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Four Web-based scheduling tools for small businesses

If your business involves meeting with clients, you know what a hassle scheduling can be. Doesn't matter if you're a real-estate agent, a financial advisor, or a contractor--appointment management can be a full-time job.

Before you hire someone to tackle that job, consider a Web-based alternative. Wouldn't it be great if your customers could simply visit your Web site, check your availability, and schedule their own appointments -- no receptionist required?

I've rounded up a quartet of online-scheduling services designed for exactly that purpose. Their core function is to post your available time slots so clients can choose the one(s) they want. Some go further by collecting payments, sending out reminders, integrating with Facebook, and so on.

All four services offer some kind of free account or trial so you can test the waters. But even the most expensive of the lot will cost you a lot less than human personnel. And they never take sick days.

Acuity

A great place to start, Acuity offers a freebie account for a single user (you) and unlimited clients and appointments. If you bump up to a Professional account for $10 monthly, you'll get credit-card processing, an optional online store, embedded scheduling for your Web site, reminder emails, and other goodies.

BookFresh

BookFresh doesn't give you much for free--you're limited to three booking per month--but its $19.95-per-month Business account is packed with goodies, including support for multiple staff members, PayPal payments, Facebook-powered lead generation, and notifications of new appointments via phone and/or SMS There's also an iPhone app for reviewing and managing appointments.

BookMe

A newcomer to the online-scheduling space, BookMe is powered by online-scheduling service Doodle. However, it's hard to see the justification for its $60-per-month-per-user rate, especially when it appears to have fewer features than the less-expensive competition. If you want to find out for yourself, there's a 30-day free trial.

Genbook

Genbook doesn't offer a free account option, but for $19.95 monthly, you get a Solo account that includes email/SMS notifications, mobile apps for all the popular platforms, various search-engine and social-media promotion tools, and other goodies. As you might expect, Solo supports a single user; a multiple-user account costs $39.95/month.

Have you tried these or other online-scheduling services? If so, which one(s) did you like best?

I think Acuity offers the best bang for the buck -- unless you have co-workers who also need scheduling, in which case BookFresh is arguably the bargain to beat.

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