Everything you need to know to hire an IT expert

Use this list of 6 smart questions to ask

by Rieva Lesonsky

If you’re like many small-business owners, you can’t afford to have a full-time IT person on staff, but you need help with IT problems and questions. Here’s how to find the perfect IT consultant for you.

Know what you need

For instance, do you need short-term help choosing and installing the right hardware for your business or setting up a network, or are you looking for ongoing assistance troubleshooting tech problems?

Ask contacts for recommendations

Other small-business owners and professionals such as attorneys, accountants, and bankers may have suggestions for good IT consultants with experience in small business. Keep your search local so you’ll end up with a consultant who can visit on-site when necessary.

Once you’ve gathered some names, ask every consultant you’re considering the following questions:

  • What are your specializations? For example, if your business relies on specific hardware or software, you’ll want an IT consultant who’s vendor-authorized (meets a specific vendor’s standards). You should also look for a consultant familiar with your industry’s particular technology needs.
  • How big is the consultancy? A one-person IT consultancy may not have the bandwidth to respond quickly in a crisis—especially if one of their bigger clients is having a crisis at the same time you are.
  • Who will handle my account? Sometimes a senior IT consultant sells you on their services, but a junior person actually does the work. That’s OK as long as you know it in advance and are billed accordingly. You don’t want to pay top dollar for a company that outsources the work overseas.
  • How do you communicate? If you prefer to discuss problems by phone, you won’t be happy with a consultant who only communicates by email. Equally important, make sure the consultant can translate technical jargon into plain English.
  • What kind of response time can I expect? A quick response is paramount when you have an emergency. Responses within one hour or less are ideal. Since many IT problems happen after hours or on weekends, find out if response time and/or support offered differs after business hours.
  • How do you charge for services? You might be paying by the hour, by the project, or a monthly retainer. Also find out how emergency and/or unexpected charges will be handled. Finally, ask about payment terms. For instance, will you be required to make a deposit upfront for a large project?

Once you’ve answered all these questions …

Get references from other customers and contact them

Also check with the Better Business Bureau and do an online search to uncover any negative feedback about the company. If the IT consultant will have access to your sensitive financial or customer information, it’s a good idea to conduct a background check in addition to checking references.

Review the contract carefully

What kind of guarantee does the IT consultant offer? Does the company have professional liability insurance to protect your business if he or she makes a mistake that negatively affects you? Can you break the contract if the relationship isn’t working out?