Summary: If you have a Google Apps Account, Google Calendar Appointments feature is the fastest way to manage your open office hours. Here I explain a few pros and cons, and offer a new alternative for those without Google Apps.
Update 8/20/2013 – Google currently has a bug in Appointments or is no longer supporting it. If you create another meeting on top of your “office hours” slot Google Appointments will still show you as available – you’ll have manually delete the Appointment slots. At SoHelpful we’re currently building our own scheduling system to overcome these limitations – you can try it.
In the last post of I discussed how I’m using Open Office Hours to engage with the great entrepreneurs who read my blog. In this issue I show you a fast way to get started.
Google Calendar Appointments
When I started offering office hours last year I followed Joel Gascoigne’s lead and used Google Appointments to manage my schedule. Unfortunately as I discovered while writing this post, this feature is now only available in Google Apps. (If you don’t have Google Apps I have some alternative suggestions below).
Google Appointments is designed for a teacher who wants to advertise office hours and allow students to book them – perfect for our purposes of helping and engaging our blog readers and customers.
- Fast setup, simple setup
- Uses my existing workflow
- Don’t have to learn a new tool
- Everyone sees local time
- Almost everyone has a Google Account
- Now requires Google Apps
- Limited, clunky features
- Forces people to login to Google
5-Minute, 3 Step Setup
1. Decide when and where you want office hours
I live in Beijing, China and have Skype calls with entrepreneurs around the world, so I have to offer slots in multiple time zones. If you’re just starting I suggest two, 1-hour blocks of time with 30-minute slots. For example, Friday afternoons from 3-4 and Tuesdays from 8-9. For the purposes of this example, I’m assuming 1 location – i.e. Skype or in person at your favorite coffee shop. Multiple locations requires multiple calendars as I discuss below.
2. Create Appointments in Google Calendar
First, try to create an event as you normally would but click on Appointment Slots.
Next, setup the blocks of time, instructions, and slots. Copy the link before hitting Save.
After I save, this is what I see in my Gmail Calendar (I’m sharing my Google Apps Calendar with my Gmail Account).
3. Share the Calendar link
I like to work face-to-face with entrepreneurs in Beijing as well as worldwide over Skype. Unfortunately, Google Appointments is pretty limited, so you have to create a new calendar in Google Apps and follow the same steps above.
Like you, I’m always looking for ways to optimize my time. Since I’m in Google Calendar anyway I can move individual blocks of office hours time, cancel them, send out reminders, etc. I don’t have to log into a new system. Whenever someone emails me with a complex question better handled on a call I point them to my email signature or Startup Help page. When I meet people at local meetups I invite them to block out a slot for coffee.
Really, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it works than threads of “when are you free?” emails that go on for days.
Don’t Have Google Apps?
Google Appointments is far from a perfect solution. I particularly don’t like forcing people who come to my blog into Google login screen. I also would like to automatically send them email reminders and suggestions for optimizing our time together.
Here is another alternative, setup instructions for YouCanBook.me.
But You Want More, Right?
These steps will help you setup open office hours. If you’re experience is like mine and Joel Gascoigne’s you’ll meet great people, feel better about yourself, and slowly over months discover that helping others is paid back to you 10x in how much they help you.
But you’re still reading because you imagine talking to your blog readers and customers so personally and selflessly will set you apart from everyone else. You’re imagining more engaged, active readers of your blog and fans of your product. You think this might be a good step towards building your 1,000 True Fans – if so you may like to try my new startup soHelpful.me.
Yes, you guessed it. Just schedule some time with me and I’ll be happy to help.
Photo credit: Spinstah. Google Calendar circa 2006. Feels retro, doesn’t it?