Shopping for Your System

You've analyzed those tasks you want to computerize, researched which applications software will best help you accomplish those tasks, and determined what you'll need in the way of hardware components to effectively run your desired applications. Now all that's left is to go out and acquire the system you need.

As is the case with most anything you purchase, the key to getting the best computer deal for your money is to first identify what you want and how much you're willing to spend, and then to invest some time in comparison shopping. You probably won't have any problems finding places to shop. Check out your area's electronic superstores (including some that specialize in just computers), department and discount stores, and local shops that assemble their own systems. Open a computer magazine, and you'll find a number of manufacturers and retailers that will sell to you by mail.

As you shop around, request specification sheets for the systems you like. These sheets should identify the price, the components, and the service and support policies for the systems. As you compare systems, adopt the assumption that you're going to get what you pay for. If one system is significantly cheaper than another, try to find out why that's the case. Are less reliable parts being used? Is it backed by a short warranty or an unfavorable service and support policy? There's a saying to the effect that "a computer is only as good as its weakest component." Try to identify what that may be for each system you compare. Rarely will the lowest priced system be the best overall value.

Other points to keep in mind as you shop around include the following:

In some cases, it may make sense for you to delay your computer purchase because you can't really afford the system you need. If you find yourself in that situation, you may want to consider renting a system on a short-term basis so that you can at least start the process of computerizing your business.

However, try not to fall into the trap of delaying your purchase merely because you expect that the price of your desired system will drop or that you'll be able to get a more powerful system for the same money if you just wait a few months. Presumably, you're looking for a computer because you believe it will make you and your business more productive, efficient, and profitable. For example, let's assume you've concluded that purchasing a $2,500 computer system will free up three hours of your time each week. Let's also assume you expect the price will drop by 20 percent ($500) over the next six months. Does it make sense to delay the purchase? That depends on what you think you could have accomplished with the extra 78 hours you would have had available. In other words, before holding off on your purchase, try to quantify the benefits you will have lost by waiting.