Given the size of your company, you probably outsource the support functions that fall outside your area of expertise, which is running your small business. And unless you’re running an IT business, you should probably be outsourcing IT support along with other specialized functions like HR, payroll, and legal.
I’ve found that the IT needs of small businesses fall into four categories. First are the daily hassles that can derail business unless they’re addressed promptly and effectively: “I can’t print.” “I lost my password.” “The system is slow.” “What does this error message mean?” “Should I open this email attachment?”
The second is the need for someone who can address these daily issues, an expert who can have conversations with your other IT vendors who handle your internet connectivity, core software and the like, and who will help you plan and budget for the future.
Third, a small business’s systems need regular maintenance, including periodic updates, antivirus software maintenance, backup monitoring, and security check-ups. Finally, small businesses need support for the IT projects that crop up periodically: small things like a new employee starting to bigger undertakings like installing a new server or opening a new office.
What to Ask Potential IT Providers
No one person can meet every one of these needs: You need a team. You can hire the team onto your staff, or you can outsource it. Because the cost of hiring a team is usually prohibitive for a small business, outsourcing is usually the best option.
If you’re ready to choose an IT service provider that meets your needs, you’ll want to first define your IT-related goals. These might include increasing network uptime or performance, speeding up response times, securing your systems against hacking, having reliable backups in case of disasters and mistakes, and complying with regulations.
Outsourcing your IT support is usually an effective way to grow your small business, but it isn’t a partnership to be undertaken lightly. When vetting potential providers, make sure these questions have been addressed:
1. What does ‘all-inclusive’ mean?
Lots of outsourced IT companies use the term “all-inclusive” to describe their services — only to later charge extra for services not actually included in the contract. To figure out what’s really included in your plan, ask the salespeople what might prompt the provider to send you a bill besides the monthly fee. Whether it’s a server upgrade or an in-person support call, there will almost always be extras beyond the supposedly all-inclusive plan.
2. Does the provider take security seriously?
Many IT support providers are willing to discuss (at great length) the security measures they take to protect your business, but just as important are the measures they take to protect their own. When you rely on a service provider, you essentially give that company the keys to your business network. If the IT company has, say, 50 customers, that means it’s holding the keys to 50 different networks — and that makes it a tantalizing target for cyberattacks. Ask any potential support company what it’s doing to stay safe, and find out whether it uses industry-standard security measures such as two-factor authentication, complex passwords, and regular password changes.
3. What about your current IT staff?
When a business leader opts to outsource IT to a support company, any existing IT employees are understandably concerned about their jobs. That said, there are ways to assuage their fears. Research from CompTIA found that 53 percent of IT support company customers have kept the same number of internal IT employees and a mere 6 percent cut in-house staffing. Most often, IT service providers handle the routine tasks, freeing up internal staff to focus on technology projects that will drive long-term revenue.
If you think your business would benefit from working with outsourced IT support, weigh the pros and cons carefully before starting. By working with a reputable IT service provider, you can leave the IT to the experts and run your business — instead of letting IT run you.