Small, medium-sized and home-based businesses often state their number one concern is cash flow and solvency. Therefore, purchases – especially unexpected ones – can cause havoc on your budget.

There are so many makes, models and styles (of everything!) from which to choose, it can become overwhelming even when you have time to plan for your purchases. When it’s an immediate need, such as a broken printer or the need for a digital voice recorder for tomorrow’s conference — you can get so stressed and frustrated that you won’t purchase the product that best suits your need. Or, just as bad, you might buy a product that is poor quality and you will need to replace it very quickly. Either scenario will put an extra burden on an already tight budget.

So how do you make the right buying decision? You could go to your local department store for assistance. Unfortunately, unless you already know exactly what you want, you are at the mercy of the sales associate. Many times these are part-time employees with little training. Other times, they might have plenty of training, but don’t understand your business and have not been trained to ask. Therefore, they only suggest the product they prefer, or just as likely, promote the item that will give them a higher commission or “spiff” during a sales contest or to meet their quota.

Instead, it could be is as simple as calling a business associate and asking what they recommend – or don’t recommend. This is a great resource, unless their application of the equipment is different from yours. For example, let’s say you were shopping for a new office printer that would be networked for many employees, thus being used continually. If you ask a friend about a particular model he owns, your friend – a solopreneur who only uses his printer to print letters and proposals – might simply state that it’s a great printer. And it would be for his use, but possibly not yours.

In addition to receiving personal recommendations, I recommend you visit sites that provide unbiased product reviews. You will learn about the features of a wide array of products for your business and often have the opportunity to compare a few different models. Consumer Reports is probably the most well-known, but they have a membership fee for much of the information. Amazon and eBay are two very thorough sites because they represent a variety of manufacturers. Walmart, Target and many other department stores now include consumer reviews as well. You can also see reviews on the specific manufacturers’ sites; just remember that they have control over their content.

You can do your shopping in the comfort in your office, saving time, gas and frustration. Information on review sites includes categories called “the best” while others use a star (usually one to five stars) assessment to show the accumulated or average rating provided by consumers. These sites also provide pricing information and many even link to a company that carries that item.

Using a review site will help you make the right decision, for the right product, specific for your needs. Once you’ve read the reviews, you can proceed with confidence that your purchase will be a knowledgeable choice.

Author's Bio: 

Cindy Hartman is President of Hartman Inventory, a woman-owned business that provides business and home inventory services. She is also owner of Hartman Inventory Systems, a turnkey business package for those who want to establish their own inventory company. Cindy writes a blog and is also a freelance writer on topics of disaster preparedness and recovery, small business, product reviews, marketing and networking.