Make sure you protect yourself from unforeseen hassles by following a few preemptive steps:
Research professional and consumer reviews: The best way to get a feel for the product's pros and cons is to consult the experts and reviews from other entrepreneurs who've bought the product. Here are some popular reviewer sites to visit before you make a purchase: Amazon.com; ConsumerReports.org; Consumer Search; Cnet.com; and PC Magazine Reviews.
Use good judgment when reading reviews: Do the person's critiques pertain to your business or your use of the product? Anytime you see the word "slow" or "complicated" or "bad support" - beware. You don't want to spend valuable time you could be selling instead dealing with tech issues.
Shop around for the best price: Sometimes it pays to buy directly from the manufacturer. Other times you can get a better price from a reseller. To start, do an Internet search on the product name and see what pops up. Each of the big search engines offers a shopping tool where you can compare prices, see reviews of stores and see if the product is sold at a store nearby. Don't forget to check the manufacturer's site as well. You never know when the manufacturer is offering the best deal or has a special service deal.
Talk to contacts and colleagues: Ask business associates, friends who are tech experts for their opinions on what to buy. You may also want to post your questions on open forums such as Ask.com or Yahoo! Answers to see if anyone has used the product.
Check references: If you're doing business with a new technology provider that you'll have an ongoing relationship with, always ask the company for references. Contact the references to ask how satisfied they were with the company's work, how problems were handled and what complaints they had. You can also search local sites such as Yelp.com or Angie's list to see what other business owners have to say about the company. Lastly, contact the local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the company.
Read the fine print: Whether you're buying a product or service, be sure to you know exactly what the purchase price covers. Ask about customer support, updates, warranties and any penalties for early cancellation:
Get advice: If you have any concerns when purchasing software, hardware or equipment, talk to a trusted IT adviser. Here are topics to cover:
User-friendly: How easy to use is the interface?
If you have an existing business or are planning a new business, the Pasco-Hernando Chapter of Score is here to help you. They offer free small business mentoring and free seminars throughout the year. Visit their chapter website www.score439.org for the seminar schedule and to request mentoring.
The SCORE Column: How to protect yourself when buying technology