Choosing the right small business IT for your company can be a tricky and confusing affair, even for computer-savvy small businesses. Technology changes too quickly for any one person to fully keep track, so the options can seem both foreign and endless.
Time constraints can double the trouble, since it's common for small businesses to either buy technology "just in time" to meet the specific needs of a project or as a quick fix for technology on the fritz. Either scenario means buying equipment and software on the fly, with little time to worry about the technical details.
"I suggest that most SMBs not buy an out-of-the-box solution, as it's probably not quite what they need, even though they could make it work in most circumstances. It may be overkill and more expensive for most business purposes," advises Steven Holtzman, co-owner of a family-owned aerial photography business called West Coast Aerial Photography.
Even if, miraculously, you manage to squeeze in the time to research the various technical choices, you can easily find yourself torn between options. Of Option A or Option B, you might wonder, which will do the job best? Which will cost more in the long run? Which can grow with my company, and which is simply more technology than I will ever use?
For many small business owners, the best way to resolve all these issues is to turn to a company that already knows the answers: a value added reseller (VAR). In essence, a VAR resells existing products, but then adds its own services too, which typically include consulting, installation, trouble-shooting and related computing services.
In years past, VARs tended to focus on serving big businesses and directed very little attention at small and medium businesses. But this has changed, thanks to a recession, a slow recovery and big business' tendency to lock the coffers against new purchases until economic winds turn favorable again.
These days, big and small VARs alike see their future in serving SMBs. The upside for small business: you get better deals, better service and more VARs to choose from than ever before.
Choose a National or Local VAR?
You have plenty of options among VARs on both the national and local level. But how do you know whether you want a national or a local VAR to be your technology partner?
"One advantage to using a big, national VAR like Dell and CDW is that they're likely to have a dedicated pre-sale support person who specializes in a particular brand of product, i.e. Microsoft licensing specialist, and this person can help the small business choose the right product and license," says Joyce Tang, president and chief engineer of AgilisIT, an IT services company specializing in serving the healthcare and biotech industries.
Other big advantages to using a big, national VAR:
- They offer one-stop shopping for a wide range of technologies and products
- Typically offer warranties
- Often offer financing
- Typically offer training programs to help you and your staff learn how to use the new technology
- They're typically more financially stable and therefore more likely to remain in business
The advantages to working with a smaller, local VAR:
- Typically offers more personal service, and often more prompt to respond to questions and problems
- Typically more focused on a specific technology and often on a specific industry as well. A VAR specializing in your industry can be far more useful than a VAR who focuses only on the technologies they sell
- In today's economy, smaller VARs are more likely to negotiate price than are national VARs
Abbie Hosta is the marketing manager at Accellis Technology Group, an IT services firm specializing in serving law firms and professional organizations. Not surprisingly, when it comes to choosing a VAR, she advocates hiring a specialist rather than a generalist.
"Stay away from the 'Geek Squad-ilk' companies and look for VARs that work only within certain demographics," she advises. "Their specialty will go a long way."