Managing Computer Support For a Small Business

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Small business owners have many of the same computer support problems as the people who run larger businesses, though they need to run their IT systems with a much smaller budget. So how should a small business owner or manager approach this?

Firstly for the purpose of this article, I’m defining a small business as one with less than fifty computers.

Within this definition I see three different types of business. First there’s the person running their business by themselves, from home or from a small office. These people are setup similar to pretty much anyone at home and really only have a need for occasional or ad-hoc support.

Then there’s the person who’s business has grown to the point where they have a few staff using PCs, let’s say between two and about nine. These people have a small network and maybe even a server but they struggle to find the budget or can’t justify the money to maintain their network, even though it probably needs regular maintenance.

Lastly there’s those who’ve grown past the point where they cut corners and now they just want to do things properly. That doesn’t mean that things are now clear cut. These people have a new problem as they approach the fifty computer mark, should they hire a full time IT professional to look after their network?

For the smallest of our business owners, things are pretty straightforward. Make sure you buy good equipment, keep it up to date and make sure that you’ve got good backups and antivirus protection and that you’re checking them yourself. Once a year you might want to bring in an IT person to spend a few of hours checking out your system just to make sure that it’s as up to date and as healthy as you thought and that the backups really are running as smoothly as you think. Apart from this, there’s not a lot more to do.

For our mid-sized small business owners, I sometimes think of you as being “stuck in the middle”. This is the toughest stage. Most of these business owners don’t really see the need for regular service for their network. My experience is that these businesses are the ones with the worst maintained systems, because they’re putting all of your effort into growing and so you’re cutting corners. The truth is that these businesses have a real network that needs real support, just scaled down a bit from their bigger counterparts. If a business owner in this category can understand and accept this, then their systems will run more smoothly and they’ll have far fewer headaches. A bi-monthly or monthly maintenance cycle is appropriate for these businesses.

Our larger businesses have usually discovered that they have a system that needs regular part time assistance. A monthly, fortnightly or weekly appointment is what’s needed for these businesses. The hard part comes when you approach fifty computers and you start looking at the cost of IT consultants and you think that it might be more cost effective to hire a full time person. All I can say is DON’T DO IT! A full time IT person in a business like this is going to either be bored and move on quickly or they’re going to be the kind of plodder that you don’t want anyway. Wait until you get bigger again and can hire two people.

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