Q: How do I get decent small business tech support when I’m a freelancer or can’t afford a managed services plan from one of the big IT shops?
A: You don’t need to seek help from one of the big IT providers – you’re probably not in their target market anyway.
- Try to DIY as best you can, then when you get out of your depth, reach out for help from someone who understands the needs of small and micro-business.
- Tap your business network and get referrals to their favourite tech support people who might just be able to set you straight.
- Create a ticket with Ranges Technology and for a small up front investment, we’ll help you understand your problem, give you options, or fix it on the spot if we can.
The Old Guard
The traditional IT and tech support industry relies heavily on a ‘per-seat’ subscription model and service fees to stay profitable. In a very simplistic and perhaps crude sense, it’s all about the swings and roundabouts.
For a per-month fixed cost over a fixed term, the support agency will answer your tech questions, fix your problems and keep your systems running nice and smoothly. They may lose money on you one month if you’re pestering them, and then make money the next month if you don’t ask for too much.
Over time, they’ll do okay, your business’ systems will run smoothly and they’ll provide a great service.
This model works great for larger business clients that are well-established, have a high turnover and have redundancies in people, machines and processes – that’s the Managed Service Provider’s sweet spot.
But what about smaller businesses?
What about the new startups, the hustlers, the hackers and micro-businesses that can’t afford these plans? Who do they turn to?
Our new digital economy is filled with these folks and they will one day soon outnumber people working within a traditional company structure.
The Bitter Edges
The niche providers that many micro-businesses turn to are the “nerds-in-cars” or “geeks-to-you” or similarly named services that will charge you a hefty hourly fee just to attend to your problem and have a bunch of fine print that eventually leads to you paying almost as much as the machine is worth to fix your problem.
They also don’t pay particular attention to why you want this resolved and care even less about the revenue you may be losing to focus on this problem.
So no matter how trivial your technical issue and whether it takes 5 minutes or 50 minutes to solve it, you’ll be paying for the full hour at least, probably with an attendance fee if they turn up at your door.
That can run to almost $200 for a simple issue with a simple solution – not the most affordable or repeatable experience for most freelancers.
Roll Your Own
Another option is to save your cash and try to troubleshoot your business technology issue yourself.
Your mileage may vary here depending on whether (or not) you have some grounding in technological concepts and how different systems bolt together.
The benefit of DIY is obviously that you’ve avoided paying too much for a 3rd-tier technician working his or her way through uni by fixing Aunty Joan’s PC – winning, right?
However you may have just spent 3 – 4 hours trawling your way through online help-files or waiting for replies from helpful DIY forum volunteers. This is time that you could have otherwise spent making money elsewhere.
You might even land on some helpful commands that you can throw at an operating system or some PHP code that might make the change that you want to see on your website – but what if that doesn’t work?
Do you know what that code does? Do you know how to revert it if it doesn’t work?
Could you be making your problem worse?
A little knowledge can be dangerous, sure – though the real issue here, of course, is fear.
Fear of the unknown, fear of breaking something, fear of loss, fear of paying too much for too little, fear of not having any options and the fear of being duped into buying something you don’t need.
Fear of losing a week’s hard-earned profits to a technology gremlin that shouldn’t have happened to you in the first place.
It stops you from just fixing the damned problem and moving along with life and business.
And you’re right to fear.
If you can’t fix it yourself and don’t know where to even start, you might just ignore the problem…
…for days, for weeks… for months……..
But this forms a hardened crust on your potential productivity and lays a cognitive weight upon your unconscious mind that just adds to the stress of running and growing a small business.
As professionals, we make up enough of our own reasons to doubt ourselves and our ability to be a good business-person. Impostor syndrome is real and it can be debilitating.
It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how much you know in your specialist field, you can’t know everything and nor should you.
So to reduce that stress and angsty back and forth over your tech and systems just not working as they should – it makes sense to get a diagnosis and quote to get them fixed or retire them.
You need to reveal the extent of your technological unknowns.
Then Fix it, Dear Liza
So if you’re a halfway serious business-person, you shouldn’t be trusting your systems to a 3rd rate tech paying his way through university by working for ‘nerds-on-wheels’ fixing Aunty Joan’s PC or resetting Uncle Bill’s WiFi router.
However, if you’re tossing up whether or not you can afford to pay for professional support to fix, manage or improve the technology that enables your business – you’re probably not in the target market for a traditional IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) either.
These companies are great – but they are expensive – and they want to deal mainly with larger companies that can provide some assurance that their fees will be paid regularly and they won’t start and restart their service every 6 months.
So if you’re not in anyone’s ‘client sweet spot’, where do you go for tech support as a small or micro-business? Well, you do have options:
Try a little DIY, then reach out
First, attempt to understand your tech-gremlin in a bit more detail – you can ask internet forums, manufacturer’s websites etc to get that little bit more knowledge that can help define your problem well enough to be solvable.
Throwing your hands in the air and shoving your problem in someone else’s face is likely to result in an invoice.
But if you can ask good questions and show that you’ve done some homework towards helping yourself, you’ll be surprised at how much help and advice can be had for free if you ask nicely and at the very least, help people help you. A bad attitude will cost you.
I read on another tech’s website a while back: “Your incompetence is not my emergency” and whilst I’d never have that as a tagline on my website, there is an element of truth to it.
While you were off learning to be an expert in whatever you do for a living – we were learning to be experts in technology so we could charge money for it as well. Have some respect for the craft.
Your local computer repair service may offer just the service you need, and for less money than you expect if you frame your request well and help them understand your problem quickly and easily.
Ask a friend
There’s only so far the generosity of kind souls can stretch for business purposes, though for some folks, just being of service is payment enough.
Often people who already have a job with a larger tech firm may be able to donate some of their spare time to your fledgling micro-business and offer some free advice, troubleshooting or repair work.
Facebook, Quora and Twitter seem to have no end of people willing to offer advice or insight into a particular problem and ask nothing in return – simply contributing to their community and perhaps raising their own prestige is enough.
This kind of help is absolutely invaluable and you should take it while you can get it, though step lightly, because goodwill stretches only so far within the realms of tech support.
Or my very favourite method of showing gratitude is the ‘pay-it-forward’ approach where you go out of your way to offer free support to someone in your own field – for free – it could just be that a friendly technician needs help with their bookkeeping or copywriting!
Being of service helps the world go round.
On the flip-side of this, be very careful that the support that you’re getting is appropriate to the needs of your business. Many people get their friend to build them a website for example, or to fix their PC, or set up their email – often ending in disaster and resulting in you paying more to fix it later on.
These well-intentioned and generous people just may not be qualified or experienced enough to provide what your operation actually needs. Don’t settle for less than what will help push your business forward and don’t mistake ‘free work’ for ‘quality work’.
Find a Specialist Service
You know how everyone is always saying, “there’s an app for that”?
Well, for your particular problem, if it’s popular enough, there’s probably a service for that.
You’d be amazed at how many companies have sprung up to fix just the thing that is standing in your way right now.
A great example is the iPhone screen repair guy in the middle of the shopping centre – who would have thought of that little business idea in 2004?
Because nature abhors a vacuum (and original manufacturer repair fees – looking at you, Apple) specialist service providers have filled the low-cost local-repair niche.
If your problem is common enough, someone will have specialised to the point that their business does that one thing so well and so cheaply that they become the go-to provider for that problem.
Just do a quick internet search for your problem in plain language and see what comes up in your area.
Find a Good Freelancer
You might be a freelancer yourself, or a busy professional who needs some flexibility in how you get tech support.
Well, this won’t be a surprise to you, but freelance IT and digital professionals exist and are doing well on their lonesome. Some don’t mind providing ad-hoc tech support to others in the same boat.
These folks will probably be cheaper than your standard IT-MSP because they can’t/ won’t provide the depth of support or guarantee 24/7 service like the big brands.
Their super-power, just like yours, is that they may just care a little more about you as a small-business person and provide more personalised and personable service.
If you can find yourself a good all-rounder who understands the full technology stack of a small business, you’re onto a winner – hold onto them tightly and hopefully, they can help you grow and keep your tech afloat.
Find a Good Agency
There are many, many good technology and digital agencies out there that can help you with one specific part of the business technology continuum, say your website, or your marketing technology.
You may even already pay this agency to do that one thing for you because they got very good at that one thing and outsourced the rest.
If you trust them enough, perhaps ask them for a recommendation to whomever they use to fix their own tech when it breaks.
The benefit to this is that they’ve already learned from hard experience and have landed on a person or company who they can rely on to keep them running, so they can do their one thing really well.
Tap your business network
Ask for recommendations from your peers for providers that can fix your problem – though be specific and try to describe the problem that you’re having so they can recommend more specifically, which makes it more likely you’ll have success.
Australians do business with their mates – a solid referral from a trusted acquaintance is very powerful.
Watch out for the source of these recommendations though, don’t blindly accept them from folks who only share a business referral group. These can be misleading, potentially expensive or a waste of your precious time. (I’m looking at you, BNI)
Welcome genuine referrals based on personal experience or success stories. You want someone soon, someone fast and someone reasonably priced so you can get on with your work.
The Sweet Spot for Tech Support
To address the need for local tech support for small and micro-business at a reasonable cost, we developed a low-cost, per-ticket product.
It has been specially created for small and micro-businesses to make it less risky (and therefore more likely) for them to seek quality tech support often to help their work and push them forward.
We lower the barrier to entry to quality IT, systems and general tech support by removing the initial trepidation of being over being overcharged.
We charge only $50 plus tax to have a qualified tech support person assess your issue and provide some advice or an estimate to resolve it.
Very simply, your up-front investment buys a qualified technician to take time out of their day to pay attention to your problem, no matter how big or small the problem is.
Getting the information you need to keep pushing forward is invaluable – but even better, most of the tech issues that hold small businesses back can be quickly and simply solved with some exploration, some advice and a 15-minute fix.
Think of it as the cost of making your problem, our problem.
So what are you waiting for?
Fix it, Dear Liza!