There's a saying when it comes to getting things for free. If you aren't paying for the product, then you are the product.
Free software can be great for personal use, but when it comes to your business operations where you need efficient and streamlined solutions, free isn’t always the best option.
Yes, it’s critical to keep your eye on your cash flow, and to look for ways to be economical as you make business decisions, however, it’s equally important to know when opting for the cheapest (i.e., free) version of salon software can put you at risk of a higher cost down the line.
And, again, the odds are that if you aren’t paying for a product, then YOU are the product. For example, have you ever used software that bombarded you with advertisements during your session? Then you’ve experienced what it’s like to be the product.
On the other hand, some free software solutions take a more subtle approach by collecting and selling your clients’ data, so it's them who are targeted with loads of offers. This is currently the case with marketplace model solutions such as Shedul & Fresha, and even though it may not affect your experience, it is affecting your client’s experience, which as we all know should be the number one consideration of your business other than your cash flow.
One doesn’t need to look far to see how software users becoming a marketable product can affect your business and audience, simply look at the recent news stories featuring Facebook.
Sure, you may not be on the scale of Facebook, but regardless of your business’ size, if you aren’t paying for the software you use, then someone out there is paying for the data you’re uploading.
Read on to learn about the impact this can have on your salon and the alternative decisions to consider to keep your client experience top-notch.
Customer Support Reliability
Imagine this; you’re in the middle of a rush of customers when your point of sale system freezes leaving you unable to check out your clients. Your next move is to locate the point of contact for your salon software’s tech team.
In a moment like this, you’re met with a few potential scenarios; one where the support contact is easy to find and reach, helping you get back up and running in a matter of minutes, and the other scenario is finding no support centre or reaching out with no luck or idea of when you’ll hear back.
Can you guess which scenario you’re more likely to encounter with free versus paid software?
When a software company allows users free access, customer support simply isn’t going to have the resources it needs to be immediately available or to operate efficiently.
So ask yourself, if the software you’re using were to crash or give you a tech hang-up suddenly, can you afford to wait out a response in possibly a few days time? Or do you need instant support available to keep your business operating smoothly and your clients happy?
Irregular in Important Software Updates
From phones to tablets to laptops, no piece of technology is immune from regular updates, and with good reason! Updates serve to improve software functionality, and without those updates, you’re left with tech that’s slow and riddled with bugs.
Therefore, when you invest in a device or piece of technology, you expect it to run smoothly and give you a great experience. Conversely, when you’re using a free software platform, it’s unrealistic to assume that their software development would compare.
After all, no payment for the service means fewer resources to staff a team of developers who can keep the software as up-to-date and clean as possible, which results in fewer updates such as bug improvements and performance-enhancing features, less often.
Speaking of features…
In case you haven’t noticed, efficiency is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to deciding which software solution is the right fit, and that goes for everyday users as well as people with businesses and organizations to run. People want more convenience and less runaround, so the more all-encompassing a software platform can be, the higher value it holds.
Look at it this way, wouldn’t you want your salon’s appointment booking software also to send marketing emails and SMS booking reminders? That’s a no-brainer, of course, you would, that’s saved time and makes your life that much easier!
When you’re leveraging a free software solution, it’s unreasonable to expect that you’d get multiple streamlined features, so it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth investing in software that acts as a hub for numerous tasks and functions (costing you a little more upfront, but saving you a ton of time on the backend), or cobbling together a variety of free tools, which will save you some business expenses, but cost you more time.
The Effect of Advertisements
Even if a software platform is free for you to use, they still have a business to run, and for companies that don’t charge their users, the way they typically make their money is through advertising.
While navigating ads and pop-ups may be annoying for you, the bigger red flag is if you do not see any ads, because that likely means your client or customer is seeing them or they're mining your client’s data to serve them ads elsewhere.
In either case, this can affect your client’s overall experience with your brand, which really should be 100 percent within your control, not that of a third party’s.
The terms “software” and “security” should go hand-in-hand, especially when storing important information such as email lists and credit card information, but as recent news of data breaches and hacks, not all software security is created equal.
That’s why it’s up to you as the business owner to ensure that the software you choose to use in your salon comes with adequate security including keeping up with current data protection laws and staying current in warding off the latest viruses, hacking schemes, and malware.
Again, this kind of effort requires a diligent task force, which is often part of what you’re investing in with paid software.
Nothing Truly Comes Free
Whether you’re paying with your time, stress levels or cash, there’s always a cost involved with making a business decision, and sometimes those costs are hidden.
In the case of free software, those hidden costs often come into play when you find that the marketed benefits and features are in fact not included in the free version of the software, but require upgrading to a paid version and potentially require signing a contract.
While that makes sense and aligns with the idea that you have to pay for additional service and support, what’s less than desirable is that those costs weren’t transparently communicated upfront.
At the end of the day, “free” may sound most appealing, but your best bet is always to do your due diligence and to look for software providers that allow you the features that fit your goals, flexibility and pricing structure that work with your business, and the support you need to save you from tech snafus.