The Calendly Replacement You’ve Been Looking For


By: Drew McManus

In: Arts Admin, Project & Time Management

If you are like me, online meeting schedulers are one of those tools you can’t imagine what life was like before you started using it. One of the big providers in that sector is Calendly, which offers a range of free to paid options. Casual users will likely get along with the free version just fine, but those needing features only available in paid plans will rapidly discover their tiered service levels are designed to force you into paying a lot more than you really should.

There are three fee-based tiers: Essentials, Professional, and Teams. Many of the most common upgrade features are broken across all three, thereby trapping you into an upsell path. Moreover, Calendly’s feature comparison plan only includes a portion of overall customizations, so there’s no way to discover every limitation until after you’ve paid for an upgrade.

I’ve always found this approach frustrating as it relies on sunk-cost fallacy: you already put the time and effort into setting up the account and learning the platform so you don’t want to go through all of that again. Instead, you just pay for the upgrade. That is downright predatory and not something consumers should reward.

For example, as a paid Essentials tier user, I discovered there was no way to customize the default calendar title without a 50% cost increase to the Professional tier. The default title included the names of primary attendees and the company name assigned to the Calendly account. This left a tangible pain point of updating every event title manually to better reflect the purpose of the meeting.

The kick in the pants is there’s no way to know that limitation until after paying for an upgrade.

ZCal Is A Viable Calendly Alternative

Fortunately, fellow ArtsHacker, Ceci Dadisman, turned me onto ZCal, a direct competitor to Calendly. In fact, if you already use Calednly, there’s next to zero learning curve as their entire user flow for both organizers and end users is very similar. They even maintain a dedicated Calendly comparison page that highlights more of the pain points like the one mentioned above.

ZCal is free to use and plans on releasing paid features at some point in 2023. At the same time, they assert the current free plan, and all current features, will remain available indefinitely.

After using the service for nearly a month, I’m convinced it is a superior option to Calendly’s paid Essentials plan. Here are some of the standout differences:

  • Customizable calendar event titles
  • Connect to an unlimited number of calendars. Super helpful if you maintain mutually exclusive work and personal calendars where both have events throughout the traditional 9-5 work weekday.
  • Zapier Connectivity.
  • Custom redirect URL after successful booking.
  • Customize email notifications.
  • Group booking.

If one or more of those falls into your list of must-have features, give ZCal a look before making a decision.

ZCal Gripes

There aren’t many, but ZCal does have a few places it could stand to improve:

  1. The custom header image instructions provide clear information about dimensions and image format requirements, but even when following them to the letter, the image falls victim to #cropfail at some point. Until this improves, you’re better off uploading as generic of a background image as possible.
  2. Iconography is a bit outdated. This is more of a quibble than a pain point, but the icon library used in the online scheduler user interface along with email notifications if dated. They would be better served by using something like Google’s Material Design icon library.

Icons used throughout online booking.

Icons as used in email notifications.

Have you made the switch from Calendly to ZCalcal? If so, share your experiences. I’m sure readers would appreciate even more insight into pros/cons of making the switch.

Drew McManus
Drew McManus
In addition to my consulting business, I'm also the Principal of Venture Industries Online but don’t let that title fool you into thinking I'm just a tech geek. I bring 20+ years of global broad-based arts consulting experience to the table to help clients break the cycle of choosing one-size-fits-none solutions and instead, deliver options allowing them to get ahead of the tech curve instead of trying to catch up by going slower. With the vision of legacy support strategy and the delights of creative insights, my mission is to deliver a sophisticated next generation technology designed especially for the field of performing arts. The first step in that journey began in 2010 when The Venture Platform was released, a purpose-designed managed website development solution designed especially for arts organizations and artists. For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, lead a team of intrepid arts pros to hack the arts, lead an arts business incubator, and love a good coffee drink.
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