A Way to Save on IT Help

Small businesses don’t have to spend a fortune employing a computer staffer or keeping an IT services company on retainer. Computer support can be a telephone call or a click away.

Large companies like Geek Squad to smaller ones like Geek Choice offer small businesses computer support and maintenance on a need-to-use basis.

“For small businesses the most important thing to do is find someone with technical competency and bring them in piecemeal,” said Adam Diamond, senior technician at Geek Choice. “They need to do due diligence much like any other contractor.”

Many small businesses think the only options are to hire a full-time IT person or rely on the person in the office with the most knowledge. A full-time employee, especially when there isn’t full-time work, can be costly and the well-meaning computer hobbyist could end up creating more problems than fixing. And turning to the vendor for computer help, often times a last resort option, could mean countless expensive hours on the phone with little results.

“Calling the vendors is pure frustration,” said Dick Leslie, a business counselor in the San Diego office of SCORE, a non-profit that counsels small businesses.

Luckily, a slew of computer-help companies offer on-site and remote services for a per-visit fee.

Geek Choice out of Boston offers a nationwide computer service for small businesses and consumers. Geek Choice charges an initial $50 fee, and then $100 for the first hour. After that it's $25 every fifteen minutes. The small business has to pay a minimum of $150.

Geek Choice does everything from fix computers to hang TVs. According to tech-manager Gregg Housh, Geek Choice has a stringent hiring process to find qualified techs, and lets techs go based on customer feedback. That’s designed to prevent a small business from being on the hook for hours of help because the tech is inexperienced, he said.

Geek Squad, a unit of Best Buy (BBY), has a staff of computer agents that can do everything from connect and secure a wireless network to perform system checkups and maintenance. In addition to on-site support, small business users can get online help starting at $49.99. Geek Squad has close to 700 locations nationwide where customers can drop off a computer for repair if an on-site visit isn’t feasible.

For $19 per incident, $24 a month or $98 annually, small businesses can get online help from “Ask Dr. Tech,” a service of LiveRepair.com. It remotely connects to the computer to troubleshoot and fix problems. With screen-sharing technology, Ask Dr. Tech then shows the customer how the problem was resolved.

Joe Connelly, a Boston owner of four Subway restaurants uses Geek Choice, he said, largely because he doesn’t have enough work for a full-time computer person. Connelly said his experience with Geek Choice has been positive.

“Because they are a smaller company they are more receptive than the big shops,” he said. “They come quicker and do more tailoring.”

One disadvantage of going with a computer help company, said SCORE’s Leslie, is that you may not get the same technician each time. Whereas if you find a technician that can do regular work for the company instead, you’ll have more consistency. But, on the other hand, maybe not as often as you’ll need.

“The risk of going with an individual is the availability,” said Leslie.

The San Diego chapter of SCORE pays $140 an hour and guarantees a half-day minimum, but Leslie said that’s on the high end. He said a small business can get computer help for $50 to $75 an hour. To find a regular tech, he said to rely on word of mouth from other small businesses.

“Small businesses understand each other. They will give you a break,” he said.