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9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

It's a problem many business owners encounter the first time they try to set up a computer network.

What starts out as a simple task connecting a few PCs to a server turns into one complication after another until setting up a network to improve the business takes over the business.

Lack of time and problems like these have created a $70 billion untapped market providing information technology services to small businesses. TechPlanet founder and CEO Matthew Klein set out to tap into that well in January 1999.

Less than two years later, Klein has claimed more than $20 million in venture capital and spread the Menlo Park, Calif.-based franchise to 23 U.S. cities, with plans to be in all major U.S. cities in the near future.

"Business owners normally are pretty sharp people, but they have to wear a lot of hats," says Harvey Gilchrist, who helms TechPlanet's Cleveland office, which opened in July. "Say you're an attorney. You're smart enough to set up your own network, but it would probably take you two or three days to do it. And if your fee is $150 an hour, how much are you losing by playing network administrator?"

TechPlanet generally works with smaller offices, because once a company has 35 to 50 computers, it usually has its own IT department. Most smaller offices don't want to spend $70,000 year for an employee to administer its network, says Gilchrist.

To avoid wasting time and money and to set up a computer network that protects valuable data, Gilchrist offers three basic tips:

Broaden your horizons

If you're still using a dial-up modem, you are dealing with unnecessary hassles and your business isn't taking advantage of what the Internet can offer. Businesses should be using high-speed DSL or a T-1 line, at the minimum, Gilchrist says.

"I compare dial-up to DSL as I would compare television before there was cable. You had your three network channels and everything kind of came in fuzzy, and then you got cable and you have 150 channels and everything comes in crystal clear."

Watch your back up

Many companies worry about outsiders breaking into their networks, but few are concerned with a much more crippling and common computer disaster -- losing all their records.

"Most people don't back up when they really should," Gilchrist says. "If you have a fire or equipment failure, everything could be lost, when you could have had all your data stored on a little tape."

Think ahead

Sure, the 20 computers in your office need to be networked now, but what about in three years, when you have 40 or 60 computers? That's one of the most important questions to answer when designing your network, Gilchrist says.

"Instead of giving you a solution for right now, we'd rather give you a solution that will adapt to your business growth. We could set somebody up with a server, where if they get two more computers next year and six more the year after that, all we'd have to do at that point is come and add them, create an account for them and they're on." How to reach: TechPlanet, (216) 986-7400 or www.techplanet.com

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.