On average it takes 8.02 emails to book a meeting and a study on medical and therapy appointments showed that the average cancellation rate for them was 14%, which suggests that the real number before a meeting takes place is even higher.
Put in simple terms it takes an average of 5 minutes to schedule a meeting. That may not sound like much but if (like me) your typical meeting slot is half an hour then that means you’re waste 1/6th of you working week just booking meetings! Even if you opt for one hour appointments, you’re losing 3 hours per week just booking things in – that’s pretty much half a day! Multiply that by your hours rate and you’ll see that the case to change is made.
Indeed even if you think you have capacity because your appointment schedule is not full, the most frequent feedback I hear from people who have adopted these systems is that they pick up more clients, simply because it’s easier to book with them.
There are several online calendar systems available to choose from, but which is right for you?
There are many comparisons already available between these tools, but many are biased (often towards Acuity since it is the only tool that provides affiliate links – I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusions on why that might be)
The reality is that all of the developers of these applications are in an arms race of sorts and there is little to distinguish the leaders. All are capable of getting your bookings online and the key deciding factors will be which calendar you use, which tool you like best and whether or not you want one or two specific niche features.
With that said, in this round-up I attempt to summarise all of the main candidates and help you to choose the perfect way to get your diary online.
Calendly is one of the most popular tools, with over 8 million users worldwide. As one of the more established options and fully focussed on providing you with an online booking tool, the system is simple to use but has powerful options.
Calendly offers the ability to share a booking link via email, directing users to your booking page, or you can embed your diary on your website. On the paid plan, Calendly branding is removed and you can make it look well integrated (for an example see mine: https://cobaltbeach.com/free-initial-consultation)
One nice feature is the ability to generate a “one time link” which you can send to someone to book just a single instance of an appointment. It cannot be reused, meaning it is ideal for any sort of new client welcome meeting with a different fee from the normal appointment.
And talking of fees, you can set up payment at the time of booking, by linking to Stripe or Paypal. Reminders can be issued by email, or from the standard plan upwards, by SMS
Calendly supports group bookings (useful if you run classes) as well as features such as padding, which ensure that people can’t book you without leaving you a break before or after (or both)
Calendly is generally considered the simplest tool to start using, although there are advanced options available using it’s automations and workflow options which will allow you to determine sequences of follow-up messages to be sent before and/or after the meeting.
If you think Calendly is for you but want a walkthrough on setting it up, then check out my 30 minute mini course here: https://www.udemy.com/course/setting-up-calendly/?referralCode=0E95C2EA8DED1A0CC819
Acuity is another strong option. Produced by Squarespace (who you may know from the website builder) it also has a simple yet powerful interface and a strong feature set.
It too offers the ability to connect to all main diary providers, allows embedding of your calendar in a webpage or ability to access a booking page via a sharable link. Again, different meeting types and schedules are accommodated as are paid and group bookings.
One area where it falls down against Calendly is if you use Microsoft Teams as your main video conferencing tool. Whilst it is possible to connect Acuity to Teams, you’ll need to build a connector in a third party tool such as Zapier (potentially at extra cost, depending on your existing Zapier plan).
Uniquely among these tools, it offers an affiliate marketing scheme, so if you want to make a little extra cash by convincing your friends to use it, that is an option too!
SMS reminders are available, but you’ll need to upgrade beyond the standard plan to use them ($23 per month at the time of writing). General purpose workflow is not part of the tool and you’ll need to build this in another tool such as Zapier.
x.ai has taken a different approach to meeting scheduling, although it has grown to incorporate a number of similar features. Consider using this tool if you want a system that feels more like a human PA doing the booking, but can live without certain features, such as SMS reminders.
x.ai uniquely provides the ability for you to copy in your “AI Assistant” on an email and request a meeting is set up. The articifical intelligence will parse the email and attempt to set up the meeting as requested. The level of success will be dictated by how clearly you make your request, but increases over time as the system trains itself on your writing style. Recipients will then receive a follow up email from the system requesting times (which have been pre-vetted against your diary) and will continue to correspond with them until all participants have chosen a time and the meeting is booked.
Whilst x.ai does offer a bookings page and sharable link, the simple to use email process is it’s real strength. The bookings page is less configurable than with either Acuity or Calendly, although like both of those tools it can support multiple meeting types, including paid appointments (via Stripe)
The main gripe x.ai solves is that simply sending someone a link via a traditional tool can feel impersonal, and like you are offloading the work onto them, as well as requiring them to break out of a naturally flowing email conversation to use another tool, which risks losing engagement. By embedding the scheduling request directly in the email but concierging the whole service, your customer gets a better experience and drop out rates are lower.
Personally I love this tool and I use it alongside Calendly (which is my tool of choice for bookings via my website), for those times where an email feels more natural than sending a self-service link. However, most people will not want to use multiple tools, and the x.ai platform does take a bit more work to understand.
Microsoft Bookings is the most overlooked tool on this list. If you are already a Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) user then this is probably a strong choice.
The first thing to note is that if you’re not using Microsoft then you may as well skip this section right now. It only integrates with your Outlook diary and is only available as part of the Microsoft 365 bundle. That said, for less than the price of most of the other tools on the list you get ALL of Microsoft 365 including Bookings, but also Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and around 20 other tools so if you’re not strongly tied to another platform then it’s well worth considering the benefits case for ditching everything else and moving to Microsoft.
The tool itself provides a booking page, which can be embedded on a website. Look and feel configuration options are much improved from earlier versions, but not quite as flexible as Acuity or Calendly but you should be able to roughly match the rest of your site.
The tool does not however allow paid appointments, and that is probably the largest gap it has at the current time, and if you’re wholly a Microsoft user already, that gap may be the only reason not to use this tool, since you’ve already bought it. Frustratingly, the tool does allow you to mark options as payable. But you’ll have to take care of your own invoicing and billing via your accounting platform after the appointment is made, whereas other systems will simply take payment before booking is completed. The fact that payable meeting types now exist however does suggest that Microsoft may close this hole in the near future.
Integration with Teams is of course excellent, but if you use other video platform such as Zoom or Google Meet, you’ll have to rely on an external integration via Zapier to generate the links, which is both extra cost and complexity. SMS reminders are also not available.
So to summarise, if you’re a committed Microsoft user and do not need to take pre-paid appointments then this is by far the best tool for you. It is effectively free and integrates brilliantly with what you have (Outlook/Teams). However, if you’re not then I’d steer clear for now, but with the resources available to Microsoft Id say this is a tool to watch.
Youcanbook.me is a platform marketed at retail professionals such as hairdressers as well as those offering other services such as therapists, virtual assistants etc.
The counter on their website shows that they have a far smaller user base than Calendly’s published 8 million users but the interface is clean and modern and the tool is simple to use.
Both email and SMS reminders are available but video conferencing integration is only available via Zoom so if you’re Teams or Google Meet (or other) user then you’ll need to build a third party integration via Zapier.
Youcanbookme offers multiple meeting types, as well as padding and has embeddable diary as well as a sharable booking page link. The tool offers workflow for automating reminders and other actions after a booking is made.
Special rates are available for educational establishments.
Setmore offers many of the features we’ve seen on the previous products. There is a free forever plan which offers some cut-down options, including one-way sync from all the main calendar systems. Note that for two-way sync (which puts the appointment into your diary rather than just checking it for busy time) you’ll need the paid plan.
Setmore has an option to include customer reviews directly on the booking page, which could be extremely helpful if you are a retail business and is a feature that cannot be delivered by any of the other tools without a third party tool.
However, it has the least options around individual booking types and does not offer features such as a one-time link or integration with Teams or Google Meet.
Paid appointments can be set up via Stripe or Square
Overall Summary of Features
This summary is based on the features available in the “standard” or equivalent plan – the lowest cost paid plan, and costs quoted are per user, per month.
This table is a guide only and whilst all costs and features are correct at March 2021, they are subject to change so please check each individual vendor before committing to a product.
|Monthly Price features are based on||$10||$14||$10||£9.40||$10||$9|
|Free Option Available||Trial|
|Multiple appointment types|
|Configurable Available Times|
|Group events||Extra cost||–|
|One Time link||–||–||–||–||–|
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