If you are looking to outsource your small business IT support or perhaps you are looking to change IT support providers its important to evaluate certain criteria more closely. Growing small businesses can benefit enormously from making the right decision in this area. On the flip side, conversely investing in the wrong company can have disastrous impacts in terms of unnecessary costs not to mention introduced risk to business performance.
In this article we are going to focus on what we feel are the most important criteria to help with your decision covering commercial aspects, service aspects and technology and infrastructure compatibility. Before we dig in, I would first like to provide a perspective on why small business it support matters in 2020.
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Why is small business IT support important?
Many small businesses can and do survive with limited IT support, the challenge prevents itself more when a small business looks to scale up their capability. To highlight this a recent report based on 2019 data produced by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman demonstrates quite clearly as a small business grows in terms of employee size so did their investment in IT.
Productivity output related to IT investments was substantially higher in larger businesses as opposed to small businesses. Finally small business investments in IT had fallen comparing to the previous report published.
See below for more detail
This suggests there is an opportunity for small businesses to invest more in IT support as it should improve overall productivity but there are challenges when it comes to justifying the cost. On that note here is the first recommendation in selecting a IT support company for your business related to commercials.
Tip 1 – Contracts – No Lock In & Proactive/Reactive Services
One of the biggest fears for many small businesses is the upfront or ongoing commitment involved in selecting an outsourced IT company. On that note many companies will insist on a 1 or 2 year contract based on the level of work required to help your business. There is no reason that you should not be able to negotiate a month to month contract so you have the flexibility to change vendors if you encounter unexpected issues.
For a lot of IT support companies they can make money when things go wrong (reactive services). You want to be sure to have provision for both proactive and reactive services included in the contract. Otherwise your IT company will be charging you for additional services every time you have a problem which could add up substantially. You will want to get clear on exactly what is and is not included.
Some other questions you might want to ask to help clarify the contract include:
– Do they charge a call-out fee if they need to come onsite?
– Is there a set hourly rate for different types of services?
– Does the hourly rate differ if they service you remotely vs onsite?
– Is there a minimum fee for any remote or onsite support regardless of total time needed?
(e.g if they solve an issue in 20 mins do they charge you 1 hour regardless)
Tip 2 – Speed of Service & How They Will Service You
Of great importance for any small business it support company is their speed to be able to support you when you are in need. Any downtime for a small business can often result in loss of income – not being able to service customers etc.
What you need to do is ask for a Service Level Agreement or SLA so you can get crisp on the expectations you should have if you face an IT issue. They should be itemising all the different kinds of standard issues and providing a clear guaranteed response time. Additionally you should ask for any data they might have on response times provided to their customers so they can see. This should be standard in the reporting you will get so it should be availbale.
In addition to the speed of service, you will also want to clarify what are the acceptable contact methods. For example when you have an issue do you need to log a ticket as opposed to just being able to call someone? Finally you will want to understand how it will work out of business hours – what are the acceptable contact methods for that – and what are the charges if different from standard business hours? Will they provide on site it support?
Tip 3 – What’s their customer satisfaction & relevant experience like
Just like other small businesses, IT support companies also rely on positive Google and Facebook reviews. As a result its worthwhile checking out the prospective companies reviews to see if anything alarming stands out based on customer feedback.
Here are a few questions you should look to find answers for based on the reviews you find:
-Is there consistency in general with their service based on the customer reviews?
– Were they easy to contact when something went wrong?
– If things did not go to plan were they professional and reasonable to make good on the situation?
– Does the IT company respond to customer reviews (always a good sign they are customer centric and care about their customers)
What is also likely going to be useful if its not clear from the reviews, is to validate that the company has experience with businesses similar to yours.
For example if you are an emergency plumber or electrician knowing your preferred IT company has experiences with these kinds of businesses is important given the different needs you might have vs say a local restaurant or cafe.
Finally its worth digging into their credibility and certifications. Are they a certified partner of big companies such as Google, Microsoft or DropBox? Do they openly state the certifications they might have with other large companies like Apple and Cisco? It should be clear from the companies website but if not ask for a copy of the certification/relevant experience.
Tip 4 – Can the IT support company work with your business systems?
This is a very important one. Businesses can operate on a variety of different systems such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux. Most small business it support companies will state that they can support all systems but its worth getting specific on the actual experience and amount of customers they have on your chosen system. If you operate on Mac OS for example and 95% of their customer are on Windows then you might not get the same level of expertise and service as their Windows Customers. Apple also have a great tool which allows you to see if the IT support company you are considering is a verified apple consultant.
Secondly on this point you are going to want identify what are the software programs that are most critical to your business functioning. You are then going to want some assurance that the IT company can work with this critical software. If your company relies on custom made software that was created by a developer and that developer is no longer engaged with your company, dont look to the IT company to support the custom software. Its not too hard to find a developer on sites like Freelancer or Upwork.com and its really cost effective as well.
Tip 5 – Can they grow with you as you scale up?
Assuming that you can find the ideal small business IT support company for you, finally you are going to want to understand if they can deal with your needs as your business grows. As you are not going to want to be switching companies every other year, much like choosing an accountant you want to think more mid to long term. Ask them for examples of how they have supported a growing small business and how they were able to continue to manage service delivery as their other customer needs have increased
Choosing the best small business it support company available is not an easy decision but its one worth investing time into to get right. If you follow the suggestions in this post you are going to have some healthy safeguards to make the process that much simpler – best of luck !