Small business ownership is an exercise in chaos. You can’t wait until all lights are green – you have to jump in and figure things out as you go. However, when you do this, you’ll inevitably run into roadblocks.
Your IT infrastructure may be struggling to scale with surging demand. While your hard-working in-house team does fantastic work, they aren’t magicians. When you encounter these and other impasses, we recommend bringing in an IT consultant.
However, not all are equally qualified. Don’t waste precious capital on a dud – maximize your ROI by asking potential hires the following questions:
1) How Much Experience Do You Have?
Generally speaking, the more experience an IT consultant has, the more effective they will be. However, this stat can be deceiving. For example, if a prospect has mostly served corporate clients, they might not be right for a startup.
Furthermore, it’s best to hire someone with experience in your specific industry. For instance, e-commerce companies have needs that are entirely different than blue-chip brands.
In this regard, knowledgable IT consultants have the answers you’re looking for. Just be sure to ask for multiple professional references before making a final decision.
2) In What Areas Of IT Do You Have Specialized Skills?
Having IT generalists on your staff will only get you so far. So, why bring in an IT consultant that describes themselves as being a “jack-of-all-trades?” You can’t solve existing problems with the same thinking that caused them.
Are you experiencing scaling issues? Hire an IT consultant that has previously helped startups take things to the next level. Need to shore up your network’s defenses? Hire a consultant with a solid background in cybersecurity.
By hiring specialists that are knowledgeable in your problem area, you’ll save money, time, and headaches.
3) What Process Do You Follow?
IT consultants have the knowledge to transform your business. However, if you aren’t both on the same page from day one, needless conflict can ensue. It’s not enough for a prospective consultant to sell you on their vision – they should also explain how they’ll get there.
This road map should include required involvement from in-house staff, and how they will communicate progress to project managers. This way, you can minimize misunderstandings.
4) What Is Your Timeline For Project Completion?
Hiring an outside contractor introduces a ton of unknowns into your daily routine. Their presence can interrupt the flow state of employees, especially if consultant work includes unexpected outages or meetings. If the bill by the hour, their prolonged presence will cost more than you projected.
Get a prospective consultant to offer a time frame for the completion of rendered services. By doing so, you’ll gain a level of certainty that will make it easier to budget your organization’s resources.
5) How Much Money Can You Save Our Business?
You’re in business to turn a profit. Any improvements an IT consultant proposes ought to reduce expenditures. Any contractor can copy/paste best practices from the internet, put up a website, and pose as an expert.
By forcing them to make the business case for their services, you’ll see if they’re capable of cutting IT costs. For instance, if they respond to your inquiry by contrasting the current cost of in-house team members versus outsourced solutions, then you’re on the right track.
6) How Would You Enhance The Productivity Of Our Business?
A good IT consultant shouldn’t just save you cash. If they really know their stuff, they should be able to improve your company’s productivity, too.
Poorly-designed systems slow workflow. For example, if your lead programmer is constantly putting out fires (e.g., helping people log in), they can’t focus on adding real value to your organization. In this instance, an IT consultant can recommend bringing in a remote help desk employee to lighten the load on core employees.
7) Can You Shore Up Our Network’s Security?
25+ years on, the World Wide Web is still a scary place. Every day, hackers the world over attack businesses with impunity. If cybercriminals haven’t yet attacked your company’s servers, they soon will.
According to a CNBC report, half of the surveyed small business owners reported attack attempts in the past year. Those who got hacked reported losses exceeding $200,000. Within six months of a cyber incident, 60% went out of business.
If you’re bringing in an IT consultant, they ought to be well-versed in the fundamentals of cybersecurity. That way, they’ll be able to spot security deficits your in-house team missed.
8) Can You Offer Training Sessions To My Team?
The world’s most eloquent tech solution matters little if your team has no idea how to leverage it. For instance, it’s not enough to institute new security protocols. To be effective, end-users must be able to understand and follow them these directives.
Potential hires should be willing and able to set up training sessions. In doing so, they must also be adept at teaching technical concepts to non-IT audiences. If you’re going to keep your networks safe, your accounts payable clerk should understand security basics as well as any member of your IT team.
9) Does A-Team Back You?
A smart IT consultant can improve the performance of your business. However, if they have a team backing them, their effectiveness will be orders of magnitude better than solo operators.
Let’s say your consultant is a cybersecurity expert. However, as they are improving your network, they discover that a cloud-based solution would be best. If you hired a team-backed consultant, they can call in someone experienced with cloud servers.
With a solo operator, you have two choices – roll the dice & pray, or expend more time & effort to find a cloud expert. Neither of these scenarios is good.
10) What Are The Latest Trends In IT, And How Do They Affect Us?
The pace of change in technology is already fast, and it isn’t slowing down. The best IT consultants should be able to fill you in on the latest trends, and explain what they mean for your business.
For instance, if you were interviewing them back in 2014, they would bring up Heartbleed. They would explain that is wasn’t a virus, but a serious flaw in OpenSSL code. They would go on urge you to patch all affected OpenSSL servers ASAP. Lastly, they would advise you to contact customers so that they could change their passwords.
Always Do Your Due Diligence
Bringing in an IT consultant is like any other hire. Through the selection process, you need to determine which contractor will add the most value. By asking the above questions, you’ll get all the info you need to make the right decision.