Many small businesses muddle through with minimal IT support. They furiously consult Google whenever Excel crashes. They bring in a tech-savvy son or daughter to network a new printer or configure a new employee's computer. They cross their fingers, say a prayer, and rub the lucky rabbit's foot whenever the tower servers get a little hot.
This low-level IT only works (and barely) when a business is very small. Once the headcount gets to twenty, the security, networking, system administration, even the daily desktop support becomes too complex to rely on muddling. An IT Manager is needed.
But for many small business owners, hiring an IT Manager is as daunting as choosing a car mechanic – maybe even harder. One hundred years of operation have at least made the automobile familiar to the layperson. But the computer? It's a relative few who know what the high-pitched whirring coming from a computer's chassis means.
A small business can't afford any missteps, especially when it comes to IT. Here are 6 things a small business needs to consider when hiring an IT Manager.
1. Make present IT needs a priority
Before any resumes are reviewed, a small business should list its priority IT needs. Start simple: what are the IT issues the business routinely addresses? No doubt desktop support is number one, and it should be. Crashed computers, and the resultant hit to productivity, are a huge bugaboo.
Beyond crash fixing and prevention, what else? Small businesses should think of IT projects that are particular to them. Does a website need to be re-launched (or even launched); does the website need to be mobile-friendly? Is the phone system unreliable? Is the CRM a cluttered disaster? Any IT Manager under consideration should have experience solving these particular challenges.
Small businesses must also note the dominant operating system and hardware used in the office.
If PC's with Windows and Microsoft Office are being used, Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) is the key certification a small business should look for in an IT Manager, even more so than a bachelor's or master's degree. In the IT world, education is often secondary to experience.
Future IT projects are important to consider too. If these projects are beyond the scope of the new IT Manager, the business will be forced into another round of potentially costly hiring.
2. When in doubt, hire a generalist
Small businesses having trouble pinning down their exact needs should consider hiring a generalist.
A generalist will not only have desktop support experience, but networking and system administration as well. This includes firewall, router, server, switches and virtualization experience, as well as familiarity with programming languages like Perl, MySQL, and XML.
An IT Manager with such experience will help source new hardware, network the office securely, create a rudimentary database, advise on third party database software, configure servers for email, web hosting and remote access, and of course troubleshoot slow-downs and crashes.
3. Size may be limiting
IT Managers with only "big" experience may be a challenge for small businesses to keep. After all, if an IT Manager has spent the last five years vetting vendors for a thousand user company, they might not be too thrilled by a small business's re-cabling project.
The last thing small businesses want is an employee who quits after a few months because they feel their career is "going backwards."
That being said, an IT Manager with large business experience should not be ruled out – as long as they've previously undergone the large to small transition. Such a background will ensure they have clear expectations of their role and its challenges.
4. Experienced IT isn't cheap
Via PayScale, IT Manager salaries range from $48,000 to $121,000 a year, with a median of $80,000 (about £52,500). That type of salary may be cost prohibitive for smaller businesses with lower annual revenues.
Even businesses with large budgets may feel they are "overpaying" for a Manager if their head count is low, or their technology needs are relatively small.
Those businesses are not out luck, but they will have to adjust their expectations.
An IT Assistant (PayScale median salary $38,000) or a Computer Support Specialist (PayScale median salary $60,000) could fit into a business with limited resources or low-level IT needs.
But small businesses should be aware that, like with any investment, you get what you pay for. Advanced IT projects are probably beyond the scope of an IT Assistant's expertise. This is why considering future needs is critical. Today's overpaying is tomorrow's saving if higher ticket IT helps the business quickly roll out revenue generating – and revenue saving - initiatives.
5. And experienced IT is hard to find
Internet job boards are certainly useful for finding active candidates in a cost-effective way, and businesses employing such a strategy should post on technology specific sites like Dice for their IT Manager.
But small businesses should keep in mind that IT is a growing, in demand field. Average IT Managers get offers as soon as they post their resume to a job board, and great IT Managers may not even have to post at all. They are recruited right out of their current roles.
Small businesses may never get to pitch great candidates unless they use their referral network or hire a recruiter.
The referral network should be the first avenue of attack. Small businesses can use referral bonuses to incentivize current staff into getting involved in the hiring process. A bonus is often much cheaper than job postings (on reputable sites anyway) or a recruiter's fee.
In the end though, a recruiter may be a small business's only hope, albeit an expensive one. Considering an IT Manager's median salary, and a recruiter's fifteen to thirty percent fee, it's not unreasonable for a small business to expect a $12,000 to $24,000 outlay for hiring.
Once again, small businesses will get what they pay for. Job posting strategies are cheap, but they often yield unqualified candidates, leading to churn. The sizable network and expertise of a recruiter may help businesses get the hiring right the first time – which is usually worth more than any fee.
6. IT must speak the company's language
The IT Manager's communication skills are just as, if not more, important than any technical knowledge they may possess. All the computer wizardry in the world will not help if he or she cannot communicate solutions to staff in need.
Cultural fit should not be overlooked either. If the IT Manager feels like the company isn't welcoming, it won't be hard for them to find another home.
Owners have to make sure IT isn't treated like the mop – left in a closet and fetched when there's something to clean up. In today's tech-reliant world, businesses can't survive without good IT. Hiring the right IT Manager, and keeping them, should be a priority.