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Your IT Lifeline

A great reseller can save the day.

Most business leaders recognize that the right tech expert can offer distinct competitive advantages, but let's face it: Most small businesses just don't have the resources to maintain a cadre of go-to IT specialists. At best, there's one beleaguered tech guy slogging through the company's computer problems and recommending purchases. At worst, it's that one overworked person in accounting who also "knows a lot about computers."

It's for these reasons that small businesses should consider relying on trusted technology resellers and service providers to do a lot of the technological legwork for them. These partners can help a small organization choose the most suitable technologies for a big project, aid in their deployment and potentially take over the care and feeding of these systems.

But selecting the wrong reseller or service provider can have disastrous consequences, which is why it pays to do your homework before partnering up, says Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), an IT industry trade organization.

"There's a whole set of things you have to look at," he says. "Things like uptime and what's their time to fix problems when they have an issue. Anybody that's not willing to share that stuff in detail or give you a list of customers is probably someone to stay away from."

The following are some common-sense pointers on choosing the right technology reseller or service provider:

Do some research. You wouldn't pick the first name out of the Yellow Pages to remodel your home--don't do it for your server room, either. Be sure to query at least four candidates before choosing one.

Seek small-business expertise. Some resellers specialize mostly in enterprise work and know little about the unique challenges facing small businesses. Ask about their typical customer size. If you work in a specialized vertical such as healthcare, be sure to find a partner with experience servicing your industry.

Know whom it knows. If the company represents too few technology vendors, it may try to shoehorn the wrong technology into your shop. Too many, and it may not know enough about the stuff it sells.

Check references. If you choose to abide by only one rule of thumb, this one should be it.

Self-described tech geek Ericka Chickowski also writes for Consumers Digest, the Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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This article was originally published in the June 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Your IT Lifeline.

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