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For Small Businesses, It pays to invest in business-class networking products

If your email inbox was anything like mine during the holidays, much of your time was probably spent hitting the Delete button. The number of emails I received from retailers trying to tempt me with special holiday offers was staggering. With prices so low, particularly for electronics touted as “prosumer,” who wouldn’t be tempted to buy those for a small business?

No matter how cost-conscious you are, when it comes to buying technology for your small business, it pays to invest in products that have been designed with you in mind. Also, it’s worth buying from a reseller who can understand your unique needs, guide you through the selection process, and provide after-sales service.

Technological advances have moved so fast that it can be difficult to distinguish between products aimed at consumers, prosumers, and businesses. As a small business owner, it’s easy to be confused about which category of products you should buy.

Let’s clear up the confusion.

Consumer: From notebook PCs to washing machines to televisions, consumer goods are designed to be easy to buy and easy to use. But depending on the brick-and-mortar retailer you go to, the customer service could fall anywhere between great and lousy. At an online retailer, you might find useful product materials to help you make your selection; or the site may offer little more than a bare-bones shopping cart.

As for product warranties, you could be lucky and get a 90-day warranty. On the other hand, the warranty could be as short as a week. If your product stops working, you’re often left to figure out a fix yourself.

In terms of product reliability and manageability, the adage “you get what you pay for” applies here. According to a News@Cisco article , “Consumer networking products lack the comprehensive features and enhancements that support more complex, secure administration and management. At the same time, troubleshooting becomes more difficult when a flotilla of different manufacturers power a small business’s networking environment.”

Prosumer: A blend of the words “professional” and “consumer,” you’ve most likely seen this term used in reference to cameras that provide professional features at a consumer price. You might be tempted to buy prosumer-grade products for your company, because they’re supposed to be more sophisticated versions of their consumer counterparts.

Although prosumer products may offer some advanced features, they’re still consumer products and not designed for business use—even small business use. Also, prosumer products often don’t offer an adequate warranty or the level of customer service your company needs.

Business-class: Your company may be small but it’s still a business. You need computer and networking products that have been specifically designed for your unique needs and at a price you can afford. Business-class products will meet your company’s needs in ways that consumer and prosumer products just can’t, for example, integrating various technologies such as voice, video, and data; securing your data assets; providing remote access and simplifying management.

In addition, business-class products are sold by resellers who are knowledgeable about your unique needs and can help you select the right product for your company. Resellers like Cisco Partners understand the needs of small businesses because most often they’re small businesses themselves. They can help you make the most of your new product, from training and installation to maintenance and more. You can also select resellers that offer additional services, such as after-hours emergency support for that extra peace of mind.

The bottom line -- even if you are a small business, it still is a “business” and thus it deserves a business -class product.

What other networking do’s and don’ts have you learned? Tell us about it!

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