Published: Saturday March 28, 2015.
Disclosure: I was having a rotten day when I wrote this, and you should probably not read it.
About a month ago I set myself some goals for March 2015. Buoyed by the success of things happening in February, I was looking forward to some momentum and change. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen. March was, for want of a more appropriate phrase, somewhat challenging. Actually, no; it was tough.
I sent out letters to my local tech support clients telling them that I’d be shutting up shop in June, and I started the 90-day countdown from the Saturday they started to land on doormats. I estimate about 20% of the recipients have asked if I’m still going to be available after the business closes. I obviously underestimated the ambiguity of the wording. All the people I’ve spoken with have sympathised when they find out that, despite an almost flawless service and success rate, it hasn’t paid the rent for the the last three years.
My frustration with low-end technical equipment has almost brought me to breaking point. Laptops with 15-inch screens are now readily available for under £200 — and I’m talking actual laptops here, not a cut-down Chromebook. These £200 laptops are delivered with Windows 8.1, which — in the main — people don’t like as much as Windows 7. I offer a (popular) service of taking a new laptop, wiping it, taking out the factory-supplied guff, putting Windows 7 back on it, getting it updated and giving it back. That’s two hours of work on an invoice. In real terms, updating a cheap laptop with the latest patches takes many hours. Letting it run overnight is not uncommon.
All-in-one printers things are being bought for £30 or so, and the ink/toner cartel are no doubt raking in the pennies. I worked on a printer with a 6ml black ink cartridge. Despite my explanation that it’s a horrifyingly expensive way to print full-A4 images, I was asked to carry on and fix it regardless. My invoice was as much as buying a new printer. There’s an increasing amount of what I regard as unbillable time. It’s all very well saying that I charge hourly, but spending 5+ hours at a vulnerable pensioner’s house sorting out all manner of broken stuff, then returning a few days later for just as long to finish the job off, is not something I bill with a good conscience. It sometimes makes me feel ill. On some occasions I will chop hours off the bill. Objectivity is a fickle thing, but what I’m doing is not sustainable, either financially or for my wellbeing.
Once I’d made the decision to wrap up the local consumer tech support for a different path, it was like starting the notice period of a job. Little things bother me far more than they used to. I miss meals, largely due to unforeseen snags with — you guessed it — slow and cheap computers making appointments far longer than they should be. I miss the routines I’d begun to build up for my projects and business clients. I’m crabby far more than I used to be, and that brings me down. I am a terrible housemate, right now.
I’m not a quitter, but I know when to move on.