Fatal Error: Your PC's down. Now what?

Here are some first steps to pull yourself out of the blue-screen blues.

"It works actually," he says, but adds, "Sometimes that information is not sufficient to solve the particular issues."

True enough, but Meister suggests that having done some of the diagnosis on your own puts you that much further ahead -- in time and dollars -- when you call in hired guns.

Hired guns

Of course, some small-business owners can't afford to take the time to even get to that point. Bill Bivin, community liaison for Dell's Community and Conversations, a team of customer relations workers who resolve customer issues on the company's online forum , says business owners have to ask themselves, "How much productivity do I lose to chase something down?"

If you've got the time, inclination and skills to install tackle complex computer problems and fixes, then go for it. But if you lack any of those, suggests Bob MacDonald, vice president of technology services for Staples' EasyTech service, try working with a contractor -- even if it's on an "a la carte" basis. to handle problems or maintenance issues as they arise. If you can't afford any downtime or you need someone at odd hours, that may be your best bet, he says.

Chip Wilson, owner of C.H.W. Site Development, an excavation contractor, uses the company's only PC to store client contact information as well as financial records and contracts.

He admits that he doesn't have the technical expertise to handle any significant computer problems. When his computer froze up two years ago, leaving half a screen showing his QuickBooks and the other half blue, his only attempt at remediation involved the standard fix -- hitting Control-Alt-Delete.

When that didn't work, he called his neighbor -- an IT consultant -- to help out.

Now he has that consultant come in at least once a year for maintenance on the computer. "I say, 'Do whatever you need,' and I have no idea what he does, but I notice the computer is faster when he's done," Wilson says.

That's good enough for him, Wilson adds -- that, and knowing the consultant is just a phone call away if he needs help during a crisis.

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Mary K. Pratt

Mary K. Pratt

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