Beginning My Hunt for the Perfect Online Scheduling System

Last week, I posted about various online scheduling systems available as I'm looking at ways to streamline operations for my music studio. It was basically my To Do List of systems to try out.

Inspired by entrepreneur Larry Keltto's hilarious yet informative review of several booking apps on the market, I tried out several, while honing my Wish List. Here is my search criteria:

  1. Aesthetically pleasing and intuitive design
  2. Easy to use - both on the client end and the administrative end
  3. The ability to prevent short notice rescheduling
  4. Various options for reminder notifications that can be customized by each user
  5. The ability to synchronize appointments with several calendar platforms (e.g., iCal, Google Calendar, Outlook, etc.)
  6. The ability to collect and process payments (might not use this initially but I'd like to have the functionality in the future)
  7. The ability to customize the appearance for branding purposes
  8. Various privacy options so that the general public cannot see who I am teaching/consulting with
  9. Easy to reschedule appointments (client or me)
  10. The ability to handle recurring appointments for a set period of time
  11. The ability to allow group bookings with a cap
  12. The ability to set different availability for each day
  13. Solid tech support resources
  14. The ability to specify a time zone for appointments (not needed initially but will once I teach online)
  15. Viewable and usable on a desktop and mobile devices
  16. Advance scheduling

Oh, and it should be reasonably priced too. Really, is that too much to ask for?

Online Booking Systems - Round One

To date, I've examined nine online scheduling systems - and I'm not done yet. Here, I share my experience with the first four: AppointmentQuest, Book Fresh, Acuity Scheduling and Booking Bug.

AppointmentQuest

This was recommended by a former studio parent. AppointmentQuest has several attractive features. It allows you to securely accept payments online. You get instant email notifications. You can schedule services, people and events in several locations. It's HIPAA compliant.

I played with the Music Studio Demo. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far. The demo wouldn't let me book a test appointment (either as staff or a client). I also didn't like how the public could see all details for an appointment. Call me a prude if you want, but I don't think the general public should be privy to my students' lesson and contact info, regardless of whether they are underage. I also couldn't get over the dated design.

Cost: $6.59 USD/month for the Express version (single schedule/staff, unlimited customers, 300 appointments/month, advance scheduling up to 2 months). There are premium packages available with more features.

Book Fresh

This was one of several programs that I really hoped would work out. It was recommended to me by Michael Lipnicki's Fine Pianos. Its free trial was fully functional.

It was one of the slickest designed online systems I tested. It has an attractive user interface that is easy to use. I loved the fact that it could handle class and group scheduling in addition to individual appointments. Calendar syncing was very good. The mobile apps and Booking Widgets are great features.

Unfortunately, Book Fresh couldn't handle course registrations, e.g. registering for a 13-week music theory course from Date A to Date B very well. Clients would have to sign up for each class in the course.

I consulted the Help sections to find a solution, only to see that there was very little information. My new "buddy", the Solopreneur found this too. This brought my test of Book Fresh to a dead halt.

Cost:  The Freebie version only allows you to have three bookings per month, only three services and can only be used by one staff person. There are premium packages with more options. For the reminder notifications and calendar syncing ability, payments, you have to go up to the Business plan which is free for 30 days and then $19.95 USD per month after that.

Acuity Scheduling

This was one I tried out briefly, left and came back to it wondering, "Why did I stop mid-evaluation?" The free trial let you try it all out.

Acuity has a WordPress plugin - a bonus for my WordPress site. Calendar syncing? Yes. Can it handle one-on-one and class appointments? Yes. Website customization: yes. Handles payments? Yes. Attractive and user friendly interface? Yes.

What was it then that sent me on another tangent mid-evaluation? Oh yes, it couldn't handle course scheduling and booking to my satisfaction. For someone who isn't running courses, then it should work fine.

Cost: The Free version gives you quite a bit. Full customization and one schedule (yours). Go up to the Professional Plan for $10 USD/month and you also get recurring appointments/classes, calendar syncing and automatic time zone conversion. You get more with the Premium plan (of course).

Booking Bug

This is the one the Solopreneur selected. It hit all the right buttons: calendar syncing, classes, multiple resources, payments. A bonus: social media integration, mobile apps, accounting and marketing integration, discount pricing options and an exportable customer list.

However, it didn't work nearly as well for me as it did with my app testing buddy. It wasn't letting me choose Google Calendar to sync with. It sent me way too many email notices when making a booking and once again, I was having a tough time setting up a course that runs for a finite period.

However, my brother and colleague reported that it had the most straight-forward user interface out of the ones he tested. I suppose I could have contacted Booking Bug support (excellent resources, from the looks of it).

Who knows? Maybe Booking Bug and I just weren't meant to be friends.

Cost: The Solo plan costs $19.95 USD/month (1 staff, 1 resource, unlimited services, events/classes/courses and unlimited resources). There are two more plans above that.

It was at that point that my brain melted and I needed to take a break. Fresh air and ice cream does the body good.  My search continues for the perfect online scheduling app for my students and I.