Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Once your friends become used to your providing technical support and assistance it can be difficult if your situation changes. I'll offer some ideas.

I am a techie. I have numerous close friends that seek technical help from me and I am more than happy to help a friend out. But things have changed for me. I now have a 1 yr old baby and don't have time to help everyone out. I get frustrated at the volume of requests I receive from friends. But since I have helped them for so many years, they have become dependant on me. How do I stop being the techie everyone relies on? I understand why they come to me, but when does casual help turn into common abuse. (Since i can fix, install almost anything, my friends think things are easy; when in-fact it takes extreme amounts of time and energy). I am sure you get plenty of people in your personal life asking for technical advice. How do you handle this?

You could start giving out bad advice. Perhaps lose some data here and there? Blame it on pressures at home, of course.

No, no, I'm not really being serious about that. Although it would solve the problem it would not only lose you a few friends, it would simply be wrong (tempting as it may be).

My solution was to start a web site, but if you think trying to help a few friends takes time, you can only imagine what an enterprise taking questions from the entire world has turned into. (It also helps that I have fairly techie friends.)

But I absolutely do understand your situation, and I'll share what little advice I have.

My recommendation?

Honesty.

"I'm sorry [insert friends name here], I'd honestly love to help, but with the baby and all I simply don't have the time. The problem you're having sounds like [whatever your gut instinct is], and you might [some ideas for them to act on], but I just don't have the time to do it for you right now."

If they're really friends they'll understand.

"What I wish I had, and perhaps you do have or can find, is a trusted 'someone else'."

I wouldn't blow them off ... they're your friends, after all, and that counts for something. That's why:

  • I would include your gut instinct on whatever problem they've just told you about. I know you have one, and if you're as good as you sound (making the difficult look easy is one sign Smile), it's probably accurate more often than not. Sometimes that alone is enough to direct the less technical in the right direction. (In many ways, since I can't see people's machines, it's a lot of what I really do here at Ask Leo!.)

  • Giving them some concrete next steps to take themselves is similarly helpful. It serves two purposes, actually. The first is the obvious: it allows your friend to gather data or try things that may or may not resolve the problem - perhaps coming back to you with a more specific symptom. Of course, you'll only want to iterate so many times, I get that, but sometimes that first round of data and additional questions can also lead to solutions for many, many problems. The not-so-obvious side effect is that you're training your friends that they can be somewhat self reliant without really being overbearing about it.

What I wish I had, and perhaps you do have or can find, is a trusted "someone else". By that I mean someone who's abilities you trust that you can send your friends to when things get more difficult. Here on the web site, I often mention seeking out "a local technician" for more hands-on diagnostics. A qualified referral could make your friends quite happy - remember, all they really care about is that a problem gets fixed, not necessarily that you be the one to fix it.

But I do understand that it can be a difficult situation to find yourself in.

The best advice I can honestly give is that you're not really helping your friends by trying to or saying you will when you can't. Gently at first, but more bluntly as needed and they'll come to understand that you have some other priorities that have to come first.

And of course, when appropriate, send 'em to Ask Leo! for some on-line support.

I know that many of my readers often find themselves in similar situations, so perhaps some of them will contribute their thoughts on how they handle it.

Article C4341 - June 12, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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39 Comments
Seeker
June 12, 2010 11:43 AM

Well, one thing that works when people don't react well to denial is charging for your services. I know it's harder to do with friends, but you can attribute it to the baby. You can say stuff like "well, you know I wouldn't regularly charge you but I promised myself that I'd start a college fund for the baby so every time you guys and gals want me to do something other than give you an opinion you'll be contributing to that." Some will take the hint and be less demanding, others will happily contribute to the baby's college fund and some will disappear. Either way, you and your baby win.

Of course you'll have to adapt the line to each friends personality but still.

steven
June 12, 2010 1:08 PM

Just say no to the repair. Some people get blamed for fixes that break a second time or a new problem develops. Did you mention the baby eating the free time more than once? If all fails, you may have to delete some files.

EkimBbew
June 12, 2010 1:09 PM

Another idea; I know that the computer users group is a dying breed, but if there is one in the area, point 'em there. Also, you could modify Leo's "script" to include recommendations for appropriate books (starting with the relevant "Dummies" books). Used copies can often be had pretty darn cheap via Amazon.com. That also addresses the matter of pointing them to resources of self-support. In addition to "Ask Leo!", I'd suggest pointing 'em to Bob Rankin's site as well (friend "Bob Rankin" on FB or go to http://askbobrankin.com ). That way whatever isn't covered on Leo's site may be covered on Bob's and vice-versa.

Ken B
June 14, 2010 7:53 AM
I'm sorry [insert friends name here], I'd honestly love to help, but with the baby and all I simply don't have the time. ...
... But if you want to watch the baby for a few hours, I'll see if I can look at your computer then.

:-)

Actually, I kind of agree with "Seeker" about charging for your services. Depending on whether you have a "real job" (aside from the one of raising a kid), perhaps you could earn some extra bucks fixing computers in your "spare time". (I'm a father of four, so I know that "free time" is often "something that I can do while the baby's asleep on my lap".)

Unfortunately, all of the people whom you've given free support to all these years will groan. But, as Leo said, if they're really your friends, they should understand, especially if they have kids of their own.

Greg Bulmash
June 14, 2010 9:58 AM

"I'd be glad to help you with that, but I've got SO much on my plate right now. You know, I'm...

* painting the baby's room
* weeding the yard
* cleaning the gutters
* spraying for spiders
* detailing my car
* in dire need of someone to watch the kids

... next weekend. If you could help me out with that, it would sure free up some time to look at your computer."

Lee Nelson Guptill
June 14, 2010 12:19 PM

Very enlightening. I have a friend whose husband is somewhat techie. He had to reformat my computer awhile back, and I could not believe how much time it took! I sincerely hope that allowing him to store his humongous boat in our outbuilding over the winter months was a fair tradeoff. Like Leo says, it is good to get somewhat self-reliant, no matter how much it hurts your brain!

Bob
June 15, 2010 8:13 AM

I suffer from this too.
Once you demonstrate that you know more than someone else about computers, that someone automatically assumes you know everything.
I am consistantly asked by friends, family, even my partner, to 'fix' problems with their PC's.
Some of these problems are, quite frankly, beyond my skills - and yet if I say as much, the response is "Oh, you just can't be bothered to help".

My advice - be mercenary, and charge by the hour.

Tom
June 15, 2010 8:45 AM

I do this as a side business and some of my friends who don't have time for this sort of thing just refer the requests to me. Yes, I charge but maybe a little less on a referral. It's a win-win. I get more business and my friends don't have to answer the questions.
I am now on 3rd generation referrals with this so I would say that you need to find someone you trust that you pass people to.

PeterM42
June 15, 2010 8:49 AM

Start charging them for your time - they will soon stop then.

bill
June 15, 2010 9:02 AM

short of letting your guru status lapse (general computer stuff for me, I still have it in a few areas), finding a good tech to pass them to is a great idea.
I happened to find a good one near me that sells new and used computers along with tech work. He loves the business and really knows his stuff unlike the major retailers "agents" that have gone down hill since they went from local shop to nation wide commodity.

John
June 15, 2010 9:07 AM

I deal with the same situation alot also. But, I love working with computers but at the same time I also love some me time. I cheerish my Saturday mornings with my cup of java and reading the newspapers online and my morning surfing. But, at 9:01 - 9:05am Saturday morning is when the first call starts. So now I don't answer my phone until after 12:00pm on Saturdays. Also in regards to referring people to Ask Leo website, well, some people just don't want to spend anytime reading.

Alex Barwick
June 15, 2010 9:17 AM

I am a self taught techi and used to do things for friends for free, but now I have retired I have told everyone that I now charge as my earnings have dropped as my pension is no where as much as it was when I was employed. It was suprising how many now do not call me.Thank goodness. But the many who still do are only to glad to pay as the service I give is good and they are only too pleased to pay for the service I give them

-=Geo=-
June 15, 2010 9:29 AM

Getting them to do some effort and research themselves helps. I have found if you are always fixing your friend's computers, they rely on you to do every little thing even if they know how to do it. I say, "Try this and see if it works,I'll call you back tomorrow (or whenever) and check to see if it helped." If the suggestion doesn't work make an appointment for consultation or in person for a week or so away.Usually they don't want to wait that long.
(`._.nsv˷._.)

Daffey
June 15, 2010 10:03 AM

Alex (previous response) and Leo, have it right- Say your sorry, but you have to charge $XX.00 per hour for repairs, but if you try 'this or 'Google' it' you may find the answer.
Daffey

John-David
June 15, 2010 10:37 AM

This may help.
Doctor asks lawyer at busy party - how can I deal with people who ask me for advice on their medical ailment.
Simple says lawyer. Answer their question and say you'll pop the bill in the post.
Great, thanks says doctor.
Next morning doctor get a bill in the post from lawyer!
Hope this helps,
J-D from Kent UK.
Don't worry, no bills will be issued!! Thanks Leo for all your sage advice, love it always. J-D

Mary Minshall
June 15, 2010 10:38 AM

The best way to avoid the problem of people asking for freebies is not to start doing pro bono work in the first place. You can put a polite but firm, "Thank you for calling me for computer repair. My fee is $(insert dollar amount here) per hour..." or words to that effect on your answering machine. Also, the suggestion that the person put up a web site where he states that his fee is $(amount) per hour will let folks know that he might be available for computer consultation, but it will cost them. They can then decide whether to call their friend or go with some other organization such as The Geek Squad.

Helping people is a lot like feeding stray cats. You start out with one because you feel sorry for him or her, and then, the next thing you know, every stray in the County is at your doorstep and you have to call Animal Control to get rid of them.

quilljar
June 15, 2010 11:18 AM

i found that friends were using me in exactly the same way. I printed a flier and some cards, which said I would work on computers with a call-out charge of 30 GBP plus 20 GPB per hour after the first hour. I gave six of these to each of my friends and asked them to distribute them. They got the message, and within a year I had earned enough to travel to Australia and back!
If you do not want to do it then make a charge for one year's telephone help. All my friends understood and gradually the requests began to reduce.

PaulM
June 15, 2010 11:35 AM

What gets me is having to fix the same problem over and over again. "Look, stop clicking on every damn link you see!"

I usually recommend they install CCleaner, Malwarebytes, and Search and Destroy, and run them first before they call me.

Vicki
June 15, 2010 12:16 PM

I have a variation on the same problem. I'm the IT manager at work, and people here sometimes beg me to help with their home computers, offering to pay me whatever it takes. I don't really want more work but I'm friends with a couple of co-workers so don't mind helping them occasionally. I don't let them pay me because I wouldn't have an easy way to say no to everyone else here if I did. And because they aren't paying me they feel too guilty to ask very often. And if I don't have time I tell them to try one of the local stores that fix computers. Amazingly though, most people will live with pretty bad computer issues until they completely break down (then of course they ask me how they can recover their not backed-up data).

R.Taylor
June 15, 2010 1:34 PM

I am an old retired geezer having no kids at home to care for. I enjoy helping friends with computer problems and do not charge. Should they offer remuneration I accept it. Some are quite generous, others not. I am not swamped with requests. I simply ask that they bring their computer to my home and work with me while I fix it. I spend the time educating them as I go. As a result: I get to visit with them, they share in the responsibility if any data is not saved, they see how much time is actually involved, and I have fewer repeats.

For the parent with the child, the 'Friend' can easily see how the time required interferes with child rearing. (The idea of a fee to provide a college fund for the child is a good one)

Fred
June 15, 2010 2:33 PM

As a computer tech that earns his living repairing computers,I see this from a different side. Some people "love" to work on computers and never charge, this people like. Professional hairstylist see this all the time. People who just "love" to cut hair, maybe even good at it but do not charge. People "love" free.The answer to your question, charge what the local tech shop charge per hour. That will take care of your problem. I promise

MJ Buttrey
June 15, 2010 9:32 PM

As a doctor who uses a computer a lot, I sympathize. In fact, I hate bothering my more tech-savvy friends with my own computer problems, but it's often hard to know where to turn for help. (I live in a foreign country. Computer English is hard enough, let alone using a foreign language.)
People of course often ask for a quick medical opinion--the best response I've ever heard suggested is: "Please take your clothes off so I can examine you." I'm afraid I'm rarely bold enough to try that. I can't quite think of an equivalent response a computer tech could use.

John L Brown
June 15, 2010 11:49 PM

If I had the responsibility of raising a child, I would have no problem whatsoever respectively informing my "friends" that I cannot help them anymore. Some people are way to timid, or reserved, and to their detriment. If ever there was a good reason to modify one's behavior, taking care of a young child is at the top of the list.

johnpro2
June 16, 2010 4:46 AM

Hi John,

I need your help!

Please come over and show me how to work the above program when it is conveniet to you.

Cannot get my web broswer to access Orsum.com have tried everything l know.

Thanks

Peter Scho....

I received this email today. I have done lots of work on this PC which was almost unusable before I spent many hours reunifying all sorts of issues including a DVD not working properly,mouse faults, usual clog ups and mild level infection.
I don't get paid ..I just love burning up gas to run my car hither and dither.
I actually love diagnosing PC issues ..wish I could get a few paid jobs ...even just to cover costs.
Jp

RJ Butler
June 16, 2010 4:48 AM

I agree with John L. In some cases I add that I personally use Windows XP and am not up to date on current operation systems. That usually does the trick gently.

Luis
June 16, 2010 12:12 PM

My dearest friends I help as possible, but those that just call when they need somthing I state a rate of $45 an hour with a 2 hour minimum charge and whatever surcharges I can think of on the spot.

Murray White
June 16, 2010 10:02 PM

the easiest thing to do is to send the pc user to PC Tech room under the Computer section of Paltalk which is a free download voice/text chat program and help is given freely there 24 hr per day everyday and has been functioning for over 10 years.

Black Dahlia
June 16, 2010 10:28 PM

I simply started a business, and now friends and family understand that they will pay, albeit at varying discounted rates, which they gladly do.

Not only has this kept me from having to deal with every single, piddly little problem but it has increased my wealth.

Johnson Govender
June 18, 2010 3:29 AM

I have similar problem, but when I mention a fee of $35 users are surprised. They are expecting this to be done for free.
When I return a repaired pc, the user re-connects the pc by themselves and in the process damages the pins on the keyboard/mouse connector(not USB). The user delays the payment. I now ensure the this pc is connected in their presence and tested before handing over and collecting the payment. Thereafter it is their problem or unless the repaired or replaced items become faulty.

Cathy
June 23, 2010 1:09 AM

Actually, I love the idea of bartering services. The person I help may not be able to pay me or anybody else, but they may know how to fix my car or be willing to cut my lawn.

And when I get to a place where I need help on something with my own computer, I'd be happy to trade out babysitting or music lessons or a chore that I am keeping my friend from doing.

Now I just need to cultivate a friendship with a car mechanic who has a messed up computer!

Shane
June 30, 2010 7:02 PM

Exactly Cathy, I totally agree... that's how it once was, and how it should always be.
Personally, I would be loathe to charge a friend or neighbor for help with anything that I could do for them. And I would hope for help from my friends and neighbors (for whatever, within reason) in return, if I needed it.

TuneUp
July 1, 2010 7:58 AM

You must be pretty great at fixing computers if your friends are always asking for your help! But, I understand it can bother you after a while. I agree with Ask Leo, giving them simple advice to help themselves is a great step. Suggesting they use programs that are already on their computer, such as ReadyBoost on Windows Vista and 7, is a good start. What advice have you tried giving them on getting Widows to run smoothly?

B Pearce
March 16, 2011 4:16 PM

When we ask you questions...why dont you get to the point,without going into detail about our queries..ie...how dom I remove IE9 and replace it with IE8...simple...but you have to explain the ins and outs...that isnt what we want...straight answers please....

I'll readily admit that I do attempt to sneak in some education while I also give you the answer in the hopes that next time you won't need to ask me at all, but will be able to resolve your issues more quickly and efficiently on your own.

Leo
18-Mar-2011
john
March 29, 2011 1:01 PM

B Pearce refers to "what we want". I don't know who the "we" are, but he certainly doesn't speak for me. I have always found Leo's newsletters very educational, even though the problems that they address are usually not mine, and I am now a much better informed and more efficient computer user. Reading the newsletter is one of the week's pleasures, because I always learn something; long may they continue!

jk
March 29, 2011 1:18 PM

Agree with John (& likely many others) who appreciate the newsletter along with the tech tips Leo...please keep up the good work & thanks, I look forward to it every week.
((Maybe B Pearce should consider other options for solving his problems that more match his "straightforward" commentary style))

Dan from SoCal
March 29, 2011 3:46 PM

Since I work in the computer field, I get asked all the time (I am a programmer, not a hardware guy - but people assume if you can do one thing with computers, you then know everything there is to know). If it is something simple (but don't always assume it is simple because simple can turn into major), I sometimes will help. But once I was asked by friends to fix a problem they had with a Mac. The closest I have ever been to a Mac is my old Apple II+. I told them that I have never worked with a Mac, but they countered "but you are smart - you can figure it out". I had to put my foot down and tell them that I could mess it up worse than it was now because I really didn't know much about Macs, and advised them to find someone that did. Leo is correct. If they are really friends, they will not let that episode taint the relationship. We are still friends, and they did find another source to fix their Mac (a sigh of relief).

Gwyn
March 30, 2011 3:39 AM

"When we ask you questions...why dont you get to the point,without going into detail about our queries..ie...how dom I remove IE9 and replace it with IE8...simple...but you have to explain the ins and outs...that isnt what we want...straight answers please...."

Re the above comment from a reader, please dont stop the education Leo. I'm sure that I speak for many readers when I say that I find it very helpful.


Mark
April 1, 2011 4:08 AM

B Pearce is exactly the type we techs are talking about when trying to help someone solve their pc problems. All they want is us to fix it for FREE and not have to worry about how to fix it themselves. If they don't want to learn simple processes to keep their computer in good shape, they can always take it to a repair shop and spend hard earned money instead of free advice. Very typical of exactly what the topic refers to.

dino
April 1, 2011 6:18 PM

I'll readily admit that I do attempt to sneak in some education while I also give you the answer in the hopes that next time you won't need to ask me at all, but will be able to resolve your issues more quickly and efficiently on your own.

Exactly. Thank you and keep educating. That is why I read all your answers and not others. I want to be able to understand, not just do a couple clicks.

And, people sometimes ask me to help and I do because I do not have a 1 year old.

Just keep educating.

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