Getting in the computer repair business. Any suggestions?

I have plenty of free time so I am thinking of getting into computer repairs for some extra income. I won’t set up a shop, I will only do house calls. I’ve been repairing computers in the past for a living so I have a good idea of how things work, but back then I was working in a shop, no house calls. So I need some advice from people who have done this.

  1. How should I charge? I am thinking about 50 euros for the first hour (even if I have finished after 5 minutes I still charge 50) and after that by the minute. Does this sound good?

  2. What should I charge if the problem is unsolvable, (eg. a fried motherboard) or when for whatever reason the customer is not satisfied with my service?

  3. What kind of equipment will I need? I have several external hard disk drives, a laptop, an external DVD-RW, cable tester, crimp tool and jacks for making cables, soldering iron, all kinds of screwdrivers, etc. Anything else I am missing?

Any other suggestions are welcome :slight_smile:

Why would a fried motherboard be unsolvable? Swap the bad ones out for one of a compatible form factor, cpu type, and ram.

Also at the end of each call use autoruns or atleast msconfig to go through with the customer and see what the actually want start and what they don’t care about.

9 time out of 10 you;ll be able to clean alot of start up garbage and speed up their system considerably,

I used to be in the computer business. I’m now semi retired and repair and help friends and family with their computers on a voluntary basis.

The first thing I’d be thinking about, is how are you going to go about getting business? The whole world and his brother repair computers, so why would anyone go to you?

Second: as The Tao’s Revenge has said, a fried motherboard shouldn’t stop you. You’ll probably be dealing with a lot of laptops, so you won’t be picking up replacement standard components off the shelf. Where will you get those items from? Or will you only deal with desktops (which will restrict your potential customer base)?

On the business side: how will you take payments? Cash, credit cards, Paypal? If you’re going to be in people’s homes on a professional basis, have you thought about insurance? Will you work in a specified geographical area? Your travel costs, if you get a lot of business would have to be factored in.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but if you don’t know the answer to this, are you sure you should go into this business? How would you like to be treated as a customer in this situation? Are you out for a quick buck, or will you be trying to build a business that includes recommendations based on your fairness, honesty and trustworthiness? What sort of guarantees will you be offering for your work?

Have you thought of adding training and tuition services? There are many first timers and non technical people who would be happy to pay to have someone set up their internet and wifi, and to be shown how to use Office and other programs. I’ve just bought a laptop for someone. I’m setting it up, putting antivirus on it, setting up an email program etc. I also install a remote access program on it so that if they get confused or something goes wrong, I can log on and take over their computer to sort it out. They find it very reassuring. If you chose to do this, you could charge them an annual support fee, or a pay-by-incident fee, with no transportation costs for you.

When I was doing this job back in 2006, about half of the computers we were dealing with were really old junk running Windows 98 or even 95. So good luck finding a Slot1 motherboard, RIMM memory, SCSI hard disk controllers or coaxial ethernet adapters :smiley:

I have a good paying job and I am going to do this mostly for fun and some extra cash. I am going to contact some local companies and leave business cards anywhere I can. This will cost me next to nothing so I don’t care if I don’t find any customer.

I don’t have a source for laptop parts but there’s still a lot to do with laptops that doesn’t involve special parts, like memory or HD upgrades, virus removal, etc.

Most transactions in Greece are still in cash, so cash it will be. Insurance is a good idea. I will only work locally.

See my answer to Tao. A good percentage of the computers will be very old and repair will be impossible. In that case I haven’t solved the problem but I still need to be compensated for my time. Big repair companies charge the full amount even if they do nothing. Do you recommend that I charge less in these cases?

Training and tuition sounds good, annual support fee not so much because in that case I will have to be on call all the time and I already have a daytime job.

I’m not really sure how you’d make a decent living in computer repair. I can get a new one (reputable brand, running Windows 7) for $350, and porting files and software over from the old computer is pretty easy. How much can you get away with charging, and have repair still be a better option for the customer than replacement?

Pick up and delivery. It would give you an edge. If you can do it at the clients house, they would like that too. You can sell convenience.

Be prepared to complete a simple job, say, installing some new RAM, and then be blamed for every single problem the customer has with the computer, for here to eternity. Be prepared for the expectation from that customer, to provide free tech-support by phone and email, for the rest of your life.

You will need to make it brutally clear what the cost of each service covers, and what it doesn’t. You would do well to subscribe to an online remote control service like that can be used to remotely access your customers PC - that will save you money, make it convenient for the customer, and you’ll be able to troubleshoot and resolve the majority of the problems without ever leaving home. I would suggest that you don’t try to troubleshoot and correct software performance issues, especially intermittent ones that cannot be easily duplicated. You’d be wise to offer a flat-rate wipe & reinstall service. Don’t chase ghosts. Their computer is probably a witch’s brew of viruses and malware. Format the hard drive, and reinstall the OS. Start with a clean slate. Have them drop off their CPU at your place, and have a monitor, kbd and mouse setup on a desk so you can just plug the cpu in, and do the work at your relative leisure. You can be doing a lot of other stuff while drives format and Windows installs.

Computer repair bought me a $250k house, a new BMW, and paid off my wife’s student loans. You should realize that there are many people and small businesses out there who have much more money than time. They are busy doing what they do making money and they realize the value of hiring someone to get them back on the road quickly. Anyone with an IQ above 70 can change their own motor oil, but most people pay someone else to do it. There are a lot of older people and retirees who have plenty of money, and absolutely no desire in learning how to setup and secure a WiFi network, configure a backup system, download and install drivers, etc… The money is there to be made. Word of mouth advertising will take you a long way. The real trick is in figuring out your pricing, and having the skill set and experience to do the work quickly, and completely, keeping your hourly wage high.

  1. That sounds pretty pricey to me. I charged flat rates for most basic services. People like knowing what the final cost is going to be before they hire you. Especially home users.

  2. For unsolvable issues, and there will be some, you need to make the terms clear before you ever start the job. Charge a flat basic, diagnostic fee. Chances are that if you can’t figure out the issue in 30mins, you won’t, or, at an hourly rate, the customer will quickly accrue fees that are greater than the price of a new computer.

  3. Set up a diagnostic bench at your house with a monitor, PS/2 kbd, and PS/2 mouse, and power cords. You want to be able to just drop their CPU down and go to work with known-good peripherals.

For field work, a small laptop with cd burner, wifi is essential. Load it up with popular drivers and diagnostic tools. You need to be able to walk in someone’s home or business and get online and to work immediately. Carry a USB flash drive, blank cd’s, and a set of known-good cables (USB, Cat-5 ethernet, a/c power, etc…). A cheap cat-5 ethernet continuity tester is good to have as most small biz and many upscale homes will be wired cat-5. Never rely on the customer’s computer to get you online and connected to the software and drivers you need to fix the issue. I carry a known-good router with me too. Flashlight, latex gloves, and small tool set are essential as well. Point is, have everything with you that you might need. You don’t want to ever have to stop in the middle of a job to run home, find an internet connection, or run to Radio Shack. I carried spare cat-5 patch, and USB cords that I can sell to the customer - just so the job isn’t interrupted for a trip to the store. Have a good anti-virus program on cd that you can install on systems that aren’t protected. FreeAVG or whatever it’s called now. Eliminate the possibility that a virus will make you come back “because the RAM you just installed isn’t working”.

Start all troubleshooting with the obvious - is the computer plugged in? I can tell you stories about that one…

Don’t be a geek. Speak in plain english. Treat people well. Throw in some freebies. People love freebies and word of mouth is your best advertising. Always leave several biz cards with each client so they can pass them to friends. Target home’s in upscale communities where the people have money, are not DIY’ers, and aren’t tightwads. Target small biz’s that don’t have in-house IT. Stay away from middle and low income customers. They tend to be “more involved” in the work you’re doing, and more likely to take the cheaper route, which is usually a compromise and doesn’t result in the job being done properly.

Act like you are a “real business”. Nobody wants to pay a “hobbyist” to tinker with their computer. Be professional. I always wore a golf shirt embroidered with my company name and logo, and khaki pants. I had a matching laptop bag ebroidered with my biz name and logo, and biz cards and a website that tied the look together. Give them an invoice before you leave and get a signed copy. Have them sign a work order agreeing to terms before you start. Take PayPal payments. People are more willing to spend if they can charge it - and it’s often an “emergency” they are willing to charge, if they don’t have the cash at the time.

Treat the whole thing the same way a plumber, car mechanic, etc… would. It’s really all the same thing - you’re a technician repairing something that the person needs to have up and running quickly.

Good luck. The money is out there if you do it right.

This is excellent advice. I was successful doing exactly this, including the high hourly wage. I initially landed a few high profile clients and purely through word of mouth I was getting new clients. The key was being clean cut, polite, discrete, and doing housecalls.

I charged an hourly wage and didn’t charge flat rates. If I had to sit in their den watching the hourglass spin for an hour while the anti-spyware ran I charged them for that hour.

There’s lots of other good advice here, especially the possibility of being blamed for everything that ever goes wrong with that PC ever again. I suggest you write up a waiver that states that data backup is the responsibility of the owner and offer them the option of paying you to back up their data before you work on their PC.

I actually do this for friends and friends of relatives, and such. Only very part time, and mainly as a favor to save them money over having pros do it. The pros in this area charge $60/hr, you bring it to them, and pick it up afterwards. I only charge $20, and I come to you. If I can’t fix it, no charge. A couple of my friends get freebies regardless, and they take me to lunch or something instead.

To do it professionally, I would up my rate a bit, get rid of the no-charge policy, get insurance, and write out a policy statement that says exactly what they get for the money. Given that, I can see it as a viable part-time business.

Anything beyond my equipment, or expertise, I would have a pro shop I could bring it to (like I do for my machines), and offer drop-off, pick-up, and deal with the pro geek for them, at a reasonable fee over the pro’s price. Then you can get started right away, without having to invest in equipment you don’t yet have.

Hell, I’m one of them. Which is why I bought a new computer rather than fixing my old one.

You’re not talking about time v. money; you’re talking about competing applications of money. Computer repair means talking someone into paying for the repair of an existing computer that, if not purchased within the past year, is probably less valuable than a low-end computer. Makes more sense to tell them to sock the money into the new computer, and charge them for setting it up and configuring it the way they want.

Sounds like you’re talking setup, rather than repair, anyway. Which I think makes my point.

First thing is rates.

How to do this? Call around to other shops and look at online ads. Does Craigslist have a European connection? Once you call around you can undercut everyone.

You MUST undercut everyone else at first. Why? Because you are new and no one knows you.

Second you need to get a website to advertise on. GoDaddy and 1and1 are excellent places to register a domain and get a website up.

Third, go online and find out what computer problems people are having. Usually the most common are viruses and failed hard drives. Laptops, spilled water can be a common issue.

Fourth, you charge a small diagnostic fee and if you can’t fix something, you eat it. This will help to bring business and future business in. It will also help you learn quickly what you can and cannot fix.

Fifth, you need to check out insurance and such. Be prepared for lawsuits when someone says you lost their data and sues you. Even if they have no case, it still costs money to go to court and get the case dropped so you need to defend it.

Sixith, get a plan for payment, cash is best, paypal also works as do checks. Be prepared, I had my own business and I had checks reveresed on my 9 months after they cleared. NEVER use GOOGLE CHECKOUT. It’s not reliable. I had a horrible story with them. At least with paypal it’s do-able. For paypal open your account NOW. Paypal restricts large transaction on new accounts. So if you start out with a thousand dollar job on a new account expect trouble.

Take it slow and just be willing to learn from your mistakes and when someone rips you off or doesn’t pay, and it will happen, don’t take it to personal. That’s business

Good luck to you

I’ll give you the same advice I give to all entrepreneurs: Make it as easy as possible for people to pay you, and don’t dither about it.

Have a paypal account, charge accounts, and your charge slips with you when you arrive. Make your hourly rates or whatever quite clear, and when presenting options for the solution, giv ean estimate of what each will cost. Receive payment in some form before you go. If all else fails (and some day it will) accept a post-dated check for the date of their next paycheck.

Never say “I’ll bill you” or “I’ll figure out what you owe when I get back to the office”. Have the price of any parts you carry with you on hand as well. Do not leave until you’ve received some method of payment.

This is excellent advice. Take every form of payment, while steering them towards the forms you actually prefer. If you accept all forms, you overcome their objections, and stand a better chance at being paid quickly. Make it clear before you arrive that payment must be made at the time of service. Be firm or you will be taken advantage of. Only offer terms to your biggest, most important, and long loyal customers.

I’m out of the tech biz, and run a graphic design and web dev shop now. I steer all my clients towards credit card payments, and do not release the finished artwork or site until payment is received. I’m not a bank, and I don’t give interest free loans, which is what 30 day net billing amounts to. Some of my larger customers simply won’t pay via credit card and insist on issuing a check. I charge them a check processing fee that is designed to discourage check payment. A few don’t care and just pay the fee. Most clients who hesitate to pay by credit card change their mind when the learn of the fee.

Worst thing is to be lax in your own policies. People will take advantage of this, and at some point you’ll have to crack down. When this happens, it can be uncomfortable to have to get tough with your customers. Best to avoid it entirely.

You would think so, but I’ve actually run into many more situations where it is cheaper and more timely to fix the obsolete computer. An example is:

A machine tool company who has a CAD workstation which controls a CNC mill. This computer was old and could have been replaced for about $400. But… it had about ten vital applications on it that had been setup, tweaked and customized over a very long time frame. Some of the tweaks were very dependent on specific hardware components which are no longer available. The CNC mill had to be running at least 20hrs per day in order to keep the big customer happy and make the monthly mortgage payment on it. Replacing the computer with a new one, reloading everything and putting the entire system back to status quo ante, so that it was 100% identical in every way - as not to fluster the guy who used it - would have taken the mill down for at least an entire work day. Then there would be the inevitable hiccups. In the end, the cheapest way to go was repair.

You have to keep in mind that workstations are a lot like cars, in that, the driver gets everything “just so” and then someone either drives it, and changes the mirrors, seat positions, radio presets, etc… and the driver gets flustered, or their thrown into a brand new car entirely.

Many employees at businesses I deal with are one trick ponies. They only know how to run “their program”, and if anything looks different, even a moved icon on the desktop, they are thrown into complete panic, and the entire world tips over. I did work for end users who didn’t even know how to turn off their pc’s or do a restart, and would get completely bent out of shape if asked to do so. I’d ask someone to “open up their web browser” and get a look of complete bewilderment. I’d have to then explain “open Internet Explorer”. Same look. Then I’d say “go to Google”, and they’d finally understand. Lots of clients out there who’s staff is low wage, and low sophistication. If a new pc could be purchased for $350, and the repair cost $300, it often makes more sense to the employer to just fix it and not have to listen to Phyllis bitch and moan for the next five weeks. A new pc means that Phyllis will be “down” for the better part of the day, and wandering around with nothing to do, annoying everyone. Then she’ll be behind for the next month, due to that one missed day of work. :wink:

Be sure to badmouth Microsoft at every available opportunity and spout the platitudes of Apple as often as possible. This will ensure that your customers know that you’re “hip”.

A lot of the problems you’re hired to fix will actually be software issues. You only mentioned hardware tools here. You should have a whole bunch of software tools, file recovery software, virus removers, etc. with you also.

People do understand the minimum billing (though 1 hour sounds like a bit much-- many problems are diagnosed & fixed in much less). But they will see you as really fair if you spend the remaining time that they are paying for in doing other fixes or cleanup to their machine. Like cleaning up unneeded startups, defragging, virus removal, whatever the machine needs. And obviously, that indicates the user doesn’t do that preventative work, so offer to set up a scheduled task to do it every week. Your customers will see this as ‘extra’ things you did for them (even though they paid for your time) and that will get you mentioned in word of mouth referrals.

Someone upthread suggested offering a flat-fee wipe and reinstall. As others have noted, there are a lot of competing services out there for hardware service, but I’d bet there’s a market for a cut-rate wipe and reinstall service.

You’d have a problem in that many users won’t save their original CDs (or never got them in the first place), but you can probably manage to deal with that. Charge extra for reinstalling applications, and then only from original media (to cover yourself legally), and for backing up and restoring data.

Ten years ago I used to do virus removal for friends. If they slipped me beer, that was great. One guy gave me a carton of cat food. Not a box- a carton! I found out later his son was a delivery driver so I wonder where that came from?

Anyway Occams Taser has given some excellent advice from what I see.