The Real Deal

On Second Thought . . .

There's a lot more to good buying habits than selecting a source--you should also consider what brand would be best for you. Sticking with well-known computer companies is a wise move. While off-brand equipment manufacturers offer very tempting deals, it's probably best to go with a name you recognize. "We tell clients to stick with well-known names because they're running a small business and don't have time to be concerned with computer systems that don't work," Somers says. "If you stick with a bigger brand, you'll pay a slight premium, but your chances of having a problem are much lower."

With software companies continuing to release programs that take up increasing amounts of hard-drive space, another good idea is to purchase a system that gives you room to grow. Buy a computer that's a little better than you need today, so you can use the computer for at least two years and know your software will continue to perform well.

Service has become an important factor as well. In an age of hefty data storage and multiple components like modems and scanners, computer problems can easily arise. That's why experts generally recommend purchasing at least a basic service contract. Consider it money well spent--it's generally a small price to pay compared to what it would cost your company if your PC went on the blink. What's more, the price of materials and labor for repairing your computer can easily run much higher than a basic service contract.

When considering a service contract, make sure it offers a warranty, on-site service and technical support. One year will fly by, so look for a three-year contract with at least one year of on-site support. Somers recommends getting three years of on-site service if you can afford it.

Finally, consider leasing a PC. A lease lets you spread out the payments, so if you're low on cash, you don't have to scrimp to get what you need. Many leasing companies are simplifying lease terms and speeding up approvals, making them all the more attractive. Furthermore, leasing keeps the latest equipment in your hands. Instead of risking obsolescence, you can return the PC in two or three years for a brand-new model that runs the latest software. Remember: It's always a good idea to have your accountant look over your leasing contract before you sign on the dotted line.

To get the best deals, analyze your business needs, service requirements and range of purchasing options. It takes time to investigate the alternatives, poll peers and negotiate the best arrangement. But in the end, covering all your bases is time well spent if you want to avoid getting stuck with a PC that doesn't fit your needs.

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Real Deal.

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