Are you trying to choose a scheduling software for your business? We're here to help you find the one that's right for you. Whereas some systems are appropriate for larger businesses, we found three that we think are best for small businesses' needs.
What is scheduling software?
Scheduling software can help you manage appointments, even if you have to juggle multiple schedules and multiple locations. You can configure scheduling systems to allow your customers to book appointments online. Most will even process prepayments or deposits for you online, as well. Many businesses have reported that using online scheduling services allows them to better serve their customers because it lets them spend time with their clients rather than answering the phones. Scheduling software has even allowed some businesses to forgo hiring a person to answer phones to set appointments.
Most systems will supply you with a booking web page if you do not have your own website, and most are compatible with social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many also integrate with calendar systems such as Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar. Although you need to install an app on your phone to use the management features, customers can book appointments from any device.
The businesses that benefit most from online scheduling are those that need to manage appointments — such as salons, groomers, gyms, medical offices and spas. "Solopreneurs," such as photographers and professional consultants, also use these systems to track appointments. Some scheduling services offer industry-specific solutions, such as those designed for managing restaurant reservations. You can start using most systems for free and add features as you need them.
Benefits of scheduling software
- Allows customers to book appointments online
- Manages wait lists
- Sends automated mobile notifications
- Supports patron online payments
- Integrates with calendars and other business systems
How we evaluated scheduling software
Top Ten Reviews (TTR), a sister site of Business News Daily, has been testing scheduling software since 2009. We spoke with the TTR business team members who managed the last round of scheduling-software reviews, to learn about how they tested the products and what market trends they discovered during the review process. They tested both sides of the software: how simple it was for customers to place appointments, and how easy it was for administrators to perform management duties. Overall, they conducted roughly 80 hours of testing and research, which included the creation of a test website to host the scheduling code that allows clients to set appointments. Although systems with long lists of features were attractive, the team was primarily looking for products that provided useful features and were easy to use.
After using Top Ten Reviews' research notes and conducting our own research, we found three products especially suitable for supporting small businesses. We evaluated mobile and automated features in order to discover the software options that could both save small business owners time and provide a positive experience for customers. Most of these providers charge only a low monthly fee for introductory services, rather than a per-customer or per-booking rate that some higher-priced services charge. However, most will require an upgrade if you want more than one person to be able to use the system. Here are our top three picks:
Supports an unlimited number of users, sends automated reminders and cancelations, and processes online payments
For just $49 per month, FlexBooker supports an unlimited number of clients and bookings. FlexBooker includes advanced features, such as automated SMS (text) and email reminders, online customer payment processing, reporting options and wait-list management. If you don't have a website, FlexBooker will provide you with a booking page online, and the company will send you a daily recap so you know exactly how your day and week ahead are scheduled. It will alert you to last-minute schedule details by email or SMS, and it can automatically notify your customers if you need to make a schedule change. This service is often used by gyms, salons, trainers, small medical offices and lawyers. Go here to read a full review of FlexBooker on Top Ten Reviews.
Offers a low-cost solo option, provides a free online booking site and enforces cancellation policies
Square Appointments provides full-featured plans for solo users for only $30 per month, and unlimited plans are also available. Payment processing is available using Square Register, and it can even collect payments for late-cancellation fees. You can manage your schedule using a PC, iPad or iPhone, and clients can place appointments online using any device. Square can provide you with a free booking website, or you can easily embed the booking link onto your existing website. It also provides calendar and scheduling tools for your staff, to help you manage employees' hours and vacations. If a client books an appointment, the system can automatically send your staff member a notice, so appointments are missed less often. As with Square's other products, this service is simple to use and ideal for small businesses on a limited budget. Go here to read a full review of Square Appointments on Top Ten Reviews.
Low-priced, supports numerous integrations, processes payments online
If you only need to schedule appointments, you can start using Acuity Scheduling for free. Paid versions offer more features, such as text messaging, the ability to sync with popular email systems, and online payment processing. This scheduling system is compatible with many popular business software programs, including QuickBooks, MailChimp and GoToMeeting. APIs (application program interfaces) are available if you want to create your own custom integrations; more than 500 integrations are possible via Zapier. This appointment manager offers advanced features, but it is low-priced. Even the Powerhouse Player plan is only $34 per month and supports up to 36 staff members and multiple locations, making it suitable for businesses that need to set appointments — for example, hair salons, spas, gyms and medical offices. Go here to read a full review of Acuity Scheduling on Top Ten Reviews.
During our research process, we found another product specifically designed for restaurants. If you are looking for a system to process reservations and help you manage tables, Yelp SeatMe might be worth considering.
iPad-based restaurant booking system with low monthly rates and table management
Top Ten Reviews did not review SeatMe because it is designed only for restaurants. It is compatible with Yelp, the popular app that many people use to find recommended local restaurants. Most restaurants have a Yelp page and customer reviews published, so this joint venture makes sense. SeatMe is an affordable alternative to the popular OpenTable reservation system. This restaurant booking software allows your customers to place reservations online and lets you manage tables. It includes wait-list management features, mobile tools and guest text notifications. Yelp reports that its pricing is much lower than OpenTable's, but there is no pricing information listed on its website; you'll need to contact customer service directly. But you can demo the system for free.
Although most of these scheduling systems allow you to process customer prepayments online, many point-of-sale systems (POS) also support scheduling and payment processing. If you need a POS anyway, you might want to look into getting an iPad Square POS processing subscription, which can serve both functions. On the other hand, if you are working alone and are not ready to make a purchase, you can use the free versions of the systems described above or Google Calendar. Most paid systems are compatible with Google Calendar, so you can upgrade easily when you are ready.