Dave, I am the guy in our little town that everyone calls when their computer won’t work. I don’t know anything about the hardware end of it except I can usually tell when a piece of hardware isn’t functioning. It is usually always a matter of not tended to updates or spyware & virus problems.
Here’s the question: Sometimes I spend hours or even days getting these machines back to good working condition and the people want to pay me for the service. I don’t have any what you would call qualifications for the kind of service I’m performing except a love of computers since my first Timex 2k machine (do you remember that one) and mostly common sense. I don’t feel I have a right to charge with this kind of background. Do you have an idea what program I could take that would give me some kind of certification in this area of computers? Or am I alright charging a reasonable fee for services rendered as I am now? Thanx for your kind input.
Without question, I think that you are performing a valuable service in your community with passion, enthusiasm, a lack of judgment, and professionalism and strongly suggest that you have every right in the world to charge for your time and services.
I think about it this way: when I pay a doctor to help me get well, I’m not paying for her medical certificates, training, diplomas or office, I’m paying for her expertise. In a fundamental way, professional service providers are selling results and I can tell you that I have found time and again that the best credentials and most experience does not automatically equate to the best results or even most savvy service.
You could certainly take some certification courses — the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer program comes to mind — but it sounds to me like you’re already doing what you want to do and that you are producing good results that your customers are happy with. Indeed, they want to pay you, rather than you wanting to convince them that you’re worth it. I’d say you’re in an unusual situation and they’re lucky customers to have you in town!
This reminds me of one characteristic of great companies that popular business author Jim Collins talks about in his interesting book Good to Great: A great company has a leader who is more interested in making the company great than in promoting their own performance. (somewhat of a paraphrase, but you get the idea).
The key idea is that humility is much more correlated with success than a big ego, and that can be particularly tough as a professional service provider because you need to be marketing and selling yourself to generate sufficient clients and revenue to make a living. But selling yourself is antithetical to having any sense of humility. It’s the classic HP marketing of sushi as “cold dead fish”.
So I think you have two great things going for you, characteristics that should let you charge a reasonable and competitive rate to your neighbors and customers: first, you are doing a good job and people continue to ask you for help. That’s a rarity nowadays, especially in PC and computer support, in my experience. Second, you’re humble and low-key about it, which means that you let your work speak for you and don’t foolishly promise things that you can’t deliver. Again, that speaks volumes for your integrity and professionalism.
Should you become certified? Perhaps. I think you’d find the studying and the process of certification valuable, that’s for sure. But do you need to be an MCSE or similar to justify charging money? Absolutely not. Your results are what you’re selling, after all, not your certifications, degrees, or previous experience.
I hope this helps you out and, gosh, I wish I had a PC tech support person in my town with your zeal and humility. Good luck to you!