Selecting the best salon software for your beauty business can be a minefield. There are so many choices out there, so how do you know where to start?
Whenever I am contacted by someone looking to implement software in to their salon or spa business my first question is always:
“What is it that you are looking to improve with your software?”
This is an important question and the amount of times I get very generic answers back like “Err . . . to take bookings, send emails and maybe give me reports . .” or something along these lines.
Well if that’s the case then great . . . because pretty much all salon software can take bookings, send emails and give you reports so finding software should be a breeze . . . right?
As I start to dig a little deeper, and ask a few more questions I start to get the real needs from the customer, usually something more like . . .
“Well we are getting busier now and trying to send out reminder emails manually is taking lots of time, plus we are getting more no shows because we don’t always have time to call clients to remind them . . . and even when we do we can’t read the phone number written in the book . . .”
So if you want to pick the right software for your business, this is where you need to start. You need a list of all the things you think software might be able to help you with. Start by simply putting down all of your ideas, wants and thoughts on paper.
I have created a checklist with some standard requests which you can download for FREE by clicking here.
Depending on what works best for you write this as a list, or idea cloud or mind map . . . just get it all down on paper. If you have other team members that work with you or for you, get them involved too. The more ideas the better. Next, it helps to give some sort of structure to this list. I recommend turning your requirements in to a simple spreadsheet and grouping the requirements under simple headings. This will make it easier for you to ask questions of potential software suppliers later and help compare one piece of software with another. Click the link in the box above to download an editable checklist to save you time with this or just get you started.
Must Have’s & Nice to Have’s
Once you have all your requirements, you need to categorise them as “Must Have’s” and “Nice to Have’s”. This will further help you make a decision about which software to choose. If you have already put your list in to a spreadsheet then you can simply create a column next to each item and mark it with an “M” for Must Have or “N” for Nice to Have. Note: The spreadsheet I have created for you already has this column in place, but you will need to decide what is an “M” and an “N” for your business.
Check Your Internet Speeds
If you haven’t already listened to Episode 5 of The Beauty Business podcast – “Your Salon Software Questions Answered” I recommend you go and have a listen. In it I explain the differences between On Line (or Cloud based salon software) and Off Line (or locally installed salon software) options. A key deciding factor in whether you are free to choose between these options will be your internet connection. It needs to be both fast, or at least quick, and possibly more important . . . stable. For a free tool to check this and some instructions just check out the show notes page of Episode 5 which you can find HERE. To use an On Line Salon or Spa Software Solution I recommend at least 8Mbps Download and 1Mbps Upload . . . . I explain all this, and how to work each one out on the show notes page, but check with your potential supplier for their recommendations. Whatever you do, when it comes to internet speeds DON’T go by what your Internet Service Provider claims you are getting!
Decide on Your Budget
Your decision shouldn’t solely come down to price, but price is always going to be a factor. Don’t just pluck a number out of the air though . . . and remember that there is not just the initial outlay to consider. Some systems, particularly On Line solutions these days charge a monthly fee rather than a large up front purchase price. This can be ideal as it means you are not investing a large lump sum, however it does mean that you will have ongoing costs to factor in. Make sure that you factor in ALL ongoing costs as some of these may not be so obvious – more on this later. Are there any additional ongoing costs? For example do you need to pay additionally for support, text messages, license renewal, training on new features and for that matter . . . do you need to pay for new features when they become available? Are there any further costs if you add new members of staff to the system? These are all important factors to consider. Make sure you are 100% clear on what you will be required to pay for in advance, once you start using the software and then ongoing from then.
How to Decide on a Budget?
A good way to do this is to try and determine how much time the software will save you. A great example of this is working out financial information. As an example we will use the calculation of therapist commission. Let’s say right now it takes you 60 mins per week, either all in one go or a few minutes per day, to calculate your own and your therapists commission based on the treatments performed and retail product sold. If your software can produce a report in seconds to do this for you then that is 60 minutes saved per week. You could fit another client or two and make around an additional £45 or $65 per week, which works out to just over £2,300 or around $3,500 per year! That in itself can pay for a lot of software. Factor in what the software can save you in time elsewhere in other reports, appointment confirmations, reminders and especially On Line bookings and you will see why I always tell my clients that the right software should pay for itself several times over within the first year. So don’t go for the cheapest one thinking it will save you money . . . the right software will not just save you time, it will make you more money! Don’t just take my work for this either. Here is another article written by a salon owner about software in which he too recommends this method of working out what your software might save you in monetary terms, before deciding on your budget.
Do Your Homework
These days we have the ability to search through unlimited salon software companies from the comfort of our reception desk, manicure table, sofa or wherever you can get an internet connection and it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are A LOT of software companies out there offering products to the salons, spas and other beauty businesses of the world.
Plus, it is also easy to be convinced by a snappy marketing video or amazing sounding feature. But just hold on there . . . remember that this is a big investment, not only financially, but also in time as well. It is important that you get this right first time.
I want you to check out at least 9 salon software systems . . . this can be as simple as having a good look around their websites and I want you to pick at least 5 of thse companies to contact directly to get more information. Remember to base your choices on your list of requirements and not just which one has the fanciest website, feature list or promotional video.
Either email or call these companies and ask them about just your must have requirements. Leave out the nice to have requirements for now . . . . you will see why later.
Based on what you find out by email or during your phone conversation I want you to come up with a shortlist of at least 3 software products. If all 5 met your must have requirements, then put them all on the shortlist, but I want to make sure you have at least 3 salon software suppliers to compare.
Your Shortlist (at Least 3 Choices)
Now you have your shortlist you need to contact each company either by email, phone or through a contact form on their website. What you are asking for is a one-to-one software demo. This can either be in person (the best option) or over the internet (the most practical option).
If they can’t give you at least a 30 minute one-to-one demo then scrap them from the list. They might have the best product in the world, but if they can’t even spare a potential new client 30 mins for a demo . . . what are they going to be like when you are a customer and you have an issue you want to speak with them about?
During your demonstration, make sure that the representative is showing you the actual software and not just screen shots of the pages. You want to see the software actually being used. That way you know that the representative really knows the software and isn’t just following a script. Although this will become obvious in the next step.
Ask the representative all of your Must Have requirements . . . if they are really switched on they will have these from your initial enquiry. While going through your Must Have’s throw in the Nice To Have’s questions and see if the software is capable of these too.
The most important thing to remember during the demonstration . . .
Make sure the representative SHOWS you each feature they claim the software can perform.
This is vital for 2 reasons:
(1) It is very easy to simply say “Yes the software can help you with that!” as a sales representative. That is not to say they are outright lying to you . . . but a requirement can be very easily misunderstood or misinterpreted and the representative may rightly tell you the software can do something . . . but this wasn’t quite what you meant.
(2) While it can often be technically possible to do something within the software, this at times might be achieved in a complex or confusing way. By having the representative SHOW you the thing you have asked about, you can determine if it meets your needs exactly and that you would really be able to use it.
As you are running through the demonstration, have your check list in front of you. This is perfectly acceptable whether you are working face to face or over the web. It will show you are serious about making a purchase decision. As you are shown the various functions you ask about give a score between 0 and 5 for each item on your list.
Give an item 0 if the software isn’t capable of that requirement at all and 5 if it meets the need exactly and you think it does so in a simple and easy to understand way.
Verify any Questions you are not 100% sure about
As you go through the demonstration if the representative says anything you don’t fully understand, ask them to verify clearly what they mean in plain language.
This is particularly important when asking about pricing, ongoing fees, contract lengths, support availability and response times . . . anything you are going to need to rely on or might affect you in the future.
Now is not the time to worry about being too specific or being afraid of not appearing to understand something . . . now is the time to be incredibly detail orientated and ensure you understand any and every commitment you are making.
If you get the feeling that the representative is trying to deliberately avoid or evade your questions ask them to check with a colleague if they are not sure. If they still evade then I urge you to have reservations about working with this company.
Any reputable software company working with salons, spas and other beauty businesses should understand that they are not likely to be dealing with ‘technical’ people so they should take the time to explain things clearly. Again this goes back to getting help in the future. If they can’t take the time to explain something to you now . . . will they take the time to explain a problem to you when you’re using the software, and you can’t produce a vital report or log in to the bookings on a certain day?
Don’t forget to ask about their support or helpdesk function. Is this included in the price and if not how much does it cost. Also what hours are they open and is there a limit on the amount of times you can contact them? From experience the most common times you are going to need the assistance of a helpdesk is when you open up on a morning or when you are trying to cash up and close down at night. Depending on your business this could very easily be 8am or even earlier in the morning and 9pm or later at night.
Is the Helpdesk open at these times?
Following the call you should have a score for each item on your list. Add yourself a notes section so you can add in any further detail that might help you make a decision in the case that two of your shortlist end up with a similar score.
Finally . . . you have just one more step to take. If you have a clear leader from the scores at this point you can do this just for your front runner, but you can do this for all three (or more) if you want.
We are going to test their helpdesk! As I have already said . . . you are very likely to need to rely on their assistance as you get started, but also as you continue to use the software.
I want you to make 3 phone calls . . . the first at 5 minutes after their opening time, the second at a random time in the day (lunchtime is a good one to try) and then the third call 10 minutes before their helpdesk closes at night.
When they answer, don’t try to fake a problem to get them to answer it . . . that isn’t nice thing to do and they will probably start asking you for account details anyway. Just thank the person for answering, explain you are a prospective customer and you were just checking out their support offering. Of course . . . if no one answers the phone, then you won’t have to say anything. But this might just change you mind about becoming a customer!
Hopefully the Support Desk call goes well and reinforces the score for your front running software. If not then you might want to test the helpdesk function for your 2nd choice or try the Support Desk challenge for your No. 1 choice on a different day just to give them a chance to redeem themselves.
Following these guidlines should make the process of choosing the right salon software for you a smooth and relatively stress free process. Don’t forget you can download a FREE copy of the checklist spreadsheet here to get you started.
Let me know your comments, questions or stories in the comments section below. Have you had any salon software horror stories to let other salon owners know about? Or do you want to give a shout out to your own software supplier if you would recommend them and think other beauty business owners would be wise to check them out.