I’ll be honest. There are a million illustrations I could give about how effective good copywriting is; how to say something well and how to say something not so well. Copywriters love to give examples of ‘how words work’ and tell anecdotes about the time someone wrote a high profile website and used the word ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’. The spellchecker never picked it up. Hilarious. Actually, more like embarrassing. Mistakes look shoddy, that’s the bottom line. They make the rest of your work look shoddy and frankly, as if you didn’t care. By the way, searching for ‘pubic’ will always be one of my top tips for anyone writing their own copy, unless of course they’re writing for Biology News. Continue reading
Internet access is now an essential resource for almost any business. Even if it may not seem like your company could benefit there are some very good reasons to get online. And for those business who are already connected, a dedicated business broadband service can be a worthy upgrade to your office.
Here’s just a few reasons why you should consider business broadband. Continue reading
I’m sure you share our sceptical thoughts on free services: “I’ll be paying for it somewhere”, or “no such thing as free”. But we’re increasingly surprised by the number of companies that do offer something for free just to win your business, despite the mass scepticism of such offers. And quite often these companies will end up charging for every little thing thereafter resulting in you paying more than you would have with a company that was transparently charging you for the product. Continue reading
Your domain name is pretty valuable to you. Without it, your website would be unreachable and your emails would stop flowing. So how can you make sure your host is minimising the risk for you? There’s a few quick checks you can do. Continue reading
Multiple office IT support
Two or more offices in your business? Or are you a charity consolidating services with another to save money? Or a multi-tenant building looking to offer discounted services to its tenants? Don’t pay a penny more for IT support than you need to! You can save with our MultiOffice IT support. Continue reading
Cultrix hosting allows you to setup and run your own backups within the cPanel control panel. For a small, additional annual charge Cultrix will add your account to the automated daily backups and store them securely in a secondary datacentre.
We add the account onto the automated backup list, the backups are stored on a remote server in a datacentre different to where the hosted servers are located for maximum resilience. Continue reading
13. Will your IT support work with us in a longer term strategic manner?
Your organisation may change on a day-to-day basis, or it may be quite static. Whether you’re growing or shrinking (hopefully the former!) then you need to be sure your IT support company can adapt to your changing needs. If you shrink, can you easily remove computers that are no longer being used; and if you grow, can you add new ones pro-rata so you don’t have multiple contracts in place? Some IT support companies will include non-technical visits to discuss what your plans are and to check that the services they’re providing are most appropriate for your needs. IT is a very fast moving industry so there may be a better way to structure your IT infrastructure or there may be a new service that will benefit you. Find out whether the IT support company you’re considering will have an active relationship with you, and this shouldn’t be just trying to sell you the latest gizmo that you don’t need.
14. What isn’t covered by the contract?
Every supplier will give you a list of what is included within the price but be sure to ask what isn’t included. As well as on-site visits, you’ll be surprised how many suppliers will raise additional invoices throughout the term of the contract for things like removing viruses. If a computer gets a virus then surely the IT support company is at fault for not providing adequate protection? Often viruses are contracted by staff carrying out non-work related activities such as downloading ‘free’ screensavers, or opening an email attachment boasting ‘here are your airline tickets’ (even though they haven’t ordered any); but there are ways to restrict the types of files your staff can download to prevent this sort of thing, and techniques to prevent malicious files ever reaching your staff so even if they’re trigger-happy on the mouse, they won’t cause any damage.
15. What is the term of the contract and how much notice is needed?
Most IT support companies will tie you into a 12 month contract. There are a few where you may only be required to give 30 days’ notice at any time. You may run a charitable organisation that is unsure about its future so a short term is a must, or you may be a business that’s going places and wants to commit to a longer term – if you do, will they give you a discount? And if you’re unhappy with the service being provided do you still have to stay with them for the full term or is there a supermarket style ‘no quibble’ guarantee? Make sure you know the financial commitment you’re making and are comfortable and clear with how to end the contract if needed. Read the terms – make sure there is no confusion between what the salesperson is telling you and what you’re actually signing; if there is, make sure to ask for written clarification and keep it with your copy of the contract.
16. Can you help us save money?
It might seem like an odd question but a supplier that can help you make savings, which can be offset against their cost is much more attractive and will gain your loyalty. An IT company that is monitoring your system should be able to tell you which computers are being left on overnight – 30% of people don’t shutdown their PC and the annual cost of each PC left on overnight is £43. You may have a service that you don’t really use; will they tell you, regardless of whether they or a third party are charging you for it? It could be something as simple as switching from in-house servers to a cloud-based solution. They’re not going to make the few thousand pounds from selling you a new server, but will they advise on what is best for you rather than what they’ll make the most profit from?
17. Can you provide me with references from a couple of your current customers who wouldn’t mind me contacting them?
Why take the supplier’s word for the service they provide? Just like an interview process, ask for references that you can check. Provide additional criteria such as, “a charity client” and “a site with around 5 PCs” – this way it makes it difficult for the supplier to manufacture the references, or to send you the same ones they’ve been sending to everyone for years. It’s even better if you can speak to the referees directly.
18. Who is this company?
Do your research! With such a powerful tool as Google at your fingertips, there really is nothing easier. Search for information on the company, and make sure you look beyond the first page, which is likely to contain only information created by the company itself. Look further and see where else they are mentioned. You may come across some glowing reviews, but equally you may find less favourable information. And if you have names, do your research on these too. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – all of these can give you great insight into the people you are choosing to do business with. It only takes a few minutes and it will be time well spent; you should be able to gain access to a lot of useful knowledge about your potential IT support provider.
7. Will I be assigned a technician who gets to know my system?
When you call your helpdesk you want a quick and efficient response. If the first thing you’re asked for is your account number, you feel like an account number! How can the person on the other end of the phone know your setup if they don’t even recognise your voice? Outsourcing your IT support is cheaper because IT support companies handle multiple clients, but it should still be possible for you to have a named contact who becomes familiar with your systems and can therefore fix any issues quicker. That isn’t to say you won’t speak to other technicians but having someone you build a relationship with is beneficial to both you and them for things like knowing where the router is, or what it looks like; that you have an intermittent issue with power or your server is tucked under Jane’s desk. And isn’t it nice when you call, that someone recognises your voice, and can even ask how Dave the cat is after his visit to the vets last week?
8. What will it cost if I need someone on-site?
There will always be things that require an IT savvy person to be there in person. Whether it’s a failed hard drive or a memory upgrade, there are some things that just can’t be done remotely. If you’re looking at outsourced IT support, make sure you know the cost involved if you need someone to come out to you on-site. It’s common to be charged a call-out and an hourly rate; some companies may give you the option of rolling a number of visits into the cost of the annual contract; and there may even be the option to include all call-outs. If you do want visits included, there will be terms around them such as what will and what won’t result in a call-out. If the company is local to you, will they waive the call-out fee? And should you be lucky enough to have someone in your company already who has a little IT knowledge, would the IT support company be prepared to talk them through a procedure, if deemed appropriate, to save some time and money?
9. What hours of the day is support available and what happens out-of-hours?
Not all IT support companies will offer 24 hour support, but do you really need it? If you prefer a service where you have an assigned technician then you can’t expect them to be available 24 hours a day anyway. If 24 hour support is available then you’ll be paying extra for it, some companies operate only in regular office hours but what happens if you’re working late on a tender or other important project and something goes ‘bang’, is there a procedure for getting help out of hours? And if so, what are the additional costs?
10. What are your response times? Check the Service Level Agreement
Calling with a problem is only the first step, but you really need to know what the next steps are and how long the problem will take to fix. Many issues will probably only need a quick yes or no, but some may need a little more time to put right. If you don’t get through straight away to a technician, how long will it be before they will call you back? It’s no good if you’re sat twiddling your thumbs unable to work; the problem may even have gone away by the time they do call back! Find out what the initial response time is and then the expected fix times. You’ll probably find these vary depending on the type of issue and how severe it is.
11. How are calls prioritised?
You’ll probably find this varies depending on what, and how severe, the issue is. If you can still work then you may find it will be resolved later than a problem that is stopping everybody in your office from working. There’ll even be things you report where you say, “It isn’t urgent, just when you get a minute”. An IT support company will have a way of prioritising calls so make sure you know how they do this so you know where to set your level of expectation. There’ll always be the non-urgent things that only take two clicks and will be done in a heartbeat, but you want to be sure that anything that stops you working is given utmost priority, followed by the things that just slow you down. The last thing you want to be doing is paying your staff to sit through downtime.
12. What is your disaster recovery policy/procedure?
If the worst happens, it’s unreasonable to expect everything to be fixed within an hour. But you need to know how quickly someone can be with you and how they’ll work towards getting you fully up and running again, and most importantly, how much it is going to cost. Also find out what measures are in place to prevent disasters, should they happen. A good supplier will work with you on your business continuity plan, and various worse-case scenarios, to ensure you can still service your customers without a fully working system; and most importantly that if you lost everything it wouldn’t be the end of your business.
In the first of our 3-part article on common pitfalls to avoid when choosing an IT support company, we explore the first six questions you should be asking.
1. When I phone, will I speak directly to a technician?
Many IT support companies will have people who answer the calls that aren’t technical. Instead they will take details of your issue and pass this onto the technicians who will call you back when they are ready. When you have an issue it usually needs looking at there and then, chances are it won’t be a problem when they call you back. Find out if the company you are considering provides you with direct access to the technical people.
2. Can we only call when we have a problem?
Ask if the IT support company you are considering only helps with problems as they arise or do they operate as more of a helpdesk – giving any member of your organisation help with even the simple things such as “How do I do this in Word?” or “How do I stop Excel doing that?” An IT support company that can take the pressure off the person in the office who has only a little IT knowledge will allow that person to get on with the job they’re employed to do; and in doing so, the service is quite likely to pay for itself.
3. Do you monitor our systems?
Many IT companies still only provide break-fix support but there are so many good software packages available now that can monitor thousands of machines and bring the important issues to a technician’s attention automatically, that break-fix support is more or less defunct. The proactive monitoring that is available now can reduce calls to the IT support company so it’s in their interest to provide it. Equally you should be able to get on with your own work without having to be on the phone to the helpdesk every two minutes; monitoring can prevent this, often by fixing issues before you even knew they existed.
4. How do you manage updates and service packs?
Software vendors release security and reliability updates which are essential for a stable and secure system. Some IT companies will configure updates and service packs to install automatically, but do they monitor that they actually happen? A computer may be switched off every night and updates scheduled for 3am. But some will install them during the working day which could impact on performance and interrupt the work you’re trying to do. There are even companies that will charge you for out-of-hours updates because it isn’t during working hours and therefore not covered by their contract. Make sure you know that software updates are included in the service contract and that they are being monitored and carried out at a time convenient to you.
5. What about bespoke or specialist software?
You probably run software such as Sage or QuickBooks and other software that the IT support company may never have heard of, so will they help you if there’s a problem with it? What about updates that are released, will they install these? With an IT support contract the company should operate as a complete out-sourced solution, handling all of your IT for you and not just palming you off to a third-party to fend for yourself. They don’t need to know the inner workings of every piece of software on the market, that’s impossible, but a qualified technician should be able to find their way around most things they haven’t seen before and troubleshoot it even if it means contacting the software vendor on your behalf for help.
6. What peripherals does the support cover? Are our printers, scanners and mobiles included?
Quite often an IT support company will support the computers and the servers, and charge extra for anything connected to them. And should something go wrong, you may be expected to deal with the manufacturer for warranty claims. Make sure you find out whether they will call on your behalf – after all they’re better equipped to deal with any technical questions about the fault. Cover for mobile devices is more relevant than ever; they are an essential accessory for modern day business and are more like computers than they’ve ever been. If you have a problem getting emails on your mobile, or even want it setting up to access your emails, will the IT support company help?
A common way to get people to your Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn profile is to use their instantly recognisable badges on your websites and in your email signature. All of them provide variants of the badge so you should find one that works best for you:
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/brandpermissions/logos.php
- Linked in: http://developer.linkedin.com/docs/DOC-1101
Make sure you read and comply with the guidelines provided by each – as a business owner, respect the time and effort that they’ve all put into developing their brand by applying it as they ask. They are providing their services free of charge so it’s the least you can do.
An alternative way to add the badges to your website and also to receive reports on how they are being used is to use a service like AddThis. Their website will allow you to choose from numerous styles and once you’re done it’ll give you the code to insert into your website.