Once, years ago, when I was regularly going to the same hair stylist every month for a haircut, she discovered that I was a tech geek. She was actually the owner of the salon, and during one particular visit, she started telling me about how difficult it was to manage paper-based schedules. She was hoping to come up with a digital way to make appointments for clients when they would call or walk in the door and ask for one.
At the time, I was already overwhelmed with a laundry list of projects and didn’t want the hassle of promising something that I wasn’t certain I could do. Of course, being addicted to programming and web-design, I couldn’t stop thinking about the best approach to accomplishing such a task.
Not only that, but I would imagine there are countless small businesses that find themselves in such a predicament – with the need to streamline the “booking” of clients with a digital solution. Hopefully, it’s also a solution that requires virtually no maintenance. In my opinion, a web based application is obviously the way to go – since it can be accessed anywhere and from any computer. And of course when it comes to web-based apps, my favorite platform is always PHP and mySql.
Although I don’t go to the stylist anymore (in my absent-mindedness, I missed too many appointments), but I did eventually discover an interesting solution to the small business booking dilemma – a neat, open-source PHP application called phpScheduleIt.
A Web-Based App to Schedule Anything
While this application is best suited for scheduling appointments or booking reservations at a hotel or restaurant, it can also be used to schedule resources, like conference rooms or time on the library computer.
Anyone that knows me well knows that I love the simplicity and ease of installation that comes with PHP apps. The beauty of this application is that it’s so easy to set up and is amazingly versatile.
As with most PHP applications (at least the good ones), installation is a very simple 3 or 4 step process. First, you transfer all of the phpScheduleIt files onto your web host, inside the folder where you want the application to reside. Then, edit the config.dist.php file with the mySql database information. You can set up the mySql database using phpMyAdmin either before or after editing this file, but don’t forget to create it or the app won’t work.
You may also want to consider setting up the mail server information if you want to allow the application to send emails. So long as you have an available smtp email service you can use, you’re good to go.
When you’re ready to set up the application, just run the install by using your browser and going to http://your-web-domain/phpScheduleIt/install/
The install script first asks you to confirm the mySQL settings that it gathered from the config file you edited.
Click “Run Installation”, and if your server has the required PHP and mySQL version and plugins enabled, it should work fine. When it’s completed, just visit http://your-web-domain/phpScheduleIt to open up the application.
The place where you’ll want to start setting up the shell for your scheduling system is under “Application Management”. This is where you’ll set everything up, starting with “Schedules”.
The application will ask you to create a new schedule. Keep in mind that this is an entire schedule that can contain numerous resources. Those resources could be conference rooms, workers that have their own clients, restaurant tables, or anything else. So classify the “schedule” as sort of a massive container for all of those resources. A library might have one schedule for each computer cluster of individual computers, or a beauty salon might have one schedule for each branch location.
Once the schedules are created, you’ll want to start filling them with resources by selecting “Resources” under Application Management. Here, you can list each of the individual resources that will need its own schedule. This can be individual computers, tables, hair stylists, conference rooms, etc. Basically, any resource in your business or organization where you’ll need to book clients, you could add as a resource.
A neat feature is that the software also lets you personalize each resource with its own image, contact information, and any description or notes that you want to include. Add a snapshot of each stylist, or show an image of the conference room.
Now that you’ve created your schedule and loaded it with all of the resources, the final step is to add your bookings when clients call. Or, you can provide multiple people with access to the system so that they can add bookings – such as people in charge of scheduling conference rooms or taking restaurant reservations. To make a booking, you just click “Schedule” and then “Bookings”.
You’ll see the entire schedule as a week’s snapshot at a time. To book a time, all you have to do is click on one of the boxes that have the “reservable” color code. Every resource schedule can be completely customized. You can block off entire blocks of time as “unreservable”. Once you’ve submitted a reservation, the block of time is shaded in blue.
Reservations are fast to set up. You just fill in the start and end time, add a title and description, and you can even add other users in the system to participate in the reserved activity.
The overall schedule will show everything at a glance. The blue reservations show who booked it, and if you hover your mouse over the reserved block of time, you’ll see the title and description that were included at the time of the booking.
If I remember correctly, the stylist ended up paying some web designer a hefty chunk of cash to put together a website, and it never did feature the electronic reservation system that she had dreamed about.
The thing is, it really isn’t that difficult to do. For someone familiar with PHP-based applications, installation is less than 15 minutes, and the entire setup and configuration only takes as long as it takes you to type in all of the resources that you want to schedule. You can have a system like this up and running at your business in no time.
Give phpScheduleIt a try and let us know if it helped you solve your reservation dilemma. Do you feel like it’s a robust enough approach for a business? Share your thoughts about it in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Reserved Table via Shutterstock