i am 14 and i absolutely love computers, and i’m always fixing a couple, you know, friends, family… doing stuff in school. I know a lot about computers, i’ve fixed this computer to a “like-new” state after being told it was impossible after being struck by a certain virus. I would love to set up a small business to bring in cash, a teenager my age needs cash! I feel i know enough about computers, to help people and fix them. The question is, what do you think the challenge would be, or how should i charge people?? Also, how could i advertise this and how would i stay organized without having computers piled up. I know, a silly little pointless question but i need cash, and this is the most fun way for me!!
What a great question, actually. When I was a teen, I had a bicycle repair business that I ran out of my garage and I used to solicit the neighbors to wax their cars. Lots of work, not so much reward. Sounds like what you’re doing would offer a better payment for less effort, so I surmise right off the bat that you’re a better businessperson than I was.
Now, the biggest issue with any sort of service company is to ensure that you set expectations properly regarding what you’ll be delivering, and have a reasonable policy for both pricing and refunds. Specifically, what happens if someone entrusts you to get a virus off their computer and you end up trashing their disk and destroying all their data? It might seem like a bit more scary a business when you have some adult yelling at you for losing their wedding pictures or the report they need to give the boss on Monday.
You can mitigate that by having a very clear liability policy, a document that they sign when they agree to have you work on their computer that says, in essence:
Print it, make them physically sign and date the paper, then keep it on file.
Pricing-wise, that’s a tough one because on the one hand, you can charge whatever the market will bear (a basic economic theory, actually, that the market determines the value of a product or service), but on the other hand, it’s pretty tough to justify a $250/hour rate if you’re a 14yo working out of your dining room.
I suggest that you call up a couple of the local computer repair facilities and ask them what they charge for basic repairs, hardware and software upgrades, etc., then charge 50%-75% of that rate. If they charge, for example, $75 to install new RAM in a computer, you could charge $49 and get a good amount of business. Charge $25 and you’ll get even more, actually, and as you know, that’s the kind of task that’s pretty easy if you’re comfortable with gear and terrifying if you aren’t.
On the other hand, you don’t want to charge too little, because then you’re undervaluing your skills and won’t have any credibility as a PC tech, 14 or otherwise. If you charged $5 to install RAM, for example, people probably wouldn’t ask you for help because they wouldn’t perceive you as a “real business”.
And in that light, I strongly suggest that you make up some business cards and even perhaps pull together a one page Web site for your business. By having the elements of a professional, you’ll more quickly convey the impression of professionalism, which helps you gain business and charge more. You can get business cards for free from somewhere like VistaPrint.com, and with a bit of fiddling, they’ll look great! Now you can go into the local computer stores and ask if you can stick a pile of your business cards on their bulletin board or otherwise ask a friendly employee to help you get some business.
Finally, remember that people are entrusting you with more than just a piece of gear. Modern computers have lots of memories, lots of important files and even legal documents on them. Make sure you treat their gear with maturity and professionalism and that you demonstrate they haven’t misplaced their trust in you when they give you a computer, laptop or other equipment to fix or upgrade.
Good luck and I hope you can come back in a few months and let us know how things are going!