If your business relies on booking appointments with customers, clients or potential prospects, then using good appointment scheduling software will really make a difference to your customers and your business – making it easier for customers book a slot in your diary.
Good scheduling software includes features to simplify booking, rescheduling, and cancelling customer appointments through a friendly web interface. It should also be easy for you to setup and install on your website. And to avoid double-bookings, the software should connect to your diary (eg your Outlook or Google calendar) to show available time slots.
Before web-based appointment booking systems were developed, it was normal to telephone and speak to someone to book an appointment or meeting. Your business might still have customers who rely on the phone, so you might want to consider setting up a phone answering service as well as a booking system and get the phone answering service operators to use your booking system to book an appointment for any callers.
I’ve looked at appointment scheduling solutions and selected five of the best free products you can add to your website now to start improving the way customers book a meeting.
Choosing appointment scheduling software
If you run a business that relies on bookings, for example a hairdressing salon, a dental practice or a garage, then making it easy for your customers to find and book an appointment will really help grow your business. And it’s the same if you’re in sales and want a way to help prospective customers book a sales meeting to discuss your products. So choosing a good scheduling solution that you can add to your website to provide site visitors with ability to book and manage an appointment is important.
There are plenty of products available to manage your calendar and simplify appointment setting so I’ve looked at solutions that are free, are easy to setup and use, work with smartphones as well as on a website, and offer good customer support.
Here’s my checklist for assessing software solutions:
Number of users
You might need support for multiple users, each with their own diary; for example, if you run a hairdresser, then each stylist would have their own diary but it’s all under one account for your salon. Most appointment scheduling software can support multiple users but check the number of users as this is often a limitation on free plans.
Is there customer support to help you install and configure the software? Almost all of the products I looked at were easy to install on a normal business website, for example running WordPress or Wix, but you might have a more complex setup or need a guiding hand on setup. Look at reviews and customer feedback to check on customer support and see if the support is 24/7 and if it is by telephone, web-chat or email – though free plans normally have limitations on support.
There are some great free products available that I’ve reviewed; all of them have upgrades to paid plans that will extend the features available – check what’s on the feature set for the free plan and if it’s enough for your business.
Number of Appointments
Some software will, on their free plans, limit the number of appointments that can be booked, so make sure you understand any limits on how many appointments are available (if there’s a limit, it’s normally per month). Some software offer unlimited appointments (great!), whereas some limit you to 100 appointments per month, which might cause problems if you’re running a busy hairdressing salon.
Your appointment scheduling software should connect to other business software you use – this integration allows you to link your scheduling software to your calendar, your CRM system, e-commerce software, or email. Check which integrations are available on your free plan – I think they’re an essential to help you automate your business.
Time-tracking and calendar
It’s obvious that software used for appointment scheduling will need to have a calendar system, however does it integrate nicely to your existing business calendar (eg Outlook or Google) or do you have to use its internal calendar system? I’ve filtered out products that limit you in this way, but watch out if you look at alternatives.
For appointment setting software, it’s not just your user interface that’s important, but also what it’s like for a customer to use to book a meeting. And how easy is it to use on a mobile phone? I’ve looked at both sides of the products here to give you feedback.
Five best free appointment scheduling software
There are loads of solutions on the market and most CRM systems such as Zoho CRM also have appointment scheduling built-in, but after looking at all the products, here’s my list of the five best free solutions you can start to use now.
Find out more at: fresha.com
Fresha is an impressive software solution but it’s specifically aimed at beauty and wellness professionals – for example, hairdressers, stylists, personal trainers, and so on. If you’re running a small business offering these services, then Fresha could be a good option. It’s a free platform with well-designed and an easy-to-use calendar for customers. There are a couple of paid-for upgrades including accepting payments (for example, if you want a customer to pay when booking) or some marketing extras such as being included in the Fresha directory of suppliers.
The calendar is on the Fresha system but it will sync with your Google or Outlook diary so you’re up to date; it supports multiple users, multiple types of appointment and locations.
If you’re a business in the beauty or wellness sectors, where appointments are essential, Fresha offers a smart integrated solution to help you and your coworkers manage customer appointments.
Find out more at: oncehub.com
OnceHub (previously called ScheduleOnce) is a free appointment scheduling system that lets you setup an online calendar to allow customers to book in meetings. The free plan integrates with your existing Outlook or Google calendar to avoid double bookings, provides an easy-to-use customer interface and from the business side has a range of features to help you manage appointment setting. For example, you can setup rules to limit times when meetings can be booked, or limit repeat bookings. Unlike many of the other platforms, OnceHub offers a standard website interface but also a chatbot interface so customers can ‘chat’ with a bot to ask questions and then book a meeting this way.
OnceHub also brings together contact management – focussing particularly on business contacts – allowing you to organise and manage your contacts. It’ll sync with your CRM so you’re not running duplicate contact books. Adding contact management makes great sense since you can then start to see which customers are booking most often, when they book appointments and how they interact with your business.
The free plan has enough features for most small business users and as your requirements grow, there are paid-for plans to let you add 24/7 support, provide integrations to business systems software and allow unlimited users.
Find out more at: simplybook.me
SimplyBook.me is a powerful appointment booking system with a free plan that’s great for smaller businesses – the free plan supports one user and up to 50 appointments per month. It’s easy to get started and install on your website or you can pay for the team to install everything for you.
There are a lot of extras available, especially integrations to link to other business software. You can use these to connect to Outlook or Google calendar, add payment options (to pay for an appointment) or to send SMS reminders – however, almost none of the integrations are free. If you want to setup a basic online appointment system, it’s free but link it to your calendar (which I would say is essential) and you move to a paid-for plan. Lastly, if you have international customers, the software supports multiple languages and there’s an app for iOS/iPhones and Android phones.
Find out more at: youcanbook.me
YouCanBook is a powerful booking system that includes a lot of features in its free plan (there’s also a paid plan available) that offers most of the standard scheduling requirements for an SME business. As an example, you can link to your Outlook or Google calendar, setup ten different types of appointments (for example, for the different services your business offers), connect to Zoom or MS-Teams to allow a video call link to be added to meeting invitations, and much more.
Although I looked at the free plan, there are a few unusual features on the paid-for plan worth a quick mention including the ability to invite multiple people to a meeting and to adjust meetings to fit in with multiple diaries – both very useful if you find yourself trying to arrange meetings with several people at a client, though not needed if you’re looking for a solution for a customer to book in with you.
The calendar can be customised to your style (you’ll need to upgrade to the paid plan to remove the branding) and the easy-to-use customer calendar interface will also generate SMS text message confirmations and reminders. Together, these provide a straightforward, flexible web-based appointment setting product that might not have all of the features of other systems but is powerful enough for most business requirements.
Find out more at: calendly.com
Calendly is one of the original, and so best-known, appointment software systems. It’s designed to be embedded on your website and provides a quick, easy setup that’s also easy for a customer to use. The free plan supports one appointment type but allows unlimited appointments; if you want to add payment processing or SMS reminders, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan. The free plan does include integrations to your Outlook or Google calendar, and support for business services such as Slack and Google Apps.
Like most of the products, Calendly is mobile-friendly and your customers can book an appointment, make changes and confirm from their smart phone as easily as from a laptop.
Calendly is one of the most popular solutions because it’s easy to setup and use, offers a good free plan and does what it promises effectively. There are solutions with more integrations and support for other channels, but if you’re looking for a web-based appointment booking system, it’s a good choice.
Which is the best free appointment scheduling software?
While all the appointment scheduling software listed above are great, a few stand out. If you’re in the beauty or wellness sector we’d say try Fresha; for simplicity try Calendly and overall we’d recommend YouCanBook.
How do I choose the right product?
Think about how you interact with your customers and what you need from an appointment – for example, do you want your customers to pay when making an appointment, can they make multiple repeat bookings, do you need connection to your existing business calendar or business software?
Is a free appointment scheduling product any good?
Yes! I’ve reviewed five of the best platforms and they all offer a free plan that might be a perfect solution for you. All of these offer paid-for upgrades, but you can use the free plan to run your business and manage appointment setting without any extras.
Many businesses rely on customer appointments – from a local garage to a hairdresser or personal trainer – and ensuring your customers can book an appointment with the minimum of effort will help you improve customer experience and grow your business. I’ve looked at a lot of the platforms available and selected five of the best free – yes, totally free – solutions. They all offer slightly different features that make them suitable for different types of businesses to give you a choice of product that works for your needs and your business.