Advice for a Beginner Consultant w/ little experience

Hello all,
I am starting my own PC Repair consulting business soon and would like to solicit some advice. Business practices, services to offer, service to not offer.... etc. I am fresh out of school (which doesn't teach you much) and have limited real world experience. I welcome everything you experts have to say, but I am especially interested in what stuff would be useful to purchase.

Do I need diagnostic software/equipment? (I am currently considering )

Best way to back-up client machines. I am currently considering Acronis, but have been reading a lot of bad reviews of the latest versions. I like that Acronis is kinda of an all in one package, backup, sync, imaging software.

What is the best software/method to virus removal? Currently I just take the hard drive out of the infected machine and plug it into my computer via a USB converter and scan it with a couple different A/V programs like Malware Bytes, AVG.

Are there any "Must Haves" for the tech guy's tool belt?

I cant think of anything else specific I want to ask, but I welcome anything you guys have to say on the subject.

Thank you very much.
Who is Participating?
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I would suggest you review my articles on the subject:

Some people may be able to find reasonable and steady work working for home users - I found that when I left my day job home users accounted for 3% my of income and decreased over time.  They aren't worth it (generally speaking).  If you really want the extra money, fine, but schedule them after business hours and make sure to charge FULL RATES DURING business hours if they insist.

See also my TechTools page:

One of the most important things to remember - YOU are costing the customer time the longer you take to fix a problem.  It can be tempting to want to find the root cause and learn something but BE CAREFUL when you do this.  If you're preventing someone at a business from working while you try to find the root cause, the business is paying that person to sit around and do nothing or that person is unable to work and generate revenue for the business.  This means that when you find a tough virus infection, if you cannot clean it fully in 30 mintues (generally speaking), it's USUALLY MUCH safer to wipe the machine and reload AND much faster.

Finally, BACKUPS - ALWAYS MAKE BACKUPS.  When you can, NEVER DELETE, ALWAYS RENAME.  You can far more easily recover a renamed file than a deleted file.  (For RELATIVELY quick backups, I use Disk2VHD to create a VHD COPY of their hard drive.  Further, if it's a large enough drive with a lot of data, ask yourself... will making a backup that takes 90 minutes make sense considering you charge (for example) $100 per hour ($150 for the backup time) or does it make MORE sense to just get a new hard drive for $75 and install it in 15 minutes ($25) for a total cost of $100 instead of $150 to the client?  AND the client has a new drive with better warranty and you have a full backup so you can easily put the old drive back if you forgot something or something gets lost.
Ron MalmsteadInformation Services ManagerCommented:
I would also get these in your tool box...
Symantec Ghost - used for cloning/backing up machines, also useful for virus removal.
RecoverMyFiles - Used for recovering deleted files, even on machines  or external USB drives that have been reformatted.  
External USB CD/dvd Burner - for servers or machines with broken or missing drives.
Belarc Advisor - Used to inventory a machine for software / licenses / hardware etc etc.

Any remote management software you like, so you can revisit someone's machine without haveing to get in your car and drive back to someone who claims something still isn't working..  I recommend CrossLoop, which is free and doesn't have to run as a service.  Anytime I help a new customer, I install this for them, so they can simply launch it and call me with the access code for remote help.  Saves me gas.

I usually have spare parts as well...
Video Card
Spare hdd's .. SATA and IDE
Spare PCI/PCI-e network card

These are common replacements.
JonathongAuthor Commented:
Thank you xuserx2000,
I see that Norton Ghost has been discontinued. What do you know about Symantec System recovery? It looks like it might be a substitute for Ghost.

Also how do you feel about Recover My Files as compared to Get Data Back by

Thanks again!
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Oh, and join COMMUNITIES!!!!

Don't know where you are, but there are consulting user groups ALL OVER.  I've been to them in Dallas, Seattle, and New York and I KNOW there are many others in other cities/regions.  Also join mailing lists - sbs list on yahoo groups, smbmanagedservices also on yahoo groups.  Check meetups.

If it's just you, forming relationships with other consultants can be vital when you need extra manpower or just someone to cover you when you have two emergencies at the same time.  Not to mention, the extra knowledge and experience they can offer.
Welcome to the IT world my friend, it's a hard job but it got its rewards if you really like it. Besides what has already being told by our fellow colleagues, I would say that you should be (and look) professional. "Brand" your good work by getting a business name and logo and use it whenever you can (there are websites that can make you a professional-looking logo very cheap, even for around 20 bucks). Get some embroided shirts with your logo and name (you can get them locally for $10-$20 each), business cards (check, and find some nice quote / billing forms with your logo on it (you can get some nice forms for free on the web, if you got ms office you can check office online and there you will find plenty to choose from).  

Also try to keep averything "legal". Verify any government license/permit you may need and get it. Find out how to deal with your taxes, what you need to pay and what you can deduct (i.e. your computer, car and home office may be business expenses, etc.).

Since you are just getting out from school, as you well said, you still have a lot to learn from the real world. Start offering your services to home based and small business offices, and go for the "big fishes" after getting more experience and learning from your own mistakes (believe me, you will make some mistakes... which is not that bad if you learn from them). I would recommend small professional offices (lawyers, doctors, CPAs, etc.), they are usually in need of technical expertise and got the money to pay your bill. You can go to their offices and offer your "services catalog" with a business card. Most of the time they will not give you a job at the moment, but they will keep your card and call you when they get in trouble (lost data, broken PC with important information, and so on). This will be your "hook" for future jobs, make sure you give the best posible service and offer some "premiums" (i.e. "you could lost your data the next time this happens, I could build a backup infrastructure for your data is protected"). And always offer the "Holly Grail" of PC Shops services: The Maintenance Contract. They pay you a monthly/yearly standard fee per PC, and you fix any problem they may have free of charge (parts not included, and some restrictions may apply, of course). Plus you go once or twice a month to maintain all PCs even if they are working fine (check antivirus, defrag, vaccum... the usual stuff). This routine maintenance will help having less unexpected problems plus creates a good customer relationship (since they always see you taking care of their PCs). Maintenance Contracts are usually easy money, and a good business practice.

Finally, remember these two phrases:

1- "Google is your best friend"
2- "You don't have to know everything, you just need the phone number of people who know stuff"

Hope this helps,

Ron MalmsteadInformation Services ManagerCommented:
I have a deep appreciation for  Eddie-Lopez's last comment.

1) You can't survive without google.
2) It's impossible to know everything.

Whatever software/hardware.. for data recovery and repair, that you're comforable with and works, is ok.

The only thing you really need to worry about is how to be efficient, so at the end of the day you don't make angry customers and you can still pay your bills.  Do what you know, and learn what you don't.

You can still make money on referrals too.  ;)
btanExec ConsultantCommented:
be true to yourself and importantly to customer, show respect and earnest in your work and they will stand by you and always be your customer. as long as promise and deal is make, fulfill it and I thought the key now is to have a goal and mission for your setup - this stay with your customer - build a community and networks of resource for supplier to meet demand. Join mailing list for SANS, EE and Cyber geek community - also your peer  and build social network presence to proliferate services as well as solicit feedback and keep customer at bay for threat and technology.

Not easy but build your business plan, resource you need, targeted audience and look out for your local SME ICT innovation scheme and training - have small wins and many of them to build confidence. Also have resource of best practices - easily googled  

Thought below link may come handy for the tool
e.g. Hiren's BootCD, Ultimate Boot CD, SleuthKit, SANS SIFT, Testdisk and more ..

other resources



Good luck and Great Future!
JonathongAuthor Commented:
Thank you everyone for your great answers. Leew your comments, and your website were most useful. Thank you!
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