Information technology is rapidly becoming an essential part of every business, no matter the size. From small, family-owned businesses to massive corporations, effectively implementing and troubleshooting technology is absolutely essential to growth – but that can be an impossible task to tackle alone.
That’s where IT consultants come in. IT consultants offer businesses quick access to the technological expertise they need to handle issues of security, software, networking, and more. Just like the businesses they serve, consulting firms run the gamut from small, individual-based services to massive teams. In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know before you hire an IT consultant for your business – from the initial research to the questions to ask your potential hires.
Before you hire: Doing your research
Like any job, employers need to know a few things before they start looking for potential employees. Unlike most jobs, however, IT consulting has a few complicating factors. First and foremost, IT consultants are consultants – they are rarely employees of the hiring company itself.
This can be a tricky dynamic for many businesses, especially smaller ones, so it’s especially important to prepare for your hire ahead of time. Follow these steps to make sure you’re well-prepared to take on a new consultant:
1. Identify Your Needs
When most people hear “IT”, they tend to think of a person who provides direct support – the “IT guy” is usually someone you call when your computer freezes or your internet goes out. While direct troubleshooting support is one of the essential services IT specialists provide, consulting is a much broader field.
IT specialists provide a huge variety of professional services including finding, deciding on, and implementing hardware and software, providing on-site and remote technical assistance, implementing and maintaining networks, designing new technology systems, training staff, maintaining technology security, maintaining and improving web-based marketing, and more. Many IT support firms provide a number of these services and give a detailed list of what they provide on their website.
Before you set out to hire a consultant, your first step should be to figure out what it is that you actually need. If you need to revamp your security, look for a network and security expert; if you need to implement a new electronic records system, look for a firm that can handle the whole project – and so on.
2. Identify your budget
IT specialists usually fall into three categories. The first is company employees – an individual or team hired by the actual business they serve. The next is an independent consultant. These specialists are usually considered independent contractors or freelancers. Finally, there are consulting firms. These are larger companies with a team of staff that contract their professional services to other businesses.
Each of these types of consultant has its pros and cons – as well as its own associated cost. Firms and freelancers often offer a price advantage over individual employees but may have conflicts of interest or be unable to dedicate adequate time and energy to your needs. Consider your budget and the extent of your needs to help you decide which type is best for you.
3. Look at the history
Look at your own business’s history where you have the problems been in the past? What helped, and what seemed to make problems worse? Identifying potential problem areas and figuring out why certain approaches may not have worked in the past is an important step towards a great working relationship with a new consultant.
Evaluating your current state is the most important piece of any hiring process – it helps you identify exactly what you need and better articulate to potential hires.
Ready to Hire: Contracts and Interviews
Once you’ve determined your needs and your limitations, it’s time to start looking for a consultant. Follow these guidelines to make sure that your hiring process goes smoothly – and prevent problems down the line.
Tip #1: Talk it out
The key to all good business relationships is good communication, and it’s no different with IT consultants. Before you officially extend an invitation to any individual or firm, spend the time and have in-depth discussions about your company’s needs, your values, your expectations, and the consultant’s approach.
Having discussions can also help you get a feel for a potential working relationship. And, of course, it gives you the opportunity to ask about previous clients and check up on references. Any reputable IT specialist should be able to provide these without hesitation.
Tip #2: Create a detailed contract
One of the most important parts of working with a consultant is making sure that you have a rock-solid contract. When you draft up your document, make sure that you take into account all the issues that are important to your business. Pay special attention to issues like:
- Conflicts of interest – especially for consultants who have other clients
- Intellectual property
- Employee privacy and account access
- Non-disclosure and protection of information
Thinking about these issues ahead of time and writing them into a contract is an important fail-safe for every business.
Tip #3: Get familiar with the methodology
Different consultants may have many different ways of doing things – and that doesn’t necessarily mean one is better than another. For instance, there are dozens of ways to optimize search engine results, and not all of them look the same or offer an immediate return. Familiarize yourself with your consultant’s methodology early so you’re not surprised when things don’t look the way you expected at first.
At the same time, learning about a potential consultant’s methods will help you get an idea of their expertise. For instance, if you’re hiring a security expert, they should probably be able to explain some fundamental enterprise security strategies and give you examples of how to implement them. Learning some of the basic methodologies yourself will help you vet potential hires and ensure that you find real expertise.
Tip #4: Look for vendor relationships
Finally, take a look at your potential consultant’s relationship with vendors. Sometimes firms and even independent contractors have separate contracts with software or hardware companies that pay them to sell their product to their clients. While those relationships aren’t always bad (and sometimes those products are perfectly suited to your needs), it’s worth looking at whether or not those relationships could pose potential conflicts of interest down the line.
Hiring an IT consultant can be a lengthy and frustrating process – but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve given you the steps you need to start the process. With adequate preparation, good communication, and a little bit of caution, finding a consultant that will fit in perfectly is easily within reach.