Almost every small or mid-size business (SMB) owner or CEO depends on computers to run their business. Getting the right technology is one of the most important factors in the success of the enterprise. How to select an SMB IT Consultant then becomes a primary consideration.
As your business grows, you must decide whether to hire your own IT staff or outsource the network maintenance, data security, website, e-commerce, POS systems and other IT equipment and software to an SMB IT consultant and managed services provider (MSP). Many business leaders choose to outsource so they can focus their resources on what they do best.
IT as a Commodity or Strategy for Revenue Growth?
Once the decision to outsource is made, the job of selecting the right IT consultant must be tackled. Before you make a list of questions to ask potential consultants, ask yourself, what am I really looking to get from IT in my business?
If the answer is, “IT is a commodity, I just want it to work,” then just about any competent IT consultant will do. Probably several will be willing to bid the lowest price for your servers, network equipment, desktops, laptops, other equipment. You will get what the lowest price buys.
On the other hand, if what you want most is to leverage technology to grow the business and increase revenues while costs decline, that narrows down the selection pool considerably.
You want an ROI on your IT investment that meets your expectations and those of your investors. Consequently, finding an SMB IT consultant that can show you how to achieve that goal becomes your objective.
When choosing an SMB IT consultant, you may also be seeking some or all the following:
- The project to be completed on time and under budget with minimal interruptions
- Not to hear unexpected bad news
- Your staff to become more capable and acquire new skills and knowledge from the consultant
- Advice that triggers new ideas and possibilities rather than constrains your thinking
I also suspect that you want your consultant to address errors immediately and stop the project until they are understood and resolved. You’re looking for honest updates and progress reports, expected outcomes and accurate completion dates.
Most of all, you probably want a consultant that understands your business, and can contribute to and help you execute your plan for success. You want an SMB IT consultant who is a partner in your success, believes in you and your ideas, and can envision how IT will help you get there faster and more securely.
We know that along the way you expect proactive service, responsive support, a high level of expertise, predictable fees, state-of-the-art technology, and adequate support staff. And, you really would prefer to have a personal relationship with your partner in success who is helping you with such an important part of your business.
So, if these criteria for how to select an IT consultant to help you grow your business are important to you, here’s a list of 25 questions to ask when selecting an SMB IT consultant.
How to Select an SMB IT Consultant
25 Questions to ask about:
- Are you happy with your current IT services company or resource?
Ask yourself this simple question at the beginning of a search for an outsourced IT resource or if you’re working with an internal IT department or team where a “build or buy” decision is under consideration. Don’t fix what’s not broken, but if you’re the slightest bit unhappy or concerned about how IT support works inside your company, here are a few more questions that will help you find the best possible IT partner.
- Do you like them (management and the engineers that work on your account)?
Nobody wants to work with a grouch or someone who can’t communicate well. Look for an SMB IT consultant that is pleasant to deal with personally and professionally. Don’t overlook intangibles, such as the consultant’s motivation, attitude, honesty, ability and culture fit.
- Are they recognized by major OEMs as a top-tier IT provider?
If software and hardware manufacturers like Microsoft, HP or Xerox think highly of the IT consultant, then you can bet they are competent and well-trained. Look for credentials that include Microsoft Partner of The Year, 200 Top Microsoft Partners, Cloud Specialist, Premier Partner, etc. Numerous IT partner recognition awards indicate a high level of competence.
- Are they recognized by the IT industry?
Ascertain the expertise and desire on the part of the SMB IT consultant to provide industry leadership by examining their trade and peer awards like the MSPMentor Global Ranking of Top Managed Services Providers and membership in professional organizations.
- Do they understand your business problems?
Look for an IT partner that has in-depth experience in your specific industry. Experienced doctors can listen to you talk about the symptoms and then provide the correct diagnosis and treatment. Good SMB IT consultants should be able to swiftly grasp work processes and information flow, identify issues or bottlenecks, and quickly recommend an effective and affordable solution.
- Do they have satisfied customers that are businesses like yours?
All IT consultants can provide a couple of references. Ask them to give you the contact information of long-term customers so you can verify the level of satisfaction yourself. Review their customer case studies as well.
- Do they offer predictable IT costs that include unlimited IT support for a fixed, monthly fee?
It’s easy to compare typical IT consultant hourly rates by making a few calls. However, what’s more difficult to identify is how many hours a project or repair takes. If you elect to hire an IT consultant by the hour, they should be able to give you a cost range or examples so you’re not completely surprised by the invoice.