Cheap, or even free, sales-management software can be just as good as the expensive commercial product. Shareware, which often has quite specialized business applications, is worth checking out -- especially since checking it out is almost free. You try a shareware program, and if you pay the registration fee -- usually $100 or less -- you'll get documentation, technical support, and news on future upgrades. If you're unsure that a particular program will work for you, you can often call its author and find out. You can also ask for other users' names and talk to them.

You can request shareware from catalog houses that describe and evaluate programs they distribute. Among them are Public Brand Software (800-426-DISK); Public Software Library (800-242-4775); PC-SIG Library (800-245-6717); and for the Macintosh, Berkeley Macintosh Users' Group (415-549-2684). -- Teri Lammers