Small business has increasingly become dependent on technology. In fact, we often say,
“Every business is a technology business.”
When it comes to small business technical support, you often can’t afford to hire full-time IT staff – and even if you do have one IT professional – that one individual doesn’t always have all the skills needed to keep business operations running efficiently.
Evaluating small business IT consulting services
When hiring an IT Services company, here are 5 questions that can help you get the best fit for your company’s needs.
1. How will you be billed?
IT service company consulting fees vary based on the billing model. Common models include:
Managed services – You pay one set price per month, and in return, your computer network is kept running smoothly. This model provides predicable income for the service provider and a budget-able expense for an organization. The challenge is gaining clarity what’s within scope of the set fees.
Set price services – Some IT service providers offer set fees, similar to getting an oil change on your car. This pricing model works well for small, discrete jobs.
Time & expense services – This billing model allows you to fluctuate your IT expenditures based on cash flow and the intensity of your current IT initiatives
However, you are billed, a good IT services provider will help you find the resolution to the problem but can’t always resolve the problem.
- The problem may not be worth fixing. It may be easier and less expensive to buy a computer than repair one that’s 10 years old.
- The problem may not be fixable. The hardware and software may be incompatible, and your only choice is to replace one of the system components.
- The problem may reoccur. We can remove malware, install anti-malware software and provide recommendations for IT policies and procedures to stop the problem from recurring, but we can’t guarantee your systems won’t become re-infected.
2. Where will the work be performed?
Very few IT services need to be performed on-site any more. While some clients may hire us because we’re a Detroit IT services firm, we actually support clients across the country. Even when clients are right in our township, it’s often simpler and more cost effective to login remotely. That said, when you need software training or have multiple hardware and software issues that need to be diagnosed and resolved, it can be valuable to have local IT professionals come on site.
3. Are you a value-added reseller (VAR) or an independent IT advisor?
Value added resellers typically make a commission on top of the IT services revenue. An independent IT advisor may make an affiliate fee – or may not. The reason you want to know is because a VAR is not going to be as objective. They have a particular software solution to sell. They’re not looking for the BEST software solution for your organization. They’re looking for a good fit with the software they sell.
Now, if you’ve done a software evaluation and you know you want to implement QuickBooks Premier (for example), it makes sense to work with a QuickBooks Pro Advisor who knows the software inside and out. We partner with small business software VARS all the time.
As an independent IT consulting firm, we start with questions like “What’s possible?” “What’s the BEST way to achieve your business goals using technology?”
That may mean looking at several small business software solutions – or even custom software development. We begin with the end in mind and work backward toward the right software solution.
4. Do you do software configuration or software customizations?
When an IT consulting firm says they do software configuration, what they mean is that they set it up for your organization. In the case of QuickBooks Premier, they’ll ask you a series of questions, like:
- When’s your fiscal year end?
- What states do you pay sales tax in?
- Are you on a cash or accrual basis?
- What financial reporting do you need?
The system already supports these options, so the main job of the small business IT consulting services firm is to ensure you understand the questions, and that the software is setup correctly.
When the term is used correctly, software customization can mean a multitude of things, but it ALWAYS involves software programming. Software customization includes:
- Taking a base pre-packaged software solution, like QuickBooks, and adding features that are unique to your organization. For example, you may take orders in from the web and create an auto-look up of shipping weight and zip code to create a custom shipping cost.
- Using API access to build integrations between two software programs.
- Building an entirely new software program that’s customized to meet your needs. However, this is more commonly (and more accurately) called custom software development or custom software programming.
5. Do you outsource software development overseas or do you use US-based IT professionals?
In this global Internet-connected economy, it’s easier than ever to outsource software development overseas. While you may be able to lower the cost of your IT project, you also need to consider:
- Business & industry expertise: With most offshore developers, you can’t just “hand off” a project. They don’t understand your business or industry. Can you develop a scope of work that is 100% clear on what you expect to have built? Will the offshore development team understand how to handle exceptions?
- Communication: How will you communicate your needs? Working with an overseas developer means much more than overcoming a language barrier. Understanding how to translate ideas to software code is a challenge for all programmers.
- Quality: What’s the quality of the software code? How will it be tested?
- Support & upgrades: Will anyone else be able to support the software? How will you upgrade and enhance the software in the future?
- Privacy: Will your sensitive data and proprietary processes be protected?
Finding the right IT services partner
Very few small businesses today can thrive without leveraging technology to boost efficiency and track metrics. Very small businesses may be able to get by with GeekSquad-type support. As your business grows in size and complexity, it pays to find a strategic technology advisor who has understands both your business goals – and your business challenges. If we can help, please let us know!
What other questions do you ask when you’re hiring an IT consulting firm? Leave us a note in the comments below.