Not all startups are high tech, although it would almost seem so these days. Even if you are producing the next best gardening tools, however, you will need technology. And as your business grows, the tech needs do too. Consider just the minimum your business will need, even if it is operated from a home office at first.
Hardware – computers, printers, modem, phone system, mobile devices
Software – These needs may vary, but could include everything from customer databases and management/service, to project management, to accounting, to security, to marketing tools and beyond.
IT Support is Not Optional
Startups, especially low-tech ones, will not have an IT expert on their teams. That’s a huge cost and one that really need not be. The current “wisdom” is that in-house tech support makes sense when a team grows to 25-50.
Yet, when things go wrong, there needs to be quick fix, and planning ahead to get that “fix” will be an essential part of your operational strategy.
There are two operational IT functions that must be considered – support for hardware, networking and security, and support for software that you are using.
Fortunately, as you purchase SaaS packages, there is support built in. It is a matter of contacting the tech support people and getting issues resolved as quickly as possible. This support function comes with your purchase or subscription.
It is when other things go wrong – things with networking, with hardware, with security breaches, with system crashes, with disaster recovery, etc. - that an IT professional is necessary.
So, what are your options? Actually, there are many, depending upon your budget and your unique needs.
Best Practices for Getting the IT Support You Need
As a small startup, your best option is to outsource your IT support. Before you sign on the dotted line, however, you need to do your own homework.
Define what you need. Do you need setup functions, or do you need methods for back up and security of what you have already set up?
Get these needs in writing, so that when you discuss options with potential vendors, you have your “list.”
Will you need an “on call” tech support service, 24 hours a day, or will you go for an “as needs” contract, which could result in some down-time.
Can you handle remote support or do you want someone local who will physically appear to resolve your issues?
Is the support vendor able to handle your support needs as your business grows and the level of support needs expands? It makes no sense to bring in an individual who is only good for initial setup. You will be out looking for someone else soon.
Free IT Support
There are a number of free IT support resources online, many of them run by volunteer geeks who have a passion for solving tech issues. In fact, your tech issue may be one that has already been addressed by the resource, and the “fix” may be simple. All of this, of course, takes time and the assumption that you will fully understand the fix that is being presented. Using free resources can be a cost savings but can also be inefficient.
With purchased software and services, there is always free IT support, so long as you have the contact information you need. How many of us have had our Wi-Fi go out and then find ourselves scrambling for the tech support number we need? If you have a reliance on a lot of utility and tech vendors, it may make sense to subscribe to a service that provides customer support numbers for everything from your electric utility to your Wi-Fi provider. Most of these services have a mobile app for download, so you have access to the number from anywhere.
Contracted IT Support – Remote or Local
If you want efficiency and minimum downtime for tech support, your best practice is to contract with a service. You may find them quite reasonable, and, after all, how much does your “downtime” cost?
This is one of the best ways to keep support costs down. When you contract with a remote service, you simply contact a support technician who then accesses your system from anywhere and fixes your issues without the need to come on-site.
You may want to see your IT support guy/gal face-to-face. While this is more expensive, it is an option that many small businesses choose, because it allows a relationship to be built over time, and the consistency of having the same individual who understands the history of your tech issues. If you go this route, be certain that you have checked many references before signing any contract. Usually, contracts can be designed for a “pay as you go” hourly rate, or a retainer option with a set annual fee.
Combination Remote and Local
There are vendors, such as the Geek Squad, that provide both remote and on-sites services. This group offer a huge support network, 24/7, and provides ongoing maintenance as well as troubleshooting when needed. There are usually several contractual options which allow you to add services as you grow. This IT support is owned by Best Buy, a retailer that is likely to be around for many years, so there is the security of knowing that your contract will be honored.
Other Important Considerations
Now that you understand the necessity of tech support and the options you have for getting what you need within your budget constraints, here are the other guidelines for a successful relationship with any vendor you choose.
Make sure that any individual or vendor operation you choose has people with the education and certifications to back up what they claim to be able to do. You want someone who understands how IT fits into your business and who can make suggestions and recommendations that are state-of-the-art. Security is a good example. Hackers target small businesses because their layers of security are much softer. Nothing could be worse than for your customers’ personal and financial information to be stolen.
This may seem like a “touch-feely” non-essential, but it is not. You want tech support people that can feel your pain when things go wrong and are able to see issues from your perspective.
Choose the simplest solution for you, not what any individual or company vendor thinks you should have. IT support should make things run smoothly for you with minimal stress or frustration on your part.
IT support people need to accept accountability for their services. Follow-up on their part is important. And if a specific provided service has not fixed every issue, then they need to return and make it right. Dump any provider who falters on accountability.
This information should be helpful as you look to find the IT support you will need today and that will evolve as your startup grows. But your job is to be proactive – looking at your needs, knowing what you can do yourself and what you cannot, and planning for support over the long-term – will mean that you will minimize downtime and your own frustration.