aren't a ton of other options. What I mean by that is, there aren't many other channels being utilized.
So, if you're the type of business that could use appointment reminders, it would definitely be worth getting. The question you need to ask yourself is, "what channels do I need to send reminders with?"
Should I consider paying the extra buck to get automated text message reminders?
Well, not all businesses need this type of reminder, though I would recommend it for, more, informal businesses. These could be salons, auto detailers, massage therapists, etc.
4) Your availability is dynamic.
Making sure the scheduling software you are considering updates your availability, in my opinion, is critical.
Fortunately, most software that allows you take appointments online will do this. If you run across a software that doesn't do this, I'd steer clear of them. Without your availability updating in real time, you run a large risk of having double bookings (2 or more appointments booked for the same time).
If you still aren't sure what "dynamic availability" is, here are a few examples (with pictures).
1) Your availability should update based on the current time in your area.
When I took this picture, it was around 9:20 am. In the ScheduleTalk software, it hides all the times that came before 9:20 am, so people can't schedule an appointment for a past time.
2) Your availability should update based on what times were previously scheduled.
In this example, an appointment was booked for 11:30 am - 11:45 am. On this ScheduleTalk page, those times were hidden from the listed availability. This prevents the possibility of having a double booking.
3) Your availability updates to the times that work for you.
This simply means you can add breaks to your day. This could be a lunch break or something else that is predictable throughout the week. In this example, I set a break from 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm. Those times were then hidden from my availability.
Hopefully these examples helped you see why this is so important. Fortunately, as mentioned above, you don't really need to worry about an appointment software not having this.
I just mentioned it more as a watch out, when exploring different options.
5) Your appointment scheduling page is shareable.
If you plan on simplifying appointment scheduling for returning users, you'd probably want to look for a feature like this.
Think about it, how did they schedule an appointment with you initially?
They had to go to Google, type in the URL of your page... if they forgot where to find you, they had to get in contact with you to get the URL. Then, finally, they could begin scheduling an appointment.
But, when you can share a link with returning customers (or heck, even new customers) it cuts the searching from the process, so they can jump straight to scheduling an appointment.
This feature is very common among different online scheduling software options. From what i've seen, just about every software with it's own scheduling page comes with a shareable link feature.
6) Add breaks to your day.
Unless you plan on working the entire day, without breaks, you're probably going to want a feature like this.
There's a watch out though, when looking for a software that allows you to take breaks, different software solutions may have different approaches to making this possible.
For example, some solutions may give you extra flexibility when setting up your availability to not even include the times you don't want to work, removing the need to have a breaks/offtime feature.
Whereas, other solutions may have a stricter availability setup, but in turn, offer a way to block out the times you don't want included.
Here are some keywords to look for when searching around:
"Add breaks" (obviously)
"Time and workload management"
7) Accepting payments online.
This feature isn't for everyone. But, if you take payments right after the appointment is finished and you aren't considering something like this, i'd recommend you take a look at your options.
Unfortunately, not every scheduling software allows you to take payments. You'd be looking for a more fine tuned software directed towards an industry that takes payments.
Fortunately, just because not every scheduling software out there allows you to take payments online, that doesn't make this a rare feature. But, you may have to make some trade offs to find what works best both for payments and scheduling.
Also, if you already take payments online with your business, a question to ask would be, "does the software integrate with the payment software I already use?"
Some common payment software would be Stripe, Paypal, and Square. These are widely used among the small business group and have the highest chances of having an integration with the scheduling software you are looking at.
When an appointment scheduling software integrates with a payment software, it opens up a few doors to cool features, such as:
You can charge late payment fees.
You can take a credit card up front and charge them automatically when the appointment is finished.
Your business can begin taking credit cards right from your phone - If you use Square, the software may even work with their Magstripe reader.
And i'm sure there are other possibilities out there...
8) Manages different time zones.
Like the payments feature above, not everyone will need something like this.
I will use mobile detailers in this example. When dealing with customers, they're not having to worry about jobs being in a different time zone. So, for them, an appointment scheduling software that manages time zone conversions isn't exactly a need.
But, if you host virtual meetings (Skype, FaceTime, etc.) or are planning to host different meetings in differents states or countries, then you're probably going to want to find a scheduling software that can handle time zones.
To make this a little easier to understand,
If you schedule jobs or appointments with people in the same time zone, you don't need the time zone feature.
If are scheduling appointments or meetings with people in DIFFERENT time zones, that's when you'll need this feature.
Ok, but what even is this "time zone feature??"
Put simply, this feature does all the time conversions when scheduling appointments across 2 time zones.
For example, if I scheduled a meeting at 4:00 PM CST, but my attendee plans on meetings me online in the time zone EST. My attendee won't meet me online at 4:00 PM EST (that's too early), they would meet me online at 5:00 PM EST (because EST is 1 hour ahead of CST).
So, really, this is up to your business needs on whether a feature like this is necessary. Though, from what i've seen, many if not all the appointment scheduling software has a feature like this.
If you do need a feature like this, it won't be hard to find and you won't have to make any sacrifices to get it.
Let's Talk Pricing
Now that we've talked about some of the features you should look for, let's talk about pricing.
At the end of the day, this is up to you. Whether you own a business or want a scheduling software for personal use, pricing can be all over the board.
But first, consider a few things when looking at pricing:
How often will you be using it?
How many features do you need?
How large is your business?
Do you have any employees? How many?
Alright, so keeping those questions in the back of your head, let's figure out what type of pricing plan would work best for you.
First, i'm going to start off by saying that there are many ways a software company can charge for their product. Some would be a "pay per user," "pay for only what you use," "monthly subscription," or even an "annual subscription."
In the above case, questions 1 and 4 are especially important, because that may determine how much you will be paying.
Next, how much are you willing to pay or how much can you afford?
To start, if you are a brand new small business looking for a scheduling software, I wouldn't recommend paying $50/mo to get one. Although the ROI (return on investment) is huge for a software like this, not only in time, but in saved money, I don't believe it's worth it.
I only say this because, you can get a powerful scheduling software for $10 or less per month. Though, if you are a business that has employees and you plan on having them use this software, don't expect the $10/mo to cover all of them. You will most likely be paying $10/mo for each employee that uses the software.
Which if you think about, it's definitely fair because it's no different than just setting up a new account for each and every one of them.
All I will say though, before I wrap this up...
If you are still unsure if an appointment scheduling software will truly improve your business or life. Many products out there offer either a free trial or a free FOREVER plan. Which can come in handy when looking for the best one.
Wrapping Up Our Appointment Scheduling Guide
If you're looking around for a software, but would prefer not to get wrapped up in a contract or even give away your credit card information, you can use ScheduleTalk completely free forever.
No credit card needed at all.
No contracts, so you delete your account any time.
And you can use ALL our scheduling features without ever paying.
If you're interested in trying it out, click the green, "Get Going For Free," button down below.
Remember, we will give the software to you for free and you won't need a credit card to sign up! :)
If you're looking to explore a little more and get to know more about ScheduleTalk you can check out our website. Take a look at the features we offer and if you have a question, just ask, we'd love to help!