The reality of doing business in today's world means that you and your staff need to demonstrate a reasonable level of technology in your workplace. In short, you have to be as savvy, and hopefully even more so, as your customers. If you ask them a question, you don't want to hear this answer: “I don't know. Isn't it in your database?”
Your business has no choice but to get a little techy to deal with the intricacies of websites, data storage and automated invoicing. Not to mention being equipped with PCs, multipurpose printers and even iPads. So you go and get the equipment, purchase the right software and decide you are going to do it yourself. However, while plenty off-the-shelf products appear to be “plug-and-play,” you will eventually need professional chops. Don't wait until you can't take it anymore. Hire an information technology professional upfront to save time, money and your sanity. Here are some tips on how to choose the right person for the job.
From the time I started my technology firm, Pro Computer Service, at age 21 from my parents' home, I would see a look of hesitation from all of my prospective clients whenever the subject of outsourcing came up. Those small and medium-size business owners always resisted the urge to hire a professional to manage their IT, thinking that the “technical stuff” would somehow just take care of itself.
You can't afford the time to deal with tech problems yourself. If you do, plan on wasting countless hours learning how to fix a problem that you have no interest in understanding. Isn't that time better spent making money at your core profession?
The question is not whether to hire or not. It is who to hire. For starters, do you hire a full-time IT manager or find a service to which you outsource? I recommend counting your equipment first. If you have more than 250 computers in your offices, then it's time to hire an IT manager full-time. If not, outsource the work to an independent contractor or service.
With that decision made, you need to find the person or service to hire. The first step is preparation. Gather all of your manuals to your PCs, printers and other equipment. Then put together a list of all of your passwords. That way, when the tech shows up, you won't waste your time looking for every little scrap of information as needed.
Next, where do you look for possible hires? Do a little more research than just a quick Google search. To hire right the first time, ask friends, family and other business owners for references. Benefit from their vetting experience and save yourself some time and hassle.
However, don't blindly hire your aunt's friend's nephew. You still need to do your homework. Start by asking them for their current and past client list. Anyone worth their salt will gladly give you three phone numbers. Call them. Then ask for their certification numbers. IT professionals should have certifications with major software providers like Windows. You can then check online to make sure the certification is real and up-to-date.
Then make them audition. Bring the prospective IT hire in to solve a problem you are having. If it takes that person two hours or less, they will most likely do it gratis. If it takes longer, expect an invoice. It will be worth the time and money to see your new IT applicant in action. If they offer a hot line, call it. Tell them the trouble you're having and see how they respond. Are they coming out today or next week? Did you like their demeanor, or were they rude and treated you like an idiot for not knowing where your router is?
Once you have decided on a person or service, you will need to protect yourself in the event the relationship goes sour. Make sure your contract opts out in 30 to 60 days. You want your IT people to prove themselves. Also, be sure your IT professional understands that he needs to share every password with you. If you decide in the future that it becomes necessary to dissolve the relationship, you need to be prepared to give this information to your new IT guy. Otherwise, your former tech could shut you out of your computers. This is rare. Most IT people conduct themselves like professionals. But you MUST prepare for a worst case scenario. You do not want to be at the mercy of an IT person and have them take advantage of you. If a vendor refuses to keep you attuned to the inner workings of your tech, do not do business with them. If you happen to have an IT person who holds all of the cards, ask them for all of your pertinent information while the relationship is good. If you wait for a major dispute to arise, you may find it more of a challenge. You don't want to hear a “I'll get to you in a few days” or a flat out “no.”
Finally, find yourself a confidant who works in the field, like a CIO or someone who is at least much more tech savvy than you. You want a friend who speaks “IT guy.” This person will be your best friend in traversing the jargon and complex world of IT.
Anthony Mongeluzo is the founder and president of PCS as well as the founder of application developer pilotLight studios. He is president of the Entrepreneurs Forum of Greater Philadelphia (EFGP) and is FOX TV's IT expert in the country's fourth-largest television market. PCS has gained recognition as one of the fastest-growing companies regionally and nationally with offices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. For more information, contact Mongeluzo at 856/596-4446 or visit www.procomputerservice.com.