Published: Wednesday November 19, 2014.

Good, not quick

It’s a few days since I went on a multi-stop trip and I’ve come back home with far more than I was expecting. The full extent of this will be explained over a bunch of posts, I expect; mostly because I’m a walking germ infestation thanks to a seasonal head cold, but also because it’s making me think about things. In no particular, let’s go.

I spent this morning adjusting my consultancy pricing table, which in the first instance meant updating the EX23 Technical Services price list with new options and bigger numbers. I’m not going to get rich from localised technical support, nor do I want to. It’s a service that’s designed to fill a need and not take advantage of anyone, least of all in their time of need.

There is a small element of ambulance chasing in what I do. By its nature, advertising my services to people who will likely only call when things are broken beyond their ability to fix them is always going to be contentious to some people. The majority of my customers are word of mouth recommendations and readers of the local parish newsletters (St Gennys Gazette and Poundstock Packet currently; Boscastle Blowhole – if you’re reading this, have someone check the advertising email inbox, please).

Until now, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with my approach. While it brought in enough money to pay bills and ensure customer satisfaction to the extent that word of mouth is the second biggest driver, it was missing something. During the 13 hours of driving I did over the weekend, I figured it out: I don’t have the value balance right.

It breaks down like this: most of my customers are local, that is to say they are within 3 or so miles from my house. This is great, because it means travel time is low and, should I need to return to the office to grab a spare part or whatever, it’s easy and quick. I place a high priority on getting the job done promptly and safely, with appropriate amounts of communication to my client. I work efficiently, get it done, bill the client, and move on.

Before this starts to sound like a generic resumé, I’ll get to the point. I don’t charge enough. I’m VAT registered, which means that the work I do is subject to a sales tax of 20%. When I charge £20 an hour, that leaves me with £16.67 an hour. From that, I have to stop what I’m doing at home, leave the house, take my toolboxes and the car (usually) on a short journey, visit the client, do the pleasantries thing, assess the situation, fix things, ensure all is well, do the closing pleasantries thing, load the car, come home, unload the car, do the paperwork, and then get on with what I was doing.

The nature of the work I do is that, ideally, everything should be fixed as soon as possible. If you know me, I am suited to a service industry because a) I like it and b) I’m very good at it. However, this insistence on getting things sorted out as soon as possible is having a detrimental effect on my long-term projects and plans. Also, knowing that everything is essentially against the clock — hourly rate, and all that — increases the pressure for no reason.

Ever tried to run Windows Update on a 5-year old cheap laptop for the first time when you’re in a hurry? Five years of updates aren’t going to install quickly. Allow an hour or more, plus three or more reboots. This happens to me a lot. Working with low-price laptops is, rightly or not, a very common thing. Removing slews of adware and browser hijackers is an almost everyday task. It’s 95% repair, 5% advice.

I can take a laptop, get it spring cleaned and better-than-factory fresh in two or three hours. If it’s a cheap (slow) laptop, add another hour on. I consider myself a computer mechanic, only I don’t do that air-sucking, tooth-drying thing or have impregnable, astronomical invoices with hieroglyphics and abbreviations.

Here’s the (self-congratulatory) rub: I’m very good at what I do, and have a happy client base. If I don’t value what I do, then my clients will have an inaccurate view of what I do. Heck, if I’m doing a Rentokil-style cleansing of a computer, it’s not my fault that it happened in the first place. I have been blamed for computer problems before, like I’m part of some global cabal of IT repair cowboys that meet every second Tuesday to figure out how we can do damage to computers and then charge to fix them. Come on, seriously — I’m busy most Tuesdays.

I do a good and thorough job, not a quick job. I want to come back for more good and thorough jobs, too, so you need to know all of this.