For IT VARs and MSPs, choosing the right networking solution to deploy with a client can make a big difference to the bottom line. For networking hardware, like switches and access points, there are three factors to consider when trying to understand the real cost: there is the initial cost to purchase the hardware, there are the potential monthly or annual fees for ongoing management, and there is the cost to maintain the equipment or roll a truck when hardware doesn’t work correctly.

With ongoing fees, the overall cost for the life of a product can be staggeringly high, which is why choosing the right hardware can make such a big difference. Total cost of ownership is especially key if you’re attempting to build a business model based on monthly recurring revenue. You want to provide the highest quality to your customers while keeping your operating costs reasonable.

In the SMB space, there are several vendors out there that are competitive with the bigger names in networking hardware, but offer products at a fraction of the cost. Don’t just assume that your only quality solution is to pay a lot of money. There are always competitors emerging within the industry with disruptive pricing. Don’t let yourself get stuck using an expensive solution just because they’re the current leader in the space; they may not always be.

While it’s true that you can’t exactly replicate the value of an expensive solution with a lower cost solution, if you can get 80% of the value for 20% of the cost, it’s worth exploring your options. By understanding your true needs and doing some research, you could end up saving a ton of money without sacrificing quality. Here are some things to consider:

Consider cloud management

What used to live in dedicated on-site servers or could only be managed by logging into individual devices on a network can now be managed centrally through the cloud. Cloud-managed networking  will make your life easier and save you time and money. A good cloud management tool is going to let you easily deploy, manage and monitor your switches and access points through a simple cloud-managed user interface with no on-site configuration required. A lot of companies charge high monthly or annual fees to access true cloud management, but there are some vendors that offer free cloud management, and are committed to keeping it free for life. Eliminating ongoing fees while still getting the benefits of a quality cloud-managed solution can be a game changer for you and your business, especially if you’re looking to transition from one-time IT sales to ongoing services.

Compare specs

Compare specs of products like switches and access points from some of the big vendors to more cost-effective vendors. You’ll likely be surprised at how some of the affordable vendors stack up—often using the same chipsets and factory lines. There are a lot of vendors out there building comparable enterprise-quality networking hardware, but costs vary significantly. While specs on a website don’t tell the whole story, you can at least get a basic understanding of how products compare.

Read customer feedback

To get a bigger picture of a company before trying them out, read reviews and check out their customer success stories and social media to see what their customers think about them. Every company is going to claim they have the best solution for you, so positive feedback from customers is one of the best ways to gauge whether an affordable solution is actually all it claims to be. Positive customer feedback can give you confidence in a solution you’re less familiar with. Customers are also really open about the challenges of products; by learning what customers honestly think, you can realistically evaluate if a product is going to be a good fit for your business.

Understand your customers

Ultimately, the success of your business is tied to customer satisfaction. You need to understand your customer base and how you can best meet their needs. For many SMB customers, a basic and reliable networking solution without additional bells and whistles is all they need. Reliability is key here because even if hardware is more affordable, if it doesn’t provide a reliable network, it will cost you in time, resources and customer satisfaction. Know what is most important to your customers and make sure your solution will exceed their expectations.

Give it a try

Ultimately, you can’t know if a solution is for you unless you try it. It’s always a risk to try something new, but it’s worth it if you consider the difference if can make to your bottom line over time. Do some research and then try an affordable solution with your next SMB customer. You could find you’re pleasantly surprised by the value and results. And if you can impress your customers with a more affordable solution, it can make all the difference in the long term and give you an edge over your competitors.