(Update: 10/9/13: Several items in this post have changed since I originally wrote it. I still use and love Timetrade, but it’s now offered on a freemium model and the pricing is different than I describe. It also integrates with iCal now and they’ve added a lot more features. The general reasons I love this tool are still the same.)
If you work by appointment, you know that scheduling can be tough! In the early days of my business, someone would request an appointment and I’d send them 3 or so choices. Then, I’d have to hold those choices open until I heard back from them. If another client wanted to schedule, I’d have to come up with a set of different choices for that client or put them on hold until I heard from the first client. In the meantime, client number 2 has to put his or her appointment setting on hold until they hear from me. What a mess!
I’m so much happier with my scheduling process now that I use an automated scheduling tool. What is an automated scheduling tool? It allows anyone to whom I’ve given a link to self-schedule their appointment at a time when they know I’m available. I get great feedback on my scheduling process and I can’t even guess at how much time it’s saved me and the people looking to schedule with me.
There are several choices for an automated scheduling tool, and the one I use is Timetrade (timetrade.com). After a free trial, it’s about $30 per year and well worth it. Once you sign up, you link Timetrade to your Outlook or Google calendar and set up some rules for appointments such as the days and times you will accept appointments. Timetrade will then offer appointments that follow your rules and are not already taken by another appointment. Visitors do not see what you are doing when you aren’t available.
I work in 15-, 30- and 60-minute sessions by phone or Skype, so each of these choices has its own scheduling page (called “activities” in Timetrade). If a person has purchased a bundle of 30-minute sessions, I give them the pages where they can schedule a 30-minute call or Skype session. Because of the way the system is set up, the visitor can only schedule a 30-minute session which leads to fewer mistakes and rescheduled appointments.
Another great use for an automated scheduler is to avoid playing phone tag! People are so busy and a lot of productive people I know don’t answer their phone whenever it rings to it can be really hard to connect. If I want to talk to someone, I send them to a page where we can schedule a quick phone call at a time that works best for both of us.
There are other great scheduling tools available, so look for the one that will work best for you. The one feature that was non-negotiable for me was using a tool that eliminates back-and-forth. One scheduling tool I tried requires visitors to send you two options of when they want to meet. You then have to get the email, review it and pick one before the appointment is confirmed. This defeats one of the main purposes of using a scheduling tool. I much prefer that my clients and callers can book and confirm an appointment on the spot. Timetrade also sends a confirmation email without requiring your visitor to have an account.