Copyright 2013 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Managing a PC Business
Business Practice (Topics Covered)
The customer is not always right. Some customers are so nearly always wrong it will be necessary to fire them. Aside from the fact there's nothing to be gained from stretching out the experience until both parties are permanently unhappy, it can cost you a lot of money. I don't know the legal implications of telling somebody flat out that you don't want to do any more business with them, but there are many more subtle ways to get the point across. Pricing yourself out of the market, for example, or insisting on written contracts at the customer's expense. Implementing a sudden change of "business focus" is another possibility, as in "We are re-assessing whether we can do that sort of work in the future." Warranty work must be carried out to term, but you can get pretty strict as to what exactly is and isn't your responsibility.
Years ago, a company I was working for made a special deal for a new customer who was going to bring us a couple thousand dollars a week in business. Meeting his price required us to buy hardware outside our regular channels and to reduce our margin to the risky point, but his business sounded so attractive that we couldn't let him walk out without a deal. Well, I don't know if he simply based his proposition on overly optimistic projections or if he was lying through his teeth, but the volume he promised never materialized. And we were treating him like an elephant, well, for peanuts. I finally got rid of him when he came strolling in with a $10 keyboard for a warranty exchange. After checking the paperwork, I told him he was out of luck. The keyboard was one day beyond its warranty period. Never saw him again. He didn't like being treated like rhesus monkey. A young woman I was training as a technician at the time was shocked, as she had this image of me always being a "nice guy." I am a nice guy, but not to people who take advantage of me.
I'm Going to Sue You (Or Tell My Mommy)
When things do go wrong in business, the first words out of somebody's mouth are likely to be "I'm going to sue you!" In my opinion, this is the post-kindergarten equivalent of "I'm going to tell my mommy on you." It's something people say when they run out of everything else, and unfortunately, some people do act on it. I've never been sued, so my experience here is strictly second-hand, but I can say that the first thing you have to do is go out and get a lawyer of your own. The second thing is to get all of your documentation together so that you aren't making extra trips to the lawyer (at several hundred dollars an hour). Documentation can consist not only of receipts, invoices, quotes and written agreements, but also any notes you have about work in progress, phone conversations, etc. This is where files come in handy, one per customer, where you include every scrap of paper having to do with that customer. Lawyers live for paper, so don't be sparing.
If there is any chance at all to avoid going to court, I'd take it. It's not just your time, it's all the money you'll be paying lawyers. If the issues at the heart of the problem are just so emotionally charged that you can't discuss the problem like mature adults, consider arbitration. There are professional arbitrators who will settle non-criminal disputes for a fee, which is likely to be cheaper than court costs. Most of the lawsuits I've seen have come about after one party has gone out of business and there's really not much chance of the injured party accomplishing much aside from putting the lawyer's kid through Harvard. The exception is probably nickel-dime insurance claims. I once wrote a deposition for a customer who had been sold a false bill of goods by a computer store that later went out of business. They received damages from the insurance company to allow them to purchase a new server to replace the hunk of obsolete garbage they'd been sold, but that only amounted to a few thousand dollars, or less than the typical auto accident claim.
The 161 page paperback book "Start Your Own Computer Business" is available through your favorite bookstore or you can order through Amazon.com for $14.95, or buy the instantly downloadable PDF version for $11.95.