Fixing a Tech Problem: DIY or Hire a Professional?

For small business owners, saving money is always part of the equation, especially when it comes to technology.

Time and money are often the two things entrepreneurs wish they had more of, and when used correctly, technology can help bolster both of these wishes. But sometimes implementing new technology doesn’t quite work out as planned, and they end up spending more in both areas.

“Small businesses buy into the marketing from large vendors that say it’s easy enough for the lay person to implement,” says Vince Plaza, the vice president of IT for TeamLogic IT. “But some are complex enough that without the right experience or knowledge they find themselves in trouble.”

To prevent your next do-it-yourself technology project from breaking the bank, here are three mistakes to avoid:

No.1: Not Having a Plan

Whether it’s as complicated as establishing a network infrastructure or simple as adding a printer, small business owners need to have a solid plan intact before starting the process.

According to Plaza, many small business owners leap into a project before taking stock of what they need and what they already have, and will assume they have adequate systems already in place, only to find gaps halfway through the project.

Before starting a project, Plaza recommends owners assess or audit their existing infrastructure. “They need to have an IT professional take a look to make sure they aren’t missing anything that’s vital to their business.”The assessment will provide the owner with a list of recommendations and ways to implement the technology.

While the idea of hiring someone to provide an assessment might seem excessive to cash-strapped companies, Plaza says many vendors will offer the service for free in hopes of getting new business. Others firms offer low cost assessment services, he adds.

Mistake 2: Keeping Technology on Life Support

The mentality of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might be costing small businesses money. Small business owners often keep using the same technology year after year in an effort to save their budgets, but according to Plaza, that might be hurting productivity and budgets.

“A common mistake is the small business owner trying to extend the life of their systems beyond the normal life span. They will have machines five or six years old running operating systems that are almost a decade old which makes it more difficult to keep them running at a good level.”

Plaza said productivity slows when technology isn’t working at optimal speeds, and business owners run into compatibility issues when trying to add on new technology. “Applications change and OS changes. You can’t upgrade easily to the new versions,” he says.

Plaza recommended upgrading technology about every three to four years. In the case of servers, he said owners may be able to keep them running in good condition for five years.

Small business owners can also turn to cloud-based applications that require no physical hardware to act as a server or storage system.

Mistake 3: Not Turning To a Professional for Help When Needed

Small business owners know their limitations, but that doesn’t always mean they turn to the right person for help, and sometimes turn to a friend, employee, or relative for help. While these people may have some knowledge, chances are, they aren’t experts. That could be a costly mistake if the problem goes unfixed or fixed improperly. For example, if a firm’s computers are hit with a virus and a co-worker cleans out the system, but misses something, the virus may still be in the environment, eventually creating more havoc.

“If you are a small business there are competent IT professionals out there,” that can fix problems, said Plaza.

He added that hiring an IT professional isn’t going to cost a fortune, and small business owners can hire firms to manage all of their IT services or hire help based on a project or problem basis. They can even turn to places like Best Buy’s Geek Squad when the problem is small and not too complex.

When It Makes Sense to DIY

There are times when going it alone does make sense. After all, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) offer a slew of applications designed for the D-I-Y small business owner that costs very little each month. When owners should venture out and fix something on their own depends on the size and complexity of the business.

“In some cases you can go ahead and do it yourself but in other cases it really isn’t possible,” says Plaza. “If it’s very technical, the business owner ultimately has to engage somebody.”