Small businesses drive our nation’s economy. They employ tens of millions. They’re important neighbors in our cities, towns and communities. And they provide the services we rely upon.
Economic conditions during the past few years, however, have negatively impacted the operations of many these proprietors. Results of the 2009 edition of The Small Business Economy: A Report to the President, compiled by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy, paint a troubling picture of our nation’s economic woes:
• More than half of the 763,000 jobs lost in the first two quarters of 2008 occurred in small firms, while unincorporated self-employment fell from an average of 10.4 million in 2007 to an average of 10.1 million in 2008-9.6 million by November and December.
• Small businesses continue to face challenges in the current climate: accessing capital in the midst of financial instability, the cost and availability of health insurance, attracting a quality work force, meeting global competition, and perennial concerns about regulation, taxes and government procurement opportunities.
• Surveys show that owners are less willing than in previous years to expand their small businesses, hire additional workers, invest in new plant and equipment and borrow money.
Given the current economic conditions, small business operators are looking to do more with less and at a lower cost. One function many are looking at is how they set their patient, customer, client and student appointments.
ONLINE SCHEDULING IDEAL FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Online appointment scheduling is what’s commonly known as a Software As A Service (SaaS) program, where a business provides an application to customers for use as a service on demand. Like most SaaS programs, online scheduling services are typically housed online on a secure server, eliminating the need for the small business owner to purchase costly hardware components for his or her network. Additionally, some scheduler services also offer the conveniences of online accessibility, which does not require the business operator to install the program on his or her computer.
Online appointment scheduling software offers numerous beneficial features for small businesses, including:
• Self-scheduling for clients, customers and students. Individuals simply access the company’s appointment registration, typically through its Web site, select a date, time and location, and book his or her appointment.
• Internal scheduling. Some businesses prefer to have their staff schedule their patient and client appointments. The software makes this task much easier and efficient than electronic calendars and the traditional pen-and-appointment-book approach.
• E-mail and text reminders. Many online scheduling software programs feature these reminders, which eliminate the need for staff to make reminder phone calls and send reminder e-mail messages, which have been shown to cut down on “no-shows” by 50 percent.
• Online Payments. Collect service payments from clients online and automatically process their credit card transactions.
• Reports. Businesses typically rely on accurate reporting to get a snapshot of their operations and judge the effectiveness of their service and their trainers, instructors and other professionals. Online scheduling software providers typically offer accurate report-generating functionality.
• Record Keeping. Businesses can acquire, maintain and store contact information securely on their clients.
• Marketing Resources. Use reporting functionality, if available, to build a list of customers, clients, students and patients, along with their contact information, to send special offers and newsletters.
WHAT SMALL BUSINESSES HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ONLINE SCHEDULING
Recent surveys conducted by Appointment-Plus, a provider of online appointment-scheduling software, show the real need small business operators have for an alternative to their appointment-setting procedures.
• Before using appointment software, over 72 percent of small business owners and their receptionists manually took appointments by phone.
• Business owners chose to utilize an online appointment scheduling system for two main reasons: expand the ability of their clients to schedule appointments via the Internet (56.5 percent) and the amount of time they and their staffs were spending on scheduling appointments (53.2 percent).
• Appointment software has helped business owners reduce their “no-show” rate by almost 50 percent.
• Fifty-six percent of businesses saw their business increase since they began using online appointment scheduling software.
Appointment-Plus also gathered survey results from businesses who currently do not utilize an online scheduling service.
It found that over 30 percent still use an appointment book (planner), while over 20 percent relied on Microsoft Outlook programs and over 10 percent chose the Google Calendar. Those seeking an online alternative cited a need for a more efficient process (33.3 percent), followed by their desire to have clients self-schedule online (29.3 percent) and the ability to send e-mail and text reminders of upcoming appointments.
The survey results clearly show how the positive impact an online scheduling system can have on small business operations. With economic conditions unseen in over seven decades, these entities must streamline their operations and cut costs at every opportunity to stay afloat. Scheduling software can free up staffers, reduce the number of “no-shows”, provide a seamless way of scheduling appointments, and give you, the small business operator, the piece of mind that your appointment-setting needs are met in an efficient, cost-effective and automated manner.