It’s happened to us all. If you have enough manual dexterity to type faster than 20 WPM with more than two fingers and know the difference between MB and Mb, you will be asked to fix someone’s computer. Statistically speaking, that “someone” will probably be related to you by blood or law.
Being a computer technician is a lot like living life after having won the lottery. Anyone who can concoct a soap-opera style claim to be your family member will run to you, hands open, tears in their eyes and entitlement in their hearts.
Don’t get me wrong. I like helping people. I like donating my time to people and causes. I’ve volunteered thousands of hours of my computer expertise to several organizations over the years. I have no problem with giving out free advice or help. I only get annoyed under some pretty special circumstances:
- If it is an individual asking for help for their business systems. This goes without saying, I think. If your business is hurting and you need emergency help, then fine. I’ll see what I can do. If you’re not on the brink of Chapter 11, however, then you can and should pay something for the service. At least you can write it off as a business expense.
- If it is an individual asking for help for their personal systems over, and over, and over, and… Especially irritating if it’s due to things that are easily preventable and the person isn’t taking care to learn better habits. I’m looking at YOU Mr. pr0n surfer with more viruses than a public bathroom doorknob.
- If the individual is obviously capable of paying a reasonable fee (E.g. they shuttle a desktop PC to me in one of their Cadillac SUVs with custom rims and brag that it’s paid off… just like their houses. Yes, houses.)
- If there is no thankfulness or acknowledgement that I might have other things on my schedule. I don’t need to be fawned over, praised like a deity or have monuments erected in my name. But an acknowledgement that I might have other things to be doing and that the other person is aware of the value of the service I gave them is nice. Also, “Thank you” goes a long way.
- If there is never any expression of possible remuneration from them. I suppose I’m not good at living Matthew 5:42. I don’t normally expect to be repaid when I give something to someone. I give because it’s right to do. But there comes a time in my mind when I reach a limit to the amount of entitlement I can take from someone. Thus is my immaturity, I suppose. I’ll even accept the barter system. If someone will be willing to fix a plumbing leak or show me how to repair a chain on a dirtbike, I’ll accept it.
I posed this dilemma to my little corner of the Twitterverse and received these responses:
@furicle: Don’t ask for money – ask for a favour in return that will cost them same amount of time. e.g. if they’re handy a new deck etc
@errr_: “good thing you are my <insert> other wise this would cost you X but Im only going to charge you Y, pretty big savings right? :)”
I like @errr_’s suggestion. Or maybe I’ll just drop an unexpected invoice on them subpoena-style. That’ll go over well at the next friends-n-fam picnic.
So here comes the tough question: How do we techs gently suggest to people that we would prefer to receive some kind of payment for our work? Alternatively, how do we suggest that the person stop calling us in the first place for silly drivel and/or receive instruction on how to operate a computer more skillfully?
Here comes the second question: How does the relationship between you and the person in question change your tactics? For instance, I’d say something to my brother in law that I might not say to my mother in law (I don’t have either of those relationships, so I could be wrong… but you get the idea).
If my mother asks for help, my mother gets help. If a friend of a friend asks for help… they’re getting a quote. That in and of itself can cause friction. Your friend might get free or greatly reduced prices for help. He tells his friend about it. That second-removed friend expects the same free or greatly reduced prices. You quote him standard rates. Will your friend be annoyed?
Bonus question: Do you tell your friends to keep your low rates or free service hushed? Do you tell them to only quote other people your standard rate?
I know this topic has been hashed, rehashed and served as pot-pie for years, but it never hurts to get new perspectives on old problems.