CXO

The IT friends and family plan: Members are tired of giving free advice

Is there money to be made in the in-home training and consulting business? Here's what your fellow TechRepublic members have to say.


“Tutoring saved my sanity,” declares an excited dlgraphics. “Well, not quite, but it certainly helped to cut down on those annoying computer problem phone calls from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. from ‘friends and family or friends of friends and family’.”

That’s how most TechRepublic readers felt after reading Jeff Davis’ Feb. 8 column “How much should you charge for in-home computer training?

An overwhelming number of you loved the idea of in-home training and tutoring. And most agreed that Davis’ rates were on-target, with some adjustments for living area—particularly on the coasts.

But regardless of what you charge, you all agreed: You’re tired of information beggars.

You mean you can charge for that?!?
Linda Cave, an information technology consultant with 20 years of experience, is so annoyed by requests for free information, she has adopted an unusual approach for avoiding it.

“When I'm at a party and people ask what I do, I make up a profession, any profession other than Info Tech,” Cave said. “If I tell the truth about what I do, I will end up in the bedroom, the den, the basement to ‘just take a look at this’ on the PC. I would love to see the same scenario with doctors, attorneys, auto mechanics, etc. While it's true that we love what we do, we need some recompense. Give us a break...please!“

“Absolutely fascinating idea!!!” wrote Lee Lichtenwalner. “I've spent the better part of 15 years helping friends, relatives, and coworkers use their home systems. Never once thought about doing it to boost my income. Thanks!”

On average, TechRepublic members are charging from $30-45 an hour for private computer assistance, though rates ranged from the teens to $100. Those in New York and California were more likely to charge higher rates—anywhere from $70 and up. Several of you suggested discounts for seniors, family, and friends.

And then there were the more unusual “payments”—a home entertainment center and rerouting a gas line, for instance. But one of our CPA readers cautioned that the taxman cometh and, yes, bartering is taxable.

How do I start?
While you’re excited about this new venue, you’re curious: Just how does this at-home training thing work?

Lorrie Forlizzi started her own in-home consulting business about four months ago. Her self-employment assistance coach advised her against in-home training, urging her to focus on contract work and small businesses. But Davis’ article renewed her commitment to this underserved market.

“To date, I've had four clients,” Forlizzi said. “I've advertised, networked, and distributed business cards. Is there anything else that you can think of that would help me increase my client base?”

Keith Baker found that a properly timed advertisement was enough to launch his tutoring business.

“I got my start in the computer tutoring field six years ago by putting an ad in the paper in January to help people with the new PCs that they bought for Christmas,” Baker wrote.

Word of mouth spread, and he’s been busy every since. He’s also increased his rate from $15 an hour to $30 with a two-hour minimum.

Many TechRepublic readers have found an untapped market with the senior citizen set.

”They are also some of the most enjoyable and interesting people to work with,” wrote Bill Swingle, who does about 25 percent of his work in-home training senior citizens. “Most of these have already taken the local ‘free’ seniors computer class at the community college or adult education. These customers are repeat customers and part of my bread and butter.”

He charges $25 for seniors because they are on a fixed budget, and they ask you back frequently.

But a few of you questioned whether the effort is worth the results.

“Tutoring saved my sanity,” declares an excited dlgraphics. “Well, not quite, but it certainly helped to cut down on those annoying computer problem phone calls from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. from ‘friends and family or friends of friends and family’.”

That’s how most TechRepublic readers felt after reading Jeff Davis’ Feb. 8 column “How much should you charge for in-home computer training?

An overwhelming number of you loved the idea of in-home training and tutoring. And most agreed that Davis’ rates were on-target, with some adjustments for living area—particularly on the coasts.

But regardless of what you charge, you all agreed: You’re tired of information beggars.

You mean you can charge for that?!?
Linda Cave, an information technology consultant with 20 years of experience, is so annoyed by requests for free information, she has adopted an unusual approach for avoiding it.

“When I'm at a party and people ask what I do, I make up a profession, any profession other than Info Tech,” Cave said. “If I tell the truth about what I do, I will end up in the bedroom, the den, the basement to ‘just take a look at this’ on the PC. I would love to see the same scenario with doctors, attorneys, auto mechanics, etc. While it's true that we love what we do, we need some recompense. Give us a break...please!“

“Absolutely fascinating idea!!!” wrote Lee Lichtenwalner. “I've spent the better part of 15 years helping friends, relatives, and coworkers use their home systems. Never once thought about doing it to boost my income. Thanks!”

On average, TechRepublic members are charging from $30-45 an hour for private computer assistance, though rates ranged from the teens to $100. Those in New York and California were more likely to charge higher rates—anywhere from $70 and up. Several of you suggested discounts for seniors, family, and friends.

And then there were the more unusual “payments”—a home entertainment center and rerouting a gas line, for instance. But one of our CPA readers cautioned that the taxman cometh and, yes, bartering is taxable.

How do I start?
While you’re excited about this new venue, you’re curious: Just how does this at-home training thing work?

Lorrie Forlizzi started her own in-home consulting business about four months ago. Her self-employment assistance coach advised her against in-home training, urging her to focus on contract work and small businesses. But Davis’ article renewed her commitment to this underserved market.

“To date, I've had four clients,” Forlizzi said. “I've advertised, networked, and distributed business cards. Is there anything else that you can think of that would help me increase my client base?”

Keith Baker found that a properly timed advertisement was enough to launch his tutoring business.

“I got my start in the computer tutoring field six years ago by putting an ad in the paper in January to help people with the new PCs that they bought for Christmas,” Baker wrote.

Word of mouth spread, and he’s been busy every since. He’s also increased his rate from $15 an hour to $30 with a two-hour minimum.

Many TechRepublic readers have found an untapped market with the senior citizen set.

”They are also some of the most enjoyable and interesting people to work with,” wrote Bill Swingle, who does about 25 percent of his work in-home training senior citizens. “Most of these have already taken the local ‘free’ seniors computer class at the community college or adult education. These customers are repeat customers and part of my bread and butter.”

He charges $25 for seniors because they are on a fixed budget, and they ask you back frequently.

But a few of you questioned whether the effort is worth the results.

Caveat causa: Business beware
Liz Scott, who does consulting work and corporate training, tried one-on-one tutoring. It caused nothing but heartburn for her and the client, she said. Most people thought they would only need to be shown a few things, but in fact, they needed 10-15 hours of training to give them the computer skills they expect.

“What most people think an hour's worth of training will do for them is very unrealistic, and I have had non-corporate clients not pay me because they did not have the complete understanding they thought they would,” wrote Scott. “I will gladly show ‘a few things’ to friends and family, but I don't charge because I can control how much I am giving away.”

Mark Douglas actively discourages people who want to hire him for home training. Why? If he were to make his rates attractive to home users, he would basically be subsidizing the client’s lessons. And that, he continues, isn’t the way to stay in business.

“There is no problem (usually) getting a business owner to understand the costs of downtime and improperly trained staff,” Douglas wrote. “The same factors do not apply to home systems unless they are used primarily for business purposes. I always recommend that they rush out to a computer book store, buy the 'idiot' series to get started, and then just sit down and play with the computer.”

David Means does his training in seminars. He said that while in-home training might provide a little extra cash, at $35 an hour, it wouldn’t provide a living. In particular, he pointed out that travel time and overhead could quickly reduce work hours and profits.

“The home training market is certainly not a ‘gravy train,’" said Means. “If you want to actually make enough money to support yourself, target training at the technical support personnel level or higher.”

It’s the intangibles
Stephen Balke, who described himself as an MCSE+I, MCT and “a few other acronyms,” counters that private training is a great way to boost your overall business. Though his going rate is $40 with a two-hour minimum, he tries to be fair with clients.

For instance, someone once called him to fix a printer. It was a simple connection problem, so Balke explained the different connectors and how to navigate the back of a computer. It took him only 15 minutes, so he reduced his charges to $25.

However, that one encounter led to approximately $27,000 in business referrals and $3,000 in personal referrals last year alone.

If you start in-home training…
There are a few precautions you should take before accepting in-home training clients. Our readers recommend:
  • Require your clients to write a To-Do list. This forces your clients to focus and helps organize your lessons. It also helps when you turn in the bill.
  • Establish your rates up front. This way, the client knows exactly what to expect.
  • Clarify if, when, and how you will answer questions after the training. Whether by phone or e-mail, decide how much time and effort you want to put into questions, if you want to charge, and exactly how the client should contact you. Explain your policy and stick with it.
Are you starting your own side business? E-mail us or post below and tell us know how you’re doing.
Caveat causa: Business beware
Liz Scott, who does consulting work and corporate training, tried one-on-one tutoring. It caused nothing but heartburn for her and the client, she said. Most people thought they would only need to be shown a few things, but in fact, they needed 10-15 hours of training to give them the computer skills they expect.

“What most people think an hour's worth of training will do for them is very unrealistic, and I have had non-corporate clients not pay me because they did not have the complete understanding they thought they would,” wrote Scott. “I will gladly show ‘a few things’ to friends and family, but I don't charge because I can control how much I am giving away.”

Mark Douglas actively discourages people who want to hire him for home training. Why? If he were to make his rates attractive to home users, he would basically be subsidizing the client’s lessons. And that, he continues, isn’t the way to stay in business.

“There is no problem (usually) getting a business owner to understand the costs of downtime and improperly trained staff,” Douglas wrote. “The same factors do not apply to home systems unless they are used primarily for business purposes. I always recommend that they rush out to a computer book store, buy the 'idiot' series to get started, and then just sit down and play with the computer.”

David Means does his training in seminars. He said that while in-home training might provide a little extra cash, at $35 an hour, it wouldn’t provide a living. In particular, he pointed out that travel time and overhead could quickly reduce work hours and profits.

“The home training market is certainly not a ‘gravy train,’" said Means. “If you want to actually make enough money to support yourself, target training at the technical support personnel level or higher.”

It’s the intangibles
Stephen Balke, who described himself as an MCSE+I, MCT and “a few other acronyms,” counters that private training is a great way to boost your overall business. Though his going rate is $40 with a two-hour minimum, he tries to be fair with clients.

For instance, someone once called him to fix a printer. It was a simple connection problem, so Balke explained the different connectors and how to navigate the back of a computer. It took him only 15 minutes, so he reduced his charges to $25.

However, that one encounter led to approximately $27,000 in business referrals and $3,000 in personal referrals last year alone.

If you start in-home training…
There are a few precautions you should take before accepting in-home training clients. Our readers recommend:
  • Require your clients to write a To-Do list. This forces your clients to focus and helps organize your lessons. It also helps when you turn in the bill.
  • Establish your rates up front. This way, the client knows exactly what to expect.
  • Clarify if, when, and how you will answer questions after the training. Whether by phone or e-mail, decide how much time and effort you want to put into questions, if you want to charge, and exactly how the client should contact you. Explain your policy and stick with it.
Are you starting your own side business? E-mail us or post below and tell us know how you’re doing.

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