Making a living out of being a geek

  Kate B 12:12 09 Jan 2005

Having spent some 16-odd hours recently on some friends' computer, they suggested that we should set up a business doing just that kind of thing.

We then had a long discussion about how the business model would work and we couldn't find a pricing structure that would pay enough for the expertise without being too expensive.

The reckonings went something like this: 8 hours is a day. Neither of us would work for much less than £250 a day (par for the course in our current professions). We therefore did about £500 worth of work on our friends' machine - which she would be happy to pay, pointing out that she pays lots of money to the people who colour her hair, service her car, shoe her horse, give her financial advice etc. But she earns a fair whack and falls quite firmly into the cash-rich, time-poor bracket.

Then we talked about pricing an annual contract, to come out say once a quarter and de-crud and tune-up the machine. Without any parts, we worked out that this would come in at something like £1,000 a year - for which you might as well have a new PC once a year.

Finally we moved on to the emergency callout structure: I reckoned you would need to charge £50/hour and then £50 per hour or part thereof subsequently, which puts you in the same pricing realm as shonky boiler-fixers.

So we think it doesn't work as a business model, but what does anyone else think? Is anyone else actually doing that? We'd aim it at people like our mate and her husband: need a functioning computer, don't know the first thing about it, unwilling to spend time getting to know how to do things like run antimalware software, search for what to buy, carry out small upgrades (ie fit new memory, set up home network etc).

Thoughts? We'd love to hear them.

  Forum Editor 12:58 09 Jan 2005

with people who profess to be computer experts Kate. They call themselves different things, and they charge varyin rates, but it all boils down to one thing - they offer to fix computer problems in the home, or in the office, or in their own homes.

The problems are many, but you've identified the main one - anyone who is truly professional will have difficulties making it work as a business model. That's why so many of these computer fixers are really enthusiastic amateurs. Nothing wrong with that of course - there are hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers who have had their problem solved by one of these people - but in the main such people tend to do the work partly (if not mainly) for the satisfaction they derive from saying they are computer experts.

The problems arise when things go badly wrong, and customers discover that their computer expert has ruined a machine, or it's been stolen from his/her car on the way back to base, or their machine comes back with a pirate copy of Windows installed, or there are missing data files. I've heard hundreds of such stories, plus those that give you the creeps - such as the client who called me to his office to fix what one 'expert' had done. I discovered hundreds of downloaded porn images on a computer that had gone away 'for reconfiguration', and detected that the expert had been reading (and possibly copying) all the clients' business documents.

I've been in the business for many years, and although I admit that I make a pretty reasonable living these days, it was a long, hard struggle. In itially I worked very long hours by day, and then worked again at night to gain paper qualifications so clients would feel I knew what I was doing. I learnt about networking, HTML, and desktop publishing so I could be a one-stop-shop - mainly because there wasn't enough money in specialising then. Gradually the business grew, and I took on staff, but it has never been easy. Competition is fierce in the commercial IT world, and unless you are good at what you do you will not survive.

Quite apart from anything else, becoming self-employed when you are used to working in the corporate world is a massive shock to the system - I know, I worked for a very large multi-national company for a quite a while before I started out on my own.

My advice,for what it's worth,is that unless you fancy dabbling just for the fun of it, working for friends and their friends - to pay for your wine or a holiday - you might be better off sticking to journalism. There are too many unqualified people calling themselves computer experts or professionals nowadays, and they often doing it as a hobby. They'll charge no VAT, produce no proper invoices, and have no proper qualifications, and innocent customers will employ them because they have no way of knowing better.

  spuds 13:06 09 Jan 2005

Like most things in life nowadays, its a case of see what you can get, and not what the actual service is worth. Reality seems to have gone out of the window. Friendly Joe down at the corner computer shop charging £20-£30 per hour or the 'IT' company asking for mega bucks.Over the 2004 year, I had need to consult various 'experts' in obtaining their services. The price ranges from one person or company to that of another person or company for the same or similar service seemed to change by the day or what was on television the night before.

So making a living out of being a geek, could either make you mega rich,mediocre rich or perhaps 'I wished I never gave my day job up' person.At least Friendly Joe may still be in busuness twelve months from now, not very rich, but still running 10am till 5pm.

  LastChip 13:39 09 Jan 2005

If you consider travelling time and time on site you can never recover what the job is really worth, unless it is extremely specialized

"Friendly Joe" makes a living because he can have three or four jobs on the go at any one time. So while he's waiting for one machine to load an operating system, he can be getting on with something else on one of the others or selling products in his shop..

Just take as an example, the formatting and re-loading of an operating system on site. Set-up the format; WAIT. Start the re-load; WAIT. It's all time down the drain, the client doesn't want to pay for. Not cost effective at all.

Just taking a point from the FE's post. On the whole I agree with it in it's entirety, but apart from many unqualified (on paper) individuals repairing computers, there are some qualified people who have no practical experience and frankly don't know one end of a computer from the other. Paper is by no means everything when it comes to practical application, so there are most definitely two sides to this particular coin!

  Eargasm 13:51 09 Jan 2005

"The reckonings went something like this: 8 hours is a day. Neither of us would work for much less than £250 a day (par for the course in our current professions)."

Just wondered if you fancied a swap?

I work in engineering and take home just over £250 for a 40 hour week !!!

  €dstowe 13:55 09 Jan 2005

Almopst daily I get people coming to my studio offering to be our computer expert on a part/full time basis.

Now, I don't profess to know a lot about computers, I just know about using them but, a few moments chat with almost all of these hopefuls tells me that I know an awful lot more than they do about whatever it is that they claim to be their expertise.

I don't doubt that you may know what you are doing, Kate B but, never forget that there are lots of people who would be in competition with you who don't have a clue but still hope to get business and make a living.

One of the big problems is that a lot of people think they know about computers and some of them try to cash in on that with other people who don't have the knowledge unlike, say a hairdresser or a boiler repairer (shonky or otherwise) where at least some talent, training and expertise is necessary.

  Forum Editor 14:11 09 Jan 2005


  Kate B 15:42 09 Jan 2005

Very interesting, especially the wise words from the FE. Actually we've already discarded the idea - precisely because the business model doesn't work for us and because we're nothing more than knowledgeable amateurs. But really good to have your input - it confirms what we suspected.

I have every intention of staying in journalism - it's much more fun! But it was something we were batting around last night and I was really keen to hear the collected wisdom of the forum.

  Sir Radfordin 18:01 09 Jan 2005

I was speaking to someone this morning about the fact the company I am working for pay about £100 to get a network point fitted (normally one bit of cable needs patching in) and he shared his experience of his company where they are paying £200 to move a PC from one desk to the next one along.

I have never been able to justify charging £30-£50 for IT work, yet it is just as skilled (when done well!) as fixing a car or home applience for which you would pay a similar labour rate.

The problem I have found with doing IT work on a self-employed basis is people always expect you to be there and to know the answer. It often isn't like that. As with any self employed work you can't leave it at the end of the day - you always have to be responsible.

  spikeychris 18:41 09 Jan 2005

Our local free newspaper has pages of experts. These range from "John the tecno-wiz" [thats the spelling used.] "The Web wizard" and the Windows guru. I meet these experts most days and as the FE has said its a case of backup [if your lucky] and an FCK devils own corporate copy shoved on the drive.

  VoG II 20:30 09 Jan 2005

Call me an old cynic but I'm pretty sure that some of these techno-wiz characters post here when they get stuck. "My friend...".

Personally I could not imagine this being a viable business model for me. I know loads about some things and very little about others. Still, I suppose if push came to shove and I found myself without payed employment then it could be a viable stocking filler. It might enable me to overcome my phobia about "opening the case" by practising on customers' machines.

Overall, though, for the present I shall continue to dabble in the Helproom.

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