Impartial advice

I spend as much time persuading clients to keep their existing computer equipment as advising them on the purchase of new equipment.

I don't make any money by selling computers or software.

I advise clients on what they need, and where to find it at a reasonable price, bearing in mind that the benefits of a low initial purchase price can be negated by poor after sales service or unreliable equiment.

The same applies to software. It is surprising how often businesses think that they need to buy new software when they can do what they want with what comes pre-loaded as standard on many office PC's

Buying equipment

A computer is valuable because of what it can do. It can speed up the process of typing letters. It can store your mailing list. It can run your accounts. It can keep track of your inventory. It can run the software you use to make presentations that tell potential customers how wonderful you are.

What's a computer worth?

It's worthwhile paying for a reliable computer. It's even more worthwhile to spend money on a good monitor, keyboard and mouse - after all, they are the parts of the system you touch and look at every day, and can easily be used on a new PC is you decide to upgrade. But never forget that computers can fail, or it can be destroyed in a fire, or it can be stolen. The value of your computer is not the cost of the equipment. Computer prices fall dramatically every year. You can buy a well-specified base unit for under £400. The value of your computer is the data you store on it, and the software you use to manipulate that data

How much is your data worth?

How much time would it take to reconstruct that information on your computer from paper copies and other sources? How much would that cost? Would it even be possible? How would that affect your business? It can take a long time to rebuild even an address book. So back up your data. Write to CD or DVD. Keep your most important files with you all the time on a flash drive. Store data on a separate hard disc. You can add a second hard disc to your base unit for under £50. An external hard drive which plugs into a USB port costs about £100, and can back up vast amounts of data. However you do it, do it regularly, and never trust any system 100%. Backup software can, and does fail. So make more than one backup, and occasionally do it by hand and check that the backup has worked.

What about your software?

Software is expensive - it often costs more than the machine it sits on. So audit it. Make a record of all the programmes you have installed on each computer. Make sure you have the installation CD's. If you have downloaded software from the web, make a copy onto disc. Make sure you have all the registration and key codes that came with the software. Keep a record of version numbers and service patches. If you have a CD burner, make a second copy - just in case - and keep it somewhere else. If you are connected to the internet, keep a record of your ISP details - dialup number, user name and password.

be neurotic- you know it makes sense!

Years ago, I used to ride motorbikes. After a crash and a few near misses, I realised that the only way to treat other road users is to assume that they will try to kill you if you give them the chance. Once I had learned this I rode bikes for several years without further incident.

You need to be just as careful with your data. Don't trust backup software. Don't trust hardware. They can fail, and will do so at the most inconvenient time.