IT support provider

As a small business owner, you’re no doubt aware that protecting your website and all your web- and network-based tools is crucial.

Startups and small businesses are targeted in 58 percent of all cyber attacks, according to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigation Report. However, you may feel like expert IT support is a luxury you can’t afford.

Your small business’s limited budget may not even have room to hire a single full-time IT person, let alone a whole team. Yet you need someone who can secure your network, fix a printer connection, and answer your questions about cloud storage—often all in the same day. One person, no matter how qualified, won’t have the full range of expertise to handle all of your technology needs.

The solution for most small businesses is to outsource your IT support to an IT service provider. Hiring a support provider often gives you an entire team of experts for less than it would cost to keep a single full-time employee on staff. It also frees up your time, energy, and money to focus on growing your business instead of worrying about cybersecurity and network connections.

Why outsource IT?

Your expertise is running your business and the product or service you offer. Because you need to focus on your business, it just makes sense to outsource some things.

Because your daily operations almost certainly rely on IT functioning smoothly, having a service provider on call means you and your team won’t lose out on business when there are hiccups in your technology. This option will prevent issues from arising and will allow your business to always run smoothly. The right IT support company acts as a partner rather than as an employee or subcontractor.

You can hire an IT firm on a one-off basis to handle a particular project or challenge—for example, if your email is down and you just want someone to get it up and running again so your clients don’t think you’ve abandoned them.

You’d make a one-time payment or pay at an hourly rate until the project was completed. In this case, you become a general contractor, which means you assume all risk if the project doesn’t go as planned, takes longer than expected, or the solution isn’t sufficient.

Outsourcing to an IT service provider lets you have an IT department whenever you need it—without having to keep a full-time, fully staffed team in place.

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What do you get?

An IT support provider can usually provide an array of services, including application, network, system, and e-management services, and you pay for the ones you need now with the option to scale up or down when the time comes. In addition, most IT support providers supplement their own services with those from other providers to ensure they can offer capabilities like web hosting and internet access as well.

If you’re in the market for an IT service provider, look for one that offers a monthly fixed-fee pricing model. An IT firm that charges by the hour has no incentive to fix problems quickly and efficiently.

With a flat fee model, however, your service provider will handle any IT-related issues that pop up within the agreed-upon budget. Upgrading PCs, setting up firewalls, backing up files, and protecting email accounts are all the responsibility of the IT support company, and it makes sense for them to address those situations as thoroughly and as quickly as possible to remain on your payroll.

What are the drawbacks?

If you do hire on an IT support company, it’s important to be aware of the drawbacks as well as the benefits. For starters, they’ll manage your IT remotely. If you have an issue with your printer or in your server room, for instance, you may need someone who can be physically available to perform the instructions that your service provider gives over the phone or via email. With that said, most service providers offer on-site support when needed, though check your contract—it may cost extra.

Moreover, a managed service provider isn’t a technology panacea. Your support company can help you keep software applications like a CRM up and running, but it won’t be the one to train your team on how to use it or to customize it to your business. After all, you don’t want to outsource your core competencies.

Finally, you will need to add into your budget the cost of working with a reputable IT support company. The expenses are likely to include upfront fees plus several hundred dollars a month at minimum, depending on the size of your company and your technical needs.

What questions should I ask to vet IT support companies?

To decide whether outsourcing your IT support makes sense for your business, it helps to think through your IT needs and goals. Most small businesses have one or more of the following needs: securing systems and data, speeding up response times, and increasing the power and performance of their networks.

As you vet potential IT support companies, ask these key questions:

1. What’s included in the cost?

The first thing you want to know is how and how much you’ll be billed. And read those terms carefully to be sure you know exactly what’s included in that cost. Some providers will claim to offer all-inclusive prices, but somehow you’ll still end up with a separate bill for something like a server upgrade at the end of the month.

2. Are you compatible?

Make sure that the platforms a provider supports align with the technologies you rely on—and those you might rely on in the future. Some support companies have strong technical acumen around Apple products, for instance, but aren’t as familiar with Microsoft or Cisco.

3. How are passwords protected?

Ask a potential provider how they handle passwords internally. If they don’t mention multifactor authentication—that’s a big red flag. Far too many providers simply keep their customers’ passwords in plain-text, unencrypted Excel spreadsheets.

It’s easy, and it works, but it’s absolutely not secure. IT support companies are a prime target for hackers, who need only to exploit one vulnerability to get access to all of their clients’ passwords. Make sure any company you hire has complete protocols for keeping passwords and other sensitive data secure.

4. How do you train employees?

As human error is so often the cause of a security breach, ask a potential IT service provider how they train their staff members against cybersecurity threats. It’s a good sign if they train every employee to guard against phishing attempts and they update the training regularly.

If an employee at your IT support company opens the wrong email or mistakenly clicks on a malicious link, your entire IT infrastructure could be put at risk. Your IT support should be protecting your data, not potentially compromising it.

The best provider will work with you like a business partner. Your goals should be largely intertwined. Do your homework and get to know a number of providers before settling on one. When you do find a trustworthy IT support company that can provide the services you need, your entire business will benefit.

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Jon Schram

Jon Schram is a husband, father, and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of The Purple Guys, a Midwest-based information technology support company. The company has grown since 2001 to become the Midwest’s premier IT support company with more than a 96 percent customer satisfaction rating. Jon and his wife, Jill, have three children and have founded two businesses.