I have been a fulltime student recently working on graduate work to complete a graduate degree. While continuing my studies I have maintained my computer hobby. However, recently my computer hobby has been threatening to turn into a full-fledged side business. Because I am starting to have people come to me for computer help who I have never met before (who generally heard word-of-mouth from other people whose computers I looked at) I am seriously considering putting my conditions for working on a computer into writing (for potential damage control and perhaps liability reasons). Are there any standards for this that I should reference? Should responsibility be waived for times when the computer is left in my care or any time I look at a machine? Any advice you can provide here would be appreciated. What other lessons have you learned that I should be aware of in relation to helping people while continuing my studies as a hobby? Thank you in advance.
closed as off topic by Shinrai, Not Kyle stop stalking me, Daniel Beck♦, Dennis Williamson, MaQleod Mar 9 '11 at 1:08
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Couple of pieces of advice.
First, NEVER assume liability for data. Every repair shop always has a disclaimer about that. You may want to clone every system before you start work on it, but that's up to you.
Second, set a SLA (service level agreement) upfront. Something like that you will do a best-effort attempt for say 1 hour and then provide an estimate. Estimates are always payable and can be waived if they go ahead with repair. This gives the customer a set dollar amount for having their system looked at, provides you with a way out of timesucks, and forces you to stick to a rule so you don't spend hours on any one project.
Third, since this is a hobby and you are schooling, decide upfront - how many systems per week or how many hours per week and stick to it.
Fourth, never forget about the larger view. When we have router problems, we just install a new router as a first step. The time/cost/downtime makes extensive troubleshooting not worth it. If a drive dies under warranty, we install a new one and bill for it. Yes, we can pull the drive, wait couple of days to get a new one, reinstall/reimage OS... meanwhile, the client is down.
Also a suggestion - browse the book "Passionate Programmer" - some of the things may apply to you such as seek out a specialty, see what people need, market yourself...