This is the first in what I hope will be a series of “showdown” type posts where I compare similar services to see which one ends up being the best for my business needs.
Do you need to get more computer repair experience before starting your own business? Not getting enough work for your current business? Want to get some experience in an unfamiliar niche?
When I first started my computer consulting business, one of the best ways I found to get my feet wet with computer repair was to sign up for a national IT service provider. These services basically provide IT support to customers all over the country (or world-wide) by contracting with local techs to complete the work. Each service provider may have dozens or hundreds of techs in any given area in its database that it can call on to service any particular client.
Over the last few years I’ve signed up for a bunch of these service providers and had the opportunity to work for a few of them. My results have been mixed, but they have provided great learning opportunities, especially when I was first starting out.
Below is a list of all of the national IT service providers that I’ve signed up for, along with my experiences with each. All of these services provide voluntary work, meaning you do not have to take any of the service calls they offer you.
Please note that my experiences are based on my education, background, and location and are not to be taken as endorsements or rejections of any one service. Your mileage WILL vary!
First I’ll start with the service providers that I have actually done work for.
Field Nation is by far the most active of the services I’ve signed up for. I get multiple emails a day from this company with work ranging from residential computer repair to server swaps to site surveys and everything in-between.
The sign-up process is a bit more involved than most of the other services on this list, as you have to attend a mandatory training webinar in order to start receiving job requests. They also highly recommend getting a drug test and background check. I did not do this and it may be why I don’t get assigned every job I request, but I still normally do one or two jobs for FN per month, depending on how my own business is going.
Pay varies from job to job and can be negotiated if you feel it is too low (though I’ve never successfully negotiated a higher rate…probably because there’s always someone willing to do it for less!). Some jobs pay better than others and it is up to you if you feel the time/distance is worth the price.
I really like the back-end technician interface of FN. They make it very easy to accept a service order, find out what is required, and upload documents at the end. They pay promptly and quickly.
The Bottom Line: Based on my own experienced I would recommend FieldNation over any other services provider in this article for it’s volume and variety of work, ease of use, and fair pay.
Second on my list as far as the amount of work I’ve received is Barrister. The service calls for Barrister are mostly printer work. It seems they have a contract with many of the major printer manufacturers and I’ve often done warranty printer work on behalf of HP, Dell, or other printer manufacturers.
If you feel comfortable changing out a fuser, or installing a maintenance kit then Barrister is a great place for you. These are very easy jobs, and as such Barrister only pays a small flat fee for the work you do. As such, you should make sure that the distance to the job isn’t too far, and that you’re comfortable and familiar with the work being requested.
In order to be accepted as a technician, you need to pass a printer hardware test. They also require new technicians to fill out some forms by hand and fax them in (who faxes anymore?!)
The biggest advantage of working with Barrister are their Customer Service Reps (CSRs). The CSRs are extremely helpful and will be there for you throughout your service call should you need any help or guidance. Another thing I like about Barrister is that they are willing to negotiate the normal flat rate a bit in cases where you’ll need to travel a long distance or a service call comes in at the last minute.
One of the downsides of working for Barrister is their back-end technician system. It feels outdated and awkward to navigate. It doesn’t work in all browsers, and it takes a while to learn. I previously mentioned the low flat rate, which keeps me from accepting a call that’s not within 15 minutes from my house. It also takes a while to get paid, up to 30 days. They offer an “express” payment option that will get you your money in 7 days, but they take about 15% off your payment for the “convenience”.
The Bottom Line: I would recommend Barrister for those who are proficient in printer repairs and are a close distance to a major metropolitan area, since they only pay a low flat fee.
Geekatoo is a newer service that is growing steadily. It’s very “Web 2.0″ in appearance with flashy graphics and a slick interface.
The interface is, in fact, the best part of Geekatoo. They provide technicians with a wealth of easy-to-navigate options. Much of the information you provide, including education, certifications, etc. will give you Geekitude points that help raise your status to prospective customers. You also get points based on the feedback you receive and the amount of jobs you’ve completed. It’s a fun way to compete with other techs in your area for the top Geek spot.
Geekatoo works on a bidding system. You’ll get notified of a job in your area and then you’ll place your bid which includes an hourly rate, a diagnostic rate (if applicable) and an hourly estimate. You also have an opportunity to talk with the client to try to woo them to accept your bid. This has worked well for me, as I’ve been awarded about 2/3 of the jobs I’ve requested, even though I may not be the cheapest bid. I normally ask the customer more details about the job and explain how I will help them.
The company takes a $15 finders fee for first job then a “small flat fee” after that if you work with the same customer again. From the Geekatoo FAQ:
“Obviously taking 9% of every job on a regular customer is a bit much, so after we’ve paired you with a client who knows and respects you, we take a backseat and charge a small flat fee so you can charge whatever you like without worrying about our take.”
The payments are processed through Amazon payments, which is not my favorite payment system. Once you’re paid by Geekatoo it takes another 30 days for you to be able to withdrawal the money from Amazon.
The Bottom Line: Geekatoo is a fun service to try out, with a unique point system that rewards techs for certifications and completed calls. But be wary of the bidding system, which may tempt you to go too low with your offer. Be prepared to wait a while to get your payment.
This was the company I first signed up with, way back when I first started my business part-time. I have previously written about my experience with computerassistant.com, so I wont go into too much more details here.
However, I must note that I’ve stopped receiving calls from this company. The last time I saw an email from these guys was early last year. I’m not sure what’s going on with this company, but in my area it seems their presence is waning.
The Bottom Line: When I received work from them I was very happy with the experience. However, I have not received any work from them in quite some time.
The following services are one’s that I signed up for, but never did any work for, for various reasons.
Gurus2Go - http://www.gurus2go.com/ - I have signed up for Gurus 2 Go and have received very few service alerts. I have yet to receive one that I felt was worth doing. In order to sign up you need to fill out an application and wait for approval. They try pushing a background check, which is nearly $30, in order for you to get access to Premium features. That may be my problem and I may eventually decide to do that, but right now it’s not worth it to me.
Onforce - http://www.onforce.com/ - I applied to be an OnForce tech but was not selected due to their having too many techs in my area already. Granted I do live near a fairly large metropolitan area, but I still feel like one company can never have too many technicians. The requirements to join OnForce are a bit more strict than others. You’ll need an Employer Identification Number and to trudge through a checklist of over 200 skills to select what you know. Certifications and licenses require verification. If you don’t have your own business insurance, a little less than 5% is deducted from your pay to cover the company-provided insurance.
Excelus - http://www.excelus.com - I signed up but never received any calls.
Geeks Mobile - http://www.computerrepairservicesusa.com - I signed up but never received any calls.
So there you have it. Based on my geographically limited experience, I’d have to say that I’ve been most happy working with Field Nation. They have a constant stream of work in many different niches with relatively decent payouts.
I wouldn’t recommend relying on these services as your sole source of work. Instead, I would use these to supplement your business, fill in the gaps when work is slow, and to help you build experience in niches in which your business is not yet established.
What national IT service providers do you have experience with? Which is your favorite? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.