Partnering with a company to provide IT services is a big decision. As a business, you need to ensure you’re making the right decision when you talk to companies as everyone seems to do things a little differently. Below are some things you should definitely avoid, and things you should definitely do, when making the decision to outsource your IT to another company.
What You Should Avoid
- Yearly contracts. This is kind of a touchy subject, but it’s our opinion that yearly contracts for IT services are NOT the best way to go. If you DO decide to go with a company offering yearly contracts, make sure you have a reasonable way to get out of the contract. 30 days notice is pretty standard. If a company insists on more than that, it’s an unreasonable restriction.
- Leasing equipment/software/services through your IT partner. We’ve seen instances where a business gets into a contract with an IT company, only to find out that the servers, networking equipment, software, virtual machines and more ARE NOT owned by the business. Instead, the IT company leases the equipment back to the business, or they’ve signed up for services under their own name, and NOT the business’s name. This can cause undue hardship, delays and overall distress for a business once the contract expires — yet another reason not to have a contract. As a business, you can, and should, purchase your own equipment, software and services, even if the IT company you use has to set it all up.
- Giving your company, and your data, away. Just as with equipment and software, don’t allow an IT company to backup your data to their own equipment or their own service without giving you FULL ACCESS to those backups. Insist on total ownership of your data and all credentials and access to any backups made. This ensures you’re in total control of all of your data, and it also ensures that, should you switch providers down the line, that switch is as seamless as possible.
- Ignoring your monthly invoice and/or any reporting. Too many times we’ve seen IT service companies email out what appear to be detailed reports, only to find out that there’s ZERO follow-up with the business. For example, a report can show a number of errors seen in an error log, but the IT company never discusses what the errors are, what they mean to the business, and what the IT company did to fix the issue(s). That’s inexcusable. The same holds true for your monthly invoice: check it for accuracy and ensure that there aren’t any surprising fees tacked on. If there ARE fees you weren’t aware of, ask about them and ask for documentation that backs up the necessity of the fees. (Time logs, work logs, etc.).
- Allowing the IT company to dictate your environment. It’s your business, and you know what you want to do. An IT services company can help guide you and help you achieve your goals, but they shouldn’t dictate what you buy or what you use to run your business. That said, an IT company knows equipment vendors and should have some contacts across a variety of software and service providers. Therefore, they can make suggestions about a piece of networking equipment, a software of service to use, a brand of server or virtual machine provider, and more. However, it’s your ultimate decision what to use — don’t let them dissuade you just becuase they don’t want to support a specific platform. (Or because they don’t KNOW a specific platform).
- Settling for anything less than the best. Your IT partner is a vital part of your business. If you’re unhappy, let your partner know and give them the ability to fix any issues you’re having. If those issues aren’t resolved to your satisfaction, search for a new partner.
What You Should Do
- Research the companies you’re going to contact. For example, review their website and check to make sure that they’re writing in clear, concise language. Check out their social media accounts as well and see how active they are. If their website content and/or social media posts are couched in jargon, be wary: The only reason a company uses jargon is to make themselves appear authoritative. However, a professional company is one that informs prospective customers without using big words to make themselves appear smart. Their job is to teach you things, not to confuse you further. In addition, reviewing a company’s website can help you avoid some of the ‘Don’ts’ listed, such as whether they offer yearly contracts or monthly services, whether they require you to lease equipment or services through them, and more.
- Start a conversation. It shouldn’t cost you anything to talk to a company. Call them — IF they have a phone number — or at least email them. Starting a conversation, regardless of whether it’s via a phone call or email, is a great way to check the responsiveness of your prospective partner. If their phone just rings and rings, or if you leave a message and don’t hear back within a reasonable timeframe, that’s a red flag. The same holds true for an email: if you don’t get a response within a couple of hours, that could be a bad sign. And don’t fall for the ‘we’re so busy we don’t have time to check our sales inbox’ excuse. If they’re so busy, will they have time for you?!
- Have an ‘idea’ of what you want or need. You don’t need a full plan of attack, or even know the proper terms for what you want. However, go in knowing you need help in a specific area. That could be as simple as saying ‘I just need my mail server backed up and to make sure all my desktops are updated and secure.’ That way, YOU dictate the direction of the conversation and ensure your initial needs are met. Sure, an IT company may suggest other areas you can improve upon — and most will, if they’re good at their jobs — but having some idea of what you want to accomplish makes sure those needs are met, first and foremost.
- Ask about pricing. Contract pricing is something some IT services companies offer. What that amounts to is offering a discounted rate if you sign up for a year or more in advance. Contract pricing can be a good thing, or it can be a very, very bad thing. Others offer ‘packages’ that cover certain things for a set monthly price. Others offer ‘a la carte’ services, pricing individual things out separately but billing you monthly. Make sure you understand how a company prices their services, and what you GET for your monthly invoice.
- Be upfront with whomever you contact. Let the company know what you are doing now and what you plan on doing in the future. For example, if you’re a Windows company now, but want to move to all Apple products, let your prospective partner know. This has some practical benefits as a good company will offer guidance on how to best make that transition, and give you some analysis of what it means for your business. A bad company will try to talk you out of it as, for example, they may have a bias against Apple or Microsoft, or NOT have the expertise required to manage Apple or Windows environments.
- Don’t get discouraged. IT services is a VERY broad term, and it covers a LOT of ground. Therefore, for a company to list all of the services they provide can be a bit overwhelming to prospective customers. If an area you’re looking for help with isn’t listed on a company’s website, it doesn’t mean that company can’t help. Start a conversation and ASK if what you need is something that’s offered.
There’s so much more that can be discussed, but hopefully the information above provides some guidance and ‘food for thought’ as you look for the perfect IT partner for your business. If you have any questions or feedback for us, be sure to start a conversation with us — we’re here to help.