Start Your Own Computer Repair Business
Are you the one your family and friends call for help with their computers? Have you considered getting paid for fixing them and turning your PC powers into a business? According a recent report, sales of computer services are expected to exceed $4 billion this year in Canada alone, with PC repair leading the way.
1. Know your street value. In the early 90's, running a PC repair business centered around selling parts and products, with service on the side. Today, it's about selling hours. If you run a business, you need to consider the X3 rule. That means you should charge 3x the amount of whatever a technician earns hourly. A computer repair tech in Canada earns roughly $40/hour, so in order to keep your business running, you will need to charge about $120/hour. This additional money is used for website maintenance, telephone costs and other expenses like rent or software licenses you will need to run a solid business.
2. Determine who your ideal customer is. If you're looking to sell and service computers within your local community and remain a one-person operation, residential clients may suit you best. They're generally more responsive to advertising and marketing than small-business owners are. Residential work is less demanding and the market is huge, although the competition is fierce - think Best Buy's Geek Squad in Calgary for example. Another downside to residential customers is that your clients will tend to be more budget-conscious than if you target the business owner.
If you decide to target the non-residential market, think small. Niching is one way to go. Look at your existing contacts. Perhaps you know the principal at a school, a banker or the owner of a real estate firm. These folks may lead you in to an area of specialization since the software systems tend to be similar.
3. Realize that financial stability doesn't happen overnight. It's tough to juggle a day job with a side gig, especially if you're honing in on small-business clients. But if you're not running your business full time, you run the risk of losing clients, especially if you're targeting the business market. If you're not around to answer tech support calls from 9 to 5, they'll quickly move on to the next guy. You'll need to build up a financial cushion--six to nine months salary is advisable, for when you ultimately do turn in your pink slip and become fully self-employed. People tend to make better decisions when they're not worried about their money running out. And while it's hard to relinquish the safety net of a paycheck and downgrade your lifestyle, you have to reach the point where you treat it like a business instead of a hobby.
4. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If your background is strictly technical and you aren't very business savvy, hire bookkeeping or accounting experts to handle the busywork and keep you at your most productive so you can steadily increase your billable hours. You can also invest in software products to handle administrative tasks. A few of the top software sellers, which can help you manage people, projects and processes more efficiently, include AutoTask and ConnectWise.
5. Market your business every day. While you don't have to walk around wearing a sandwich board when you're out on the street, the phone on your desk isn't going to ring until people know you exist. And you can't rest on your past successes either. Whether you choose direct mail, pamphlet drops, telemarketing or web marketing, you need to come up with a marketing mix that works for you. For instance, advertising in your local community coupon book may prove to be a waste of money, while networking at business trade organizations and chamber of commerce meetings may pay off big.
You should put at least 10 hours of advertising time in per week. You've got to get your face out there, go door to door if you have to, to let people know you exist. If you're not comfortable putting yourself out there or handling rejection, you might find this business isn't for you.
6. Keep your skills current. Techies can easily fall into the trap of believing they can pick up new skills on the fly or after quickly reading a manual. But if you fail to partake in continued education and training, your knowledge base may become obsolete. It's the nature of the business. You have to find time to see what's new. Make time to visit such websites as iFixit and CNET to update yourself on new software applications, hardware repairs and to find out about new technology in general.
7. Reach out if you need assistance. There are fantastic web sites out there where you can bounce a question off an "expert" and get a response within a few hours (Microsoft's Experts Exchange charges $99 per year for this service). Learn what you can and cannot do well, and ask for help when you need it.
8. Customize your workspace. Adjusting from an office cubicle to a home office environment takes a commitment to organization. You'll need a clean, dedicated workspace (not the desk that the family PC rests on) with room for a repair bench area for your tools and easily accessible storage shelves and bins. The area doesn't have to be too big to start out with, but it should be able to accommodate at least two tower PCs and monitors. A direct entrance to the area is nice, especially if you expect drop-offs or are employing interns or other tech people to work with you. A converted garage is a favourite area of a lot of techies.
9. Don't sign on the rental line just yet. If your ultimate business goal is to open up a PC service centre, realize that this type of venture takes more planning and management than you may expect. Service centres must operate regular business hours, so sufficient staffing is essential. Capital requirements are also significantly higher than for a work-from-home business, so a comprehensive business plan is essential. Prepare for the worst-case scenario, insofar as cash flow is concerned and make sure you have enough money or access to it, such as through a line of credit, to carry you through the lean times. Take a good look at Tech!Espresso Computer Repair Calgary for instance. They run a very well organized business that does not require renting a store front at all. Their computer repair technicians are dispatched from their homes, directly to the customer, eliminating the need for any overhead expense.
Before committing to a lengthy, expensive storefront lease, you might opt to set a more realistic goal of bringing on technicians within a year and opening up a space where customers can drop off their computers up the road. The added expense of overhead can be dangerous and backfire, unless you already have steady clientele.
10. Hire smart. Your first hire is going to make the main impression about your company with your customers, so be sure to screen candidates on more than just their tech skills and certifications. Your first employee should be driven and well-versed in both technical expertise and interpersonal skills. Before hiring anyone, get three relevant, work-related references and written consent that you may perform a background check before hiring. If you're uncomfortable conducting an interview on your own, ask a friend or mentor with more experience to join you in the process.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bjorn Hufer. Senior Computer Repair Technician. Business Owner. Accredited IT Professional holding TRIA Academy, Apple and Microsoft IT Certifications. Author and Publisher at Vueno Books.