Top 12 Ways to Minimize Costs When Working With a Computer Consultant

by Deryck Richards

#1 Understand What Services You Are Purchasing

Before authorizing any services to be performed, discuss what the consultant will do and how much it will cost. If you are purchasing more than $300 in services, ask the consultant for a written estimate or a fixed-price for the project.

#2 Repair vs. Upgrade: Understand the Differences

Ask yourself how much it would cost to just buy a new piece of equipment or software instead of servicing the old one. Because of how quickly computer parts are updated, it may be less expensive to purchase new hardware or software. Ask your consultant about the maintenance costs for the old product versus the new one and whether the new product would have any features you would be able to utilize.

#3 Determine What You Should Do and What the Consultant Should Do

If you are cost-conscious when working with a computer consultant, determine which services the consultant will perform and what you can do by yourself. For example, if you are adding a new computer to your wireless network, the computer consultant may install the wireless network card and set up appropriate security for the network. You may be able to save money by installing software and configuring basic services such as e-mail.

#4 Ask Your Consultant for Advice Before Making Software or Hardware Purchases

Most consultants offer free advice by phone or e-mail. When purchasing something new, ask the consultant whether it will be compatible with your system, what the warranty options are, which vendors offer the most robust products, and where to buy for the best prices.

#5 Choose the Best Support Method

Many consultants charge for phone and on-site support, but not for e-mail. E-mail is quick and easy because you will be doing the work under the consultants guidance. In many cases, if the consultant charges for phone support, it may be more efficient to schedule a service call because the consultant will be doing the work and can see the problem directly instead of giving you guidance over the phone.

#6 Get Training

Many on-site service calls can be prevented if you ask the consultant to show you how to fix the problem. For example, a router may drop your internet connection occasionally. If you know how to restart the router, you can avoid having to wait for a service appointment and paying for repair service. Printer problems are often repetitive and generate many unnecessary service calls. Dont be afraid to learn about the details - it will often be much easier than you think.

#7 Determine Who Will Purchase Equipment

When purchasing parts for service, determine whether you or your consultant will purchase the parts. Often it may not be a good idea for you to purchase them, because your consultant may have exact specifications for the product that must be purchased and often will have sources to buy at the lowest prices.

#8 Determine How to Protect Your Technology Investment

Extended warranties are very effective for printers and laptops which break often but of little use for routers and desktop computers. Having proper firewall and anti-virus protection can prevent your computer from virus infection. Talk with your consultant about maintenance for your new software or hardware.

#9 Be Prepared for Your Service Call

Organize your original software CDs, usernames, passwords, and account information. If you do not have this information prepared before the consultant arrives, the consultant will spend billable time locating this information which will increase your service fee.

#10 Understand the Consultants Qualifications and Experience

For complex systems and niche areas such as Linux, Macintosh, Cisco Routers ask the consultant what their qualifications and prior experience are. This can make a huge difference in your bill because if you hire a generalist, you will likely spend money training them before they can do the job. If you hire a specialist, the hourly rate will be higher, but the work will be done faster and often more cost-effectively.

#11 Demand Written Documentation if Necessary

If you absolutely cannot have any downtime or another consultant or service provider may need to access your system, demand written documentation from your consultant for all work performed. This should include all technical specifications, system configuration, usernames and passwords.

#12 Understand the Consultants Policies

Many consultants bill a minimum of one or two hours for on-site service calls. Some charge for phone support while others dont. Some offer fixed-price services. By understanding the policy, you can structure their work in a way that is most cost-effective.

Deryck Richards is the founder and managing partner of Desktronix. With an extensive educational background in computer information systems, Deryck currently manages hosting and data center operations for Desktronix. He also provides system administration and technical support directly to small businesses as he has since 2000. His areas of expertise include networking, Windows, Linux, and Macintosh systems and he is the author of The Guide to Tec

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