Choosing The Right Software For Your Beauty Salon

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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.

Data

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.

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About Author

Working in Hampshire (UK), myself and my wife have a beauty business. I'm the guy that sits in the office doing marketing and numbers. My experiences are based around these skills.

28 Comments

  1. I’m looking around at cloud based salon software but I want one that lets me still use it if my internet connection cuts out (like it always does). The only one I’ve found really is http://www.zuberri.com/ but that’s not even running yet and I really don’t want to wait ages until it is. Can you recommend anything??

  2. Hi Joanne, I would only ever make recommendations on stuff I’ve used so unfortunately can’t help. I will post it to the Facebook Page though as a question…. Craig

  3. I would recommend DemandForce . If you want something that’s offline and also online. They have online booking integration. I’m not sure if they try to tie you into a contract though.

  4. Wioletta Miller on

    Hi there,

    My name is Wioletta Miller and I have recently started my own Beauty Salon Business. I was wondering whether any of you could advise me on an efficient and time saving appointment booking system/app that would help me organize my clients’ visits as at the moment I am struggling a bit. Thank you for your help!! 😉

  5. Hi Craig, I like your post, and agree with most of it. One extra point though. Phorest do no give you access to your database should you want to leave them. We have a number of phorest clients that want to move to Salon-IQ (Also cloud) but they cant because the can’t get their data.

    • Wow. Is there anyway around this sticking point? I don’t see how Phorest can own my data. I don’t think any other salon software has this rule. And by the way, would you happen to know the subscription costs with their software? Thanks.

      • Hi Julie, I am unsure on the subscription costs. I know that it’s been good value from my point of view. Much better than previous suppliers.

    • David, this is simply not true, and is pretty a poor sales technique to poo-poo other providers like us (Phorest). The reality is that we provide all data to the client in a CSV. All of it.

      It’s simple, we retain customers on the value we provide, not holding them to ransom unlike other providers. That is what ultimately delivers long-term growth in a hyper-transparent referral driven market. Con – Phorest

  6. Hi Craig

    Great article and you help me research more in purchasing the software for our salon in Canada. One question tho, is it true what David said or he is just a rep from Salon-IQ? I got demo from Phorest and really like what they have done to their software but the demo does not show me everything which makes me little hesitate to pull the trigger.
    I also contacted Jared who is VP of Phorest in North America and asked him about if they will give us our client data if thing does not turn out well or for our own back up purpose. This is what he said “By federal law you own all information in the system and we are required to give it to you should you choose to leave us. ” Is it true or just a sale pitch? What software do you use right now? I looked at timely but I want a retention feature like Phorest. Anyway please let me know your thoughts

    Thanks

    • We use Phorest and I do love it. With regards to the question about data, I honestly don’t know. I have asked someone at Phorest to clarify but I would assume the data belongs to you as a business, otherwise there would be all sorts of data protection issues I would imagine. IE> The client is my client, not Phorests.

    • See Connor’s answer above. My personal experience of Phorest has always been one of transparency and I can not argue that they deliver the value they talk about.

    • Hi Tyler, many thanks for the question. Yes we absolutely provide you with all of the data. We give it to you in a CSV (spreadsheet) so your new provider can load it up.

      Firstly we are obliged to as Jared says. Secondly, it would be really poor practice not to. We believe in retaining people by trying to be the best, otherwise we would just get a really poor reputation, no different than any salon really.

      You absolutely own the data I can guarantee you. Con

      Con – Phorest

  7. Thanks Craig and Connor to clear up my question. Also is there any hidden fees ? 🙂 because for North America, there is only setup fee and monthly fee. Is there any other fee that i should be aware off like upgrade, support call, training? Although Phorest is much more expensive than others provider but I am willing to pay as long all features that they said they have actually works. Also Connor, do you have any information on uptime in North America?

    Thanks

    • Hi Tyler, we pay a monthly fee and then for all text messages at a low rate. That’s it. All upgrades (and they are regular) have been free. The only other thing we pay for is the App, which is an extra amount each month as part of the subscription, but well worth the money. We now have around 1100 people using it, so it cuts down a lot on admin, telephone answering, etc.

      The thing I would say about Phorest, I personally feel it’s the best one on the market – simply because the company seem to be dynamic. Our last software didn’t change in three years. We get updates around every 3-4 months with Phorest, with tweaks and constant improvements.

      As my article says, your company computer POS system is a big investment, but also one of the most important and can transform your business… if you learn it, and maximise what it does.

        • Connon, one thing i would never understand is that why you don’t have trial or demo version that new customer can actually try. watching demo is not as good as i actually use it

  8. I used Firefox and it did not work first time but later on i checked again and it worked. Anyway, please excuse me of poking around your site but I tried to booking two different services from two different technicians and there are not date available on any months. Is this a glitch in the software or you are fully booked for a whole year? Thanks

    • I am not sure what to say. It works, we have various availability (not on Saturdays) and we are getting many bookings each day in each salon.

  9. So just to update, I finally signed up and go live this Thursday. Nervous and exciting at the same time. Craig, would it be possible for you to be my mentor as I am new to this business and much to learn. 🙂

    Thanks

    • Hi Tyler. Good luck with it. Easy with hindsight to say, but Phorest is a great product. Get to learn it well with your training. With regards to me being a mentor, I am busy with my own salon business so it’s not something I can offer. Always happy to answer the odd question though.

        • Sorry, but I do not offer one-to-one consultancy. I am simply a salon owner who Blogs about his experiences.

          • Hi Kuldeep. We don’t connect the two but I don’t believe there is a way of doing it. It’s easy enough to do it manually using a platform like Paypal buttons, or a system like Shopify. We sell online using our own Woocommerce website.

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