Easy Online Scheduling for WordPress With the Free Appointments Plugin

Easy Online Scheduling for WordPress With the Free Appointments Plugin

Setting up an appointment management solution on your website can be fiddly, not to mention expensive. Take the hassle out of scheduling bookings and manage them yourself with our free Appointments plugin – it will save you time and money and it’s a cinch to set up.

Giving visitors to your site the option to book their own appointments in a few clicks is a huge timesaver, especially if you’re currently accepting bookings manually over the phone or email.

In this article, we’ll look at Appointments in-depth, including how to set it up on a single WordPress site or Multisite network, its features and how you can customize it to suit your website.

Why Use Appointments?

Appointments is perfect for any individual, business or group that needs to schedule time, such as:

  • Consultants
  • Freelancers
  • Web designers or developers
  • Tattoo artists
  • Spas
  • Hair salons
  • Photographers
  • Sales executives
  • Life coaches
  • Physicians
  • Realtors
  • Parent-teacher meetings

The bottom line: If you currently manage appointments and clients manually, Appointments is the plugin for you.

What Can Appointments Do For Me?

Appointments is a powerful, flexible and feature-rich plugin that enables you to accept, set and manage your bookings automatically, and all from the comfort of your WordPress site.

Booking appointments and making transactions is super easy.
Booking appointments and making transactions is super easy.

The free version of Appointments ships with an impressive feature set:

  • Book appointments in three clicks
  • Manage clients, staff and bookings
  • Supports multiple break times
  • Set unavailable dates and times
  • Collect payments automatically
  • Calendar customization and styling
  • Integrates with Google Calendar
  • Manage appointments in Google Calendar
  • Easy payments through PayPal
  • Login with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and WordPress
  • MarketPress and Membership 2 Pro integration
  • Collect deposits on booking
  • Create services and add staff members
  • Email confirmations and reminders
  • Book appointments up to one year in advance
  • Easy integration for any theme with shortcodes
  • Form autofill for repeat clients
  •  Too many features to list them all

When you’re ready to step things up a few notches, the premium version Appointments+ is only a simple upgrade away.

Customizations Made Easy

If you’ve got a whole team of people working with you, managing multiple sales and time slots can be a real hassle. With Appointments, you can set customizable profiles for your staff members and display their available time slots to clients right on your site. This is enormously useful for streamlining bookings and managing internal scheduling.

A finished and styled appointments calendar
Customize calendars to maintain consistency.

You can customize your calendars with CSS to match your branding and maintain visual consistency.

Clients get an instant visual overview of what times are available and can easily book the time slot that suits them – much simpler than going back and forth over email or on the phone.

Clients can also click on any service offered by your business to view the entire list of your available team members at any given time. This enables customers to quickly find their perfect fit and enables you to clearly list team members based on specific services provided.

Smooth Integration with Google Calendar

The checkbox to save the appointment to Google Calendar is selected during the booking process.
Clients can save appointments to their Google Calendar.

Appointments enables admins and clients to work with a tool they’re likely already familiar with – Google Calendar. As a site owner, it saves you extra custom development work or messing about with APIs.

For your clients, it’s a simple one-tick process prior to booking to add the appointment to their own Google Calendar.

You can also take things a little further and integrate more fully with Google Calendar if required. This requires a little more effort on your part but, once complete, enables you and your clients to make appointment edits from Google Calendar and have them reflect on your live site immediately – a pretty handy option to have available.

Getting Started With Appointments

First thing’s first, you need to install and activate the Appointments plugin.

If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our guides: Installing WordPress Plugins and Activating WordPress Plugins Network-Wide.

It’s also a good idea to backup your site before making any changes or create a local installation to safely try out the Appointments plugin.

For this tutorial, I’ve created a fictional business called Dream Design and Development. I’m going to set up free consultations as well as different paid appointment type to touch base with clients for each stage of a project. I’m also going to add fictional staff members to manage and provide the consultations and meetings.

I’ll also customize the style of the calendar and appointment page to suit my business and theme.

Create Custom Pages

Once Appointments is installed and activated, start by creating a few custom pages to enhance the appointment booking process. You can be as detailed or sparse as you would like depending on your specific needs.

Here are the basic pages you need to create:

  • Booking Page – As the name suggests, this is where your clients can schedule a time to speak with you.
  • Booking Confirmation – This page lets your clients know their appointment has been successfully booked and can provide additional relevant information.
  • Cancellations – If your clients need to cancel, this is the page they can access to make it happen.

Now go to Appointments > Shortcodes to pick the options relevant to you, then add the shortcodes to the new pages you just created. After updating the page, visitors should be able to see the content generated by the codes.

The Appointment plugin's Shortcodes page.
You can add both simple and advanced options with shortcodes.

There aren’t just basic shortcodes you can use. Most of them have advanced and specific features to display exactly what you want.

For example, you could display a monthly schedule of all available appointments with [app_monthly_schedule] or use the [app_services] shortcode to list all the available kinds of appointments.

You could also get more specific by defining options as well. On this page, each shortcode is included with a list of customizations you can make.

Instead of just showing the weekly schedule with [app_schedule], for example, you could edit it to only display the schedule of one of your staff by entering their ID into the shortcode. If the staff’s ID was five, the shortcode to use should look like this: [app_schedule worker="5"].

You can also define a CSS class to add custom styling in the settings which is covered later on. With the previous example in mind, you could add a class by typing something similar to [app_schedule worker="5" class="custom-class"].

With this same shortcode, you could also display a message to logged in users or visitors, add a title to the schedule, a preferred date range to display and a lot more. With all these extra options, it’s not difficult to arrange the plugin to work exactly how you would like.

If you decide to create your own bookings page, here’s an example of what you could include with instructions for visitors to help create a smooth booking experience:

I’ve included the [app_login] shortcode for clients who have an account. This shortcode will give you the option of offering a discount once clients are logged in. I also added [app_paypal] to accept payments through – you guessed it – PayPal.

My clients will be able to select one of the types of consultations I offer with [app_services], a calendar with the available time slots will be displayed with [app_monthly_schedule] and a button will appear so my clients can switch to view my calendar in advance, one month at a time with [app_pagination month="1" date="0"].

You can also add information about your consultations by customizing the [app_services] shortcode to include a description of the service or even a staff member. You can also choose which order your consultations are listed and if you’d like to display a thumbnail of a featured image.

Your confirmation page could display important details about where the consultation will be held and other relevant information. You can also choose to have a copy of this emailed to your clients upon a successful booking in the settings.

You can even display your client’s currently booked consultations with the shortcode [app_my_appointments].

You can also allow automatic cancellations, but you will need to add a parameter to this shortcode. It will look something like this: [app_my_appointments allow_cancel="1"].

Whether or not you choose to allow your customers to cancel consultations on their own is up to you and you can toggle the options for it on the settings page.

Finally, your cancellation page could simply have a bit of text confirming the consultation has been deleted and refunded. You could also add a button to book another session in case the cancellation was a mistake.

Once you have customized the pages you need for your clients to book appointments with you, you’re ready to set up the inner workings of the Appointments plugin.

Configuring the Settings

Go to Appointments > Settings in the admin dashboard to reveal a whole slew of options. You should also see tips to walk you through the settings proccess.

The settings page
The options for the Appointments plugin are numerous.

If the number of options seems overwhelming, don’t worry. The auto tour guide is really helpful at helping you become familiar with all the settings and how to use them for your site and business.

Go ahead and run through the tour.

Here are some specific settings you need to make bookings as automatic as possible while also fitting the look of your site.

Choosing Colors and Custom CSS

In the Display Settings, there are options to customize the look and feel of your calendar.

Beside Color Set, select Custom from the drop down box. In the text fields directly below, either enter the color codes for the colors you would like to use or click on them and choose a color from the picker that appears.

The display settings with custom colors selected and the color picker revealed.
The display settings with custom colors selected and the color picker revealed.

Next to Additional CSS Rules, you can add your custom CSS for the classes you defined in your shortcodes earlier.

When you’re finished, click the Save Settings button at the bottom of the page to keep your changes.

Adding Services for Booking

You may have everything styled just the way you like it, but you’re not quite done yet. You still need to add the services you and your staff are going to provide for your clients to book.

Go to the Services tab on the settings page and enter the title of your first service in the text field. This is what your clients and staff see so make sure it’s a user-friendly name.

The "Services" page in the settings with sample options enetered
You can add the different appointment types you want to offer.

Under Capacity, enter the amount of people that can book the same appointment. In most cases, this number is usually one, but can be useful for group consults so you can sell to more people at once to save on time and resources, such as for webinars.

Enter the length of time of the appointment under Duration and the Price. You can also select a page with full details about what the appointment entails under the Description page drop down box.

Click the Add New Service button at the top to create an additional service and when you’re done, don’t forget to click the Save Services button at the bottom.

You’re limited to two types of appointments unless you upgrade to the premium version, Appointments+ and so for my fictional site design business, I chose to offer a free consultation as well as a paid progress update appointment.

Adding Staff Members

Now go to the Service Providers tab on the settings page and click the Add New Service Provider button. A form should dynamically appear where you can select the username of an existing member of the site.

Adding a new staff member
You can add staff members to fulfill scheduled appointments.

You can click the Dummy? checkbox if you would like to receive confirmation emails (you can specify the email address where you would like confirmation emails to go in the Appointments > General tab). This is useful if you would like to test out your settings before letting visitors book their appointments.

If you would like to increase the price of appointments if clients choose the staff member you’re adding, you can enter the amount to charge on top of the base fee you already set in the Additional Price text field.

Next, click the Service Provided field to reveal a list of the services you have already created. Click the checkbox for the services you would like the staff member to offer. Remember that you need to select at least one for the user to be saved.

Finally, you can select a page with a biography of the staff member in the Bio page field. When you’re finished, don’t forget to click the Save Service Providers button.

By now, you’re almost done and your scheduling page should look awesome and just the way you intended.

Finished and styled appointments calendar that has colors to match the site design.
Finished and styled appointments calendar that has colors to match the site design.

You can also manage the hours of operation for staff members under the Working Hours tab. This is also where you can schedule breaks by simply toggling the drop down menus.

Similarly, you can also block off entire days or date ranges for events such as holidays under the Exceptions tab.

Sometimes, you may need to add appointments manually so let’s take a look at how you would do that.

How to Add Appointments

Click on Appointments > Appointments and you’ll see a list appear on the screen of all your current appointments. They’re categorized into four sections:

  1. Active appointments
  2. Pending appointments
  3. Completed appointments
  4. Removed appointments

When you click on one of the four categories, a detailed list of appointments will appear showing you information about the client, service, provider and status – along with the date and time of the appointment.

To add a new appointment, click on the Add New button at the top of the Appointments screen.

From here, you can manually add the details of your new appointment in the respective boxes and save them to your appointment calendar.

The form for adding a new appointment.
You can easily add appointments manually additionally to front end scheduling for clients.

The new appointment entry form is divided into three sections that are pretty straightforward, but let’s look at each of them individually:

  • Client: The client section requires you to enter information about the client who is booking appointments with your business. All you have to do is enter user type, credentials, and contact information. By default, the user type is set to Not registered user.
  • Service: This is where you choose your service and provider. These dropdowns pull from values you can manage via Settings.
  • Appointments: Appointment info is obviously at the core of the process here. Enter start date, time and select the status of the appointment here. There’s also a place for Notes in case you need to provide extra information about your appointment.

Once you’re done, click the Save / Update button to add the appointment to your schedule.

Viewing Transactions for Appointments

Appointments are all well and good, but they mean nothing without some attached payments at the end of the day. The transactions screen is where you can get an overview of money coming in.

Click Appointments > Transactions from the admin panel and you’ll see all payments and deposits received via PayPal. These are split into three categories:

  1. Recent transactions
  2. Pending transactions
  3. Future transactions
Transactions are recorded through PayPal.
Transactions are recorded through PayPal.

The plugin doesn’t enable users (admin or clients) to add transactions or make changes to them manually. Everything is automatically retrieved via PayPal to ensure security and accuracy.

Need More Features?

Appointments is a free plugin that’s a great fit for businesses starting off. But as your business starts to grow, you may well find yourself needing more advanced features. That’s where Appointments+ comes into play.

Let’s take a quick look at how the respective features of the free and premium versions stack up.

Features Appointments Appointments+
Clients can book appointments
Customizable Appointment Calendar
MarketPress and Membership Integration
Google Calendar Integration
Confirmation/reminder emails for clients
Collect payments and deposits via PayPal
Blackout dates and times ×
Display weekly and monthly schedules ×
Gravatar support ×
Limit appointment booking ×
Form autofill for repeat clients ×

Is Appointments Right for You?

The free version of Appointments is a great starting point as you roll out service offerings on your site. Once your staff grows and you’re offering multiple services, a move to Appointments+ starts to look ever more appealing since it provides unlimited staff and services.

It also makes things easier on the user with features such as form autofill, which speeds up bookings.

Providing easy to parse weekly and monthly schedules is another incentive for users to quickly make their selections. Gravatar support puts a face to the name and the ability to set “blackout” dates and times (for when you know you’ll be unavailable) is incredibly handy.

Shared, real-life resources (such as rooms and vehicles) are inevitable in some businesses and defining them up front becomes important in terms of scheduling. The premium version enables you to get in-depth by allowing you to set limits on appointments based on minimum common capacity.

To see many of these features in action, check out one of our other posts, Using Appointments+ to Setup and Streamline Client Consultations.

Whichever stage your business is at, moving from Appointments to Appointments+ is simple and seamless so you’ll be able to make the switch on your own terms when the time comes.

Are you already using Appointments or considering giving it a go? Do you have any tips and tricks to share? If you have any questions about Appointments’ features or how to set it up, leave a comment below.

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