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Updated Nov 20, 2023

What IT Department? Online Tech Support Is a Small Business’s BFF

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst

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Need tech support but don’t have the resources or desire to hire and manage an IT department? Online tech support is for you. Also called remote IT support, online tech support services are often more affordable — and sometimes more effective — than in-house IT departments. Below, learn all about online tech support and why it might suit your business better than an in-house IT department would.

What does online tech support do?

If a company is having computer, networking or security issues, online tech support providers can remotely do anything that an in-house IT department could. As such, they allow small businesses to access an entire IT team without having to invest the time and money into hiring one. When you partner with an online provider, you’re essentially outsourcing, rather than going in-house, for your tech support.

Did You Know?Did you know
Tech experts can obtain IT certifications to show that they’re proficient in certain hardware rather than just software.

Online tech support providers typically fulfill these functions:

  • Password resets: Let’s say your employees are struggling to log in to your natively installed business platforms. This challenge may require a more complex password reset than usual, and online tech support teams can guide your team members through the process.
  • Hardware or software updates: Third-party tech support teams can oversee your business’s implementation of hardware or software upgrades. Relying on these teams for implementation reduces the risk of costly, time-consuming errors that put all employees using this technology back at square one. 
  • Incident logging: Entry-level online tech support packages typically involve the logging of nonurgent incidents. More in-depth packages may cover the logging of all incidents, whether urgent or less pressing.
  • Technical troubleshooting: Your online support team is your go-to source for any troubleshooting with your hardware or software. With their assistance, you can solve problems more efficiently and get back to work sooner.
  • Backup, data recovery and user account management: Securely storing your data and retrieving lost data are key to maintaining company knowledge. You can delegate this responsibility to your online tech support provider. Your support team can also manage user accounts to ensure proper access control and business cybersecurity.
  • Knowledge document creation: Higher-end online tech support providers can guide you through creating digital knowledge bases such as company wikis. This service is especially valuable in cases when creating knowledge databases involves coding skills you might not possess.
  • Working with third-party services: Your online tech support team takes the lead when you and any of your third-party services face technical issues that you need to troubleshoot together. This way, a tech expert handles all of the time-consuming work required to get your hardware and software back up to speed.

Benefits of hiring an online tech support service

Here are some of the most compelling reasons to set up online tech support services for your business.

It’s more cost-effective than an in-house IT department.

Building out an IT department can involve a five- to six-digit price tag for new-employee salaries alone. Online tech support providers cost much less than what you’d pay an employee, and they offer the same level of expertise and service.

“Online tech support is a small business’ best friend because it allows them to receive enterprise-class support and service at a small business price,” said Tim Singleton, president and founder of Strive Technology Consulting.

You get immediate assistance. 

Unlike internal IT departments that have backlogs of tasks and tech support companies that send on-site technicians, online tech support services provide immediate IT support.

“Since IT companies can do more work remotely, they spend less time traveling and more time fixing problems,” Singleton said. “This means a single technician can support more end users. With a whole team of techs supporting dozens of companies, each small business has access to an entire computer support team.”

You get robust expertise across tech domains.

Online tech support services give small businesses access to IT experts who can readily and effectively solve a wide range of IT issues.

“If a business is working with a quality service provider, they are getting access to an entire organization of experts at every level that can assist them with whatever arises,” said Glenn Mores, president and CEO of 3rd Millennium.

Technicians at online tech support services will also have the necessary industry training and certifications, so they’ll know the best practices for providing reliable and cost-effective IT solutions, he said. In comparison, a small business that hires an in-house IT person often has very limited support capabilities.

“Even if the organization had an internal IT resource, it’s just one person who is usually a generalist, and that means inevitable significant holes in their knowledge base,” Mores said.

FYIDid you know
IT management skills encompass far more than technical knowledge, so the more hands on deck, the better. This makes online tech support all the more attractive for small businesses.

Online tech support providers’ resources are higher-quality.

Online tech support providers also have advanced support resources that are typically not available to small business IT departments.

“When a business calls for online tech support, a quality service provider will have hundreds of thousands of dollars of hardware and software tools that can be used to quickly and efficiently resolve issues,” Mores said.

You often get more than just support.

Online tech support providers typically offer additional services that would otherwise be well outside a small business’s budget.

“Most IT companies like this will also offer other services, such as proactive PC maintenance, network maintenance and a high level of technology guidance that most small businesses would never be able to afford,” Singleton said.

Additionally, some providers do more than just solve IT problems; they also analyze them to spot trends and keep a pulse on issues that businesses will likely face. Furthermore, the remote IT support industry is continuing to grow and will have plenty more to offer small businesses as it matures.

“Like anything out there, remote IT support can be good or bad, but the potential is there — and there are many companies living up to this potential — to give small businesses a better IT experience than they could have ever afforded in the past,” Singleton said. “I believe this route is a better solution than hiring a full-time IT staff of one or two because of the depth of experience and services that a professional team can offer.”

How to use an online tech support service 

Bob Makarowski, who has been teaching software and hardware courses at New York’s Baruch College for more than 30 years, said that given the cost benefits of online tech support, these services’ prevalence is not likely to diminish.

Makarowski provided these tips for how to get the most out of online tech support services as your online tech support needs grow:

  • Note the details. Before you contact online support, document the details of your problem, including the correct time, place, form and event. When did the error occur? What program and feature were you using? What were the steps you were performing when the problem occurred? Vague comments like “I got this error flashing at me” will require more time from the support analyst than “My status bar has the message ‘Incorrect data type for operator,’ for example. Precise language is key.
  • Specify your deadline. At the beginning of your help call, inform the support analyst of any time constraints you are subject to. If your business is on a hard deadline to get a project or transaction completed, the analyst may be able to offer you a fast temporary fix to get you back up and running while they investigate more permanent solutions offline.
  • Maintain a list of issues. During your workweek, document small annoyances in addition to the large showstoppers. When you discuss the larger issues with the technician, you can also work on resolving the laundry list of nuisances you’ve accumulated.

Choosing an online tech support service

Ready to partner with an online tech support provider? Here’s how to go about choosing the right one for your business.

1. Determine what you need from your provider.

Maybe your business is seeking relatively low-stakes assistance, such as password-reset support. Or maybe your business needs a partner for data backup and knowledge creation. Consider the depth of involvement and breadth of features you’re aiming for in a provider. Write out your exact needs, and keep this list within reach during the next step.

2. Conduct research into potential providers.

Through both internet searches and direct referrals from people in your professional network, assemble a list of potential online tech support providers. Visit these providers’ websites to get a sense of the breadth and depth of the companies’ services. Eliminate any providers that clearly don’t offer what you need. Contact the remaining providers to ask about their services, and see how well they line up with what you’re seeking.

You may find the combination of online tech support and internal document management software especially helpful for organizing company knowledge. Explore our picks for the best document management software to learn more about why you might benefit from this technology.

3. Ask questions about proactive support.

It’s one thing for your service provider to fix problems you bring to them; it’s another to do so and then offer ongoing solutions for the future. This proactive approach always reaps more benefits than reactive approaches (one-time fixes). Consider only providers that emphasize a focus on proactive support.

4. Assess each provider’s security measures.

A great tech support business ensures company-wide cybersecurity around the clock and should do the same for its own operations. Speak with potential vendors about their security measures; then conduct research to determine whether these measures reflect state-of-the-art protocol. If not, look elsewhere for an online tech support provider.

5. Inquire about key metrics.

Look into each potential provider’s response time, success rate and IT certifications. You should look for providers that guarantee rapid response times and high success rates and that have many team members with prominent certifications. This way, you’ll know you get support that’s equally high-quality and expedient.

6. Compare prices, and make a final decision.

At this point, you’ll have whittled down your list of potential providers to just a handful of great fits. Compare these vendors’ prices, and go with the provider that gives you the best value. From there, work directly with the vendor to get your service up and running.

Getting the support you need

Not all business owners are tech-savvy, but online tech support services can help. These services power your operations with more infrastructure and resources than you could provide to an in-house IT team, and they cost less. As digital platforms become increasingly vital to your company’s success, online tech support teams can help you deftly use them all.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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