(repost 9/16/08) Trust ?

When you hire a plumber or electrician the law requires them to be licensed. TV and appliance repair technicians need a license. You wouldn’t hire a lawyer or accountant without checking references.

A bad “computer repair” person can be just as bad, and a series of bad decisions can put you on the brink of closing up shop. I’m always amazed at what some people will do for a buck.

I’ve never seen a business like the computer ‘consulting’ realm. It seems that anybody can put up a web site, print a few business cards, and “go into business.”

Those words are in quotes intentionally, since most of these so-called experts know little about computers and even less about business.The scary part is that many customers, home users and business owners, will hire such a person without a second thought.

The Red Flags.

  1. “My cell phone is my only business number.” And/or using a home phone and free e-mail account. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to get a business phone line (toll-free, even) and a “real” domain name, like my charlandtech.com one. Any technology business that can’t or won’t is sending definite signals about their intentions and longevity. I have a home office and I use a seperate phone line so the kids don’t answer the business phone…and I can be prepared and professional when the “hotline” rings.
  2. “We don’t need a contract.” Contracts define the business relationship between two entities. They dictate, if nothing else, that the technician has authority to operate your computers, and that you will pay them. Most contracts also define the parties themselves. If a sole proprietor computer technician does most of their work at your location…you may have yourself a part-time employee who you should be withholding payroll taxes and paying Workers’ Comp for. Discovering that the IRS has found your “consultant” is really an employee is a nasty surprise that can often be prevented with a proper written agreement.
  3. “My rates are the cheapest in town!” Real businesses have overhead. You know, things like taxes, electricity, insurance, accounting fees, legal costs, training, equipment, and so on. Any independent computer tech who thinks they can survive on $50/hour is either a) moonlighting, or b) not a real business. Do you think they’ll be around in a year to fix the systems they’re setting up wrong now?
  4. “I don’t need insurance.” No one ever gets hurt, accidents don’t happen, and no one has ever lost a business, house, and everything else because of a seemingly insignificant slip, spill, fall, etc….Real businesses are worth money and are insured to protect against major loss.
  5. “Certifications are worthless! I’ve got experience!” True, vendor certifications aren’t always a good yardstick for measuring technical ability. They’re better than nothing. And certification implies a certain amount of ongoing training and learning.
  6. “I just graduated from Computer Training School and have my MCP, MCSA, MSCD, MSDBA, blah, blah, blah.” The converse to #5 above. Things go wrong in the real world, and school doesn’t always prepare you for the pressures of working on production equipment.
  7. “I’ve got all your passwords in my head. You don’t need to worry about that.” You shouldalways have a copy of your systems’ passwords, accounts, and access information. This should be in your locked file cabinet, safe, or safe deposit box.
  8. “I work alone.” Sole proprietors are fine….but what happens when they need a vacation, have a major illness, or decide to quit? Many of us have agreements with other local consultants to cover for each other…and we also have full-time helpdesks at our disposal. So even a one-man shop can provide a sustainable business that can run without that one man for a few days.
  9. “I’ll just put that old copy of Windows and Office on your new computer.” Microsoft licensing is a very complicated topic. That’s one of my biggest complaints against Microsoft in general. Be very careful with any software that says it’s “only for sale with a new PC,” software with “Student,” “Academic,” or “Educational” in the title, or any other “NFR/Not For Resale programs.” Even if you’re not the one who installed the software you’re still liable for any un-licensed use…and that gets VERY expensive when the laywers get involved.

There are exceptions to every rule– I consider myself the exception to several of these rules– but “common sense” still applies:

  • Know who you’re hiring
  • Make sure there are agreements in place to protect yourselves
  • Check references
  • Make sure your prospective “technology person” is in business for the long-term.
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