Finding The Best Small Business Scheduling Software

If you operate a business where you schedule appointments, class attendance, consultations, seminars, workshops, or any other type of event from which you earn revenue, it is critical that you use easy-to-use, yet powerful and interactive small business scheduling software.

I also encourage, if it’s possible with your business, to look for scheduling software that enables your customers to schedule themselves.

This not only makes your life easier, but is an outstanding website conversion tool. What I mean by this is new customers to your website can instantly book themselves for your service. No phone calls or any other obstacles that might lose the sale.

Ask Yourself:

When you book a customer, how much time does it take? Yeah, scheduling customers and clients takes time – yours and/or your staff’s time. How about the time you spend playing phone tag just to book an appointment?

That’s why if you can set up software where your customers can book their own appointments, you’ll free up a great deal of your time. You’ll also be offering a very worthwhile customer service (and impress them). Even if only 1/3 of your bookings do it themselves, you’ll be way ahead – and probably book more clients than otherwise.

The fact is in today’s fast-paced world, customers want immediate gratification. If your phone line is busy or you have to put customers on hold, you could lose that booking. Why not eliminate those losses and poor customer service with implementing online scheduling?

How Does Online Scheduling Work?

It’s simple, and you don’t have to worry about giving up control of your schedule with the right business scheduling software.

There are different uses of scheduling software – it depends on your business

1. Simple Schedule Viewable Online

Some businesses, such as yoga studios, dance studios, martial arts schools, and health clubs may simply wish to display class schedules on their website(s).

The key is getting scheduling software that makes it incredibly easy for you to change the schedule in one central location – which changes then appear on your website(s). Let’s face it, class times, instructors, etc. change regularly.

Instead of displaying your schedule in a fixed table on different pages in your website(s), which is inconvenient to change, use a central schedule dashboard where you can easily make changes.

Have you ever forgotten to change the schedule on your website? When you maintain separate schedules, it’s very easy to forget to update your schedule on your website(s). I don’t have to tell you how customers feel about being misinformed and relying on an out-dated schedule.

Solve this problem by using scheduling software you manage in one easy-to-access location – which updates all your schedules wherever posted.

Moreover, look for scheduling software that let’s you present pop-up descriptions of your classes and perhaps brief bios of the instructor teaching particular classes. The more information you place where it’s easy to find for your customers, the better service you’re providing.

2. Self-Booking Capability

Other businesses require customers to schedule appointments or reserve rooms/facilities. Examples of these types of businesses include hair salons, spas, tattoo parlours, massage therapists, physical therapists, etc. Take yourself as much as possible out of the booking process by getting scheduling software that enables your customers to book their own appointments.

The process is simple with the right software. Your customers register and you provide them log-in information to your online scheduling system. Once logged in, your customers see only availability and then book in available time-slots. Moreover, you then add a contact to your database.

Online booking puts the scheduling power into your customers’ hands. If they need to change an appointment, they can easily do so without taking up your time.

What Other Features to Look for With Business Scheduling Software?

1. Look Only For Cloud Computing Scheduling Software

Without a doubt, the most important feature to look for with business scheduling software is that it’s cloud-based. This means the software you use is hosted with the service provider.

A classic example of cloud-based software is Google Docs. You simply log in to your Google account and use their fleet of document-producing software (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).

I’ve used desk-top scheduling software and like most desk-top software, it costs much more in the long run, and is very difficult to add new users (i.e. adding computers to the network).

The bulk of the long-term cost with desk-top software is paying a tech consultant to network the software among your computers. Moreover, your scheduling software is not available anywhere – only on computers on which it’s installed. Don’t even think about the cost when you upgrade computers or if you use a server.

Cloud computing solves all these problems because all you need is an Internet connection in order to access your software dashboard. You don’t have to pay for networking, installation, and/or have a server. Instead, most cloud-computing software services simply require a monthly payment for access. It’s easy to scale up – you simply add new users to your account. Your cost only increases as your business grows.

2. Get E-Commerce and Credit Card Payment Processing Integration

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could have customers pay upon self-booking their appointments? This frees up you and your staff from two time-consuming activities – booking appointments and taking payment.

Moreover, you can book appointments if you’re busy, thus reducing lost appointments. Often saving one booking will pay for an entire month’s software cost. Not to mention gain you another potentially loyal customer.

If you’re looking to get top-of-the line scheduling software, look for software that can process payments automatically upon a booking.

3. E-Mail and Text Messaging Reminders & Notices

Do you and your staff send out appointment reminders via e-mail and/or text messaging? This too is time-consuming. Maybe you don’t do this because you’re too busy – but wish you had the time or resources to send out reminders to reduce no-shows.

When deciding on scheduling software, be sure to opt for the capability for automated reminders. Yes, this is available. Once you have a customer’s contact information in your system, and a customer books an appointment, you can set up the software to automatically send e-mail reminders and text messaging reminders about upcoming appointments.

This serves three very important functions:

  • You’ll provide a great service reminding your customers about their upcoming appointment;
  • You’ll reduce no-shows; and
  • If a customer realizes they can’t make an appointment, they can re-schedule. This frees up appointment space which you can fill from your wait-list.

Speaking of wait-lists – with the right software, you can configure it so that once an appointment slot becomes available, e-mail notices are sent to your wait-list giving them an opportunity to take up that time – all done automatically.

4. Additional Sale Opportunities

Recurring Bookings:

Most small businesses earn the bulk of their revenues from loyal, repeat customers (especially service-based businesses that book appointments). With the right software, you can make it extremely easy for customers to book recurring appointments.

Perhaps they like to visit your business on the same day of each month. Instead of having to enter in their booking information manually for each month, use software to automate recurring bookings. Better yet, with self-scheduling, make it easy for your customers to book their own recurring appointments.

Packages:

Many small businesses that are appointment-based offer a variety of services. If you do, make it easy for your customers to create customized booking packages or you can create pre-arranged packages they can easily choose and book. This is a powerful up-selling option to earn more revenues per customer.

Gift Cards:

Gift cards are a very powerful sales tool. Not only do you make sales, but it’s a way to attract new customers. If you’re looking for powerful scheduling software, look for the ability to sell gift cards within the system.

Referral Tracking:

Do you offer referral incentives to your existing customers? If not, you’re missing out on using an extremely powerful sales tool. If you don’t, it’s probably because it’s a hassle to track referrals. You can automate referral tracking with some business scheduling software.

When a customer makes a referral, the software tracks that referral and credits the referring customer with whatever incentive you offer (i.e. discounts, free services, gift cards, etc.).

Online Point-of-Purchase Opportunities:

If you get scheduling software that has e-commerce capabilities, you automatically have a shopping cart available with which your customers can access while booking an appointment.

Point-of-purchase works both in-store and online. Why not increase sales by making it easy for your customers to buy your services and products online while they’re already in your system booking an appointment?

5. User-Friendly

If your customers can’t figure out how to book their appointments online or read your class/event schedule, then you’ve wasted your money. Sure, automated scheduling software will save you time – but the main goal is serving your customers. Look for a user interface that is extremely easy to use and pleasing to the eye.

6. Centralized Contact Database

Integrating your scheduling software with your contact database is absolutely crucial in order to get the most out of your scheduling software. Why? Because you can then use that contact database to manage your operations, financials, and of course leverage it for marketing.

When a new customer signs up with your business, you want scheduling software that automatically adds their data and profile to your contact database. Once in your database, you can leverage that information throughout your entire business’ operations from client management, report generation (to track your sales, attendance, etc.) to your marketing campaigns.

Impress Your Customers with Your Scheduling Software

If you offer self-booking capability and/or extremely informative up-to-date schedules on your website, you’ll impress new and existing customers. When they get reminders, they’ll be delighted. When you send them notices for openings, they’ll think the world of you and your business.

Even if you’re a small business, the right software doesn’t need to break your bank in order to appear and offer a level of service large, resource-rich companies offer. When you deliver a high level of customer service, you’ll build trust and make dealing with your business a pleasure.

Look for scheduling software that makes it extremely easy for your customers to use your services – and you’ll not only get more customers, but you’ll get regularly attending customers.

How Much Should You Pay for Business Scheduling Software?

This will depend on the size of your business and how many users you’ll need. Most cloud computing software pricing is based on the number of users. If you’re looking for some or all of the capabilities set out above, expect to pay at least $40 per month for a starter package.

I know getting desk-top software, which usually is a one-time payment, seems more attractive cost-wise. However, you’ll give up features, and in my experience, the cost for maintaining and upgrading desk-top scheduling software costs much more than the initial purchase cost.

I know, because I’ve used desk-top scheduling software and the cost alone for my tech consultant over the years is staggering.

Think of your “on-the-cloud” scheduling software as an investment. Better yet, if your software, because of its automation in booking and sending out reminders saves you one sale, that sale likely pays for your entire month’s cost of the cloud-computing solution.

As you can tell by reading much of the other content on this site, I’m in-tune with a great deal of software applications available for small businesses. I’m a small business owner and am always looking for ways to improve my customer service with technology (and automate processes to save me time).

I’ve used many business scheduling software applications, including Google’s online calendar. The problem with many scheduling software services is they are limited in features.

Sure, you might be able to integrate it with other software applications you have, but the ideal software is one that has all the features you’re looking for built-in the system itself. Integration sounds great on paper, but can be a real nightmare in practice.

How to Manage Your Business and Get Results

The desire of anybody setting up a business is to make profit and sustain the business. But mastering the fundamentals of business success is critical to making any headway in one’s business engagement(s). This is especially so because business is both an art and a science. That is, it is a matter of practical experience, calculation, foresight and fortune.

However, one does not need to be weighed down by the thought of having to master art and science intricacies of business success, because Peter F. Drucker has come to the rescue with his book entitled “How to Manage Your Business and Get Results”. Drucker is a business management consultant of repute who is concerned with the economic tasks that any business needs to perform to be able to achieve enviable results.

He says this book attempts to organise these tasks so that executives can properly organise them so systematically, understandably and reasonably with the possibility of accomplishing tangible results.

Drucker asserts that though practical rather than theoretical, the book has a thesis. He adds that economic performance is the basic function and contribution of any business enterprise, and the major purpose of its establishment. The author stresses that to achieve economic performance and results, a lot of (hard) work is required, and the work has to be thought through and done with direction, method and purpose.

According to him, this book contains secrets of business success, and emphasises the need to focus on opportunities rather than problems in any business engagement.

As regards structure, the book is segmented into three parts of 14 chapters. Part one is eclectically christened “Understanding the business” and contains the first eight chapters. Chapter one is entitled “Business realities”. According to Drucker here, it is a universal complaint that executives give neither sufficient thought to the future. He adds that every executive voices it when he or she talks about his or her own working day and when he or she talks or writes to his or her associates. Drucker stresses that it is a recurrent theme in the articles and management books.

This business management expert says it is a valid complaint and executives should spend more time and thought on many other good things, their social and economic responsibilities for instance. He says both they and their businesses pay a stiff penalty for the neglect. Drucker asserts that to complain that executives spend so little time on the work of tomorrow is futile. He adds that the neglect of the future is only a symptom and an executive slights tomorrow because he or she cannot get ahead of today. Drucker says that too is a symptom and the real disease is the absence of any fountain of knowledge and system for tackling the economic tasks in business.

The business management expert educates that it is a matter of necessity for executives to spend more time and meditation on the future of their businesses. He expatiates that they should also spend more time and thought on their community responsibilities.

Chapter two is based on the subject matter of the result areas. Here, Drucker says the basic business analysis starts with an examination of the business as it is now and the business as it has been bequeathed to us by indecisions, actions and results of the past. He explains that we need to see the hard skeleton, the major stuff that is the economic structure. According to him, we need to see the relationship and interactions of resources and results of efforts and achievements of revenues and costs.

In Drucker’s words, “Specifically we need first to identify and understand those areas in a business for which results can be measured. Such result areas are the businesses within the larger business complex; products and product lines (or services); markets (including customers and end-users); and distributive channels….”

He educates that the analysis of the result areas has to begin with products or services and particularly with a definition of “product”. Drucker says questions regarding product-definition, though not simple, are at least known and understood by every experienced executive. He adds that this alone makes product analysis the best place to start.

Chapter three examines the concept of revenues, resources and prospects. Here, Drucker says every executive today is inundated with figures, and more and more data pour out daily. He educates that many businesses will ask that their financial analyses be based on cost accounting. The author explains that the answer is that it is misuse of cost accounting to derive from it, figures for a particular product’s share of total business costs.

Drucker educates that cost accounting has to find a place for every penny spent, and where the cost accountant cannot document what costs are directly incurred in making this or that product, he or she must therefore allocate. The author adds that the cost accountant can only do so by assuming that all non-direct costs are distributed either in proportion to direct costs or in proportion to the sales price of a product.

In chapters four to eight, Drucker examines concepts such as how we are doing; cost centres and cost structure; the customer as the business; knowledge as the business; and the business being ours.

Part two is generically entitled “Focus on opportunity” and covers three chapters, that is, chapters nine to 11. Chapter nine has the thematic focus of building on strength. Here, the author says analysis of the entire business and its basic economics always shows it to be in worse disrepair than anyone expected.

He explains that the products everyone boasts of turn out to be yesterday’s breadwinners or investments in ego. Drucker stresses that activities which no one paid much attention to later turn out to be cost centres and so expensive as to endanger the competitive position of the company. According to him, what everyone in the business believes to be quality turns out to have little meaning to customers.

Important and valuable knowledge either is not applied where it could produce results or produces results no one uses, asserts the author. Drucker says, “I know more than one executive who fervently wished at the end of the analysis that he could forget all he had learned and go back to the old days of the ‘rat race’ when ‘sufficient unto the day was the crisis thereof’.” The author adds that but precisely because there are so many different areas of importance, the day-to-day method of management is inadequate even in the smallest and simplest business. Drucker says because deterioration is what happens normally – that is, unless somebody counteracts it – there is need for a systematic and purposeful programme. He expatiates that there is need to reduce the almost limitless possible tasks to a manageable number. Drucker stresses that there is need to concentrate scarce resources on the greatest opportunities and results.

In chapters 10 and 11, the author X-rays the concepts of finding business potential and making the future today.

Part three, the last part is based on the general subject matter of a programme for performance and contains three chapters, covering chapters twelve to fourteen. Chapter 12 is tagged “The key decisions”. Drucker educates here that decisions are made and actions are taken at every step in the analysis of a business and of its economic dimensions. He adds that insights are “bled off” and converted into tasks and work assignments. At every step of the analysis there should be measurable results, guides the business management expert.

He says but for full effectiveness, all the work needs to be integrated into a united programme for performance. Drucker stresses that making the present business effective, may require one specific course of action. He adds that making the future of the business different may require a different action. “Yet what is done to make the present business effective inevitably commits resources, inevitably molds the future,” educates Drucker.

He expatiates that what is done to anticipate the future inevitably affects the present business in all its policies, expectations, products and knowledge efforts. The author says major actions in every one of the economic dimensions therefore have to be consistent with one another.

The business management expert adds that conflicts between the conclusions of the various analyses have to be reconciled. He submits that there has to be balance between the efforts, otherwise one effort undoes what another has been trying to achieve. Drucker explains that the hard reality of the present must not be obscured by the lure of tomorrow’s promises.

In chapters 13 and 14, Drucker beams his analytical searchlight on the concepts of business strategies and building economic performance into a business.

If there is one thing that makes this book a classic, it is the depth and creativity of the contents. By segmenting the text into three parts of 14 chapters, Drucker is able to make the book easy to read and study. The number of chapters, that is, 14, creates some poetic allusion as it reminds one of the fourteen-line poem technically called “Sonnet”.

The vehicle of communication, that is, language of the book is still contextually simple despite the technicality of the subject matter. What’s more, the “Stylistics” tool of “graphology” is also employed in the design of the title of the book on the outer front cover where keywords such as “Manage”, “Business” and “Results” are put in capital letters to convey their conceptual importance, while other less important words are in small letters. There is also application of separate colours to the keywords and less important words to show interface between visual distinction and conceptual uniqueness.

Also, the book looks like a typical essay in that it has the introduction, body and conclusion. Another of the enviable achievements of Drucker in this book is the combination of specific economic analyses with enviable knowledge of entrepreneurship or business success.

However, one of the errors noticed in the book is “Acknowledgement” instead of “Acknowledgements”. On page 28, omission of a comma immediately before the word “Figures” from the expression “…it is misuse of cost accounting to derive from it figures for a particular product’s share of total business costs” seems to make the expression ambiguous”. It is supposed to read “…it is misuse of cost accounting to derive from it, figures for a particular product’s share of total business costs”. Also the layout of the book needs to be improved upon to make it (more) eye-friendly.

In a nutshell, this text is a reservoir of effective business management strategies. If you want to run a successful business, then you need to read and digest this book. It is conceptually precious.

The Ultimate Photography Business Management Software?

As a professional photographer, you’re also a small business owner, I know that administration can take up a lot more time than I like.

I’m talking about:

  • scheduling appointments,
  • processing payments,
  • running reports,
  • managing clients,
  • managing staff,
  • dealing with supplies and inventory,
  • marketing, and
  • all the other “background” tasks that keep my business going.

That’s why in recent years I’ve become very interested in embracing technology to automate and centralize as much of these “administrative” activities as possible.

As a photography business owner, you no doubt love doing photography – but in order to do what you love, you must administer your business and get new business through marketing.

For example, how much time do you spend managing your appointment schedule or dealing with payments by cheque or cash, or sending out appointment reminders to minimize no-shows?

These tasks are necessary, but do take up a lot of time.

Of course no software will replace you and your vision, but you can use software to automate some processes to free up your administrative time. The key is getting the right photography business management software that won’t cost you a fortune.

Unless you shoot exclusively in a studio, you’re likely off-site regularly photographing clients. If you spend a lot of time off-site, it’s tough to administer your business – unless you’re able to access your photography business management software.

How You Can Bring Your Office Anywhere With You

The easiest way to bring your office with you is with a mobile computer and using cloud-computing software. The mobile computer is simple – an iPad or laptop will do. It’s the cloud computing software that you need.

What is Cloud Computing Software?

It’s software you can access entirely on the Internet. It’s also called web-based software and it’s growing dramatically in popularity. The days of desk-top software that requires installation on a local computer are disappearing.

Have you ever been on a photo shoot and get a call during down-time for an appointment? If you don’t have your schedule available, you have to call them back – possibly losing the booking. If you have complete access to an online schedule, you can book the appointment right away.

Automate Photography Bookings

If you offer set photography packages, you might want to consider offering clients the ability to book their own time on an online schedule they can access with an Internet connection. You could create a web page explaining your packages and the time required.

Put the control in your clients’ hands and they’ll be delighted they can book a photo shoot without minimal hassle. You’re delighted because you booked a client without getting involved.

Reduce No-Shows

One of the worst money-losers in any business that books appointments – such as a photography business are no-shows. Yet, you’re probably too busy to sit at a phone each day making reminder calls.

What if you could automate reminders? This is ideal, and with top-of-the-line photography business management software this is not a problem.

How it works is your online scheduling software is linked to a powerful e-mail delivery software application that automatically sends out e-mail and text messaging reminders to clients at a time before the appointment you specify. Even if you prevent 2 no-shows in a month, the software will pay for itself.

Running a Photography Business is More than Managing a Schedule

  • Do you hire independent contractors or have staff photographers?
  • Do you offer payment by credit card?
  • Do you have any time left to market to your existing and past clients?

You can certainly get individual photography business software applications to manage each of these 3 types of administrative activities. You can get payroll and staff management software.

It’s not hard to find credit card processors to integrate into your system. And of course there is no shortage of marketing software applications available – especially e-mail and text messaging software services.

But, if you could centralize all these types of administrative activities in one software application, you’ll not only save time learning how to use it all, you’ll save time and hassle integrating it all together… because it already is integrated.

What I’m talking about here is ramping up your administrative efficiency by using an all-in-one photography business software that offers all the systems and processes you need to manage your photography business.

I’m a huge fan of all-in-one software packages because I need only learn one type of software. How much software have you bought only to never really use it fully because you didn’t take the time to learn it.

I’ve got all kinds of software on my computer just sitting there. The software I do use extensively is that which is central to running my business and that basically manages most of my administrative activities.

Here’s the Real Value of All-In-One Photography Business Software

The true asset of your photography business is your database of clients – past and present. Those clients not only provide you work, but refer you to their friends, family, and acquaintances. Your database is your gold and so you must harness that database in order to build your business.

If you have different software applications managing individual tasks, you likely have a mish-mash of contact lists and client profiles scattered in various files and software applications.

When you centralize your entire photography business management software, you’re able to centralize your client database – and then leverage that database in all your business management activities.

An Example:

I’m a huge fan of communicating with my database of clients via e-mail. If you use different software applications for different activities, then when you book an appointment, you must load that contact into each database – perhaps in the scheduling database and then your e-mail marketing database. You end up managing multiple client contact lists.

It’s far more effective and efficient that when you book a client into your schedule, that client is automatically logged into a central database with all their information, from which you can then launch e-mail messages, text messages, and even then generate business reports informing you about how a particular client is contributing to your business.

The key is moving toward a one-step process. That step being once you have a new client scheduling, that client is now part of your entire photography business software platform from which you can completely manage that client.

The same goes for centralizing your independent contractor / employee details into the same system. You can then generate payroll reports showing your payouts to each photographer on your payroll by client.

Take Your Photography Business Software to the Next Level

Do you offer pricing packages? Probably. Is it a hassle managing all those packages? A centralized, all-in-one business management software specifically for photographers lets you create pricing packages that integrates with your credit card processing and your client management.

Not only this, but the right software will also make it easy for you to create gift cards, track your client’s referrals (then send out thank you messages), pricing packages, discounts, etc. – all in an effort to increase your sales and offer your clients more choice.

What About Selling Products on Your Website?

As a professional photographer, you can get great deals on photo-related products and services. You can create another profit center on your website by selling products and services. Because you know the business so well, you can offer only the best to your clients.

Moreover, because you’re a professional, you’ll have instant credibility and trust and could create a profitable e-commerce store that earns revenue with minimal effort and time.

In a nutshell, the best photography business software is web-based and offers the following centralized functions:

  • Scheduling – online, centralized, and self-bookings;
  • Credit card processing;
  • pricing packages and gift cards;
  • E-commerce and online store opportunity;
  • Payroll and staff management;
  • E-mail and text messaging capability – automated reminders and marketing channels;
  • Total client data management totally centralized;
  • Client referral tracking (this alone should be harnessed to the maximum);
  • Financial and performance reporting that uses all the centralized data for comprehensive, up-to-date information.