Tools of the Trade - Start & Run a Computer Repair Service (Start & Run Business Series) (2012)

Start & Run a Computer Repair Service (Start & Run Business Series) (2012)


Tools of the Trade

Running a computer repair business should be a very low-cost endeavor. Unfortunately, we have seen many people who spent so much money starting a business that it was nearly impossible to sustain the company. One example is a new computer store that took more than six months to build the interior of their building. This means that the owners had the business (e.g., paying rent, utilities) for six months before they ever opened the store for customers! When they finally opened their doors, it was a disaster.

The owners spent a fortune on the design and layout of the interior. It had gorgeous wooden floors, which looked very nice, but hard floors will break any parts that may happen to fall on them. The store had a beautiful desk for computer repair but the back was closed off. The techs only had access to one side of the systems and the computers were in the enclosed space, which meant the computers would overheat.

Another problem the store had was that customers couldn’t see the store from the road and there wasn’t any parking. It was as if whoever built the store bought a manual on how to do everything wrong and followed it to the letter.

We felt really badly for them but the worst part was that they had spent so much on remodeling and carrying costs that they had no money to survive until they could become profitable. We found out about them because less than three months after they opened, the business was for sale.

When you decide to start your business, all your decisions should be made to obtain the highest possible value for the lowest possible cost. You can always invest in different technologies and equipment as the business grows, but before that, the lower the costs, the better.

1. Software You Should Own

In general, you want to own any software you use. What I mean by this is that you should not be using pirated versions of any software even if it is a widely accepted practice. While it may cost more up front, the security it provides your business is worthwhile.

1.1 Microsoft TechNet and Microsoft Action Pack

The Microsoft TechNet and Microsoft Action Pack are definitely worthwhile products. The Microsoft Action Pack will give you dozens of licenses to set up your business, from Windows to Server 2008. Get it. You will not regret it.

TechNet will give you the rest of what you will need such as downloadable copies of every OS ever sold, including DOS 6.22 and early versions of Windows. It is absolutely imperative that you have access to this. If you don’t, you’ll end up trying to torrent one online and hoping it isn’t riddled with viruses. When someone brings you an odd tablet computer with a strange OS, you can just download it, burn a disk, and reload his or her OS with no trouble.

1.2 LogMeIn Rescue

If you plan to do any type of computer repairs, LogMeIn Rescue is a must-have. This product allows you to log into another individual’s computer and take control. Take a look at the following two examples:

• A customer calls you complaining about a recent repair. If he or she can connect to the Internet, you can look at the computer together. We have had many situations when the problem the customer is concerned about either doesn’t exist or is easy to fix. Either way, LogMeIn Rescue saves you or your customer a trip. The way it works is you tell your customer to go to When he or she does, you’ll log into your console, and generate a six-digit PIN which is used to allow you access. The PIN is only good for 20 minutes but if you log into the customer’s computer during that time, you will be working on it as if you were sitting in front of it. This tool is amazing and we use it daily.

• A customer asks for a new service call. Instead of traveling immediately to the site, you can ask if she wants the service call completed over the phone. Without leaving your home or business, you can complete many types of repairs. If you offer a lower rate (e.g., $20 or even $30 off per hour), your customer will probably go for it and you will be able to multitask while you complete repairs.

Although the software costs about $100 per month, the cost is offset by the work you will be able to complete by using it and the customer complaints you can resolve. Even if you only use the software to deal with customer complaints, it is a worthwhile tool to have because it will increase customer satisfaction and happy customers build business!

1.3 Accounting software

Before you get too far in your business, you need to obtain accounting software. While there are many expensive products (e.g., QuickBooks) on the market, you can also find less expensive and sometimes even shareware solutions. Finding software that you can use to track all your expenses, send out invoices, and track inventory will be beneficial in the long run.

Bookkeepers’ Boot Camp: Get a grip on accounting basics, by Angie Mohr: If you choose to do your books yourself (and it may be worthwhile in the beginning) this book will help you learn what to track, how to track it, and how to understand it. With detailed instructions on all the financial statements and tracking your business needs, this book is a good way to get started being your own bookkeeper.

1.4 OpenOffice

Considering the cost of Microsoft Office (one license can be more than $100) there may be times that you want to open files and don’t necessarily want a full license of Microsoft Office on your machine. A great free alternative is OpenOffice. This product will allow you to open most files created in the Microsoft suite without paying for a full Microsoft installation. Of course, if you purchase the Microsoft Action Pack, you won’t need to buy this because it provides you with ten licenses.

1.5 Norton Ghost

Keep images of your computers. You know this already, but it can’t be stressed enough. Computers regularly have hard drive failures, blown power supplies, and viruses, so make sure to keep an image of all your work computers. Since your machines are going to be used regularly and connected with customer systems, you will probably find yourself wiping and reloading them more often than before. Keeping an image on hand will make this job easier. Once your workstation is configured the way you like, use Norton Ghost and create a full clone of the disk. Store it safely and when you need it, you won’t have to waste hours getting your system back to where it was.

2. Necessary Websites

Have you ever installed a product onto your computer and gotten frustrated at all the extra software you still need? Most systems don’t come pre-installed with Flash, Java, and a host of other useful tools. One company has built the solution. Ninite ( is a great way to complete installations of groups of products all at once. Just click on the software you want to install and select “install” at the bottom of the page. After that, the installations are automatic. This is a great site to use to help you set up your work machines — especially after a wipe and reload. Keep in mind that they do have licensing requirements that you may need to look into if you are charging for the installation of any of these products.

If you have ever purchased a new computer from a big-box store, you know that they put every piece of software under the sun on that computer. The downside is that it is all trial software. This means that although they will not function after 30, 60, or 90 days, they continue to be loaded every time the computer is turned on, consuming memory and slowing down the computer. One way to fix this problem fast is the tool called the PC Decrapifier ( This great site lets you remove all the junk on the computer without much fuss and trouble.

Looking for a program or application? CNET ( is the place to go. With the latest downloads for all major programs, this site is a great place to find the applications you need when you need them.

3. Your Work Area

Not everyone who chooses to run a computer repair business will need a retail location or commercial office space, but everyone should have at least one space that can be used exclusively for computer repairs. This area should contain everything you need to repair computers. However, don’t get carried away. The less you spend on your setup the better. Remember, you are in this business to make money!

3.1 Inexpensive tech benches

There are many types of benches available, but the least expensive and simplest solution is what our stores use. Rather than spending money on high-end benches that can cost several hundred dollars, we buy inexpensive “gorilla” racks from hardware or office super stores. These benches are sturdy and give you access to the back and front of the computer. If you are going to complete repairs on multiple computers at once, these racks are a must have!

Eventually you may want enough space for 16 computers (this is usually about three, four-foot long shelves); at first, you should be able to get away with just one or two shelves.

3.2 The necessities

Once you have the benches, the next thing to set up is your workstation. You want your station to be easy for you to use, comfortable and convenient. To do this right, you will need the following:

One large monitor: Make sure the screen is easy to read and not too small. Remember, you will be using it all day long.

Research computer: In general, you need a computer that you can use to research problems, write customer estimates, etc. This computer should never be connected to any other customer computer to prevent it from getting infected with viruses.

Keyboard and mouse: Make sure these are comfortable for you.

Uninterruptable power supply with automatic voltage regulation: A UPS is even better than a surge protector. You should be using a voltage regulator to protect your customers’ machines.


Data transfer server: This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s extremely useful when you’re working on transferring multiple customers’ data at once. Our store can handle seven concurrent data transfers to one computer.

1- to 16-port switch box: In general, one tech can handle about eight computers for repair and another five to six if they are used computers that are being wiped and reloaded. The workstation should have enough space for at least this many computers. I buy port switch boxes on Craigslist for less than a hundred dollars. There are some very sophisticated ones out there and eventually you may want to upgrade, but save yourself some money and start out with the less expensive ones.

The great thing about switch boxes is that they allow you to multitask easily. With just one switch box, you can work on eight different computers at the same time. As your business grows, this will be required. For instance, repairs such as virus removals and OS installations can take hours to complete. During a great deal of this time, the computer is simply running with no input from the technician. Using a switch box allows the technician to sit in one place and move all the computers along.

As a computer repair business, you are going to need many types of screwdrivers including:

Power screwdrivers: While you don’t want to use power screwdrivers for laptop repair, having one handy is a lifesaver when you are building or repairing desktop computers.

Fine screwdriver set: Even if you don’t intend to complete laptop hardware repair, you will need a set of small screwdrivers to open and close laptops (e.g., RAM and hard drive upgrades).

Manual screwdriver set: For when you don’t want to use the power screwdriver.

A power supply tester: The tester makes it easy to find one of the most common reasons why a computer simply won’t turn on. All you do is unplug the big flat cable from the motherboard and plug it into this device. Green is good, red is bad, and yellow is bad. It’s so simple and you’ve just figured out your problem. They’re inexpensive to buy — about ten dollars — so it’s worth having one in your office and one in your on-site equipment bag.

It is also important to have the technician tools you will use every day:

Large flash drive: One of the easiest ways to transfer files is to use a flash drive. Investing in a large flash drive will give you enough room for all your common files and a few specialized applications as well. Note that they can get corrupted, so always back them up.

Blank CDs and DVDs: As you troubleshoot, there will be times you want to transfer files from one computer to another. Keeping these disks handy will make life easier (look for sales at large office superstores to save a bundle).

External CD/DVD drive: Occasionally you will find computers that have failing CD/DVD drives or possibly no drive at all. Having an external CD/DVD drive will let you test these computers without much hassle. You are going to have to boot off of a CD in many cases and if the drive is broken, you’ll be out of luck.

While you may not need these parts immediately, you may find times when you wish you had them to work on a customer’s system:

• USB/PS2 converters for keyboards and mice

• VGA to DVI converters

• Universal laptop power adapter

• Thermal compound (Arctic Silver works well)

4. Payment Options

Once you start your business, you will have to choose what methods of payment you’ll accept. If you require “cash only,” you are guaranteed your money, but you are providing less flexibility; for example, some small businesses will not be comfortable paying in cash only. However, if you accept other types of payments you will either incur fees, take a risk on not getting your money, or both.

4.1 Checks

The general rule of thumb is that most businesses now don’t accept checks. There is simply too much fraud with bounced checks. Even companies that have been in business for years will sometimes bounce a check and the cost to your company can be significant. Many times your bank will charge you a bounced check fee and then you must try to get the funds plus the fees. As a result, you can be working hard to get a check to cash properly.

4.2 Money orders and cashier’s checks

While money orders and cashier’s checks used to be trusted payment methods, today, they have become synonymous with Internet scams. People who pay with these items sometimes request “cash back” and then the payment bounces as well. Do not consider the bill paid until the money order or cashier’s check has had time to clear.

4.3 Credit card machines

The standard credit card machines that we have seen all over are relatively simple to use and operate. The easiest way to get one of these is to call your bank and find out if there are any vendors that it recommends. Compare all the rates, pricing, and obligations. Depending on which company you go with your rates can change dramatically.

Also, read the fine print in your agreement! A low rate doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily save money. If you do many small transactions, you’ll get hammered by the per-transaction fees.

4.4 PayPal

If you don’t feel like investing in a credit card machine, you can always use PayPal as a simple substitute. With PayPal, you can charge your customers for work and even email them a receipt. The easiest way to set this up is with a simple website form that you can use yourself.

There are more downsides than we have time to go through, but there are three major reasons not to use PayPal so be very careful if you choose to use it:

• PayPal can hold your money whenever it wants.

• PayPal favors the customer and will simply refund the customer’s payment no matter what you say.

• PayPal can cancel your account with no warning.

4.5 Barter

One of the most fun ways to do business is through barter. Today there are many different barter agencies around the country that help you find other companies who are interested in bartering. What’s amazing about barter is that even when people are reluctant to spend actual dollars, they are ready to trade goods and services on barter.

Here’s how bartering works: I sign up with a barter agency in my area (we use Value Card Alliance). We advertise our services. People who have also signed up (all types of businesses) contact me to purchase services. They pay me in “barter dollars” and those are applied to my account with a Value Card. The more work I do through this agency, the more barter dollars I accrue. I can use those on any of the goods and services offered by members of the agency.

When you’re starting a business, this service can be particularly valuable. Let’s say you’re going to start a mobile computer repair service. You join the barter agency and put out a free ad on its site that you’d be thrilled to come and work on someone’s system. You get a few calls, make a few barter bucks, then you trade the barter bucks in for one of the lawyers to create your company, one of the many printing companies to make your business cards, one of the sign-makers to create your signs, one of the graphic artists to create a logo for you, or one of the web designers to make your website. It’s amazing how many different ways you can spend barter dollars.