By Charles Edge
Luckily for SMB professionals, computers and networks are less intimidating now than they have ever been before. And with today’s user-friendly tools and technology, you don’t need to be a full-time computer scientist on staff to understand the fundamentals of IT and to help your company run smoothly.
However, with all the responsibilities on your plate, some SMB professionals don’t have a ton of time or the know how to manage certain IT tasks. If you can’t figure it out yourself, or if a project is too big for you to handle, it may be worth getting help from a technology consultant or IT vendor. Of course, it’s important to choose your help wisely as SMBs don’t have time to mess around with sub-par vendor support or technology consultants.
Most SMBs also need to spend wisely what little dollars are available on getting IT support. And one great way to cut costs in the long run is by doing as much of the technology management as you can, by learning from IT professionals. Learning all that you can now will help you gain valuable skills you can use to benefit your office, as well as your own professional development, in the future later.
Where and How to Find a Technology Consultant
The type of SMB professional you want to be will dictate the kind of assistance you should seek. If you want to learn as much as you can, finding a technology consultant who will show you what they’re doing and talk you through it will offer the best way for you to learn.
Finding IT support might seem easy at first, as you’d assume that people are as they’re advertised. But keep in mind everyone has the things they’re best at and no one person can know everything. The best strategy for finding the best consultant is to identify what you’d like to achieve, and to look for someone who has the skills to match such criteria. Then, I recommend you start your search using the following avenues:
- There’s no better place to find a vendor than from a trusted recommendation. As a former Mac consultant, nearly all of our customers came from people referring their friends and colleagues to us. Good people are hard to find, but if you ask around, you’re likely to find someone who’s right for you.
- Vendor websites. Microsoft has an entire site dedicated to finding an IT professional who can help you out. Similarly, the Apple Consultants Network (ACN) is a great place to find a consultant if you use Apple products, and its portal comes complete with reviews on consultants as well as their distance from you. Using consultants via vendor sites can be especially useful when you’re seeking wireless router, backups and cloud services.
Interviewing and Selecting the Right Technology Consultant for You
Once you’ve created a shortlist of potential consultants, it’s important to interview each. I recommend meeting with at least three consultants, to make sure you’re picking a reliable partner. In the end, it’s definitely worth spending the time to do your homework to find a partner who ideally can be your go-to for a long time. Questions to ask include:
- Are you open to people looking over your shoulder while you work? (After all, this is the best way for an SMB professional to learn)
- How large is your company and will the same person be assigned to our office each time?
- How are escalations handled and what are the expected response times?
- Do you charge for on-site trips? Do you provide services over the phone?
- When and how will you bill us?
The best way to learn is to do. And if you’re hiring a consultant, be sure to watch and learn from them. Again, it’s worth taking the time and effort to identify the right partner for you and your office to provide what you’re looking for as well as offer you an opportunity to learn more about IT if you want it.
Getting Vendor Support
In an ideal world, contacting a vendor should take no longer than fixing a particular problem. But sometimes it can be challenging. Hold times, crappy support reps on the other end of a line, and even incorrect answers can lead an SMB professional to their wit’s end.
Each vendor has their own way to get support. I recommend starting with the vendor’s website and trying to find the word “Support” or “Help” on the site. For example, if you need help with Bushel.com, we built an online chat, so you’d click “Help” and then type a question in the box. Samsung does something similar.
Many vendors list their phone number on a page like that as well. For example, if you visit the Linksys website and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see “Contact Us”. There, you’ll have options to call Linksys, use their chat support, view their message boards, or even reach out on Twitter. Finally, some vendors hide their contact information so deeply on their website that the easiest thing to do is Google “Support” and the name of the product or vendor to find the contact information you’re looking for.
Finally, if you have bad hardware, it’s worth checking out what it will cost to replace something. After all, a new $60 appliance to replace a three-year-old router might just save you some heartache, as well as provide a nice incremental upgrade in the office environment. Consultants can make this process easier when: you don’t have time to figure it out yourself, you’ve exhausted other options, or you rely too heavily on the technology to allow it to fail.
In terms of future-proofing your IT environment, moving more and more things to the cloud is a good practice, as it will enable you to learn to manage a larger percentage of company’s assets than ever before. And when you can solve problems yourself, you will become more self-sufficient, which is kind of like winning the gold medal of IT-related tasks!
Charles Edge is director of professional services at JAMF Software, an Apple device management company. He holds nearly 20 years experience as a developer, administrator and CTO, and is passionate about helping every day users manage and make the most of their mobile devices.