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I'm looking to get some extra work and start my own I.T support business for home users only.

Examples of work: - Working on computers in front of the client - Clients drop off computers, I fix them, they collect them - Remote work (client will be able to see everything I do)

I'm aware with any business you have to protect yourself. Below are a few issues I one day expect to come across and need to know how to protect myself.

"You've deleted some of my files" - I haven't but I'm likely to get accused of this at some point. I could backup their data before hand but this is not only time consuming but I am then keeping hold of their private data.

"You've been viewing my private data" - I haven't, but they may accuse me of this.

"My computer is still full of viruses" - the truth is when I handed it back to the client it was virus free and shortly after they've downloaded more viruses and are accusing my of not doing my job properly!

"My computer is now worse" - let's say they hand me a PC which is crumbling. I use it for an hour and something blows up (e.g power supply) and I'm accused of breaking the machine.

  1. How best to cover myself against these points? There are many more but I can't see how I can cover everything so what's the best practice?!

  2. I guess the only way around any of these is to cover all these points in a contract and before any work takes place the client must sign it? Is replying to an email with the contract attached sufficient/legal?

  3. For remote work, how best to take payment? If I don't take payment before, once the PC is repaired they could cut the connection and never speak to me again. If I do take payment, they may have to do it online - if their computer is full of viruses this is not wise for obvious reasons.

Any help appreciated.

Thanks, Ricky

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Although open-ended, I'll try to address it as best as possible.

GET A CONTRACT DRAWN UP ASAP! Do not offer remote support, except to those you know quite well, and personally.


The contract should be signed before you take in the system, and before you touch it. It should explain that you are a professional, but shit happens... Essentially. It needs to explain what can potentially go wrong, and that you will try everything in your power to not have it happen. Although contracts exist around the Internet, it doesn't hurt to spend a couple hundred dollars on a lawyer to look them over, and make sure it will cover your ass.

For the remote support, that's a very good possibility (of them running away once it's fixed). For this reason, I only do remote support for my very good clients, and never anyone new. My good clients have established trust with me, and I know where they live. I haven't run into someone trying to skip out on a bill when I explain I only do it for my best clients.

As for emailing a contract and just having them reply: I doubt it, but talk to a lawyer.

If you're running any business, you can also pick up liability insurance; it may be expensive, but it would cover you for virtually anything that goes wrong. You'll need to learn to assess the risk involved, and make sure that if you get a gut-feeling that someone is bad news, you just don't deal with them. End of story.

2

Get business insurance. This is not optional, especially if you're conducting business in person. For typical consumer IT support, it's pretty cheap, because the risks are low.

That being said, I offered various forms of consumer and B2B IT support for several years and never once encountered any of the problems that you mentioned--at least, not to the point that it became problematic. As long as you're very nice and explain everything in simple terms, people tend to return the favor.

I have had people complain that I didn't fix their problem. 100% of the time I was sure I did and 100% of the time I was proven wrong. People who don't know exactly what they're doing manage to cause the most obscure problems. The solution is very simple: take the computer back, fix it (again) for no additional charge, apologize, work with the user on-site to ensure they're satisfied that it's fixed, and everyone wins. As long as you charge enough initially, the extra time is negligible, and people really appreciate it--which means they recommend you to their friends.

Probably the worst problem I ever had was when I helped a customer set up a new laptop. A few days afterward, the hard drive kicked out. I spent the weekend on the phone trying to get the manufacturer to replace it--they wouldn't agree until their stupid WD utility agreed with me that the hard drive was the culprit. Eventually I just told them that the utility reported a failure (it didn't) and the replaced it, which, of course, fixed the problem. It was worth the effort: that client became my best customer for years.

1
  1. You should always back-up your clients data. Yes, it's time consuming. It is also the best practice. Obviously this should happen after you asses the situation and only if the conclusion is that the next best thing you should do before starting work is to back-up the data.
  2. Because you will keep the client behind you watching what you are doing, if you don't look expressly to their private data, no one will accuse you of nothing.
  3. A work well done will never put you in this situation. If you know what you are doing, and if you give instructions and train your clients by making them familiar to the best practices regarding "how to avoid getting viruses" then be sure no one will accuse you of nothing.
  4. Yes, it happens many times; after you do your work, the computer can be worse than before. If this happens, start again until the computer will work properly.

You speak about home users. With them, it will be harder to close a contract. They usually close contracts with the banks and maybe when they get a new internet connection (or something of this sort).
It is hard to believe that they will trust you once you ask them to sign a contract with you. I don't say you shouldn't.

What about the payment?
Well, home users are used to pay before getting the service so, when you work remotely, first take the money and then start doing your thing.

Best of luck.

  • Hi, thanks for the reply. To clarify, you don't believe a home user would want to sign a contract? It's an interesting answer RE contracts, especially with the other answer given. – Ricky Jun 30 '14 at 10:30
  • If I take my problem to you I expect you to take responsibility, to solve my problem and to protect my interest in case of disaster. If you ask me to sign a contract that protects you of any liability than for sure I will not work for you (as a home user). The best alternative for you is to write a sort of Agreement in which you say that accidents can happen and that by reading (and signing) it the home user implicitly assumes (and accepts) such a risk. – Avram Cosmin Jun 30 '14 at 11:46
  • Very good point too. Thanks for the replies. – Ricky Jun 30 '14 at 13:12
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    It's better to ask the user if you can back-up their data as some of them will not like the idea or will ask to delete it as soon as you finished working on their computer. I never had issues with the second and third statements, but the fourth is another story. Once a strange network bug happened while I worked on a client's XP which caused about a minute hang on every startup and I couldn't fixed it without reinstalling the whole system which the client refused and he didn't paid me. The whole situation was very unpleasant and MS fixed the issue with SP1 month after this happened. – styu Jun 30 '14 at 22:48
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"Invent" a needed repair for a device that you own and take it to Best Buy for their Geek Squad service. While in line, "review" their contract (i.e. snap a few photos with your phone to capture the language in the contract). Then, suddenly decide you don't want to go through with the repair.

I'm gonna assume that the Geek Squad people deal with what you're describing very often, and a big-$$$ service provider such as Geek Squad isn't going to leave itself exposed to stupidness for very long.

The point is to figure out what language you'll need to protect yourself, as you are requesting. Review the photos at your leisure, and figure out what you need for when you generate contracts of your own, and get it into your own WRITTEN contract. Voila!

  • Or you could just walk up to the desk and ask them for all of their legal paperwork. It's a perfectly normal inquiry that I've made plenty of times. "Is there a contract or agreement for _____ and ____? Can I have a copy? Thanks!" I'm sure you can get two at a time without sounding suspicious--not that they'd care. Nobody working at the desk is going to have any interest in guarding a pile of papers they hand out for free anyway. In fact, I'm sure they'll think they'll get in trouble if they don't honor your request (they probably would). – Zenexer Jul 14 '14 at 6:18

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