Starting a computer support business

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Starting a computer support business is something that with some experience and training almost anyone can do. As a person owning an independent computer support business as well as a website to help others that support home users I thought it would be nice to point out the steps needed to get a business helping home computer users as well as some of the skills needed to get started.

There are four steps to getting the business started.

Business license
Every area is different but the legal aspect is always important and lends credibility to your business. Get your business license and also get insurance in case something goes terribly wrong, like lost business data that gets pinned on you.

Business cards
Of course you need some kind of a calling card. I know a small businessman who years back worked out that his business increased $1 per month for every business card he gave out. Go to Staples or Office depot as they have low prices for 500 or 1000 cards with some customization.

Flyers
The bulk of your business will come from flyers that you post up in various places. Put up flyers wherever possible. I have gone to supermarkets, bulletin boards at large businesses as well as small and Real Estate and mortgage offices. Your best success will come in offices where a lot of independent people work with their main computer being at home not supported at their work.

Computer software
There is no way around this. Over time you will find great software for diagnosing problems as well as for fixing problems. Two of my favorite CDs for support are the Ultimate Boot Disk as well as the Windows Ultimate Boot Disk. Both of these are free CDs to download and include a great many pieces of freeware that will help you out. These two Cds are self booting which is nice but you may also create a disk over time that has software you can run right out of Windows.

Website
A website is critical. You do not need something really slick but you do need a site for marketing as well as so that people can contact you or direct others to contact you. The basic info on the site should be your email, phone number, services you offer and maybe a menu of services that you offer. You will find that you do not have to prove how much better you are than everyone else because word of mouth can move very quickly, other thing you may going to need is an insurance for your business, so you can be calm everything is under control even if things go bad, there are several options for this, and you can even go online at sites like http://www.virtualinsuranceservice.com/back-office-outsourcing.html to find the best resources in this field.

There are also some skills that are very important

You need these skills to get your business started or you will be flopping around Google all the time time find fixes for problems that are common to the experienced but new to you.

Strong windows skills
This can not be overstated. The person that has a strong knowledge of how the various parts of Windows work is the one that can diagnose and fix the problem fastest. Although you want to have a lot of billable hours you want to be sure that you are not fiddling around looking for a fix as your clients will lose confidence in your ability and you will feel bad about taking so long to fix a problem. Keep up with great message boards like the ones at www.neowin.net, as well as others that have a lot of fixes. Also it is important to know the Windows boot process and how the local group policy works. I hate to say it but I have learned more from supporting my mom’s computer over the years for free than I have learned from my own machines because she is not nearly as careful as I am in operating a computer. Remember that most users are not going to have any idea how their computer broke so your own probing questions are often better than just diving straight in and troubleshooting. Lastly know what each of the processes does on a running PC and have a good feel for what to make of errors in the error logs of the machine, these are always invaluable. You can get diagnosis of errors from the logs at www.eventid.net .

Virus knowledge
Keep up with the latest viruses and how they are affecting computers. A very small number of viruses account for a great percentage of the infections out there and once you isolate how a virus has wreaked havoc the faster you can get rid of it and get the machine up and running properly again. I use www.sarc.com as well as the Internet Storm Center for this kind of information. When you get a customer set up with anti virus pick a favorite like Norton or McAfee instead of a free virus scanner so that the user does not have you to blame if they get reinfected by viruses. Use good quality control by setting up a realistic upgrade and weekly scan schedule based on the user’s computer habits.

Spyware knowledge
This is a really tough one. I keep up with spyware just by searching on the net and trying to find the resources that people are using to get rid of spyware. Also as you use products, especially free ones for fixing PCs like adaware or Spybot you will get a good chance to see what people are getting infected with regularly. I used to see Bonzi buddy a lot but now it is more aggressive spyware that forces you to fix in safe mode as you lose your regedit. Whenever you are getting a customer up and running though it is a best practice to have them use Spyware Nuker or one of the other pay products instead as then you do not have to worry about being the only point of failure if a computer gets reinfected.

Registry knowledge
No one expects you to know the registry inside and out but be sure that you are very proficient with the current user and local machine hives of the registry as that is the most customizable portion of the registry. Also take note of keys that are being affected by various spyware and viruses. Quite often I will find unasked for extras in the filesystem that stop me from using the regedit command but I have had luck using regedt32 or going into the registry from safe mode. Again the better you know the registry the better off you will be when fixing problems.

Hardware knowledge
I have an A+ certification from years back and I am sure that this gave me a great grounding as hardware has changed over the years. You have to be able to at minimum be able to build a PC from scratch as this will give you knowledge of each component of the computer, teach you about BIOS upgrades and drivers and where to find them. There are so many sites on the internet which specialize in each component of a PC that Google will be your best bet for finding information. Another great resource is Maximum PC as they always have up to the minute news on cutting edge hardware as well as software. A couple of good sites that I frequent are www.tomshardware.com and www.lockergnome.com

Staying up to date with the latest news
This one should go without saying. One of the best ways to start a day in my eyes is to use my RSS reader to read feeds and then open up www.neowin.net www.activewin.com www.pcmag.com www.wired.com www.cnet.com www.incidents.org www.internettrafficreport.com all in Firefox tabs

Marketing
One thing that I have only touched on so far is marketing. After you have the skills down the most important thing you can do is market your business. There are a few things besides flyers. You can do sneaky things like leave a couple of cards at the local bookstore in the computer section, send support type articles to the local newspaper and hope to get them published, and finally strike up computer conversations in the line at the local grocery store. In the more mainstream marketing methods you should join the local chamber of commerce, volunteer to do computer work with local charities, put ads in any local newspapers especially the free ones, and be sure to get together with other people in the industry

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