Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Should you provide free IT consulting work?

At TechRepublic, I read an interesting blog post under the IT Consultant section that caught my eye: "Stop providing free IT consulting work." I thought about that for a second, read the post and then thought some more. I do IT work, sometimes, in addition to my full-time job and there have been times (very few) that I've done free work for people (mainly close friends). While I do agree with the main point of the article in regard to businesses, I think technicians that do consultant work on the side can offer a few free services. Let me explain.

The other day a friend of mine called me and asked me what this error message meant: "windows cannot start...blah blah." Well, I have worked on her computer before, so I was familiar with it, and I asked her the usual questions, "Have you installed any new hardware/software recently," so on and I found out she had Windows Updates set for automatic installation. From that, I knew that was the problem and I knew it would be a quick fix. So, I asked her to bring it to me (laptop) and I'll take care of it. It was fixed in less than 30 minutes. To me, that didn't warrant a fee because it was a babysit job and she was a friend.

If you're running a business that is your bread and butter, then no, free jobs shouldn't be given and customers shouldn't expect them. It doesn't make sense to give free services because then you would probably soon be unemployed. If you run an IT consultant business, I suggest you read the whole article because there are good tips for reducing free consulting. If you do IT work on the side for people, I think it's entirely OK to provide free services that are quick and easy to fix.

Here's an excerpt from the post:

People don’t call electricians and expect free step-by-step instruction regarding how to repair a failed ground or intermittent circuit. So why do they call IT consultants expecting such assistance? I wish I knew the answer to that question, because I can feel my blood pressure rising just recalling some of the requests clients, customers, and other callers have made.

Clients have asked my office to provide free telephone support for a wide variety of topics, which include:

  • Can’t you just walk me through this 17-step, 45-minute installation for free over the phone?
  • Just tell me the exact steps I need to follow to remove this Trojan infection.
  • Provide me with the 23 steps I need to follow to complete a complex, complicated task that requires expertise, experience, and proven knowledge to properly complete, but don’t bill me for it.
  • What do I need to click on or select when I get to that 14th screen, again?
  • I’m going to migrate all my old data myself, but what’s a .PST file, where do I find it, how do I reload it, and will it work with my new PC that doesn’t have office productivity installed?

These common calls increase stress and anxiety, but this madness doesn’t need to continue. While all IT consultancies should strive to assist clients, you must guard against providing service without compensation. If employees in my office lose just 15 minutes per day providing free support to callers, my office loses 625 hours (10 engineers times 15 minutes a day times 250 annual workdays) a year that would have otherwise been invested performing constructive tasks and assisting paying clients. That’s unacceptable and a disservice to those clients who do pay for the consultancy’ services.


  1. I have a friend that went to school for graphic design and I've asked him for help here and there for small projects of mine. I never really thought about it, but I should probably stop doing that unless I'm paying.
    Maybe helping a friend once or twice on a problem they are having is a nice thing to do, but it's not fair to expect it all the time.
    Good read. :)

  2. I think doing favors for friends and family on the side is a good thing. Like I said in the article, it's not a good idea for a business to do that, otherwise, the business would have to offer free services all the time (eventually) and then the owner couldn't support the employees.

    It doesn't hurt to offer to pay the person that you're getting the favor from. If he/she won't accept the offer then I wouldn't feel bad for getting the free service. :)


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