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  • #2183205

    DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support


    by Bill Detwiler ·

    Requests for free tech support often catch you off guard and your first instinct is to accept the task. But taking on a free support job is often a significant commitment and can be a real headache. When someone makes an unwelcome request for free tech support, use a response from this list to politely, yet firmly decline the job.

    Download and review this list:

    Join this ongoing discussion and let us know if this list provides helpful information and if there’s anything we can do to improve the document’s format or content.

    Update 2/10/2011: Fixed the URL which wasn’t redirecting properly after the 2011 TR redesign.

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  • Author
    • #3179285

      We’ve all been there

      by jeff dray ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      sometimes even geeks need to have a day off, try some of these excuses for getting out of doing free tech support without offending too many people.

      • #3179765

        I like the “Malpractice” gambit.

        by dncbrady ·

        In reply to We’ve all been there

        I try being truthful, and tell the folks that “I’m not insured
        for outside work.” It’s to the point and most are
        understanding, and, it’s the truth. It’s tough to get
        straight answers to problem issues on the job, and one
        wrong turn on a private machine could be worse – and
        more expensive.

    • #3179268

      Number 6 was OK

      by absolutely ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      The document should have been called “Ten ways to be more polite than the #%$%^&! who treats your expertise as his/her personal resource. I learned what I know so I could get paid, not so I could do volunteer work for people who haven’t bothered to learn how to use their own tools.

    • #3180593

      Take the money and run

      by mensaguy ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      Get a business license, take the PC home, fix it, bring it back with a bill. Be sure to charge the same rates as the computer shop downtown, and don’t forget to add taxes. I only work for free when I choose to do so.

      • #3179775

        Free is sometimes better

        by phch ·

        In reply to Take the money and run

        My prefered option is to say no to most requests, and those I feel like doing I do for free. That way it’s a favour and I therefore feel under no obligation to provide follow up support. Once there’s money involved I’d feel duty bound to continue supporting the work I’d done.

        • #3179767

          “Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.”

          by cp7212 ·

          In reply to Free is sometimes better


        • #3179716

          Ain’t that the truth!

          by does not compute! ·

          In reply to “Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.”

          I once made the mistake of helping one of my users (or internal customers as we like to call them!)now I regularly find PC’s left outside the Comms room door in the morning only finding out why they are there later in the day when the user comes and asks me if I have had time to fix it!
          Have to resist the temptation to place it in the skip and claim that I thought it was scrap!

        • #3169796

          That happened to me,

          by jeff dray ·

          In reply to Ain’t that the truth!

          Only it was a VCR that was left by my desk. Of course a qualification in PC building works for VCRs, sandwich toasters, TVs, Radios, you name it we cover it!

          So after a week of asking around about whose VCR it was and getting no answers, I took it home and plugged it in. It didn’t work so I took it back and dumped it. 2 minutes later enter irate managing director aaking why I had slung out his VCR without telling him.

          Explained situation, took top off VCR, replaced blown fuse on main board, became hero for five minutes.

          what got me was the lack of explanation, the thing appeared out of the blue, and nobody would claim it until it was in the skip.

        • #3179658

          Re: Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.

          by ·

          In reply to “Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.”

          [quote] “Self-explanatory.” [/quote]

          I agree on this one. Just because it’s my job does not oblige me to provide free tech support to my friends, family, or co-workers. I have a friend who is a professional auto painter and would never consider asking him to paint my truck for free.

        • #3170759

          Good point. Why only our professional is expected to do this?

          by tomsal ·

          In reply to Re: Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.

          I was just thinking as I read through these posts…when I think about it..I never hear any of the people I know (friends or family) who are in other occupations get asked to provide their services for free.

          I don’t hear anyone ask my friend who is a mechanic to fix cars for nothing. I don’t hear anyone ask my brother who is a plumber and has a boiler license to fix their plumbing disasters for free. Or even hear folks ask my fashion designer friend to make outfits/clothes for free.

          So why on earth is it like “expected” for US in IT to be charity givers when if you asked other professions they’d be like “You have got to be kidding me right?”.

        • #3170704

          Apparently it’s worse for doctors

          by jeff dray ·

          In reply to Good point. Why only our professional is expected to do this?

          Especially in the UK, where medial care is free. A doctor that I know always tells people that he just does autopsies, othersise people spend the entire evening asking about their aches and pains, as well as those of all their families. it is far harder for him to say know than it is for me. he asked me about a PC problem one night, I asked him about this twinge I get in my knee…

        • #2768110

          its because you dont ask.

          by techrepublic ·

          In reply to Good point. Why only our professional is expected to do this?

          i trade favors with mechanics, and plumbers that i know, simply by asking that question. i even got my roof fixed by building a comp with spare parts i have collected over the years. i started out in the navy, and used to get swamped with requests to fix pc’s. i just told them i could do it, but not for free, but half the price of worst buy. word of mouth spread, and i was able to continue doing that full time, just off of word of mouth.

        • #3172470

          A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work

          by nick russell ·

          In reply to Re: Do someone a favor and it becomes your job.

          I totally agree with this philosophy. I have done some private work on the side for two friends. They both run small businesses and neither of them would dream of not paying a professional for work he did for them. Even when I have said that was really nothing they have insisted, out of priciple, on paying. I see nothing wrong in making that attitude clear to anyone – even kids, it’s good education.

    • #3180815

      I’d run but…

      by chigal ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I can’t. The nephew of the president of the company (who was hired recently despite the lack of experience — but that’s another story) thought it would be a good idea to hook up his personal laptop to the server at work (I was on vacation when he started). This wasn’t a big deal, until I came back and found out his system was laden with spyware and viruses galore!
      Apparently, while in college, he allowed his 6 frat buddies to use it whenever they wanted. He later admitted to me that he knew about the viruses and was hoping that I would fix it — for free.

      Ticked off? #$*@ yeah and I had no choice but to say ‘Yes’ since he’s the president’s nephew.

      • #3170625


        by dr dij ·

        In reply to I’d run but…

        it’s on company time

      • #2566363

        In that situation…

        by pepoluan ·

        In reply to I’d run but…

        … I would ask him to sign a statement that the virii in the server all came from his laptop.



    • #3179704

      fix it once and lock it down

      by avid ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      what i have done with repeat offenders is to fix the problem once or twice and if it was software related i load a program like deep freeze on it. when i give it back to them i tell them that the new program is running and to save everything to cd. i actually do not get many complaints since the work was free. those that do complain… i tell them how to remove the program. but they don’t ask for my help for free again.

      • #3172068

        LD and traveling support requests

        by worm22 ·

        In reply to fix it once and lock it down

        I get a lot of requests to help from a distance (usually guide someone through diagnosing/repairing a problem over the phone). If it’s someone I like I tend to do it, but it’s not always someone I like. I’ve stumbled over some decent ways to get out of it in these scenarios.

        Distance Support:
        1) “What you’re decribing could be caused by any number of problems, and I’d really need to be in front of the computer to be helpful.”

        You can throw in “if you haven’t gotten it fixed by the next time I’m out your way…” but you may find yourself looking at in the end that way.

        2) “I don’t know if it’s something I could fix or not, but if you want to bring me out there and set me up while I’m there, I’ll take a look at it for you.”

        Use this only if you actually like the person or the area they live in … free vacation. Only worked for me once or twice. I would’ve helped those people if I could anyway and they used it as much as an excuse to hang out with me as to get their PC fixed. When it doesn’t work, well you’re off the hook.

        While Traveling:

        1) “There’s not much I can do to even figgure out what’s wrong without all my tools and diagnostic equipment, and I wasn’t expecting to need them so I didn’t bring them. Sorry.”

        Works best if you spend a few minutes running some basic checks and then give up.

        The first one in “Distance” and the one for “Traveling” I discovered when they were actually true. Best way to avoid is use something that you are familiar with from actual past experiance. 😉

    • #3179660

      Dang. I must just be a B****

      by mmarble ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I just say “No” with a nice big Jack Nicholson-style grin. You wouldn’t believe how many people kept talking about their PC problems even while I was walking away from them.

    • #3179646

      Beer jobs: Will work for Beer

      by banzairunner ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      Rigth after 9/11 a tech friend of mine had found a small job that just enough helped him to pay the bills but he couldn’t afford the important stuff in life…like beer. I told him about a guy here that helps peopel on the side for beer. He took some side jobs and had them pay him in beer. It was cheaper for them than his usual hourly rate and he got his fridge stocked up in less than a week! He even needed me to help him drink it. Hey, what are good friends for? I even did a couple of beer jobs for people who I know couldn’t afford to pay my usual rate. It’s a win/win, win, win…(24 wins in a case) situation!

      • #3179543

        But only good beer!

        by k12linux ·

        In reply to Beer jobs: Will work for Beer

        The only time I work for beer is if it’s a friend or if it’s someone who brews their own and is good at it.

      • #2566354

        Free as in . . . BEEEEEEEER :)

        by pepoluan ·

        In reply to Beer jobs: Will work for Beer

        Heheh. Next time I’m somewhere in your vicinity, you really should point me to such jolly employers 😀



    • #3179645

      Make arrangements for the broke user

      by banzairunner ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I have lots of people who can’t afford a new machine nor pay for high end support. I have, on occasion, had people who are great cooks have my wife and I over for dinner and I fix their machine while we’re there. It’s a great trade-off! *burp* 😛

    • #3179610

      Why is this a download????

      by alangeek ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I’m still trying to figure out why everything has become a download here. Most of these things would be just as useful and more easily accessed if they were simply web pages?

      It’s like many of the newsletters; originally they were actually newsletters with the info right there. Then they became teaser blurbs with links to the web page, buried in-between the paid ads. Now they are teaser blurbs that link to web pages that are just a link to a download that then requires Acrobat to read. What is the purpose of all that? It’s as bad as the morons at work that type their email in Word, then mail it as an attachment. Wake up, gang, that’s just stupid!

      • #3179597


        by jeff dray ·

        In reply to Why is this a download????

        I’m not sure, but think there has been a change of policy. most of my pieces are articles on the site but a few habve been made into downloads, these last two were published only as downloads. I enjoy doing them, whichever way they are distributed.

        • #3170015

          Thanks for the Content

          by techrepublic ·

          In reply to Why?

          I too was wondering about why your content had to be bundled in a PDF–don’t let comments about how TechRepublic is packaging your content from producing interesting content!!

      • #3172498

        Stop the stupid downloads

        by mensaguy ·

        In reply to Why is this a download????

        There are many days that I just say no with my Back button when Tech Republic says I hae to download what should be a simple HTMP text page. I can’t think of any reason a sane person would do this.

      • #3169835

        Ok. Sounds good. Will download.

        by aaron ·

        In reply to Why is this a download????

        The title sounded fantastic and very fitting. I gots ta learn myself to say NO. Then… I saw it was a download.

        I came here to the discussion board first before downloading it to see what the buzz was. I will now get the download now and read it.

        One of the first things I tell people when working on their PC’s (free or otherwise) is don’t download unneccesary junk. Yeah, this one is a PDF, but most people feel that same way about the attachment in their email from Cousin Leonard.

      • #2644757


        by bigjohnlg ·

        In reply to Why is this a download????

        Ain’t that the truth? I was beginning to think I was out in left field.

    • #3179593

      Watch the “price of the parts”, angle

      by aled ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      In the early 90’s I was self employed, carrying out repairs to peoples disco equipment. Now I’m not saying this applies to every DJ, but the one’s I met were mainly of the “missing link” variety. One guy brought in his lighting controller, which got wet during a garden party, when it rained (!!). I told him to leave it with me and I’d have a look, filled out the service ticket, put it on the shelf until it’s turn came along. Well, when I opened it up, the thing was shot to pieces, print hanging off the PCB, tops blown off the IC’s, burn marks and carbon tracks everywhere. I called him straight away and told him it was ‘beyond economical repair’. He asked me how much would it cost to fix it. I said ring me back in 30 mins, and I should have an idea. I didn’t want to spend too much time with it, so I decided that the price of a new controller +50% would be enough to put the guy off. He called me back and I told him the price, and said a brand new controller would only be 2 thirds of the price of the repair. He said “Hmmmm” I thought “I got away with it”, and as I was busily congratulating myself, he said “DO IT!!”

      I said but “. . .” He said, “it’s a great little controller!” I said “but you could have a new one, 12 months warranty, and more functions for less than the repair, on which I’ll give you the usual 30 day warranty!” He said, “it’s a good point, but no, I think I’d like the old one back”. The point is – sometimes you have to ask yourself “is the answer really ‘out there’?” or is it just the customer?

    • #3170130

      it never ends …

      by wizardofj ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I get stopped at the grocery store and asked how to get rid of the problem of the moment… geez! Don’t I get time off for good behaviour?

    • #3170084

      This type of thing…

      by techrepublic ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      …is very annoying for me. Why not just say “since I have a wife, children, family, home, and basic items to buy I can’t give away my valuable services for free at this time.”

    • #3170045

      do you really have to make it a download

      by rocket_scientist ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      oh come on, do I really have to download this thing if I want to see it. Tech republic, the way you’ve horked up your site is bad enough as it is, i don’t want to fill up my HDD with ad-ridden documents from you that I will read only once.

    • #3170858

      Make it worth your while!

      by soundy ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      Going along with the “this is going to be expensive” concept: in my current day job doing CCTV/security system installs and support, we often get calls late in the day or just before the weekend (or even ON the weekend) insisting that “it has to be fixed NOW!” When we tell them it’ll have to wait until Monday, they get all huffy with something like, “Everybody ELSE works weekends!” Even when we explain that WE DON’T work weekends/after-hours, they usually still insist.

      So we tell them okay, but it will be at double-time rate, for a minimum four-hour charge.

      So far, nobody’s emergency has been THAT bad!

    • #3172282

      My techniques

      by server queen ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I have a pretty standard “10-minute rule” for troubleshooting computers of family and friends; if I can fix it in 10 minutes, then fine. Once. If it’s going to take longer than that, or if they’ve already used their 10-minute allocation, then at that point, I tell them my discounted bill rate for friends & family – it’s half what my bill rate was when I was working as a consultant – tell them there’s a 1/2 hour minimum charge and let them decide if they want to pay me or not.

      People who persist after this are gently reminded that a) I do this for a living, not for entertainment, so I do not wish to do it on my own time and my own dime, and b) there are many good PC consultants out there who need the business.

      I’ve found that family is by far the worst. They invariably corner you for support at some festive occasion when you’ve already downed half a bottle of wine, and at which you were actually enjoying yourself until they started pestering you. Their computers are always horribly, grotesquely hosed with spyware and trojans and virii, they’re always using some weird-ass applications I’ve never heard of, they NEVER have any of their system documentation, and their systems always have the hokiest, nastiest, cheapest components imaginable. And they’re the ones who think nothing of calling me at 8 a.m. on Saturday to ask me detailed questions about why X application is “broken.” If you ask for error messages, they’ve always just clicked OK and never have any idea what they said. They can’t ever give you the names or versions of actual applications. They never know their OS version. They never know what browser they’re using. They want you to fix every web page they go to that gives them a broken link.

      Look, I don’t expect every Joe User to be a computer expert – that’s what I make my living doing. But I don’t ask the bakery employee who lives next door to give me free bread, I don’t expect the decorator in my family to give me free curtains, I don’t expect free hairstyling from the beautician. Why is it doctors and computer folks are always expected to provide free advice at all times, on all occasions?

    • #3170477

      Family is free for me.

      by intellitech ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I always do the troubleshooting and repair for free with the exception of cost of parts. It is my way of giving back to a family that gives as much as they get. Happy to do it, and always will. The word of mouth that my family spreads to their friends, co workers, and neighbors more than makes up for it. Sometimes it can take up a lot of your time, but most are understanding of waiting until I can get to them. It is just my way of giving. Some people give money, I give my time and free tech support. IntelliTech77

      • #3169829

        It Depends

        by rmkjr ·

        In reply to Family is free for me.

        At work, we have a policy [although other guys in support are bending it]. If it’s a VP, I usually refer them to the CIO, who explains the policy, time needed, ect. Although there is the distrubing trend of us instructed to go to their homes to fix their problems. I’ve gotten a few nice dinners out of it, but it could very easily get out of hand.
        At home, it’s mostly long distance support. I don’t mind, as when I’m in their area, I have a place to stay, gratis. For the local people, who always seem to find trouble during the week or Sunday nights, I subtly remind them I work for a living & have to get up early tommorrow morning.

    • #3175617

      Selfishness breeds bad karma

      by cswearingen ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      We don’t have to say “No” to every request for help people! I give free support to family and people I go to Church with. I’m very up-front with my policy that free service takes a back-burner to my paying clients. You can either wait for me to get there or I can take the PC and you can wait until I can get to it. You never know when a good turn will come back to you. It’s happened to me many times. Examples you say?

      One of my church-goers owns a small printing business. He needed help on his office PC and his son’s PC. I told him I’d get there ASAP or he could hire someone. He had no problems waiting. After about a week I made time and the fixes on both PCs only took about an hour or two total. I didn’t charge him and in return he gave me free service and reduced printing costs for my new work-order forms. He also copies for my son’s scout troop for free (granted he gets a tax break for that too). AND he now will dog-sit for me when I go out-of-town for days on end.

      Kindness can breed blessings.

      • #2461423

        I agree.

        by jeff.allen ·

        In reply to Selfishness breeds bad karma

        I was reading this thread to the end before adding my bit, and wondering where were all the compasionate people?
        I do these jobs for the good feelings and experience they give me.
        I am also flattered that they thought of me as being able to help.
        Most of my friends and relatives understand that I work from 8 to 5:30 most days and may not have time to solve their issues straight away. If they do need it in a hurry and I really CAN’T get to it in time, I suggest an economic alternative.
        As Earl would say – Karma

    • #3072312

      Exception to the Rule

      by dfields ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      When she is single, good looking and a great cook!

      • #3072291

        In my case

        by neilb@uk ·

        In reply to Exception to the Rule

        being desperate, I would replace the ‘and’ in your post with ‘or’.


    • #2480816

      They Know More Than You?

      by mrgates ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      Funny thing after I read the “Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support.

      Number 6 really gets into my crawl. Yea, we have all been there done that, but what really gets my goat is when you fall for that trap, that so-called person states you are wrong and they know more than you do.

      Yet, they keep trying to call you for this free support and help.

      I love it when someone says I am wrong and they have no clue what is going on.

      Another part of that is when someone says, “Why did it do that?” Some things cannot be explained and it is just the way it is. We all have learned to just accept it and move on, but no, these free-loaders want to know why, then when you try to explain it, then they get frustrated at your answer.

    • #2641124

      one thing that works for me

      by rubenbenjamin ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      most support at work comes from friends or collegues that are at a different project or section who dosent really know with how much work you are loaded with.
      one trick that works for me it to tell them that I got an important/immidiate assignment just now that would require my full attention for sometime. just tell this to your friend at the last minute and 90% chances are there that he would find and alternamte person or workaround. It even leaves your reputation intact!!

    • #2566465

      Not downloading

      by tmdowling ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I’m curious about this topic, and your article would probably be worth my while to read, but it’s not worth my while to download the PDF and open a reader in order to confirm that.

      Bill Detwiler, I know you don’t make the download vs html policy on these, but I hope you will pass the news up the chain: people are refusing to download an article that ought to be readable online. Most won’t tell you about it, either, they’ll just silently move on along. I hope something changes… Thanks,


      • #2566439

        This is an OLD article

        by cmiller5400 ·

        In reply to Not downloading

        This is an OLD article. Most of the newer ones that I have read are online. It only took me 5 seconds to download and open the article; I guess that must be too long of a time for you.

      • #2566371

        It’s worth it!

        by charliespencer ·

        In reply to Not downloading

        It doesn’t take long; it’s two pages and well worth the time. Search the site for it’s companion article, “Ten reasons why you shouldn’t provide free support”. Both are on my list of “Top 10 TR Downloads”.

      • #2931721

        Wait, this is too funny.

        by seanferd ·

        In reply to Not downloading

        10 ways to decline a request for free tech support

        This information is also available as a PDF download.Requests for free tech support often catch you off guard, and your first instinct is to accept the task. But taking on a free support job is often a significant commitment and can be a real headache. When someone makes an unwelcome…
        Tags: 10 things, support, career
        Blog posts 2007-07-18

        So, it doesn’t seem to have been available to anyone else who disdained the PDF, but dude was just in the wrong place(04/30/08).

        Ain’t it just like the night

    • #2460535

      How I turn them away, politely.

      by doramius ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      I used to have people constantly asking me for personal help. I decided to take it to their personal level.

      I usually tell them, “I’d love to help you. If you can, come back later and maybe we can schedule you a time for you to stop at my place with your .”

      Sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, it’s just a small software problem.” To which an appropriate replay would be, “Probably so. I wouldn’t want to take any chances, and if I know of any resources available I can refer you to a trial program until you can purchase the full version at a store or get it online at your own convenience.”

      When people come to me with a hardware problem, I reply: “I did a job like that not too long ago and had to buy a few cables for it.”

      What’s happening is, you’re leading them to understand that there may be a cost involved. Some might ask how much it would cost for the cables, to which you could easily reply, “I bought so many things at the same time, I truly don’t recall.” -(This is quite often the situation for me. I often need to be chained to a post when visiting computer parts stores.)

      You want them to understand the value of their PC problems that might not be too difficult, and could be figured out simply by searching google. Let THEM decide how much their problem is worth. They literally have to go out of their way to get it done. You haven’t disappointed them, or told them you can’t do it.

      Also, when you are in an environment detached from other business colleagues it can be a little easier to discuss cost or worth to repair the problem. Have them set the ball in your court, where YOU want it. Or you can just make up scheduling conflicts. Boy am I glad my son is in Tee-ball.

    • #2889572

      Broken link

      by peaynut1992 ·

      In reply to DOWNLOAD: Ten ways to decline a request for free tech support

      Does anyone know where the new link is? The one at the top of the page is broken. Thanks

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