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WARNING: 5 Reasons why you should NEVER fix a computer for free.

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It is in our nature to love the puzzle. We are obsessed. The lot of us. We love puzzles. We love the challenge. We thrive on finding the answer. We hate disarray. It bothers us deep in our soul.

We love the accolades. We love to be seen as the digital white knight who fixed the server, the computer, the email, and anything else that life depends on.

We love it so much, we sometimes make horrible decisions. Sometimes, we work "FOR FREE."

We've all done it. A friend, a neighbor, a relative, a good client, a bad client, a pretty girl... Whoever it was, and for whatever reason, we all threw them a technological bone and fixed something for free. In rare instances, it can be a rewarding experience. Perhaps your buddy gave you a beer. Maybe someone said thank you. Maybe there was a smile on their face, and that was rewarding enough.

More likely, however, that five minute task you thought you were signing up for turned into 40 minutes, then an hour, then a commitment. Wow. You didn't see that coming.

There are 5 reasons you should ALWAYS hand out a bill.

1. You Break it You Bought it.


When you sit down to fix a problem that presented as a simple one you are creating a contract. Not a legal contract, but a social one. The computer owner is trusting their computer with you. It's their baby, and you're the doctor. So you sit down, and begin to fix a problem.

In the process, something else breaks. You fixed one thing, but something else goes awry. What's the best part? Neither you nor the user notice it is broken until a day later when they call you to blame you for breaking something else.

"I thought you were going to fix it." They complain.

This is the primary reason you charge money to fix something. You break it, you bought it. The user / owner will expect you to warranty your service even though THEY received all the value of your time, and you received nothing in exchange.

2. People don't respect things that are free.


I learned that quote from a man who runs a non-profit organization. Image that. A man who solicits donations for a living candidly told me "people don't respect things that are free." You know what? He's right.

Free advice. Free upgrade. Free entry. None are valued. Free advice is seldom wanted. Free upgrade was something you were going to get anyway. Free entry? The band playing tonight must not be any good.

People associate the value of service with the amount of money that is exchanged for it. How else do you think that lawyer can get away with charging $400 an hour? People naturally make the assumption that if it costs an arm and a leg, then it must be worth it.

So, if customers and friends will assume that the most expensive car is the best one, what will they assume of the free car? Do you want the heart surgeon who charges $500,000 per surgery or the one who works for beer to operate on your mother?


3. They will expect it forever.


In law, the concept of a precedent is vitally important. Judges and lawyers look to previous cases to decide what the interpretation of the law was because if a case was settled one way before, chances are, it will be settled that way again.

Gamblers playing craps look at the past behavior of the dice to, mistakenly, assume that the good luck will continue.

Users will figure if you fixed it once for free, you'll do it forever for free. There is no reason why they should respect the thousands of hours you have spent learning and researching the art of computer science. There is no reason that they should respect the certifications you hold. There is no reason that they should honor your abilities by paying your fees. Why? Because you did it for free. Once!

When they come back and you try to get fees, they will meet you with resistance in the form of guilt. "I thought we were friends" they cry. "You didn't charge me anything last time." They argue.

Setup the expectation that they are going to pay (or barter) from the onset. Demand the respect that you deserve. Make sure they understand you are a professional. After all, that is the difference between a professional and an amateur. Professionals get compensated for their skills.

4. The demands will only grow with time.


Give them an inch, and they will take you through three operating system upgrades, two virus infections, and a crashed hard drive. Once you've set the precedent and created the expectation that you are their knight in shining armor, they will begin to call you for everything. They will suck up your time and resources. They will not be grateful. They will involve you in 30 minute hypothetical conversations then disagree with your expertise.

5. It Weakens Your Backbone


Working for free is not only unprofitable, it weakens your constitution as a professional consultant. For many consultants, asking for money is difficult. They email out a silent invoice after the fact and hope they get paid. This practice can lead to unbalanced books, debt, and a going out of business sign. The simple fact is: if you don't ask for your money, you're not going to get paid. No one just hands out checks.

Setting up the expectation, especially when you fix a computer for the first time for a client, is vitally important in establishing boundaries that ensure you are paid in a timely fashion. Working for free, throwing out freebies, "comp"-ing your time hurts your ability to ask for the sale. It hurts your credibility because the client will assume that if you're not charging them for a given task, you didn't know what you were doing or you made mistakes.

It may give you butterflies, but ask for the money. Do it openly and notoriously. Your clients will take it as a sign of confidence.

Vote "Yes" for this article, then, click here to get more game changing insight at DrDamnit's EE Blog.

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Author:DrDamnit
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305 Comments
 
LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:younghv
Big "YES" vote above.
Who amongst us has NOT been burned by the old "Do me a favor?" trap? And why is it that everyone we know seems to think that we have nothing better to do than fix some computer problem that they created?

Great Article that articulated several things I've been thinking for years.
Thanks.
Vic
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by:WaterStreet
A nice and helpful article.

I voted Yes above
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by:evilrix
Nice. Got my yes vote above.
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by:mbizup
Great article, Dr D!

Another addition to your collection of 'yes' votes.




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by:JackOfPH
It happens all the time. Even here in the Philippines...
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by:Mark Wills
DrDamnit,

Great Article, enjoyed reading it - particularly the last line in your Point 5.

For newbies in consulting it is difficult, but after the first few attempts of blurting out a magic number, it does become easier.

So, for anyone new to consulting, be confident and be proud of your work and what you have to offer...

Cheers,
Mark Wills
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by:Brian B
Great article.

I have found that even with family, if it costs them for your help, they are also more likely to listen and do the things you ask them to do (like don't run as administrator, update your anti-virus, etc.).
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by:aikimark
You don't have to ask for money.  You can ask for other things.  Barter currency.  For instance, I've tweaked a PC for a massage from a professional masseuse with the problematic PC.  Sometimes, I get an IOU for something that I can 'spend' for something else.

When I do pro-bono work, I always make the expected outcome and future work very clear to the user.  I also make the user responsibilities very clear.  If the user doesn't uphold their end of the bargain, then I can decline future engagements.

I'm not sure I agree that "you break it = you bought it" applies in all cases.  There are some instances where the PC is already broken and I'm the last resort.

As with my commercial clients, it comes down to expectations management.
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by:younghv
aikimark:
Point # 3, 4th paragraph, 1st sentence:
"Setup the expectation that they are going to pay (or barter) from the onset."

I did notice that this came well after the reference to "a pretty girl" ... but I'm not going to judge anyone's method of 'barter'.
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by:Keith Alabaster
Interesting views - especially as all experts on experts-exchange work here for nothing, give free advice and consultancy, add comments to try and assist beyond what we interpret the question as asking etc. I understand the logic but it also flies in the face of our ethos at EE doesn't it?
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by:pgnatyuk
I voted "yes". Just because it is a very good article. I like the content and the style.

I'd say it is a bit strange to see such article on EE.
(I don't think that we work "for free" here, but we do not work for money).
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by:mbizup
Keith,

I was chuckling over exactly the same thought.  I think I've even given Dr D. free Access help recently.  :)

But I think most of us are 'bartering' for something in a sense - the points, visibility,  rankings, the game (my husband refers to EE as my computer game).  If there weren't some kind of gain (even just a good feeling) most of us wouldn't be here.
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by:Brian B
That's a good point about bartering. I should mention I know a few IT guys who do the odd bit of barter work on the side. Especially for deals with mechanics or other tradesmen who charge as much per hour for their service as you would.
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by:DrDamnit
Never much thought about the fixing stuff for free and how it applies to EE. I would offer, however, that EE and IRL are vastly different both in expectations and responsibility.

If you take each point by itself:

1. You break it you bought it doesn't apply because the user who asked the question is the one who would break it. Not only that, it is up to the user to agree to do something before it is done. Therefore, the user has "buy-in." If you suggest they take a course of action, and provide documentation (for instance a MS KB article) the user has to agree with you. Very rarely will a person blame you for something they agreed with.

2. EE is not free. Either you are a paying member, or you answer questions for points. Either way, you are part of a community.

3. They will expect it forever. That's the point of EE. We want users coming back...or there will be no EE.

4. Demands will grow over time: probably. But we have experts to handle that. If the demands grow immensely overtime, that user will end up becoming top in their field, and an expert in their own right. Thus, adding to the value of EE.

5. It Weakens your Backbone. Certainly doesn't apply, because we are exchanging knowledge for points. And for those who forget to ask for points after a question has been abandoned, our mods kindly assign the points to us.

All in all, I think EE is an exception, that does not disprove the rule.

An to all you Experts out there that have help me in the past. Thanks. Your help has been invaluable over the years.
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Expert Comment

by:Articles101
In just three days since it was submitted, this article has obtained 16 yes votes and 431 views.  I don't think we ever saw an article go wild like that.

Articles101,
EE Articles Admin
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LVL 46

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by:aikimark
I guess there are a lot of IT professionals that are (have been) taken advantage of by their friends and relatives.
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by:JackOfPH
In any case most of us in EE contribute for knowledge because we actually solve real life problems... which I think is positive experiences for us...

:)
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by:Ted Bouskill
Actually my good friends and relatives are fine.  In fact, they tend not to bother me because they are good friends and don't want to take advantage.  It's the casual friends or acquaintances that take advantage.

With EE I control when and where I participate as well as learn by teaching.  With free work they always want it yesterday even if they aren't paying for it.
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by:MidnightOne
The huge difference between EE and doing things for free is this: I can drop doing anything on EE without getting annoyed by people.

I get out of working on friends and relatives systems, thus:
Me: Can you bring me the system?
Them: *happily* of course?
Me: Then I can't work on it. I've been working for the past decade on systems that take at least two people to lift.
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by:Eric AKA Netminder
Apropos: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/computers

Nice work (voted Yes). My only comment is that the exception to all of this is the not-for-profit organization, although many of the same pitfalls apply. A buddy of mine who runs a non-profit told me that he found that asking people to do work for less than their normal rate never got any responses (e.g., looking for an accountant to do work for $15 an hour because that's all the money they had) -- but if they asked for it as a donation, they got people coming out of the woodwork to do it pro bono.

But in terms of "fixing" someone's computer... you're spot on. I won't even touch my wife's at this point.

ep
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by:imamdani
how true.!
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by:bromy2004
Big Yes!
And so true.
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by:starcontroller
It's so true.  Great article.
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by:impatiantpatient
Yes. Very very true!
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LVL 9

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by:tl121000
Right on - you wouldn't expect your freind who is a plumber to fix your pipes for free, so why do people think a "computer guy" should be any different.  People are tapping our time and our knowledge.
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by:jeharless
Most of my friends/family I have pay me in something... dinner, services, etc. I've about weeded all of the freebies out.
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by:JohnGerhardt
DrDamnit,

Great article, hits on points that I think most Experts here have experienced....

Gets a YES from me...

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by:game-master


It happens to me!

Great Article...

Gets a Yes from me as well...
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LVL 3

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by:tiagorferreira
Very nice article indeed.

Very truthful.
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Expert Comment

by:Krille71
Been there, done that. Very nice article...
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by:Jeff Perkins
Awesome! Got my yes vote!
I do however agree with the probono work, a little time donated here and there makes you feel good. I prefer to find some much needed clinic that helps children, a non-profit that can't afford technical help with computers.
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LVL 12

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by:jazzIIIlove
>> they will begin to call you for everything
Addition:
even in the last day of the job, yes, today I resigned.

Oh dear, mornings are C code or php fixes, afternoons are for OOP; Java or .NET, evenings are for server stuff, Linux and 2008 or someone OS has got an infection or a hardware problems...for 2.5 years...

I mean noone ever works on their work, call me instantly.
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by:yendork
Guilty - I do this for friends and family all the time. While I have not had any of the problems stated above, and I do not do this as my business, these are good things to keep in mind, even if you do slip once in a while!

Thanks
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by:evilrix
1
 
LVL 13

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by:NarendraG
YES

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by:MikeKane
A Yes from me....    I've done the bartering thing alot, but it comes back to burn you also...   I have credit for about 25 more oil changes from the mechanic down the street who keeps calling me up because one of his machines caught another virus.  He calls me up yet again, and again, and again....  

I've learned to always charge for cash, even if you turn around and hand the cash right back to him.
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by:wolfcamel
i do the 'odd' favour for people and i make it clear that I am going out of my way for them..I expect only two things..
to be offered a beer or a coffee etc if I am there out of business hours
and to be offered to be paid.

If someone says.."what do I own you?" - I may reply - 'dont worry about it - you cut my wife's hair free, or i do a lot of work in your office"
but if they dont offer, then after I finish - I simply ask them where I should send the invoice and if they want it made out to a company or as an individual.

beyond that ALL business work is always charged for - AND I put up my fees every 6 month - and no one has ever complained.
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by:wolfcamel
Also - on the comments regard EE being a community of people working for free..
I put in a little spare time on here - typically while waiting for software to install or a patch to download etc - I dont consider this working for free as I have solved many client problems with help from articles on here that I have either charged the client for my time on here researching THEIR issue - or it has saved me time on a fixed rate contract - I understand that this only works thanks to the other members who have helped me.
This doesnt apply when my Mum gets a virus and I have to be diplomatic about her new husband's "use" of inappropriate websites!
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Expert Comment

by:leonstryker
Been there, done that, got scars.

Great article.
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by:humanclone1stgen
Excellent advice, especially for people just starting out in the consulting field. Forwarded this to a few contacts.
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by:red4866
great indeed.

shoot.. gotto go.. neighbor calls again
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by:DavidLeal
jejejej LOL The same history for almost all here... a friend.. a pretty face... (manilly the second in my case jejejeje)

but its true... all you say its true...

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by:Dan Van Vleet
YES! xD

and I agree with MidnightOnes comment!! I should use that hahaha

Forwarded,
Thanks,
Dan
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by:eSouth
I don't mind helping out friends, but I'm in 100% agreement that you need to charge something. When I do work for a friend and they ask me how much I charge or how much I owe them, I honestly tell them the rate that I normally charge, and then put the ball in their court...."pay me however much it is worth to you."  You'd be astonished at how large the check can be. But be prepared...we all have the cheapskate cousin who will pay you $20 and think he's doing you a favor (note to self for next time).
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by:phototropic
I think if you do a lot of domestic work (as I do), you start to loose sight of your own expertise:

Customer says "...it just keeps re-booting...says something about "safe-mode" and "last-known-good"...I can't check my emails!!!..."  
Now you know that 9 times out of 10 a simple chkdsk /r will sort this out. You've done it a thousand times. So you don't feel as if you are doing anything at all. But to the customer, you're a magician!
That's when errors of judgment tend to creep in, and you will maybe make a poor decision about presenting a bill.

If my central heating boiler breaks down, I have no idea how to begin to even think about how to put it right. To a heating engineer, it might be something as simple as replacing a thermocouple, but I will gladly pay him or her whatever they ask for, so long as I can stay warm in the winter.

I just try to remember how much time and effort it took for me to reach the point where I can  mend broken computers quickly enough to make it commercially viable.

Great article, articulating several universal truths of computer repair.
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Expert Comment

by:bgillgps
I have a LOT  of relatives with computers.  The line I HATE to hear is "maybe I'll let you fix my computer" like they are doing you a favor.  Or, they will tell you that they can't afford to pay to get it fixed.
Heres what I do:
When they ask me to fix their computer, and tell me they can't afford to pay me, I tell them that I've got work around the house/shop that needs to be done,  and that I will do the work in exchange for them doing some work for me.  
I haven't had to fix too many computers  for  relatives!!!
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LVL 6

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by:Shaun Rieman
You said what I have been thinking for a long long time.  People dispute me, even my mother saying "Help people that can't afford it"... HELL NO.  Thank you for affirming my beliefs.
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Expert Comment

by:Toretto
I've found the perfect fix for this problem.  Whenever anyone asks for computer aid, I tell them to bring it to my work, so "I can take a look at it, and quote a price to fix it".  People don't like me for it  - "But I bet it would be real easy for you to fix, can't you take a look at it?" - but I don't care.  I value my free time, thank you very much.

Although I should admit that a few people ( a hand full of family members and friends) DO get free advice / check-ups, because they'll always return the favor in some way.  Others, not so much.  
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by:H2IK
Amen!  That is the most concise article I have read.  

You need to tweek it for national publication that can be read by people outside the this field.  

I have found it incredible disrepectful not be asked "can I give you something for your help?"

I'm still learning to be firm, I just got burned on a repair that took many hours to protect and recover the data and install the OS etc. etc.  When the "friend" said he could not pay me anything for this claiming lack of money.  But I'm not rolling in dough either.  All I could say was "Ok, the first one is free, and indicated THAT was not going to happen again.
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by:DanRollins
Can nobody else see the flip side?

Five reasons you SHOULD fix a computer for free:

1

Your Mom can't get emails from your daughter.  It's YOUR MOM.  It's YOUR DAUGHTER.  You love  them and want to help.

2

Your wife will call in "The Nerd Folks®™ Inc."  And the guy will replace the motherboard (because that is what he always does, regardless of the problem), and it will cost MORE THAN A WHOLE NEW COMPUTER.   If you don't "take a look" yourself, then your wife (and by extension, you) are flushing money down the toilet.  

3

Your neighbor used her cooking skills to bake you a pie.   Your church group called the Boy Scouts over to help after the fire.   Your Mother wiped your tiny butt when it was covered in feces and kissed your knee when you scraped it.  Your Father worked hard all of his life so that you would not go hungry or have to sleep in the rain AND he paid for the education that is now earning you six figures.  DUDE!  YOU OWE THEM.   When they ask you to do something that is in your power to do... then you are a complete A-hole if you send them a bill.

4

You see at a glance that the monitor is just unplugged.   Make noises, grunt a few times, bang a wrench against something, say (to yourself, but loud enough to be heard) "oooo, I've never..., that's bad..., this might work,..."  Plug it in and earn instant genius cred from somebody who will now owe you a big favor.

5

The cute 21-year-old blond that lives in the apartment next door has been thinking of a way to get to meet you.   She has a computer that needs to be fixed.  If you send her a bill after what she did in exchange, then you are a raving lunatic.
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Expert Comment

by:H2IK
I don't think that we are at all discussing here being nice and helpful to people and family.  

I do take care off all my family's computer needs and give remote support to the grandparents and are will to "discuss" and offer suggestions for what might be the problem with someones elses machine (This allows you to alway stay sharp).  

I don't know what part of IT you work in, but it is very difficult to achive "six figures". It takes many years and much test taking which has a monetary cost out of pocket.  

For the most part, it is due to our helpful and friendly nature and the fact that we love what we do is the problem.  
You can not be that naive so as to think that people will not pay for something if they don't have too.  

And I wonder, if you would make that same case for a skilled electrician or plummer?  

This field is in constant flux and while I am in this field, I'm expected to make time at work AND at home to keep up with changes.
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LVL 49

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by:DanRollins
Hey, I had to think hard to come up with five.  It's easy to think of reasons not to help somebody...
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by:The--Captain
Dan, you're just saying what many of us were thinking (OK, at least me ;-).

H2IK said "I don't think that we are at all discussing here being nice and helpful to people and family."

Really?  The article said "NEVER" (in all caps).  That's a pretty strong word.  When I read the article I kept thinking "But I do that all the time for my friends and family, and I don't have a problem with any of those bullet points"

and also:

"And I wonder, if you would make that same case for a skilled electrician or plummer [sic]?"  

Actually, I *am* a skilled electrician, although IT consulting currently pays the bills (Electrical work paid the bills for a couple of summers in college, and I still have my tool belt to prove it ;-).  And yes, I *do* help people I know for free (electrical or computer or any other skill I possess), if I happen to like them.  *Everyone* has something that they can do/give in return - you just have to know them well enough.  Since you mentioned plumbers, I also fix my father-in-law's leaky plumbing (it *was* nice of him to pay for my wedding, our mattress, and our laundry equipment).  Oh yeah, did I mention he's an MD?  I've already saved a bundle on routine medical care (and I don't have to share any of that with predatory insurance companies- ie "You've seen a doctor more than once with a case of the sniffles.  This identifies you as someone for whom the sniffles was a chronic pre-existing condition, and therefore we refuse to honor any claims whose symptoms include the sniffles")  

More examples: I help out one of my buddies (who works odd jobs and never has any extra $$) with his computer problems, he helps me figure out that my wife's Jeep won't start is because the CKS sensor is dead (and replaces it for me), I figure out his fuel-cutoff switch in his truck is dead, he finds me a 4-person Jacuzzi for $300 (his cost), I help his neighbor mod his game console, his neighbor uses his woodshop equipment to cut out panels for my arcade cabinet, and round and round we go ;-).  Best part is, Uncle Sam never sees a dime in taxes from all this good karma, and it's all above-board.

I guess what I'm saying is that if your goal is to acquire as much money as possible, then the article will probably be helpful.  If your enjoyment of life does not depend on that, it might be wise to listen to Dan.

Cheers,
-Jon
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Expert Comment

by:H2IK
Absolutely no offence intended, please.

I was only pointing out that a skilled laborer should desire some monetary recompense from time to time.  It is great to save money with a barter system, but as they say that doesn't pay the bills.  

I do agree that the NEVER is a bit stronger than it should be.  But with the economy the way it is, every bit helps.  

Even tech companies are tighting the belt, I have had my wages frozen for two years now, even though the cost of everything else has gone up.  At this point, I figure a little more than +$2000 loss from the year before.  I also have a disabled wife, an elderly mother and a little one to take care of with on most of this single income.  

I am, truly sorry, if I can not always afford to be charitable, but this is only to make up for that loss.  But when you only have a literal few dollar left till the next paycheck, anything helps.

And this is also coming out of the precious time that I spend with loved ones along with the charitable work that I try to fit in on the evenings and weekends. And studing for a certification to help my career.

Honestly, money does not matter that much to me.  Never has.  I would rather spend my time off-work with family and friends.  But it does show a little respect to an least offer someone a little something for thier time so at least they can say;  "No that's ok, I really didn't do much."



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Expert Comment

by:mikhael
I agree the closest rels and friends for them it's usually a barter system or they buy me a case of beer. (Its tax free and I am going to buy it anyway). One of my neighbours is a retired plumber, he has helped me out (for free) a couple times. Another is a builder. And I'm hopeless with DIY. And so on.

But then I have a client (who pays) and we often have a beer together. I had to do a job for his wife (who runs a beauty salon), and when I finished I asked where I should send the bill. She said, "Oh I thought you were going to fix it for free, cause you and Joe are mates". THE HIDE OF HER! Anyway I used the reply that really fits. "I'd love to be able to go around and fix all my friends' computers cause I love it, but you know, my kids like to eat. So I do need to charge you. Is that OK?"

Cheers
Michael
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Expert Comment

by:SimoExpert
This is great but i beg to disagree with the critics and don't wan't agree with them at all.
If you read between the lines of the five points i think DrDamnit has statetd it clearly well, pliz read again and again.
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by:SimoExpert
For keith_alabaster and pgnatyuk:

In EE we share knowledge which i bet you would agree with me that its best build through sharing.
We ain't giving anything for free,we are actually gaining and solving problems.
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by:EnriquePhoenix
Yup I completely agree. I have even been paid with a box of ice cream, while tasty I will now ask for money upfront. No matter how bad I feel about asking.
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by:irinuc
Totally agree with this.

All people I know believe that if I have a degree in Computer Science I know everything about anything. From hardware to software and back again. And I definetelly don't.
But I felt compelled to try and help them. And I so got into Situation #1 :-(

LOVE this article. Hope I'll be have the power to ask to be payed :-)
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by:chrislock
Mostly I agree - but there are some people who genuinely cannot afford to have a problem fixed.
What about those?
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by:MidnightOne
Pay doesn't have to be money. It can be as simple as "feed my cat when I'm on vacation."
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by:chrislock
I should have made it plainer - I was referring to disabled and/or partially sighted people!
I take your point though!
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by:egrylls
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  FAMILY IS IN THIS BUCKET?

What the hell is wrong with some of you?  It's YOUR FAMILY.  Have we become so greedy that we feel that we need to charge our family?

As a society, pandering to this concept and including family in this conversation is sickening.  DO UNTO OTHERS and when we reach the point that as professionals we are not willing to help our families with our expertise, that's the day I dont want to be part of this group.  When I was young and broke my father in law spent many hours helping and teaching me how to work on cars and engines, etc...for that I have never forgotten.  I take care of his entire home network down to his mouse so he doesnt have to worry about it.  Not because I owe him, but because I CARE.

If I feel a family member is abusing me and my generosity, I feign ignorance and send them packing.  So far, my younger sister falls into that group.  I do that because when I tell her I can fix her computer and it will cost 50 bucks for parts, she whines about me not having the spare part and then goes and buys a piece of crap replacement laptop totally disregarding my advise.  But everyone else can get help from me anytime anywhere.

It makes me sick to imagine you charging your grandmothers for this.  Don't be angry when you arent in the will after they pass or they give everyone money and the family photos and you get their junky old 486.
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by:egrylls
One last comment before I start getting flamed...if you arent family, then I totally agree.  Even my neighbor.  Sometimes I take barter, but that's if I know you well.  
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by:MidnightOne
I'm the only geek in my family in three generations.

The problem with fixing family computers - other than the size of some families - it that it can be the ultimate time sink.

You "can't say no" because they're family, yet a lot of family members are expecting a problem fixed aren't cognizant of the time involved because it has no effect on them whatsoever that cleaning up the latest variant of the virus they've gotten (again) takes three hours. Or they have no backups despite being told to do them and now it's my job to find their pictures through a drive crash. Or they've been pirating software.

At least a business client knows the money clock is running and will often take the course of, "it's faster to just reload rather than clean up the mess".

If family is expecting me to help them move, I at least get pizza and a beer. Most freebie repairs don't even rise to that minimal level of reciprocation and appreciation.
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by:younghv
I think the basic Article (if actually read) stands up to all of the frivolous 'anti' comments that are being posted.

No one (are far as I can tell) is suggesting that your 98 year old grandmother has to fork over any cash when you give her computer a tune-up.

My interpretation of the intent is to prevent the abuse of the family geek by that no-good brother-in-law or his obnoxious teen-aged kids (there's a joke in there somewhere for the humor impaired).

Granny gets a pass on all rules (as she should), but - if nothing else- the able bodied should be expected to repay IN SOME MANNER.

This has been explicitly described above - mow my lawn, chop up some firewood, do something! If I'm putting my time and talents into doing something for you, then you MUST reciprocate.

It appears as though a lot of phony "straw-men" arguments are being created by some folks who just want to be plain argumentative.
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by:younghv
MidnightOne: - FWIW, I am agreeing with you.
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by:answer_dude
NEVER may be a strong word... I certainly won't charge Mom for the myriad of hours I spend cleaning up her computer from whatever...

And of course, most of the time whatever is simple -- I fix it -- big hero, yeah!

However, I completely agree with the sentiments.  There have been times I've been with friends (or family) where something seemed simple/straightforward and I sat down and in the process I broke something.  Then I spend the next few hours fixing what I broke and put the thing back the way I found it.  At the end of it I'm frustrated -- they feel bad for having me on it for so long but I can't leave because I made the problem worse.

And you do become their IT guy at that point.  If anything else breaks it may be related to what you did and even if it's not there's the expectation... and sometimes I'm just not in the mood.

Best not to get sucked in in the first place.
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by:garethstevens25
This is so true!!
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by:glorr
I would have to disagree with a lot of what is written, with the understanding of course that I have a different perspective. I'm fine with doing some things for free/barter.

When someone asks me to "take a look" at their computer, I establish some simple guidelines.

1 - Time frame. I value my free time so I inform people who ask me to look at their computer how long they can be without it. If they can not live for more than a week without it, then I direct them elsewhere.  This is becasue their computer will wait until I've nothing better to do before looking at it and that usually means anywhere from 3-8 days before I'll touch it.

2 - Liability. I ensure that they know that until I look at it, I can't make any promises about what is wrong or what may or may not be broken. So if I find the worse, then I might not be able to offer up much more than my condolences and ideas for a replacement system/component/software. I also include data in this realm. If your data's recovery is of the utmost importance, than you've stepped outside of my realm of "taking a look at it."

3 - Expectations of service. I don't provide illegal copies of software, and I don't have free hardware hanging around my house. If someone is having video card issues, I let them know that if it isn't a simple driver issue, then they may be looking at buying a video card and no, I don't have a spare.

3a - Free to Fee. If I find a problem that requires more than 30 minutes of my time, a level of risk for the customer (for example - data recovery), or the purchase and replacing of parts I let the person know that I've done all that I can do as part of "taking a look" at it. If they want me to take it further, then I would require compensation or they can take it elsewhere if they prefer (or sometimes I'll direct them elsewhere if I decide its not worth the headache).

4 - Barter works when it is reasonable. A six pack of beer or coke is less than $10 (at least last time I checked). I barter, but it is important to be careful about the level what you accept as too little can undercut you.

The above is how I operate and it addresses just about every pitfall that the author describes with the big ones being how it addresses the "Broke n bought" and "Respect" items. It is clear that if something is broke, the burden is the customers and if they ask me to fix it, we enter a compensatory arrangement as I am then investing time and accepting the risk. Respect still comes as my framework for operating is clear and respectable. While I don't expect my friends who are mechanics or plumbers to fix my things for free, they are willing to give me an idea of what may be wrong. I view it as providing a similar service.
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by:mikhael
That's interesting Glorr.

Can you advise what words you use please? While I agree with the sentiments, I'm not sure I could word that to a friend or relative without offending. (esp. points 1 and 2)

Michael

p.s. By the way, a 6 pack of beer in Aust is nearly $20 !!
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by:glorr
@ mikhael

Different people would have to handle how they say it different ways I suppose. Here is how the most recent exchange took place.

Friend: My son's computer is acting all crazy again. He says he has his anti-virus up to date, but it has been running so slow that it has been hard for him to him to do his college work and that he's worried because he says the hard drive is making a weird buzzing noise. Would you be able to take a look at it?

Me: Things have been a little hectic at work recently and my boys are starting up baseball season again, so things are a little tight after work. If he needs it quick, he might be better off taking it to <insert tech repair shop here>, otherwise if he can do without it for a week I can fit it in if you can drop it off.

Friend: I really appreciate it, I'll ....

Me: Remember, I can't make any promises. If it's making a noise like what you described, when I take a look it could very well turn out to be a hard drive or other device that is failing. If that's the case, then it is going to cost some money to repair and how much depends on what the problem is. If it looks like that, I'll let you know and then your choices are taking it to a local tech shop or I can do it for you. I'll give you an estimate on what it would cost for me to do it, as you might be able to get a better deal from a local tech shop.

Friend: Do you think it might be that bad?

Me: It could be, but I won't know for certain until I can take a look at it. Also, if it's bad enough, does your son have a recent back-up of his data? If not, you might want to have him do it before bringing it over.

I find that even though I take a week to just "look at it", if it is bad, people still opt to have me fix it more often than taking it to a local tech shop, even if I might give them a quote that is more than the local shop. The reasons are because I speak honestly with them and communicate what I found, be it minor or major.

Family can be a little tougher, but it is still important. My father asked me to install Office on his computer, and when I said sure, just give me the software, he asked if I had a copy I could install. Answering honestly I told him that I only bought a license for my computer, but that I could help him locate an affordable copy or that he might want to consider Open Office. He wasn't happy, but when one of my brothers asked me and my brother got a little stupid about it, my father heard me tell my brother that "I wouldn't ask him to steal for me, so I would appreciate the same respect in return." They apparently got over it since they still ask for my help.

Don't be intimidated. I believe that is what the author meant most with item #5.
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by:mikhael
Hmmm Glorr.

Yep that dialogue is good.

re the author's point 5, I don't have a problem with that at all. I'm lucky that 90+ % of our clients are businesses, and therefore don't have a problem paying for the work. And with new clients we don't have silent invoices (existing clients maybe). We ask for a cheque at the end of the job and then follow up with a (paid) invoice.

It's the friends and relatives that I have a problem with. But as I said before "barter is good".

On a slightly diffrent point,  (but related to the author's point 4) don't you hate when you give your best, honest advice (e.g. backing up, not running with admin privs, AV practices) and they completely ignore you!
Regards
Michael
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by:glorr
@mikhael

Possibly the only thing worse than the customer ignoring the advice is when I ignore it myself.  :)

There have been a couple times where my experimenting caused my system to go down, only to then recall that I had fallen behind on my back-ups.
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by:sameerb5
hey there. i really appreciate ur sharing with us..i would like to go with u in some aspects as well as i would like to go with the user comments they shared their views and ideas with us.

thanxs all for sharing ur views and ideas on this article..pretty learned frm ur comments.
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by:seaweed27
I liked it, thanks
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by:Jenn Prentice
So, I posted this article on DZone.com and it became a DZone Big Link within 2 days. Pretty awesome!
(http://www.dzone.com/links/warning_5_reasons_why_you_should_never_fix_a_comp_2.html#148024569)
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by:remmett70
I fight with this daily.  I have only been on my own for a few months.  When I was an employee, and only worked on family or close friends computers.  It was, scratch my back I scratch yours, or work for Beer.  The first big hurdle was charging people that I would have just helped in the past.

Now I only help immediate family at no charge.
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by:mds-cos
I love it!  Nailed right on the head!

Yes, I still do fix a few computers for free -- on rare occasion (mom, friends who cannot afford help and actually understand the value of what I'm giving them, etc)....but for the most part no way!
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by:tryerexp
Great Article.

Here's my Two-Cents:

Whenever anyone asks me to help them with their problem, or to do them a favor I reply something along these lines:

"Well, do ME a favor. Because I get a lot of this kind of requests, send me an email with the following details:

- Make, Model and revision number of your equipment
- Computer system
- CPU
- Amount of RAM
- RAM Speed
- Hard drive capacity
- Hard drive technology (SATA/PATA)
- Operating system
- Kernel Version
- Browsers installed, including Versions
- Free space available on C:\
- Size of C:\Windows and C:\Windows\System32 folders
- Color depth of Monitor
- Description of the Problem
- Print screens of the problem, or Photos of the system if you can't take print-screens.
- List the three times most likely for the problem to occur
- List the last 3 things you tried to do to fix the problem
- List the last 10 Applications installed
- List the last 10 Webpages visited

Thanks"

So, I do this because:

1 - Most will give up after the 3rd line of details.

2 - Most of the rest will give up after the 10th line of details

3 - Almost all will give up after the last two line of details.

Those that DO answer with the details are the lucky few.

To them, I reply something passive-aggressive along the lines of:

"Well, after analyzing your problem, I think I could probably fix it in about 2 to 3 hours (Rough estimate).
My base fee is 15€ an hour, charged per half-hour rounded up.
Please note that I am not responsible for lost Data, or damaged hardware (I know this point is obvious, but I have to put it in here, as I have had some people in the past who did not realize this.)
Of course you realize that now I have a son, time is very scarce at home, but normally I can get things done in about a week or so.

Cheers."


Thankfully, I do not make a living off favor-tech-support, so I can afford to reply in this manner.

Trust me... it saves a LOT of headaches in the future.
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by:halejr1
@tryerexp

I do the same thing.  in fact for most "free-support" requests my list has gotten simpler because the requests that I get are from needy people that want something, but they are not sure what they want.....  my first response is:

I can fix your problem but I need a detailed description of the error message and what exactly you were doing when it happened....

I need specific details.....

hello?  is anyone there.... ??? (fast busy....)

usually I don't get a call back...!
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by:sunnyc7
Big Yes Vote for Dr.Damnit

I once fixed a OS issue for my neighbor. I ended up repairing 5 laptops / 1 hard disk replacement (damaged HDD) / 1 POS installation and integration for his new store that he is starting blah blah.

4 laptops were for his wife (re-installed Windows XP) (:(()

When I did it the first time, my take was - hey this takes minimal intervention while i watch TV (installing OS).

Didnt think the same thing after POS system install / configuration / remote support through logmein.

Loved the comments on this post.
Thanks guys
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by:caracho
Great insights! It really helped me.

@tryerexp, halejr1
Why mechanicals, doctors, lawyers can do it and not us?
I think that we should think like other proffessions.

@mikhael
~"Respect is the most valuable gift that a man can give to himself" Rob Roy?
It is tuff to earn respect from family & you do it

@glorr "4 - Barter works when it is reasonable. "
I'm thinking in estimate how much the tech center will charge them, then translate it in something  that the one who asks, charges for, (optionally, apply an announced discount), then ask something similar in exchange. And just for friends or family.

Anyway, very helpful your approach

@DanRollins "The cute 21-year-old blond that lives in the apartment next door has been thinking of a way to get to meet you. "
In my opinion, this is improbable in most cases; if she wants to meet you, she'll do it. Actually, if you are not afraid to charge her, is most probable the she will see you as confident, and that is more attractive than be a "free repairer". As #5 "Your clients will take it as a sign of confidence."

But thanks, for putting me to reflect on this, seriously. It putted me on in self debugging mode.


Thanks to DrDamnit


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by:dimpuu001
Hello.....

thx a lot. This is what xatlay happens with me.....gr8 Post........
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by:DrDamnit
Thank you to everyone who has made this article so successful!

I have published another article like this one called: Caution: Why You May be Training Your Customers to Leave You.

Please check it out, vote it helpful if it is so, and share it with others.

-Dr. Damnit.
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by:jrogan7993
Great article...I have had this happen as well.

Thank you for the post!
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by:keeka
This is very true. Took many years to learn this.

Great post.
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by:Bob Stone
I do a lot of bartering, that is a simple way to get value from your work without giving people sticker shock.
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by:YetAnotherCoder
I agree.
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by:romojotek
Awesome article DR Damnit!!
I have fallen into the trap once and this sure helps!!
A big YES! from me!
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by:mikhael
Do you guys have a beer economy?
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by:mikhael
Here you go !!

http://www.tooheysnew.com.au/economy.php

Tooheys New is one of our most popular beers!

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by:Mark Wills
mikhael,

Yeah, but outside of Oz, I am not so sure the commitment to the new economy is as prevalent / relevant / applicable.

Maybe that is a new Article altogether...

How many cases for a Windows Update ? How many for a .PST recovery ? How many to add a new Printer ? = 6 cases

How many cases to hide the trail of those secret sites that the missus would go ropable about ? = priceless (oops different ad)...
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by:mikhael
Have to agree with you Mark!!   :) :)

I have to qualify though that I'm talking about with friends and fam...

Cheers (hic!)
Michael
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by:mds-cos
Some great points on "NEVER".  I loved this article, but I automatically segmented out family and good friends.  I would never think of charging family, and even have turned down offer for payment from good friends because friends help friends.

As to making the same case for other skilled workers, absolutely!  Just because the help you can provide is skilled work instead of grunt work doesn't mean common decency should go out the window.  I have friends whose brother is a chiropractor.  He CHARGES his own family to adjust them!  In my book that makes him a total jerk (especially considering his family is not in a position to afford chiropractic care).  His "reason" is that he is "worth the money" and does not need to do anything for free.

The real problem -- and why I love this article -- is all the acquaintance or co-workers who seem to think you should fix their computer for free just because they can put your name with your face.  Or people who (once you get through explaining what a Networked Systems Engineer does in very simple terms) say "Oh, you know I've been having a problem with my PC at home....."
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by:Joseph2002
I guess this article and its comments could easily turn into a successful and funny book! The subject is quite serious, though!

I must say I largely agree with mds-cos, although more about "family" than "good friends".
It's true that friends help friends, but "good" friends do not take advantage of "good" friends, by inviting them to dinner so as to ask them to fix their leaky pipe, their broken window pane, or... by the way, their computer!
The fact that to fix a computer you may not need a toolbox (and then you might!), or you need not change your clothes or get your hands dirty, does not mean that it's fun rather than work!
I think many "good" friends of ours should understand this concept. And if they do, I am sure many of us would willingly offer themselves to help them with their computer. But we deserve a little "respect" for our profession, even from our "best" friends.

As regards family, I would specify "close" family. Keep in mind that in certain countries the concept of "family" can easily become a very "extended" one.
However, I would never charge my father for helping him with his computer. NEVER!
I recently fixed my father in law's laptop. Naturally I didn't want any money, but he insisted on giving me  some. You see, I don't think our problem is with family, but if you step out of that circle, you're heading for trouble...
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by:Bob Stone
I have a computer toolbox, it is called a thumbdrive and fits on my keychain
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by:wrefai
YES indeed and thumbs up to this article!
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by:richardsk-octjamaica
I have added this to my PC diagnostics bible, first page for terms of service agreement. Best darn article I have read in a long while, keep them coming EE.
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by:rdivilbiss
I'm still fixing my Grandmother's computer for free. Lord knows she's done much more to help me than I could ever repay.

That said, everyone else gets a bill, a lesson learned painfully, which if I had the luxury of reading this article 15 years ago, could have helped my bottom line tremendously.

This is not my first read, I just forgot to vote yes prior and wanted to compliment you on your work.

Regards,
Rod
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by:DrDamnit
Your great feedback has inspired another article: Who Else is TIRED of Being UNAPPRECIATED?

I am looking forward to your feedback.

If it resonates with you, don't forget to Vote Yes!
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by:marbski
and you got it......that's true.. guys......
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by:systan
>>I'm still fixing my Grandmother's computer for free. Lord knows she's done much more to help me than I could ever repay.

lol, lol , lol

The great answer is:  it depends...
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by:Bob Stone
Wouldn't that be "it Depends®" =oP
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by:rdivilbiss
No Grandma is 97 an in full control of her continence, but she does use a walker, and sometime that's Johnny Walker <grin>.
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by:ronney_leslie
I will be keeping a hardcopy of this article in my pocket and present it to potential leeches upon request to fix something for free....thanks
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by:drdoug99
Good points, and all true. Like everyone else, close friends and family are helped for free or for beer or whatnot....usually other people, friend of a friend or whoever, once they hear it will cost them, it's usually, "oh i'll think about it and get back with you"
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by:chtullu135
Absolutely, positively, true.  An old proverb comes to mind "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished"
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by:Freshcafe
I see both sides but the article to begin this has my best interest at heart - The cashflow because I do freebies or cut the costs for friends or "good customers" has me almost out of business. My very 1st customer now calls me to look at lights and other non IT things though he does give food items with his reduced invoice pay. I get food and his recommendation to mostly full fee paying customers. I soo need to toughen up cause when i do charge the full fee I sometimes think is outrageous - they pay it with no hesitation and recommend me to others. Checking with other IT (Shops & Businesses) I see I charge half or less anyways. Sometimes it less expensive to buy new kit but then inconvenience and data transfer or starting over cost lots from the big ComputerWorld shops too. Family and true friends or genuine needy i do not mind! Like he says - I get a kick from getting it going, being the hero etc. just now got a few that expect it !!
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by:DrDamnit
@Freshcafe:

I have many coaching clients who have been in your shoes. Barely scraping it together to keep the wheels turning. Accepting everything short of goats and cows as payment for their professional services.

Here are a few things to help make you profitable and still keep you loved by your clients... It sounds like you have enough clients that if we just dealt with A clients and B clients, you'd be able to stabilize your business.

Read: http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_2080-How-to-Fire-Your-Customers-to-Make-More-Money.html for an analysis on how to clear your book of business on customers that just drain your time and resources and take away from good clients.

Next, Read: http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_3190-7-Secrets-of-Success-in-the-New-Economy-Revealed.html to see how the new world economy (after the crashes in 08-09) has changed how customers buy.

Next, Read: mark_wills' http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_3217-The-importance-of-Value-in-Business.html. He does an excellent job of explaining what value is.

Last, as a bonus, read: http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_2668-How-to-Handle-Angry-Customers.html. Because when you fire those bottom feeders from being clients because they would rather pay you in food than in money, you may need it.

You should be raising your rate 3% ever 6 months to keep with inflation. 95% of your clients will not even notice the rates went up. 95% of those will just pay it without complaining.

NEVER EVER believe that your rates are too high. Assumptions you make about yourself will ultimately be the assumptions that your customers make about you: http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_3253-CAUTION-Why-You-May-be-Training-Your-Customers-to-Leave-You.html.

Moreover, as you stated: "they just pay it." because you are offering value. A business owner needs to personally generate anywhere from $400 / hour to $5,000 / hour. Upper level business owners are worth $10,000 / hour to their businesses. So, when you put it into perspective, your fees are plenty worth it. Wouldn't you pay $150 / hour so that you could be worth $400 / hour? That's a net $250 / hour AND you don't have to deal with silly computer problems!

One of the easiest ways to turn your business into a stable, profitable one is to convert all your customers to monthly contract customers. The process is easier than you think. Post back if you're interested in some more help.
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by:kptl
I am giving you positive but you just discussed one side !!

I do agree with all reasons mentioned in article. To recognized me as a professional, I would look forward to do this. I think, its all depends on how much work effort required for the work and how hard and time consuming it is.

I dont think, getting paid is always necessary in the form of money.  There are many other valuable returns you may get from the person you helped. Because everyone have their own telent and experties.  Sometimes other form of return might not worth the help you did but sometimes it might be more than that.  You can build this form of relationship and it is priceless but its worth to enjoy your life.
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by:ChiefIT
Took your advice, and showed my wife the article.

I bartered my way into a night of shameful bliss. Thanks DrD...

On EE, we are all striving for another ornate desire to be heard. We share expert's advice to basically show our abilities as an IT professional. Also we strive to improve our skills as an IT professional.

In economics, Good Will is an asset. This is the payment we recieve out of EE.

So, I feel that EE, may not provide monetary value, but other profitable returns, that mean more to us under-rated IT professionals.
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by:M. Rashel Ahmed
Great article. It just opened my eyes. Thanks Dr Damnit. A big YES for that!
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by:Kjartane
YES. Good reading. Bullseye.
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by:Kevin Cross
Yes. So true. Funnily, I spent some time with family a couple weekends ago where I was once again looking at their computer to do what is now routine maintenance to ensure their Antivirus is up to date, drives defragmented, etc., which in and of itself is hilarious since I don't even do those things in my day job anymore. At least I tend to get paid in good meals!
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by:Callandor
I generally do help people whom I know (as opposed to helping people I don't know here on EE), and those that I do know tend to be people who are grateful for help in times of need.  I do stipulate that I don't make house calls, so they have to make the effort to bring the machine to me.  This works out very well for relationships, because it does cost them time and effort, in return for my time and effort.
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by:aikimark
Appropriate T-shirt to wear when facing such a request:
http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/frustrations/388b/
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by:aikimark
meant to include an image of the T-shirts
will-not-fix.jpg
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by:jools
Kinda like it, but not sure it's always the case, besides what would happen to EE!

still voted yes though :-)
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by:Tony van Schaik
Here's is a good comic on this same matter :) must read > Why It's Better To Pretend You Don't Know Anything About Computers
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by:ejla51
My experience:
Installed once a free Memory Booster program.. seems to work ok, but after trial period expired, everything goes slowly and only more slowly... (because I does not payed any registration fee). Only way out was new harddisk and new installation of OS!
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by:DrDamnit
For anyone who has ever felt like they were working for peanuts:

http://www.experts-exchange.com/ITPro/Consulting/A_3743-Clarity.html

Don't forget to vote "yes"!

-DrDamnit.
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by:onlinerack
Well thought out and expressed... I have been in IT for 13 years but in consulting business. I fix way too many computers for freinds, neighbors, pretty girl ;), families and my wife's boss and the list goes on... I do not really charge them anything or barter, since I never have I did set an expectation that it can be for free just as you stated.

I am trying to figure out a way to get out of that as had I charged say $50 per call I would honestly have made a few thousand dollars per year let alone that the work has to be done after hours.

Tough for a nice guy to turn people down after they think you will be there for them... I wish we can get advice for people who have not read this well written and find out how you can get out of it. ;)

keep up the good work.
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by:Bob Stone
Sometimes us nice guys have to get down from our white horse and take off the shining armor. It is tough sometimes, but you will be grateful that some people quit asking for our "free" time. You aren't ever going to get out of fixing some people's stuff for free, but that doesn't mean you have to give it away to everyone who asks.
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by:PlusIT
as a guy said here before and i gonna quote his wise words because I think that is the key in the whole relationship:

As with my commercial clients, it comes down to expectations management.
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by:khamees79
I stood in front of my mirror and said: Learn you idiot, will you? The man in the mirror shake his head left and right
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by:James Murrell
A Very Big Yes! in fact YES
this should be printed and given to every new pc bought....


well done
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by:mds-cos
Oh, the pretty girl!  I just found the huge exception!  If a pretty girl asks you to fix her computer the answer (unless you are happily married) is yes, Yes, YES!!!!

Just be sure that you find plenty of reasons the pretty girl needs to be with you when you are fixing her computer ;-)  hehehe....
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by:Bob Stone
>Oh, the pretty girl!  I just found the huge exception!

Make sure she at least thinks you are in her league, otherwise you are just another sucker for her to take advantage of, and not in a good way.

Of course, I have never been taken advantage of by pretty girl. =o)
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by:Innerworx
Could not agree more!!
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by:Ituser
OMG, Can someone say AMEN!
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by:jasonatspigit
This is very helpful and such a great article. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
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by:andreyman3d2k
I haven't had a chance to read all the comments yet, so I apologize if this has been pointed out already -- but doesn't the argument of this article sort of contradict the spirit of EE? I mean, the geniuses who are on here, helping people (like me) half a world away, do not even get a beer, or remuneration of any serious kind. It's an "I've helped enough people to fill a small auditorium, and probably saved a few jobs today and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" kind of thing (I think this is an American joke -- I am not trying to denigrate EE shirts). Is it the $15 membership? I doubt it.

I think that every situation needs to be evaluated individually, and the determination to help or pass made on a case-by-case basis. That's my take, anyway.

Andrey
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by:ChiefIT
We do get something out of it.

Think of it this way. All most lei computer users know is, does it work or not.

We are helping other ITs overcome the, "it doesn't work and you need to do something about it". I for one have asked a few of those questions that EE helped me on, and I didn't have time to research a solution to the problem.

IT is simply an underrated profession because no-one really understands all the facets to managing an IT infrastructure, unless they have been put on that podium.
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by:mds-cos
There is a bit of difference between EE and actually fixing a computer though.  On EE we offer suggestions on the course that a person can take to resolve a problem.  Ultimately it is up to the person to accept the suggestion or not.  So we don't end up "owning" every problem that comes along after.  Nor do we end up getting blamed for each and every problem that comes after because we were the "last person to touch it".

I also find that (generally) people on EE are tech-savvy to begin with.  So their expectations are far different to begin with than the user who has no clue how to clean a virus off their computer (or better yet how to not get one in the first place!)
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by:keith_opswat
Ehh... I help my Mom and Dad for free just because they're computer illiterate and since even the simplest things I do amaze them they take every word I say as the word of god.

Plus...They're my parents. They gave up a lot raising 9 kids and are still broke so it'd be kind of a dick move.

Other people though this article really made sense for... I ALWAYS help everyone out. And it's completely accurate they get really aggravated after you've helped them out once if you don't drop what you're doing and help them right away. And for a free service that's just unacceptable. I'm going to try and adopt this article for all my friends and at least barter for something I want.
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by:cluster48
I agree! Assuming this was sent due to my volunteer work for our church and now I'm stuck, but I see it a bit different. Like I wrote in a blog today, it God's way of telling me I need a cluster. I'm looking for cluster information, from OS to render and don't mind paying for it. My biggest problem at this point is finding somebody with answers. Tried IT consultants in SW Florida and can not find someone with experience. I hear a lot, '...wow, sounds net but we have never done that'. Got emails to MS, Linux, and another group in Tampa, but nothing yet.
So if there is any body out there that about Windows HPC and Linux clustering and would like to consult, or knows who to call, let me know; this is a paying gig. This does prompt me to say this at my question.

Thank you

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by:Ahmadal_najjar2003
Nothing totally are free. When we help any body even if there is no relationship,
We do help hoping "Allah" God , will be happy from us and because
Allah said that if we help any body on this word he will help us on the final word
And he will give us a paradise.

So , we have to put on our mind that every thing we do we do it jut for Allah. And
Believe me you will never lose any deal with Allah.
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by:Alex Bahar
Yes yes yes! I agree with you  and I had gone throught that in the past. I was working as a unified comms consultant although I have software engineering and windows admin skills as well. Once I fixed an issue on customer's server while I was "just passing by". Obviously I couldn't charge a fee as I am a unified comms guy. So I got a BIG THANK YOU! Somehow whenever I went to the same business to discuss their networking matters, they started bringing one notebook after another. It even went as far as asking to fix their legacy PBX sold & maintined by another company, which was failing to identify the issue! At the end I started rejecting that customer to avoid working for free. So I worked for free, and lost one of my clients. Weird eh?
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by:ABasin
Totally disagree with this article if we're talking about people outside a business context.  Where I come from, everyone has skills, and no one knows everything.  We all need help with something and part of being friends is helping, particularly when I can contribute a unique skill.  If there is some monetary cost invovled I think it's right for pass those costs on.  For instance, I would never buy anyone any hardware, but I'll install it for free.  When my backhoe owning neighbor does some digging for me, I buy the fuel, but I don't pay him anything - not even a maintenance percentage.

As for weakening my backbone....  Resolving computer issues (especially one that I knew so little about that I caused it myself while "fixing" something) teaches me things I didn't know before and makes me a stronger. more experienced tech, not a weaker one.  Charging my neighbor for setting up his wireless network does not make me a more valuable consultant.

As for getting in over your head and breaking something else - if somebody asks you to help, and you don't really know how, you'd be smart to decline in the first place.  But if I jump in and break something that wasn't broken when I got there, that's on me.  Does it suck?  Oh yeah.  But what's right is right and people will respect you for that.  Which brings me to my last point...

Don't fix somebody's computer who doesn't respect you.  I mean, seriously...  If somebody breaks your chops all the time and doesn't really respect your friendship, when they ask for help, tell them to get bent.  


/opinion

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by:Bob Stone
Some things are taken for granted, but some things aren't as obvious to some.

Unless you're a total dick you aren't going to charge your parents, siblings and close friends for advice and a few hours of labor, that is what guilt is for. This is a general rule and there are obviously some extenuating circumstances sometimes where that would not be the case, but anyway...

Now, in-laws, co-workers, neighbors and the rest of the great unwashed masses are another story entirely. No cash, ass or grass, no fixey.
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by:mmichaels1970
For me, the hardest things to charge for are the subsequent phone calls.  The "do you know why this is doing that?" type of support that normally comes from clients that happily pay you when you are on site.  It is very hard to quantify and bill for a 30 second call here or a 5 minute call there especially when it doesn't require a physical visit.
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by:Bob Stone
It is like this old joke.

A tech guy works for a company for a few decades then gets laid off due to downsizing. One day the system goes down completely and no one knows why so they call him back to fix it. He pokes around for a few minutes, pulls a piece of chalk out of his pocket and marks a part inside the machine with an X. He goes to his old boss and and says "Just replace the part I marked" and hands him the piece of chalk, then says "That will be $10,000". The boss is shocked "Ten thousand! What the ...? Why?". The tech says "1 piece of chalk cost 25 cents, knowing where to put the X cost $9,999.75 .... or I can just wipe the X off and let you continue searching".  

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by:Roliaz
How absolutely true!

You must have been listening over my shoulder as I was pontificating to a young IT graduate (employed in the government sector) whom was in the habit of doing things for free for members of our service club. Many were business people that could and would pay for these services but would take advantage of a perceived deal. Well what I had to say to him fell on deaf ears as he delighted in the compliments and ego massage that he was getting.

Well it all came to a head when he got involved in situation Number 1 "You break it you bought it". The server he was working on went down and it took almost three days to recover. It was on day one he decided to bail as he had to be at his regular job and we were called in to bring everything back on line.

It didn't end there for this young fellow, as the business owner now wanted his pound of flesh and pursued legal action. This legal action extended as far as this young fellow's employer and caused him all sorts of grief for about a year and a half. The law suit wasn't successful but the issues impacted him personally, professionally and financially.

This was a lesson learned the hard way.

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by:piotrmikula108
NEVER SAY NEVER
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by:ccrockett1027
WOW! This is an awesome article. I have done many free things for fam and friends. What they say is true, "you fix one thing and onther breaks", Also you think it is an easy 20 mintues to get something done and 4 hours later you finally finish.

GREAT ARTICLE
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by:pcfreaker
Excelent Article!
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by:FluxCapacitor
Excellent!, been there done that. I have a rule now that I just don't help peoples personal computer problems. A bottomless pit indeed.
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by:Pratik Parmar
Yes, THis is a Good Article, One Sholud Avoid This, Thanks A Lot.....Love it Almost
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by:Firmin Frederick
adding to the many "Yes" votes you have mine as well, you have echoed what many people have told me, including my mother.  So if it's ok with you, I'd like to link this article on my website and use it as part of my email signature.  I think people should recognise that one act of kindness is not a token for pro bono publico.  IT is our chosen career path which means we expect money even when we don't ask for it - at least let us decline an offer, don't just withold it.

Thanks again.
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by:BoodaBuddy
Great article!  ....now if only i can live by it.
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by:Irwin Santos
I was actually one of those guys that took advantage of a barter in trade that had a pretty girl involved...and ALL good!!!  It wasn't exactly, I do this and you do that..."that" was drawn out from friendly conversation, some wine, more conversation, more wine....and then...

Anyway...knowledge is power.

GREAT article and lots of takes from other experts.  Reading this, put me in check as over the past years, I've succumbed to the "economy" and how it sucks and have been giving many friends free advice, service, etc...to help them out.  Some of this has panned out to paying opportunities, but more likely, I have many favors owed to me.  I've been a  consultant for almost 25 years, great times were had when the economy wasn't in the slump, unlike now in 2010.  Well, looks like the old dog has to get back on track.

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by:Engamt
a big YEEEEEEEES for your article man
you are describing my live , i always have this problem with friends and Colleagues

god bless you
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by:Donnie616
OMG---The deacon at my church has me in this exact position 10 mos after you wrote this article.  I told him i would charge him for the memory he might need and update/tweak things for free.

 He was given an old win XP HP laptop with 256 MBs of ram.
1st---1GB more mem reqrd.
2nd---OS was put in by a 4th party and was "system builder oem, 'PRE' SP1 Beta version".
3rd---it was fat 32 FS.  Changed to ntfs.  
After I did that, it required Activation that I  am unable to overcome.  His regular Church PC guy told him to buy a new one.  So did I.  he insisted.  i told him this was normally $135 job,  PLUS the RAM COST, but I would NOT charge him for the labor.  I thought maybe 3-4 hours

Now he needs and wants Wireless on a NON-wireless laptop,
1---Wireless
2---MS Office
3---Internet Security
4---much other utility SW

Anyways, Great article.  Read my question regarding the ACTIVATION ISSUE under OS + Activation + Win XP in about a half hour.
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by:Donnie616
OMG---The deacon at my church has me in this exact position 10 mos after you wrote this article.  I told him i would charge him for the memory he might need and update/tweak things for free.

 He was given an old win XP HP laptop with 256 MBs of ram.
1st---1GB more mem reqrd.
2nd---OS was put in by a 4th party and was "system builder oem, 'PRE' SP1 Beta version".
3rd---it was fat 32 FS.  Changed to ntfs.  
After I did that, it required Activation that I  am unable to overcome.  His regular Church PC guy told him to buy a new one.  So did I.  he insisted.  i told him this was normally $135 job,  PLUS the RAM COST, but I would NOT charge him for the labor.  I thought maybe 3-4 hours

Now he needs and wants Wireless on a NON-wireless laptop,
1---Wireless
2---MS Office
3---Internet Security
4---much other utility SW

Anyways, Great article.  Read my question regarding the ACTIVATION ISSUE under OS + Activation + Win XP in about a half hour.
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by:Ituser
FYI,

I stop doing things for free and now I look like a greedy IT guy for money.  Some colleagues are afraid to call for advice, fear that I might I charge them for the call. I kinda handle the situation wrong tho. I was doing IT work for pennies, just so my inner circle can get a break. I would charge $20 for 3 hrs of work. Give everything at cost, even if I got superb deal on parts. So then I abruptly stop when I realized my funds was low, parts was sold at cost(so my inventory depleted fast with no way to offset the cost, and I did not have any profit to show for all my work. Quickly, started being treated llke an outcast from my own inner circle. They couldn't understand that I paid for my certifications, obtained my college degree, learned my field, and now should reap some rewards.(some did) I wasn't milkin them for money, I revealed the actual cost. (parts, service, and labor). I, still was 10% - 15% below the competitive market in my area. Nevertheless, I lost half my client-tale because I'm charging a competitive rate. Now some rely on Geek Squad to do their work. FUNNY!  With that said, I do have some coming back choosing the lessor of the 2 evils. But I had to WAKE UP to realize what I was doing to myself.  

Don't start it and you will not have to deal with it. 'Lesson Learned'

Ituser
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by:DrDamnit
ITUser:

Good for you!

You chose prosperity over servitude. Read my other article, and you'll instantly feel better about the situation.

Your next step is to differentiate yourself from the competition. You can do that in many ways. One of the easiest (and most profitable) is to not charge a competative rate. Be the most expensive (or close to it) in your area. You'll need to come up with a reason why, which is a matter of marketing and discovering what makes you different than the competition.

If you think I'm crazy, ask yourself one question: when choosing a brain surgeon, do you want the 15% of discount guy or the one making $1M / year?

If you're in the business market, be one of the most expensive guys out there, and over-deliver. Build a fence around your customers so that even if they tried to go somewhere else, they would instantly miss you because no one else sends thank you cards, calls on their birthday, or drops by once a month (free of charge) to get feedback from the owners or the staff.

If you're in the residential market, you have to adopt the wal-mart model: lots of customers doing easy work (re-installing windows) and have them bring the computer to you or for $15 someone will pick it up and drop it off. Hire a kid to do that. Don't get complicated with home users. They are usually much happier if you wipe the hard drive and reinstall than if you fix it.

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by:Arxiss
Very nice tutorial!
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by:macentrap
Really nice, liked it!
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by:Devario Johnson
Loved the article even though i skimmed through!  IA100%
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by:ExpertJosiahA
i agree 110% i am a ASE mechanic and work for the IT dept for my company. so i get the double whammy.  i did a favor here and there and man that blew right up in my face with countless people going why do you want to charge me now? you changed i say BS ASE certifications and the hundreds of hours i spent researching computer science wasn't free for me so why would it be free for any one else. i only wish i thought about that before i started doing favors. great article!
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by:Muskie12
It was a great article followed by some excellent comments.

The only thing I would add is that if my daughter would ask me to fix her computer and there was nothing I could think of to ask her to do for me, I told her she had to sit down in the basement office with me for as long as it took for me to fix the PC.

I think she at least began to understand the time involved, and sometimes the "problem" she had brought forward maybe wasn't that big a deal after all and didn't need to be fixed.

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by: