Scheduling meetings can be tricky when you run a small business, especially when you include people from outside your business. If you use Microsoft Office, learn how to share your Outlook calendar.
Here’s a quick guide, plus tips on two free apps that help you set up meetings quickly.
Trying to schedule meetings between multiple people on different calendar/email platforms can be like playing ping pong with three or four balls in play all at once. You go back and forth, exchanging emails and trying to get everyone to agree on a time for a conference call.
Email alone simply isn’t the best tool for setting up meetings. The good news is, you’re probably already using software that has flexible, collaborative, easy-to-use calendar features built in. The calendar sharing feature in Microsoft Outlook is a good example.
Because so many small businesses today are using Outlook on the web for business (aka Office 365 BusinessPro) we’re going to focus on that, but also see the box below with links to instructions for desktop versions of Outlook.
How to Share Your Calendar in Outlook -- Without Sharing More Than You Want
Sharing your Outlook calendar from the business version of Office 365 works for people inside or outside your organization. (WARNING: Long step-by-step instructions can look daunting, but once you’ve done these things once or twice, this is a piece of cake.)
Here’s how it works:
Click the App Launcher icon in the upper left of your screen.
At the top of the screen, click “Share.”
You’ll get a drop-down box with all of your calendars (if you only have one calendar, its default name will be “Calendar”). Click on the calendar you want to share. You can choose any calendars you’ve created, but not calendars created by other users.
Enter the name or email address of the person with whom you want to share your calendar in the box, “Send a sharing invitation email.”
Choose the level of access to your calendar and the information on scheduled events you want this person to have.
Can view when I’m busy: Shows only the time slots that are booked — no other details.
Can view titles and locations: Whatever is entered for the event title and location will be visible.
Can view all details: The person with whom you’ve shared this calendar can see everything you can see on this calendar. Keep in mind that you can mark calendar items “Private,” so even people who share your calendar will only see the time of the event.
Can edit: Same as “Can view all details,” and the user can edit your calendar. This is only available to people who are part of your organization’s Outlook account (it can’t be someone whose email is not within your organization’s domain).
Delegate: Same as “Can edit,” but the user can also send and respond to meeting requests on your behalf. Again (only available when sharing with people in your organization). You can only choose Delegate for your primary calendar, not for any projects calendars you’ve created.
Following these instructions generates an email invitation the recipient can accept. (Note: This may not always work for recipients who are on free Outlook.com accounts, which are generally personal accounts, rather than business accounts.)
Another Way to Protect Privacy: Create and Link to a Separate Calendar
Rather than sharing your primary Outlook calendar, you can also create separate calendars to share. For example, you share a specific project calendar with the key players involved, such as your internal team, the client, subcontractors, service providers, etc.
Once you’ve created a specific project calendar, you can simply send a link generated by Outlook that anyone inside or outside of your organization can click on to see the calendar.
Here’s how that process works:
In the “My calendars” list to the left of your Outlook calendar, right-click the calendar you want to share, then click “Permissions.”
In the drop-down menu under “Outside organization -> Public calendar,” choose the level of access you want to give others.
(PRO TIP: If this is only a limited project calendar, you may want to allow viewers to see all event details. But remember: Anyone can use the link you’re publishing to view this calendar, so if this is your primary calendar, allowing viewers to see your availability only is usually the smart choice.)
Now that you’ve created your public project calendar, you can email a link that allows people to view a snapshot of the current calendar or to subscribe to it. Follow these steps to get those URLs:
For the public calendar URL: In the “My calendars” list to the left of your Outlook calendar, right-click the calendar you want to share, then click “Permissions.” Under “Outside organization -> Public calendar,” click “View calendar” to open a web page of the calendar. Copy the URL.
For the calendar subscription URL: Same as the public calendar steps, but when you get to “Outside organization.-> Public calendar,” put your cursor over it, and in the menu that appears, click “Subscribe to calendar.” Copy the URL that ends in .ics.
FindTime App: Easy Tool for Helping Multiple Attendees Agree on a Meeting Time
Even with the various methods of controlling what others may see and do with your calendar, you may simply not want to share it. That can get complicated.
To engage multiple people inside or outside your company to schedule meetings easily, consider FindTime. Use it to propose more than one potential meeting time, then let the invitees vote on the best time. The app automatically sets the meeting time based on the results.
FindTime is a free app (or Office “add-in”) made by Microsoft. Choose it from the Office add-in menu or, for Office 365, install it from this page or an app store.
After it’s installed, when you’re setting up a meeting, you’ll see the FindTime icon near the top of the Create Event screen in Outlook for Office 365, or on the right side of the ribbon in other versions of Outlook.
As with Outlook’s Scheduling Assistant, FindTime will scan the schedules of your invitees to look for common, open time slots. It’s easy to see from the color-coded stick figures which time slots are green — open — for everyone. Pick some times and send the invitation.
(Note: If an invitee is outside your organization and hasn’t shared a calendar with you, FindTime’s color-coded stick figure will be gray, so you know that person may not have the times you chose open.)
More Information About Sharing Outlook and Office 365 Calendars
You can include details in the email about locations, phone numbers, conference call codes, etc.
You’ll get a notice as each invitee choose a preferred meeting day and time. Once all votes are in, FindTime automatically sets the meeting, according to which option got the most votes.
The invitation also allows invitees to suggest other times and add other invitees, and you get notices of all these activities, so you can control the process if necessary.
It’s a pretty darn slick process, overall.
Calendly: For Quick Scheduling of One-on-One Meetings
For many small business owners and execs, the majority of their meetings are with one person from outside the business. A useful tool for setting up these meetings is the free app, Calendly.
Calendly connects with your calendar — Outlook or otherwise — to block out times when you’re not available.
It works for setting up meetings with individuals or groups, but it’s particularly well-suited to one-on-ones.
Just send your invitee a link to your Calendly site. First, they can choose the type of meeting they want from a menu of choices you’ve set up, such as a 15-minute phone meeting, or a 60-minute meeting at your office.
You can also send a link to a specific type of meeting, such as a 45-minute job interview via Skype.
Once your invitee has chosen the type of meeting, a simple page appears to choose a day, and then a time. In just a few clicks, the meeting is set and on both of your calendars, and you both get an email confirmation.
Be Sure Your Calendars are Configured Correctly for Your Business
FindTime, Calendly, or other tools that connect to your Outlook or Office 365 calendar may not be able to do everything they’re made to do, depending on how your calendar, network, operating system, etc. have been configured.
If you’re having trouble with calendaring functions or apps, it’s best to work with qualified IT support, rather than monkeying with deeper-level settings.
Calendaring tools have come a long way in recent years. Take a little time to test what you can do with them, and you can save a huge amount of time going forward — time you’ll probably spend in meetings.