First ask if you have enough work to keep a specialist busy
With one bad network outage or website malfunction and no one on staff equipped to handle it, a small business owner could be facing a serious disruption in operations.
But beyond emergencies, do you have enough work to keep an IT staffer busy full- or part-time? Consider the nature of your business and how much it relies on Internet, network and server usage. An IT staffer’s role may include network administration, equipment support, information security and even software and web development.
Shakira Roberts, manager of California Virtual
, a virtual office company in Beverly Hills, uses a full-time IT technician because the business is conducted mainly in the cloud and through an online store. Network, server or website crashes would compromise business, she says.
California Virtual’s IT specialist is responsible for setting up, checking on and maintaining network connections, servers and new computer equipment, as well as assisting with ad hoc problems. And Roberts’s bosses, the owners of California Virtual, also operate their law firms in the same building, so the same staffer assists with IT issues building-wide.
If your small business’s IT needs are more sporadic, consider hiring independent contractors
as needed. For Ian Aronovich, CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org in Great Neck, New York, this is a perfect solution.
compiles and provides information about government auctions of seized and surplus merchandise nationwide. They hired an independent contractor to set up their internal computer network initially (including a firewall and virtual private network for remote workers) and developed a service contract.
It covers quarterly checkups, annual equipment upgrades, adding/removing work stations and fixing problems. Outside of the scheduled checkups and upgrades, Aronovich estimates they call their network pro about three to four times a year to resolve problems.
Can you consider an alternate IT strategy?
Another option is using managed services for IT needs, says Jamie Lin, CEO of Gizmo Global
, an Emeryville, California, boutique IT firm serving small and midsized businesses. This eliminates the need for an IT staffer, although some businesses employ someone to manage the service providers.
Lin says that instead of centralizing IT through on-site hardware, networks and exchange servers (plus full-time employee oversight), businesses may opt for an IT strategy. That could include using cloud-based Software as a Service
(SaaS) providers: Google Apps or Office 365 for email and files; Freshbooks, Xero or Quickbooks Online for accounting; Insightly, Salesforce or Zoho for CRM; and a variety of other applications for time tracking, expense tracking and marketing.
These applications may also be integrated, thus eliminating duplicate work (such as entering customer information into email, CRM and accounting systems separately) to save you time.
To determine the best SaaS products for your small business, Lin recommends knowing your business’s pain points, mapping out your processes and identifying key IT requirements. If you’re switching to SaaS from a centralized IT strategy, make sure you modify your budget from multiyear, amortized expenses to monthly expenses—and don’t forget migration costs.