An ill-timed technology meltdown can be catastrophic for a vulnerable startup. Perhaps you are about to blast an email marketing message, or just trying to find an important file. And then it happens: frozen computers, corrupted files, wireless blackouts.

Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed fast. That much is easy to figure out. Much harder to answer is what's the best, most efficient way to prevent and cure these kinds of potential catastrophes.

Technology meltdowns are not just a theoretical concern. I know, because my own startup has been hit with them. I had one standing at the Geek Squad counter in my local Best Buy. On another occasion, I stumbled sobbing through a Walmart in Fergus Falls, Minn., at midnight - thousands of miles from home - because I somehow broke my laptop, and faced two looming deadlines.

Your company's meltdowns will be different, but all startups are vulnerable one way or another.

Most startups have the ability to fix the small stuff, either on their own, with the help of expert friends or colleagues, or with a quick call to a local IT consultant. But at some point, you risk running out of either answers or time. Even if you're a star coder, as your business grows there will come a moment when you're going to need IT help on a full-time basis.

But how do you know when that moment comes - when is the right time to stop outsourcing your tech support needs and actually hire an in-house IT person? I put that question to Greg Marks, an IT consultant and software specialist at O'Neil Software, based in Irvine, Calif., who has talked me through many an IT crisis. Marks suggests that you first consider the size of your company. He says, "Getting to 20 systems is usually a common breaking point when companies have to move IT staff in-house."

Of course, the type of business you're building and the nature of your IT needs will also influence that decision. As Marks explains, "Companies that rely on having a Web-based presence to get their messages out or sell products online likely have a greater need for an in-house IT person. If their websites go down, then they are essentially shut down. Having an IT person on staff constantly maintaining the network and site is vital because it prevents problems and allows for faster resolution of issues." Also, he adds, "If your data is critical to your business, then it is worth having an IT person on-site to maintain all your hardware and software, as well as ensure that the systems are always backed up."

Make sure to stay on top of how your IT is functioning. "Too often companies only [worry about] IT during startup," warns Marks, "and then never engage with the outside contractor again, or don't consider bringing someone in-house until a major crisis hits." At that point, Marks says, it may be too late. "I have seen firsthand companies lose key databases and years of information because in-house IT services were never considered, or the IT person that they contracted with had no vested interest in the organization."

Create an IT plan now, before a crisis hits... or your promising startup might never really get off the ground.

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