For most small businesses, having on-demand IT support is only possible in two ways: there's somebody on staff that happens to have a high degree of technology skills, or it's been outsourced to a 3rd party. For those without the benefit of such arrangements, it often falls to each employee to figure out problems to the best of their ability when they arise. That's not always an easy thing to do, given that some business technologies require a fair amount of specialized knowledge to operate and maintain.
Still, there are some ways that rank-and-file employees can try to remedy IT issues when they happen. The key is in knowing where to look for help and how to find it once you get there. In truth, this is how most front-line IT support people handle user issues too – they're just better at finding the right information in the shortest amount of time than the average person. Here are four of their go-to solution-finding techniques that can turn any employee into an IT support hero.
Check in the Manual
The first thing that any IT tech will do when assessing a problem with a piece of equipment or technology (especially if they're unfamiliar with it) is to check the user manual for the device. In a small business context, that makes it a good idea to establish a single office location to store all of those user manuals when each new device is brought in. Make sure to sort them all out alphabetically by the manufacturer so that anyone can find what they're looking for in short order. If there are devices for which the manuals are missing – don't worry – it's easy to find user manuals and more online that you can refer to for anything you need.
Check with the Manufacturer
In most cases, a problem with a device or other piece of equipment won't be an isolated incident. Chances are it's the result of a known issue that has already happened to others. The best way to find out if that's the case is to look on the support website of the manufacturer of whatever device (or software) is having the problem. Most of the time, you will find a support thread with an identical or near-identical issue to your own, along with specific troubleshooting steps, and if you're fortunate, a solution.
Search Experts Exchange
If the manufacturer doesn't have a solution, the next place to check for answers is Experts Exchange. It's a community of technology professionals that answer user questions about every kind of technical issue you can imagine. Their library of answers is quite extensive, so there's a good chance that someone has already found a solution to whatever problem you're trying to sort out. If not, you can even sign up for a subscription to the site and pose your problem directly to a network of experts that will look for a way to solve it. As a support option, it's far cheaper than contracting with an IT contractor, and the experts there tend to have quite a bit more experience and real-world knowledge than a typical help desk worker, so it's worth every penny.
Seek Help on Reddit
Although most people would consider Reddit little more than a repository for memes, cat pictures, and off-color content, many don't realize that it's also a gathering place for just about every tech expert in the world. There are a variety of places on the site where you can find tech help, and there's no shortage of people that will volunteer their time to assist you with any problem, just for the sheer challenge of trying to solve it. The subreddits you can turn to are too numerous to list, but here are some of the best of them:
If you can't find the help you need in those places, consult this list of other subreddits that may be more specific to the issue you're trying to solve.
Keep Track of What you Find
The most important thing that a small business can advise employees to do when troubleshooting tech problems is to document every solution they attempt in as much detail as possible. The same goes for any eventual solutions once they're found. Include all of that information in an internal knowledge base to eliminate unnecessary legwork if the same problem resurfaces in the future. Since most small companies hang on to their technology for extended periods of time, there's a good chance it'll come in handy.
And that's it. With these resources handy, it should be possible to find a solution to most technical issues within a reasonable amount of time. It's no substitute for a real IT department, mind you, but it's a decent way to handle things for small businesses for whom having one is out of the question.