A Guide To Being The Local PC Repair Dude
So you’ve turned your head in the direction of the dreams of every technology-savvy person – the idea of converting your computer skills into cash. You want to be the local computer repair guy. It’s not like it’s anything new to you – your uncles/nephews/parents/cousins/friends/coworkers/relatives/random people are always dumping their PC problems on your head anyway. So why not make a business our of your skills to give an excuse to charge them, and also make a little dough while you’re at it? Everybody who knows how to work with a computer inside and out, and has some spare time, has at some time or another considered this idea. To be honest, it is a great idea to make some cash, provided you are lucky, know your stuff, and are able to use your wits under stressful situations. There are people out there who make a living out of casual computer repair and sales, and also a lot of those who make significant bonuses in their part time. So why not give it a try!
What to expect
- Expect to be riddled with calls and requests for fixing computers for the rest of your natural life.
- You will get all types of customers – from friendly rich little old ladies who pay well, give you cookies and pizza, and don’t have a clue about computers, to “village customers” who will try the best to squeeze the most out of you for the least possible amount of money.
- You will get customers who blame you for the remotest computer problem they get even months after you repaired their machines. These are also usually the type of customers who refuse/delay/reduce payment on trumped up excuses. Best advice is to ditch these type of customers immediately – they don’t do well for your pocket and will give you a headache. Protect yourself with a limited warranty in your terms.
- 90% of the problems you fix will be one of these 3:
- My computer is too slow. Please clean it up.
- Help! I got viruses invading my PC!
- I got blue screens or other funny error message. Fix it or please reinstall Windows.
- Localtechguy on reddit.com makes $80,000 US a year doing local computer repair. Here’s his story:
I bill for about 4 hours a day on average, and I charge $70 an hour. I mainly fix computer problems related to corrupt hard drives, RAM installation, CD/DVD ROM repair, internet connectivity issues, printer problems, audio problems, and the like.
I charge $20 just to take a look at your computer. If you decided that you want me to fix it, (after I tell you how long it will probably take) I apply that $20 to your “balance.” Most jobs take about an hour and I bill in 20 minute increments, rounding up. If I have to come to you, there is an additional $30 charge. After hours, holidays, and emergencies have an additional charge of $20 an hour.
Here’s his advice for a newbie:
- Get business cards made.
- Pass them out where ever you go.
- Don’t rent a storefront yet.
- Go to people’s businesses/homes and do the repairs there.
- Ask local businesses if you can post a flyer in their window or on their cash wrap.
- Initially, charge a nominal fee…maybe something like $30/hour just to build up a client base and get some referalls.
- Put up a Web site describing your services. It makes you look more legit when you print it on your business cards.
- Hit up local colleges and post flyers there.
- If you’re going to market to college students, learn how to troubleshoot Macs and iPods.
- Develop a protocol for troubleshooting common problems It’ll save you time.
- Underpromise and overdeliver.
- We’ve all heard those horror stories of people dealing with horrible customers and getting ripped off continuously – not to mention spending an insane amount of time fixing simple issues.
Avoiding disaster – habits you must not forget
- Never start to do anything (not even a diagnosis) until you have agreements and terms signed. (See below for templates on EULA’s agreements, etc.). These agreements and terms should make it clear that it is the customer’s duty to back up their data, you are not liable for any damage caused to the machine or data except upto the cost of the repair, and other minor things.
- Speaking of backup, although you protect yourself from liability with fine print, you should always backup the customer’s data anyway. Always, always, always, before you even attempt to fix an issue, make a backup image of the computer with a software such as Norton Ghost. That way if you screw up anything, or the deal doesn’t work out, or you just can’t fix it, you can simply restore the computer to the state in which you received it. Store this data in an external hard drive or something, and keep it for how long your warranty extends, or longer if you wish.
- Accounting is a MUST. You absolutely must document every one of your sales, expenses, etc.. Even if it is a simple Access database or Excel spreadsheet, it’s fine. For hardpaper documents, store them in a folder of some sort. This data is very useful for keeping track of how much you make/lose each month, and also for dealing with recurring customers.
Dealing with customers
- Remember that you need to be very organized, systematic and professional for you to maintain your sanity under stressful and abnormal conditions, and to avoid disaster. Professionalism also means that customers will be willing to pay more because they feel that they are getting high quality, professional services.
- Focus on building a higher quality client base, rather than larger quantity. Good customers are understanding, pay decently and on time, and refer you to others. Bad customers will often make you lose more than you’ll ever gain with them – starting with your sanity.
- If you are really into it, consider having a mailing list for all customers. Send out an email every once in a while with free computer tips, goodies, or advice. This will help keep connections and build relationships with clients – which is key to getting high quality business.
- If a customer tries to bargain with you claiming that their nephew/son/relative can fix their computer for free, tell them to have a nice day and go to whoever they want to. Do not undersell yourself unless you are really desperate.
- Never be forced to give free or discounted services except for two reasons: 1. You messed up something. 2. The customer has a close relationship with you which you value.
How to structure your business
There are several ways to structure your business workflow, and undoubtedly you will develop your own as your business matures. Here are a few structure models for you to get some ideas and modify to your circumstances. It is very important to have a standard “protocol” or workflow which will streamline your repair process and make you efficient and organized. Start developing a protocol for common problems right away.
Things to note
- Have a “fixing” workstation at your home/office which includes a KVM switch where you can repair 3-4 computers at a time. This is where all your tools, software, spare parts, etc, organized nicely in one place, and you also have access to an internet connection line and power (of course). This is the most efficient, cheap, and profitable way to run a repair at your own location.
- Get some large storage gear (such as an external hardrive) to store backups, GHOSTS, drivers, files, and other software related to each client’s computer, neatly organized in folders on the drive. You should keep the customer’s data for atleast as long as your warranty extends. This can be a real lifesaver if the client comes later again with problems.
- Carry some extra RAM wherever you go (see the “Money Making tips” below).
What to charge, how to get paid
This is the most debatable and variable part of repairing computers. It largely depends on your location, the amount of competition you have, and your experience/connections. Start off low to get a foothold in the market, and then move up gradually. Charging by the hour is always smarter, because a simple ten minute fix can turn into a 48 hour nightmare. However for services like re-installing windows or installing hardware it might be a good idea to charge a flat price.
Teenagers working part time or during the summer – $20 – $35/hour or flat prices
Part-timers – $35 – $50/hour
Full timers, and those with a large client base and full dedication – $60 – $120/hour
These prices may seem a little high or low, but remember that it’s simply not worth to undersell yourself. Better to get paid decently, or not do the work at all. That time which you lose could be spent in better avenues.
Money making tips:
- Keep all the old parts you get, unless the customer wants them.
- Use those parts and old computers to sell refurbished computers – this can be a huge addition to your income. In addition, if you ever screw up really bad, you can simply give your clients another computer.
- Have some RAM on you wherever you go. This will serve you in two ways. Firstly it will help speed up the repair process on those slow, clogged up PC’s. Secondly, when your customer sees the improved speed with their own eyes, you can sell the RAM to them for a profit, adding a significant boost to your revenue.
- (Tip from Ben):
I always had work order forms in duplicate. Right above the signature line was a BIG BOLD WARNING ABOUT LOSS OF DATA and “Check this box to have your data backed up for $75″.
I always asked if the computer contained any important information, and if the customer said “yes” then I backed up the data anyway. If things didn’t work out, I’d pull out the contract that they signed and point out the bold lettering next to their name, and the empty box.
Then, I’d charge them $150 for “forensic data recovery” with “no guarantees” – while recovering from the backup I’d made silently. I guess it’s part of the “underpromise/overdeliver” thing… but several customers were intensely relieved when I was able to “work my magic” and save their business/thesis/whatever.
How/where to advertise
1. Word of mouth
The “People’s guy” is key to everything. Your customers will judge your expertise based on how nice of a guy you are, because they can’t judge any other way. If you give your customers a good experience, they are much more likely to call you again, and refer you to others. Word of mouth is king – no other advertising medium can beat the quality and number of customers you get with a simple referral.
This is a low quality source which generally brings in few customers of low quality – but still worth a try.
3. Yellow Pages
4. Local Business directories
5. Local newspapers
6. Local colleges/universities
If you do this you should get some experience on troubleshooting Mac’s and iPods.
7. Local community organizations and buildings
8. Google Adsense/Online targeted ads
Do this if you really want to go big. Make sure you accurately target the ads for people in your area.
Terms, Documents, EULA Templates
Here are some templates to help you with your official paperwork. I personally created these documents. Disclaimer: These documents are provided AS-IS with any guaranty of any sort. These are meant to be used as a guideline only. Consult your lawyer before using any of these documents.
- Service Agreement Template (replace my name “Isa Hassen” with your business or personal name)
This is a template for a service agreement which includes a disclaimer and a form for customers to provide information.
Download (from Drop.io)
- Computer Repair Invoice Template (again replace my name with yours)
A template for an invoice you may use. I included the “hours” column even though it is not part of a standard service invoice so you could demonstrate to your customers how much time you spent on their computer.
Download (from Drop.io)
- Freshbooks Invoicing Application
An extremely useful online invoice application which is free to start off with.
LiberKey - this is the ultimate portable USB toolkit. It comes preinstalled with over a hundred portable utilities which can definitely come in handy. The software is launched through a simple interface which also manages, organizes and updates your portable software. You can also add your favourite portable software to the list.
The “ultimate boot cd for Windows” is exactly what it claims to be. It comes with plenty of utilities which be run at boot-time from memory testers to disk erasers.
Hiren’s Boot CD
(Tip provided by Rob): Hiren’s Boot CD is another excellent cd with many utilites including: Hard drive recovery, Hard Drive Partition, Hard Drive Backup, Hard Drive Testing, RAM (Memory) Testing, System Information, MBR (Master BootRecord), BIOS, MultiMedia, Password, NTFS (FileSystems), Antivirus, AntiSpy, Process, Windows Startup, Registry tools, Windows Cleaners, Optimizers, Tweakers,and many others.
Sort of like a bootable live CD for Windows XP. One the most valuable software it has as a plugin is Norton Ghost (which you must buy and add as a plugin).
Windows Recovery Discs
NeoSmart has done us a huge favour by releasing Windows Vista and Windows 7 bootable recovery discs.
(Now part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack with Windows). An extremely handy proprietary CD, ERD Commander is not free, but can do everything from password resets to system restores from boot.
Linux Boot Discs
OPHCRACK is a must for resetting passwords. Its available both as a runtime software and a live cd.
Tools (actual hardware tools)
As part of your basic diagnosis and repair tools, you must have atleast these items:
- Screwdriver (with all types of bits, including hex or star bits)
- Spare screws and jumpers (you can get plenty of these from old computers)
- Anti-static wrist strap (ALWAYS wear this when working with hardware)
- Duster (for example a portable vacuum or compressed air can)
- Tweezers – preferably magnetic (can really come to your rescue when you drop a tiny part somewhere)
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