You’ve undoubtedly heard thousands of times how computers are the thing of the future. Well, the future is here. The information age is booming; what can it do for you, the nail professional?

Here are some crucial tasks that come with running a successful salon that you can have a computer do in a fraction of the time it takes you.

Setting appointments. Several computer software companies design programs especially for salons. One of the most basic functions a computer can do is track appointments. Jeanine Vercelli, owner of Nails at Night in Montgomery, Ala., advises salon professionals to find salon management software with an appointment-booking function. You can set up your equipment so everyone in the salon can see the days appointments. David Porris, owner of Davida Salon and Spa in Cleveland, Ohio, has three monitors for this purpose in his salon: two at the reception area and a third in the back of the salon.

Tracking clients. A client tracking program lets you keep up-to-date client service records. Depending on how many different categories you create, you can cull such information as how long your clients go between visits, how much they spend on retail items, and which clients need a “Haven’t seen you in a while” card.

Tracking nail technicians. Terry Siford, owner of Nail Purrfection in Charlotte, N.C., tracks her nail technicians’ services and can see in percentages which clients are walk-ins, referrals, from ads, or responding to a coupon. Siford can also determine what areas in which technicians might need additional training. She simply has the computer search the database and tell her howmany of each service offered a particular nail technician is selling. “I know that if one person is doing a lot of manicures but not many full sets, it might be time for a class or seminar,” Siford explains.

Creating mailings. Using something as simple as a word processing program or as complex as a sophisticated graphic design program, you can mate your own direct-mail fliers and coupons. Michelle Kelly, owner of Shelby’s in South Windsor, Conn., creates direct-mail coupons with her salon management program, and it is paying off for her. “I’ve found that coupons I design myself get a higher response than my newspaper ads,” Kelly says. Many nail technicians use a computer to make birthday cards and thank-you notes as well.

Bookkeeping. Computer software stores sell a wide selection of personal finance programs; these work well for small businesses. Quicken, Microsoft Money, and Simply Money are just a few of the software programs available to manage your finances. They can balance your checkbook, keep tabs on your savings account, and, with a printer, can even write your checks for you. Kelly claims her bookkeeping program saves her at least $800 per year just in accounting fees.

Speed-dialing. To personalize her “client reactivating” campaign, Debbie Doerrlamm, owner of Wicked Wich Nails in Ronkonoma, N.Y., uses her computer to call clients. She first finds the client in the database then has the computer dial the client’s phone number for her with the modem. When it rings, she picks up her phone receiver to speak directly to the client.

Counting pennies. Computer packages designed for small businesses are available with cash drawers that, when integrated with the rest of the computer, turn your computer into a cash register. Add a pen-style bar-code scanner and you’re pretty close to state-of-the-art retailing. Vercelli swears by it; “The best thing is that it keeps track of every penny. You can’t borrow from the till anymore!”

Creating reports. You can have daily, weekly, monthly quarterly, and yearly reports on just about all the information you put into your computer. In just minutes; you can know exactly how much gross profit your salon has generated in service and retail sales, your total earnings, and each nail technician’s earnings. Porris uses reports of this nature to determine individual peak productivity. He explains, “Nail technician earnings reports are great for giving them feedback when I give employee evaluations. I know what they need to work on.”

Tracking inventory. You can do this with both retail product inventory and nail technician supply inventory. The trick to making inventory tracking work is to stay on top of it — which is easier and faster when the computer does it Stock counting, which used to take Siford one and a half to two hours per week, now only takes 10 minutes, and the computer alerts her when she is by on a particular product.

Doing payroll. Using a computer to do this will not only free up a lot of time for you, but it will simplify your job of figuring commissions and calculating various taxes. Siford used to spend one and a half hours on payroll; now it takes her only 20 minutes.

Tracking marketing efforts. Marketing pro­grams for salon businesses can count the number of coupons redeemed, how many referrals you get and where they come from, and how effective your advertising dollars are. This is valuable information that would be difficult to track manually. Siford figures that she saves $500-$600 when she finds out that a coupon ad isn’t working because she can discontinue it immediately.

Designing ads. More advanced computer programs will let you design your own camera-ready print ads. CorelDraw, Microsoft Publisher, and PageMaker are a few of the more popular graphics programs, but beginners to the computer world can start out with the design packages that usually come in salon management software programs. “I still spend money to have some things printed professionally, but I spend nothing on design now,” Kelly says.

Surveying clients. Not only will your computer let you make a professional survey to mail to your clients, but you can also use the computer to tabulate the results once the surveys are returned. Vercelli’s salon management program has a survey function. She intends to use it to ask clients who haven’t been to her salon in a while why they quit coming. Many programs also have a mailing label function to print the addresses of the clients your survey targets.

A Publishing client news-letters. More and more salon owners are taking the time to put together client newsletters on a regular basis. Vercelli is planning her first issue. “Initially I will send it out to 250-300 clients monthly, I’ll include the shop specials and information on good nail care. I want my clients to know how damage caused by drills misused at other shops can be fixed at my salon, and I want to write an article on fungus,” Vercelli says.

Creating gift certificates. With a color printer, you can fill it out on the screen and print it out at the time of sale.

Networking and transacting business with other professionals. A computer’s ability to send and receive faxes and communicate with other computers is perhaps one of its most beautiful features, not to mention most convenient.

Most businesses have a fax machine as standard equipment, and having one in your computer can be less expensive than purchasing a stand-alone machine. Some fax/ modems cost as little as $60.

Nail technicians and salon owners who use a computer, no matter their level of expertise, swear by them as crucial tools in making their businesses successful. Shelley MacKinder, owner of Sea Shell Nails in Kirkland, Wash., says, “It keeps me informed and organized and keeps my overhead lower. I can design and print my own publications instead of paying someone else to do it, and this saves me a bundle”. She says that in the year she’s had her computer, it has already paid for half of itself from what she’s saved on graphic design and printing.

Still not convinced computerizing is worth the effort, or scared of the training time? Most computer programs come with technical support, which usually includes a hotline you can call when you have a problem.

If you are up and running with a computer, are you using it to its potential? If not, you might want to think about jumping on the upgrade bandwagon and freeing your time and money for other important tasks.

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