Face it, you don't have the time to become an expert in technology and you don't have the money it takes to hire a full-time information tech for your company.
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So how are you supposed to satisfy the technology demands of your business? Simple – hire an IT (information technology) consultant.
Finding the right consultant is even more critical than determining that you need one in the first place. A bad IT consultant will take your cash and leave you with a technological mess that you'll have to pay someone else to clean up. But a good IT consultant will not only set up your equipment and software, but also provide support and training on a range of technologies including software applications, databases, network administration, and even website maintenance.
To separate the quality IT consultants from the pretenders, you're going to need to ask questions before you sign a service agreement. Here is a short list of questions to help you get started:
What are the consultant's strengths?
Different consultants specialize in different types of hardware and software solutions. For example, some consultants specialize in the area of networking while others specialize in hardware set-up or web-based applications. At the end of the day, it's important to choose a consultant whose strengths are in line with your needs.
How many small businesses has the consultant worked with?
Small businesses are different than large businesses in many ways, including technology. If the consultant has worked primarily for large businesses, than he/she may be more likely to set you up with more technology than you need, at a higher cost than you can afford. Ideally, you are looking for an IT consultant that has a consistent track record of service for small business clients.
What can you expect from the consultant?
You need to know upfront what you can reasonably expect to receive for your money. Some IT consultants set up hardware or software and then leave without ever having properly trained your employees about how to use it. Ask the consultant to be specific about the services he/she will provide and then get it in writing.
Does the consultant serve as an agent for an equipment or software provider?
Some IT consultants are little more than sales reps in consultant's clothing. Their job has less to do with helping you than it does with selling their company's products. Find out whether or not the consultant serves as an agent or representative for any manufacturers or resellers. A true consultant will avoid such entanglements so that you will be free to purchase whatever technology is right for your business, regardless of the name on the box.
How much and when is it due?
As with any consultant, you'll need to find out in advance how much the consultant's time is going to cost as well as a ballpark figure for the actually technology itself. Also make sure you know when payment is due because IT gurus are notorious for building in timed locks that will cripple your system if payment is not received in a timely manner.