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How to add an online booking system to your website?

How to add an online booking system to your website?

Bookings are a huge part of any service related business. Whether you're a trades-person filling up your week with jobs, or a restaurant with a set number of tables to fill each night, the simple booking is a fundamental part of doing business.

At Unspun, we know a thing or two about online bookings. We've built systems for some of the UK's biggest and appointment or events-based businesses. Take a look at the our work page to see which projects we're talking about.

Adding a booking system into your website can be a great way to boost sales, but beware, it's not always easy. Our guide aims to draw on our experience to highlight the pitfalls and common mistakes people make, and explain the right way to integrate a booking system with your website.

How do I add a booking system to my website?

Ensure you're ready to take bookings

The very first thing you need to consider before adding an online booking system into your website is whether you're able to deliver on bookings once they start to arrive. When it comes to launch time, your businesses' reputation is on the line, and having bookings flooding in without a way to fulfil them is a recipe for disaster. You don't need everything in place, but you do at the very least need a plan, and a realistic timeline between now and the launch of your online booking system thought out.

Identify where your bookings come from

Most service based businesses will receive bookings from a number of sources. A dental practice, for example, might take bookings via the phone, via walk ins at reception, and via regular repeating treatment plans. Adding an online booking system will be an additional source of bookings, so when it comes to integrating one with your website, it's important to think carefully about how it will fits alongside your other sources for bookings, and how it's going to integrate with them.

Plan your booking system administration

Given it's likely that you'll have more than one source of bookings, it's important to plan how you'll keep track of them all. Let's say your business partner is out on the road and you're stuck on reception. If the two of you get separate calls requesting the 11am timeslot the next day, you've either got to co-ordinate with each other, or unpick a potentially messy situation when you tell a customer you've double booked them. The answer is to have a central source of truth, where all bookings are recorded. The more accessible, and up to date that source of truth is that is, the better. If the business partner from before can quickly pull up a calendar on their mobile while on a call with a client and see which slots are free, sticky situations are avoided, and the customer receives great service. 

Deciding what should be the central source of truth comes down to what works best for you. Some will prefer it to be a big book in the front of the shop, and to have all incoming bookings go through reception. Others might use shared calendars, or subscription-based booking systems. Whatever the choice, it's important to consider your workflows and how your staff are going to interact with the system.

Consider bespoke vs off the shelf systems

When it comes to selecting a booking system, they generally fall into one of two categories. Bespoke vs off the shelf systems. Off the shelf systems are pre-built solutions that can be customised to a certain degree. They offer various features and integrations, and generally come with a monthly subscription fee. These systems are a great option for many businesses, particularly those starting out with online bookings. They're relatively easy to set up and integrate with your website, and many offer free trials so you can try before you buy.

Bespoke booking systems are built entirely from scratch to meet the exact needs of your business. This gives you the ultimate flexibility and control, but it also comes with a much higher price tag. Bespoke systems are a good option for larger businesses with complex booking requirements, or those who integrate their booking system with other bespoke software they use.

Here's a quick comparison table to help you decide which is right for you:

FeatureBespoke SystemOff-the-Shelf System
CostMuch higherLower monthly subscription fee
FlexibilityCompletely customisableCan be customised to a certain degree
Set up timeLongerFaster and easier to set up
MaintenanceOngoing maintenance requiredUsually little to no maintenance required

Integrate your booking system with your website

Once you've chosen a booking system, you'll need to integrate it with your website. Off-the-shelf systems typically offer a variety of integration options, such as plugins for popular website builders or APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow for more complex integration.

While off-the-shelf systems are generally easy to integrate, it's important to be aware of their limitations. Integration features may be limited, and the aesthetic of the booking system might not perfectly match the look and feel of your website. Additionally, some off-the-shelf systems may require coding knowledge to achieve a fully customized integration.

Here are some things to consider when integrating your booking system:

  • User experience:  The booking process should be smooth and user-friendly for your customers. Make sure the booking form is easy to navigate and  completes  quickly.
  • Data security:  Ensure your chosen booking system has robust security measures in place to protect your customers' data.
  • Mobile responsiveness:  In today's mobile-first world, it's crucial that your booking system is responsive and functions seamlessly on all devices, including smartphones and tablets.

If these limitations are a concern for your business, or if you have complex booking requirements, a bespoke booking system might be a better option. Bespoke systems can be fully integrated with your website, ensuring a seamless user experience and a perfect match for your branding. However, as mentioned previously, bespoke systems come with a significantly higher price tag.

Ultimately, the best choice for you will depend on your budget and your specific needs.

How much does a booking system cost?

The cost of a booking system can vary depending on the features you need and whether you choose a bespoke or off-the-shelf system. Off-the-shelf systems typically  start at around £10 per month, with more advanced features costing extra. Bespoke systems can cost  thousands  of pounds to develop, depending on the complexity of your needs.

What's the best booking system for websites?

There's no single "best" booking system  for all websites. The best system for you will depend on the specific needs of your business. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Your budget: How much are you willing to spend on a booking system? The size and complexity of your business: Do you need a simple system for a few bookings a week, or a more complex system to manage a high volume of bookings? The features you need: What features are essential for your business?  Consider things like appointment scheduling, online payments,  cancellations,  and  integrations with other software you use. Ease of use: How easy is the system to set up and use for both you and your customers?

Can a small business have a booking system?

Absolutely! In fact, online booking systems can be a particularly  powerful tool for small businesses. They can help you save time by automating the booking process,  improve efficiency  by streamlining your workflow, and  increase sales  by making it easier for customers to book appointments with you.

If you're a small business owner considering adding a booking system to your website,  we recommend starting with a free trial of an off-the-shelf system. This will allow you to experiment with different features and see how a booking system can benefit your business.

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