Get a Virtual Receptionist With Booking Services

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Good help is hard to find, and in this economy, it's often unaffordable. If your small business needs a receptionist for basic appointment booking, you can save a ton of cash and free up your payroll budget with an online scheduling service that lets your clients set up their own appointments on the Web, over the phone, or from their mobile devices.

Online booking services are pretty simple: When customers visit your Web site, a big Book Now button takes them to a scheduling page where they can choose an open slot in your calendar. Once an appointment is booked, it's in your calendar and theirs. Easy.

Two of my favorite online booking services are Genbook and Schedulicity. Both run about $20 per month, and both include robust calendar interfaces and optional mobile apps.

Of the two, I'm partial to Genbook for its deep customizability. You can add as many staff members or services to the database as you like, complete with customized time blocks for each appointments, which makes it easy for your clients to set up a booking exactly the way they want it without botching your schedule for you. It also includes a credit card capture tool to help eliminate lost revenue due to missed appointments by collecting payment information up front. Schedulicity, on the other hand, includes great features for setting up classes, which makes it great for fitness instructors and others who run group-based activities.

Both services include excellent social media integration, including the ability to book appointments from your business's Facebook page. And both can send text messages to clients reminding them of their upcoming appointments. More importantly, both services offer free trials, so you can take them for a test drive to decide which works best for your business.

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