The Basics of Managed IT Support for Small Business [Guide]

Managed IT support can simplify IT for you and your business. But if you’re new to the concept of managed IT support, the whole thing can seem a bit overwhelming.

That’s where we come in.

In this guide, we’ll briefly break down the basics of Information Technology, managed IT support for small business, and managed service providers. We’ll discuss a few of the benefits of outsourcing your IT Support and cybersecurity to an MSP, how to find the right managed service provider for your small business, and even arm you with a few questions you should be asking your potential (or existing) IT support team.

What is Information Technology?

The basics of managed IT support for small business

What is a managed service provider?

Finding the right managed service provider

What questions should I be asking?

Next steps

What is Information Technology?

Although it’s sometimes used today as a catchall term, information technology was coined in a 1958 issue of the Harvard Business Review as a way of putting a specific face on a new phenomenon.

Peering far into the future (all the way to the 1980s!), Harold Leavitt and Thomas Whisler advised managers to prepare for the revolutionary effects of “higher-order thinking through computer programs.”

In many respects, their view of “information technology”— formed years before the rise of even the most basic personal home computers—is still relevant today. In the simplest possible terms, Information Technology (IT) refers to the impact of computers on how we store and access information.

Business and cutting-edge technology have grown more and more inseparable. It’s no longer possible to start a business—let alone successfully market and grow that business—without embracing information technology and its vital role in your everyday operations.

“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven,” observed Bill Gates. “I don't think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without talking about the other.”

The simple fact is that “IT” and “business” are nearly synonymous today.

But while a savvy small business owner understands and appreciates the impact of information technology on their daily processes and long-term strategy, it is nearly impossible to manage this ever-evolving landscape alone.

That’s where managed IT support comes in.

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The basics of managed IT support for small business

IT support often starts in-house.

For example: Imagine you’ve started a business through ETSY. You plan, craft, market, and then . . . finally . . . it happens! You make your first official sale. Now it’s time to package up the goods.

When you go to print your shipping label, however, the printer becomes unresponsive. You have no choice: you investigate. Is it a setting? Is it the printer itself? It worked fine when you printed the receipt, so it must be a setting . . . but which one?

At this point, whether you realize it or not, you’re officially the sole member of your business’s full-time, in-house IT department. It’s a tough, thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.

Many small businesses start with some form of what is considered “in-house” IT. These early IT support teams are, out of necessity, often made up of the owners themselves, as well as friends or family members with varying degrees of tech savvy.

As a business grows, its IT requirements expand and evolve, as well. Eventually, many businesses develop to the point where it’s no longer possible to manage increasingly complex technological requirements without some outside help.

This is a critical fork in the road for you and your business. Do you build an in-house IT department, or do you outsource your IT support?

The smart money is on managed IT support, which simply refers to the process of outsourcing some or all of your IT needs to a third-party company.

A complete in-house IT staff can sometimes make sense for larger businesses and corporations. But for the majority of small businesses, maintaining a dedicated in-house IT staff is prohibitively costly and restrictive, and it comes with its own set of risks.

Your business’s unique needs will determine which arrangement is best for you. The bottom line is that outsourcing some or all of your IT support is easier on your wallet, and it gives you access to a wider breadth of knowledge and experience than you’d have with a limited, in-house IT support staff.

What is a Managed Service Provider?

A Managed Service Provider (MSP) is an outsourced company that oversees and supports a business’s information technology infrastructure. An MSP will work closely with you to ensure your IT runs smoothly, securely, and efficiently.

A high-quality MSP offers:

  • Cybersecurity oversight, including high-level antivirus protocols, up-to-date security patches, firewall maintenance, and backups.
  • Data management and storage
  • Server management
  • A comprehensive backup and disaster recovery plan
  • Installation and support of PCs and other devices
  • Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) services
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services
  • System and hardware optimization
  • Vendor relationship management
  • IT consulting services
  • IT budgeting assistance
  • Remote helpdesk and technical support
  • Personal, around-the-clock support
  • Customizable co-managed IT support options
  • A clear, up-front pricing structure and a no-nonsense Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • Much more, from spam-filter management to cloud computing solutions

Managed IT support from a reliable managed service provider also provides immediate value to your business in several key areas:

Security. Cyber threats become more sophisticated every day:

  • It's estimated that more than 30,000 websites are hacked daily.
  • Cybercrime Magazine predicted a cyber attack would occur every 11 seconds in 2021.
  • 43% of cyber attacks are directed at small businesses.

A high-level MSP will implement a comprehensive cybersecurity plan to protect you against bad actors and proactively anticipate new and emerging threats. They will also ensure your data is securely backed up and implement a Disaster Recovery Plan.

Flexibility. A proactive MSP keeps your business responsive to emerging technological developments and trends, both good and bad. You’ll be better positioned to embrace exciting new tools and capabilities, giving you and your business a competitive advantage.

Overall Confidence. Having the right MSP gives you peace of mind when it comes to the efficiency and security of your operations.

Outsourcing your managed IT support to an MSP makes good fiscal sense and yields more dependable results, allowing you to focus on what’s important: growing your business.

But first, you need to find the right MSP.

Finding the right Managed Service Provider

Hiring the right Managed Service Provider can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for, and even trickier if your priorities aren’t clearly defined. Why not just go with the cheapest service?

It’s time we change our thinking about managed IT support for small business.

Your managed IT support should be held to a higher standard than the customer support line for your malfunctioning air fryer. And you should expect more from your managed IT support than you would expect from the disinterested support tech “helping” you with your spotty satellite dish reception.

An MSP is a pivotal member of your organization, and they should be held to the same high standards you would set for any team member. With these standards in mind, the selection process becomes just as important—and can seem just as daunting—as sorting through that stack of resumes for your next great hire.

But don’t worry. Separating the good from the bad is a lot easier than it sounds.

Hiring the right MSP is all about quality and fit.

Like any good job candidate, a quality MSP will always be willing to get to know you and, in some cases, even offer a free assessment of your business’s capabilities and needs. Think of this as the “interview” process: this is your chance to learn more, ask questions, and get the know the face behind the resume.

The same principles apply to a small business owner or IT decision-maker auditing the performance of their existing MSP. Just as you would conduct annual employee evaluations, it’s important to hold your MSP to high standards and, if necessary, consider whether making a change is the best option.

While there are many traits to look for in a good MSP, here are a few of the most pivotal boxes to check as you begin your search.

⬜ Expertise. This one goes without saying, but it can be hard to gauge. Luckily, there are a few dead giveaways that an MSP isn’t up to snuff in the “know-how” department:

  • Geek Speak. Someone confident in their expertise won’t talk over your head. A genuinely knowledgeable IT support professional will always talk with you—not at you.
  • Slow Response Times. One of the first things to go when an IT company is spread too thin is its responsiveness. And when that happens, you can be sure that their hiring standards have followed the same path. Think of the last few interactions you’ve had with your cable or internet provider. Were they overwhelmingly positive experiences?
  • Lack of Transparency. A high-level MSP will always be upfront about what they can offer and how they’ll ensure your needs are met. Remember, their first goal is to support the needs and goals of your business, not their own. Beware of generalizations and pricing gimmicks, which are often a sign that a company has less to offer in the areas you’ll need most.

On the other hand, companies who are confident in their level of expertise exhibit:

  • Clear and concise communications.
  • Fast response times.
  • A detailed, transparent strategy for your business.

⬜ Customer Service. Your overall customer service experience is one of the most important qualities to consider when choosing a provider. You should expect to hear a human voice when you call, have a guaranteed response window, and have an emergency, after-hours option.

⬜ Experience. Look for a reputable provider with an established track record. The right combination of know-how and experience is critical when it comes to resolving issues and anticipating threats that less-seasoned IT professionals won’t see coming.

⬜ Up-front Pricing. Do your research, read the Service Level Agreement (SLA) carefully, and beware of gimmicks. Suspiciously low pricing upfront will end up costing more later, as your budget IT company gouges you with bills for unnecessary repairs, upgrades, and “out-of-scope” services. Look for a detailed, upfront pricing structure that paints a clear picture of what your agreement does—and doesn’t—cover.

And, as always, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What questions should I be asking?

The task of hiring a third-party overseer of your IT infrastructure can be hard enough without worrying about asking the right questions.

Luckily, we’ve already outlined a few reliable ways to get a feel for the integrity and expertise of a prospective MSP.

Remember: any high-quality MSP will strive to form a strong working relationship with you, and that bond starts with clear and timely communication. That means they’ll take the time to build a comprehensive understanding of your business or organization’s unique IT support needs.

Preparing a few informed questions, however, is a great way to further assess the fit between your business and a prospective MSP. It can also help give your potential MSP a clearer understanding of your expectations.

Here are a few examples of the types of questions you should be asking a potential MSP. (You should be asking yourself the same questions about your existing MSP.)

  • Do they answer the phone live?
  • Are they committed to beginning work on support issues within one hour, at minimum?
  • Do they offer any guarantees on their service?
  • Do they offer flat-rate pricing?
  • Are all potential fees clearly defined in their Service Level Agreement?

Building a natural rapport is an important part of this process. Culture fit is critical when it comes to staffing, and it’s no less significant here. We hate to boil it down to “go with your gut,” but when it comes to working relationships, it’s pretty strong advice. By all means, start with the important questions, but at the end of the day ask yourself: “Are we a good fit for each other?”

Start the Conversation 

We're big believers in culture fit. Contact Tier 3 Technology Solutions for a commitment-free conversation about your business's IT Support needs.

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Next Steps

We’ve covered the nuts and bolts of information technology, managed IT support for small business, and Managed Service Providers. Hopefully, we’ve helped simplify the process of finding the MSP best suited to you and your needs—whether you’re considering managed IT support for the first time, or reassessing your current provider.

But what’s next?

As Yogi Berra put it, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” That’s why ongoing education, proactivity, and adaptability are vital to a small business’s ability to navigate an increasingly complex (and increasingly hazardous) digital environment.

Choosing the right Managed Service Provider is a critical part of the equation, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating or mysterious.

If you’re thorough and ask the right questions, you’ll find a valuable partner ready to keep you and your business adapting, evolving, and protected for years to come.