20

I'm a software engineer, but before that, I attempted to run my own mobile computer repair business. That business never got off the ground, so I went into a career in software development.

Fairly frequently, I have people still contact me for computer repairs. Sometimes it's several times a month and other times I don't get a job for several months. About 70% are from family and 30% from strangers/family friends that have heard about me. Strangers never have a problem paying for service because to them, they're contacting a "business". However, family and family friends usually think I'm doing it to be a good family member. I will fix a close family member's computer for free such as for my parents. However, it annoys me when my half brother calls me and wants his computer fixed for free when I haven't even heard from him for 4-5 months.

Recently a "family friend" called my dad to ask if I could do something to his computer. I told my dad to tell her that I'd do it, but it would be $X. She brought the computer to me and then complained that I was charging her. The complaints continued and she eventually said: "I thought we were family".

I'm trying to figure out how I can make people realize that even though I don't fix computers full time, I spent a lot of years learning how to work on them. Most of the people that bring me computers aren't as well off as me. They seem to think that because I don't need the money, that I should do it for free.

How can I mount an argument that my time is valuable, even if I don't necessarily need the money?

  • 10
    A quick google search shows that professional computer repair is usually charged at $50-75/hr. You don't need to tell me what you're charging if you don't want to, but is it below this? (if it is, "I'm already giving you [this much] discount on what ppl would charge if you went elsewhere" would be part of my answer) – scohe001 May 22 at 15:52
  • 3
    Hi Jim! Welcome to IPS. The information scohe requested would be very useful. But what's also important: As you can see in our help center pages, we can't make your arguments for you here. So can you tell us a little about what you want to tell these people as an argument for charging them? Then we can help you with presenting those arguments in a suitable way. – Tinkeringbell May 22 at 16:26
  • 3
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. If you're thinking of writing an answer, please make sure to read our good answer guidelines and citation expectations first! – Tinkeringbell May 23 at 7:15
  • 5
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because I think it needs some edit and additional details to be properly answerable. – Ælis May 23 at 8:51
  • 3
    This is reminiscent of other questions, such as interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/9042/… and interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/1156/… – Acccumulation May 23 at 17:55
32

Welcome to IT! Anyone who works in the field will tell you that requests from family members to fix their computers is an occupational hassle. I've known mainframe operators who get this asked of them, as well as programmers, network security admins, and other specialties who would have minimal interaction with that skill set.

The important thing here, I've discovered, is setting expectations. Obviously there's a mismatch - you expect to be paid for your skills, and some of these folks expect that you'd want to do it for free. I'm not hearing "I don't want to fix personal computers", so we can leave that out of the discussion. (That's been my response for the last decade: I don't work on home computers).

What I've seen other tech guys do is to have a base rate, and have it be commensurate with your skill set (and desire to do the job). "Geek Squad charges $50/hour? I charge $75 - if you don't like it, you can use Geek Squad..."

Also important is your desire/ability to say "no". One of my co-workers says "unless you gave birth to me, or are having sex with me (of my choice), I'm not fixing your computer for you for free". I'd recommend having a similar stance: I'll fix computers for free for my parents, but after that my labor rates kick in. The customer can choose to pay or not to to have the service. To the "I thought we were family", I respond with: "My family pays for my services, too".

You can never really convince others that your time is valuable, but you can convince them that the work you would do is. And you do that by charging what you're worth.

Good luck! This is one of those ongoing hassles with being in IT, and it never really goes away.

  • 3
    I think this issue can be seen in any line of work. A plumber will always get called by family members and friends for example. But everyone has a computer and computer issues happen rather frequently when you don't know what you're doing. – Pierre P. May 23 at 11:58
  • 1
    @AzirisMorora You are absolutely correct; when I worked with physicians, that was a common complaint at family gatherings. "Hey Bob, my shoulder hurts. What should I do?" Their response was fairly similar - "this needs to be seen in clinic; I'm not here to practice medicine right now." As members of a profession with skills in demand, we need to empower ourselves to say "no" or we will be constantly asked to provide our services for free. – baldPrussian May 23 at 12:58
8

Everyone's time is valuable because our time, here on earth, is limited. Something is often valuable because there's not a lot of it. For example, if gold was as plentiful as sand, it wouldn't be as valuable.

Because our time is limited, we only have a certain amount of time to earn money to pay our bills, etc. If we spend too much time working for free, we may not earn enough to have a successful business, to survive. You may not be short on cash, now, but if you keep spending your time working for free, you'll eventually use up your savings.

If you don't want to spend more than a certain amount of your free time repairing friends/family's computers, you could always say you have a job/responsibility that needs to be dealt with within a certain amount of time so you don't have time to work on their computer. Then they can decide whether to wait until you have time to spare or they can find someone else to repair their computer and pay for the work. :)

I went through a similar experience with my family and friends and their computers. At first, I was happy to help them. I felt flattered that they thought I was qualified enough for them to entrust their valuable computers to me. But eventually, the situation got out of hand. Friends of friends heard about how I successfully helped others in a timely manner and didn't charge (as they were friends) but I soon found myself spending all my free time helping others and not having any time for myself. I eventually got "burnout", my health was affected, and I had to disappoint both family and my close friends because I couldn't help them. Some of them got offended and angry when I was honest and tried to explain why I couldn't be there for them. So to be diplomatic (and to prevent the situation from getting worse), I used the excuse that I had to put in overtime at work (or else be fired). So it wasn't that I "didn't want" to help, but I wasn't able to. Some waited until I had free time to spare to fix their computers while others payed someone else to fix their computers. 😉

2

Well, you should not make any argument. You offer your kind help but explain that you can't help them without loosing money so then you ask them if they are willing to compensate you for helpping them.

Who makes the question dominates the conversation.

My personal answer (and it's the honest one) is, as soon as the X person contacts you: "Well, I can do that for you but I'll have to charge you X€ (or X$) because I have many other things to do, that will make me money and I'll have to stop doing them and lose my time, helping you, instead. And if I want to do a good job for you I'll have to lose a good amount of time... Do you want my help anyway?"

From my personal experience, what you need to know is that it should not be you who choose to help the client or not (even if they are family). You make them understand that you'll have to loose something for helpping them and they must to help you too, then. So then the decision is their. Always put the decision in client's hands

  • Hi J, welcome to Interpersonal Skills! Please take a look at our good answer guidelines and citation expectations. To avoid this site turning into a place where everyone can post their opinion on what can be done, we're pretty strict on answers, probably more so than the sites you usually frequent. What happens when you personally do this? Do people act understanding, do they keep pushing you, do they find you rude but never ask again? – Tinkeringbell May 23 at 7:42
  • 1
    Well, until now I never found anyone who didn't understood. They actually choose by them selves if they are willing to pay me or they need to find someone cheaper. (It's worth to mention that I only have 8-9 years of experience and I only changed my behaviour with clients, about 1-2 years ago) – J Rui Pinto May 23 at 7:48
  • Thank you! Do people ever accept, but still complain, like the lady from OP's question? – Tinkeringbell May 23 at 8:05
  • Yes, sometimes there are people who still complain and accept but that's human nature. They don't do that with bad intentions. They just don't have much money and it's difficult to spend it for them, but if they said 'yes' then they understand and are willing to pay you what you need – J Rui Pinto May 23 at 8:08
1

family and family friends usually think I'm doing [computer repair] to be a good family member.
... it annoys me when [not-close-enough family] want their computer fixed for free.

I understand because I've had this issue.

How can I mount an argument that my time is valuable, even if I don't necessarily need the money?

I have used this tactic for people's computers that I fixed in the past, but no longer wanted to fix:

"I'm really more of a developer. I write the things that go on a computer like solitaire. The computer itself is really a different animal, and they have changed so much recently that it is sometimes hard to figure out what to do, because I might mess something else up and not realize it."

Then ask what the symptoms are and suggest that they use Bing instead of Google to search for the answer. Bing is no better or worse than Google, but this gives them something specific to do which they haven't tried yet. (This is your free good-faith attempt to help them fix it... because they are family.)


Note that the answer I gave above is true.
(Tech people could nit-pick, but it's true.)

Adapt my answer to your liking. Most people won't know what a software engineer is or does.
("most people" = "most people who expect you to fix their computer for free")

I really don't want to spend time fixing someone else's computer because I have little enough time to spend with my family that I already sometimes shirk on other duties.

While this may also hurt your 'paying business', reading between the lines it doesn't seem it would bother you much to lose a few paying customers if your family stopped expecting work for free.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.