Third-party or plugin? What’s the best way to take bookings or appointments on your website?

Disclaimer: Any products/services mentioned or recommended below are suggestions based on our own experiences. We have no affiliation with any of the products or services mentioned and you should always thoroughly and independently research your options to decide what is best for you.

Depending on your product or service, there may come a time where you wish to take bookings on your website. This could be for a wide variety of purposes or intents, such as:

  • Booking consultations for professional services such as IT support, business mentoring, specialist advice etc
  • Booking appointments for services such as beauty therapy, dental, physio etc
  • Booking places in a seminar/event that you are hosting
  • Taking bookings for introductory phone calls/digital meetings with potential clients
  • Taking accommodation reservations, such as at a rental property or hotel
  • Booking seats in a training session that you are hosting

So what are the main options for taking bookings on your website?

There are 4 main options when it comes to taking bookings on your website. It largely depends on your budget, as well as your business model, as to which will suit you best.

Option 1: Forms & Manual Confirmation

For those just starting out, using forms is generally the quickest, simplest and cheapest way to take booking requests on your website. The main drawback with this is that your clients or customers can only really request a booking, and will need to wait for you to get the request and confirm your availability. There’s no option with this method to display a calendar of your bookable times, unless you put this information on your website manually, and update it as frequently as need be to stay accurate.

There are a huge number of free form plugins, including Contact Form 7, Caldera Forms, Ninja Forms and countless others. For more functionality and features, you may wish to consider a premium form plugin such as Gravity Forms or Typeforms, which offer some very funky features with conditional logical and special formatting effects.

If going with this method, you’d just want to display a disclaimer on your form somewhere that advises your clients that their booking request is tentative only, until you get in touch with them to confirm it.

Option 2: On-Site Software/Plugins

On-site software or plugins are a big step up from taking booking requests via forms, as this method will usually allow your clients to see your availability live on your website. This means they will be able to make bookings on the spot without waiting for your confirmation, and potentially even be able to pay for them online.

One of the main options in this arena is WooCommerce Bookings, which is an extension of the hugely popular WooCommerce online shop system for WordPress. You’ll find many other options to consider, however, depending on the specific features you need. Such options include Start Booking, BirchPress, WP Simple Booking Calendar and Easy Appointments.

All of these systems come as plugins, which you install directly on to your website. This means every part of the booking process will be controlled and managed on-site for complete integration. The benefit of this is a high level of control and customisation, but also comes with the downside of sometimes being quite complex to set up. You may also find certain features you need for your specific business are not available out of the box.

Option 3: Off-Site Software

Off-site software is by far the simplest and most cost-effective way to get the most features, without any setup hassles. Off-site means your booking system will not run directly on your website. Instead, you may have a “Book Now” button (or several) which will then link to a particular service or product that you would need to load into your chosen software.

Because it’s an off-site software, it’s likely going to be ready to go out of the box with no/very little set up, other than loading your products or services in. Such off-site options would include websites like EventBrite and Calendly. These services will help you show your clients live availability, as well as handle all of the payments for you – saving you a tonne of on-site setup.

Option 4: Custom Booking Software

For businesses that offer a particularly unique product or service, none of the options above may fit the bill quite closely enough. For those who can fit it in the budget, hiring a plugin developer to build custom booking software for you may be a viable option. Keep in mind that building custom software comes with challenges, and ongoing maintenance work will be necessary for the entire life of the software. This option will also take the longest time frame to get set up.

Plugin developers can be found across numerous websites such as Upwork and Codeable, or you may wish to hire a local development agency to handle it for you.

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