Starting Computer Support Business - Lots of Questions!


Thread Starter
Jul 27, 2005
Hi, I'm 18 and graduated from high school about a month ago. I'm interested in starting up my own computer support and consulting business. I'm fairly knowledgeable about different computer topics and think that I can provide support for primarily small businesses and maybe some private citizens. However, there are a lot of questions I have about starting a small computer support business that I'm not finding answered in the usual "how to start a small business" books and sites. So I thought that maybe some of the people here who have maybe been doing this thing themselves for a while could help me out.

So in no particular order here are some questions I have:
  • I'm located in Asheville, NC which is in the south. For the south what are some reasonable price ranges for work that I charge for the hour by? I'm thinking 25 - 40 or 45 USD a hour seems like a reasonable amount.
  • I know a lot of businesses have computer problems they need fixed 'Right Now!", and for which I could be on call. I'm wondering what kind of retainer fee, or what kind of pricing system would work for something like being on call.
  • For work contracts, what is a good way to word them? I've been trying to write up contracts, but I'm pretty lost. Can anyone suggest some sites or sources or tips for how to write contracts for technical work?
  • Does it make sense to get any certifications if I'm working for myself? I know they help in getting a job, but likely none of my clients will understand any certification I show them.
  • How do you deal with support afterwards? When whatever I did for them messes up? Should I have it already in my contract that they will need to pay for future work? How much of a "warranty" makes sense?
  • For hardware does it make more sense to refer them to a vendor to purchase or just put it down as expenses? Since I'm going to be buying hardware in small quantities does it make sense to stick with a good retailer like or try and get cheaper prices from a wholesaler or the like?
  • Are there any "unions" or the like for IT professionals working on their own? Or other organizations that could be of use to me that I could learn from?
  • I've been trying to think of a list of what issues and software that businesses most commonly deal with. One of my biggest fears is that most of my experience has been with troubleshooting and working with either personal computers or with servers. Any suggestions on what kind of work I will most commonly be doing for small businesses? I assume problems with like Windows and Office Word/Exchange/Excel seem obvious, but besides that any other suggestions?
  • Are there any books out there about starting computer support business? I've been reading some books on small business, but none that really specifically address the tech industry.

I think that's all for the moment, but I'm sure I will come back with more. Thanks much for your help :).


Retired Trusted Advisor
Jan 29, 2006
Some mundane things you need to research and set up as well:
- medical/accident insurance 'cos self-employed means no work, no money.
- budget for equipment, what do you need as opposed to what would you like
- budget for transport
- liability insurance
- reliable, honest accounting system to meet Tax Inspector's requirements
- office at home? Home Insurance liabilities.

Not very sexy stuff I know, but time spent getting these set up right, at the start will save you trouble and expense later.

Jul 30, 2007
I also want to open my own technical support pc business. I am a college student(Computer Engineering Technology). I know some stuff, obviously not all, but I want to try this and see how it goes.


Thread Starter
Jul 27, 2005
Hey mmaldonado. Guess we can help each other out :).

For others, I'm wondering how to handle small problems that clients have. Things that might need 15 minutes of my time, but basically the cost of the gas to get out to them is the same as my fee for fifteen minutes.

I'm thinking a retainer setup would work best for this. I'm thinking that for a set price per month I could offer small businesses and residential unlimited e-mail support (because that's easy, and you don't have to deal with all the little social graces you do in other forms of communication) and limited phone support (not sure how limited. I know lots of business people love to chat on the phone and would take up lots of my time. not to mention all those social things you have to go through :p).

For the phone I'm not sure exactly how limited. Maybe I could do a tiered pricing structure. I live in North Carolina so these prices I'm thinking of are probably lower than the ones you would have up north or in big city but here is what I current have and what I"M thinking. I'd LOVE some feedback from others, especially anyone already in this business about what they think about this.

Price per Half Hour: 20 USD - So basically 40 USD an hour. I'm thinking I'm soon probably going to up this to 25 USD per half hour. Up north I've heard 90, 100 or more is pretty common but I'm in the south and I'm 18 so it's harder to get people to fork over that kind of money (I mean, what 40 year old businessman wants to pay 100 bucks an hour to some punk (his mind, I'm not a punk) when he may be making less?).

I'm thinking for retainer fee that something like 200 USD per month for unlimited e-mail support, and maybe like... an hours? worth of phone support? I'm really not sure how to draw that line, but I just know if I don't that people are going to frigin' swarm me with phone calls. For more phone time I could just jack up the price by 50 USD incrememnts for each hour. Basically what I already charge for support. Though maybe more like 100 USD since phone is kinda any time anywhere, and more tedious for me.

Also some way of defining when the issue is too big for remote support and they need to have me come in, but I haven't really figured that out.

Also working on contracts for contractual work. Things like building a couple computers for someones office. Like upfront I could say I take a 10% commission on the machines I build for them. LIke order the parts from and then say I'm going to charge 10% on top of that for my labor and setup the OS and such. Of course if they want me to build one 5000 USD machine then that's just great. 500 bucks for an hour or two of work. But if they want me to basically set up 5 computers that cost 200 bucks a piece then I'm in trouble. I'm getting 100 bucks for like 6 hours of work. So maybe based on the number of computers I'm building or figure out an equation that works better in that case. Maybe 10% initial commission for one computer and each additional machine I need to do I have add another 5% commission. That would be like 30% for the above example. 300 USD for the work would be more reasonable, since I could set each computer up and then load the OS all at the same time or something like that.

That's all at the moment, love some suggestions from others.
Aug 16, 2005
Your questions would be better suited for an entrepreneur-type board. Each state has different laws, different requirements, even potentially certifications for you to have (but probably not in the IT field, but check it out to be sure). You WILL have to register your company with the Fed Gov't for tax purposes but if you are the only employee, you can create an LLC for about $1000 or less, depending on if you know where to go online for it.

If you set up business accounts, they will give you bigger discounts the more you buy, moreso than what the public get's.

Opening your own business is a great venture to have, but realize that it is not at all easy. When I owned my company, I worked from 7am to 11pm as many of my manufacturers ranged from Germany to Japan. And that was 7 days a week. It requires commitment to be successful, intelligent business design and planning, and sacrifice for that life you are living right now. Eventually, the idea in business is for it to become autonomous, but getting there is a hard road.
Jul 19, 2007
business plan. get everything in writing. not only will this be beneficial to any investors you may want to have in the future, but also for yourself, so you have guidelines to stick to. the business plan should cover everything from your mission, to your financial forecasts for at least 3 years, to an extensive marketing plan, to internal an external analysis, to an extensive service description, among other things. It will take a long time to get this going if you're going to do it right.

I don't think an LLC is necessary in your can run it as a sole proprietorship since it's only yourself. Of course, if you do an SP, then the liability of the business is your liability if the business is in [personally] are also in trouble. If you decide to do an SP, which may be the way to go at this point, be sure you file with your state govt and fill out the papers for a DBA [doing business as] -- and, if you want your business to have a formal name, you will also need to fill out FBN/Fictitious Business Name papers. Open a business account. Even if its jsut another personal checking account separate from your own checking account.

The pricing structure you have in mind seems fair, and it's good that you've considered your location as a huge factor in pricing strategy. Have you looked into any other businesses you may be in competition with in your area? if you have, what's your competitive advantage?

RE: Certs you may want to at least get the simple ones like net+ and A+...even if your clients dont know what they entail, having some credibility other than a high school diploma will inspire confidence in them to do business with you.

I'm in the same boat, sort of. Recently founded an LLC with 2 other partners and we do PC Repair, network installation in homes and offices, setup networks, web and graphic design, as well as security audits/consulting and business process consulting. It's still a very new company, less than a month old, but we're well on our way.

It wont be glamorous and you probably won't turn true profits and income until year 2, if the business lasts that long. Any profits for the first few years should be reinvested into the business, and NOT YOUR POCKET. That's a surefire way to kill your business right there. You'll be working 80-100+ hours a week, so make sure you love it.
Jul 19, 2007
being so young, you also might want to consider working for someone else for a few years in order to figure out how businesses are being run -- find out what works and waht doesnt; take the good with you in your venture, ditch the bad, and dedicate yourself to make it work. there's really three types of knowledge you need in order to start and run a successful business, imo.

1) a good, thorough general set of background knowledge - basic financial stuff, general common sense, how to read and write properly, math, whatnot. stuff that we hope everybody coming out of college knows - if not high school.

2) domain knowledge - the specifics about whatever industry you're doing business in.

3) street smarts - the stuff you can only pickup from hands-on experience. sales skills. comforting royally-pissed-off customers. gut feelings on hiring. where you can shave a corner and where you can't. what'll get you in legal or tax trouble and what won't. and so on and so forth.

hopefully you already have #1. #2 you can learn making money for someone else. #3 you are unlikely to learn unless it's your *** on the line.

i might argue that #2 is the EASIEST one to learn. i've watched guys take their #1 and #3 and jump from software companies to financial companies to fertilizer to real estate to consumer retail, and so on and so forth.

domain knowledge is wildly important, but it's also largely codified - whereas some of #1 and most of #3 are not.

the ONLY downside to going to work for someone else is that you lose time. unfortunately time is the most valuable thing you have - so losing any of it is a bummer.

different industries have different expectations of "internship". few people start their own hedge fund straight out of college. few people start their own strategy consulting firms right out of high school. and so on and so forth. but there are plenty of industries where you can learn as you go. a man i used to work for was fond of saying that "mistakes in the course of learning are acceptable". you'll screw up. it happens. everybody screws up now and then. but you learn and move on.
Jul 30, 2007
hey there... I am still doing the research for my business. I was looking at the SP, and it is a good idea, but like someone else said, if your business is in trouble, you are in trouble too. The SP is cheaper but I was thinking in the LLC, which is about $800(one time fee). It's better because if your business is in trouble or you get sue by someone, your personal stuff, such as house, car, etc, will not be in trouble. The cost of insurance varies. It goes from $300 to $1000 a year(maybe more). It is actually more if you add more people to your business. I still don't know what to charge. Best buy, circuit city, compusa, etc etc charge a LOT for just installing a memory(about $160/in home/office). I have to come out with competitive prices but I also want to make money for myself(hey, that's what the business is about :) )
Marketing: I think that this is the most important point of this discussion. How can people know your business? Brochures, business cards, fliers, any other ideas?
I plan to start my business around next year but I want to have everything set-up by that time.
Any other ideas? Thanks...
Jul 5, 2007

Rate per hour:
Don't be shy about ringing up a few companies and lone workers like yourself asking how much they charge per hour. This is called primary market research. You will learn all sorts of stuff like this by going on a new business programme, check out for one in your area. I'm not in the same country as you, so I can't recommend one.

On call/retainer:
If you work this right, this could be the source of your steady income. Do a few one-off jobs first, build a relationship up with your customers, then suggest this. Make it reasonable, but remember that some companies will be gagging for it. Too cheap and you risk looking like cowboy. Low price is NOT the way to go. Value yourself and others will too. Monthly charge is the sensible way to go, then you invoice them monthly.

Re: wording, again, I can help you with this. Contact me via email address at bottom of email and we can discuss how to, advice or I can do it for you.

Yes, get certifications, if they are well-recognised, but wait til you're making a bit and can afford the cost both in time and money.

Support, charge for it separately per issue, or include this in your overall cost, then if it happens, you can offer it as a free service, that's what I do.

Warranty only makes sense if you're talking about a product, a PC/printer/server breaking down. Your guarantee is that you fix it as part of the deal or whatever.

No, you buy hte stuff, then you can customise it to what is best for them, and you know what you're working with, rather than have to put up with dodgy gear.

Check around with wholesalers, ring them and ask. Most don't have a min order, like Dell for example, I have recently ordered one system, no prob.

Yes, there are organisations, you just have to google to find the ones closely related to your area. There is the British COmputer Society, there are prob alternatives in your country too - good to have their logo (with permission) on youe website, and specify that you have membership (with permission). My advice is that it is best to get someone else to recommend to you. Not sure about union-type things. Nothing like that in UK though.

My advice about trying to think of issues that companies might have is to ask them. Also, look at your competitors, what services are they offering? Just ring them up, you will get a 7/100 response rate, most people won't want to tlak to you, but you need to persevere. Go into the businesses of your friends and relations and make an appointment with their IT manager or MD.

Not sure if there are any books specifically on tech industry, though there are bound to be. Again, I'd just ring an IT person in a large organisation in your area, make an appointment and ask them loads of questions.

One thing, several people mentioned your age. You are very young to be starting your own business (I was 12 years older than you when I started, with experience to semi-managerial level behind me), it definately is not an easy route, unless your are living with someone who is willing to suport you for about a year til you get up and running and even then it is very precarious. Not trying to put you off though (enthusiasm wil take you a long way), just be cautious. The hours you have to put in are about half as much again as someone working for someone else would have to put in. But, it is worth it, for the independence.

Finally, get a business mentor, usually a free online/email service, where an experienced business professional (not necessarily in your IT area) will provide a sounding board, for you to get things off your chest. Well recommended.

I'd be glad to correspond privately on this one, as I have been through it: Either email or MSN.
Jan 18, 2009
I think that the initiative that you have is brilliant. The country and the world needs entrepreneurs like yourself. My advice would be is do this part time whilst you go to college. Combine the energy that you have now with an under graduate plus a formal business qualification will give you the perfect foundation for a successful business.

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