How to start a successful computer repair business
Technical skills aren’t enough to open a computer repair business – your success depends on writing a business plan, securing financing, and taking several other key steps that will have long-term impacts on your business.
The ability to configure a motherboard or coax a CPU back to life is a valuable skill, and those who have the technical chops are a hot commodity in the job market. But what about tech whizzes who dream of being their own boss? If you have a knack for fixing electronics, starting a computer repair business could be a logical career move.
However, going into business for yourself is not something you should do on a whim. The more time you spend planning, promoting, and protecting your business, the more likely your business is to succeed. Here are some tips to turn the dream of starting a computer repair business into a reality.
Build up your savings
Starting a business is exciting, but shouldn't be rushed. It takes time, planning, hustle, and money to launch a successful computer repair business. Once you've decided you want to take the plunge, your first step should be to build up your savings.
It's important to build up a financial cushion in case there is not enough billable work to cover your expenses and salary when you first start your business. Savings can keep your business afloat during those lean early months. Ideally, you should stockpile enough cash to pay your bills for at least six to nine months before quitting your day job.
Create a business plan
A solid business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company. It forces you to not only think about how you want to structure the business initially, but also how you envision it evolving over time. Some of the questions your computer repair business plan should answer include:
- What services will you offer? (repairs, server maintenance, retail sales, etc.)
- Who is your target customer? (individuals, businesses, or both)
- What is the business structure? (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.)
- Where will you perform the work? (retail location, coworking space, client sites, etc.)
- How are you financing your business?
- What does the competitive landscape look like?
- What is your projected budget and income for the first five years?
- What is your marketing strategy?
- Do you plan on hiring employees? If so, when?
Once your business plan is finalized, you'll be ready to approach lenders if you choose to look for business funding. (Related: “How to budget your way to a successful IT business launch.”)
Financing your business
In addition to building up a nest egg, seeking out additional funds can help you get your business off the ground. One option to consider is a loan through the Small Business Administration. The SBA partners with lenders, community development organizations, and micro-lending institutions to set guidelines and facilitate loans for small business owners. This reduces risk for lenders and makes it easier for small business to get approved – typically at lower rates than they might ordinarily qualify for through a traditional bank loan.
Other financing options to consider include finding investors, such as venture capitalists or angel investors; using credit cards; tapping into a 401(k); crowdfunding; and borrowing money from family and friends.
Try to run the business as lean as possible, at least in the beginning, to minimize the amount of money you're borrowing. You want to focus the majority of your efforts on building your business, not repaying debt.
Choose a location
A computer repair business offers a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to structuring your work environment. For example, you could opt to work from home, work out of a retail storefront, or travel to client sites.
There are pros and cons to consider for each option before deciding which might be the best fit for your business.
Working from home reduces your overhead since you won't need to pay for office space. Not only that, the commute is nonexistent, and you typically have more flexibility on what hours you work. The downsides include a lack of separation between your personal and professional life. Also, if family members are home during your work hours, they may compete for your time and attention, making it difficult to focus. It’s also important to make sure your home business is protected by commercial property insurance. Homeowner’s insurance typically excludes coverage for business property.
A storefront provides brand visibility and can draw foot traffic into your business. The primary downside is the additional expense. Not only will you pay to rent or buy a space, but you may also need to pay for additional expenses, such as utilities. If you rent your space, your landlord will likely require you to purchase general liability insurance. If you include a retail section to sell computer accessories, you will also need to consider the wholesale costs of the products you plan to sell and product liability insurance.
Limiting your repairs to house calls at your clients' homes or businesses eliminates the added expense of a storefront, and also creates a natural separation from your personal life at home. However, there are other factors to take into account. You will be at the mercy of your clients' schedules, and you also run the risk of jobs taking longer than anticipated, especially if clients ask you to complete extra work once you're there. Since you’ll be driving to your clients, you should also consider purchasing commercial auto insurance, since most personal auto policies don’t cover business-related driving.
No matter which option you choose, there are potential risks your business will face. For example, customers could sue if they trip and are injured at your storefront, a fire could destroy your home – and all the computers you were working on, or you could get into an accident while driving to a client's office, injuring a third party.
Small business insurance can protect your computer repair business against all these risks and more. We'll discuss the specific policies you may wish to purchase in more detail in a later section.
Make sure the price is right
Initially, it can be tempting to offer below-market pricing as a way to entice new customers to give you a try. However, this strategy can backfire. Not only will it be more difficult to eventually increase your rates, you could also be attracting the type of clients more interested in the cheapest rate than the quality of your service. Once your rates increase, they could disappear, forcing you to build a client base from scratch.
Research the going rates for other repair shops in your area and make sure your pricing is in line with what the competition is charging. Keep in mind that you need to charge enough to not only pay your salary, but expenses such as rent, taxes, professional fees, and more. Know your value, and price yourself accordingly.
You don't need a degree to open a computer repair business, but there are several certifications you may want to obtain to prove that you have the necessary expertise and potentially gain a competitive advantage. Some of the more common ones include:
- CompTIA A+ Technician
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
- ACMT (Apple)
- BICSI Technician (BICISI)
Check to see which certifications are common among other repair shops in your area. You may also want to find an area of expertise that sets your business apart. For example, consider focusing only on repairs for Apple computers.
How to market a computer repair business
Asking family and friends to spread the word about your new business can help you build some initial buzz, but you also need a comprehensive marketing strategy to help potential customers find you.
One priority should be creating a website. Since your website provides the first impression of your business, hire a professional if you are unable to create a professional-quality website yourself – and make sure it is mobile-friendly.
Marketing doesn't have to cost a lot to be effective. There are plenty of strategies that are budget-friendly, such as:
- Attending networking events. (Related: “Starting an IT business? Networking dos and don’ts.”)
- Joining a professional networking group, like BNI
- Email marketing
- Promoted posts and ads on social media
It's important to make marketing a part of your regular schedule. Set aside a few hours each week to touch base with current and potential clients, post on your social media accounts, and otherwise promote your business.
Protect your computer repair business with small business insurance
Lawsuits and other catastrophic events can prove costly. Insurance for your computer repair business can help protect all your hard work. Here’s a rundown of the policies that are most common for business owners who specialize in computer repairs.
General liability insurance
The policy almost every business owner purchases first is general liability insurance. It covers many common issues a business might face, including:
- Third-party injuries or property damage.
- Product liability (if your business sells products).
- Libel, slander, and copyright infringement.
If you rent your office space, your landlord will likely require you to carry this coverage.
Business owner’s policy
Another policy that can benefit computer repair businesses is a business owner's policy, which combines general liability and commercial property insurance at a lower rate than if you purchased each policy separately. Commercial property insurance can pay to repair or replace tools, office furniture, printers, etc., if they are damaged or stolen. Even if you work from home, it's a good idea to carry this policy since most homeowner's policies exclude coverage for business property.
If you frequently store client property at your home or office, you might want to add bailee's coverage to your general liability policy. This can pay to repair or replace customer property if it is damaged or stolen while in your possession.
Professional liability (aka errors and omissions insurance)
Computer repair technicians can also benefit from professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions insurance. This policy can pay for the cost of a lawsuit if a client sues claiming that you made a mistake or failed to provide a service you promised.
Cyber liability insurance
Another critical policy for someone in your line of work is cyber liability insurance. If a client claims that your action, or lack of action, resulted in a computer system getting hacked, this policy can help pay for legal bills stemming from a lawsuit. It's typically included as part of your professional liability coverage, but double-check with your agent to make sure.
Commercial auto insurance
If you travel to client sites, your personal auto policy likely won't cover an accident if you’re on company business. Most personal vehicle policies exclude business-related driving. You will likely need to purchase a commercial auto insurance policy to make sure you're covered.
Computer repair specialists who take on jobs with banks or other financial institutions may be asked by their client to purchase a fidelity bond. Also known as an employee dishonesty bond, it functions as a voucher that you or your employees won’t use your behind-the-scenes access to steal. If a theft does occur, the bond can repay the stolen funds.
Workers’ compensation insurance
If you have employees, it might be necessary to purchase workers’ compensation insurance, which can pay for medical expenses and partial lost wages if an employee is hurt on the job. Whether or not you are required to buy it depends on where the business is based, since the laws covering workers’ comp are governed at the state level.
If you're curious how much insurance might cost to protect your computer repair business, you can review Insureon’s estimates for IT businesses.
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