If you've ever owned a laptop, you've very likely experienced the unnerving moment when you hit the power button and heard only a "whirring" noise, followed by silence. It's even more disturbing if you don't have all your data backed up. The problem is, it's not always obvious what to do next. The repair service at the big-box store where you probably bought your laptop charges extremely high rates for data recovery, and its customer service leaves something to be desired anyway. A mom and pop store might not even be equipped to deal with your problem. At least that was the computer-repair marketplace as former IT technician Alex Chamandy sized it up. So he started Arlington Virginia Computer Repair in May of 2006. Today, he says he has served thousands of customers. He fills a niche by offering face-to-face service at lower rates than those of big competitors like Best Buy. Chamandy also does things that he says other small businesses often aren't equipped to touch, like data recovery and laptop repair. "Literally a third of our cases are people coming from other stores because the stores did not address their problems," Chamandy says.
What does it pay?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer support specialists in May 2007 was $45,300.
What kind of background do you need?
A good computer services entrepreneur is often someone for whom working with computers is much more than a professional activity. "It comes from a passion for technology," Chamandy says. Every day in his business, he uses the knowledge he has gained from a lifelong interest in computers as a hobby. Chamandy's business card even reads "Chief Geek." But that's not the only kind of entrepreneur who can succeed in this business. Justin Kenagy, cofounder of Onyx Consulting in Atlanta, says, "I saw an opportunity to buck the stereotypes that were being developed regarding computer and IT professionals being geeky." Kenagy, who came from the restaurant business, lets his partner, a Yale math graduate, and their employees handle the actual computer services, while he focuses on expanding their business. Onyx's technicians mainly deal with IT work and technical support outsourced to them by businesses in the area, and they also offer computer repair for individuals.
How do you get started?
To offer the most sophisticated repair services, be prepared to borrow money for start-up capital. "You're going to need at least $5,000 to $10,000 of equipment, software, and hardware," Chamandy says. You can save money by working out of your home. Chamandy converted his basement into a professional office with a waiting room so he can make a good impression on customers. Kenagy says that in the early days of Onyx, the company was just a few people working out of an apartment; they traveled to customers instead of asking customers to bring in their computers. Another initial concern is how to generate a flow of customers, who will generate word-of-mouth referrals. Kenagy says that three years ago, he stopped all advertising because word of mouth was bringing him enough customers. But to get to that point, you need to make it easy for people searching for computer services online to find you. Sign up for directories run by search engines, a form of online yellow pages. "You'll become more visible for people searching," says Chamandy.