Providing support services for computer users is a growing business, particularly for services delivered through remote technology. Many computer problems can be solved without the technician having possession of the machine, thus eliminating a major inconvenience for many consumers—taking the computer to the shop. Starting a remote PC support firm will mean focusing on this service niche.
Know the ins and outs of working with the Windows "Remote Assistance" program and setting up Virtual Private Networks and remote operations. You must be an absolute expert in this approach, able to "take over" a client's computer through a network connection and make repairs on the PC as if the machine were in front of you.
Write a business plan, focusing on fixing computers that have software problems and assisting consumers with questions about software, through remote networking and the onboard Windows "Remote Assistance" component. Don’t dilute your business model or complicate matters by including services that would require any “in person” facilities and interactions. Think of every possible aspect of your new business and write down your vision.
Investigate what type of business entity to adopt: sole proprietorship, limited liability corporation, or subchapter S corporation. There are significant liability and taxing issues involved in each type of entity so do your research diligently and early in your planning process. Do research online or ask an attorney or tax accountant or local member of the Senior Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) which entity adoption is better for your purposes.
Register your business where required before opening for business. You may need to register with your city before you can legally conduct business. Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) online from the IRS too; this step effectively "registers" you with your state and the federal authorities. In most cases you cannot open a business checking account without an FEIN number.
Project your immediate staffing needs for a period of one year. Envision how you will recruit, hire, schedule and pay these technicians. Don’t be overly optimistic in your staffing: start small and grow as demand for your services increases. Keep wages low (but above minimum wage for your state) but remember that higher wages usually attract more experienced, better trained workers. Build as much flexibility into your scheme as possible to account for start-up "slow" spells. Investigate the rules for hiring staff as "Independent Contractors" on the W-1099 worker tax basis: this can save you a lot of money.
Hire well. Advertise or network for employees who meet your minimum qualifications both technically and in terms of performance. Never hire anyone who does not meet or exceed your standards. Supervise your employees carefully: test them at random to be sure they are performing to expectations. Do not hire friends or family members: you must be able to terminate workers without reserve if they don't perform to standards.
Bankroll your new company ahead of time. You need a minimum of six months of operating funds in the bank before you open for business. One year’s worth of operating money is even better. Have money in the bank for all equipment, tools, supplies, fees, monthly services, marketing needs and wages ahead of time to prevent falling behind on crucial obligations if business is very slow during start up—as it is likely to be.
Curtail overhead expenses by not renting office or work space to house your firm, at least not initially. A remote PC repair business is perfectly suited to working from a home, or many homes. Use technology like virtual private networks, webconferencing, instant messaging and email to communicate and manage staff in different locations. Avoid investing in work space and other high-end equipment for as long as possible.
Establish a way to charge clients for your remote services. For this kind of business, payment by credit card makes the most sense. Contact a credit card processing company and apply for a merchant account: ask your local bank for a recommendation. Seek an online “virtual terminal” account which does not require physical card “swiping” equipment: virtual accounts often offer lower processing rates than other types of accounts.
Set rates for your service either by the “job” or by the hour (or minute). Do research on the rates being charged by traditional “in person” repair shops for comparable services to determine your rate: Since you are saving the customer a physical trip to a store you may be able to charge slightly higher rates than “brick and mortar” repair shops. However, because remote services are still new to consumers, also consider setting the base rate very close to what “real” shops charge until the idea takes off.
Establish a concrete marketing plan. Plan and budget for all types of marketing efforts but find inexpensive and effective ways to promote your business in the community. Do not depend wholly on mere word-of-mouth recommendations during the first year of operation.
Write a policy and operations manual. Spell out every aspect of your operation. You should be able to hand a new hire this manual and they should be able to function as an employee to a significant degree after reading it. Include a Code of Ethics covering issues like protecting clients' privacy when accessing their computer hard drive contents and information.
Set up a bookkeeping system and maintain it without fail. A good bookkeeping system, like Quickbooks, will save you money, help you at tax time, and show you where improvements may be needed in your business model.
Plan for the "long haul," not the short run. Most new businesses fail due to poor planning and underfunding during the first three start-up years. After the third year of business, most businesses are considered "established" and more likely to succeed.
Do not fail to pay any taxes you owe to the State or Federal government: Failure to pay sales or business taxes will result in a seizure of your business and stiff fines. Do not pay employees "under the table;" you will be caught and penalized for this. All payments made to workers and Independent Contractors must be reported to the IRS and your State Department of Employment.
- "Start Your Own Computer Repair Business"; Linda Rohrbough; 1995
- "Start Your Own Computer Repair Business"; Morris Rosenthal; 2002
- "Computer Repair Business Lessons Learned"; Daniel Hand; 2007
- computer image by Kit Wai Chan from Fotolia.com