That time you and a source or an editor exchanged 15 emails before finding a time that works for both of you? So 2015.
Last year, after several lengthy email exchanges, I began experimenting with a new system. Rather than comparing schedules over email, I now send contacts a link via the free version of Youcanbook.me, which is synced with my Google calendar. Contacts can look at my schedule and book a time that works for them. This simple tweak to my process has freed up time I would normally spend emailing, which means more time to write.
Katherine Reynolds Lewis is an independent journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. She covers parenting, education and careers and has seen similar results with online booking software. “It cuts out a lot of annoying back and forth emails,” she says. “You offer three time slots and by the time someone gets back to you, you’ve already booked one of them.”
Tania Casselle, a New Mexico-based freelance writer, editor and coach who uses TimeTrade.com, says the software has ensured that she has the three crucial pieces of information she needs for an interview or coaching session: date, time and preferred mode of contact (usually a Skype username or phone number).
Before, Casselle says, contacts would “give the day but wouldn’t give the phone number, and everyone’s irritated and off on the wrong foot before you even talk.” Now her sources and coaching students must enter all three components before they can book, and they get a reminder email with the details. “I have noticed that fewer people flake on the calls,” she says. “It’s easier for people when they’ve done official booking.”
A slew of both free and paid online tools offers similar scheduling capabilities. Here’s how to find the right one and make this strategy work for you.
Test it on a friend first.
Many scheduling tools offer a free 30-day trial or limited free features, so you can experiment without committing. Before you unleash a new tool on editors or sources, Casselle suggests that you “try it out with your friends first when you’re arranging to meet for coffee.” In most programs, you can customize the booking page and confirmation or reminder emails to suit your needs. Ask your friends for feedback about whether the booking and confirmation process created any confusion.
Keep your calendar updated.
One of freelancing’s great perks is that you don’t have a boss watching your every move. You can take a long lunch or go for an afternoon swim if you don’t have impending deadlines. But if you don’t keep your calendar updated, someone might schedule a phone interview during time you’d planned to spend away from your desk. Lewis works longer days on Mondays and Tuesdays, so she adjusted the settings on her calendar to reflect those work hours. “I have to make sure to block out times I’m going to the gym,” she says.
Present it as a convenience.
I was initially concerned that others might see an automated tool as impersonal. But many sources and publicists get frustrated by lengthy email chains, so I couch it as a benefit to them with a note: “Thanks for agreeing to an interview. You can choose your preferred day and time here.” Many have commented on how much easier it is to see my availability in real time and sync with their calendars rather than emailing days and times.
In one case, Lewis contacted a national member organization and asked to speak with a few state offices to get local examples. The media relations person forwarded her booking link to all 52 offices, and Lewis was flooded with more interviews than she could possibly use, creating frustration on both sides. As a result, she finds that the software system works best when booking an interview with a specific individual. She starts with an email requesting an interview and then sends the link once they’ve agreed.
Give clear instructions.
Most online scheduling tools are designed to be simple and intuitive, but some people may need more explicit instructions. “Make sure in whatever communication you have that it says clearly anything they need to know,” Casselle says, including deadlines. Sometimes, people don’t realize that the booking tool automatically detects their local time zone and adjusts accordingly. Because of that, Casselle will include a gentle reminder so those she’s meeting with won’t have to make adjustments or ask about time zones.
Susan Johnston is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, business and lifestyle topics.