When talking with business owners, we’ve found time and again that many simply don’t pay much attention to their network. For many small businesses, it takes a little blip (or worse, a major catastrophe) before they realize that their network had been neglected for far too long. In the business world, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true, perhaps most especially on the IT side of things.
A haphazard or an uninformed approach to dealing with network issues ensures a few things.
- Time will be lost; and as a result, money will be lost.
- Network issues will persist even after the last fire is put out.
- Instability will inevitably lead to a network disaster at some point.
However, most small businesses, and a good deal of medium-sized ones, lack the resources to manage their network with an experienced staff of full-time IT experts. The solution is to choose an IT provider to perform regular network maintenance. This introduces a really interesting (and unfortunate) catch-22 to addressing network concerns: hiring the wrong IT vendor can be nearly as disastrous as doing nothing at all. According to The Digest, some of the most important things to look for in a vendor include trustworthiness, reliability, quality service, and quality customer care. I couldn’t agree more. So what are the most important things to avoid?
I’ve written extensively about this in the past, but for the sake of brevity, here are some of the most important things to steer clear of when choosing an IT professional to service your network.
Choosing a Vendor Who Won’t Offer the Support You Need
Small- and medium-sized businesses typically have limited IT budgets, but the need for robust support remains as critical to the operation as a large company. In fact, while large businesses typically have the ability to swallow the costs in the instance of a major network SNAFU, their smaller counterparts could easily end up paying dearly in the instance of a network failure. This makes choosing the right vendor – one that can offer the level of support and reliability discussed above – of paramount importance.
Yet far too often, business owners err on the side of one of two extremes. The first is hiring the independent “one-man band” IT technician. The second is hiring the “major player” giant tech support firm.
There’s a certain logic to each of these decisions. A small company might be able to provide low-cost service, while a major player will have the resources to be able to serve your network expertly. For small-to-medium sized businesses, the biggest issue this poses is availability. A one-man operation might be running his kids to school, on vacation, or out to eat. Maybe he’s in a place with poor cell reception. Whatever the case may be, you won’t have the assurance of reliable service when you need it.
Interestingly enough, the same is true for large tech companies! They’ll cost you a pretty penny, but as a small fish in a large pond, they’re more likely to service their big-time clients quickly than they are to address your network. Even when they do, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the expert service you need since they’ll likely assign their less-experienced technician to your network concerns. In an article written by Jennifer Schiff on CIO, consultant Morris Tabush said, “An IT consultant who typically works with Fortune 500 companies will have a difficult time serving the needs of an SMB.”
The option that worked best for me when starting out was the local, independently owned consulting firm, and it’s perhaps the best model for businesses that aren’t the most massive. Independent firms can be large enough to provide excellent support, availability, and response times, but small enough to offer fair rates and personal support.
Choosing an Incompetent Vendor
If you’re not an IT professional yourself, you might not know the ins and outs of what the IT guys actually do, much less whether you’re getting the most for the money you’re paying. It can be difficult to determine whether a vendor is incompetent or not. Sure, a web search might yield a certain number of reviews, but you can’t be assured that a bit of Google-fu will lead you to the perfect consulting firm.
Consider this: the IT industry isn’t regulated the way many industries are, meaning just about anyone can claim to be an IT professional – no experience, training, or qualifications necessary. Would you trust a “doctor” without a medical degree and license to practice with your health? Neither should you leave the health of your network in the hands of an inexperienced firm!
What business owners need to do, therefore, is to get really good at asking questions. You’ll want to know whether they’ve had experience with your type of business, if they answer support calls quickly and reliably, if they’re properly credentialed, and more. Just a few questions to consider asking include:
- Do you answer your phones live?
- Can you provide professional references and testimonials?
- Do you take the time answer my questions simply and completely (without resorting to “geek-speak”)?
- Will you develop a disaster recovery plan to ensure fast continuity of operations?
- Are your technicians punctual, professional, and pleasant?
Do your homework. Cover your bases. Ask the important questions. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself (and your network) at great risk.
Choosing a Great Vendor … But Not Using Them Properly
If you’ve done your homework and hired an IT firm that’s competent, reliable, and familiar with your business, that’s great! But you’re still only halfway to maximizing the utility of your IT professional. Far too often, SMBs shoot themselves in the foot by assuming that “the IT guy will take care of it.”
Sure he will! But you may end up paying a lot of cash for a fix that could have easily been avoided. The fact is, choosing the right IT professional doesn’t mean you don’t bear a certain amount of responsibility for the health of your network. Your IT guy’s focus should be on maintaining network health with a preventive rather than a reactive approach. There’s a lot that SMBs can do to get the most out of their IT professional and IT budget.
- Keeping antivirus and antimalware software up to date. Those updates include patches to loopholes that may exist within your network, and address the latest viruses. The “ounce of prevention” mentioned at the beginning of this piece is far preferable to an infection that will result in lost time and money.
- Avoiding unnecessary downloads. If the employees in a small- or medium-sized business are downloading wallpapers, screensavers, games, applications, plugins, browser extensions, and toolbars, the chances of a virus (or worse, a network invasion by a cybercriminal) increase exponentially.
- Allowing the consultant to maintain the network. If you’ve hired a truly phenomenal IT firm, they’re going to be monitoring your network 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. Let them do it!
Even the best, most reliable IT services provider can’t prevent your employees with accidentally (or, God forbid, intentionally) messing with your network. Using your IT professional properly will require communication, mutual respect, and teamwork.
Don’t Pay a Cent
I’ve always said, your “computer guy” shouldn’t cost you a single cent. Sure, you’ll pay them. But the amount of money that they’ll save you by creating a safe, efficient, and cost-reducing network should be far greater than your investment.