Making a living building computers?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by DeathStar1, Jan 7, 2007.

  1. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    OK everyone, here's an idea..

    Does anyone here make a living building computers for neighbors, friends, etc and does not go beyond say 12 miles for a service call?


    I built my first machine last year, and it worked flawlessly. Only thing I forgot to do was connect the PCI-E power to the graphics card and it powered right up. This year, I upgraded it with a new home built machine. I uninstalled everything old, reinstalled everything new into the case, and once I fixed the overheating problem, it's been running perfectly for close to two weeks now.


    I would love to do this as a career. I would recomend to people what I think would be good for their system based off what I find at newegg..... they'd buy it, send it to my location, along with whatever programs and CD's they want me to install, and I'd build it. Put it through the 3Day test to see that there are no problems and then hand it over.


    The problem is, I don't know any of the advanced techinician stuff. I can do basic trouble shooting like I did with the Overheating (and some help from online folks [​IMG] ).....I have a few programs that have helped me clean up windows from time to time.... but how many people would buy just a well built computer with little to no support after it's built, other than part warranty?
    Also, how much would you charge for putting together a machine? How much would you charge for a service call?

    This would be a much easier job idea than my last one, since the last one involved a much steeper learning curve.....but there are still the fine details to work out with this one. I am also considering going to a technical school here in Jersey, but I'm wondering if one is even needed if you already know the basics...

    For those who do this, or know someone who does, any advice is appreciated [​IMG].
     
  2. Bryan X

    Bryan X Producer

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    To me, that seems like waaaay too much trouble for most people to go thru. Why make them buy their own parts? It would be much simpler to offer a list of components and you buy them. If they buy their own parts, you are strictly looking at making money on your labor. If you buy the parts you can build in a little profit there.

    Either way, I don't see being able to make enough money to live off of.
     
  3. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    I do computer consulting, repair maintenance, upgrades, etc. for small business and for personal (home) computer owners for a living.

    I used to build computers for clients, but I don't anymore. There is no money in building computers. There isn't enough profit margin on the parts and labor to make it worthwhile. You can't compete on price with Dell, and the other big computer houses because you can't buy components in volume.

    I still build for myself, and if there is someone that wants a specialized custom-built computer I won't turn them down, but 99.9999999% of the time, I will just point a client to Dell.com when they need a computer.

    Think about it this way...it takes 30-60 minutes to put a box together. Another 2-4 hours to install the OS and do all the updates, and device drivers. Then another 5-30 minutes per application. That means you will need on average about 4 hours per computer. How much do you need to charge per hour to make it worth your time? How many hours a week will you actually spend building computers? Can you make a living building 1 per day? 2 per day? What volume would you have to reach to actually be able to reach your target income level? And don't forget cost of living for your area, business expenses, and the fact that Medicare and Social security taxes are an extra 15% above the income tax (you have to pay both the employee and employer side of those taxes).

    How much would you have to charge to make a living? And would you be able to get clients to actually pay that amount above the cost of the hardware or would it make the computers too expensive?

    My suggestion is this:

    You want to learn advanced troubleshooting, maintenance and repair. That's where the money in computer hardware is, because almost everyone already has one or more computers. Buy a book for A+ certification, read it it, study it. You might even want to take the A+ exams and get certified, since it's good for the resume. Even if you don't get certified, you'll learn enough to be dangerous.
     
  4. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    My problem is this. As it stands now, I work for my parents, and even there things are slow latley, so I only go in for a few hours, do what little I have to do, and the rest of the day is free. Not really a fun job, even if it is easy as hell, so my time is almost unlimited with a minor social life that I have. Time is no problem. More customers I get, the less I have to charge.

    But, your other option is an interesting one. My father has ALOT of business associates (mostly sales people from other companies) that drop in from time to time. They know people in their company, and they know other and so on and so on....If I could gain the knowledge needed, I could have them drop off their computer at the office, I could try and trouble shoot it, and if all else fails, I just do a fresh install of windows, make a drive image out of it for next time with all the base programs on it, and boom, done. No more different than what I do now. The problem would be the advanced stuff and programs I am not familair with, but we are not really talking about tech savvy people here, so I don't see that as too much of a problem.

    How much can one charge for a service call, considering most problems don't take an hour or more to fix?
     
  5. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    I work from home. I charge $60/hr if I work there or $70/hr if I work on-site. Minimum 1 hour. The reason I don't charge flat fees for tasks is because 1) you never now how fast or slow a computer is (which affects everything from a simple reboot to reinstalling the OS), and 2) you never know what other issues you'll run into when trying to fix the problem you were hired to do.

    That said, I will charge less than one hour if I feel it's too much. And I also offer discounts.

    Also, you're more valuable if you can go to them. For one, it's better to work on the computer in its native environment in case the environment is part of the cause. Also, it's an inconvenience for your client to have to unplug everything, take the computer to you, pick it up and plug it back in.

    The kinds of work you can do:

    Upgrade hardware
    Upgrade software
    Upgrade OS
    Install software
    General software troubleshooting (it's amazing what you can solve with a Google search)
    OS troubleshooting
    Clean up messes from viruses and spyware
    set up automated back-up solutions
    Computer tune-ups
    Preventive maintenance (anti-virus, anti-spyware, software firewalls)
    Re-install OS and apps
    Set up small networks using a router and/or secure wireless

    I also set up people with Harmony Remotes for their home theaters or home entertainment centers. :)


    Most of this stuff, if you don't already know just from playing around with your own machine, you can learn from the A+ certification books.

    I wouldn't say no if someone wanted me to build them a computer, but I'd make sure they understood the overhead costs ahead of time and were willin g to pay for it.
     
  6. SethH

    SethH Cinematographer

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    Definitely look into getting some solid certifications -- starting with A+. And I agree that there's really no money in building computers.
     
  7. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    If you are self-employed, the certification itself doesn't mean much (and the exams aren't cheap), since its mostly used as a resume line . But the knowledge is extremely invaluable.

    I've been self-employed for almost 5 years, but I took the A+ certification 4 years just to prove to myself I knew what I was doing. The study guides for the exam are invaluable, and if you buy the right book, they can be an excellent reference. If you have enough hands on experience with computers, taking an A+ class probably isn't necessary.

    I am thinking of working toward either Server+ or Network+ next, just to improve my knowledge on those subjects.

    Also, to do this, you'll need to put together a good toolkit.

    You'll want the basics for tinkering inside a computer, you may want a LAN toolkit for testing cables, a power supply tester to make sure they haven't gone bad, a galvanometer and an outlet tester (for making sure they are properly wired/grounded).

    In addition, you'll want a Win98 startup floppy, and a CD that you make filled with all sorts of troubleshooting applications you can find on the Internet. A memory tester, HijackThis, free software firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware. It's also good to have a copy of Firefox on there for when IE goes haywire.

    Those are not exhaustive lists of what should be in your toolkit, just what I could remember off the top of my head, but it's a good start.
     
  8. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    Consider other places and see what the competition is like. We have places like Geek Rescue and BB has their geek squad to see what they are charging and see if you can undercut them.

    And the guys are right, there is no money in building pcs. Dell makes it too easy.
     
  9. Greg_S_H

    Greg_S_H Executive Producer

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    Off-topic, deleted by author
     
  10. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    You may want to just post that question in the Computers/HTPC area.
     
  11. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    When you are just getting started, having a lower price is good to get the work, but as you gain experience and a client base, then you can charge as much or more than Geek Squad because, frankly, you'd be better than them and probably have a quicker turnaround time...people don't like being without their computers. Besides, for the difficult stuff beyond upgrades, they generally outsource it and just collect a middleman fee.

    That said, I will not do any work on a computer that would cause it to have its warranty voided by the manufacturer if it requires a technician "from their list".
     
  12. Justin Lane

    Justin Lane Cinematographer

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    Neil,

    I envy your situation. From other posts I recall you are in your late twenties, and being able to have no real job and work for your parents a few hours a day and still get by is a real luxury.

    As for the building computers, you cannot do it for less than Dell no matter how efficient you get. Dell sells entire systems for 300-400. Just buying an OEM version of Windows will set one back about 100 and then you have to add in components (motherboard, CPU, HD, DVD/CD-RW, case, RAM, Monitor, etc.). Add in the lack of 24/7 tech support and your ridiculous request of not going more than 12 miles for a service call and you have a business doomed for failure before ever beginning.

    I always build my own systems and my parent's (and in-laws) systems but at friends I draw the line (most of the time). I just don't have the time to be their free tech support and re-install windows everytime they hose it up with spyware or a virus.

    J
     
  13. Paul D G

    Paul D G Screenwriter

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    Building isn't where the money is (esp when a new pc can be had for under $300), repairing them is. Our neighbor's laptop was all but dead. She was considering tossing it and buying a new one. I spent a little time looking at it, determined the memory was bad, sent her to Tiger Direct and told her what to buy. I installed it - good as new. Geek Squad would probably charge $50 just to look at it.

    -paul
     
  14. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    It really is. I've more or less been cooking my own diners, washing my own clothes, mowing the lawn and doing housework and keeping my worth around here since age 11, so I've been independent in that sense.. Thank a workaholic grandfather for teaching me the fun of 'house' work for that [​IMG]. So it's not like I've been sitting around here doing nothing since Junior High in the early 90's. But now that I've got something resembling a normal job, I can now pay bills and pull more weight around here than before, and it feels good [​IMG].

    But when you aren't doing what you want to be doing, even an easy job can be dull after a while, which is why I am exploring this avenue. I already help family members out for free...might as well get payed for it with friends and family friends and so on.

    The 12 Mile range thing is I have a problem with driving. If you've been following the posts, you know I was diagnosed with OCD about three years ago. It got so bad my driving suffered because of nervousness and double backs on the route. I'm dong much better with Driving now, and after three years I've been off the meds for three months now....but I'd still rather keep the range small.

    I'm not looking to expand....become the next Best Buy or what have you. Just keeping it small, making enough to eventually buy out the Shore house and move down there permanently on my own....with a little extra to spend on the side. Just a nice comfortable living...with the regular stress a computer technician might have [​IMG].

    Living with your parents at my age may be OK in Japan because real estate is at a premium, but not so much here in the states [​IMG] .
     
  15. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    Ahh, now here's a question. I've been thinking of upgrading my laptop, but I've been told that they are so tightly packed, it's just best to get a new one. If I add laptops to my repuate, would that same A+ book help me out there, or is there a good site that details the insides of a laptop and how to properly take one apart to see the insides?

    I had a chance to take an old one apart, but they traded it in to circuit city for a dea on a new one...darn the luck, heh.
     
  16. Justin Lane

    Justin Lane Cinematographer

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    There really is not much you can do inside a laptop from an upgrade/repair standpoint, so I would not waste resources in that department. Typically the only components which can be replaced is your HD, CD Rom, or RAM and these are quite obvious when they die, so don't waste your time learning the ins and outs for any other purpose than your own knowledge.

    If you are intent in starting your own computer business, you probably want to build specialized systems. Pick out a few neat looking cases for your offerings and cater a system to gamers or buyers who are looking for something cooler than an off the shelf Dell. I still think you will have a tough time making any money, but you seem to be in a situation where you have shelter/food and can afford to take a lower wage and still live, which is actually a benefit.

    For me it typically takes 4-6 hours to assemble and install OS/software. If I accept $30/hr as reasonable pay, I am looking at at somewhere in a $150 mark-up on a typicaly system which when I add in the price of an OS (~100) leaves me at a $250 pricetag without buying a single hardware component. This is why it is impossible to compete with the Dells of the world.

    Another money maker is networking for homes/businesses. You need to target small business under 50 employees (anything larger and they probably have a computer guy on staff or have contracted a support group), and homes which want to add wired or wireless networking.

    Good luck, but you will probably make more money opening up a sandwich shop.

    J
     
  17. Paul D G

    Paul D G Screenwriter

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    They really are. Whenever someone tells me they want a laptop as a first PC I steer them away from it unless they plan to mostly use it while traveling. With a desktop all you need to do is swap out the motherboard, CPU, and memory and you have a new, faster PC; all the other parts can be reused. With a laptop there's not a lot you can do to make it faster.

    PC Mag had an article on upgrading your laptop if you want to take a look: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,2024406,00.asp

    -paul
     

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