I was reading a post over on The Simple Dollar, and the site founder answered a question about how to start doing freelance computer repair. I figured this might be something worth posting here, since I assume some of my long term readers are former Information Technology majors.
First things first: Remember, you have an advantage over places like Best Buy's "Geek Squad", or Staples. Why? First of all, price. For the Geek Squad to visit you at home or in the office and repair the computer, they are charging $75 to $125 an hour. I don't know about you, but I can't see myself paying $400 to repair my home computer. You have a HUGE advantage in terms of price.
Secondly, many of you speak multiple languages. Staples or Best Buy may or may not offer that advantage. If you are bilingual (or trilingual, etc), that can only work to your advantage.
Thirdly, you have the advantage that, since you are in effect working for yourself, you care how the customer responds to you. If you help them, word of mouth can be very powerful for you. If you can fix their problem and help them out a little bit, they will tell their friends.
So, how do you get started?
You can start by downloading a basic Word template with the little tear-offs down bottom (or, if you have Publisher, use the templates in that software). Remember, not everyone has computer experience, so list both a phone number and an email address. Do you speak multiple languages? Make sure you put that on there. Same with transportation - can you drive to them? Also, remember, people are concerned about cost - you may want to quote a price (more on that later) or simply say "why pay more money to Staples or Best Buy?". If you want to set up a basic, cheap Web site on a site like Geocities, do that.
Where should you advertise?
There are 7000 people attending PCCC, for example. If you advertise on campus, you have access to all those students (plus faculty, staff, administrators, and visitors). Remember, you have to get them stamped in A202A first, but they typically are very accommodating. Many local businesses will let you hang flyers as well, if you ask. Think of places people wait - a laundromat, a busy restaurant, train and bus stations, etc.
How much should you charge?
Well, this is entirely up to you. How much is an hour of your time worth to you? There are other factors as well. Are you doing something basic (like running a backup for the user)? Are you doing something more complicated (virus removal)? Remember, you are offering a premium service. I would say BARE MINIMUM ask for $30 an hour, and feel free to go up from there. If the person is nice, you can always cut them a break.
How do you keep people coming back?
First of all, be nice. Secondly, get it done right. Thirdly (is that a word?), go the extra mile. If you've cleaned up a virus because they didn't have a virus scanner installed, install a free virus scanner, and make sure they realize you are saving them $75 that they would have otherwise spent on packaged software. If they call you for something complicated and you fix it, ask them if there is anything else that annoys them, and help with that. Ask them to tell their friends.
How do I really build my business?
Get a Web site. You can do something free and very basic on a site like Geocities.com or one of the other 10,000 free Web hosting sites. If your business starts picking up, you might want to invest in your own domain name. Another way to invest in your business - you can get a free or inexpensive voicemail number, so people aren't calling your cell phone and interrupting you. eVoice.com is free for a basic service or $4.95 a month for the "Plus" service that includes a local phone number. Business cards are also a great idea - you can leave them with your satisfied customers, or hand them out. I've found VistaPrint to have excellent prices.
Hope this helps - I've gone through versions of this discussion in some of my classes, and I've always wanted to put it online here, and now here it is. Do you have questions or suggestions? Something else that worked for you? Please add them in the comments and I can address and/or add them.