One of my first jobs after college was as an assistant to an administrative assistant. (Yes, that’s a mouthful).
My job was to answer the phone and do some technical stuff.
The AA I was helping would manage projects and the schedule.
It was a lot of back and forth calls to see when everyone could meet.
Since then (way back in the 90s...) things have come a long way. Things have turned virtual.
This means that while there are still VAs having back and forth conversations - and that's fine - there is also an entire industry of scheduling apps out there that are meant to make the process easier.
The idea is that you can send prospects or clients a link to your calendar without having to actually give them access. You can set availability times, meeting lengths, locations and much more.
Using such a tool, you basically set up a meeting page.
You define the length of the meeting, and the location (virtual, phone, online tool such as zoom or MS Teams or maybe even in person - yes, those will happen again).
You also define your availability, and other variables such as meeting buffers and how much notice needs to be given before scheduling.
Searching for a scheduling app
I've been searching for a scheduling tool for a really long time.
Six months to be exact.
When I started out, I was using Meetingbird. A great free tool that had amazing UX and basically gave me most of what I needed at the time.
But then Front, who bought them, discontinued the app and my search began.
The industry standard seems to be Calendly. And though I personally don’t like it for various reasons, I can understand why.
I've seen better tools, but they don't have all the features. And so my search continued. Until recently.
The ideal tool for me should be easy to use for me but also for my clients. I want a tool that people can use easily and compare their availability to mine without having to go back and forth.
What features to look for
Here's a list of the main features I look for when I'm evaluating a scheduling app:
1. Ease of use
How easy is it to define my availability across all meetings and per each separate meeting?
I want to be able to define a template but also change each meeting on its own.
2. Blocking time
Can I block off time for a specific meeting but not for others?
For example, let’s say I have a link for each client, and also a link for prospects. I want to allow clients to book times, but I want to close off my pipeline for new prospects. Or even just block one specific email address from booking a time. Can I do that easily?
3. Setting availability
What is the interface for setting availability?
Ideally, this would be done in an overlay on your own calendar and not just by setting blocks of time. But most scheduling apps are still working with blocks of time. There are a few that have the calendar interface and it makes things so much easier.
4. Reminders and notifications
Can I set email reminders easily and can they include variables (such as guest name, company name or any other data)?
Another great feature is if you can automate follow up emails.
The more flexibility you have in setting up reminder times, content and structure, the better. It means you have more control over the customer experience you give your prospects and clients.
5. Accepting payment
Can I accept payment via the scheduling tool? And if yes, does it integrate with my payment processor? (For example, the tool I am currently looking into, which is amazing, is only developing Stripe integration and so it will not be suitable for me).
You may think that this is not relevant at the moment. But at some point you may want to start charging for your time. This feature then becomes a must for the best customer experience. So think ahead. And like I said, the more your tools talk to each other, the easier it will be to build a scalable workflow that works for you.
6. Ease of use for clients
How easy is it for my clients to schedule a time?
Do they see their own calendar overlaid? (most apps don't have this). Can they choose how long they want the meeting to be (most apps don't have this either - but this isn't a feature you may want to enable anyway).
Can you ask your guests to fill in a form before the meeting?
Most apps have this, but some are more flexible than others in their forms - things like question types, the number of questions, uploading files and different forms for different meeting types. That's why testing an app is so important to see if it's right for you and your needs.
8. Buffer times and meeting limitations
I hate back to back meetings. In the past, it was important to leave time between meetings in order to be able to get from one location to another (one conference room to another).
Today, it's more for biological or coffee breaks. You need to breathe between meetings. Setting a buffer time will enable you to have that built in and avoid having meetings set back to back.
In addition, many tools enable setting a limit to the number of meetings guests can set in a day/week or month.
Some tools also give the option to define how far in advance or how close to the event guests can schedule or cancel meetings. Personally I like a 24 hour buffer either way.
Can you brand your meeting page to include your logo?
Can you embed the scheduling app on your website?
How much of the layout and text is changeable.
This is usually a premium feature. But still important for when you're ready to grow.
Over the past 6 months I have looked at Calendly, Acuity, Chili Pepper, SavvyCal, Undock, MixMax, Boomerang, 10To8, X.ai, and ScheduleOnce.
Each had value, each had strengths, and each had things that were better or worse than others.
SavvyCal was close. But ScheduleOnce won my heart.
They give the most options in their free solo plan. Including the ability to accept payments with a pay-for-use model.
So instead of paying a monthly fee for services you may or may not need, you pay 1% of any payments you collect.
Other than branding and notification customization, you can do most everything in the solo plan.
While there are still many discussions on scheduling link etiquette, there is no doubt that having such a tool, setting it up efficiently, and using it correctly, can save you a lot of time and headache.
Note: this article contains affiliate links. The opinions expressed are my own.
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