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Default Sammy's Tech Support Emporium

October 2nd, 2009, 18:30
I'm on the verge of starting my own in-call tech support business. Ive seen the potential just in dealing w/ immediate family, friends, aquaintances - left and right I'm fixing people's computers, to the point that I'm now charging 30 bucks. Charging people gives me a rest because it keeps people from running to me every time their system hiccups, but also, hey I'm providing a specialized service here. An automotive mechanic doesnt work for free, a dentist doesnt work for free, and when I'm spending an entire evening (or more) of mine hacking away at someone's pc either here or in someone's hot/cold/dirty/noisy/otherwise unpleasant home when I'd rather be doing something else - it's gonna cost.

Not working for a "nice home-cooked meal" anymore, the bane of a tech support geek's existence!

So i'm wondering, has anyone else here went down this road before?

I know that I have to jump thru a couple legal hoops, such as business license and the whammy of insurance (which both equal roughly 700 bucks) since I dont want to lose my house in the event of… something happening. But in the actual practice itself, I'm thinking in-call is the way to go. I show up, i fix the computer, i go home.

Problem w/ that is the duration of some of the work that needs to be done. As I previously stated, sometimes I'm working on these computers all evening. Scans, research, etc. I often bring people's computers to my place when doing work, but that presents a problem - who's gonna hand over their expensive pc to me on the promise that I return the next day? Thus, the in-call thing really does seem the way to go. Either I quicken up, or I sit it out.

I guess I could do a remote pc type of thing, but a lot of what needs to be done requires programs. I have a new mantra of "leave nothing" on someone's pc that I'm working on. All programs that I use are portable in nature, it really saves time to run things from a flash drive and not have to install anything on a crippled system. Plus, people who need assistance are generally such newbies that they will never use the programs again, theyd rather just have someone come out once a year and de-malware them for a price and be done w/ it. Then again, the remote assistance thing is something I admittedly know next to nothing about since Ive always been hands-on. I know there's lots of remote assistance programs around, so basic windows remote pc must be lacking. Anyone have any experience w/ remote assistance?

I'm seeing most people charging 50 an hour. Therefore, I'm thinking either lowball them at 30 an hour, or figure most calls will take a couple hours and charge a flat fee of 60 just to lowball the rest and get the job.
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October 3rd, 2009, 07:06
Take a lot of time preparing this. Once you've got the business license the paperwork will come at a merciless pace. You have to know what will come before it actually happens because you want to spend your time earning money, not digging for info.
Buy an up-to-date book on founding a SMB.

30$ per hour is not enough for a professional who is self-employed. Of course it depends on your costs, but I suspect you'll find out even 40$ is not enough unless we're talking about so many hours that you can charge a daily rate. All your fixed costs have to be included: rent for the office, insurances (a whole bunch; if you fuck something up you don't want to pay; if something happens to you, you need the money), your own PC plus software, the car, your accountant & tax advisor, etc.

Especially don't forget to pay yourself a salary and include it in the costs!

Rule of thumb in Germany is that somewhere around 35-40 EUR (incl. VAT) it stops making sense. Business below that is only done in volume or to minimize losses. For 30$ it's possible you would make more money flipping burgers.

A hook I see for simple PC stuff (install windows, install a DVD writer, etc.) would be a reasonably cheap flat fee, but bring-in. Then they can pick it up again the next day. This gives you several hours to collect a couple of such jobs and do them parallel.

Bigger companies cannot afford to hire a small support business because they need guranteed 24 hours service, 365 days a year. This is something you can't provide.
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October 3rd, 2009, 08:52
A former colleage of mine mentioned you have to be very careful with what you set your starting charge at. If suddenly you find out you're unable to sustain yourself and need to substantially raise the charge, this is going to reflect negatively with your customers and they might not be sympatetic towards you any more. So you need to find a sustainable and resonable charge, which in this established field would probably be about what's already charged.
Last edited by hishadow; October 3rd, 2009 at 09:02.
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October 3rd, 2009, 09:37
I owned a PC store for 11 years and doing service work was a significant part of our income. There are a lot of variables but here are some general comments. Your market may well be different to Australia and, presumably, you won't have our overheads (store, staff, etc) but still…

In my experience, you can't profitably do everything in-home for "home" customers. Business customers will pay by the hour but how many mums and dads will pay for 5 hours at a decent rate? A major virus / malware infestation can take hours in you can't just nuke it and start over (and you often can't, because they never have backups). As you say, it often takes all evening.

There are two solutions:

1) Charge a decent rate that makes it worth your while
2) Take it back to the office, so you can juggle multiple jobs
3) Both

Obviously, installing a DVD might be a quick, easy, $30 job. Spending all night at someone's place for $60 for a major job is not worthwhile, in my opinion.

We had a decent setup - large work benches, multiple monitors, 14-way keyboard/mice/monitor switch and so on. Doing a scan on one, backing up data on a second and installing windows on a third suddenly becomes more efficient.

You'll need to create a professional front for this: decent business cards (don't do them on your inkjet - everyone can pick it in two seconds) and a service agreement contract/paperwork with appropriate details - in my experience, they'll let you remove their computer if you present professionally.

You need more than $30 to cover your time, mileage and costs. We used to charge $65 + taxes but if you feel the going rate is $50, don't go below $45. That makes you cheaper but not "cheap" ("cheap" means crap - that's why it's cheap) and might let you make some money. Consider a minimum fee and a fixed quote if you remove the computer (ie, I can see this is going to take a while, I can do it for a fixed rate of $100 + parts over a couple of days or work here at $45/hour).

What is the minimum amount of money you're prepared to earn per week/month? What would you like to earn? How many jobs can you realistically complete per day - 8 billable hours quickly becomes 4 with travel, quotes, mistakes, down time. Calculate it out…if you do two (or three or five or whatever you think ) $60 flat-rate jobs per day, then pay for travel, taxes and so on, how much will you make? If business is slow, will you survive on that rate? If it's good, are you losing money for no reason?

Make sure you have everything organised for efficiency. We used to image almost every drive before we started - no matter how bad anything went, we could always put it straight back the way it started. We kept lots of "bare bones" boxes and parts - it's easy to test a mobo if you can drop parts into an existing test box but harder if you have no replacement/test stuff handy.

Ultimately, people will blame you for every hiccup in their cheap-ass malwared boxes filled with porn - and you need to make enough to make that worthwhile.

Best of luck.

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October 3rd, 2009, 21:30
Thanks for the advice, guys!

Me and my fiancee have been sitting here brainstorming the whole thing. Like I said, for me to do this I'd have to commit to the initial 800 dollar'ish investment. I think i'm gonna do it, you know, even if it doesnt work out i'll always kick myself for having not tried.

The good thing is that my overhead is very minimal. I'm working out of my home or on the road thus I have no rental of a facility, and I have no employees but myself.
This is also extra income - i have a job already. Everything that I make after I recoup my losses is theoretically extra income, but what is my time here on earth itself worth.

I'm kinda wondering what to do about parts. I'm thinking that maybe I could just point them in the direction while I'm there, newegg for example, and have them order the part and when it comes I show up and install. Zero messing around or risk on my part, but kinda cheesy from a business viewpoint. Or, I could order the part and pay myself and run the risk of them flaking on payment.That would probably be the more professional route to take. Maybe I could have them pay upfront for any parts needed, that may be the way to go, but that's pretty much the first route I suggested. Then again, if they want dirt cheap hey that's the way it goes.
Last edited by xSamhainx; October 3rd, 2009 at 21:40.
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October 3rd, 2009, 22:27
The margins on parts are minimal unless you can order in volume, with the exception of accessories. It's not worth the effort until you find out how to sell a pallet of stuff quickly.
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October 4th, 2009, 08:39
Lots of luck with your scheme, Sammy. As a consumer, I'd love to have someone like you around. Lots of good advice from people who know a lot more about it than I do, but I will chime in from a user perspective and say I agree with Dhruin in terms of what you want to charge: don't undersell yourself—it would make me think twice to use a tech service that was too much below the going rate. The skills you have are too important, and most people's pc is something they're going to not want to take major chances on, so I think asking an only slightly below to average rate instills confidence.

Also, I think on the parts thing, you could do it all the ways you suggest, depending on what the customer feels comfortable with. I always ask the dell help guys what to buy, but I don't expect them to show up at my house with parts in hand—I get them myself and save money. Other people I know just put it all in the hands of a service, and they pay $80 an hour plus parts happily. I know one lady who pays a flat $200 every few months for a guy to come out and delete all her cookies, clean up registry errors, etc to free up her itty bitty hard drive. Just depends on the peoples, how rich they are, and what they feel comfortable with.

Good luck. Wish you were closer; I'd be your first customer, having you upgrade my rig to play Risen.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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