Peter Lopez, founder of Brooklyn Tech Guy, is a certified Apple specialist, a self-declared “local Mac guy” and an expert Brooklyn businesses call when they’re established enough to have tech needs but too small to have in-house IT staff.
His clients are primarily businesses such as architecture, design and law firms, as well as fine art studios, shared office spaces and private clients.
“A C-level executive may have a four-story brownstone,” Lopez explained, “and he wants the WiFi to be strong and secure on each floor. And, like he does at work, he wants to have a person he can send a one-line text to and then not have to think again about a problem, whether it’s getting a printer to work or setting up a new iPad.”
Having dealt with a variety of clients, and cleaned up situations left behind by other contractors, Lopez agreed to chat about what small businesses should consider when bringing in outside IT help, and what recommendations a consultant should be making to small-business customers.
1. Use Software for Passwords
“I have a client, let’s call it Business X, and all of their passwords were Business X1. I said, ‘What’s your server password?’ ‘Business X1.’ ‘What’s your Google password?’ ‘Business X1.’ That’s a big mistake,” said Lopez. “And I get it, because you need to keep track of it all, but it’s really leaving yourself a huge security hole.”
If an employee leaves and is disgruntled, the cost of addressing a problem he or she could create—both financially and from a stress perspective—is enormous.
“Instead, the next time you go to the server, take the two minutes to change the password,” said Lopez.
There are a few software solutions that generate and keep track of secure passwords, such as 1Password and Dashlane. A handful share the market, he said. Which one you choose is less important than that you choose one.
“All you have to remember is one password, and it unlocks the database of all the other passwords,” Lopez said.
1Password, for example, creates a 30-character password and inserts it and the username into a site when users click the installed button in their browser.
“My password, for every place I go, is gigantic and unique. And it takes very little maintenance once you get it set up,” Lopez said. “I recommend that all the time for businesses, because they say, ‘We want to be more secure, but we don’t want a spreadsheet that we have to update every five minutes.’ And they don’t have to. This kind of software takes care of it, and it syncs across your phones, your tablets—everything.”
2. Use Two-Factor Authentication
“All the software companies offer this now. But I’d say about 12 percent of the clients I see actually take advantage of it because it’s a little bit of a pain,” said Lopez.
But it’s worth it.
“I’d say twice a year, I see clients get their Google accounts hacked. Not that anyone’s stealing their information, but someone’s using their email to send out spam. And it totally screws up their email for about two weeks. With two-step verification turned on, that wouldn’t happen,” he said.
SMBs: What Your IT Contractor Should Be Telling You
iCloud, Google, Microsoft. All the big email companies offer this. Your IT person should recommend you take advantage of it, if not just automatically set it up for you.
3. Simplify and Consolidate
A lot of companies will sign up for a service during the first year of their business. Five years later, they’re still using that service, though just one aspect of it. And they are using 10 services that way.
“Just find the time and consolidate. Have everything stored in just, like, Google Drive. And that saves a lot of trouble,” said Lopez. “One thing I’m always pushing is workflow. You shouldn’t have to go to 10 places to get something done. You should go to one or two. … The things you do every day should be as simple as possible, so you can get your work done. … We’re all getting pulled in a million directions. The less distraction from the work you’re trying to do, the better.”
A contractor that helps a business streamline its practices essentially pays for itself.
4. Hire Someone Who Shows Up On Time
While acknowledging how simple it sounds, Lopez said he’s gained and kept countless customers with this one simple tactic: showing up on time.
“People tell me, ‘The past tech guys have said, “Oh, I’ll be an hour late. Oh, I can’t make it on Tuesday.” But you always show up when you say you’re going to, and we love that.’ It’s as simple as that, and I win a lot of business just for that,” he said.
In short: Hire a contractor who’s respectful of your time and behaves like a business professional.
5. Transparency as a Selling Point
Ask for references, suggested Lopez, and look for people with certifications, whether from Apple, Microsoft, Cisco Systems or Google.
When he mentions that he often turns down work—from people with Microsoft problems, which aren’t his area of expertise—another recommendation becomes obvious: The ideal IT person for a small business is not only straightforward and a straight shooter, but also someone who understands that one of the most helpful things he or she can do for a small business is to make it as self-sufficient as possible.
“IT professionals have enjoyed having a veil up and behaving like what they do is so complicated and you could never do it. But, no. Hire someone who wants to remove the veil and show you what steps you can take on your own,” said Lopez.
“I tell them, ‘If it says X, you can really take care of this on your own. Do this, this and this. But if it says Y, then give me a call.'”