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View Full Version : Business woes - having trouble charging for "simple" work.


tankman1989
09-21-2011, 01:25 AM
I need some opinions on my situation here. I started a business a year or so ago and I am having trouble getting things moving because I have a difficult time charging people for my knowledge or "expertise". I'd like to know if anyone else here has come across this problem as well or if I am alone in it.

I think my problem is that everything I have learned about computers has become "common knowledge/sense" to me, such as going to the command line and typing IPCONFIG to find out the machine's network config. When I did that this weekend I got the following response from a friends dad:
"Now how would I have known how to do that? How am I supposed to know that that's what I am supposed to do? You know I'd pay you to do this stuff for me, there is often times I just don't know what I am doing."

A situation I ran into this weekend where my friend's dad bought a new computer and was trying to get his email working on it. He had the old machine running POP3 and the new machine didn't have any accounts set up. He was use to Outlook Express so I set him up with Windows Live Mail and added the two new accounts to his app. For some reason I couldn't get Internet access or ping out so I released his IP and renewed it and all was well. I then added a desktop shortcut and quickstart icon, showed him how to open the program, check emails and send emails. I did all this in about 5 mins and the guy and his son seemed really impressed but to me it was about as difficult as filing a car with gas.

So, as I said before I am having a difficult time running this business b/c I just can't justify charging people the "market" hourly rate for doing what I feel is "common knowledge" (to me at least, but I guess not to non-techies). I have confidence in myself and my abilities and I know that I could provide excellent service to all my customers BUT I do not want to take advantage of them as I would not want them to do that to me.

So, can any members chime in on this situation and give their perspective on this or a similar scenario?

I think about it like an auto mechanic; changing spark plugs is usually pretty simple and straightforward and is kind of "common knowledge/sense" (or is it not??) but is it "right" to charge someone $40+parts to change 4 plugs in 30 mins?


Now you might be wondering what I did for him. I added two new email accounts to Windows Live Mail on a new computer he just purchased. Pretty simple huh.!? When he said that to me I didn't know if he was joking around or if he was serious. This man is probably in his 60's and IDK his technology/computer background so maybe adding email server addresses is more advanced than I had originally thought.

Rosco
09-21-2011, 02:12 AM
You should charge. I have a lot of clients that call for simple questions. If i didnt charge i would never make any money! I would charge $50.00 for what you just did. People are paying for your knowledge base. I know it seems like common knowledge to techies but most people have no idea what a pop account is. lol. You will be a lot more successful when you realize they are paying for your knowledge more than anything.

Encrypted Existence
09-21-2011, 02:31 AM
You should definitely charge for things like this. How to fix a broken AC unit is surely "common sense" to the HVAC man but he sure charges!!! I think it would benefit you to put some sort of 15 min. rate in place for situations like this. For example you could charge him 20 bucks for 15 min. instead of feeling guilty about charging 100 bucks for an hour(example). Simply put...no matter how talented you are you aren't going to make any money if you don't charge for your services. Do yourself a favor and start charging.

Xander
09-21-2011, 02:41 AM
In general, if it sounds like it might be a 'simple little fix', I'll book them after my main morning or main afternoon (say, 11:30ish/4ish). This way, if it does turn out to be 'that simple' I can cut them a deal at my discretion. If they're close to my previous call or otherwise convenient (maybe a quick eHousecall), then I might not charge directly but I'll tell them I'll put a note on their account to 'round up' the bill a bit next time.

Larry Sabo
09-21-2011, 02:42 AM
They can't do these things for themselves, so you provide a valuable service -- in their eyes, if not yours. They see it as perfectly appropriate to pay for that value-adding service. When the price exceeds their perceived value, they will search for a lower price or be willing to live with an unfulfilled need if no price is low enough. The search for the lowest price that fulfills the need involves risk, and is a trade-off between quality, reliability and availability of the service, plus trust/comfort. They could get a pizza tech to do what you did, but he/she might just screw it up, destroy or steal data, break things or leave them regretting not having paid a higher price for greater certainty of a better outcome, with less risk and worry. Some say that charging too little diminishes the value they perceived having received. I think in the end, it comes down to self-confidence in yourself and belief that you're just as good or better at what you do than your peers who charge what you do, or more.

RichmondTech
09-21-2011, 02:43 AM
You either run a business and charge or you be the friendly neighborhood computer guy and don't charge. If you try to do both you're gonna suck at filling both roles.

I know how to put gas in my vehicle and step on the gas and brake pedals and that's about it. I know what a spark plug looks like, but couldn't tell you where it goes. That's what I have a mechanic for. An oil change is one of the easiest things you can do to your vehicle (so I've been told) but I've never done it. My mechanic has all the tools, the space, and the expertise to do it in no time. I could spend the whole afternoon underneath my vehicle monkeying around with it myself. No thanks.

It's not that I don't have a desire to learn to do it myself (eventhough I really don't), it's just that we're all here for something and the more time I spend monkeying around with things I'm not good at is time that I'm not spending honing the skills that I am already good at. If I do something simple for a customer and they feel silly I tell them we're all here for a reason. My accountant customer can file taxes better and faster than I can, my restaurant customer can make a pizza better and faster than I can, and my mechanic customer can fix my vehicle better and faster than I can. I can fix computers better and faster than they can. win/win

I wouldn't even do a 15 minute rate. Keep it at 30 or 60 minutes minimum. Yeah it may have been an easy fix that didn't take a long time, except it did take you time and gas to get there. You also have business expenses that have to get paid for. Also the time you spent doing this quick job is time you had to bump a longer paying job. Trying to hit your numbers 15 minutes at a time is tough. Charge. You won't be helping your customers any if you don't charge and go out of business because you're out of money.

thecomputerguy
09-21-2011, 03:01 AM
Don't try to impress people with your ability to fix problems at lightning speed, it puts doubt in your head about whether what you did was worth what you should be charging for it.

What if he called pizza tech and they guy spent an hour googling pop settings and other various things because he wasn't as "good" as you? The difference is he still gets paid for lesser quality work, he gets to eat ... you don't. It isn't fair to yourself or your customers to charge less than what you are worth because eventually you will run out of money, go out of business, and now you are broke with no job and they don't have a computer tech anymore because you are serving tables.

Use your speediness or your ability to quickly fix "common sense" problems as an opportunity to upsell. Customers should be well aware of what you charge before you do any work and if you finish quickly there are plenty of things you can do to kill time and BS with the customer.

I turn 5 minute jobs into 60 minute jobs easily.

What happens when you do a simple common fix problem, put your stamp on it and call it fixed in 5 minutes then they call back and say whatever you just did caused their printer to stop printing. Now you are going back out there for an issue you should have charged for in the first place because now what you did created a new problem for them (or that is how they will see it).

Don't cheat yourself

Tony_Scarpelli
09-21-2011, 06:13 AM
I need some opinions on my situation here. I started a business a year or so ago and I am having trouble getting things moving because I have a difficult time charging people for my knowledge or "expertise". I'd like to know if anyone else here has come across this problem as well or if I am alone in it.

I think my problem is that everything I have learned about computers has become "common knowledge/sense" to me, such as going to the command line and typing IPCONFIG to find out the machine's network config. When I did that this weekend I got the following response from a friends dad:
"Now how would I have known how to do that? How am I supposed to know that that's what I am supposed to do? You know I'd pay you to do this stuff for me, there is often times I just don't know what I am doing."

A situation I ran into this weekend where my friend's dad bought a new computer and was trying to get his email working on it. He had the old machine running POP3 and the new machine didn't have any accounts set up. He was use to Outlook Express so I set him up with Windows Live Mail and added the two new accounts to his app. For some reason I couldn't get Internet access or ping out so I released his IP and renewed it and all was well. I then added a desktop shortcut and quickstart icon, showed him how to open the program, check emails and send emails. I did all this in about 5 mins and the guy and his son seemed really impressed but to me it was about as difficult as filing a car with gas.

So, as I said before I am having a difficult time running this business b/c I just can't justify charging people the "market" hourly rate for doing what I feel is "common knowledge" (to me at least, but I guess not to non-techies). I have confidence in myself and my abilities and I know that I could provide excellent service to all my customers BUT I do not want to take advantage of them as I would not want them to do that to me.

So, can any members chime in on this situation and give their perspective on this or a similar scenario?

I think about it like an auto mechanic; changing spark plugs is usually pretty simple and straightforward and is kind of "common knowledge/sense" (or is it not??) but is it "right" to charge someone $40+parts to change 4 plugs in 30 mins?


Now you might be wondering what I did for him. I added two new email accounts to Windows Live Mail on a new computer he just purchased. Pretty simple huh.!? When he said that to me I didn't know if he was joking around or if he was serious. This man is probably in his 60's and IDK his technology/computer background so maybe adding email server addresses is more advanced than I had originally thought.


I pay $40 for an oil change. Not because I don't know how to do it but because I don't want to do it. The issue isn't what you know or don't know. You offer a service, you get paid for it.

I think if you don't have a head for business and unless you can reconcile yourself that you are in business to make money then you should start looking for a job. This is not a criticism. My brother is one of the best technologists I know, yet he could not charge people for what he knows. He now works for 3x what he could make self employed,

tankman1989
09-21-2011, 07:49 AM
Thanks for all the excellent replies guys, they are exactly what I needed! Just for the record, I am one of those DIY guys so I view things a little differently. I do see how the "other side" lives where they work hard at their job(s) so they can pay other people to do the work that needs to be done. Me, I just like learning new "crafts" so it is a paying hobby if you will.

Anyway, thanks again for the responses. This gives me some peace/piece of mind about charging.

RegEdit
09-21-2011, 07:58 AM
I provide free online instructions on how to do the basics of maintenance... error check the drive, remove unneeded programs under add / remove programs, defragment, disc cleanup, and scan for viruses. I openly tell people to visit my site to see how it's done so that they can do it themselves. Some people still can't figure out how to do it. If so then I charge $30 for a simple tune up, which includes some tweeking of msconfig.

Also when someone brings in their computer for the first time I'll take a look at it and see if they really have a big problem or not. For example I had a guy come in the other day who thought he had a virus. As it turns out he just had about 5 browser tool bars that took me 2 minutes to remove. I didn't think there was any virus on the computer, but just for good measure I ran Process Explorer, checked his hosts file, and ran a search for "antivirus" to see if the search would get hijacked. That took another 4 minutes. I didn't charge him and sent him on his way.

I had another customer who thought that Flash kept trying and failing to install. As it turns out he didn't know that Flash has very frequent updates and that's normal. Flash was fine. No charge.

MobileTechie
09-21-2011, 08:22 AM
Taking the "dad's friend element out of it", of course you should charge.

I cannot see how you can hope to run any kind of business if you feel guilty charging people. How hard it was for you is not even slightly relevant.

TopLevelComp
09-21-2011, 09:22 AM
For friends and family, I don't charge, only ask that they let me do it after hours. I tell them once 'No need for payment' if they hand me money, I don't decline it.

Best friends mother in law, did a N&P, told her 'No charge, don't worry about.' Handed me 50, I took it.

Martyn
09-21-2011, 09:23 AM
It all balances out in the end. If you do a 10 minute job and charge them an hour it will offset another job that you gave a fixed quote for that, for one reason or another, too longer than you quoted for. Swings and roundabouts as they say in the uk. :)

Steve202
09-21-2011, 10:27 AM
If your having problems taking payment for simple things, why don't you ask if they've got any other PC problems they want you to look at?

For example, yesterday I had a lady ring saying her email wasn't working. After about 5 minutes, I got it working and she started receiving her email. At that point I could have got my stuff together, took payment and went on my merry way. However I asked her if she needs help with anything else, which she replied she was having problems her printer. I had a quick look and after 10 minutes got it working perfectly. She was more happy with the service and off I went.

Obviously I wouldn't do this on every job as some jobs take longer than others but with the smaller jobs it might be doing.

tankman1989
09-21-2011, 12:21 PM
I pay $40 for an oil change. Not because I don't know how to do it but because I don't want to do it. The issue isn't what you know or don't know. You offer a service, you get paid for it.

I think if you don't have a head for business and unless you can reconcile yourself that you are in business to make money then you should start looking for a job. This is not a criticism. My brother is one of the best technologists I know, yet he could not charge people for what he knows. He now works for 3x what he could make self employed,

You make excellent points and this is what I needed to hear. You said nothing that I had not already thought to myself but the difference is when it gets down to billing the customer. I get sob stories or flat out lies (from my uncle, don't even get me started on this one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to people praising me like I was their personal IT savior, which I didn't know if they were being sarcastic or not. If it was sarcasm I figured that they knew what they were doing (for the most part) but didn't want or have time to do it themselves. It was always something so I guess it just got to me. Oh well, I'm off with a new business model, one which I hope will eliminate much if not all of these issues.

Thanks again guys/gals!

joydivision
09-21-2011, 12:24 PM
While the stuff above is very easy to us, to even somebody that knows a bit about computers it would take them a lot longer. I can change a power supply in less than five minutes, but that is itself a skill.

This issue has been covered before, that when we get good it takes us a lot less time do things, the important issue is not to charge less. I am guilty of it myself though, a customer which has used me before phoned to say no internet access, the house was 1 mile away, turned up pressed the WIFI button on the laptop and bingo it worked. Only charged a 10 because I would not have been able to sleep charging any more.

Martyn
09-21-2011, 12:43 PM
I used to find it difficult to charge for the odd fix when I was working full time in the corporate world. That all changed now I do this for a living, i need paying and people know that.

smmirza
09-21-2011, 05:02 PM
Someone gave an example of how you wouldn't expect your uncle running a grocery store to give you free stuff from the store. I think this is applicable in the IT industry as well :)

mraikes
09-21-2011, 05:06 PM
Everything already said are good points, but I'd add one more.

As a general concept, your customers aren't paying for the work that you do, or the process that you follow, or even the knowledge that you have. They're paying for a result - a problem fixed.

I have a laptop today that wouldn't connect to the customer's wireless router. They wasted a lot of time with their ISP tech support before bringing it to me. It was a classic case of the wireless simply being turned off. It took me all of 60 seconds to figure it out and get it turned back on in the OEM's wireless management crapware.

The customer will pay my usual flat fee for the problem resolution - the fact that it took me seconds instead of an hour or more is immaterial.

Remember, the customer's problem wasn't that the wireless was turned off - but rather "I can't connect wirelessly". A situation they could not resolve themselves, nor with the aid of some other tech support.

Charge appropriately for solving problems and achieving positive outcomes.

celbii
09-27-2011, 04:21 AM
If your having problems taking payment for simple things, why don't you ask if they've got any other PC problems they want you to look at?

For example, yesterday I had a lady ring saying her email wasn't working. After about 5 minutes, I got it working and she started receiving her email. At that point I could have got my stuff together, took payment and went on my merry way. However I asked her if she needs help with anything else, which she replied she was having problems her printer. I had a quick look and after 10 minutes got it working perfectly. She was more happy with the service and off I went.

Obviously I wouldn't do this on every job as some jobs take longer than others but with the smaller jobs it might be doing.
I do the same thing. Charge $60 an hour minimum. I had a client who was trying to get an old computer that she stored 4 years ago set up for her young son so he could play the latest online browser game all the kids at school were playing. She said all i did was make a beep at start up. With that knowledge I went there and started it up and turned it back off, reset the ram and it started up good to go. I spent the remainder of the hour doing a general clean up and running some cleaners to try to speed up the dinosaur a bit and she was very grateful that I told her she was paying for an hours work so I wasn't going to leave after 5 minutes. Of course it doesn't always work out that way but generally I feel somewhat obligated to either cut the charge lower or just stay a tad longer doing a simple tuneup to justify the charge.

dgast
09-27-2011, 03:32 PM
Simple to you, yes but not to your client. You really should set a minimum price to keep them from wasting your valuable time. In this business time is money or time is away from family and friends if you waste one you lose the other. Besides if they don't want to pay for it they will either waste their own time researching or pay someone, ahem "YOU" to do it so they don't waste their time.

Good luck!