Can you afford the basement geek?

Wallet with spare changeNot long ago, I wrote about the problems with self-employed basement geeks. What I may not have made clear is how this hits you, the business owner, directly in the pocketbook. This is one of those situations where hourly rate comparisons can be misleading.

Here are some of the true stories we’ve seen and heard…

  • Overspent on equipment: we ran into a business owner who spent thousands more on a server than he needed. At first glance, our services appeared far more expensive than his current tech, but the money he wasted on that server could have paid for months of our services. At this point he’s gun-shy around techs and doesn’t trust anyone. Who can blame him?
  • Underspent on equipment, overspent on labor: even more often we find clients with a hodge-podge of old equipment that’s expensive to maintain, when a small investment in upgrades would cut labor costs dramatically. We run our business so that it’s in our best interest to tell our clients. Geeks that charge exclusively by the hour may not think this way.
  • Software licensing issues: basement geeks are notorious for installing illegal copies of software. Sometimes they charge clients for full copies, sometimes they simply “do a favor” for their client; either can cause expensive problems down the road when software needs to be reinstalled and can’t be found, or illegal copies are reported to regulatory agencies.
  • Excessive labor charges: we heard of a company recently who’s been waiting more than two weeks to have a Windows XP computer fixed, and “the guy” has already spent more than 40 hours working on it. That’s just not right, but the owner thinks this guy is brilliant and can do no wrong. Who knows what the final bill will be. All I know is that someone in that relationship is going to get burned, whether they know it or not.
  • Extended downtime: what if, due to lack of availability or lack of skill, your business computers are down for a day? What about a week? What’s the cost of all that wasted time? Compare that to the little you’re saving on that cheap basement tech.

You may do fine with the basement geek when you’re first getting started. He may work out well for months, maybe even years. But at some point you’ll almost certainly run into serious problems.

How can I be so sure? It’s not like I think these are bad guys with evil intentions. But time after time, we’ve done cleanup duty for businesses that have been burned. At this point, even the worst horror stories fail to shock us. Don’t let yours be the next one we hear.

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2 thoughts on “Can you afford the basement geek?

  1. Wendy, I have run into this problem myself. When I was part of a start-up, we had 2 guys come to “make all our machines talk.” What was supposed to be 1 hour of labor turned into him trying to charge me for 3 hours (times 2…since 2 guys were there). Also, he left a wake of buggy systems behind that I had to later learn how to clean up. In retrospect, I would have been better off to learn it myself than to have this guy do it.

    Finding a reputable company that has a proven track record of success and the systems to support you at all times is key. Thanks for these posts on the basement geeks. I think that, especially in an economic downturn, people have been turning to these folks that appear to be less money on the surface, but end up being a bigger cost in the long run.

    – Jeremy

  2. Jeremy, thanks for sharing. I hear this kind of story all too often, but I still see business owners making these choices. I understand the cash crunch and yet I cringe at some of the awful outcomes.

    Wendy

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