IT Support for Small Businesses: How to Build Your Business Without Breaking the Bank

Building a small business is hard work. In the initial period of most small businesses, one or two people are trying to do everything until the business grows enough to diversify functions and hire assistance. While you are trying to develop products and/or services, you are also trying to build infrastructure to support the business functions. Chances are, if you are the kind of person who is focusing on product or service development, you probably are not the person with the breadth technology information to build your own infrastructure.

Our experience working with small businesses is that the creative folks who design the products and services and actually manage the business don’t know a great deal about computer technology, particularly new technologies. Many of these people don’t even want to know how or why a system works. All they want to know is that this system and this application will help them accomplish their business goals and what they must do to make it work.

When a fledgling business moves from an idea to a real product or a real service and begins to work with customers who want that product or service, technology becomes essential. In today’s markets it is difficult to be in business without a website and internet commerce applications. These, in turn, require management and maintenance, as well as security. As the business continues to grow, it becomes necessary to manage bookkeeping, customer service, inventory, and staff. This, in turn, requires more technology.

In a world in which new technologies emerge daily, keeping up with change is a full time job. Knowing which systems and which applications will meet the needs of a growing business in the present and in the future requires knowledge, experience, and technological skills. Unfortunately, none of that is free. There are three ways to respond to the need of a small business for technology infrastructure.

The first response is to decide to try to do everything yourself. The founder of the company goes to a computer company or store, explains the perceived needs of the small business, and buys the recommended hardware and software. This brave individual then returns to the office to try to make everything work.

The second possible response is to hire an IT professional or a team of IT professionals. This requires time and money. The fledgling company will conduct a search for a qualified individual, make a hiring decision, and start paying this individual or group of people salary and benefits and social security and everything else. The business will also provide work space and a work area for this individual.

The third possible response is to enter into a contract with an IT services company, such as INS. The small business principals will then discuss their needs and their budget with the service company’s consultants. A contract will be executed on either a retainer basis or on a per-item basis. The small business principals will then go back to work creating and selling products and/or services and growing their business. Meanwhile, the IT services company will go to work designing the best system for the current and future needs of the small business, installing equipment, setting up systems, applications and websites, and creating the networks and connections that will allow everything to work smoothly. The IT services company will monitor, manage and maintain the entire technology infrastructure for the small business.

Most technology professionals will tell you that the first response is a sure path to disaster. Most financial advisors will tell you that the second response is probably going to break the bank. The third response, however, may provide the most efficient and cost-effective solution to the technology needs of a small business.

Most small businesses discover a need for the following minimum system capabilities:
* Inventory management
* Production management
* Sales management
* Marketing functions
* Website, electronic commerce and security
* Customer database
* E-mail
* Customer and market surveys
* Fax, web conferencing, video conferencing capabilities
* Human Resources and payroll systems
* Billing and accounting systems or software
* Document and forms production, management and distribution
* Planning and budgeting functions
* Competitive analysis functions
* Wireless systems

Once these programs and systems are in place, they must be integrated. The system must then be managed, monitored for service disruptions, repaired, expanded and further integrated. Security demands change almost daily and require constant updates to protect the business and the customer.

The purpose of technology is to assist the company in implementing business strategy and managing day-to-day business functions. Every business function managed or assisted by technology frees the employees of a small business for more integral functions. Further, the right technology properly leveraged will increase productivity, and assist the company in knowing more about their customers and the buying habits of their customers by collecting that information and making it readily available in a variety of settings and contexts.

Contracting with an IT services company saves money, provides the best fit of technology with business objectives, and eliminates the need for small business principals to worry about systems infrastructure. These companies provide 24/7 service and support to ensure that the company does not lose business due to down time, without the financial burden of paying overtime to an internal IT staff. Considering all the services provided, as well as the knowledge and experience of IT services companies in working with the needs of small businesses, it is not surprising that IT services companies are the solution of choice for many small businesses.

Copyright (c) 2007 Thomas Burns