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Startup a Computer Business?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the your-own-'mom-and-pop'-shop dept.

Businesses 93

RapDes asks: "I've been a long time Slashdot reader and I've had years of experience working as a computer admin (secondary to my main job title) at a few different companies. I'm constantly being asked by my friends to take a look at their PC's to fix problems or to setup home networks (like I'm sure most of you fellow Slashdot readers are, as well). Anyway, I've decided that I'd like to make a little extra beer money on the side by starting up my own computer service/upgrade/repair business. I'm looking for any input from the readers who've already been down this road. How much do I charge? What should I be focusing on, hardware upgrades? Virus and spyware removal? Home networking? Any advice would be greatly appreciated."

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No Fuss On-Line Biz... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13186797)

I've heard that porn is a great on-line biz.

Malware removal (3, Informative)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186840)


Malware removal accounts for about 70% of my business's revenue...that and data recovery are very big. In today's economy of throwaway computers, you can't make a living with hardware, but protecting and recovering people's data will always be worth something.

Re:Malware removal (2, Insightful)

toygeek (473120) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188759)

I don't know if I trust what you say. I mean, half the time I look at a topic I see "tripmaster monkey" has first post. Looks like 70% of your time is spent on Slashdot!

Re:Malware removal (1)

shadowbearer (554144) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191167)


  I do some computer business on the side, and it's about the same percentage as his wrt to malware.

  Most of the time I spend in front of customers machines is watching progress bars (virus scanners, spyware scanners, update installers, etc, etc). Leaves plenty of time to play on my other machines :)
  (the rest of the time is usually spent surfing google and trying to figure out WTF some obscure error message says...)

SB

Re:Malware removal (1)

Decker-Mage (782424) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193260)

Actually I've done computer support for the US Navy (575+ desktops plus who knows how many laptops, several mainframes and a few mini's) and in the civilian world on a more personal basis (and online in various fora). He's right. Most of my time is spent in removing various malware, virii, and in data recovery, and has been for over twenty years, ever since the little darlings came out. Occasionally, and this seems to be picking up a bit, I get to set up a wireless home network (and lock it down!) but this won't be your repeat business.

Now ideally, you'll be allowed to set up all aspects of a system (virus protection, firewall, spyware monitoring/removal) so you won't have to go back to a computer time and time again. However this isn't an ideal world. I set this kind of thing up for people all the time, completely hands off from the user standpoint, and find that time and again some salesman or other idiot convinces them to remove the safeguards I put in place. (Just had another phone call from a id10t who's id10t friend ripped out and replaced my stuff with Norton and they are infected, AGAIN {sigh}.) Get used to it. Charge accordingly.

As for pricing, I'm not one to address that as I'm under certain restrictions. [Don't ask.] Generally I've seen that many people charge somewhere between $50 and $75, just to look at the machine and put in one hour of work. Data recovery can go up rather high, but compared to what OnTrack charges.... Home users are generally less able to afford you so be careful not to price yourself out of the market. You'll have to experiment for a while to get it dialed in right (and classify your customers carefully). YMMV

BTW, I get a LOT of reading done online and off when doing this stuff.

Pricing (3, Informative)

SocialEngineer (673690) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186850)

My rule of thumb is this:
Charge an hourly rate for time spent, and log your hours. Charge what you think your time is worth - I've seen 15 bucks, to 50 bucks for PC troubleshooting.

As far as what services you should offer, don't limit yourself if you want to make a regular steady stream of cash. Offer troubleshooting, repair, and upgrading. AV services is a must.

Networking services can net you 100-200 bucks an hour, depending on the area. This is assuming you know what you are doing and work relatively quick. If it is just basic home networking, I'd lean towards 25-50 bucks an hour or less (just because it is stupid easy to set up a home network :P)

Re:Pricing (4, Interesting)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186956)


My two cents on pricing:

My partner and I initially priced our services very low...the idea was to gain a customer base and spread favorable word-of-mouth before we raised prices...but it didn't work out that way. Our customer base remained very small until we raised our rates...and then suddenly it expanded precipitiously.

It seems that customers didn't really take us seriously with the lower rates, but when we raised them, they asumed that we must know what we're doing to command such rates, and the business flooded in.

Just something to consider...

Re:Pricing (3, Insightful)

Trepalium (109107) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187102)

Low prices also attract cheap customers. The kind that will try to talk their way out of even a small bill. Spending a half hour trying to convince someone to pay a $50 bill is a huge waste of time (money).

Re:Pricing (2, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187211)


I hear that...we've had more than our share of cheap bastards that essentially want us to work for free. After a certain amount of hassle, they simply aren't worth keeping as customers any longer. It's difficult to perform this sort of customer base weeding when you have precious few clients, but it's absoutely essential...those parasites will suck the lifeblood right out of your business.

Re:Pricing (1)

Trepalium (109107) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191011)

Just for fun, here's some of the common excuses I've heard:

  1. "It's done this since I last got you to fix it" - Slightly different than the legitimate "it's still doing it" complaint, since this one usually comes months and months after the initial fix and is nothing more than a customer trying to get free work out of you. I've seen a customer try to pull this one after six months of the last contact (I can see being busy for a week, or even a month, but SIX?).
  2. "And now THIS doesn't work!" You fixed their printer jam, and now their monitor displays funny colours, so they shouldn't have to pay for you to fix their monitor!
  3. "You didn't fix the problem the first time around." Usually associated with a moving set of problems, and they use a new problem as the rational for why they refuse to pay the last bill. Each problem is usually spaced by about a month (so they can complain if you try charging them late payment fees, too), and are not usually associated with each other. Related to 1 and 2.
  4. "But you didn't finish the work." You finished all the tasks they laid out for you at the outset, and even asked them if there was anything else they needed done, and still this complaint shows up. Sometimes it's a legitimate oversight, too often it's just them trying to get free work out of you.
  5. "You didn't respond quick enough, so I don't think I should have to pay anything." You're in the middle of fixing a downed server when a client calls in about a printer that doesn't work. You know the client can print to the one down the hall, so you tell them to do that until you can get there to fix it for them. Of course, you fix it the next day, but they hassle you when the bill shows up in their mail (and they probably hassled you about every other bill you've ever sent them, too).
There are others, too, but these are the only ones I can think of right now.

Re:Pricing (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 9 years ago | (#13201177)

That and the guy paying you $20/hr is going to tend to blow off your advice and then expect you to fix their mistakes, keep you waiting etc.

Re:Pricing (2, Funny)

Stalemate (105992) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187927)

My two cents on pricing

Sorry, I had to stop reading at this point. Your post might be really important but it is just so cheaply priced that I can't take it seriously. :P

Re:Pricing (2, Insightful)

jm92956n (758515) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188650)

I agree.

As an undergraduate, I took a marketing class and the professor once told us an interesting story. He had, for a while, operated a successful mail-order catalouge. One product that sold well was a small plastic contraption that quickly cored and sliced an apple into smaller pieces. He sold it for $4.

One month he sent the catalouge off to the printer and, due to the printer's mistake, a 1 was added to the price. When the customers received the catalouge, the price was therefore $14.

He, of course, expected to sell very few of them that quarter. To his surprise, sales of that product tripled.

At $4, customers percieved it as cheap and not worthwhile. At $14, they thought it was a very different product, though in reality it was the same piece of plastic.

As a general rule, if you charge too little, people won't percieve your services as worthwhile. You should, however, think of offering promotions: charge $40 per hour, but tell people that's discounted from the normal $60 (due to a special one month promotion for new customers). Or make something else up. Be creative.

This is why manufacturers often like rebates so much: they trick people into thinking they're purchasing a $400 product for $200, even if the device itself is really only worth $200. Some people see through this and realize what BS it is ... but most, however, do not.

Re:Pricing (1)

SocialEngineer (673690) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197230)

Then there are people like my mother and I, who only buy stuff if it is 25-50 percent cheaper than the average retail value (including rebates). This doesn't include food, but we usually buy that wherever it is cheaper, too.

Re:Pricing (1)

BizidyDizidy (689383) | more than 9 years ago | (#13219286)

I bet the ladies love it...

Seriously, guys, it's not even fun to give you shit when the post begins "My mother and I.."

It took all my willpower not to use the word "basement" or "Cheetoes"

Re:Pricing (1)

SocialEngineer (673690) | more than 9 years ago | (#13219691)

I live with my mother for a few good reasons. I'm a college student, and will graduate in one more semester - money tends to be pretty tight, so it is MUCH cheaper for me to live with her during the summer. The college I attend has crap scholarships for off campus students, so getting my own apartment every summer would be pretty inane.

I don't exactly enjoy living with my mother, but right now there isn't much of a choice. I don't have any problems getting dates because of it, either - most girls like the fact that my mother and I have a good relationship.

Re:Pricing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13188822)

American companies doing business in Japan had to overcome this bias as well. Price your self/stuff too cheaply, and you are perceived as inferior.

Re:Pricing (1)

James_Aguilar (890772) | more than 9 years ago | (#13189494)

This is an interesting occurrence, but I think that in general this will not be the way things pan out.

Re:Pricing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13190742)

You would be shocked.

Add $1,000 to an item, and prepend "Executive" to its name in your catalogue. See the orders stream in.

Re:Pricing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13191577)

Even if you sell fewer products/services at a higher price, your total will still be greater. I seem to remember something about optimal price points in Economics 101.

Its also worth considering at lower prices for services, it just isn't worth your time.

A third problem is that if you charge less, sometimes people expect MORE. This is the cheap bastard phenomenon where you get to service someone who is more interested in taking advantage of you then appreciating your services and recommending you to someone else. If you charged $50 an hour, they would be more focused on how to getting the most for their dollar and not be thinking of ways to get you to spend another hour working on very stupid and trivial things!

Check out smallbizgeeks.com (1)

JavaRob (28971) | more than 9 years ago | (#13192043)

linky [smallbizgeeks.com]

For more advice... there are a couple hundred people discussing all of these things, exhaustively, on this site.

One common thread is that focussing on *home users* can be a pretty painful route to take. If you go that way, price yourself high enough so that you don't have to deal with the nickel-and-dimers, and make it very clear to customers what they are paying for and what their own responsibilities are.

You'll want business cards (give a few to each customer to facilitate word of mouth advertising).

Saturated Market... (2, Insightful)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186858)

... starting up my own computer service/upgrade/repair business...

I feel that this sector of side business is pretty much saturated. You will likely have to have to rely on friends, as everyone else has their own friends doing the same thing. Good luck, but I don't think you'll make much beer money...

Re:Saturated Market... (2, Insightful)

Momoru (837801) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187335)

Agreed...it can work as a side business but certainly nothing to quit your day job over. I don't know how many friends have came up to me with the "brilliant" idea of starting a computer repair business. Um, no. PC's are so cheap these days, sometimes its cheaper for people to just buy a new PC then pay someone to fix it. Say you charge $50 an hour...why after only 8 hours of work they could have bought a new Dell. It's alright for a make some money here and there thing, but get into programming or something if you want a real business.

so instead (1)

samjam (256347) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187646)

Tell them to buy a new dell and transfer their personal files for them.

Then sell their old computer with Linux or recovered from the windows partition..

Sam

Re:Saturated Market... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13190719)

programming is getting anally raped as a career choice too, thanks to GNU

Re:Saturated Market... (0)

kupci (642531) | more than 9 years ago | (#13215077)

Agreed, this doesn't makes sense to be charging someone $100 to get their soundcard working, nor does it make sense for you to spend 3 hours, trying to get their backup software to work, or calling the sound card manufacturer. However, there is money to be made, otherwise companies like Geek Squad wouldn't be doing very well, and according to several articles, they are in high demand. Probably because while some people consider the solution to a system full of spyware, or busted soundcard, etc, simply to toss it, there is also the significant investment in getting all your software installed and configured.

Re:Not really... (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187633)


If it is, there are probably lots of people out JUST for the money, that don't really know what they are doing. I seem to remember reading an article somewhere about someone posting their offering on the bulletin board in a local grocery store, and was dumbfounded at the number of calls he received from people who needed something fixed that had been screwed up someone that didn't have the competence to solve their problem.

It's like any other industry- just because you take your car into get the brakes repaired, by no means guarantees quality workmanship.

Re:Not really... (1)

Decker-Mage (782424) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193328)

Amen to that! One thing I make sure relatively early in any conversation with a potential client is my level of experience and I've found that is what gets around by word of mouth. It doesn't hurt showing up with CD and disk wallets with dang near anything MS has ever done either. Another little item I've done is a New Owner CD which contains all the software that I usually install, plus a bunch of other useful utilities and such, with a nice little guide on it, which I hand them as I'm ready to leave. Only a few cents to reproduce, and a few minutes a month to update, but that seems to impress the client the most, whether home or business.

Nope, no nifty certification letters after my name. Just documented experience and a ton of golden referrals.

Re:Saturated Market... (1)

name773 (696972) | more than 9 years ago | (#13190684)

i think he should still give it a try, that's the best way to know for sure if it will pan out or not

Toss it (1)

turtled (845180) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186872)

"What should I be focusing on, hardware upgrades?"

From last week, as suggested with computers so cheap, toss the computer (or keep it), and charge $50 consultation fee.

Disposal Fee (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187177)

From last week, as suggested with computers so cheap, toss the computer (or keep it), and charge $50 consultation fee.

Call it a "disposal" fee, and than either fix and sell or break down for parts.

well... (2, Insightful)

zerkon (838861) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186882)

start with what you're good with. if you can't do hardware upgrades, don't do them (obviously). I've been making about $30 an hour since I was about 15 doing stuff like that for family members, just being offered money, not asking for it or running a buisness. The biggest thing is be honest, especially for a small company, don't try to sell people crap they don't need, and rule number one should always be don't break it worse than it is.

Word gets around, especially in smaller towns, if someone is going around fixing stuff well, and doing it for a good price then the phone will always ring. My mechanic and I have been trading favors back and forth for awhile now, it started with me fixing his comp, and he fixing my car, and now a few years later we're advertising each for each to our respective customers.

Great for college. (1)

kay41 (894758) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186886)

Last year I thought about starting up a virus/spyware removal business (or any other trouble shooting) at my college because everyone was always asking me to fix their PCs. This is a great idea for some extra cash.

Don't give them a personal phone number. (3, Informative)

Knetzar (698216) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186889)

Do yourself a favor and don't try and mix your personal life with your business. Keep seperate numbers for both, that way you don't get woken up at 3am by a customer who's computer just died.

Re:Don't give them a personal phone number. (1)

happyemoticon (543015) | more than 9 years ago | (#13189533)

Got called while I was at work (office job) the other day by my girlfriend's second cousin, who was incredulous that her Office docs wouldn't load after I got her network going (yeah, sure, it was something I did . . .). Only after I walked her through some troubleshooting steps and said, "Sorry about the echo, I'm in the atrium," did she actually realize that I was at work. Imagine that, at 11:30 on a weekday!

What if you break something? (2, Interesting)

forsetti (158019) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186891)

One suggestion, if you go in the hardware repair/upgrade direction: think now about what you will do when (not if) you break something. Slipping with a screw driver, electrostatic discharge, spill the morning coffee ... lots can happen. You need to charge enough to cover these incidents, or get some kind of insurance. Last thing you want is to have to replace that brand spankin' new $1200 Hyper-Core AMtel Semptium processor, when you've only worked on 2 PCs for a total profit of $50.

Good luck!

Stick with service and stay away from hardware (2, Informative)

gothzilla (676407) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186917)

Remember how many TV repair places there were in the 70's? Even in the 80's there were a decent number. Try and find one now.
PC's are becoming like TV's. It's almost cheaper to get a new one than it is to fix a broken one. The local repair shop charges $60/hr for repair. Spyware takes from 1 to 3 hours to remove depending on how big the drive is, how many files there are, and how bad it's infected. 3 hours is $180. How many trips until you just paid for a new pc?

Considering they go obsolete in 3 years anyway the market for pc repair is going to dry up quickly.

There is a market in service though. Helping people *use* computers will always have a demand.

Re:Stick with service and stay away from hardware (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187233)

The local repair shop charges $60/hr for repair. Spyware takes from 1 to 3 hours to remove depending on how big the drive is, how many files there are, and how bad it's infected. 3 hours is $180. How many trips until you just paid for a new pc?

Yes, but remember he will not be spending that whole 3 hours with the one single machine, scans, removal and such will for the most part do a lot of work unattended, while he works on a different machine. A semi-flat rate might be appropriate...

One big difference (1)

nixman99 (518480) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187772)

PC's are becoming like TV's.

TV's don't contain all your documents, passwords, pictures, movies, email, etc. For most people, the trouble of migrating their data is a huge deterrent to upgrading. Of course, there's a business opportunity for the poster in migration services.

Re:Stick with service and stay away from hardware (1)

DZign (200479) | more than 9 years ago | (#13192752)

A local computer shop has an ad running on the radio they'll 'service' your computer and remove virusses/spyware for a fixed fee of 40 euros and it's guaranteed to be ready in a day.. and some marketing stuff that regular servicing can prolong the life you get out of your computer and make it fast again and so on..

so once you have some experience with virii/spyware and have a good toolset and procedure, it can be done quite fast..
The major success is that people drop off their computer at your place, you clean it, and the day after they pick it up and pay you.
Best case scenario you just had the press the enter-key a few times to start all removal programs and you did other things during the scan.. but they don't know and probably think you were working all night on it.

If you do house-calls then the people will see you just sit there and wait for the computer to finish so they'll complain more often that you didn't do a lot for the 3 hours spent and don't want to pay..

Re:Stick with service and stay away from hardware (1)

straybullets (646076) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193089)

Considering they go obsolete in 3 years anyway the market for pc repair is going to dry up quickly.
There is a market in service though. Helping people *use* computers will always have a demand.

Yeah, and also people want some functionalities that are not trivial for them .
They want to share printers, they want to share data, they want to access wirelessly, they want a secure backup plan ...
These kind of things can make a few bucks, althought maybe not ennough to make a living ...

Re:Stick with service and stay away from hardware (1)

cavemanf16 (303184) | more than 9 years ago | (#13194218)

You would have a point if a PC was for entertainment purposes only, as TV's for the most part are. (Yes, yes, you can learn some crap from watching TV too, but it's mainly a passive interface - you don't "do" anything with it) But a PC contains people's financial records now. PC's are used to communicate with one another. PC's are used to store and maintain data! They are not strictly an entertainment device.

Besides, you may be able to come up with a way to transfer all those Gig's of mp3's and ogg's over to your brand-spanking-new Dell laptop within 3 seconds, but grandma, grandpa, and a million small business owners don't have the time (nor the inclination) to figure out how to do that - not to mention how to buy the right new computer that will still run all the programs they've become accustomed to for everyday use. Your opinion on this matter is sadly WRONG according to plenty of statistical measures stating the the Geek Squad (and other like businesses) are growing by leaps and bounds.

Re:Stick with service and stay away from hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13194546)

omg you so cannot read you dumb fuck. so I guess when you move files you need static protection and a screwdriver? he said stick with service and stay away from hardware. copying files is service you dumbass. grow a brain before posting.

been down that road (2, Insightful)

guardianfox (853748) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186946)

That sort of business worked ok for me in high school... but by the time college rolled around... I realized that my regular clients began to BLAME me when things went wrong. Like, I was supposed to immunize them from being stupid I guess. Not only that, but new clients were increasingly harder to find as more and more people were getting into the business or doing it for friends and family for free. Now, if I had been a data recovery expert (for example, able to extract a few files off of a fire-dammaged hard disk) or if I'd invested in some expensive media equipment and offered a more diverse service... I might have done better. If you want to start earning money in this way I would advise getting yourself together a respectable team, and targetting businesses that depend on a lot of technology. Not only repairing/managing their systems, networks, and solutions... but coming up with new systems, networks, and solutions. Again, diversify.

Re:been down that road (1)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187482)

True. As fast as the IT industry changes, you can't afford to specialize too much in one particular subset of the market, because it will someday become obsolete. Ask someone who used to make their living repairing monitor CRTs how much business they have today. I'm guessing little to none. As long as you can give your clients a warm fuzzy feeling that you will take care of their technology problems, regardless of the specific technology, they will keep coming back to you. If you can't do something yourself, subcontract to someone who can without the client being inconvenienced.

bad idea (1)

keesh (202812) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186957)

I speak from experience. the pain isn't worth it. sure, you'll get the occasional good job, but then you'll be held to blame for everything that ever goes wrong with the box there after. if you're after easy cash, you'd be better off getting a job as a rent-boy or sewer cleaner.

Re:bad idea (1)

quizteamer (758717) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187055)

you'll be held to blame for everything that ever goes wrong with the box there after

I found this to be true if you charge neighbors/ friends for fixing anything. Complete strangers won't call be back 6 months later and demand that I fix thier pc (at no cost). Unless your going to open up a small buiness, don't take cash payments. Work out a barder system. It will save you headaches and phone calls at 10 pm demanding computer service.

Rent Boy? (2, Funny)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187271)

you'd be better off getting a job as a rent-boy

There is a market for geeky looking bald guys with a beer gut??? SIGN ME UP!

Re:Rent Boy? (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 9 years ago | (#13195588)

Yeah, but, do you REALLY want to be rented by the sort of woman who would rent someone like us?

Re:bad idea (1)

agent4256 (893846) | more than 9 years ago | (#13215602)

working in a sanitary district is great money. thnk GOVERNMENT JOB!

"Computer Services" not "Hardware Upgrades" (2, Insightful)

banglogic (702448) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186964)

How much do I charge? What should I be focusing on, hardware upgrades? Virus and spyware removal? Home networking?

I don't think it really benefits you to try to focus on one of these individual things. Just call it "Computer Services". If you are skilled in any of these areas, offer it. Usually (and this is true with nearly every business), the customer will have a need for one of your services (install some additional RAM, for example) and while you are working on that issue, three other issues will become apparent.

How much to charge is totally dependant on your market (home users, small business, etc.). I'm in Chicago and my customers are small businesses and the home networks of some doctors/lawyers/etc. I never charge less than $50/hour for on site services (that is a "friends and family" rate) and usually it is $75 or $100. Try not to under value your services too much, but also, you have to recognize your value in your individual marked.

I *never* charge flat rate for services, though I will "not count" some of my time occasionally. The only exceptions for this, in my business, is when I do photography and web site design. All other services are strictly hourly.

Re:"Computer Services" not "Hardware Upgrades" (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187712)

I do hourly, with one exception. Backing up personal files and reformatting and reinstalling windows is a flat fee ($125). Takes too many hours to be justified on the hourly rate ($50/hr) since a lot of the time is spent waiting on updates, etc. to download.

Re:"Computer Services" not "Hardware Upgrades" (1)

SeeTheLight (902400) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188106)

What if a customer wants a reformat and reinstall of windows and doesn't have a CD to do it from?

Re:"Computer Services" not "Hardware Upgrades" (1)

slazar (527381) | more than 9 years ago | (#13192901)

you sell it to them :)

Re:"Computer Services" not "Hardware Upgrades" (1)

mbrinkm (699240) | more than 9 years ago | (#13189334)

How much to charge is totally dependant on your market (home users, small business, etc.). I'm in Chicago and my customers are small businesses and the home networks of some doctors/lawyers/etc. I never charge less than $50/hour for on site services (that is a "friends and family" rate) and usually it is $75 or $100. Try not to under value your services too much, but also, you have to recognize your value in your individual marked.

As an example of a smaller market, I live in a rural community in northwest Ohio (A town of 400). I charge $30 an hour for "friends and family" and my rates for business vary from $55 to $125 hour depending on the service that they are asking for. $55 is for basic OS / software installation and $125 an hour is for consultation services on software selection for inventory management, enterprise resource planning, security, etc.

The real key is knowing which services you can charge more for and which ones you should offer at a discount. A lot of times "Friends and Family" services will lead to a new business account and a business account will lead to additional "Friends and Family" customers.

Once You Work On Someone's Computer... (1)

TheWanderingHermit (513872) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186986)

...It's your responsibility for the lifetime of that computer.

In some ways that is good, but in many it is bad. Many times you don't get the freedom to do all you want. For example, when someone gets a new DSL modem and you set it up, you can advise them about virus checkers and firewalls. They may say, for example, that they want a firewall, but if they have one, why should they need a virus checker, since the firewall keeps it out. You're discussing it with someone that knows less (if possible) about computers than a PHB, and who is operating on their personal budget, so they'll skimp.

In a few weeks guess who gets blamed for all their malware?

Generally, once you set up a computer or any part of a computer or network for someone, they'll start coming to you with every little question and problem. That's great when it is something you can charge for, but there's a lot of quick questions over the phone that take up a good amount of time. If you charge some kind of retainer, you'll get even more questions and calls.

While it is true they will come to you for more paid work, that also means they see you as having responsibility for the well being of their computer, so some people will start blaming you when things go wrong and others will think you are only finding ways to charge them for more work.

Not everyone is this way, but there are many people who are. Taking care of clueless users is not a simple task, and it is never a one-time setup. If you want to do it, great, but there are a lot more demands on your time from such users than the actual on-site paid work.

Business Book Recommendation (1)

xanderwilson (662093) | more than 9 years ago | (#13186988)

Re:Business Book Recommendation (1)

Jondaley (194380) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187323)

Does it include a section about how if people want to sue you and take all your money, it doesn't matter if you have a LLC to try to hide behind or not?

Re:Business Book Recommendation (1)

xanderwilson (662093) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188739)

Yes, the book talks about areas where LLC owners will not be able to use their Limited Liability status to protect personal assets. The book offers an overview of what LLCs are and aren't, to help readers determine whether an LLC is right for their businesses.

Re:Business Book Recommendation (1)

Jondaley (194380) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188979)

Great, I will look into it. It seems that there is an older edition, published the year before, but is 25% of the price? Do you happen to know anything about that, ie. can I be cheap and just buy that book instead?

Re:Business Book Recommendation (1)

xanderwilson (662093) | more than 9 years ago | (#13189920)

Because it's an introduction and overview of LLCs and not a state-by-state reference that would need constant updating to keep you abreast of the latest rules, exceptions, etc. (which should be available online and could be out of date yet again as soon as the next edition gets printed), YES, I'd recommend going with the cheaper version.

Alex.

quick turn around and high profit margin (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187003)

1) Spyware/virus removal, installation of self-updating prevention software.

2) HD defrag, MSFT padding, etc. Removal of unneeded applications/data.

3) OS updates with auto-update, configure for best privacy settings

4) Easy upgrades that make a big difference (HD & RAM upgrades, and maybe a newer videocard)

5) security configuration for people with wireless connections

6) simple OS settings (higher refresh rates/resolution/colour depth) that people don't know to check for. Turning off the 'personalized menus' bullshit in Windows, and any animated help characters.

Although HD upgrades don't always make for the 'quick turnaround' mentioned in my subject line.

You may wish to specialize in security/privacy work, so as to better prey on people's fears. Lots of profit in that these days.

Or just help people migrate all their crap from a Windows box to a Mac box. :)

Wrong motives for this work (2, Interesting)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187004)

I'd like to make a little extra beer money on the side

That implies that you're at least partially doing this for fun and personal enjoyment.

Don't.

There's a vast difference between fixing a friend's machine for fun and for money. Almost without exception, the kind of people who would need to pay someone to fix their system in the first place (ruling out those who want you to fix it so they can watch and learn) are the ones that cannot be made to understand causality and coincidence:

"You removed that virus last month, but it broke my monitor. You owe me a monitor."

"I was surfing t3h intarweb just like I had been before and now my computer's slow again. You didn't fix it right."

"What do you mean, I need to buy a computer? The hard drive is the only piece that caught on fire. Besides, new computers are disposable, unlike this tank I bought brand new nine years ago."

Trust me, friend: you really, really don't want to go there unless you're perfectly comfortable losing friendships by not giving people what they think their money's worth (which is patently impossible). Tell a man that he needs a new transmission and he'll believe you. Tell the same man that 64 MB of RAM isn't enough to run Office XP and he'll think you're trying to steal his hard-earned money.

Been there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13189579)

I recently had a job in an office with a couple laptops and a wireless setup. One of the laptops couldn't connect, and the wireless strength was very low even right next to the router. After resetting the router, the computer connected fine. A few minutes later, the guy using the laptop that I HAD NEVER EVEN TOUCHED said I broke his network connection. When I get to the machine, the error message was that the wireless switch on the side of the laptop was off (which it was not).

There was no convincing him that what I had done could not possibly have caused that particular problem. I showed him that even while connected to the internet(before it would disconnect after a few minutes), the network connection had a red 'X' over it, and that that should'd happen unless he's got windows/driver problems. The dick even responded to my calm explanation by raising his voice to the point where I told him he needeed to cool it or I'd leave.

FYI: Updating the NIC driver and using Windows instead of the crappy Toshiba wireless application fixed the problem. While working on it, the laptop powered off unexpectedly, and he said, "Oh yeah, it always does that. It's a problem with these Toshibas". So you KNOW that thing was fucked up way before I ever got near it.

The funniest thing was that these fuckers are trying to sell some municipal WiFi system. Dumbasses.

Small Computer Business (1)

RapterOfParadox (317576) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187009)

You didn't say if you are living in a more rural area, but if you are then look at the level of technology that people are using. My sister and I have been working in rural pa doing residential and business computer support for quite some time.

I found a good price point at $30 an hour for residential, $40 for non-profits and $50 for business. Most of the work you'll find will be replacing blown hardware from power surges, virus and spyware removal, people not doing the system updates and small home or business networking.

For the most common stuff like virus and spyware removal and system updates I'll charge $60. If you do a good job and don't have to do a reinstall you can be pretty sure they'll come back in 6 months when little jimmy has the computer screwed up again.

Also, you should offer your services for helping people pick out their next computer. That also makes it more likely that they'll bring their computer back to you for maintenance.

Re:Small Computer Business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13187403)

If you do a good job and don't have to do a reinstall you can be pretty sure they'll come back in 6 months when little jimmy has the computer screwed up again.

They'll come back to you alright, but they'll say "you didn't fix it right the first time! fix again and fix it right, FOR FREE"
i do work for close friends and family only. they say I should start a small business, to which I reply "no way". I don't have the patience for clueless users who insist I'm responsible for their stupidity.

Consulting (4, Informative)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187171)

I do a little of this on the side also.

Hardware upgrades are a valid path. Because of my location, I look at what the client wants and then put together an order on Newegg. I let the client use their own creditcard and shipping address. When the boxes arrive, I come over, check everything out, and assemble it.

When things go wrong, you need to have a testbed. Have at least one PC with PCI-E and another with AGP. Have one for socket 939 and another for Intel. If you suspect that a part is bad, test it to verify. Then contact Newegg and request a RMA with a cross-shipment of the new part.

I usually charge $100 flat rate for assembly.

For OS installs, I charge $30 an hour. Mainly because most of that time is sitting and waiting for something to finish. After a while, you'll get a CD with drivers for virtually every product you support to make things easier.

I also install AVG Avtivirus, Spybot, and Firefox with the "View in IE" extention as standard.

If you do hardware, get a standard install base. I install AMD 99% of the time. Usually on the MSI Neo2 or Neo4 Platinum mobo. I always install Nvidia cards. 6600 for home users, 6800 for casual gamers, and 6800GT for mainline gamers.

I usually try and keep the client from bothering me while I install stuff. I make it clear before I start that installing has one price; teaching has a completely different price.

I *do not* remove spyware. I do, however, charge $50 to back up the user's stuff using Knoppix and a removable hard drive and then to a reinstall of WinXP. Removing spyware/virii is too time consuming.

Home networking is fairly easy. I keep the Linksys firmware and a general config file on the disc with drivers for most Linksys NICs. Takes maybe 30 minutes to set up. I include a one hour training session to show users how to share a folder and copy files from one computer to another. $50 to $100 depending on the client.

I do just about all of my work in the evenings after work. I let the clients now that they can get discounts in exchange for dinner. Plus, it gives me a chance to sit with the customer and talk about general computer stuff.

Get to know a lot about different subjects. Learn to fake interest in the client's hobbies. "Oh, you play Tyco drums! That's cool. Do you do any festivals nearby?" Shit like that can keep clients coming back for more.

You'll always have to deal with the client that wants "free" Office or doesn't want to buy WinXP "because my neghbor has a copy." My clients know that I won't install anything without the original disc. That being said, I never ask for proof of purchace or a recipt. When buying hardware, I let them know WinXP would be a good purchace.

I've never had to deal with any contracts. I don't buy anything for the customer. I always wear a grounding strap and treat all the parts like they are the baby jesus. If a part fails to work, I RMA it before I leave. Sometimes I provide a replacement while waiting for the RMA. If shit breaks within a month, I provide a free analasys and arrange for RMA or provide a discounted reinstall.

Never point out that the customer broke something. If they claim you broke something, calmly fix it and then never visit that client agian. Remember, most stuff is RMAable and it isn't worth the stress of a "he said, she said" encounter.

You'll know within about 5 minutes if you *want* to help a client. If you don't, just excuse yourself and reccommend they go to BestBuy.

If they client needs a new part like a CDROM or NIC, I charge nothing for the inital troubleshooting as long as it takes less than 30 minutes. I charge $30 to install new hardware. $20 to update drivers.

Agian, hardware will have a thin margin, but the services will help you make some extra cash. In a bad week, I can make $200 just by doing reinstalls. In a good week, $500+ by doing system builds.

Don't do it (1)

slasher999 (513533) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187216)

Don't waste your time, at least if you are in an area as densely populated as the NY/NJ area where I am. Everyone knows someone (you in this case) who "does computers". Competition is fierce, and there are a ton of people that can barely spell PC that call themselves consultants and are out there every day giving you a bad name simply because you appear to the average user to be in the same business.

Your friends and family ask you to work on their machines because they know you will do it for nothing. Once you start charging, they will treat you like you are trying to take advantage of them.

In addition, once you start charging you need to warranty your work. People expect that means if you clean a virus from their PC once, that you should be responsible for cleaning any viruses on their computer for the rest of that computers lifespan at no additional charge.

Finally, you will be at the mercy of whatever people do to their machines, including installing all types of silly $1 software they buy at the grocery store or elsewhere. They paid for it, now they want you to make it run. Or they let their neighbor install something on their machine and now it doesn't work at all. Now it's your problem.

It takes 4-5 hours to properly reinstall Windows, Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, and a handful of other applications that I've come to consider "required" these days. Even if you charge a measly $75 an hour, try telling someone it will cost at least $300 for you to rebuild their machine for them.

Then tell them on top of that fee they have to buy Windows XP for another $150 or so since they lost the CD or never had one. At that point it is "cheaper" for them to call Dell and order a new PC for $300.

Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (4, Interesting)

greywire (78262) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187227)

People are right when they say its hardly worth fixing things. Particularly, trying to 'tune up' a system by getting rid of malware, viruses, etc, which is going to be 90% of the time what people need..

You should be able to diagnose whether the computer has a hardware problem or a software problem real quick. Use a bootable CD or something to do this.

Replace the harddrive, add more ram, replace mouse and keyboard, replace fans, replace the PS, if necessary. If its not clearly one of those, tell them they need a new PC.

If they have a software problem, just tell them they need a new harddrive and reinstall windows on it. That's a whole lot faster than trying to remove all the crap they've installed on it.

If they just need more ram, do that.

Keep the drives you swap out, format them at your leisure, and sell them to the next customer who has a malware problem.

Seriously, get real quick at diagnosing things, and be able to do what you need to do in an hour or two.

I've had to do this with family members. If they think you can sit there for a few hours and tune things up, they'll get you to do it, and you will waste your time and not make money. If instead they know that probably you're going to charge them $50 for an hour and replace their harddrive for $100, they will understand AND be a little less likely to hit you up the next time. And maybe they will learn to keep their system clean.

Re:Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (1)

slasher999 (513533) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187330)

This post is probably the most thought out and the closest thing to an actual "business model" I've seen in this thread so far. Nice ideas.

Re:Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (1)

Decker-Mage (782424) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193383)

I agree with slasher. Dead on and accurate. You have to be fast at the diagnosis and find the quickest route to repairs. I really like the software problem solution. Wish I had thought of that earlier.

Re:Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 9 years ago | (#13201158)

What do you do/say when they are upset that their photos/email/programs aren't on their PC anymore since you've swapped out their hard drive? Recovering all their stuff, re-installing their programs and getting their internet connection settings back (what's that? you've never had to enter a password for your email and you have no idea what it is?) can easily take as much time as cleaning up all the malware etc. Do you just dump a copy of everything from "My Documents" on a CD and call it a day?

Re:Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (1)

NewStarRising (580196) | more than 9 years ago | (#13201386)

"Replace the harddrive, add more ram, replace mouse and keyboard, replace fans, replace the PS, if necessary. If its not clearly one of those, tell them they need a new PC."

Or it might be the CD-ROM. Or it might actually be a software problem.

"If they have a software problem, just tell them they need a new harddrive and reinstall windows on it. That's a whole lot faster than trying to remove all the crap they've installed on it."

A good way to lose freinds and customers. Data-retention is of paramount importance to a lot of people - college work, photos, genealogy records ...
Are you charging for the new hardware that they don't need? you could just format their existing drive, if you feel a re-install is the best way.
A lot of OEM Machines are difficult to install from the original media (the one they havea licence for) if the hardware has been changed(especially the hidden recovery partition)

"Keep the drives you swap out, format them at your leisure, and sell them to the next customer who has a malware problem."

These second-hand drives will have to be sold at reduced prices and clearly marked as second-hand. Putting unreliable equipment (you removed it for a reason, yes?) into a system is hardly what I would consider proffesional.

Your "Do it quick" tactics seem to revolve around replacing the HDD and reinstalling. Not a fast job. Install, drivers, software, updates ... when you could have solved the actual problem.

Re:Do it quick, dont be a hero.. (1)

greywire (78262) | more than 9 years ago | (#13204330)

The reason I say replace the drive is that usualy, its an older drive, and a faster drive will make a noticable difference in speed, which makes them happy.

Certainly, if you can get away with just doing a reinstall, that's great.

Dont misunderstand, I'm saying to pull one over on the customer. Certainly not. Be completely honest. Try to recover data, of course. But let them understand that it may cost a lot more to clean things up (and they may still have odd problems afterwards) then to just start over from scratch.

Its always a judgement call, based on your experience. The main point is, do it quickly. You're not going for the ideal solution, just the one that is quick and gets the job done.

If they want you to do it the ideal way, just make sure they understand how much you charge per hour.

This is no different than, say, a mechanic. They can rebuild your engine, but that's probably going to cost a lot more and take more time than just getting a new one. But some people would opt for the rebuild.

Focus on Maintenance (1)

Goyuix (698012) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187348)

It can cover hardware, software, whatever. I wouldn't limit your scope - at least not initially as the way to steadily grow this side business (you make it sound as though your day job will stay put?) is through word of mouth. Provide a good service, and guaranteed people will pass the info along. I can't count how many times (well maybe select count(*) from clients) that someone has told me how glad they were to have found someone good and reliable at fixing problems. Someone they can trust to come into their homes and businesses to address their needs.

With that in mind, I always make it a point (when dealing with businesses particularly) to let them know that this isn't my primary profession, and as such I may not be able to come put out the fire at a moments notice, or at least not without an exorbitant fee, but that I am happy to help them out regularly because of the relationship we have established. Every single customer I have is extremely satisfied with the level of support they get, and realize that technical glitches are just part of the digital age we live in.... ahhh job security.

All that being said, the most steady stream of income simply comes from people needing help getting their spyware removed, tightening down security for kids accounts, email questions and general help desk type issues. I even have been called to install software. I would also make sure to have a CD wallet with some diagnostic tools, boot cd's, etc available as well as USB memory stick with all the sysinternals stuff you can get. And don't forget a screwdriver, #2 philips will open almost every case out there.

And lastly, make yourself available - not necessarily to arrive put the fire out - but answer your cellphone, email, etc. PROMPTLY. It can make a huge difference, and many times you might even be able to help solve the problem over the phone/email (did you try rebooting?).

I work for beer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13187396)

My standard fee for a house call is a six or eight pack of Guinness. If I have to take it home and work on it for a longer period, it's a case. Unfortunately, there is less and less time to drink the beer, and more and more beer to store.

Finally I opted for the "No I will not fix your computer." T-Shirt from ThinkGeek, for those special occasions when I'm not there in the computer-repair capacity. On the plus side, It's been a long time since I bought beer, and I am dabbling in a vest (ala Event Horizon) to hold all the tools and a few usb keys, so that when I do work on a computer all I have to do is put on the vest and I'm ready for action!

I'll help you with Marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13187399)

Send me a list of all your friend's names, addresses, etc. and I will help you to develop a marketing plan.

Why would you want to do this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13187490)

Spyware and virus removal? Sorry, you couldn't pay me enough (okay, maybe you could, but it'd have to be a lot) to essentially pick up dog shit off other people's lawns.

A great advice... (1)

ivanandre (265129) | more than 9 years ago | (#13187780)

Don´t!

Slashdot covered this in the past and (1)

jptechnical (644454) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188269)

here are two [slashdot.org] such [slashdot.org] articles.

Here [koozie.org] is another link directly to articles on Freelance Tech Support.

I personally run a small computer repair business in Western Washington and have found his insights of value.

My only suggestion is not to do it for 'extra beer money' it makes you sound like a schmuck. Do it for the money and the experience and always be professional. No one is going to let you at their computers so you can earn beer money. good luck.

Re:Slashdot covered this in the past and (1)

Tteddo (543485) | more than 9 years ago | (#13190716)

I do this for a living (8.5 years) and those Freelance Tech Support articles explain exactly why I have all the customers in my neck of the woods.
I see alot of part timers come and go, and they either look unprofessional by not charging enough (I charge $60/hr with an hour minimum, which is what the market is here), or they really don't know what they are doing and get no repeat customers. 85- 90% of my business is all repeat from a customer base of about 700 that I have built up over the years.

Re:Slashdot covered this in the past and (1)

Decker-Mage (782424) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193462)

Nice catch! I especially like the Tangent in the "First Article". Sometimes I think I get more repeat business due to the fact that I know most all the simple, cheap/free solutions out there and won't hesitate to recommend them, especially as I rarely get a kickback (okay, channel partner fee) on most things. However, I also won't hesitate to spec something larger as required, and frequently I do the engineering and integration for a rather large fee.

I've also associated with the second and third tier and FUD seems to be a primary selling point. I don't do FUD. I do solutions that the client can afford and does what they want.

On your last point, agreed. Attitude is everything in this biz. Clients won't take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously. Just keeping up with what happens in this industry is a significant investment in and of itself. I spend about half my time doing nothing but reading journals, newsletters, and a regular raft of sites on a daily basis. Now I would do that anyway, but since clients are as much buying my knowledge as my handiwork....

My experiences as a self-employed PC repairman (1)

MisterJones (751585) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188375)

I tried to do this in college. I had a friend who I'd worked with before in my home town who did this as a side business as well. This was a few years ago, before the virus/malware boom. He did both hardware upgrades and software troubleshooting, although he did most of his business selling parts. He set me up with accounts from his distributors (backing me with a line of credit) so that I could get a leg up.

These days, you can't sell computers or parts and expect to make any sort of money. Have you been in a small computer shop recently? Usually they are charging quite a bit more than the big online retailers. The online retailers make a killing because they buy direct and they buy in bulk. The smaller 'hometown' chains buy from distributors, who have prices that are only slightly less than the online shops. If you're going to make a profit, it is tiny, say 3% if that.

If you are selling entire computers, you have many competetors, not the least of which is Dell. And they offer a warranty! You don't want to be on call 24/7 for years after a sale, do you? You can't compete on price, and you can't compete on services offered.

The other side of the coin is selling services. Since you mention that you do this for your friends, they are likely to be your first customers. The downside to this is, they're already getting your services for free, or at least less than what you plan to charge. You want some word of mouth advertising, but it is unlikely that you will get any from your friends, who feel like you're gouging them.

In my experience, friends wanted to pay me in food or by exchanging services. Maybe instead of beer money you could just ask for beer?

Don't even get me started on the legal aspects... paying sales tax, for instance. I had the taxing authorities on my back, wanting to take property taxes from me because I listed my parents' house as my place of business. When you're just in it for the fun of it, the business side of things can be intimidating.

I did it but was not really worth it (1)

infohord (311979) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188438)

I ran Nylander Technologies for a while do this same thing. First suggestion, hire a bookeeper. I spent more time filling out government tax documents then doing real work (I incorporated, may be less if you do not). Second, I found that I was in moderate demand through word of mouth. Third, I eventually found that I tired of doing the same thing off hours that I did on hours. Good luck and heed suggestion #1.

Just don't. (1)

Penguin Programmer (241752) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188480)

Please don't do it. Really. Please. I'm begging you.

The last thing we need is more computer "consultants" who are really just recreational sysadmins. If you really want to make money fixing computers, then get a couple certifications (even an A+ is fine for fixing Windows issues) and open it as a real business instead of pretending to be something you're not and defrauding people.

If I sound particularly bitter, it's because the company I work for has been taken in by such people. They hired a guy with a book called "Unix for Dummies" to setup a FreeBSD file server for them, then continued for several years to pay him every time the machine needed a reboot because none of the services they used started automatically at boot time. It was an unprofessional mess (and the guy who set it up decided to call my boss and tell him he was going to charge us to get information from him about the server, rather than returning my phone calls) and I ended up building them a new server and putting a proper Linux install on it that needs no maintenance at all other than occaisional software updates.

Not that you'll neccessarily claim to be capable of setting up Unix servers when you're actually not or be a complete dick and take people's money, but it's just one more person that probably doesn't know enough to do what they do.

Do it low key, cash and no taxes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13188597)

Work only for cash or a trade of goods/services.
Don't advertise except by word of mouth.
Don't sell hardware or software, just your time.
Don't work for anyone whose business/livelihood will depend on your work (i.e. anyone who will sue your ass if you fuck something up badly).

Basically, stick to fixing/delousing the home PCs of your family, friends, acquaintances, and other people who they may refer to you. Stay below the radar of the government or any other entity that will demand a chunk of your hard-earned money. Those bastards take enough from your day job.

Just charge beer (1)

omibus (116064) | more than 9 years ago | (#13188772)

Anyway, I've decided that I'd like to make a little extra beer money on the side by starting up my own computer service/upgrade/repair business.


If all you want is extra beer money, just charge beer (be sure to spesify brand: Coor, Bud, Miller, Fat Tire). Then figure out how much work you are willing to do for the beer.

I'd say, one beer per virus removed, and a 12 pack for hardware upgrades.

Supply and demand. (1)

natmsincome.com (528791) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191053)

Basically how much work do you want? My dad started charing people so they would stop calling him as much. He charges $50 dollars and hour (1 hour minimum). The idea is that they won't call him for things like formating word documents. But if they do then he won't feel any resenment towards them after all he just made $50.

Here is my thoughts:
*Charge to low ($20) and people will abuse you. You'll get to much work and be miserable.
*Carge to high and people will expect you to do magic and resent/hate you.

So charge slightly more than most people would like to pay. That means they will think twice before calling and try someone else but if they want quality they will come to you. Believe me you don't want cheap customers they are more trouble than they are worth.

Extremely unworthy business (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191227)

A computer repair/upgrade business is just tough. Simpler stuff like virus removal is something for which people will not notice anything different and possibly expect more (my Internet still doesnt work).

Hardware or software upgrade is even worse. Conflicts might appear later in usage and youll be held responsible. In fact, any subsequent problems with the computer will be your responsibility and their call will just me 'my computer doesnt work' followed by silence implying you should just FIX it since you fixed it the last time.

One thing you can do is offer just complete reinstalls, while requiring serial keys from them. Use a remote windows installation system to just clear the harddrive and install everything, burn a ghost image and keep the image for the next time they bring the computer in. Do NOT attempt to clean spyware or the likes. Just clean format and reinstall for $100 or something and nothing else.

Anything else will either take too much of your time, is too prone to failure and subsequent blame, or will cost equal to a new computer. This is very similar to the car mechanic business. They have a reputation of ripping people off just because the customers dont know what theyre asking for or even whats wrong. Same story.

Better idea: offer computer leases. Give them computers for a monthly fixed payment and dont provide the admin passwords. Disable software installs. Should anything break they'll just bring it in and youll reghost the machine no questions asked. I expect such services to be in demand since I see way too many people walking around with infected computers wondering how to fix it and how to keep it fixed for a price less than the value of the damn machine.

Cover your 6 (1)

1eyedhive (664431) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191241)

I've been doing this same business for 5 years now, three of those in an official 'commercial' capacity with varied levels of success. I started at 16 and intended to make a big business out of it by the time I was out of high school. Then reality kicked in... I'm 20 now and the business is comparable in revenue to that of a 20-30 hour minimum wage job (the same type of job I'd be doing), of course this varies big time. I've learned, by dealing with assholes of all sorts, that it is a MUST to cover your ass on things like malware repair: I fix their problem, and then explain preventative measures and tell them, "Unless you want me to come back in a month and charge you another $150, use FireFox, run adaware/spy-bot... yadda yadda" and IT WORKS, I make it plain to them that I am NOT in any way shape or form responsible for user error after I step out their front door. I also have a standing "Use at your own risk" policy on Kazaa and its brethren (I'll fix it, remove the malware (usually requires a reformat) and lecture about not using that stuff and telling them that if it happens again they will get no warranty from me because I told them NOT to use that shit.) When I build a system, it's a similar deal, Cost of parts + + shipping + $100 for parts cost under $500, $150 for $500-1000 and $200 for server machines. This labor includes: formatting, OS install, update and config, drivers, FireFox, Tbird, open-office, winamp, avg (or users AV of-choice), adaware, video/audio codecs. Also it includes delivery and setup (just plugging in the cords, turning it on and getting it on the web, nothing more). My warranties for new systems (through trial and error): Parts: manufacturer supported Labor+extra costs: 30 days from date of delivery (includes on-site HARDWARE and ORIGINAL CONFIG related issues) it beats the bathtub curve on dead hardware beyond my burn-in tests (had a lemon WD HD last week) most of the time, yet if they run and install Kazaa and it gets shot up with malware, I'm NOT fixing it for free... I had a guy who I build a box for try to blame me (3 months after delivery) for a supposed lack of sound from the get-go. The problem: speaker plugged into wrong plug... not my fault, it worked when I set it up. I haven't seen that one since... I charge $50/hr on-site residential, and from $50-$80 commercial depending on the job complexity. I'll bring the box home with me after 3 hours and from there charge a flat $125 for reinstall/reformat or for hardware, cost of hardware or RMA ship + $30. I tried dealing with distributors, but for the small-fry side job it isn't worth it, NewEgg or another quality online retailer works wonders, plus you get their warranties (usually 90 days), and charge cost (tell them, "I charge COST" add something for shipping (round up whatever the real cost is) and sales tax, then charge for labor and you're set. Always... ALWAYS be friendly and professional. Also have a pack with some essential repair/troubleshooting tools. A #2 phillips, knoppix, various windows emergency tools, memtest86, HD troubleshooters and a FLASH DRIVE go a long way. (I found a mini flashlight, a leatherman and a flashdrive on a keychain can get you out of a lot of scrapes). Bonus if you have a laptop and network cables, even a router or switch ) though not having a switch is an easy fix, just have a crossover cable, and if they ask why you don't have one... improvise.

Remember... (3, Insightful)

Delgul (515042) | more than 9 years ago | (#13191303)

You can only go down with your hourly rate, never up! I started a business doing strictly Linux (or other OSS) installs and maintenance and I can get away with an hourly rate of around 100 euro's for normal jobs (higher when they need me quickly). Of course, I am always cheaper than any other business using proprietary software in the end, so my example may not be entirely representative.

My experience is that you can always lower your price, but never ask more the next time for the same(ish) job with the same customer. Also people take exception if they hear that you give lower rates to someone else, no matter what the circumstances. Take that to heart. State your price and keep to it. People are generally inclined to pay surprisingly well if you make a difference to their business. Fixed price agreements also work very well if you have some more experience.

Remember also that you will not always have work. The network you have now may seem big to you now, but it will grow less willing to call you once they have to pay for your services. Then again, if you dont have work, you have at least 40-60 hours a week to find it. That is a LOT. If you play your cards well you can easily make a living of virtually anything. This was my biggest eye opener so far since I started for myself!

I'd say: go for it. I did almost 2 years ago and I am never going back :-)

Cheers!

RESCUECOM! (1)

DonniKatz (623845) | more than 9 years ago | (#13192473)

BECOME A TECH FOR RESCUECOM www.rescuecom.com ITS SO WORTH IT!

What I've learned (2, Informative)

CrazyWingman (683127) | more than 9 years ago | (#13193974)

If there is one thing I've learned about being in the PC repair business, it is this: You absolutely must have thick skin. For every customer you have that is overjoyed that you saved their beloved machine, you'll have five that can't believe you get paid to do what you do.

Along with that thick skin, you need to decide on pricing and enforce it without exception. You will have no less than one customer per week call you with a "dead" printer. You'll ask them whether or not it's plugged in, and they will scream at you for thinking they're an idiot. Then, when you finally agree to make a trip out to look at their problem, you will arrive, plug the printer into the wall, and everything will be fixed. The customer will proceed to raise holy hell when you hand them a bill for the full price of the visit, because "all you did was plug it in." But, if you don't charge full price for every case of this that happens, you will be out of business before you know it.

Along with pricing, there is something else to keep in mind: None of your time can afford to go for free. Every hour you spend helping someone over the phone is an hour you didn't spend fixing a machine in the shop. You absolutely must charge that phone customer. Every hour you spend in the car driving to a customer's house is another hour you could have spent in the shop. Long trips for any sort of troubleshooting are almost always a losing venture. Consider charging extra for any trip over a certain, small distance.

These suggestions come from my experience at a beige-box and repair shop in a small town. They went under because they'd sit on the phone for hours trying to get people to push the power button on their monitor. They also offered free support to anyone who bought one of their machines. But, when they were only making $200 at most - often much less - on a machine, that profit would vanish after a trip to their farm for troubleshooting.

Good luck with your venture, should you choose to go forward with it.
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