From the July 1997 issue of Startups

Despite popular mythology, a computer system is no longer that expensive. Costs can run from $1,500 to $4,200, depending on how powerful a system you need. Think about what software programs you plan to use, and this will determine how powerful a system you will need. Although newspapers advertise personal computers for less than $1,000, most of these computers are extremely limited and can't run many of the programs you'll probably want to use.

Whether you choose a Macintosh or a PC, you will need to purchase stand-alone software (programs dedicated to performing a single task). For DOS, Windows and Macintosh systems, examples of powerful stand-alone software packages include: Microsoft Word (word processing); Microsoft Excel (spreadsheet functions); Microsoft Access (for database files and records); and Intuit Quicken and Quickbooks or Microsoft Money (for accounting and bookkeeping). In addition to these programs, you may need telecommunication software for sending and receiving electronic information. For more in-depth information about buying a computer, see "Start-Up Mart" in the June 1997 issue of Business Start-Ups. The following guidelines will also help you when shopping for a computer for your business needs:

Buy Enough Power

Many first-time computer shoppers buy systems without enough power or expansion capacity. If you plan to purchase a business computer, you're better off buying something a little bigger and faster than you currently need.

Take Time To Learn

Many people purchase computers without learning how to use them. Most of today's new software comes with self-paced, onscreen tutorials and printed documentation. Spend time exploring these aids. Encourage each employee you hire to learn how to use their computer and software efficiently.

Take Precautions

Make backup files. Don't get stuck spending days or even months trying to restore lost or destroyed information. If you don't make backup, you're destined to learn the hard way. To protect your computer against viruses, never use disks that have been in someone else's computer. Virus-detection software should be updated regularly because new viruses pop up all the time and may not be detected by older software. Establish a backup routine. Failing to establish computer standards, policies and procedures creates problems. You need policies regarding the use of virus-detection software, backup and software piracy. Keep these policies updated.

Plan For Expansion

Find out what's involved in moving from single-user to multi-user versions of your software and hardware. Make sure your computers and printers can be easily networked.

Keep It Simple

Over-computerizing is a mistake. It's much easier to set up a huge database than it is to maintain one. Don't waste time collecting unnecessary information that makes your system overly complex.

Stay Honest

Never copy someone else's software. Software piracy can be expensive. Software makers are cracking down on pirates, taking even fairly small companies to court if they think that software has been copied illegally.