In a previous article, I pointed out that despite the turbulent economy, people were still doing well running a computer repair business in the recession. I even went on to challenge my readers to comprehend the importance of making sure that those running these businesses find themselves in a position where they are catering to the needs of their customers… especially if there is a niche being overlooked by others.
Years ago when I ran my own repair business, I found that the biggest advantage I had over the “other guys” was the fact that I wasn’t speaking “geek” to my clients. Yes, my prices were not the cheapest and I often asked people to bring things to me, but by simply listening to what the user needed, I was able to maintain a list of repair clients for the life of the business. But how did I get these people in the first place? What methods worked and which didn’t in my past efforts marketing a computer repair business?
Understand your market
So many people new to the computer repair realm and even some who’ve been doing it for years, are selling their services to the wrong people. Some techs believe that on day one, they are going to instantly secure IT administration contracts and make boat loads of money. A short time later, they end up taking on work from poorly worded ads in Craigslist hoping to simply get “any money” possible for their efforts. This of course, means you will often end up with the kind of clients looking to land the best “deal” possible, while maintaining ridiculous expectations. This kind of thing happens because the repair tech is doing business by catering to anyone with a checkbook or a credit card. Bad idea.
Before you even get started, I would make sure you have a clear idea as to who you are willing to work with. Obviously if you are brand new, landing IT administration contracts is extremely unlikely and means you may need to start off by gaining some experience, first. More importantly, you will want to make sure you know who are looking to AVOID. From my own experience, I decided early on that I would not cater to cheapskates. I chose to provide the best service possible for a fair, regionally friendly price. By calling around and getting an idea as to what the average rate was for what kind of services, I was able to determine my fee would be $X dollars per hour or per task, depending on how you structure your business.
By not selecting the cheapest rate possible, I instantly made it clear that I wanted clients with high expectations, but who were still willing to pay my going rate. These people do exist, you just have to be able to backup your promises. In my case starting out years ago, my initial market was home and SoHo clients who were above average in yearly earnings and expected me to perform at a level that matched my fee. Needless to say, I performed.
Advertising and word of mouth
Even though we are more embroiled in the “Google age” than when I was in the computer repair business, the fact remains most people still use the yellow pages – especially if you are not living in large, high-tech areas. This means as absurd as it may seem today, you would be AMAZED at how many people are looking for a new computer repair person based on display ads in the Yellow Pages. At the same time, I would put just as much emphasis on creating a SEO friendly (from a local standpoint) website for your business as well. This way those people who are indeed looking online for repair help, are finding you based on your SEO skills and ability to rank well with Google in your home town.
Then there is the single most potent method of gaining new clients for your computer repair business — word of mouth. Now this can be difficult if you’re brand new to this kind of work, but there are ways of getting a LOT of attention fast. Best of all, most people are too lazy to duplicate these methods as they require you to do free give a ways with your time at first. See, most new techs start off by making the mistakes above. In addition to that, they follow up with lame classified ads, asking people to pay their rates despite the fact their ads are sitting right next to ads from your competition. So how can you stand out? By getting into people’s homes from day one with a free offering.
With the ultimate word of mouth campaign, the idea is to make sure you are not just attracting free-loaders and instead, are simply looking to gain attention from a desirable list of potential clients. Offering one time, free computer repair assistance to cancer survivors, families of military personnel serving overseas or perhaps folks who are unable to find work and need their computers to perform job searches. I know what you’re thinking? Outside of doing something genuinely nice for folks without any strings attached, how does this help to get the word out about your new business? Well, this is the amazing part.
Once you’ve assisted these folks, chances are they are going to do a couple of things right off the bat.
1) Ask for a business card (give them a small stack to be passed out to family/friends)
2) Inquire as to what your regular rates are.
Now obviously with those who are tight on funds, your rates might seem a bit frightening. But this may not be the case when this same person shares their experience with friends and family who are not tight on funds. Those who can afford you, will ask for you based on the fact that the other individual you helped is singing your praises. Sound unlikely? Wrong — it works and it’s how I built my business from scratch to full-time in three months time before any of my ads were even used. Never underestimate the power of a free offering.
Getting the word out to this kind of thing for charitable works is never difficult. Simply contact your local paper, churches and other related outfits and ask about inserting your announcement into their publication. From there, you will be shocked at how fast calls will start coming in.
Freebie to paying client
Most people will read the above and scoff at the very idea of donating their time. I would counter with two arguments. First, it works and has worked for others I know of in other areas. Second, You are launching your business in a very positive light with some fantastic PR to boot. No ad can beat the claim that you help out people in need with their computer issues. Despite it being a one time thing, this does lead to paying customers. So really, it’s a matter of sitting around waiting for someone to call or making it happen.
Fact of the matter is people do talk to other people and out of each person your business is shared with, your price rate will pre-qualify the type of client you want. And at risk of sounding mean, I would remind you to not be the cheapest in town. You will regret it. This aside, I think you will be shocked at how many people contact you, interested in your quality of service. You’ve already demonstrated yourself by donating free time to others and now, will be able to assist those who need computer repair assistance right away, at your going rate.
But what about when the freebie recipient asks for more free help? This can happen, so pay close attention. Early on you need to know exactly how you wish to spend your time and what your comfort level is with catering to people who honestly cannot afford your rates. In my case, I simply explained that this was my job and I had to make sure that my work hours were spend earning myself a living. I was never cold about it, simply explained that this is what “I” was able to afford. Like them, I had a tight budget and have to make sure my bills are paid, too.
For some of you out there however, you may wish to take another approach. You may be tempted to give them another freebie, after all these people have possibly undergone a loss, suffered something or what have you. Regardless, realize that you must be careful if you go this route and MUST setup clear boundaries. The best way if you insist on offering on-going free help is to set aside one day a month in which you do freebies. No free paid software or free hardware of course, and folks understand it’s by appointment only and only on that day. This will allow you to help folks out, without ruining your business.
Fliers, radio ads and other media
So what about using fliers, classified ads and other related media? After all, each of these is fairly simple and inexpensive to do, right? Well fliers can land you clients…but is this really how you want to start off your business? Passing out fliers or worse, spending money to pay someone else to do the same? You can do it, but expect mediocre results. No, I recommend you keep advertising to one yellow page ad only and make sure the rest of your time is spent repairing computers. After all, you will look better to perspective clients if you’re advertising comes from a $500+ yellow page ad or from assisting those in the community. Because if you’re charging $x per hour, you’ve already demonstrated your ability to perspective clients….as the referring person you helped as made sure your skill set is already well know amongst their sphere of influence.
This is not to say that you cannot use TV or radio to make a public appearance, explaining that you are giving away one time free service to a worthy cause. Because that merely expands on what print media can do in the same area for getting the word out to the masses. Just make sure your marketing efforts reflect someone who repairs computers for a living, not someone looking to become an advertising genius.