So, you’ve decided it’s time to take your business to the next level. Business-management and online-scheduling software are the norm for most successful retail and personal service businesses. Consumers expect to be able to conduct transactions online, and they expect businesses to be using technology to create efficiencies in all aspects of their operations. (Think about restaurants that still don’t take credit cards, or retail shops that use handwritten paper receipts. What impressions do these businesses leave?)
On the flip side, business owners also need tools that will help them thrive. Effective technologies have the potential to reduce administrative expenses, save time, increase revenues, attract new customers and allow owners to easily see how well their business is performing.
Why Use Business Management Software?
If you’re not offering appointments or products online, you’re missing out on a huge market. $178 billion in online retails sales was conducted in the U.S. in 2012. Consumers can book airline tickets and buy pizza online, they expect to be able to book yoga classes online, too.
Keep the clients you have and gain more. Twenty percent of your clients account for roughly 80 percent of your business. Business software lets you create client profiles, track purchase histories, create targeted email campaigns, and run sales reports so that you can keep those clients you worked so hard to get in the first place!
Reduce administrative expenses. Online booking eliminates phone tag, automated appointment confirmations via text or email save you time, and reports let you check productivity, inventory, and sales at the touch of a button.
If you’ve never used business-management software before, it’s hard to know which one to choose, let alone what kinds of questions you should be asking in order to make the best choice. Before you make this crucial investment, it’s important to understand what your needs are and how software can meet those needs. Use this guide to help you evaluate your software options.
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE CHOOSING YOUR SOFTWARE
1. How long has the software company been in business? How many clients does it have?
2. Is the software web-based (online) or desktop-installed?
Web-based means the company essentially serves as your IT team. They secure the data, back it up for you, host the servers, and resolve any technical issues. When software is web-based (also called online software or software as a service), you can access your business data from any computer with an Internet connection. Desktop-installed mean you install the software on your computer, and you can only access your business data from that particular computer. It also means you must back up your data, do upgrades, and fix technical difficulties yourself.
3. Does the company meet Level I Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards?
PCI compliance aims to ensure cardholder information is always stored, processed and transmitted securely. If you accept payments by credit or debit card, your business software should offer this standard of protection.
4. Does the software run on Macs, PCs or both? Does the company offer any mobile apps?
You should make sure that your software is usable not only on the devices that you use in your studio, but that your customers use as well.
5. What features are important to your business?
You should have a clear idea of what kinds of services you want to be able to offer when you begin looking for business software. For example, do you:
- Want your clients to be able to schedule appointments and classes online?
- Conduct eCommerce (i.e., sell products and service online or in your store)?
- Manage your inventory or staff payroll?
- Do business via mobile apps (e.g., iPhone, Android)?
- See sales and performance reports at the click of a button?
- Keep client profiles, send targeted emails, and track promotions?
6. How much does the software cost?
Like any technology (think cable or Internet services) there are usually additional costs above the advertised price. Make sure you know about any additional or hidden costs, and that you can afford the sum total. Here are some costs to inquire about:
- Set-up or initiation fees
- Monthly costs
- Flat costs versus fluctuating as your sales increase
- Charges for training and support
- Integrated merchant account? What are the rates?
- Other fees or costs?