Side Hustle Series: I’m an IT Freelancer

(Today’s article by Ron Dawson, as part of our Side Hustle Series)

[What is Information Technology (IT)? Pretty much any technology that is involved in the storage or transmission of information. This would include computers, servers, printers, phone systems, cell phones and other hand held devices. This would also include web servers, email servers or other applications that run on these devices.]

My Background

Throughout my childhood I did really well in school… At least until about the 7th grade. I really loved learning new things but a classroom setting wasn’t very appealing to me. This eventually led to failing grades and dropping out of high school at the end of 10th grade. Of course this choice lead to low paying warehouse and manufacturing jobs for years. I eventually worked my way into a livable salary… but it took forever.

Not that I knew it at the time but, the turning point in my life came when my wife started going to college. She needed a computer for school so we bought her one. I had never touched a computer before at this point, so I was very excited to see what it could do. The first few nights I just clicked around and played with the installed programs and this got boring fast. Then I decided it would be a good idea to start deleting various things and see if I could fix the resulting problems. To make a long story short I would break the computer every night then try to fix it before my wife found out.Eventually I got caught and was told to stop it…

How I Got Started Freelancing

So, with my new found knowledge and no longer having a computer to test my new ideas on I turned my focus towards friends and coworkers.  I would offer to fix anybody’s computer for free just to see if I could.  Even though I wasn’t charging people anything at this time sometimes people were so surprised that I fixed the problem they would give me things.  Some of the things I got were house plants, candles and tickets to events… I didn’t really care all I wanted to do was fix the computers. This went on for a few years and eventually led to fixing computers around the office where I was working at the time.

My first paying gig came when I decided to get a part time job.  I found an evening job working for Learning Tree University.  The experience I gained from my short stay at Learning Tree University led to the job I currently have working for one of the largest Intellectual Property law firms on the West Coast.  My first 4 years there I worked as a System Support Technician then I took over as the firms Web Developer and have been doing that job for almost 7 years now.

Shortly after starting my current job a coworker approached me and asked if I could help him set up 2 of his clients that were moving into a new building.  Of course I said yes!  At this time I had been experimenting with Linux servers and jumped at the chance to build Linux servers that a whole office would use. His 2 clients were sharing a building so that was convenient.  But, I had to build 2 servers for each client and only had a week to complete them and test them.  To my surprise things worked out really well for my first real world setup. Eventually my coworker got tired of having both clients and asked me to take one of them… So I did.

I found out very soon why he gave me this client.  They were very needy and I spent almost every night working there.  Let’s just say… The whole office was on a mission to install everything the internet had to offer and this created a lot of problems.  I only lasted about 6 months with this client before I gave up and fired them.

My next client was a non profit company that my sister in law worked for.  This client was really great to work for and only had a few employees that caused problems.  I worked for them for about 6 years until they outgrew my ability to help them.  This was also an odd situation because they were located 2 hours away from me by car.  I tried several times over the years to get them to find a local technician to help them… but, they always declined.

How Much You Can Make

For my first client I was billing $50.00 per hour.  For my second client I started out billing them $100.00 per hour and eventually settled on an $800.00 retainer every month.  The retainer method works really well for non profits because they have very strict budgets and they don’t like surprise expenses. [Never offer to work for a fixed amount each month unless you really know the company and their needs. You could end up making a few bucks an hour if you do this for the wrong client.]

The decision for how much to charge is derived from how much others charge in your area versus the skills you are offering.  Companies can’t afford to be down for long periods of time so you need to be sure you can fix almost any problem within a few hours.  If you are confident that your skills justify it then set your price near the higher end of the scale.

The Pros, Cons and Everything In Between

The pros to freelancing:

  • A great way to make some side income and learn at the same time
  • You learn a lot about running a business without committing to doing it full time
  • You learn to really listen to what people want and then figure out how to provide it for them

The cons:

  • You may have to work late into the night to fix a problem caused by an employee
  • Billing disputes
  • Personality clashes with clients
  • A bigger tax bill at year end

Other things to be aware of:

  • Know your limitations – If you are doing this part time make sure the client only has a few employees.  10 or less employees would be safe but any more than that could get crazy.
  • Contacting you – If you have a day job then you need to make it clear that you clients can only contact you via email.  Some people will call you all day if they have your phone number.
  • Remote connection software – Everyone in the tech industry uses remote connection to access a client’s computer.  This enables you to fix software related problems from anywhere that has an internet connection. VNC and Remote Desktop are the most common for Windows machines.
  • Location – 99% of the time I could work from my home office… But, be ready to drive to the client’s office in the middle of the night if something goes wrong and you can’t connect to one of the computers.  Or in case of hardware failure.
  • Everyone needs these – Two things people can’t live without are mail and an internet connection.  Really know how to fix problems related to these 2 items. This accounted for 80% of my work load.

How To Get Started

The best way to get started in this is still the old fashioned way: break things and fix things over and over again.  Read as many magazines and books as possible related to computers. If possible, use an old computer that nobody is relying on – that way you can do whatever you want to it.

Once everyone around you knows what you do,  the marketing kind of takes care of itself.  I never had to look for any of my freelance jobs… They just seem to find me to the point that I had to turn away jobs.  If I wanted to freelance full time I would avoid any of the freelance websites and go with low tech advertising. I would either tell everyone I know that I’m looking for work or I would make up flyers and target every business complex near me.

You may also want to target specific businesses such as Accounting Firms, Medical or Dental offices.  The reason for this is because each type of business works with a specific group of software that you will need to become familiar with.  For example Medical offices will use software that is completely different than an Accounting firm.  By sticking to a specific business type you drastically reduce the types of software you have to support or troubleshoot.

Ron Dawson currently runs a blog dedicated to the topic of Exploring Simplified Living.

**Have an interesting Side Hustle of your own? Let us know!

(Photo by youngthousands)

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  1. Chris July 12, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    “The whole office was on a mission to install everything the internet had to offer and this created a lot of problems.”

    I laughed so hard at this. I’m an IT manager at a Credit Union. I came in fresh out of college and realized early that I didn’t know anything. If anybody is interested in getting into IT just remember that Google is your BEST friend.

    I’ve recently been thinking about doing this. I get asked all the time to fix personal computers from everybody, and I have never charged. It’s usually some stupid virus they got from Facebook that I can fix with my eyes closed.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. m1nts July 12, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    I didn’t know IT freelance was an interesting hustle, no offense intended. I’m a software engineer consultant and work on a big ERP/CRM software company (if any is interested on buying one, give me a heads up, we could split the employee incentive ;) ) and pretty much everyone here either sell computers on ebay or fixes computers as a side job.
    I started while I was in college, we had this yearly community service for all the non IT students, we would format all computers and reinstall them whatever they wanted as long as the university had licenses for it, we would charge them about 10 USD per computer which was nothing but helped us to buy pizzas and sodas and dvds to do backups if our “customer” wanted to keep their precious mp3s and documents.
    On a week I’d format about 500 computers/laptops so when I graduate I kept doing it but outside school. Since time is limited for me I get to format/fix about 5 computers a week, it’s not a big income but it has become my “waste money”.
    And yes, THANK YOU FACEBOOK! it provides the most viruses lately for my customers too.

  3. Joe @ Retire By 40 July 12, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks for sharing your story. The IT department is so underappreciated. People drops by when their computer is messed up and they are always in a hurry to get it fixed. I try to say thank you and be nice to the IT guys. :)

  4. Lance@MoneyLife&More July 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Congrats on getting into this profitable area. It is great that you have to turn clients away so hopefully you are getting top market rate!

  5. LB July 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Thanks for the awesome information! My husband does IT and has wanted to do it on the side for a long time for extra money. This should give him more ideas, so I will definitely pass it along to him. :)

    As for me, IT isn’t for everyone and I hated it. I love fixing computers for friends or myself, but always seemed to get stuck on the phone or underpaid. (Last company I was supposed to be an assistant, but they kept wanting me to fix everyone’s email, phones, computers and even their server mess. I declined and eventually quit for the low pay, few hours and demands on me.)

  6. Mr. Everyday Dollar July 12, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    I have been in IT for over 10 years. While I make great money in my position, it came to a point a few years ago that I did not want to do anything IT-related outside of the 9-5 work hours.

    For me, it could be a potential side hustle after I retire early, but it would be on my terms and only consulting or project work.

  7. Nurse Frugal July 12, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    Good for you for having a profitable side business!!!! If only i could find mine ;)

  8. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 12, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    Sounds like a great side gig. Thanks for sharing.

  9. J. Money July 23, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    Thanks again for guest posting, Ron – it really helped out while I was away! Glad the rest of you enjoyed it too :)