How to Gain Computer Repair Customers Through Volunteer Work

volunteer-work

Far too many computer business owners get caught up in trying to behave like they are far larger and better funded competition. I won’t name names, but if “black and orange” gives anything away, you catch my drift. They will always outspend you in advertising, outreach you in service area, and be able to pull profits much higher than your own. But so what? If there’s one thing we can learn from the mistakes of the big box stores, it’s that they just can’t cater to specialized needs like us. That’s why even in the face of their presence, computer businesses like your’s and mine still thrive.

Along these same lines, a lot of computer businesses get stuck in the rut of trying to advertise like the aforementioned competition. Large Yellow Pages ads, a vast presence on Google Adwords for every search term imaginable, and the rest of the corporate advertising gamut. An advertising mantra that I’ve followed since my company FireLogic‘s inception is: innovate, don’t just imitate.

I’ve found that hunting for customers through “traditional” means isn’t always the most fruitful way to spend time and money. Google Adwords is great, but results can still be spotty and hit or miss. Local, smaller advertising opportunities tend to be fairly decent but they too have their downsides like uncertain target markets. Relying on one outlet as a means for all of your new work is prime recipe for disaster.

Turning that notion on its head, I thought about bringing my services to my customers instead of having them find me. You may not initially think of it as a gateway to new clients, but volunteer work has become a solid source of new customers for our small business. I’ve not only been able to snag excellent customers through the gift of giving away my expertise, but the relationships and partnerships I’ve built along the way have been steady referral streams as well.

How could something that is innately free and complimentary lead to such a great recurring referral network? It’s simple, actually. Think about why corporations dump thousands, if not millions, into goodwill efforts, volunteer work, and similar endeavors globally year after year. It not only provides channels of positive word of mouth to an otherwise potentially untapped market, but also raises company profile – especially when competition is fierce. Employ this same mentality for your company and you can reap the same benefits I’ve been seeing for the better part of the last year.

Here are some things to consider when deciding on what kind of volunteer work, and how much, to get involved in:

Partner with other local established outlets to give you a platform in your efforts.

People naturally place a high mental stake in businesses who are tied to trusted organizations. It’s the basis for why endorsements in the political realm are so powerful. I’ve built strong relationships with a few local libraries in my area due to the volunteer work that my company has provided for them. We started off with providing a scattering of volunteer computer classes for one library which led to us eventually providing a steady schedule of classes across multiple libraries.

Today my company is a regular staple in providing free Google Apps training and complimentary open-session tech support at these libraries. People have come to trust us not only from the content we deliver but our standing with the libraries themselves.

Fill voids or needs that your community seems to be lacking.

Doing something just for the sake of doing it will soon grow tiring, and people will see past it after a while. Keep your volunteer work fresh and look to meet the needs of your community. While we have been providing Park Ridge residents with Google Apps training for nearly a year now, we decided to branch out and offer a class based around computer and internet security.

Judging from how many malware removals we handle on a monthly basis, this was a no-brainer. The content is fresh, timely, and spot on with what we feel is a knowledge gap for the average computer user today. If you address the needs of your market through volunteer work, they are more apt to reach out to you for computer service.

Boost your company’s and your reputation by “becoming an expert”.

Fellow computer repair industry genius Brad Kendall poses the following quote on the importance of becoming an expert in your field which couldn’t be more correct:
When you become an expert with a niche business, you can target your marketing and get more clients by focusing on the right prospects. When you are an expert, you have clients, not customers.

Volunteer work is just the kind of outlet that you can use to not only hone your message but also to gain the trust from the audience you care about most: potential clients. Going off of my first point above, when trusted local organizations place their name behind you, they in turn reciprocate a level of notoriety for your company which would otherwise take a longer time and more varied means to establish. You don’t need to become the Kleenex of computer service to gain a strong local foothold in your area.

Don’t be afraid to advertise your core services while volunteering.

There’s a right and wrong way to subtly advertise yourself when doing volunteer work. Wearing a placard with pricing of your services while offering local computer classes is not the way to gain customers. Don’t turn your volunteer work into a bonafide infomercial. When we host Google Apps classes, we always allude to the fact that we provide training and consulting services for homes and businesses on the product. Similarly, when we help man the monthly Open Help Desk events at one local library, we appropriately offer outside services if the need arises. Don’t be overly blatant, or else people pick up on it. People are more likely to trust and use your services for paid labor if they don’t feel pressured or over-advertised to.

Consider volunteer work a lead-in for offering full featured services.

I mentioned earlier how my company offers steady Google Apps training classes on a volunteer basis at local libraries. It just so happens that our company is hosting a paid Google Apps Boot Camp series this upcoming summer which is right in line with the same content that we show off in our classes, just taken to the next level.

By providing the free training for Park Ridge residents, it gives us an outlet to offer everyone a taste of our expertise, and if they wish to utilize us more fully, they can sign up for our complete class. It works very well actually. Remember that so called “reputation chain” that I touched on earlier. That concept is fully intact with anything you happen to advertise and offer while doing your volunteer work.

Volunteer work & the positive word of mouth about it leads to excellent SEO.

My company website isn’t anything special, but its organic Google ranking in just over two years of being active is despised by other local competition. A prime example of this free word of mouth is the excellent blurb we got in a local news story about our company’s support of the yearly “Taste of Park Ridge” festival our small town hosts. Not only did that story generate more traffic for our booth at the event, but it built some nice online SEO that otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to so freely achieve.

The best part about the whole thing is how we landed the sponsorship deal. We merely exchanged computer service for a booth at the event and both parties ended up with what they wished for. We got the exposure from the event, and the Taste received excellent complimentary computer work. We have been receiving similar fanfare about our volunteer classes through newspaper articles, and the response has been phenomenal. Do good, and the positive rewards will come back to you in the end. You can read up further about my tips for improving your company website’s SEO from my previous post on Technibble.

No matter what anyone may tell you, there are no shortcuts to a rock-solid company and personal reputation for computer repair. Good hard work, an honest ethic with your customer base, and a willing extended hand of giving to your local community will ultimately lead to better word of mouth than any traditional advertising campaign. I took an entire article to dedicate to this topic because I truly believe this is an often overlooked avenue for new work, and to be completely honest: it has been working excellent for me.

Take note on my pointers above and dip your toes into volunteering your expertise. Who knows, you may actually even enjoy it (as I do).



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (9)

  • Benjamin Sturm (BenchTech) says:

    Great Article my city does similar events throughout the summer months, I may have to look into this. What do you do from your booth Derrick?

    • Benjamin Sturm (BenchTech) says:

      To add to what I posted earlier I actually went to my local coffee shop since I knew their city was having their first biker rally this coming Tuesday and asked if I could sponsor a DJ on their behalf. She agreed and I have a meeting with her Friday to discuss it further. Estimated attendance 87,000.

    • Derrick Wlodarz says:

      We raffled off a Google Chromebook laptop last year to everyone who signed up for our email list on the spot. We also gave away free shirts that were custom designed and had our full company information on them. It was a very good experience overall and we gained quite a bit of business from it!

      • Benjamin Sturm (BenchTech) says:

        Cheapest design to t-shirt store around here is $100 per 10, hats are $140 per 10

      • Tony says:

        But Derrick, what kind of service did you end up providing for the event?

  • Derrick Wlodarz says:

    Buying in bulk will always get you the most bang for your buck on apparel needs. For example, we snagged about 250 tank tops and shirts for handing out at the event and per-unit it came out to a mere $5.50 or so. Sure the end price tag wasn’t cheap, but we STILL see people wearing the shirts around town! Free advertising that keeps on giving!

    As for the service at the event, to be honest, there wasn’t that much. The more pertinent service we provided was for the members of the planning committee which needed home computer support during the planning period before the event. Day of we did very little besides answering a few logistics questions. Very low maintenance, and a deal we will continue striking year after year as long as we can do so.

  • papucho says:

    Nice article! I’m always telling myself that I will hit the street and go into the different businesses around here and offer free 1 hour consulting. I end up finding some excuse not to do so and it’s hurting me. I thinking starting out with a library will help me get more comfortable with “cold walking in” these other businesses.

  • Steve says:

    How did you start your volunteer work and with reference especially to your comment;-

    “look to meet the needs of your community. While we have been providing Park Ridge residents with Google Apps training for nearly a year now, we decided to branch out and offer a class based around computer and internet security.”

    How exactly do you know what the needs are of people/ how did you select the Park Ridge residents and not another area/group. Finding a group/area etc has been my biggest challenge and exactly how people go about research. I get told to find my niche when in fact I’ve always believed ‘everyone’ is a potential client, with a computer, so how on earth would I narrow down and find the information out anyway

    Thanks

  • Teach a class and pick and organization says:

    I mostly agree with this article.

    My brother owns his own IT support company. He does Network support even Programming. He was asked to be a part time instructor at the community college teaching Network skills, Access and programming. They only pay him about $20-25 per hour of class time so it is like donating his time when you consider the out of class time and driving to and from the school 20 miles away.

    This does a few things for him. First it sets him up as the expert to all the students, others at the college and employers of the students (mostly adult students since it is night school). Second, he has a relationship with about 20-60 new people each semester (he teaches up to 3 classes). Finally often the students are in a specific class because of needs on the job so when the class does not fully prepare them for the level of difficulty they have on the job, they come to the teacher, who then may come out to their job for a fee and solve their difficulties. These relationships tend to be strong and on going keeping these clients many years.

    While my brother only gets 1 to 3 clients per semester this way, the clients he does get are very often the type of clients that spends thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per year or per project.

    My brother also selects a non profit organization each year to give 1 year of free tech support. He spends 1-2 days stabilizing their network/server, giving them requirements to bring it up to snuff at the cost of hardware/software purchase and then maintains it for 1 year without charging a single dollar for his time (this does not include programming). he has done this for most of the last 20 years. He has done this with Childrens homes; Museums, Cowtown, Cancer organizations. These relationships bring him a very small amount of work compared to what he gives away. I think you have to want to do this as the payment pay off is other than cash and growth of your business.

    One more caveat. You must be an organized person to do this. You will quickly find that you have no time to make money if you spend more than a tiny % of your time doing free work. Also you have to be good at balancing and saying no or not this time or your free work will put you out of business.