Out With The Old

On Second Thought . . .

Typically, homebased business owners buy their first computers through retail channels. Computer or electronic superstores work well for first-time buyers because you get to test the equipment before buying it and have your questions answered by a salesperson--and you get to bring the goods home the same day. However, when you're buying your second computer, consider other avenues, such as mail order, value-added resellers or buying direct from manufacturers. These options typically offer competitive pricing, and they can add a greater level of expertise and support to your business than you'd get from a retailer. Consider the following:

Mail order. Convenience is the obvious benefit of buying through mail-order giants such as Gateway 2000 Inc., MacWarehouse and Dell Computer Corp. Place one phone call, and the goods will be shipped right to your door. And, unlike in retail, where what you see is what you get, some mail order companies will build custom computer configurations for you so you can get the computer that's perfectly suited for your business. Your PC can be configured with more memory, a specific graphics card or a gargantuan hard drive, for example.

But the chief reason to consider mail order? It's the first step in building what could become a long-term alliance with a high-tech supplier. "Homebased business buyers are flocking to [mail order companies] because they can have a direct relationship with a vendor and rely on them as another source of support," Staten says.

Manufacturers. Many computer manufacturers are also boosting their built-to-order business. An advantage to this method is price: Cutting out the middleman gives direct vendors the freedom to offer a better deal.

Through NEC Computer Systems' new customer-direct program, NEC Now, you can choose from one of four NEC Now models or any NEC machine available. Request any special configurations before placing an order. Provided there are no unusual requests, the machine will be built and delivered within five working days. You can also opt to have the computer sent to a reseller in your area who can install it or provide additional services.

Resellers. These also offer the benefit of long-term relationships, and they can provide a level of expertise most other sources can't match. "If you buy from a reseller, you can develop a relationship over time that you can rely on, particularly as your business grows," says Kathleen Tandy, marketing manager for Hewlett Packard's Small Business Computing Organization. "They are an excellent source of information on new services and products, and they'll suggest options you'd probably never consider, like setting up electronic links with customers if you're a small wholesaler or an ISDN line if you're an accountant and want a high-speed connection to a bank."

Leasing. Consider computer leasing if you plan to upgrade equipment frequently. Many businesses favor leasing because it lets them use the latest technology without making a substantial investment. Leases are offered from computer retailers and vendors as well as from third-party leasing agencies. Length and terms vary. Gateway 2000, for instance, sets up leases itself and honors those made through third-party leasing agencies. When your lease expires, you can simply return the computer. Depending on the type of lease you signed, you also have the option to buy the computer for fair market value, 10 percent of the price you paid, or for $1 through a buyout program.

Customer service. If you haven't considered the customer service you'll receive when you buy a computer, now's the time to do it. Customer support is critical when buying your second computer because not only do you lack the time to spend hours on the phone with tech support, but chances are your level of technology sophistication has increased as you've grown. If you now use advanced business software or a backup drive to protect your data, the assistance you need has moved beyond the more basic questions some tech support lines answer, so consider buying from a company with advanced support for small businesses.

Electronic remote support is another service many homebased businesses need. With your permission, tech support will access your computer remotely, scan it for problems, run diagnostic tests and solve your problems from afar, saving you the hassle of taking it in to be fixed or fiddling with it yourself.

Excellent support is one reason Krywosa eventually purchased a Hewlett Packard Vectra 500 series (now redesigned and called the Brio series) computer, which comes with a three-year limited warranty and one year of on-site support. She bought it through a reseller--and was glad she did when, in the middle of tax season, she experienced a hard-drive failure. "It could've been a disaster," she says, "but [the reseller] hooked my computer up with a network and saved my programs and data. Then they reloaded a new hard drive and re-installed my information. I lost nothing, and it didn't put me behind or cause me to lose business."

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