Since we opened our first salon in 2005, computer software has always been high on the list of things that we know add massive value to the day-to-day running and success of the business. Not only can we manage the salon more effectively, we also discover new marketing opportunities with the data we are building.
But, it can be a minefield. Not only do many salon owners not really know which way to turn – they’re into beauty, not IT – but many salon software companies aren’t too worried about whether their solution is the right one for the salon – they just want the sale.
Now, I’m not really in the position to suggest which software you should go for, but I do want to share some advice based on my mistakes and learning from the past 9 years, bearing in mind I’ve just decided to move onto our third different system.
Yes, even though I think I am quite knowledgable about computers and software, I have still struggled to find the right salon software for me. Third time lucky hopefully.
1. Don’t Cut Costs
A salon computer system is central to your business so be prepared to invest money. Not just as a one off payment, but also with ongoing support and services. The value it offers is worth the ongoing commitment when you chose the right one, so don’t base your decision on cost alone. Too many people only seem to focus on the initial outlay rather than the money that it can create or save you. IE.
- Think how much you can charge your services out at per hour.
- Now think how much time per week you could save per week with the right sytem from text reminders / online bookings, etc. If you managed to work an extra 2 hours a week @ £40 an hour, that’s £2,080 per year extra income.
Choose A Software Company With Substance
If you are going to rely on your salon computer system, make sure you can rely on the people supplying the system. How old is the company? What references do they have? You could even run a credit check on them. Perhaps do some research on good and bad companies.
I once got involved in a conversation on Salon Geek about a specific supplier that I had been using at the time with our first computer system. It told a telling story about them as a business and the problems other salon owners were having.
For me, it was too late but it highlighted some scary points:
- The company had gone bust and changed names about three times.
- The software ‘upgrade’ they had offered was a brand new system which was inferior to the original. They were just supplying other peoples software making money on top so they didn’t care how good it was after the sale.
Choose A Company That Innovates
I’ve used iSalon for the past four years. In that time, the only real upgrades and changes I’ve seen made to the software benefit their company – not me. Meanwhile, I’ve watched other salons using different salon software to run their businesses bringing out their own Apps, offering Facebook bookings, etc. but I’ve been stuck in a rut and left behind.
In contrast, last year (2013) we had a demonstration of Phorest. I was impressed, but wanted to wait to buy it as we were tied into a contract. A year later, I had another demo and the number of new features was astonishing.
The way people use technology is changing rapidly- your software needs to adapt, and adapt, and adapt.
Cloud vs. Local
The cloud (a fancy name for the Internet) offers something different now for small salon businesses. Rather than rely on your own computer to run all the software and keep all the data, some software companies offer cloud solutions.
What this means is that the database (all your client records, bookings, etc.) doesn’t sit on your computer, but on a server on the Internet. You simply turn on your computer and it connects remotely.
As long as you have a decent broadband connection – fast enough and reliable enough – this is an obvious way to go in my opinion and here’s why from my experience.
Over the past four years, the computers in our three salons have had a few problems. Firstly, the actual PCs that were supplied weren’t very good (one of the engineers even told us that the model we had was renowned for breaking). Also, our beauty therapists are beauty therapists, not IT specialists or whizzes on a computer.
When the computer breaks, or goes down, it causes a massive disruption to the salon. Unfortunately for us, it’s happened a few times to many, creating a stressful couple of days at least.
Although the salon software backs up every three hours to the internet, if the computer breaks down, all the software and data is sitting on the computer in the salon, we are up the creak without a paddle.
This can seriously bring your salon to a halt. We have had scenarios where people are walking through the door and we don’t know who they are or why they are coming in because we can not access our data.
Sometimes, we’ve had to wait 48 hours to get back up and running. We’ve also had licensing issues (more on that below).
With our new salon software, the database is in the cloud – we just connect to it. So, if a computer goes down, we can plug in a laptop or other computer to access the same data quickly. No more relying on hardware on software in the salon.
This also takes the pressure of the salon staff as all backups are done remotely.
Check The Small Print
Typically, when you buy salon computer software you pay up front then sign an ongoing deal for support. When we bought our last computer system in 2010, the salesman did not tell me, or give me paperwork, about lengths of contracts. It turned out last year that there was a piece of paper on file (not signed by me or in my possession) that stipulates we had a five year support deal.
Another salon owner I spoke to yesterday (who has the same computer system) has seen their licence finish and then they’ve been signed up (without any knowledge to them) for another rolling 12 month contract, tying them in for another year.
Unless you are prepared to keep paying the monthly fees until the deal expires and change (which I am) or you can afford expensive lawyers, you tend to be handcuffed to these deals.
Get clarity up front on dates, costs and obligations relating to the salon software licensing deal – and get it in writing.
Software Licenses And What You Get For Your Money
Another horror story. Last week, one of our computers broke down (it was under our five year support agreement). It was replaced in 2 days by a loan unit. Meanwhile, a feature that I rely on heavily stopped working – the ability to log in remotely to the system to get reports.
When I called it in to the support team, I was told I would need to buy another license for the new computer as the old licence related to that computer. So, even though I am tied to a five year support contract, and have bought the extra piece of software already, I still need to re-buy it because my computer broke down. It’s so ridiculous, I almost find it funny.
Some salon software companies make most of their money after they’ve sold you the system – a bit like when you buy a cheap inkjet printer then have to keep paying for expensive inks.
The more questions you ask up-front about ongoing costs the better, because they can mount up. Whether it’s extra features, text message costs, support, or elements of the software that mean you must buy the extras from the software supplier. Get what you can in writing before you commit to anyone.
Take Your Time
My final piece of advice is to take your time in choosing your salon software. For every bad experience you hear, including mine, you’ll hear good experiences with the same software.
Look at comments made in forums like Salon Geek but also take some with a pinch of salt. In my experience, some software companies post good reviews about their own products.
Talk to other salon owners, meet a few suppliers – don’t feel like you are wasting anyones time because it is a big investment for you. Not just the financial outlay, but the fact that you are putting your eggs in a single basket with your data.
It needs to be the right choice for you on your terms.
Have you had any experience, horror stories or advice, feel free to comment below.