National IT Service Provider Showdown

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!

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Trials and Triumphs: My First Year of Consulting

First Year Computer ConsultingIt’s been a little over a year since I quit my job to start living the life of a full-time computer consultant.  I had been running my business part time on the side for about three years and between changes at work and my growing list of consulting clients, I felt a year ago was a good time to make the transition.  I had saved about 6 months worth of living expenses and figured between that and my established list of clients I’d be off to a good start.

Boy was I wrong!

I can say without a doubt this has been one of the toughest years of my life.  But it’s also been one of the most rewarding.

I’ll walk you through my first year as a full-time consultant.  I urge anyone who is planning on going from part-time to full-time consulting to read through this and learn from my mistakes.
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How Far Are You Willing To Go?: Defining Your Computer Business Service Travel Area

How to start a computer businessThe other day I had a friend refer someone to me who was having a fan error on his laptop.  Pretty typical break/fix, easy enough.  His friend lived and worked in the next county.  It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, so I took the job, called the customer, and set-up an appointment to pick up his system.

On the day of service I put his address into my GPS and the device reports back to me that the trip is going to take 45 minutes.  

One way! 

I gasped at the time, but I had already made the appointment so I decided to bite the bullet and go with it.

In my head, I though I knew how far away this customer is.  If you draw a straight line from where I am to where he is it’s about 20 miles.  The problem is the best way to get there takes you quite a distance out of the way, there’s no straight way to get there.

For a hardware break/fix of this type, I don’t charge a whole lot.  I charge about 2 hours labor and whatever the part costs.  For this particular job I was also spending an hour and a half on the road, not to mention the cost of gas.  I specify on my website that I will charge a trip fee for any travel done outside of my home county, but I didn’t think this job was going to be too far out of my way so I didn’t enforce that rule.

I obviously made a mistake here.  It’s clear that I should have charged this person a trip fee of some sort to compensate me for the distance traveled to see him.  The problem is, I didn’t realize just how far out of my area he was until it was too late.  I had already quoted my price to him on the phone and I would feel sleezey calling him back on the day of the appointment to tack on a trip fee.  I figure I’ll take this hit and use it as an opportunity to learn and adapt.

With that I’d like to offer some tips for techs who do in-home or pick-up service on how you can better handle repairs that are out of your service area.
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Attack of the iPad: The Future of Computer Consulting

how to start a computer business

A YFNCG reader submitted an interesting question the other day via the contact page:

How have you found the new “iPad/iPhone era” affecting your support business as more people use these mobile computing devices vs. PCs/laptops?

It’s a great question and one that I thought deserved a blog post, since I’m sure the issue has been on the minds of other consultants lately as well.  I’ve heard questions similar to this asked of me by friends and family. It also has a tenancy to pop up on discussion forums from time to time. It’s no wonder this is on our minds as the answer to this question has implications for the very future of our livelihoods.

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Why I’m Giving Away My Secrets and How You Can Help

One of the benefits of having quit my job to pursue my passions full time is that, especially at first, I have more time to do what I want when I want. I’ve taken this opportunity recently and met a fellow consultant in my area for lunch. It was a great opportunity and one I probably wouldn’t have had time for had I still been employed. The lunch was fun and we exchanged a lot of great ideas and thoughts on running a computer business in our area.

One statement and question this gentleman asked really got me thinking (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember the exact wording):

“I’m surprised that you’re giving away all your strategies for running your business on your blog. Aren’t you afraid you’re going to help out your competition by letting them in on your secrets?”

I’ve always know that by blogging I’d be sharing with the world my experiences with consulting. I’m aware that there’s a possibility that anything I say can be used against me by my competition. So why do I continue to spill the beans on this blog? After all, it takes a lot of work and time to write blog posts regularly, keeping them fresh and worth reading.

After he asked that question I explained to him my reasoning behind this blog and how it has helped me way more than it can ever hurt me. I’d like to use this post to expand on some of the key points I made to him during that lunch. Then at the end, I have a job for you!
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I’m Quitting My Job!

I’ve been fortunate enough for the past 6+ years to be gainfully employed in the IT department of a mid-sized pharmaceutical company.  I’ve risen the ranks from intern, to help desk, to infrastructure and server support.  I’ve been paid well and treated well.  And next week I’m going to throw it all away by resigning.

For about three years I’ve been growing my computer consulting business in my spare time.  If you’ve followed my progress here on YFNCG you know that originally I had set a goal of 5 years to grow my part time consulting business to the point that I’d be ready to take it on full time.  Right now I have a handful of steady clients, but not nearly enough to make a living.  I’ve discovered there are over a hundred competitors doing roughly the same thing in my area. It’s hard work and I’m doing it without any formal business training.  Yet in about two weeks, roughly 2 years shy of my original goal, I’ve decided to jump into doing it full time.

What would motivate a guy like me to leave a steady well-paying career-focused position in IT in order to run a business in a highly competitive market with uncertain income potential?  One word…

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Website Wilderness: My Business Website is Live!

In the Website Wilderness Series I share my experiences and insights as I try to build a successful web site for my computer consulting company.

It’s been about 2 years since I started my part-time computer consulting business.  During this time I have not had a website for my business.  I have, however, had the domain name reserved ever since I started it.  Up to now visitors to my business URL were greeted with the ubiquitous “coming soon” placeholder.

There are two reasons for the lack of web presence:

  1. I didn’t have the time to devote to designing a good website.  I don’t want to just slap together a passable website and call it a day, I wanted something that I was proud to represent my business.
  2. I didn’t feel ready to take on random customers, preferring instead to stick with referrals and folks from my community.

However, I recently had some free time to put into developing a site, so I jumped on the opportunity and I’m happy to report that Jiffy-PC is now alive and well on the web!

I’ll take you on a quick overview of the website.  This is only version 1.0, I plan on tweaking and improving it often as I can.  I think of a website as a living, growing entity that can be used to constantly test new ideas and marketing tactics. [Read more…]

Tech vs. Tech – Thoughts on Handling Direct Competition

After a multi-month hiatus, I’m ready to slowly get back into posting on this blog.  Look for new posts to start coming in slowly until I get my mojo back!  To see what I’ve been up to over my hiatus, go here.

The Story

It’s high noon as a tumbleweed blows across a quiet dirt roadway.  You’re the local tech sheriff, patrolling your town of customers to make sure all is safe and secure.  Suddenly, through a sun-soaked dust cloud you see a shadowy figure approach.  It’s Blue Screen Bart, looking to take over as sheriff.

“The nerve!”, you think.  Everyone in this town was getting along fine, who was Bart to think he could ride in and stake claim to resolving their technology woes?  There’s only room in this town for one of us!

That’s how I felt a few months ago after learning of the arrival of a competitor to my neighborhood.  Late last year I posted on this blog about how I used a hyper-local marketing campaign to target members of my immediate community as customers.  That campaign combined with word of mouth have been my ONLY means of acquiring new customers for over a year, and so far it’s worked out very well.

With the arrival of a new tech in town, however, the exclusive relationship I had with my community felt violated.  The new tech had one of his friends, a previous resident of the community, post a bulletin on the same board that I used to introduce myself, with a recommendation for the new guy’s services.

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The Importance of Process (and an example of mine)

Before I get started I just wanted to let you know that posts on this website are going to continue to be few and far between.  The project that has put this website on hiatus has been plagued with delays and other things that I was not anticipating.  That being said, I still plan on posting when I have a spare moment here and there.  If you’re still subscribed to my RSS and email list, thanks for sticking here with me! I promise this website is going to continue forging ahead, I have some great plans for it’s future!  Meanwhile, I hope the archives of past articles and links have helped you in your journey!

On a positive note, this part-time business of mine is slowly, but steadily, growing.   This is due in large part to a successful hyper-local marketing campaign that I implemented in my immediate community.  There have actually been times when I’ve had to stop advertising so that I don’t get overwhelmed with too many service calls!

One of the key ingredients in growing my business in my spare time, without affecting the quality of my work, has been to develop processes around what I do. This allows me to consistently provide the same level of service to all my customers without having to reinvent the wheel every time I do it.

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New Kid on the Block: How I Used Hyper-Local Marketing to Gain Quality Customers

One of the many reasons  I’ve been missing in action from blogging is that I recently purchased and moved into a new home.  It’s an exciting milestone in my life, as I’ve never owned a home before.  It also proved to be a hidden gem for finding new, loyal customers for my business.

It’s important to always be looking for new opportunities to spread the word about your business. After receiving a notice from my new homeowners association that they had a community message board, I fired up the computer to check it out and sign up.    It didn’t take long before I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to plug my services.

This is what’s known as hyper-local marketing: a very ambiguous buzz-word that I take to mean targeting advertising to the area immediately surrounding your business. In this case, my target is my new neighborhood.  Methods used for hyper-local marketing can be anything from fliers in the doorway to web-ads targeting local community websites.  An HOA forum is a less-intrusive way to find a couple extra customers, but considerations must be taken to ensure you maximize your potential.

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