Ask SCORE: Where can a small business owner get help with tech problems?

Getting your to-do list down to a manageable size is every small business owner’s dream. But if your to-do list includes IT tasks, and you can’t afford to have an IT person on staff, where do you turn? Here are some alternatives for finding IT help, ranging from do-it-yourself options on up. 

  1. Search online. For a simple fix, such as why a certain software program isn’t working, how to find a particular feature or even how to fix code in a website, searching for an answer online should always be your first step. You can access the software’s Help feature; type your problem into your browser’s search bar; or check manufacturers’ FAQs, forums or community boards. If you’re having a problem, you can be sure someone else has had the same issue and can offer suggestions for an easy fix. If you need someone to show you how to do something step by step, search YouTube for tutorial videos.
  2. Ask on social media. Friends always love to offer advice and the same is true of your social media friends. If you’re looking for a quick answer to a tech problem, tweet or post a question. Manufacturers’ social media pages are also a good place to ask a question, since more and more companies are using social media to provide customer service. If you need professional IT help, you can also ask your friends for a referral to an IT consultant or other IT professional.
  3. Sign up with the provider’s tech support. Most technology products come with an optional tech support hotline. Depending on the vendor, you may pay by the project/question, or you might pay a monthly/annual fee for unlimited support. Even if you don’t anticipate needing hardware, software or hosting support when you purchase a product or service, it might make sense to try a free trial just in case.
  4. Get help from retailers. You don’t have to have purchased your software or hardware from a retail chain like Best Buy, Staples or Office Depot to get tech support from these sources. If you’re having a specific issue, you can take your computer or device in for repair. It’s not the cheapest solution, but when you’re in a bind, it could be worth the investment. If you need the help to come to you, the Geek Squad at Best Buy even makes “house calls.”
  5. Outsource. If you’re looking for more extensive IT help than a retailer can provide, look into hiring a freelancer. Websites including eLance, oDesk and Freelancer list thousands of freelancers looking for work, many of them in the technology field, such as programmers and Website designers. Before hiring freelance tech support, find out how you will be charged (by the project or by the hour), who will actually do the work and if the person can communicate in plain English, not just “tech speak.”
  6. Turn to a local small business. Working with a local IT expert who can actually come in to your business to talk to you can be very beneficial, especially if your business targets a local clientele—the IT person will be familiar with your market. Hiring a small, local IT business also shows support for small business and the local community. As a bonus, you may even be able to work out a barter deal for services, such as trading marketing copywriting for IT services.

Before outsourcing any IT task, remember to do your due diligence. Read online reviews and contact references to see what other customers think of the IT vendor. Also find out whether the vendor has insurance in case something goes wrong.

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