Friend Or Foe?

Getting to know my PC wasn't exactly love at first byte.

I used to think I was a quick learner. With the possible exception of programming my VCR, I grasped most new technology in record time.

Enter the personal computer.

Oh, I didn't always have problems with computers. In fact, when PCs first became affordable, I installed a state-of-the-art system in my office. For three years, my business was virtually run on PCs. Then in 1985, I decided to take a job with one of my clients. In 1994, after a nine-year hiatus from entrepreneurship (and computers), I started a new business and installed the latest PC technology.

I knew computer technology had made rapid advances since I had last used a PC, but I was completely unprepared for just how radical those changes were. The manuals didn't help. Although they were written in English, I felt like I was reading a foreign language.

How does a person whose business relies on computers re-enter the race for profits and clear the computer hurdles? You do it with patience and constant application of what you have just learned (and unlearned).

My previous business was an advertising and sales promotion agency with a full-time art director and graphic designers. My current business is also graphics-oriented: We produce publications and slide shows for businesses and the medical community. Before I set up shop, I visited similar businesses and noticed that computers had made it much easier, faster and cheaper to turn out the type of work my art department had once produced.

Confidently, I assumed I could use the computer as my "art department," saving money on overhead. Best of all, I'd never have to deal with a temperamental art director again.

I soon learned how wrong I was. At least you can reason with an art director. Try arguing with a machine that interrupts your work to flash something like this on screen: "CAUTION! Fault No. 0087691."

Until I discovered how to live in harmony with my computer, I lost more than a few files and many hours of work. Here is some of what I learned:

The computer, for all its complexity, is similar to a domestic animal. It will serve you well, provided you don't ask it to do what it cannot do.

A computer has its own language, accented with backslashes, asterisks and prompt signs. If you want it to respond to a command, you must speak its language.

Finally, as with a pet, child, friend or any other creature with whom you form a relationship, you must spend time with your computer to truly understand it.

These hard-won lessons have worked for me. My computer and I are becoming the best of friends. Besides producing some of the greatest graphics I have ever sold, this genie in a box also manages my billing, forecasting, checking accounts and other bookkeeping jobs. Maybe, if I add the right software, it will even teach me how to program my VCR.

If you'd like to sound off on small-business issues, please write to "Sounding Off," in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714.

Frederic S. Rosenfeld is the owner of Stat Digital Communications in West Orange, New Jersey.

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