What to Avoid
When the consultant speaks in buzzwords and acronyms, don't be intimidated. But be ready to let that person go if they won't explain; efforts to bewilder you with jargon reflect arrogance or fear, not expertise.
Stay away from fly-by-night, crisis-based services that try to sell you the tech flavor of the month. They're not equipped to look at your operations as a whole for the long term.
Be wary of consultants who present a particular technology or a single brand as the end-all, be-all solution. It's fine to favor a brand that works for you, but no individual manufacturer makes the best of everything.
Before you follow an IT know-it-all who insists that you need to wipe your hard drives and throw out most of the equipment you own, get a second opinion.
Watch out when someone tries to sell you top-of-the-line, enterprise-level gear. For example, you may not need to spend $10,000 on a server if you have only five users--a network-attached storage device with cloud-based backup could do the trick.
If you're determined to use something that your IT support person refuses to consider--such as equipping your sales team with smartphones--the professional had better explain why it's not in your best interest.
Avoid dangerous shortcuts. Someone who installs 50 black-market copies of Office 2010 may not be around when Microsoft comes knocking. A tech professional should be prepared to help you comply.
Multitasking may be a talent, but it's also a warning sign. A staff engineer doing double duty as your IT pro probably has their hands too full.
If you already have a full-time IT staffer but they're reluctant to explain what that World of Warcraft thing is they're "managing" all day, you can bet they're struggling to look busy and afraid to lose their job. Maybe it's time to outsource to a part-timer.
Finally, an IT pro who rescues your data and saves you thousands of dollars with wisely chosen equipment may seem like a miracle worker, but don't expect magic. You're in a partnership that requires give and take from both sides, so work together and be patient.
"If somebody's using technologies I haven't investigated, I don't pretend I know everything that's out there," says IT pro Hayward. "The answer should be, 'I'm not sure, but I'll find out.'"
If you're an IT consultant serving the small to midsize business market, and you'd like to learn how you can contribute to PCWorld Tech Audit, send mail to email@example.com. We're always looking for more talented pros.