Small and medium sized businesses often hire IT consultants instead of maintaining a permanent position. There are several advantages to having an outside consultant; you don’t have to provide an office, vacation and sick days, health insurance and other perks and you may be able to access their services day and night. Spending time managing your own computer network can be counter productive when you’re trying to build your business and an IT consultant can be a wise choice. But how do you choose one?
First, list your needs. Do you want them to do routine backups and maintenance or can your staff handle that. Most importantly, is your staff willing to handle those things and do they have the time and knowledge? Do you anticipate upgrading your network in the future and can a consultant handle such a task? Be sure that you have your business and its needs clearly outlined before you contact your first prospective consultant.
As for pricing, some consultants charge per job and others charge per hour. Some offer a monthly fee that includes a set number of hours that you will pay regardless of how much time they spend on your system. The average price for a company with up to 10 employees is $300 per month with an hourly rate of $80-150 for being on call 24 hours per day. For a business with up to 25 employees a consultant will typically bill $60-80 per hour with a $700 monthly fee; you get a weekly onsite visit and free server monitoring. Additional services mean additional charges and the larger the company, the larger the monthly base fee.
One of the most important aspects of any IT consultant is experience. A new consulting business just opening their doors might be eager for clients and have attractive prices but they are unproven. Do you really want to take a chance that they may make a costly mistake involving your network? Be sure that they have experience in your type of business-a consultant that has a lot of years tending to networks for attorneys may not know the skills it takes to maintain a network for an architect.
If you have a Microsoft network be sure they are designated Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE). And MCSE certification means that they have proven they have an extensive, thorough knowledge of Microsoft technology and specific business areas such as financial management and other prominent knowledge areas.
Make sure you know what type of services they provide and what level of support they can offer. Do they merely propose solutions or perform work onsite? Check out their preventative maintenance plans, how many hours they offer for their fee structure and their response times. Ask if they require a minimum invoice per call, what their hours are, if they are flexible should you have an emergency extend past their regular hours and how much you’ll pay for overtime, if anything. Do they charge you if they can’t fix the problem? You do not want to encounter a crisis only to find that your IT consultant doesn’t make calls after 5PM or leaves no one on call when they are out of town!
One of the most important things you can do is check the references of any IT consultant you’re seriously considering. See if any clients had any trouble with fees, hours or the quality of their work. Make sure that they have a history of finishing jobs on time and on budget and that they respond quickly to emergencies.
Finally, interview at least three IT consultants before you decide which one to engage. Do not hire someone just because a business associate recommends them and try to avoid those consultants whose personality clashes with your own or with your staff. The most important thing is not to take the lowest bid but find the best quality service you can afford.