The Ultimate Guide to Tech Support for Small Business

By Drew Robb
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Does your small business need IT support? Easy! Just find a couple of experienced, highly trained IT people, and lure them away from some other firm by offering a massive paycheck.

Well, so much for easy.

"A lower-level, in-house IT salary ranges from $50,000 to $80,000 with salaries considerably higher for specialized techs," said Jason Kelly, director of customer success at security firm KnowBe4 . "The break point for a company to hire an in-house IT person usually kicks in between 25 and 50 staff."

Of course, the practicality of hiring an in-house IT professional depends on your type of business and level of service it requires. But financial realities often make it difficult to add another person to the payroll. One alternative is to add the IT support function to the duties of some other staffer—or the boss ends up wearing the IT hat. Either way, the results are rarely ideal.

Small business IT support

An increasingly popular alternative is to outsource tech support to a firm that specializes in providing small business IT services. There is a growing legion of IT resources—both free and paid—that small businesses can turn to for help. This article provides a basic guide to both types, though there are undoubtedly many more resources available than we have space to include.

The Many Flavors of Small Business Tech Support

There are many different levels of IT support. Some work purely on a break/fix basis—e.g., if you have a problem, someone helps you fix it. At the other extreme is 24/7 tech support. People are on call around the clock to keep everything up and running and to deal with any and all IT issues. You can also bring in specialized support for your most important business applications, or outsource the disaster recovery (DR) and backup function.

"We let the client’s needs dictate level of support," said Erik Shanabrough, a tech support specialist at Magtype/CR, a computer support firm servicing southwestern Connecticut.  His company provides server, workstation and network support for both PC and Mac platforms. It also provides Web and software development.

New clients, Shanabrough said, typically have a to-do list of projects or items to build up over time—so there can be an initial flurry of activity. After that, his firm operates either on an as-needed basis or with a support contract for a minimum of six hours per week, often more.  Contracts may be cancelled with a 30-day written notice.

Magtype charges $125 per hour for on-demand support with a travel fee for going onsite. Those with a contract pay $100 per hour, with the higher rate applying if they go over their contracted amount.

Small Business IT Support Tips

Every business has different IT support requirements. That makes defining what you really need an important part of the selection process.

"The business owner should decide what result he or she wants to achieve and determine how frequently it's required," said Kelly. "That process can guide them in finding the best solution for the best price."

Your IT support options can involve farming out specific tasks or activities—from setting up computers and networks to keeping everything up and running to email set up and support—or specifically addressing backup or security. These days, there's so much flak from spyware, popups and viruses that it's smart to have someone on call to deal with the consequences.

But IT support needs are not a static thing. As your business grows, the level of support that you need from vendors may change as the business matures. Further, you need to calculate the cost of not bringing in help. Thomas Pore, director of IT and services at networking firm Plixer, suggests this is another key part of the vendor evaluation process.

"When selecting the level of support for a service, you need to think about how much you are losing each hour due to down time," said Pore.

Small Business IT Support Resources

Those are a few of the considerations to take into account with regard to bringing in outside tech support. Here are just some of the many IT support resources at your disposal.

Free IT Support Resources

You might be surprised to hear that there are plenty of free sites around that offer loads of advice. Tech Support Guy is run by volunteers. If you have an issue, you go to the various Tech Support Guy Forums, which will often already have a fix for the issue you're facing.

Small business owners and individuals post questions or detail their IT trouble. The site's volunteers answer the question, provide the fix, and store it for future visitors. You can search for the subject on your mind. In all likelihood, someone else has already had the same problem.  

But there are plenty of other free sites, too. The Free Site offers a roundup of various tech support resources as well as free tutorials, tips, courses and learning resources. 5 Star Support  contains computer technical support and advice, as well as computer tips, tricks, tutorials and free downloads.

Other free IT support sites include

Small Business IT Vendor Resources

You'll also find many vendor resources, some of which are free. In most cases, it makes sense to maintain some kind of a vendor support contract. And don’t let those contracts lapse in order to save a few dollars.

"Always maintain a current support contract with any vendor for equipment and services that are in production use," said Pore. "If something fails, you don’t want to be scrambling around because you saved a little money by not renewing a support contract."

His company, for example, provides multiple tiers of support for its products. This ranges from email/forum support to chat services, technical phone support and full-day training.

Microsoft Tech support for SMB is a forum for questions that have already been answered about Microsoft products, as well as a place to ask new questions. Other major vendors have similar sites.

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This article was originally published on August 07, 2014
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