Question of Charging Rates

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Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:10 pm

Hey there, everyone.
So I'm an IT student and still taking classes, but I wanted to gain a little pocket change (in part because I am jobless and my roomie was recently laid off- we need to find some conceivable way to keep up rent when we have no income and I'm having awful luck at landing any job) and some experience so I posted an ad on Craigslist offering affordable local service.

My question is, what is a reasonably cheap price to charge for, say, putting together a computer for someone?
Should I just calculate a rate like $9.00/hour and keep track of how long it takes me to pop all the parts in place? A flat rate of like $50?

I guess I don't really have an idea of how much is typically charged for something like this.
If it helps, I live in the Northern Colorado area. Certain areas are more expensive than others, after all.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:09 am

It is going to be difficult for you to make a decent wage doing this when Dell and HP are selling "good enough" commodity desktops for about what you'd be paying for equivalent parts. IMO the only way this is really gonna work is if you can somehow focus on an educated clientele that demands something more than cookie-cutter plain vanilla desktops, and is willing to pay a significant premium for it.

Potential customers may also be scared off by the lack of a warranty on the overall system from an established company...

You might actually be better off offering to service/upgrade existing systems, rather than build new ones.

Edit: Edited my post with some additional thoughts just as Firestarter was posting much the same thing... :lol:
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:23 am

I would forget about assembling computers, I mean, what are you going to say when a week after you put a computer together, it breaks? It's not worth the time or money. You're better off offering service to remove spyware and generally fix computers. Less risk, bigger market.

As for your rates, $9 an hour is laughably low. I don't know about the average wage and taxes in your area, but I'd say a good ballpark is a rate that you'd expect for a regular decent job, then double that at the least. Remember that for each hour that you can bill, you're probably busy for two. And are you going to pay taxes? If so, that ballpark is probably the very lower limit. Also, don't assume that people will chose your service based on your low rates. Those who do might not be the people you want to be helping either.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:11 am

Pure assembly wasn't my intention at all. I advertised as more of cleaning up computers to regain performance, however I was approached with it first by someone who thought they were buying a pre-assembled computer.

My thought process considered that I live near some recognised IT companies and every time I talked to them about employment, the only thing they ever asked me is how many computers I've built on my own time.

Aha. I laugh, too. Out of cynicism. $9.00/hour is on the edge of a demanding wage for me right now. I can't seem to find any employers around my area (for anything, mind) even willing to pay me that. What's typical of my area is $7.36-$8.00/hour, with some physical labour jobs at $10.00-$11.00/hour.

So really, this is more for experience and to inch me through joblessness until I can find something. Anything. I'm pretty desperate and having a serious bout of bad luck.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:41 am

It's fairly easy to get the Average Joe to agree to a custom build. At least it is for me. I find the best way is to let them play with my personal computer for about half an hour. They are usually amazed at how well it all works, and equally amazed that they only have to wait about half a second for Facebook to load farmville. :roll:

Seriously though, put together a short simple set of arguments that you can easily show them for comparison.

EDIT: When it comes to typical clean ups from virus ridden hell holes, I tell them to give me the tower and 50$ and come buy next week to pick it up. They get a fresh windows install, a PROPER anti-virus, and a PROPER browser. Spend a few minutes teaching them not to be stupid online and call it a job well done. I usually see them about 6-8 months later to collect about 25$ and do a simple check-up to get rid of minor amounts of junk. Repeat service is great.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:16 am

jaHer wrote:Aha. I laugh, too. Out of cynicism. $9.00/hour is on the edge of a demanding wage for me right now. I can't seem to find any employers around my area (for anything, mind) even willing to pay me that. What's typical of my area is $7.36-$8.00/hour, with some physical labour jobs at $10.00-$11.00/hour.

My point still stands though, if you're trying to earn money and only charge say $10 an hour, you would have to bust your ass for 10 hours to bring home $50 a day. Any job on a wage will net you that with just showing up and not getting kicked out. And that's before you even consider expenses (driving to your clients?) and taxes.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:40 am

Firestarter wrote:My point still stands though, if you're trying to earn money and only charge say $10 an hour, you would have to bust your ass for 10 hours to bring home $50 a day. Any job on a wage will net you that with just showing up and not getting kicked out. And that's before you even consider expenses (driving to your clients?) and taxes.

Well, he did say he was interested in getting experience. So that's worth something too.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:41 am

What do you think about providing software lessons? After undergrad, I accidentally picked up a client for a few months. He was a businessman a generation older, and wanted to be more self-reliant with stuff like Office and Quicken IIRC. Financially, it it's more appealling than servicing & building computers for several reasons. (1) They're more likely to hire you repeatedly. (2) You don't have to invest in a bunch of extra equipment. (3) There's less risk and more forgiveness because there's nothing to break, or nothing to fail to fix. I have a feeling there's more demand for it and it's easier to spread by word-of-mouth too, compared to fixing/servicing computers.

Consider including software tutoring in your Craig's List ad (alongside of servicing hardware).
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:48 am

For comparison, when I worked as an on-site tech doing service/repairs/builds for a small mom and pop shop back in the late 90s, we charged $75/hr for individuals and $85/hr for businesses. When I did jobs on the side, I charged $50/hr and my customers thought they were getting a bargain.
just brew it! wrote:You might actually be better off offering to service/upgrade existing systems, rather than build new ones.

Absolutely.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:56 am

nerdrage wrote:
just brew it! wrote:You might actually be better off offering to service/upgrade existing systems, rather than build new ones.

Absolutely.

...and based on the turn the thread has taken, it would appear that he didn't mean to give the impression he was ruling that out. He just used putting together new systems as an example.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:42 am

Indeed. As I mentioned, I'm going for the malware/virus/just simply cluttered computer cleanup but I was approached by someone wanting help in computer hardware.

A couple of my classmates have considered trying to get some sort of small business started, but none of us are businessmen. There's also a huge amount of people trying to do the exact same thing in such a small area, so it seems actually kind of difficult to get kicked off the ground. About the only thing I have going for me, from everyone I've talked to, is that I know how to talk to people respectfully about computer usage. ha.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:47 pm

nerdrage wrote:For comparison, when I worked as an on-site tech doing service/repairs/builds for a small mom and pop shop back in the late 90s, we charged $75/hr for individuals and $85/hr for businesses. When I did jobs on the side, I charged $50/hr and my customers thought they were getting a bargain.

Keyword here being "the late '90s". Them days have come and gone.

@op: For routine tasks, I would suggest developing a rate sheet that allows you to charge by the job type rather than by the hour. If you set your rates right, some jobs of any given type will take more time and some will take less depending on what condition the system is in, and in the end you'll average out where you want to be. Customers purchasing services don't like vague costs and will try to pin you to a firm estimate, and may not give a good recommendation if you run much over. But if you quote a flat-fee up front, the worst you'll have to deal with is an occasional slippery deal-maker who wants to bargain you down. (Don't even deal with that guy, it will be an endless headache.)

A fee structure frequently used by service shops is to charge the customer a small but meaningful fee (say, $15) for an analysis and estimate, then roll that fee into the total cost of service if the customer agrees to purchase additional services. Since most people don't understand the doctrine of sunk costs, once they've committed the up-front fee they're a lot more likely to purchase the follow-up services provided you have otherwise make a good impression. If you analyze it for free, discover a root-kit infested XP system with only 512MB of RAM, and start quoting prices of $130+ for parts and labor, they're more likely to shop around for other estimates or just say "Meh, I'll buy a new computer."
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:44 pm

Makes sense. Thanks for the input, that helps a lot!
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:05 pm

If you need to make extra cash and get a little experience, here is what I'd recommend.

1. Charge a flat-rate - $20 or $25 per machine with infections - offer it free of charge if you can't do it because its too involved or stuff might be lost. As you get some cash, get an external enclosure so you can deep dive the stuff.
2. Get yourself 4 or 5 decent (not excessive) power strips.
3. Make sure you have an easily portable monitor (or 2)
4. Get a few VGA cables (d-sub 9's or whatever they were/are called)
5. Get a good USB drive, load up Malwarebytes, Hijack This, Windows Service Packs and whatever else.
6. Run a Craigslist ad.

Whenever I've had people I worked with from word of mouth, I charged them $20 per machine. Here is the thing: 95% of all malware issues will be resolved by running malwarebytes, and then updating everything through windows update, java, or whatever. Think in terms of volume, particularly when you are looking at running malwarebytes for an hour. You can do this unattended. Spend your time on the 5%, and let the others run and then patch them up. That 5 % will either be really nasty stuff or a hardware issue. Offer to do the hardware for them if it isn't a mobo or whatever. Order through newegg, charge them $20 for installation (which will be all of 20 minutes) and call it good.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:41 pm

TheEmrys wrote:1. Charge a flat-rate - $20 or $25 per machine with infections - offer it free of charge if you can't do it because its too involved or stuff might be lost. As you get some cash, get an external enclosure so you can deep dive the stuff.


While the other points are good I don't see charging $20-$25 a machine making any money. I would think (depending on the area) to charge at least $40 if not $50. Just remember it is never easy to increase rates after you have started. This is especially true with word of mouth marketing. If so-and-so tells their friend that they got it fixed for $20 and then you tell them it will be $30 they will wonder why it is not cheaper and will throw them off.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:15 pm

DrkSide wrote:
TheEmrys wrote:1. Charge a flat-rate - $20 or $25 per machine with infections - offer it free of charge if you can't do it because its too involved or stuff might be lost. As you get some cash, get an external enclosure so you can deep dive the stuff.


While the other points are good I don't see charging $20-$25 a machine making any money. I would think (depending on the area) to charge at least $40 if not $50. Just remember it is never easy to increase rates after you have started. This is especially true with word of mouth marketing. If so-and-so tells their friend that they got it fixed for $20 and then you tell them it will be $30 they will wonder why it is not cheaper and will throw them off.


Pretty sure it would make $20-$25 for ~25 minutes worth of work, on his schedule. The poorer clientele will jump on this. Now, if he spoke spanish, he could do this full-time.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:31 am

What I charge:

Custom builds - Parts + 10% - for an additional $50 I let them build it with my tutelage start to finish.
Spyware/Malware/Virus - $35 1st hour, $20 each additional hour w/guarantee if I can't fix there is no charge.

These prices have worked out pretty well for me.
I work word of mouth/referral.
One you have fixed that 1st machine and the customer sees the quality of your work you shouldn't have any problems.
Especially if they've been burnt by the "geek squad" in the past.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:30 am

Jesus, is Fort Collins that poor? Or where the heck are you? There's nothing but old people in Loveland; perhaps offering tutoring to them would be a decent way to get some money. Especially if you know Apple products since the closest Apple Store with classes and whatever is in Boulder, innit?

Or are you in the mountains or out on the plains or something like that?
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:39 am

I'm going to point out that using the free download version of tools like Malwarebytes to clean up someone's hard drive while charging for your time is probably against the EULA. Make sure you PURCHASE the proper tools if you pursue this angle. Malwarebytes et all deserve to be compensated for their time too if you are profiting from their work.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:31 pm

Scrotos wrote:is Fort Collins that poor?

On the whole, no, but northern Colorado does have a sizeable lower-income demographic. In Ft. Collins, the wealthier half are clustered around either the local university, or a local high-tech industry that spreads south and west to Boulder and Louisville. So, on the higher end there's kind of a glut of supply and a shortage of clientelle that's harder to break into. I've known a couple guys in that area that made a pretty good run of it but they had the advantage of large family and church networks, so word-of-mouth spread pretty quickly for them.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:12 pm

AMD has a campus in Fort Collins, don't they? And NASA is moving into the campus in Loveland that HP ditched, aren't they? I always thought there were some high-techy places in that area but I only go there to visit (in-laws, ugh), I don't live there so I don't really know.

I know that isn't helping the guy trying to get his foot in the door, but my impression of the area was different than what I'm hearing now so it's kinda interesting to get a different perspective than the slow-driving old rich people in Loveland that I know and loathe.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:57 pm

I currently make a living running my own IT company. The majority of what I do is for businesses, in which case they are willing to trust that I can build a computer better suited for their needs than buying a Dell. Yes the only thing that is a drawback to your building a computer vs buying say a dell is the warranty. But I will say this, dells warranties that I've dealt with in the past have been a pain in the ass, then again other times its been great. Its just hit and miss with the warranty. The worst was when we needed replacement parts for a clients server and they sent a laptop video card (yes modular) when we were supposed to get a replacement SCSI card. They sent us the wrong stuff twice and it took 3 weeks.

But.... because I can offer data migration all in one while building a new system I've got one up on dell. You have to realize that having someone they can call on and ask questions of in their own town instead of india holds some value too. When im doing a system build its $125 and I provide support and hardware warranties for the first 30 days. You also have to know that as long as you know what your doing and ordering your going to get much better parts for your customers. While a customer might have 1 or 2 years of warranty with dell... chances are those parts will slightly outlive the warranty and fail shortly after as I've found to be the case. Cdrom and hard drives always seem to fail within months of the warranty. Even if they fail during say the first year... a customer would rather not have to deal with the Inconvience of parts failing when they need their system. Then when the parts do come in they still have to put the parts in their own system lest they want to have their entire computer sitting at a dell repair center for god knows how long.

The moral of the story is that your services hold a lot more value than you know, and I've had lots of my home and business customers tell me that over and over after their horrible oem experiences. Don't under value yourself. Id say charge a flat 75 rate to build and charge a markup on the hardware (not a ton just enough to compensate you for your time/knowledge/research)

Oh and just my own personal thought, don't go to craigslist for work. Your bound to get hobos wanting to trade firewood for your services or something. I tried this and it only lead to broke people trying to get something for nothing. Save yourself the hassle.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:13 pm

Scrotos wrote:AMD has a campus in Fort Collins, don't they? And NASA is moving into the campus in Loveland that HP ditched, aren't they? I always thought there were some high-techy places in that area but I only go there to visit (in-laws, ugh), I don't live there so I don't really know.

I know that isn't helping the guy trying to get his foot in the door, but my impression of the area was different than what I'm hearing now so it's kinda interesting to get a different perspective than the slow-driving old rich people in Loveland that I know and loathe.


While true, those folks are either going to fix their own stuff or not trust someone on Craisglist. That vast majority of people in the areas outside of FoCo or Loveland aren't going to have the funds. But you give them a flat rate, and you'll get enough business that you'll be able to set hours. I've spent an hour with 4 machines running Malwarebytes while I sat around watching TV. Shoot, I should do it myself. As I'm in Greeley, I'd probably do pretty well.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Sat Feb 18, 2012 12:01 pm

The moral of the story is that your services hold a lot more value than you know


and the primary challenge will be to find a clientele that understands the value of what it wants and is willing to pay

First thing to do is to go look at the rate charts for some big box repair places. Often they'll have it posted.

Billing by service done rather than hours and parts seems to be less confusing for customers and that means fewer headaches. As noted by several here, it is the 'value added' that can be a big selling point - and that value is usually you.

A rule of thumb for hourly rate is to double expected annual income divided by a thousand. (e.g. a $30k annual income target means $60 per hour).

Running your own business above the table means proper licensing and careful attention to taxes at all levels of government. You won't believe the hassles you can encounter on this.
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Sat Feb 18, 2012 10:55 pm

I'm down in Boulder County, specifically Longmont, and I'm sure those of you that know the area know how utterly dead this town is in anything except crappy retail jobs or medical jobs requiring a thousand years of schooling and several medical certificates.

Thanks for all the input, everyone!
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Sun Feb 19, 2012 2:22 am

I charge a flat rate of $100/pc. Anything less is just not worth my time. Any replacement/upgrade parts are billed to the client at or just above newegg prices.

I use to charge $30/hr but found out most jobs end up in the 3-4 hr range, so it is a little easier with the flat rate and customers seem to really like knowing what things will cost up front.

And malwarebytes doesn't catch everything. So it's not quite as quick and easy as some are claiming here...there is no way an hour is enough. I'd rather do the job right the first time instead of having a client bring their pc back the next day with the same problem. Windows updates and other program updates can take way longer than you think too.

Also I like to have clients drop off their computers to me and then they can pick them up when i am done, but i know most of them very well...not always good to have randoms from craigslist showing up at your house or apt. Keep in mind that you will have to cover travel expenses (gas!) for picking up and dropping off customer pcs if you do it the other way. You can do on site repair for an additional fee too, but I find it much easier to repair things in my home office.

Oh yeah, the first thing I do when I get a customer's pc is pull their hdd and clone it to a blank spare using a VM or a 2nd pc dedicated to troubleshooting. Never use your main pc...you can pick up a lot of nasty stuff obviously! Anyway there is nothing worse than telling a customer you lost their data so this is a great way to be sure you have a bkup. It also allows you to be fairly aggressive in attacking the problem.

Combofix is your friend! I usually hit the infected machines with this (after the clone!) then work my way through with the rest of the usual malware removal suspects, malwarebytes, spybot, etc...be careful as combofix can break things and doesn't play nice with some anti-viruses so you will have to remove them before it will run. But it usually works out since I like to put MSE on all of my clients' pcs anyway.

Good luck and don't underestimate your worth! Expertise is valulable!
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Re: Question of Charging Rates

Postposted on Sun Feb 19, 2012 4:12 am

Some software I use on a regular basis.

Avast - Antivirus
Malewarebytes - Spyware
Ccleaner - Crap Cleaner, very reputable company
Defraggler - Same company as CCleaner, defrags. better than Windows defragger
Speccy - If you need detailed info about the system hardware - Not as good as Everest or SISoftware but it gets the job done.
Recuva - Recovers files that have been deleted IF that portion of the drive hasn't been over-written.
Acronis - Imaging software, make a backup of every customers system before touching it. A total CYA thing to do.
Combofix - This is a desperate move utility, but it cleans house of viruses/spyware if used properly
RKill - Stops known viruses/spyware from running so that Combofix can run.
HDDScan - Lets you check a hard drives SMART info along with running a surface test/performance benchmark. Best way to tell if a drive is on the way out.

Software to get into systems by bypassing, resetting, or finding the system's password.
KonBoot v1.1 - Not free, but was worth the 15 bucks.
OPHCrack - Free for standard hash tables
NTOffline - Free

There are tons more but i can't think of them at this moment, hopefully these help you
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