The choice of IT support company for your business is likely to be influenced - to some extent - by their costs and charging structure. However, before you start searching online for "cheap IT support company in [your area]", build a picture of your needs, the value of your IT equipment and what the cost of not being able to access your systems might be
IT support charges
IT support is usually charged in one of two ways - pay-as-you-go or via monthly contract:
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) IT support
With a PAYG IT support contract, you'll be charged each time you request support. This is sometimes called a 'per incident' charge. PAYG support should be offered on a no-obligation, rolling agreement.
Be careful though; an 'incident' can be something as small as calling up to discuss an issue and being told to restart your computer – and when charges for each incident can be as much as £75, the cost can soon mount up.
PAYG support is usually charged by the hour - expect to pay anything from £75 per hour. You may be able to buy a block of time in advance that you can draw on as and when you need it. This is likely to work out a cheaper arrangement than buying each hour individually.
Although online chat may be bundled in, the charges for telephone and onsite support are likely to vary considerably too. Expect to pay twice as much for an hour of onsite support as you would for an hour of remote support. There probably won't be a guaranteed response time for callouts either, so you may have to wait for help if you run into a serious problem.
PAYG IT support is good if you need to supplement in-house support, or want to provide cover when the staff member responsible for IT support is on holiday or sick.
Monthly IT support contract
With a monthly IT support contract, you usually pay a fixed amount to cover your business IT systems. You should be able to specify exactly what you want covered. For instance, if you spend £10 a month to support a printer that only cost £100 to buy, you're probably better off without the cover.
Fixed monthly contracts should include unlimited telephone support and a service level agreement (where the support company promises to phone you back fast and be onsite for real emergencies in two, four or eight hours). The monthly fee should cover everything except onsite visits.
A good IT support company will offer a mix and match service. If you have basic IT knowledge of printers and Excel problems, but the idea of your office server going down makes you feel uneasy, consider a fixed monthly contract for your essential systems and then PAYG for everything else.
IT support for a business with one server and ten PCs will usually cost from around £300 a month. The bulk of that cost would go towards performing regular health checks and monitoring the server (unless you have moved that element to the cloud, in which case the support cost might be less).
Companies which offer a monthly support option may take a more flexible approach to their customers in general, and therefore often do a better job.
Flexible IT support
Avoid getting tied into a long IT support contract that could leave you paying over the odds for poor service. Look for IT support companies offering flexible contracts (rolling 30 day contracts are common these days).
Finally, be cautious of leasing your entire IT system from an IT support company. This can leave you stuck with poor-quality hardware that's both out-of-date and difficult to replace.
If you do decide to lease equipment, ensure there's a clear distinction between the leasing contract and support contracts. Just because you lease PCs, laptops and printers for five years doesn't mean you should be stuck with the same IT support people for that period!