If like me you’re forever being asked by friends and family to fix their PCs then starting a computer repair business could be just the business idea for you.
How to start a computer repair business
Computers are become ever more common, most of us have them at home and the large majority of businesses depend on them. Yet the average user knows little about how to set-up their PC, install and manage software, handle back-ups, virus removal or how to install and replace hardware.
There are three distinct markets that you can aim for:
small to medium businesses (SMEs)
Technically you could also aim for large enterprises, however they are unlikely to buy from a start-up so I’ll leave them out of this discussion.
Your first step in starting a your new pc repair business will be to determine which market you are initially going to target. Each market has it’s pros and cons. SMEs will be harder to win work with, but the work you do win will be more valuable as it’s likely to consist of long term contracts for regular work – plus as a trusted supplier you will be their first port of call for many if not all of their future IT requirements.
Micro and home businesses are less likely to offer regular contracts but will be more frequent customers than home users and willing to pay more for quick solutions to problems that are stopping them working. Home users will be the easiest to market to, but will generally be more price sensitive and the more of the work will need to be done on evenings and weekends.
Choosing to target business customers offers more scope for providing a niche service, perhaps targeting a specific vertical market and developing expertise in that market.
As well as considering your target market, you will need to think about the specific services you can offer. Home users for example will mostly want help installing, upgrading and fixing single PCs and virus removal. Businesses on the other hand will need more help with network design and implementation, server based operating systems, user administration, backups and network attached peripherals. What services you can offer will partly dictate the market you should aim for.
Depending on the market you aim for it could take you up to six months to develop a wide enough customer base or market presence to provide you with regular work. Until then you need to assume that your income will be patchy, fine if you’re doing pc repair for a second income, if not then please make sure you have at least six months of living costs saved up before doing it full time.
I would suggest starting out from home, you don’t need to incur the cost of premises yet and in most cases the customers will prefer you to come to their premises/homes. In that respect it’s a perfect home based business idea.
Once you feel that you are ready to begin trading I would suggest you take two steps to protect yourself from possible problems related to dealing with other people property:
Take out some professional liability insurance.
Put together a set of terms and conditions that you can hand to clients and get them to sign BEFORE you do any work. These need to make it clear that they are responsible for backing up their data, they are responsible for having legal copies of their software and so on. It might well be worth talking to a solicitor for advice on this. However to keep your legal fees down, do a quick search on Google for ‘pc repair terms and conditions’ first and read as many as you can, then draft your own version including what you want first. Write it in English not legalese and then ask the solicitor to ensure it’s suitable. Doing it this way will ensure the document says what you want, not what your solicitor thinks you might want and secondly will minimise the fee the solicitor charges you.
I’d also suggest getting a new pay as you go mobile phone to use as your business phone. Thus when you’re on holiday or unavailable you can just turn this phone off and still use your own (if you have one) for personal calls.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get out there and start telling everyone you know that you’re now in business as a computer repair person and asking them for work or referrals. You should also contact your local paper and see if you can get a story written about your new business, then enquire about advertising – and never pay the first price, negotiate a better deal.
Writing a business plan for a computer repair business
As a computer repair business can be run from home and is a business idea that you’re only likely to consider if you’re a computer geek like me you’re probably already going to own most of the ‘tools’ you are likely to need. Therefore you are going to need very little start-up capital. Thus you’ll have no need for a traditional business plan.
I would however encourage you to spend a couple of hours writing a simple business plan that documents:
Who – you’ll be targeting as customers.
Where – those customers will be based. In other words the geographical region(s) that you’ll be targeting.
How – how you’ll find those customers. For example, by advertising in the local papers, marketing via leaflets, cold calling or networking.
What – your services will be.
How much – how much you are going to charge for your services.
How much can you make running a computer repair business
Most computer repair businesses charge by the hour. You’ll need to look at similar businesses in your local market to establish what the local market rates are and then decided whether you wish to compete on price (I suggest not) or added value and select your price accordingly.
What you earn will however depend on how many hours you have available to the business and how many hours you can manage to sell. Typical hourly rates seem to range from £20 to £60. Which sounds quite good, however you need to be realistic about the number of hours you’ll actually be able to sell and the number of hours you’ll spend working, whilst not on charge – i.e. doing marketing and travelling to and from jobs. You’ll also need to deduct your marketing costs.
Overall the net result is you’ll probably be lucky to break even in the first month or two and can eventually, once established expect to earn a few thousand per month.
How much does it cost to start a computer repair business
If you were to start from scratch you’d probably need to invest a little over £1,000 in computer equipment, tools, mobile phones and Internet connections. However I doubt anyone seriously considering PC repair as a business idea doesn’t already have a PC, internet connection and the tools needed to repair PCs. So the bulk of your start-up costs will the acquiring a new pay as you go mobile phone and a budget for marketing – initially I’d suggest around £100 per month.
Add to that any relevant costs that are described in the article how much does it cost to start a business.
Buying a computer repair business
Unless you’re planning to buy or build a nationwide computer repair business I would suggest you don’t buy a computer repair business. The reason for that is the average one man band pc repair business will be built on personal reputation so once the previous owner goes the customers that you’ve brought might well go too, leaving you with little to no return on your money.
Equally that means that unless you build your PC repair business into something more than a one man band operation it’s likely to have little or no resale value should you wish to sell-up and do something else.
There might be some franchise business opportunities in the PC repair market, however unless they have a strong national brand (and I’d not aware of any that do) then I would avoid buying into a franchise and instead invest the money in additional market and if you’re concerned about your business skills some good business books or a business start-up training course.
Marketing a computer repair business
How you market a computer repair business will largely depend on the market or markets that you decide to serve.
To market to home users you will mainly need to explore advertising in local newspapers, local leaflet drops and creating a website targeted at your local market. You might also be able to place adverts in the windows of local shops. Depending on your location some of the local advertising/classified websites such as Craigslist or Gumtree might also be worthwhile experimenting with.
If you chose to target SMEs then targeted leaflet drops of local businesses rather than residential properties will still be worthwhile. Direct mail and cold calling will allow you to reach the same audience too, however the real key to getting a good core of SME customers is almost certainly going to be building your network. And no I don’t mean your wireless network! Consider joining you local chamber of commerce, BRX, BNI or 4Networking groups. Look to build relationships with other related businesses, i.e. web designers and businesses that will meet a wide range of other businesses i.e. stationers.
Whichever market you chose, word of mouth marketing is essential, so you need to ensure the customer is always left happy and make it as easy as possible for them to refer their friends, family and business contacts to you. Consider leaving them some spare business cards and where possible try to subscribe them to a monthly email newsletter that you’ll provide with the latest info on viruses etc.
Finally check out the local PC shops, if they don’t already offer repairs see if you can come to some sort of arrangement where you do the work for them or they refer it to you.
When it comes to preparing business cards and other marketing material, make sure they focus on communicating what you do rather your business name. Unless your business name is well recognised brand it’s more important to communicate your services than your name.
Running a computer repair business
The day to day running of a pc repair business will involve a mixture of answering phone calls/emails requesting information about your service and arranging subsequent visits to customers to either carry out the work or to collect their equipment so you can carry out work of longer duration at your base. I strongly advise you to do anything that will take longer than 20-30 minutes at your base this way you can arrange to collect several PCs over an evening/morning/day and spend the subsequent afternoon/day doing the work at your base where without the customer to chat to you can work efficiently on several customer’s PCs at a time – after all most of the work involves sitting watching a progress bar, so you can spend this time working on the next PC. This allows you to maximise your earnings. As you’re out of site of the customer it would be better to offer these services on fixed fee basis – base your fees on the average time taken.
When you speak to a customer to arrange a visit to them, make sure you ask them to have their usernames, passwords and broadband details ready BEFORE you visit them. Also any CDs required to install their software. This will save you wasting time sitting it their home/office whilst they hunt around for them.
As PC technology moves at quite a pace you’ll need to ensure that you spend some time each week keeping up-to-date with developments. That said expect to receive calls for work on older PCs too where you could still find anything from Windows 3.11 or DOS onwards.
Where possible try to carry out some form of marketing every day. Even if you’ve got plenty of customers at the moment. Should demand really become excessive then either offer two levels of service, one a cheaper 7 to 10 day service and one a premium, more expensive service offering 24 hour service for example. Alternately you could hire additional staff and grow the business. Ideally though your first staff should be independent contractors, then if the work disappears you aren’t stuck with an additional wage bill.
As suggested earlier, ensure you have clear terms and conditions, manage liability for data loss and be careful offering guarantees as you might get endless call backs that are unrelated to the original problem. You should get the customer to sign these immediately after you have explained them. They need so at least state that says that they have:
1) no essential data that is not backed up.
2)If some files are infected and removed during the scan, or are damaged by same virus, then some of their software may need re-installing as it will no longer work.
Also check before going out that their version of Windows is legitimate. You need to be aware of your legal responsibilities if it is not.
When you leave with their equipment ensure you leave them with a very detailed receipt explaining exactly what of theirs you have taken. This ensures you can’t later be blamed for the loss of equipment you have never received.
When you do return the equipment at the end of a job, deliver a detailed invoice listing exactly what was done and for home users request immediate payment. Under no circumstances should you offer credit as chasing payment will cost you many precious hours. Equally for business customers who aren’t on a regular contract try to get payment on delivery.
Once you have the basics of the business operating you can begin to consider additional revenue streams. For example you can make additional profit by selling spare power supplies, ram, hard disks, keyboards and mice. You’ll find good cheap ones available on Ebuyer and the like. Once you have some stock always look to up sell as it will increase your overall profit margin.
You could also consider installing a system such as VNC to allow you remote access, then offer to remotely check their PC at a later date.