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Old 09-21-2011, 01:25 AM
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Question Business woes - having trouble charging for "simple" work.

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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 02:12 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 02:31 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 02:41 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 02:42 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 02:43 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 03:01 AM
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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
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Old 09-21-2011, 06:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tankman1989 View Post
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,
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Old 09-21-2011, 07:49 AM
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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.
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Old 09-21-2011, 07:58 AM
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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.
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