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The Almighty Buck Hardware Hacking Software

What Do You Charge for Tech Support? 1168

war3rd asks: "Years ago I used to offer tech support for friends and family (for free), and ended up doing it for everyone they and I knew. I cut it out because it was taking too much of my time, but I've been getting more and more requests lately due to everything from viruses, spam, spyware, as well as aging PC with Windows 98 and ME (oog!) on them still. I was thinking of saying OK to requests that are convenient, but I want to make it worth my while. So I ask, I'm sure that some of you out there must do this, what is the general going rate for basic user tech support (i.e. getting someone's home machine cleaned up and back to normal email & web browsing capability)?"
"I assume that there is probably some range in different parts of the country, but I'm curious anyway. And let's just assume that I live in the Tri-State area around New York City (can you say 'overpriced?'). I figure I should be able to pull in enough to feed my ever-present desire for better hardware, but on the other hand, I don't want to be a jerk and gouge people who should be able to trust me with their machines. So what to other Slashdot users charge for their tech support services?"
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What Do You Charge for Tech Support?

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  • by fembots ( 753724 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:52PM (#11609666) Homepage
    If you're doing it for people you know personally, for instance, your grandpa, sister-in-law or your mum's old schoolmate, in a sense that people are seeking your help as a favor, then I don't think it is easy to ask for something in return.

    However, if you really get so many tech support requests, you may consider setting up a side business, that way you have made yourself commercially available and people know they need to pay for your service.

    If they don't want to pay, they know not to call you. If they do call you but not expecting to pay, you can give good excuses like you're so busy with your new business that you can only visit them "later" (so much later that they solved the problem themselves).
    • by quizwedge ( 324481 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:58PM (#11609783)
      I don't fix computers as a business. I just don't want to spend more time working and then have to worry about taxes after that along with all the other things you need to have a legal business. Instead, what's worked well for me as a bachelor is dinner. I tell people invite me over for dinner and I will fix your computer. Now that I have a gf, they invite her too. In effect, I've doubled my rate. :)
      • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:22PM (#11610153) Homepage Journal
        " Gas, grass or ass,
        nobody rides for free!
      • by ryusen ( 245792 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:36PM (#11610381) Homepage
        I did something similar. When in colledge, i tried to run it as a business... that was terrible. It's more work than the money is worth it. In the end, i just ended up helping people for favours in some way or another. A doctor friend, once gave me a ride on his boat and lunch for fixing his PC. It works out well... especially in those cases where you help someone who's a really good cook .)

        The funny thing is, the people i hate to help the most are my parents. I dunno if it's a mental block of soem sort, but i seem to get most irritated when they do stuff to their computers.
        • by Ohreally_factor ( 593551 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:09PM (#11610894) Journal
          When in colledge, i tried to run it as a business... that was terrible. It's more work than the money is worth it.

          (/spelling nazi)Maybe when you were in "colledge" you should have focused more on spelling and grammar. =)

          The funny thing is, the people i hate to help the most are my parents. I dunno if it's a mental block of soem sort, but i seem to get most irritated when they do stuff to their computers.

          It's not that uncommon. We tend to have more emotional baggage with parents than with anyone else, even spouses and children. When I help out my dad on the computer, I just pretend he's retarded, even to the point of talking really slowly. (Basically as far as computers go, he is retarded. I can't tell him to click on an application, I have to tell him to click on the picture of the compass or the postage stamp with the eagle on it.) Oh, I also bought him an eMac, which was one of the better investments I've ever made. Thank god for one button mice!

        • As it is now, I get free Subway from the local Subway (duh) and my taxes are done by a CPA here in town.

          All I need to do now is get in good with a auto repair shop and all my major expenses are taken care of! :)

      • by jadenyk ( 764614 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:56PM (#11610710)
        I guess it all depends on you and your "clients". I lived in a rich area for a while and got a few clients that were rather wealthy. I charged $75/hour with a 2 hour minimum. While most of my clients were "as needed", I had one client that saw me religiously once a week for 2 hours. He had no problem paying my rate and all I did was come and teach him how to use his computer and different applications. There was a 2 month period that we worked solely on making a DVD out of some video footage of his grandchildren. At one point, he decided to upgrade his machine (his "old" machine was getting quite dated - it was almost a full year old) so when he purchased the new one, he asked me to set that up. In exchange, he gave me his "old" computer. That worked out for me, since later he felt guilty that he didn't pay me in cash, so he ended up paying me for the time, plus some.

        However, all of these clients were quite wealthy. I always tried to cater everything towards the client. Some of them weren't as wealthy and didn't pay as much. I told them if they didn't feel like I was worth the money, they should pay me what they felt I was worth - it was then my decision to come back or not the next time they needed me. I'm also a softie, so some people did get away with paying me very little, but I figured it all worked out for everyone.

        I carried myself in a professional and friendly manner, so they continued to ask me to come back. When I told one of my clients that I was moving across the country, he asked if he could finance a business for me to run - that way I wouldn't have to move. I politely declined and he has since asked if he could fly me back to work on his computer.

        Now, people where I live now aren't as rich as that - I do a lot of free work here, but I also explain to people that since I'm not getting paid, things may take me longer to get around to. I think most people realize that they get what they pay for - or don't pay for, such as the case may be. I also do a lot of bardering. I have one friend that I help with computer stuff and he helps me with my car maintenance.

      • by fubar1971 ( 641721 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:23PM (#11611105)
        I just don't want to spend more time working and then have to worry about taxes after that along with all the other things you need to have a legal business.

        I don't know where you live, but where I live, it's not that difficult. To be a sole proprieter, all I have to do , is charge for my services. As long as I am not selling a tangible good, I do not have to worry about sales tax. If any hardware or software needs to be purchased, I make a reccomendation to the customer on what they need to buy, and where they can buy it from. This works out nice. The reseller is getting the sale and has to charge and pay the state taxes, and I get refferal business from the reseller. I then have a spread sheet on my PC that I use to print invoices. Once the invoice is paid, i save a copy for when I file my personal income taxes. I then I writr off a portion of my mortgage/utilities/car insurance/mileage/etc. as business expenses. Running a legal business, does not have to be that difficult, as long as you keep it small.

        In case any one is wondering:

        Family and close friends I don't charge

        Home users I charge $20.00/hour,

        Businesses, I charge $65/hour plus travel expenses. I'm not looking to get rich, I'm just looking to support my own hardware habit.

      • That's pretty much my stance. I do this for a living, I get paid well for it. When I leave the office at night I'd rather spend quality time with friends or family than fix computers. I have sometimes had people who were very persistent about it, and I usually quote them something outrageous like $125-$150 and hour. My rationale is this:

        There are a number of companies here in town who will repair your PC for $40-$50 an hour, but you have to bring it to them. Then there are the guys who come out to you
    • by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:25PM (#11610201) Homepage Journal
      You should be able to trade your time for their time. Particularly if you can find people that have skills you don't have.

      I know people who can easily fix a leaking pipe or lend me some decent power tools, but have no clue about computers... getting on their good side can save you a bunch of money at a later point.

    • by jdray ( 645332 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:29PM (#11610262) Homepage Journal
      I usually charge a bottle of wine. That way, people can spend as much on the bottle of wine as they think my service was worth. If I get a bottle of "Two-buck Chuck" (Charles Shaw), I'll graciously accept it and probably not fix their computer again. Not that it's horrible wine, but it's a statement of how little they value my time.
    • by Hittman ( 81760 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:33PM (#11611249) Homepage
      $35 an hour if you leave me alone.

      $50 an hour if you watch.

      $100 an hour if you help.
  • My plans (Score:3, Informative)

    by LiNKz ( 257629 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:52PM (#11609668) Homepage Journal
    Well, someone tell me what they think of mine (note, I don't have any certifications [yet]),

    $50 for the first hour of work. $30 for each addition hour of work I do for them. Usually I resolve the issues in the first hour. If the issues are more prone to fully formatting a box, I usually take it home and charge them $50 for my time at home.. since honestly, formatting / installing drivers takes time but not enough time to waste their money.

    If it is something like their computer doesn't work (and its rather stupid) I usually just ask for gas money + $20. I usually always work for a friend, or a friends friend.. I don't do professional calls (e.g. companies) unless, again, are small and a friends company.


    P.S. I used to do the whole "$50 to wipe it, $20 to install hardware, $15 to install software" thing, but when I started dealing with friends of friends, I upped it.
    • Re:My plans (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colz Grigor ( 126123 )
      At those rates, I'd have trouble believing you'd be professional or reputable.

      Here's the deal: call around and ask local plumbers and auto mechanics what their labor rate is. Find an average and charge that rate for your computer services. It'll be in the ball park of $85+, unless you're in a semi-rural area. Run your service in a similar fashion to these other service professionals: Document a description of the problem, provide an estimate, and get the customer's signature. Go in with a completely pr
      • Re:My plans (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ninewands ( 105734 )
        I agree on the rates ... when I was doing solo network consulting I charged $100.00/hour, flat. I also required that the client purchase any hardware/materials I might need so that I didn't have to do the sales tax thing. I would, if asked, give them vendor recommendations where I knew they would get a reasonable price, but I made it clear that I was not a vendor and I had no interest in WHERE they bought the stuff.

        Wear a shirt and possibly even a tie.

        I agree with the sibling poster. I would always w
      • Re:My plans (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tenebrious1 ( 530949 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:33PM (#11610328) Homepage
        At those rates, I'd have trouble believing you'd be professional or reputable.
        Here's the deal: call around and ask local plumbers and auto mechanics what their labor rate is. Find an average and charge that rate for your computer services. It'll be in the ball park of $85+, unless you're in a semi-rural area.

        No, he's probably not professional. The reasons plumbers and electricians can charge so much are they are 1- licensed, but mostly 2- they're insured. I can demand $200 an hour, and when the client asks why I charge so much, I can say that all my work is *insured*, that any damage I might unintentionally cause will be covered by the insurance company. The neighbor's kid may charge less, but what happens if he drops a coke into the laptop? What happens if he destroys all the data? What recourse do you have? Because professionals are insured, they can charge more because there's less risk.

  • by apoplectic ( 711437 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:52PM (#11609669)
    Nothing less than $300...regardless of the problem.
  • Reconsider (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jane_the_Great ( 778338 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:52PM (#11609672)
    Reconsider getting into this. Here's the issue: as soon as you take money, you are the guy who was paid to fix the computer. At that point, when you walk out the door, the person is going to immediately install a bunch of Spyware and basically undo all your hard work. As much as you attempt to educate them, they will. Then, they call you back and expect you to come right over and fix it "right." In their mind, they paid you to fix the computer and the computer doesn't work. And, if you do decide to fix it again, even for another fee, at that point they will be demanding your help at a time that is not convenient.

    My rule is that I will fix friends and family members computers if I happen to have the time and they clearly appreciate my help and don't see it as my obligation. If they offer to pay me, I'll ask for a dinner sometime or just a case of Bass beer.

    Trust me, taking money is more hassle than it will be worth.

    • Re:Reconsider (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HawkinsD ( 267367 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:00PM (#11609831)
      Jane's right. There's a huge line between paid support and support that I do because you're my brother-in-law.

      I also want my brother-in-law to be a little beholden to me, because he's good with doorknobs, and I'm an idiot around doorknobs, and I'm going to need a doorknob upgrade soon (this may sound like a stupid example, but it happens to be absolutely real).

      If my brother-in-law needs more than I can handle, then I'll help him choose a consultant that he can pay (and be mad at when his machine fills back up with goo).

      So... I don't usually charge for basic support. I do it when I have the time, for people I like.
    • Re:Reconsider (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mr. Sketch ( 111112 ) * <mister,sketch&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:19PM (#11610102)
      I'm a liberal, but I'm replying anyways.

      When I fix someones computer, I tell them that they have to follow my rules inorder for the 'warrenty' on my tech support to be valid and they include:
      1) Never open Internet Explorer again, use Firefox.
      2) Never open Outlook Express again, use Thunderbird.
      3) Use ZoneAlarm and don't allow 'random' programs to access the internet and don't allow anything to act as a server.
      4) Schedule weekly virus/spyware/adware scans and update the definitions before scanning.

      Failure to comply with these rules (which I tell them I can verify if they have been following the rules), will void the warrenty on my service and result in an additional charge if they require additional support. Harsh, but I don't get too many extra support calls :).
    • Yes Yes Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Tyro ( 247333 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:20PM (#11610115)
      I'm glad somebody said it.

      Helping for free leaves them indebted to you instead of you to them. It's a great way to generate goodwill, as well as a nifty way to receive an unexpected favor later. I'd say it's better to have a positive accounts-receivable column, even if you never see a dime.

      Taking money is opening up a can of worms. Blood is thicker than water... but the one thing that's thicker than blood is MONEY. People have this attitude (and sometimes rightly so) that as long as they're paying you, they have a leash on you... they then bother you/demand things from you, often out of proportion to the amount of money exchanged. That's a sticky situation to get into with family, friends, and coworkers. Do you want some kind of disgruntled attitude/tension between you and your friends? I don't.

      Just by doing it for free, I've received all sorts of gifts in kind. Those gifts have included computer hardware, gift certificates, beer, lunch, etc, etc. I NEVER solicit such gifts, and I always make an effort to turn them down. That may sound odd, but I actually enjoy working on computers, and my day job already involves helping others (I'm an ER physcian, so I already see plenty of no-pay/self-pay/uninsured patients for free; doing the same to the occasional computer just doesn't bother me that much)

      Then there's the simple act of doing something nice for people... sometimes that's its own reward.
      • Re:Yes Yes Yes (Score:3, Informative)

        You know, it's funny: I've noticed the opposite effect. Now mind you, I was doing work when I was young.

        If I fixed someone's computer for free, if something messed up later it was my fault. My advice was also completely ignored, as I was not "knowledgable."

        If I charged a little for my services, I would indeed be beholden to them for outrageous demands ($10 to fix a computer turned into a complete re-installation, a 2-hour hardware isolation job [bad power supply, as it turned out], and recovering all th

      • Precisely (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PhYrE2k2 ( 806396 )
        You have it right on the head. I do consulting as a part of my job for busienss and individuals. Anyone who I don't know, or who knows one of my clients or whatnot falls under this category. They get charged by the hour or flat-rate (quoted price) for specific tasks- usually the first. Your job is to make sure it works as expected when you leave and after a reboot. Always restart the machine and test that it loads as expected and what you want to work works fine. That way they can't say you didn't fix
  • $90. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JaffaKREE ( 766802 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:52PM (#11609675)
    If they balk, then they can go somewhere else. It's just too time-consuming.
  • by HardCase ( 14757 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:53PM (#11609682)
    You couldn't pay me enough!
  • I barter.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FalconZero ( 607567 ) * <FalconZero.Gmail@com> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:53PM (#11609688)
    When I end up fixing computers for people I know, I usually don't charge, but end up having a favour(s) in pocket, I've ended up with :
    • A free accountant
    • A builder who rebuilt part of my roof
    • A mechanic who services my car for free
    • A company director who throws consultancy my way
    • and a lawyer (who I thankfull havn't had to use yet)
    ...all I *need* now is a stockbroker :D
    • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:00PM (#11609833) Homepage Journal
      ...all I *need* now is a stockbroker :D

      given up on getting a girlfriend, eh? :)

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:54PM (#11609707) Homepage Journal
    Right now I'm going to college and I don't have time for a real job so I work here in the IT department as a federal work study intern. It's pretty silly, because I have as much experience as anyone here, and more in some cases, but that's the way the cookie crumbled. I only charge people $35/hr because this is an academic environment and people (outside of administration) are not wealthy. However, I charge the same amount for the time I spend driving somewhere, which mostly means people just bring me their systems and I work on them at home. It works out well for me, because I can make some extra money on the weekends and so on. I don't do too much work like this though, because even at that price it's more than a lot of them can afford.
  • I'm in the same boat (Score:5, Informative)

    by macdaddy ( 38372 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:55PM (#11609727) Homepage Journal
    I've been wondering the same thing. I too used to do free tech support for anyone with a Mac. I'd do PC support for any of my friends and family and anyone they told. I always turned down any money. The local phone company/ISP used to refer people to me for support issues and I'd do it for free. That in HS. That was also before I realized that the phone company was making $$ off of my efforts (me keeping their customers happy for free). My Junior or Senior year (I forget which) that phone company hired me for tech support purposes. That was some time ago. In college I was always giving someone a hand. It didn't help matters much that I also worked at the helpdesk as the Mac guy (the only one for a while until I managed to get a fellow Mac guy and friend hired, who then defected to the Journalism dept to run their Mac operations, loser :-P). Anyhow whatever I did on my own there I also did for free (good way to meet women, horrible way to get dates). That too was a long time ago. I recently did some work for some friends of the family. I then worked on that woman's mother's machine. I have to order RAM for it and go back and install it. Then I have to work on her sister's laptop. Normally I wouldn't consider charging, although they do insist. However with the elevated price of gas and my busy schedule, I have to consider it.

    In my professional life I've charged two hourly rate: $100/hr and $50/hr. I can't ask Ma and Pa Rancher/Farmer for that. I would think that undercutting what the area computer shops would charge would be acceptable. When I did service work at an Apple Specialist shop we charged a $45 bench fee for all computers and a $75 bench fee for all laser printers, just to take a look at them. Then our hourly rate was $50/hr. The markup on parts was anywhere for 40% to 200%. That was in '98. If I charged $15 or $20 an hour and maybe something for gas if I had to drive more than 5 miles or so, wouldn't that be agreeable with these rural customers? They'd have to drive 40 miles one way to get to the nearest town with a computer shop. With gas prices the way they are, that adds up fast.

    One thing I don't hesitate to do is recommend buying a new computer. Most of these rural folks have ancient systems, at least by today's standards. If the machine is still useable and they understand that they can't run new software on the old machine, I'll help them fix it, even if it's replacing hardware like a bad HD. I highly recommend they replace the machine if they are trying to run new software on a circa '97 Windows 95 machine. It's just too old. I also never recommend the buying computers at the area Ma and Pa computer stores. I always recommend they buy from a larger company with an established reputation, support and warranty system, and will be here next month or next year when the machine has problems. I recommend Dell or Gateway to those people. I tell them about the back to school specials and help them find a system that fits their needs. I figure that's a much better suggetion than to tell them to go to Best Buy or CompUSA and pick up the special of the week. Sure the individual piece of hardware has a warranty, but if Ma and Pa Computer Shop closes up, they're not going to be able to find anyone else willing to figure out what's under warranty and what's not on an old machine. Thoughts on this?

    I always set the folks up with some of the better pieces of free software like Mozilla or Firefox, Thunderbird, AntiVir, AdAware, and others. I tell Windows to auto-update without user interaction (something I'd never do on my own machine, but something that necessary on a novice's computer IMHO).

    I'm not sure what the best price range is but I know one thing. We can't afford to do it for free all the time.

  • by d_strand ( 674412 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:55PM (#11609739)
    You should certainly charge your friends friends, just like say, a doctor, would do. But dont charge your really close friends and family. Say 'Sorry i just dont have the time, a job like that will take an entire day' or something if it's a big job. If you start charging money from your friends they'll think you're an ass, no matter how justified you are.
  • $499 (Score:5, Funny)

    by b1t r0t ( 216468 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:56PM (#11609741)
    $499, but that's for a one-time fix. [] No more spyware, no more viruses.
  • My standard (Score:5, Informative)

    by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:56PM (#11609744) Homepage Journal
    Business Relationship only- $30/hr or $100 for Virus/Spyware Detection & elimination flat rate. $5 off the hourly rate or $25 off the flat rate to family and friends. Seems to be just about right- and it's less than CompUSA charges for the same service, so it's competitive.
  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:56PM (#11609757)
    With home users, you can have 1,000 customers and make yourself wealthy. You will also be serving 1,000 tyrants with 1,000 problems who if they write you a check for a nickel will think you owe them your first born.

    With mid-size companies, you can have 100 customers and make yourself wealthy. You will also be serving 100 tyrants with 100 problems who if they write you a check for $100 will think you owe them your first born.

    With large-size companies, you can have 5 customers and make yourself wealthy. You will also be serving 5 people who don't give a rats ass what you do or don't do for them and who if they write you a check for $100,000 will think it's OK if you don't return their call for a few weeks.

    This is a slight exaggeration but the basic tenet is true. Don't focus on small fish or you'll be sorry.
    • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:34PM (#11610334) Homepage Journal
      The gist of your post is that people think they're owed free support everytime they hose their machines with spyware since they paid for it and think that "obviously the problem wasn't fixed the first time around".

      My fiance is a speech pathologist and told me about an ethical point of her profession that could be applied here. She cannot, within ethical guidelines, take money for services rendered to someone who continuously violates their plan for treatment. For example, people who smoke while receiving voice therapy, people who don't practice their speech as they're told, generally people who make no effort to help themselves.

      A boilerplate agreement that customers who don't run antivirus/spyware packages, don't use firewalls, insist on opening strange attachments,etc have support services terminated may get people to take this stuff seriously.
    • by Dragoon412 ( 648209 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:35PM (#11610352)
      Mod the parent up.

      Detroit has one of the worst job markets in the country right now; especially in IT. So, I decided rather than compete, I'd start my own business repairing home users' PCs - I charged $65/hour, less than those incompetant know-nothings from the Geek Squad, and provided good service. I had happy customers, and made a good living without wasting an entire day rotting away behind a desk.

      For about 3 months, it was great, then I started expanding my customer base. For every good, repeat customer I had, I had to deal with 3 other know-nothings that'd break break their systems the moment I walked out the door, then call me back, demanding I "fix it right." Education? It was worthless. Switching browsers? They'd agree to try Firefox, and be back using IE 5 minutes later.

      I had some customers who made it their point to visit every shady poker, porn, and warez site on the web, open every attachment on every strange email, and somehow break any anti-virus solution I implimented. Then, they'd call me up and want me to either come back and fix it (for free), or sit there and walk them through it on the phone.

      These days, I have a low-level support job part time and go to the university full time. I make about 1/5th what I did a year ago, but there isn't a regret in my mind about leaving that business behind. It was miserable and frustrating. Now, I just do PC work for friends and family, and am trying to get them all converted over to Macs, since they're largely idiot-proof. And when I do tech support? They understand it's not a permanant fix, especially if they don't follow my advice, and I don't charge. Make me dinner, do me a favor, buy me some beer, just... whatever. I won't take money, because the second it reaches that level, they think you owe them
      • Your attitude about dealing with customers is similar to at least 1,000 others here.

        The BOFH would electrocute you pansies and laugh while doing it.

        The same misanthropic personality that drives so many of us to become geeks, sitting in basements playing D&D or celebrating when troublesome code finally compiles does not translate well into a capitalist, opportunistic state of mind. While we're all too happy to spawn camp somebody anonymously over the internet, ruining his evening of fun (everybody has

  • by th1ckasabr1ck ( 752151 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:57PM (#11609764)
    Whenever I do something like that it's more of a "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" type of deal.

    I'll fix your computer if you babysit my kids next Friday.

  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:58PM (#11609787) Homepage Journal
    of 10 things to check/do before asking me for help (anti-virus, spyware, windowsupdate, etc...). Most stuff gets taken care of in this step.
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:02PM (#11609872)
    Or 40 dollars per visit. First off, this is a fraction of what Best Buy would charge for similiar service, secondly you deserve it, and lastly they will take your advice seriously if they know its going to cost them 40-50 dollars to fix another spyware/virus infestation. If you charge next to nothing they'll ignore your advice, treat you like some idiot savant who doesnt know his own value, and pester you with phonecalls because they have not learned proper PC hygeine.

    Sure, you will lose customers this way, but those are customers you'd want to lose anyway. The cheap naggers who are unwilling to learn anything aren't worth the trouble.
    • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:06PM (#11610847)
      You'll have a pretty hard time making money in this business at $20 / hr. Let's do the math.

      First, think about the total number of hours you're able to bill in a week. Trust me when I say that you will have a hard time billing more than 50% of the time you spend "working", based on the amount of time you spend travelling getting to and from customers, the time you spend dealing with the financial side of being self-employed, the time you spend getting new business (even taking phone calls or e-mails from prospective customers) and such.

      Assuming a 40 hour work week, that's 20 billable hours a week, or (assuming a 2 week vacation), 1000 billable hours a year. At $20 / hr, you're billing down a whopping $20k.

      But wait... you don't get to take all that home. First of all, you need liability insurance and professional errors & ommissions insurance. That is, unless you feel like going bankrupt when someone trips over the bag you left in the middle of the floor and gets brain-damage from hitting their head on a table.

      There's also health insurance, which you have the honor of paying for yourself. And self-employment taxes to uncle sam. And an extra phone line. And that new laptop, external hard drive, copies of Quickbooks, Acronis True Image, etc.. etc.. etc..

      In fact, it's quite common for independent consultants to "take home" only 50% of what they "make".

      And anyway, if you're any good, you're worth more than $20 / hr. Take a hint from the plumbers and electricians... $80/hr+ is really what you need to be thinking.

      And if someone complains about $80, tell them to call up "Geeks on Call" or "Geek Squad". Geek Squad doesn't show up for less than $160 guaranteed.

      • Also, charging the going rate (which runs $35 to $100 an hour depending on your market) does several things:

        It hurts the client's pocketbook just enough that they recognise they've "bought a breakable", and they're more likely to make some effort to keep it "unbroken". So they're more likely to do as told when it comes to avoiding spyware etc. If they persistently and KNOWINGLY do stupid things, you're not charging them enough (the pain in their wallet isn't yet bad enough to discourage the bad behaviour).
  • Beer! (Score:3, Funny)

    by sulli ( 195030 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:10PM (#11609972) Journal
    Buy me beer and I am very helpful. No beer, no virus scan.
  • by gregm ( 61553 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:10PM (#11609973)
    I charge them hard if I'm on-site... especially if it's some residential person who's just too lazy to disconnect their computer and bring it in.

    If they bring it in to me I take it home and only charge for the time I actually work on the thing.

    IE if I have to run spybot I charge for the time installing it and starting it and then I kick back and watch some tv or flip over to my computer and read slashdot. An hour or 2 later I'll check on their computer and clikc a few clicks and then go back off the clock while it reboots or whatever.

    This has worked out well for me and with a KVM switch it's no big deal to work on 2 or 3 computer simultaneously.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:11PM (#11609984)
    A pound of flesh, no more or less, not even to the twentieth part.
    • Just don't forget to mention in the specifics that in taking that pound of flesh, the person in question may or may not bleed, and this isn't your problem, and it's their responsibility to have adequate medical care, spare blood, and cleaning supplies handy, as may be required.

  • by The-Bus ( 138060 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:13PM (#11610005)
    If I was in your position, I would do the following:

    First off, don't charge anything to anyone in your immediate family or friends. This ideally should be a group of at most about five people.

    Second, think about the possibility of trading and/or bartering services, whether formally or informally. Surely at some point it will be beneficial if you can count on free/reduced services from, say, a plumber, or a real estate agent, or an attorney, or any number of people.

    Then charge everyone else. I would do it officially and get a business license which is probably not too expensive and you can recoup the costs after 25 hours of work, I would guess. (Again, maybe an accountant or attorney can help you incorporate in this case). Then charge something like $25 per visit plus $15 per hour, or whatever you feel your time is worth. The people you are charging are customers, and you are legitimately providing services to help them. I would certainly "fix it right" the first time and maybe offer a sheet or two of common traps so that they don't have this problem in the future.

    There's franchises that already do this, like Geeks on Call [] (disclaimer: I have no ties with them whatsoever). More than likely you will want to do something smaller.

    I suggest creating a company or getting a license (plus listing any certs you have helps) because eventually you might be the guy to help a small business at which you can easily make a lot of money. Also, when its a company (and not "my brother-in-law Steve, he's great") it's OK to charge more because people expect overhead, etc.

    I would only do this final step if you're really interested and if it seems worthwhile. You can always have a very high rate that is charged to businesses but you help residential customers for less on the side.

    Basically, do it right and all the way or don't do it at all and stick to helping close family members and those whose services you might use in the future. The third step is what can easily cause you to go from a casual helper to someone who can make a decent chunk of change.
  • by sjmikeh ( 621130 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:13PM (#11610011) Homepage
    I get asked this all the time. I do not charge family, or friends but I let them All know I do this kind of work as a side business and please refer people to me. This is an easy way to clue them in that you will not fix there friends machines for free.
    However. Unless they have a specific software issue that requires windows I set them on the path to getting a mac next time around. If they cheap out and buy another PC, I simply do not help them, or charge or barter.

    My rate is $65 minimum 2 hours. If its a business I charge more. I do not charge for phone calls or email support but when I am called out I always round up and they have allready called me a few times.

    I do not fix win95, 98 or ME. I will only install a fresh purchased version of XP if the machine can't take it then I walk them through getting a Mac Mini or a Dell if they must have windows for something. Most people seem to want more power any how, and a lot of my calls start with I just got this digital camera.
  • Support Linux only (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lispy ( 136512 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:14PM (#11610023) Homepage
    I support my mom, my neighbour, my exgirlfriend and a few friends. All of them were willing to switch to Slackware/Dropline desktops for different reasons (cheap programming environment, plain mail and office uses, no hassle with viruses and so on).

    Most of the time they get free support since it is fun to teach them how to use Linux and mostly the boxes are in good shape. Regular issues are "This movie won't display / Codecs", "I can't connect to my Windowsmachines / Samba", "My instant messenger won't work / When MSN changed their protocol again *sigh*".

    Back when I was fixing Windows machines I didn't charge anything since it made them feel as if they owned my sparetime and called me whenever they wanted. What's more, everytime it breaks again you are the one to blame.
  • So far, $0 dollars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by British ( 51765 ) <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:23PM (#11610175) Homepage Journal
    For the rare times I see my dad, i don't charge him a thing for his monnthly comptuer fixes. He did learn a lesson where he lost numerous photos's from my sister's graduation, since he paid $60 who essentailly reformatted his win2K setup(which I setup, TWICE!) to WinXP. No backups were made.

    I did have to call a line where he had a friend who's son wanted a PC. You can guess who he wanted to help them. I drew a line and just gave them the number to Tran Microsystems(where I buy my systems at).

    While I have made no money, I did get a free 40 gig hard drive that he unneccessarily purchased.
  • by stimpleton ( 732392 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:26PM (#11610212)

    Rule: Once you accept money for a service, the relationship changes. I fix computers for the odd friend. I do not charge.

    I fix computers for customers who I do charge.

    So what about the compost?

    I like to garden to relax. I also maintain a triple bay compost area at the back of the section. I generate more compost than I can use. I started offering bags of compost to friends for free.

    Some months later, my wife pointed out that the bags I purchased to put the compost in, had cost $200. Works out to about .50c per bag.

    I starting asking for a coin donation for the compost to cover the cost of the bag, I would explain to the people.

    In the first 2 weeks of "selling" 5 bags, I recieved 5 "feedbacks". Previously I recieved none over 2 years, over maybe 100 bags given away.
    Comments I recieved were:"

    - "But I bought a bag last time, I don't have to pay for another?"
    - Recieved a call from the wife of a customer, saying there was a milk bottle cap in the compost. Could she bring it back and get another bag of compost.
    - "I don't have any change, can I give it to you later?"
    - "Oh, thats a bit expensive. You can get twice the amount of compost from the garden centre.". ( I later learn that thats per bucket, and the liners you can buy for the cars Trunk(US), boot(UK, Aus, NZ) cost $2.00.

    I have gone back to giving it away.
  • by nordicfrost ( 118437 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:32PM (#11610306)
    They agree to follow my advice. I tell them that I will help them, but they have to follow my advice, without complaints and do some minor adjustments to their behaviour that will in the end help them.

    First out was my mom. The replaced her win95 PC with an iBook on my advice. Tech support calls from her went from 3 a week to 6 pr YEAR. Lately she has called, the ISP randomly resets the cable modem for some reason and she has to reboot it. It's OK.

    Second was my GF. She wanted a portable to do school work and internet connectivity. So I said to her"Honey, I love you. But I'll be damned if I have to support that XP Dell you're looking at. If you buy it, you won't get and advice from me". She bought an iBook, support issues for 1 year 3 months: One. IPhoto screwed up and I had to reimport the pictures for her. She does call me when MSN is down though, like right now for example.

    Third was a company of a friend. They asked me what computers they should buy to replace a broken win2000 box. They type, email and surf. Nothing more. I adviced them to buy eMac for the office and a Dell linux server for the backend. After calling Dell, they ended up buying a Dell front end system close in price to the iMac, with a CRT (!). It was infected with a virus within the day and they called me. Answer: "No, you didn't follow my advice, I don't offer support". Simple as that. Now they're up shit creek and Dell simply states that viruses (or the spyware they got in between) isn't part of their support plan.

    My time is valuable to me, so I don't let others treat it like it is worthless.
  • by 314m678 ( 779815 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:36PM (#11610374)

    Exploitation begins at home.

  • Computer Matrimony (Score:3, Informative)

    by MajorDick ( 735308 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:37PM (#11610394)
    If there was ever , and I mean EVER a way to get Married to a computer, working on it for a friend/family member is it.

    They might as well hand out a Marriage Liscence when you repair it, because (assuming you always do it right as I do) any time ever in the future anything at all goes wrong with it they will call YOU.

    The trick is getting OUT of doing repairs for friends and family, me I just become my grumpy self, and tell them word for word what I am thinking while I repai their system. THEN They ONLY ask ifits serious and nobody else could help, at that point for FAMILY I will help.

    The easiest way to "HELP" a few friends to get them out of the habbit of asking you is copy all their files off, and wipe the machine and when they say where are my files you say "Oh you needed those ?" and after a day or so say Oh I forgot and made a backup, the near scare willl prevent them from EVER asking you again, I promise....
  • by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:44PM (#11610524) Homepage
    I used to do tech support for friends and family. And I was more than willing to do it for free. But it simply got too annoying. I got in too many situations where they would second guess what I was doing and offered their own asinine and ignornat solutions. It got to the point where I was tired of saying before I left, "Look, if you're so knowledgeable, what am I doing here? I guess I'll just leave."

    If someone wants my help, I''m more than willing to give it. But they really have to want it first.
    • I'm sorry, I don't remember posting my personal experience more than once, but since I've been modded redundant, I must have done it by mistake somehow. I'll try my best not to do it again.
  • there are three.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:52PM (#11610642) Homepage Journal
    ....whitebox shops around here that do "computer fixin'" which is usually just cleaning up borked windows installs from bad internet mojo, they are getting around (all similar, close enough) 60 dollars an hour for that service. No flat rate I have seen unless it's just a complete wipe and reinstall. If the customer wants all or most of their data intact, they tote the freight for at least an hour or no fixy for cheap. So there's an answer from bubbaland.

    And that's why you won't see windows leave the market anytime soon, because this is the LEAST money being made by IT "professionals" off of windows being on almost everyones computer. The LEAST amount. "They" -any random windows IT professional, may claim publically they want excellent products, reality is that windows being as goobered up as it is is a hundred billion dollar (some large @55 number) make-work phony baloney business now,it is designed to perpetuate a near functional but never quite finished by design and intent highly lucrative perpetual cash cow, with thousands of people (or millions no idea really)now grown dependent and complacent on that easy money income. It's not a legit business anymore, it's a crime racket as far as I am concerned, a silent cartel of cooperating profiteers, large,medium and small sizes. From MS itself to the local computer herdsman, it's moo baby moo gimmee the money. Ha!

    There's little to no profit in selling computers that work and don't break. Just like cars to beat that old dead analogy horse one more time. The hardware NEEDS to crap out soon after warranty and the software has to be in a perpetual state of beta ware, although it's all "licensed to use for your economic and sanity inconvenience" as a finished product. And that's why there is NO warranty with consumer software as well.

    So, sock it to those folks who absolutely insist on using windows, that's exactly what it's designed for, to make you money. It's secondary reason is to function as software, but primarily, it's a cash cow, milk it. Charge em.

    Yes I am cynical, no I don't use windows on the intarweb, never. I use linux or mac. I have a few old boxes and a laptop that have windows on them, but there's a decent airgap between them and the WWW, not that it isn't possible, it's that I simply don't care about trying to make windows function on the web, it's like bolting a wing on your yugo and applying flame stickers. Waste of time, IMO. I have never had any desire to even much "learn" windows because it became obvious as all get out with win95 what the scam was going to be, perpetual beta ware that you will be charged for.
  • by snuf23 ( 182335 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @04:57PM (#11610720)
    Is that you must drink the beer while doing the support. Preferably slam two or three before getting started ("I just need to warm up before I get to work"). Make sure to keep the person you are doing the support for in the room with you by constant conversation.
    When you start to work on the computer do so in a distracted manner - keep talking and babbling while glancing back and forth at the screen. Horror stories about computer problems you've fixed (real or imagined) are good, but especially comments about things you've done that have fucked up computers. "Yeah I used to think anti-static wrist wraps were for pansies, then there was the time I blew out an entire system from one little spark. Damn, over $1000 in damages, just from my stupidity. Oh, were did I put that anti-static strap? Must have left it at home, oh well, no biggie."
    Also make sure to make comments like "Whoops! Hmmm, well didn't really need that anyway.", "So you do shopping on the Interweb? Man you should change your password, that one is too easy to hack." "What are these pictures of? I didn't know you leaned that way." "Jesus! You've got more spyware than the Kremlin in here!"
    If you are really mean you can also play some nice practical jokes while you are there. You know the stuff - make hardcore porn auto launch when you log in, switch the sounds out for farts. Whatever floats your boat.
    Odds are you can do the tech support blind, deaf and drunk anyway but the nice thing is you get to entertain yourself, terrify your friend and quite possibly next time your friend will take the machine to a shop instead of calling you to fix it.
  • by CSG_SurferDude ( 96615 ) <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:05PM (#11610836) Homepage Journal

    $85,000 per year

    Plus health and life insurance, 4 weeks vacation, multiple personal laptops, and I only take calls between 8:30 am, and 5:00 PM

  • by JakiChan ( 141719 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:06PM (#11610851)

    I have been a unix admin and currently am a network engineer. I don't "do windows" professionally. Still, my dad often calls for help. Once I pointed out that as a professor he has a university IT department he can call for help with their computers. His response?

    "Listen, I didn't pay for 4 years of college to get lip outta you. Now shut up and answer the fucking question."

    Yeah, Dad, I love you too... :-)
  • Easy way. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:12PM (#11610936) Journal

    I tell ppl that I do not do Windows (which is basically true). When they ask for support on it, I suggest that they either move to mac or to linux. Otherwise, they can take it into compUSA (which will cost them more than the damn computer).

    Of course, this can backfire. I have moved 6 of my neighbors computers to Linux and about every 6 months, I spend time upgrading them. Kind of a pain, but much easier than dealing with daily calls on spyware, virus, etc. I also help one neighbor who has a mac and had a drive crash and a power supply loss. Fortunately, his system requires as little time as do the Linux.

  • by loconet ( 415875 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:19PM (#11611032) Homepage
    This post has superb timing. I just gave up on helping people with their computer problems. I simply do not have the patience nor the time to put up with the majority of these ungrateful bastards.

    Last Saturday, my dad asked me to help out a friend of his with his computer setup as well as teach his wife about the internet. Sounds good. I went to the guy's house, and noticed that their "high speed internet" was really not that high at all. I was getting 5KB/sec maximum from all kinds of servers. I was told the provider they were using were one of those mom and pops isps with a cheap $20/month deal for their "broadband" package. Fair enough, we could still work with that. Right a way I noticed that their computer was already full of spyware, and also noticed they were using IE. I explained to them, in very simple terms, the benefits of using a web browser that has better security. I recommended Firefox. I installed it for them and told them to give it a try. They liked it. I then proceeded to explain to them the basics of downloading, chatting on their msn account, etc. By the time I left, everything seemed ok, they seemed happy to know a bit more but I did tell them to look into their slow connection since I know you can get a better connection for the same amount of price.

    The next day I get a called from the guy's wife telling me that her "list" doesn't display. I had no clue what she was talking about. After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out what they were talking about, I realized they were talking about their msn contacts list. I asked her if she was having problems signing in. She said yes, "the little green men are not dancing". I figured it might be a problem with msn. I told her to try Firefox and see if she can get anywhere. Nothing, she couldn't get the default homepage. I asked her if she had touched anything else on the computer but she said no, so I told her that it is most likely a problem with their Internet Service Provider and that they should call them and ask them if there are any problems in the area. This woman starts telling me that maybe I broke her computer by pressing the wrong "button" but she was still going to call the tech support people to see what is going on.

    The next day at work while on the phone with one of the company's clients, I keep on an incoming call. It was the guy from the previous day. The person wants to know what happened to his computer, he says the new program reset his settings and now he doesn't have internet. He says it is not a problem with the Internet provider but rather the new program that I installed (Firefox). After 30minutes of trying to explain that it is nearly impossible for the new program to just go and start messing around with the internet settings I gave up. The guy is still blaming me for his broken internet. So, not only do I get disturbed while at work but I get blamed on breaking their computer after I went out of my way to help these people? .. No that's not happening again. It's as if I went to his house to clean his car and got blamed for his dog being constipated! Numerous times I've lent a hand to people who had computer problems to only be taken advantage of and my time wasted. Most of these people have no respect of other's people's time. They call me late at night, while at work, very early in the morning, etc, etc.

    Their #1 excuse is that they don't have time to learn and would rather be told in a few minutes what to do. Well guess what, it doesn't work that way. If you don't have time to learn, maybe you shouldn't be using a computer! If you don't have time to learn, and can't try out things on your own and unless you are prepared to fork out $ for someone to baby-sit your computer, you should really consider NOT using a computer! It is a complex piece of technology that has a learning curve that you should be prepare to climb, it just doesn't come to you in one day. Just like anything else new in life, it takes time!.

    What would you guys do? Until I can find a better approac
    • I wouldn't have installed Firefox. I'd explain to them they need to be selective of what they install and what websites they view. Then I'd recommend Firefox, that's as far as I'd go. Don't try and change ppl's habits and preferences, it never works out in my experience. ...and apparently in your experience too.
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:30PM (#11611201)
    I used to help people with PC issues.

    Now I generally just push people away who have issues unless they have Macs, and I gently point them that way if it seems like it would be good for them.

    I have to admit I did help one guy with a Windows laptop track down a memory problem (using a Linux LiveCD of course)... so I guess I draw the line at fixing Windows, but am OK helping a litte with pure hardware issues.
  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) * on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:31PM (#11611221) Homepage
    A hot dinner usually does it for me.

  • by Frodo420024 ( 557006 ) <henrik&fangorn,dk> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @05:38PM (#11611321) Homepage Journal
    I'm in a similar situation, and I've decided that I certainly do expect something in return. If it's a quick fix for something, a bit of wine or something is nice. If it's more, it depends a bit on how close my relationship is - when working for idealistic organisations, it's less - for a relation of my neighbour or someone similar remote, $20-40 an hour seems fine. It's still cheap, I know I'm worth that, and more.

    I encourage charging people - any way you like. Your work is valuable, and it is good to be appreciated. Will also benefit you when negotiating wages next time if you're in that habit.

    Finally, having people give you something reasonable in return is much better than just refusing to help them. The ones that don't appreciate your skills you can do without :) If too many ask still, you can enjoy being popular and raise your prices!

    Good luck in the marketplace :)

Building translators is good clean fun. -- T. Cheatham