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Suggestions for a PC Home Tech Support Business? 165

Posted by Cliff
from the house-calls dept.
RPGonAS400 asks: "I want to start my own small business in the evening and on weekends (after my day job) going into peoples homes for PC tech support. There has to be a need for this — I help enough friends out with their PC problems. I live in an area that has roughly 50,000+ people within 15 minutes of my home. The best business oriented tech support in our area charges $95/hour for hardware repair and $135/hour for software support. Options for home based PCs are quite limited here. Geek Squad (yuk!) charges outrageous prices. I am not sure what I will charge but I plan on having a minimum charge and then only charge for actual work done. If I have to learn how to fix something I either won't take the job or else not charge for my learning time. I am looking for suggestions for lots of things. Namely, rates, liability, insurance, equipment needed, waiver forms, tax issues, incorporation, local paper advertising, web site, etc. As you probably guessed, I have always been an employee and this is my first venture into small business. Thanks."
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Suggestions for a PC Home Tech Support Business?

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  • bank? (Score:4, Informative)

    by johndoejersey (679948) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:18AM (#16102859) Journal
    Arrange a meeting will a small business advisor at a bank?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      They're worthless, unless you can prove you don't need any money, and don't care about you unless they can make money from you. When I started my business, I was lucky enough to be referred to someone at a bank by a friend and since I was not asking for a loan, he gave me a lot of information. It turns out if you're asking for a loan, they are quite restricted in what they can say. They cannot legally discourage any small business from applying for a loan, but, and I'm simplifying a great deal here, it b
      • by sgt scrub (869860)
        They're worthless, unless you can prove you don't need any money, and don't care about you unless they can make money from you.

        Your correct 100% but I would have worded it "and don't care about you unless they can make the money instead of you".
  • Your local government or national government should have one.

    In the UK that would be Business Gateway/Business Link:
    http://www.bgateway.com/ [bgateway.com]
    http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/ [businesslink.gov.uk]

     
  • One option would be to join up with Nerds On Site [nerdsonsite.com] (the outfit that inspired Best Buy's Geek Squad).
    • by jeffs72 (711141)
      I actually ran my own computer consulting business and I found the term 'nerd' and 'geek' have pretty negative meanings to the average user. While it might imply technical skill, it also implies a lack of communication skills, manners, and to some extent reliability. I actually was doing pretty well by marketing above the nerd/geek level.
  • I Tried This (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quasicorps (897116) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:31AM (#16102907) Homepage
    I set up a free telephone listing in the Yellow Pages which went to my mobile offering computer repair. I charged cheaply and visited promptly, and I helped a few people out, but most calls I received were trying to sell my business something.

    But this was a tiny ad with just my number. Offering cheap help and repairs is easy enough, and as long as you can take care of the tax side of it, is very simple to do. I arranged a business account and the bank would have offered me investment if I'd made a business plan, but I was starting University at the time, and didn't want the hassle. I'm convinced that it would be a profitable venture if I had the time and the resources to put out a slightly expensive ad, even locally.

    It's something I will do again, but a few similar copycat services have since appeared.

    I charged £20 for the first hour and £10 an hour after that.
    • Out of curiousity, and if you dont mind answering, how long were you operating for and what sort of ballpark figure was it for number of people who wanted assistance?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Quasicorps (897116)
        In actuality I only helped a handful of people. Under 10. There were more who wanted assistance, but a different kind. I only actually operated for a few months before going to University, but my point isn't how well I did, it's how well I did compared to my investment. I made a nice sum of money (for a student) with absolutely no initial investment. My point is that with capital to go towards advertising, there is a very large market waiting to reach you.

        I had one tiny free phone number in the Yello Pag
    • by khakipuce (625944)
      I also tried this and the hard part was the expectation from some people that anything could be fixed. Hardware calls were no problem, I could give a reasonably accurate time estimate and things generally went accroding to plan.

      But the calls that went something like "AOL's not working" were a nightmare. After a brief attempt to diagonse over the phone I would explain the fee structure and the minimum charge and they would agree and I would go out. When I get there I find one of those undiagnosable windows p
      • From intro: "The best business oriented tech support in our area charges $95/hour for hardware repair and $135/hour for software support. Options for home based PCs are quite limited here. Geek Squad (yuk!) charges outrageous prices."

        From khakipuce"But what I really found was there was not really enough work to make it pay, for every business there are half a dozen friends-of-friends who will do it for free, or a beer, or whatever."

        "I would then explain the options and that fact I wanted paying - "But you h
  • by kninja (121603) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:32AM (#16102910)
    Get your first number of customers from referrals of friends and family.
    Give an estimate of time, and negotiate the charges up front for your first 10-20 customers. Use this data to decide on a pricing scheme that is fair to you, and that customers are willing to pay. Don't sell yourself too cheap, I'm thinking $30 an hour sounds reasonable.

    Be professional (courteous, stand up straight, make eye contact and talk slower, lower and more relaxed). Tuck in your shirt. Be on time. Even if you charge a little bit more, these little things make all the difference, and most people will pay for it, as good help is hard to find. Only keep good customers, who treat you right and pay you well. Good luck.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by HP-UX'er (211124)
      After running my own after hours PC 'repair' business the last two years, I would recommend this approach to anyone. See your local and state government websites for information on making it legal and what to do for tax collection. Good Luck!
    • by Ucklak (755284)
      $30 an hour is selling yourself short.
      Especially in an area with 50,000+ within 15 minutes.

      After self employment and income taxes, he's making $15 an hour.
      Do no less than $50 and that'll net you in an average of $52,000.

      Hell, even piano teachers charge $1 a minute in my area and I'm not 50,000 people within 15 minutes.

      If the $30 price point is your hook, offer that for the first 30 minutes.
      • by kninja (121603)
        Funny! I actually put $50 in originally, but decided I would get flamed for it by a sysadmin making $30. So I changed it. ;)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by maddskillz (207500)
          The $50 will work out to a lot less when you factor in all the other tasks related to the job, like getting on site, and book keeping. Not to mention, lining up these $50 an hour jobs will take time too
          And you need to be able to save for the slow times. They $30 sysadmin doesn't need to worry about that either
          • by TubeSteak (669689)
            After the initial learning curve, he might end up with too much business.

            If there's a local college handy, you might try poaching some of their student tech support gurus for a once or twice a week session at your workshop.

            They can handle 9x% of the small/tedious problems and you can do quality control on their work.

            College students = cheap labor.

            P.S. Spend the time to make sure your book keeping is as efficient and bulletproof as possible.
        • by COMON$ (806135)
          salary jobs are much different than pay by the hour. I guarantee the sys admins who work privately charge at least $100 an hour. You have to remember at a business with regular hours they are paying for benefits on top of that guaranteed $30 an hour. You however have to pay your own benefits and do not get the luxury of 8 hours a day paid.
          • Aye, at least $50/hr and generally more like $60-$80/hr for regular customers and closer to the $100/hr mark for new business.

            Because not only do you have to pay your own medical / taxes / insurance / etc. out of that gross, but also tools, training, books. Then there's the risk of lawsuits, fraud by clients, clients who won't pay until after 90 days. Plus the months out of the year that you might not have business due to slow economy, sick leave, or just wanting some vacation time.

            I charge $60/hr bec
    • by COMON$ (806135)
      Ive been doing after hours support for 7 years or so. Just never felt the need to jump to full time. But parent makes great points. I have not done any serious advertizing, just word of mouth. If you treat each of your customers well they will take care of you, I guarantee.

      Right now I have an even amount of business and pick up 2 new customers every other month. Which gives me a base of about 50-60 people I regularly service. This keeps me as busy as I want to be. But I would give one extra tidbit o

  • If you must.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Umrick (151871) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:35AM (#16102925) Homepage
    Home support is life sucking. That said, you will want to incorporate. You will want to look at umbrella liability protection if you don't have it. If you have a soul, you'll feel uncomfortable charging what you're worth, mainly because in most cases, you're sitting around waiting on scans to finish... Don't give in to that or you're just giving away the farm. Find out what the average is in your area and don't try the "undercut" routine. Word of mouth will get you business if you know what you're doing no matter the price. If you undercut, you get the cheapskates and general troublemakers.

    For equipment, having an assortment of liveCDs is rather handy. Having a computer you can pull an HD and stick into to make offline scans is also very handy but bulky. Can usually get by with a small assortment of tools, you'll figure out what you need quickly. There generally isn't enough reason to buy some of the more esoteric (and expensive tools) if you're doing this part-time. Instead, see if you can form relationships with people in the area who are specialists.

    Be prepared to walk away if you find yourself stressed. Working in home, you're going to run into everything. I personally couldn't stand the smoker or cat houses myself. Be prepared to make recommendations which will be forgotten before you leave the site. Be prepared for bounced checks. Plan on a budget for advertising. Figure out how many visits you can make a week. SCHEDULE ONLY THAT MANY. Do not "emergency? Oh, I'll shoe horn you in." The busier you are, the more most people are willing to wait (if you're any good).

    Good luck. Don't burn out. Life is too short.
    • For most small home businesses, incorporating is a waste of time that carries legal costs, paperwork burdens, and provides no real benefit. The most common stated benefit for incorporating a small business is asset protection from liability lawsuits. However, with a business that small, it is relatively straightforward to "pierce the corporate veil" with the way most home-business corporations are actually run.

      SirWired
    • Re:If you must.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jeffs72 (711141) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:42AM (#16102954) Journal
      Parent is pretty solid advice. When I ran my own company, I didn't do residential because of all the issues surrounding it. I eventually got pulled into it some, but I required the user giving me their PC so I could work on it at my workshop at home, rather than sit on site for hours watching a virus scanner run or whatnot.

      Be prepared for lots of payment issues. You'll need to be able to accept credit card payments, check out the quicken site, they have an online store that will link in with your quickbooks install and they'll handle all the fraud issues for you. If you do market to the low end, parent is right, you'll have people slow pay/no pay, accuse you of 'hacking' them when they don't pay (that was a treat, guy basically wanted more free service under the threat of legal action), etc. Humanity is a cess pool, you'll be at the bottom when you're performing services in people's homes.

      • Re:If you must.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cyclomedia (882859) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @08:27AM (#16103161) Homepage Journal
        Have mod points today but choosing to add my agreement

        absolutely positively do not attempt to repair, upgrade or generally maintain a user's computer in their house. They will stand behind you watching your every move, their mouse will be gunked up with toxic fluid, their screen will be covered in grease, they will at no time have any os,boot or driver cds to hand, it will be so clogged up with viruses and trojans that just getting the damned thing to boot into safe mode will take you an hour, you will then need to get out of safe mode to connect to the net to get a new driver version, and then you're f**ked.

        You can still asses on-site, if it is 100% absolutely a 20 minute job then, sure do it, If you don't want to touch it with a barge pole, walk away. Otherwise you will have to take it back to your garage, and just the box, you need a workbench with 3/4 pre-mounted keyboard, mouse and monitor stations and ps2/vga/serial/usb adapters for them. Stacks of OS cds, boot disk, you will need sysinternals tools on a handy CD and bootable floppies like MemTest86. Some virus scanner software will even run from cd with latest updates just by copying it's progra~1/ directory across to a CDR (i used to use kaspersky avp just like this, very handy)

        You will need a station where you can plug a HD straight in and scan it that way, and your seperate permanent internetted-up rig with cd burner , usb key and floppy drive to get those pesky downloads across. (these two need to be physically seperate, the HD diagnostics computer should ideally have no net connection too, it will take three steps to get files from the net onto the user's HD but that's 2 minutes of disk swapping compared with the aforementioned hours of safe mode hell)

        Give the customer a reciept for whatever you take away, preferably on a CC pad so you both get a copy and tell them you will phone them exactly 24 hours later, but not before, never say "in about an hour or two" because they will start naggin you.

        as for running the business itself, I'll leave that up to other posters but one final handy tip is to have in your car/van a handful of cheapish mice and keyboards, because sometimes all that the customer's problem is is coca cola in the keyboard. Just sell them one for a fiver ($10) on the spot
        • by zasos (688522)
          mod parent up
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by benmcdavid (971540)
          They will stand behind you watching your every move

          Out of hundreds of in-home repairs I did, very few people will actually stand and watch. Do you sit and watch the plumber while he unclogs your toilet?

          their mouse will be gunked up with toxic fluid, their screen will be covered in grease

          This does happen, though not that often. Most people willing to pay for PC repair are also intelligent enough to have a clean space to work in.

          they will at no time have any os,boot or driver cds to hand

          Most people do have th
      • Be prepared for lots of payment issues. You'll need to be able to accept credit card payments, check out the quicken site, they have an online store that will link in with your quickbooks install and they'll handle all the fraud issues for you. If you do market to the low end, parent is right, you'll have people slow pay/no pay, accuse you of 'hacking' them when they don't pay (that was a treat, guy basically wanted more free service under the threat of legal action), etc. Humanity is a cess pool, you'll be
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LaughingCoder (914424)
      Having a computer you can pull an HD and stick into to make offline scans is also very handy but bulky.

      It doesn't have to be bulky. Carry a laptop and an IDE-to-USB cable (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N 8 2E16812156101 [newegg.com]). Then you can connect the customer's drive to your laptop, where you can scan it, offload data files, etc. You might not even have to remove the drive from the box - just pull off the IDE ribbon and attach your adapter.

    • Be prepared for bounced checks.

      Yep.

      And you're gonna learn real quickly the Fundamental Maxim of Bidness 101: You can't sell nuttin' to people what ain't got no money.

      People whine and bitch and moan about "the rich getting richer", but without the rich, all checks would bounce.

      So find some people with some money who are willing to part with it in order to get their computers repaired.

      Otherwise you'll be wasting not only your time, but whatever money you invest in servicing these creeps.

      PS: Far,
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by cwgmpls (853876)

        You can't sell nuttin' to people what ain't got no money.

        People whine and bitch and moan about "the rich getting richer", but without the rich, all checks would bounce.

        This does not match my experience. I work with plenty of people on government assistance who never bounce checks and manage to save enough money to buy a used computer and pay for its support. Sure, there are scoundrels out there, but a successful business has to be wary of scoundrels at all income levels, not just the among poor.

      • by Cariboo (20973)
        I've been doing this since 1998 and have had only one bounced cheque, and this was from a supposed friend. Maybe it helps that I'm rather large and look a bit like a biker.
    • by Tweekster (949766)
      Liability insurance is key. Whatever you think is a fair price...double it in the end it is worth it.

      Make it clear that you are not omnipotent and you may not be able to fix it all. (personally i would do a cursory check of the machine first, see what you can do with a little research, then tell them you will take the job, not take the job)

      Outline what you will do before hand, clean up, or simply reinstall. it sucks spending 5 hours on a computer and it still isnt fixed. Reinstalls are a lot better when
  • by tygerstripes (832644) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:38AM (#16102937)
    I daresay that every burgeoning geek (who scoffs at the prices their local hardware shop charges for support) has considered the same thing you are - I know I have!

    I'm not dragging your idea down at all - while many have considered it, few bother doing it for real simply because of the effort and hassle any such enterprise requires to get going. If you have the impetus and the business sense to do so, you have my best wishes.

    However, for my part, the main reason I decided against doing such a thing (and there is a demand) is because I pride myself in all of my work, and am loath to take on a job that I'm not confident I can complete to a satisfactory level. My knowledge of home-PC hardware is excellent (as is that of so many other people), and I can cope with most problems M$ throws at a box. However, if I were to come up against something I'd never encountered before, I would worry about being able to sort it out. If it meant taking someone's box home for 3 days, not being able to fix it on the first night, having a prior commitment on the second, and finally deciding on the third that it was something beyond my ken, I would feel incredibly guilty about having taken on the job in the first place. Of course I wouldn't charge, but that's not much consolation to the poor guy who's been without his PC for several days.

    If you feel confident that you can commit enough time to the business (evenings and weekends fill up surprisingly quickly), that it won't significantly interfere with your work or personal life, and that you have the technical experience to deal with almost any problem a punter throws your way - however poorly specified - then go for it. Just don't expect to enjoy it as much as you might hope to... ;-)

    • What about the concept of a "loaner" PC? You could put together a minimal and capable system for fairly cheap (all you need is the box, and plug it into the customer's keyboard / mouse / monitor, etc).
      Configure the system so that it runs in non-privliged mode, along with the basic items that most customers would use 95% of the time (web browsing and email, along with word processor and maybe photo software, possibly some games). That way, the customer isn't completely out of a machine while you are diagno
  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:38AM (#16102939)
    As for the insurance and stuff Slashdot may not be the best place try some more business based websites and not technical. But some parts of your business plan make it seem doomed for failure.

    I am not sure what I will charge but I plan on having a minimum charge and then only charge for actual work done.

    So if someone calls 15 minutes away it takes you 15 minutes to get there and 15 minutes back. So that is 1/2 hour so assume you are charging $60 an hour, so that is $30 in lost profit. Just for getting to the place. And assume you get there and they need a new part that you don't have you will have to go to the store get the part and sell it back to them at cost and that takes an other hour so that is an additional $60 of lost profit. Assuming that it takes you 1/2 hour to diagnose the problem and 1/2 hour to fix it. You made $60 in 2 1/2 hours so that is actually $20 an hour.

    But wait there is more!

    There is the cost of taxes/insurence advertising telephone and infrastructure cost....
    Now you at $10 - $15 an hour. I would say don't quit your day job. There is a reason the prices are so high for the other people in the area or at least for then ones that are still in business. That need to charge (Directly/Indirectly) for non actual work because there are expenses that don't care if you are actually working or not. Even though you are trying to run an honest business there will be people who still don't see things the same way they will go $60 an hour is way to high, and that you are trying to rip then off. And they will say that you over charged them for the emergency replacement Harddrive because they saw the same one on ebay for cheaper. Then there is the problem that you miss diagnosed the system, say it was bad RAM but you reinstalled the OS because you though windows got corrupted. Customers espectilly home ones are the worse.
  • Although this is another question, and not an answer to the original post, I believe it is still on-topic: What would be the advantages and/or disadvantages of setting up a model where the first time you call to a person's house to fix their PC you give them the option of paying XX dollars for 6-month's remote support. You then give yourself an account on VNC/Terminal Services on the customer's machine, and for the next six months provide support in that manner (if possible - a house call may always be nec
    • Most people at home have a dynamic IP address. You have to set them up with something similar to GoToMyPC (not free), dyndns, or get them to go to whatismyipaddress.com or something. Oh, and you'd have to configure they're router... you DID sell them a router before you left, right?

      That kind of support contract is better suited for business customers in my experience as a field tech.

      What you should really do instead is presell a block of hours or so that expires in a year for additional support or routine m
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by elawford (564089)
        Actually that's not quite true...

        Use UltraVNC-SC. It creates a stand-alone VNC server executable that is configured to connect back to YOUR static IP address (a reverse VNC connection basically). I have mine hosted at help.mydomain.com.au. I just tell anyone who I need to assist this name which they type in and run and voila, i'm controlling their desktop. No firewalls to configure (except yours) and no hassles on their end. Best of all it's free.

        http://sc.uvnc.com/index.php?section=12 [uvnc.com]

      • by MrNaz (730548) *
        once you buy a plus domain with no-ip.com you can have as many subdomains as you like, just set up the client to use the one you give to that customer...

        i have things like:

        cust325.mrnaz.com
        johnsmith.mrnaz.com
        farmporn.mrnaz.com^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hfamilypics.mrnaz .com

        etc etc (not on that domain for those of you about to try them :P)

        $25/year for as many vhosts/subdomains as you want is good value.
    • by byolinux (535260) *
      copilot [copilot.com] seems pretty neat. it's built on VNC but uses an SSL server as a reflector, so there's never likely to be firewall issues.
  • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:41AM (#16102949)

    Service contracts. Sell your time in blocks, recurring for small businesses. Sort of, "pre-paid user support." Everyone I've ever known who has done this sort of home support from home has been driven completely mad until they broke their time into larger chunks. It seems to instill a certain degree of respect as well as sanity.
    • by oldmildog (533046)
      Based on previous experience, I strongly agree with parent. I started a PC business and had some success until I received a job offer I couldn't refuse. In those few months I learned valuable lessons -- ones that other posters here have already mentioned, so you won't have to pay to learn them if you heed their advice.

      If I had to do it all over again, I'd:
      a) Only work with businesses with an office, not individuals at their home
      b) Sign people to contracts that they pay for x hours per month, then a discou
  • A successfull service actually supports the customers, gives them the service they expect, so I would think about who you would be willing to help, do you feel you can fix any configuration? Or would you want to have a look at the ste-up first.

    This last approach would allow you to get a subscription based thing going.

    A combination of the two could be ideal.

    I can't give advice on pricing without understanding more about the clients and the area you're in.
  • Essential (Score:4, Funny)

    by pklinken (773410) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:53AM (#16102990)
    Get a gunpermit.
  • I have always wondered how to deal with this. Often, (with my own kids' PCs) the cheapest solution seems to be to backup the data and
    format and reinstall the OS. Now, it's easy at home (I have saved OS install disks), but what would you do in a business situation, to guarantee a "MS/BSA-legal" reinstall of the OS from a disk you carry? (as not all clients will have their original install media)

    You'd ideally want to use an OS install that allowed you to use the client's original Product Key. How do you or
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by khakipuce (625944)
      I did Home Support for a while and several conversations went like
      "I need to reinstall Windows"

      "will I get all my stuff back?"

      "have you got the original disks?"

      "what disks?"

      I saw machines that were so old that drivers and the like were no longer available - no use reinstalling if you can't get the hardware going.

      I would never use my own disks for an installation, if they didn't have disks, and the machine could stand a later version, and the customer had disks for their software, then I would buy a copy for
  • Have a dayjob... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bscott (460706) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:54AM (#16102995)
    I've tried this in the past... I had experience, credentials, references, tools and people skills. I was in a densely-populated area (upscale suburban/professional) and had several existing (happy) customers, mostly from my former office job. I built a reasonably slick website with advice from a pal in marketing, and made sure it got on all the search engines - local and global. I printed up cards and flyers, and pounded pavement distributing same.

    I didn't have up-front money for real advertising. I got zero new customers.

    I ended up with a pizza delivery job - steady income, sometimes free food, and no more watching Windows reboot all day.

    Moral of story: have flexible goals...
  • by sabinm (447146) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @07:59AM (#16103010) Homepage Journal
    I was in the same position as you were several years ago. I might have been very successful. Except for several things. Poor marketing. I was weak in my marketing. I don't want to tell you that I didn't go out and talk to people. I told everyone I knew. The problem was that I didn't market effectively. I didn't target the appropriate audience. Start up a limited liability company. The name is self explanatory. Your assets are protected if you do something really stupid. If the company fails, it doesn't nesecarily mean that you fail. I started as a DBA (doing business as). It was a hassle at the end of the year doing taxes and separating the neat gadgets I purchased for myself and the tools I needed for my business.
    A friend of mine gave me some advice after I explained my failed business to him. He is a highly intelligent and successful businessman. He told me that my problem was that I had the employee mentality. What that meant was that I was still the employee although I was the manager, the owner of the business, I still acted like the employee. I didn't manage my resouces well. I stayed long at client's offices and homes because I wanted to 'do my best'. While that might have been well intentioned, what really happened was that I looked incompetent to the lay-person, fumbling around for hours fixing their problems.

    Invest, invest, invest. Be professional. Have a separate office for your business. Don't play there (too much). Your office isn't a playground, it's a place to do work. If you have your 360 on your desk, you'll play your 360. If you start best practices now, you won't need to instill them later into future employees.

    Get an account with a distributor to sell products. That being said, don't sell products retail. If you sell products retail, you'll lose money. You can't compete with Dell and CompUSA. Sell your services. THey're already paid for, and it cost dollars a day to replenish them. Your brain is your greatest asset in a service economy. Use the products as added value and to 'up-sell' IF you can be an effective salesperson. Say you charge more to offer local services with great service. Don't cut into our profit by selling goods below cost.

    Research! Know your clientelle. Know your price range before you set it. Don't set it too high, but NEVER sell it too low.

    I've got lots more info, but not more time. Good luck. YOu can make it successful if you want to. By the way. You've done a good job recognizing what your competitors do not offer. Find out what your competitors offer that makes them successful.

    • Thanks for the input from you and from everyone. I am the original poster (and also from Ohio). The reason I want to do this business is to support my family better. I have 9 kids from 7 to 19 so my time is pretty busy. Another reason I want to do this is that I realized that the only way to make decent money is to work for myself. I am the IT manager of a small business with about 25 people in the office. I just had the revelation that the only reason our business exists is to make our owner more of a mill
      • by TopShelf (92521)
        Given your nick, I gotta ask what you work on in your day job? PkMS, Movex, BPCS???
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Ok, here goes. I've started two successful businesses. While I don't know jack squat about tech support, I'm well-qualified to comment about running a business. Here are my reactions:

        Another reason I want to do this is that I realized that the only way to make decent money is to work for myself.

        You could not possibly be more right about this. A wise person (my father) once mused to me that he had wished someone had told him earlier that the only way to make money is to have people working for you, not

  • From experience... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I can look at this from 3 angles. I do that kind of work on the side, and I have two close friends who have been intimately involved in the home/business tech support business...

    I do tech support on the side, and find that it could in fact be incredibly lucrative, mostly based on being the only honest outfit in town. I'm also in a saturated market (3+ other franchises here), but being an individual, there's a lot of promise (no employees taking a chunk/no "head office" taking a chunk). I do excellent work (
  • by Blorgo (19032) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @08:06AM (#16103039) Homepage
    Ah, where to begin...
    I did this for a while. You will encounter (a) people too dumb to learn not to click "Sure, infect my machine" on every prompt; (b) people who think that $10.00 / hr is about the right wage for your service, (c) Packard Bell and WebTV boxes that people want to 'upgrade' so they can see the latest porn sites (and other technical impossibilities), (d) most insides of machines filled with dust monsters and cat hair; worst if it comes from a smoker's house, and (e) people who bounce checks, revert credit card charges, etc. People don't like paying someone younger than them, and not in a business suit, more than they make per hour.

    With the price of an e-machines or low-end Dell, it doesn't take much in the way of billable hours to make it cheaper to just throw out the old machine and buy a new one. That's now what I council people to do. And as for training, if you spend a couple of hours walking them thru a 'Dummies' book, and telling them what a wicked world we live in (scammers, phishers, etc.) then you will have covered 90% of things.

    Most people have one task they really want to do on the PC - one app that they want to know well (geneology, pr0n, games, PrintMaker, whatever). Get this one app working well and you are good to go - but often it is an old, old version that won't run on anything newer than a 486 / Win 3.1; and the new version is unavailable or changed so much they no longer know how to use it. And this is your fault of course. Blame the messenger is alive and well.

    On the bright side, I made some good contacts doing this and still help out a couple of small businesses on the side, but not for pay, instead for trade. There is a body shop that owes me some free work on my car. They are grateful to see me when I can make it there, whereas if I was getting paid by the hour to clean Bondo out of their machines, upgrade software, and exchange fishing stories, they would (right or wrong) start to resent paying for how long it took.

    In short, this is a job from hell because people with older broken PCs are mostly cheap and dumb. Sorry, but anyone who has tried this will say the same thing; some are nice guys and just ignorant but they are the exception. There is a reason the shops charge so much, it's easier to put up with someone who breaks open a 3.5" floppy and puts the inside disk on the CD tray at $95/hr - and the cheapest of the lusers will be driven away.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but after 3 months you will be wondering what you've gotten yourself into and after a year you will HATE hearing the phone ring. Been there, done that, still have the T-shirt.
    • Amen! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sheldon (2322)
      10 years or so ago I worked for a small VAR. We sold a fairly expensive software package to do mapping. We also sold the hardware. Or rather, resold Dell machines. The reason was back then you needed pretty specialized equipment to make the app run well. A decent video card, speed, memory, etc. It'd be less of a problem today.

      But since we sold the hardware suddenly we became their lifeline. Anything that went wrong with their computers, they called us. How to use a mouse, how to format a floppy disk
      • Hardware support is easy, software support is a nightmare. Which is why I won't build PCs for regular people. There's no profit in it as soon as you have to start fielding phone calls. Instead I'll point them at Dell / Lenovo / Toshiba / Apple and tell them to get the 3-5 year warranties.

  • by Tinfoil (109794) * on Thursday September 14, 2006 @08:08AM (#16103051) Homepage Journal
    When I was young and naive enough to do this sort of thing, I started out charging far less than the other companies thinking that customers would seek me out. While I did have a couple calls, it wasn't until I raised my prices to be a little closer to the level of the competitors that I started to get more calls.

    If you charge too little you run the risk of a couple of things. First, you're going to put your competitors on the defensive, something you don't want to do until you are established with a solid reputation and customer base. Secondly, prospective customers may look at the gap between your prices and those of your competitors and conclude that there must be a reason you're charging so litte, perhaps you're not as qualified or don't have as much experience.
  • I've been doing this for a few years, and I've been getting less and less work as time goes on. Firstly, everybody seems to have a 14 year old nephew these days who is capable of fixing home computer issues, which results in less calls. Secondly, everything is USB now, so you no longer get calls from people wanting scanners or printers installed. Getting connected to the internet is also pretty easy these days. Probably the way to go is to specialise in spyware cleaning, and learn some Mac skills if you nee
  • Suggestions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by udderly (890305) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @08:23AM (#16103133)
    Been doing thise for over five years. Since home users will bug th crap out of you, I switched to small business customers only. With your working hours, you obviously can't do that. Here's some things that I thought of:

    -Liability Insurance
    -Establish relationships with at least three suppliers and check prices. Being that you're a little fish, they won't save you any money on expensive components, but can save you quite a bit on little things.
    -Keep business and personal purchases SEPERATE.
    -Do not underprice your services
    -Do not purchase inventory before you need it
    -Do not build systems for people no matter how much they beg. When a customer screws up a Dell, it's becuase they (the customer) screwed it up; if they screw up a system that you built, it's because it wasn't a Dell.
    • by rizzo420 (136707)
      what about when their dell screws up because it's a dell? this might sound like i'm trying to be a troll, but i'm serious. i've seen too many dells come to me with hardware problems that i just haven't seen from other manufacturers, at least not in the numbers that i see dells come.
      • by udderly (890305)
        I hear ya dude. I was being facetious. It's the attitude that I get all of the time from people who think that Dells are some magical flawless creation, instead of what they are--average, ordinary, bargain-priced computers made for the unwashed masses.
  • First of all, I work a 9-5 at a private university. I've been working on computers since 1976, and working professionally since 1993'. I've worked for several fortune 500 companies and have always helped out my friends and family doing tech support so to a point doing what you are saying is no skin off my teeth since I already do it at least in a limited degree. First thing I did was create a business with low overhead. I did what they call a fictitious name, so that legally *BusinessName01* = *MyRealNam
    • First of all, I work a 9-5 at a private university. I've been working on computers since 1976, and working professionally since 1993'. I've worked for several fortune 500 companies and have always helped out my friends and family doing tech support so to a point doing what you are saying is no skin off my teeth since I already do it at least in a limited degree.

      First thing I did was create a business with low overhead. I did what they call a fictitious name, so that legally *BusinessName01* = *MyRealName*
  • Home support sucks hard, remember these are unmanaged PC's with everyone running as admin. I did it for awhile and decided the money was not worth the aggravation. People want you to fix their Windows ME P.O.S that they bought from Home Shopping Network and don't understand why when you tell them to upgrade. Stick with enterprise support where you can control Windows updates, antivirus updates, user account permissions, etc. and you'll live longer.
    • People want you to fix their Windows ME P.O.S that they bought from Home Shopping Network and don't understand why when you tell them to upgrade.

      If you're telling residential clients to throw money at their problems then you don't belong in the support industry. People are comfortable with their computers and all they want is for it to work the way they remember it working before something screwed up. Home support is not like enterprise support. You can't just format the hard drive, reinstall the OS,
  • I would have to say "don't"... but that's a little negative.

    You will probably be able to make a little bit of money out of this, if I couldn't fix a problem with my computer then paying £20 might be ok for it if it took an hour, so thats about $35. That seems pretty fair because for the most part the stuff you'll be dealing with will be pretty easy. Take USB and (dare I say it) floppy disks with useful software on it, a liveCD would be usefull.

    One thing that I would think would sell well is o
  • One thing I would recommend is lookin into certifications, mainly CompTIA A+. http://certification.comptia.org/a/ [comptia.org]. It would be great for advertising for yourself. There are 2 tests, core hardware and software(os). It's the first certification in a line of them for this field. I wish you luck.
  • When I ran my business doing exactly this, about half my customers were older retired folks living in my apartment complex. They seemed to have money and often tipped, which is something younger folks don't usually do. There are many apartments that cater to the retired that you can target.

    Believe it or not a good way to advertise is via flyers, posted on the bulletin boards in the apartment complex's laundry rooms. Just make sure you have those little tabs at the bottom with your name and number and busine
  • by grapeape (137008) <mpope7@kc.rrTIGER.com minus cat> on Thursday September 14, 2006 @09:45AM (#16103832) Homepage
    The home PC market is both rewarding and draining. Be prepared for all-hours calls from your new "friends" with unbelievably stupid questions. I was actually called at 3am one week to be asked how to blind copy someone. Dont undercut the competition too much since most people really do believe you get what you pay for. Just remember you cant please everyone, have a good disclaimer on your service tickets and look into insurance, inevitably someone will blame you directly for whatever problem they are having.

    If you want to save yourself some grief try to skew your business towards the small office/home office market. Though you will still find uncooperative customers the "business" ones rely on the machines and are more likely to spend money when its needed. Some home users will tend to be a cheap as possible, many will already be irritated in having to call you start with and if there are any actual hardware issues that have to be fixed prepare for a battle over the cost of parts and labor. I had a client a few months ago who's computer would not turn on. His power supply was toast but I had a spare at home so I took one over and replaced it. After the machine was bootable again I noticed the machine was running very slow so I started a basic cleanup. I was about to download a few updates from MS and started the Windows Genuine plugin, the copy of windows turned out to be pirated. The client starts going nuts and is convinced that MS was going to come beating down his door and it was all my fault. Overall just be thick skinned and dont get too personal about it, friendly is one thing being friends is another. If you cross that line people will take advantage of you.
  • Don't focus on home users. You'll tire of it quickly, and you won't really learn anything of value. Focus on things that you can apply to you day job, so you can make more money during your 40-50 hours of regular work. OR, focus on getting one or two small businesses that will let you be their PC Guru that takes care of everything, and after you've built up some trust get the keys to the place so you can go in after hours.

    Fixing solo PC's sucks, and doesn't really get you anywhere. Start learning how to
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @10:21AM (#16104160) Journal
    I work full-time in I.T., and juggle it with my consulting business, which I takes calls for on my cellphone and schedule weekend, evening, and sometimes even "during lunch break" appointments.

    Initially, I tried to make a full-time business out of this because I was unemployed and the job market was pretty sluggish. But now, it's turned out to be perfect as a "side job".

    I can give you a few pieces of advice, based on my findings. But your results may vary.

    1. Don't waste money on big phone book ads! I mistakenly believed the Yellow Pages would be critical to my business, but I immediately ran into a couple of problems. First and foremost, my phone company (Southwestern Bell) refused to let me buy a listing in their Yellow Pages unless I owned a business phone number. They wouldn't allow me to publish a cellphone number in their book. I have no need for a land-line for this business, and wouldn't want to pay business rates on one anyway - so that was a no-go. Their competitor in my area, "Yellow Book", offers a clone of the Yellow Pages and *does* let you list cell numbers in it. (Plus, they have cheaper rates for ads.) I took a chance with them, but I'm stuck paying about $160 a month plus several hundred dollars I paid up-front, and I've only gotten 2 customers out of it in 6 or 7 months! If I was going to do it over, I'd just get a 1 line listing and that's it. People do call from the ad, occasionally, but they're usually clueless and asking for things that have nothing to do with my service. (EG. You don't happen to sell new iPods, do you?)

    2. Whatever you decide on as your fee structure, make sure it doesn't make people "watch the clock", afraid of getting too big a bill. Many people who use your service will be "on the fence" about it in the first place. They're hoping they have a problem that can be fixed in 30 minutes or less. (Meanwhile, you get there and realize their 4 year old PC is so slow, you can hardly install a single piece of software on it in that length of time - much less remove all the viruses and spyware.) You'll get pressured by these people to do a "rush job" and make things "just good enough" instead of doing it right. You DON'T want that!! (This is a case where they don't know what's best for them. Those device drivers you just "decided to let them find and install later" to save time, or the trojan horse downloader virus you weren't quite able to get time to remove completely are going to make all the work you did pointless!) I like the idea I've seen some handymen use, where they charge $80 or $85 up-front, but that covers the first hour of work, and then additional time is billed at a much lower rate.

    3. If you have a little money to invest in this type of business, buy 2 things. First, get an in-car GPS system! It's almost essential for quickly finding houses, or the quickest way to client #2 from client #1 that you're just leaving. Second, look into your options for wireless high-speed Internet access! There are *so* many times I wish I had broadband to my laptop so I could download large files a customer needed who only had a dial-up modem at their location. I've often had to drive back home, burn things on CD, and make a second trip back out there to get their all-in-one printer going, or to get all the needed drivers back on a system after a fresh Windows reinstall.
  • by spyrochaete (707033) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @10:29AM (#16104227) Homepage Journal
    No one here seems to be addressing your real proposal. You say you want an evening and weekend job to supplement your regular career. That's what I've been doing for over 6 years and I have to say it's a real pleasure.

    My entire "empire" started with one man who found my resume on a job hunting website. He cold called me and asked if I'd be interested in fixing his computer. He lived right nearby so I happily accepted his invitation. He was so pleased with me that he recommended me to several friends. Those friends recommended me to their friends. Now I get between 0 and 5 repair jobs per month.

    I started off charging $20 for the first hour and $10 for subsequent hours. This was my rate while I was in college. Before post-grad I bumped my rates up to $30 for the first and $20 for subsequent hours. Now I charge $40 for the first hour and $20 for subsequent half hours. I give my original clients a discount at $30/h, and sometimes they give me an unsolicited bonus for doing such a good job. One client mailed me a card with $20 inside, saying that I'd helped improve his life!

    Most of my clients are elderly and this is the demographic I recommend you shoot for. The elderly tend to have a lot of free time and, while they may be apprehensive about computers at first, are rather sharp and have actually taught this 20+ year computing veteran a thing or two. They are also very pleasant to work with since they are talkative and apt to listen to your sensible advice. They sit with me while I do repairs and are genuinely interested in what I'm doing, how I learned it, and how they can avoid the same troubles in the future.

    Find some retirement communities and apply to advertise in their newsletters. Offer a discount for the first consultation and reward them for referrals. Be observative and insightful while you work and recommend software you think they'd enjoy (Picasa always gets oohs and aahs, and Skype's free North American calling is irresistable - bring a cheap headset with you in case they want to buy it!). Remember, the more interested they are in their comptuers, the more often they'll break them!

    Despite what many people seem to be telling you, scheduling is a breeze when you repair computers on the side. Your clients will usually ask you when you can come. Feel like sleeping until noon on Saturday? Tell them you're available at 2:00. Got a tiring work week at work ahead of you? Tell them you're booked solid until next week but you'll cancel one of your engagements just for them. You are in control so make appointments whenever you feel like it, but keep the appointment! Everyone has been inconvenienced and jaded by the cable or phone company and Dell so people are VERY appreciative when you give a definite time and show up on schedule!

    Finally, be nice! Strive to be the kind of person your clients enjoy welcoming into their homes. Make smalltalk, ask them how they are, complement their homes, take off your shoes, pet their kitties, and accept their generous offers for drinks or snacks. It's a challenging and fun job so have a good time!

    ... I lied, actually. The FINAL final point is that you have to be VERY good with computers to do this job. You have to have a long history of breaking your own computers, experiencing heartbreak from lost data, understanding the gravity of failing, and keeping a level head while trying to fix this stuff. People do unsurmountably stupid things to their computers and important data. You have to do a lot of sleuthing and very careful forensic work, ensuring that you can diagnose problems without doing anything too risky. You have to be patient enough to know that a Pentium 90 is a DAMN slow computer and you shouldn't reboot the thing while waiting for IE to load. You have to accept that not everyone will be willing to run sensible software when they are happily using a virus-magnet like Outlook Express. And finally, you have to be able to FIX these ridiculous setups or be ready to walk away empty-pocketed. My best advice is to have a second computer available in case you need to search for info. Google is a PC repair tech's best friend.
  • Insurance/Bonding? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Big_Al_B (743369) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @10:52AM (#16104454)
    I too am considering a small business aimed at home/soho network setup & maintenance, rather than a PC helpdesk play.

    One concern I have not seen addressed is how to cover liability for going into someone else's home/business and mucking about with their hardware and other property-based liabilities. I've noted plenty of the "be sure to back up their files" type suggestions, but is there any insurance or bonding specific advice that someone may offer?

    Also, are there any good strategies out there for establishing vendor (eg. Linksys etc.) wholesaler relationships if you're a small fry? Their (and others) reseller criteria online doesn't look promising...
  • One suggestion: don't.
  • I'll reiterate what a few other posters have said -- small business customers are much better.

    In my experience there are less surprises, less household-like drama (pets, kids, smokers..), and less likely to balk at high price of professional service (or if they do, they calm down when you remind them how much they play for plumbing or roof repair or other critical business needs).

    Business customers are more likely to have updated systems, and (most important to me) they typically have at least one person li
  • by Tteddo (543485)
    I have been doing this for almost 10 years in a rural area in Maine and at this point have about 800 customers (about 200 regular). I have about 2 appts. every day and up to 4 when it is busy.
    Here's my advice:
    1. Always charge what you are worth. $25.00/hr sounds fair until you realize you have to get there and the fact that 10 hours labor a week is only $250.00 and you have to make a living. I charge $60.00/hr with an hour minumum and 1/2 hour increments after that. If I lived in a city in Maine I would c
  • Grant Barrett wrote a couple of articles a few years ago with excellent advice about getting into this business. I heeded a lot of it, and am now doing a business like this full time. It's not for everyone, but I tracked down the original articles on another blog... Grant has moved on, and his old website doesn't exist anymore:

    http://www.koozie.org/2004/10/freelance_tech_.html [koozie.org]

    -R
  • Or work from home, either way, but no house calls to private homes / apartments. I started a business like this and ran for about 6mo before I finally snapped and threw in the towel. Number 1 reason, I think, was people's houses. Maybe there's a correlation between cleanliness of a home and how well cared-for the computer is, or maybe I just got unlucky, but the number of creepy / filthy homes I ended up going to was just mind blowing.

    Number 2 thing I would recommend, that I did after a month or two and
  • I would suggest that you don't do it. Seriously. Next thing you know you'll get blamed for killing their PC even though it's full of spyware or they installed a COOL SCREENSAVER and now you deleted it I want my money back....etc....etc....

    If you do decide to do it anyway, charge ALOT for cleaning spyware infestations. They DO take a while to clean, if they can be cleaned, and the more people charge, the more they will start saying hey how do I stop this crap??

  • As someone who did soho tech support, I hope you do better. The problems I ran into were:
    1) They don't want to pay you.
    2) They expect you to show up, fix all problems, and only be charged for fixing the one they called you for.
    3) They expect you to make things work in a way they were not made to work.
    4) They lie about what they have done to their machines to avoid additional charges.
    5) When something hardware breaks after you fixed something software, and the reverse, they blame you and want it fixed for f
  • ...and does well.

    He replaced a messed-up keyboard on my company ThinkPad for little more than the cost of shipping it to and from OSTG HQ in Fremont, Cal.

    Since then I've sent him several other customers, and I have a Toshiba with a dead CD/DVD drive I'm going to take to him soon.

    The guy says he makes a good living -- and I believe him.

    If you need laptop repairs in the Sarasota/Bradenton (FL) area I heartily recommend Johnny - www.suncoastlaptops.com/

    BTW, I found him on Craigslist... http://sarasota.craigsli [craigslist.org]
  • Done this for a couple years. Looking desperately to get out. I know I'm reiterating what's been said here, but I feel the need to put my own spin on it. Some random thoughts:

    Most small business owners are petty tyrants who are too used to having power in their own little worlds. The only reasons they can imagine that their word is not instantly done are a) stupidity, b) laziness and/or c) maliciousness. They are HELL to deal with.

    On any given account: start small and careful. You don't want your first proj

Most people will listen to your unreasonable demands, if you'll consider their unacceptable offer.

Working...