Common Sense Tech Solutions is a small company located in Lebanon TN specializing in providing expert tech services. Stephen Quarles along with Scott Selliers started Common Sense with the goal of providing personal and affordable quality computer services. We work out of our homes in order to spend more time with our families and of course avoid the dreaded cost of daycare. With 28 years of computer experience under our belt we are confident we can help you with all of your technical needs. Anything from basic computer maintenance to extensive computer repairs. You may hear a crying baby in the background but please give us a call and let us know how we may help you.
Stephen Quarles (Co-Owner/Tech) with daughter Abigail.
We Don’t Even Care What the Market Said We Could Charge, and Neither Should You. By: Scott Selliers
Having started selling our computer repair services over a year ago, my business partner and I have made all of the cliche newbie mistakes. We have always thought in terms too small, we have consistently ignored the advice of others and we still have no idea how to scale upward and onward. We even made the leap from collecting the dependable paychecks of our day jobs out into the self-employed world of zero safety nets, without anything even resembling a business plan or an earnings expectation. But here’s the sole reason for our madness: We know that we can actually help people. The following words are offered to convince you that this single fact is all we ever really needed to know.
Having run the tech-services department at the local branch of a national retail store for years, we knew how big the market for computer repair services actually was in our town, and we had seen how much money customers were willing to pay for something that feels, at times, so easy for us to perform. I have seen knowledge like this destroy friends and family members in the past: the insideous notion that “Hey! I could do this myself and keep all the money!” has been the Siren Song that has crashed many a boat upon the rocks of economic ruin. Time and time again, I have seen people learn a trade within the safety of gainful employment, only to then go out on their own, with dreams of being their own boss working to override any sense of realistic expectations of what owning a company would actually look like. Let’s face it: the New American Dream is to out-do the Big Guys that taught us what we known, only to become, without feeling the smack of irony, the Next Big Guy. Of course, last year’s starry-eyed dreamer ends up being next year’s tyrant. And that’s only if it works out for the best.
With both mine and my business partner’s personal lives forcing us to consider our professional options (at the time, we both had pregnant significant others at home that were currently earning enough to keep us from being homeless, and our retail wages would barely pay for the coming daycare expenses), we decided to ignore the examples of the failed entrepeneurs we knew and started handing out our own business cards. We signed up for all the free-trial softwares, the social media accounts and the marketing special deals we could find. We set up our new Google Voice, Drive and gmail. We filed the LLC paperwork, set up the trusty Quickbooks account, opened the bank account and started fixing the computers that needed fixing. But then the inevitable question we hadn’t bothered to consider finally got asked:
“So, what do I owe you?”Huh. That’s a great question. We knew what the Big Guys were charging; we were just working for them yesterday, after all. We knew that we were actually offering way more than they were in terms of quality and service. We knew a couple other Chuck-In-A-Trucks were out there, and we heard rumors about their fee schedules. But we honestly had no idea how to price our services. And that is where we broke away from classic capitalistic form, as we decided that we didn’t care what the market said we “Could” charge; we only cared about fairness.
There, I said it. The four-letter word that will get you kicked out of any business course or serious economic discussion. F-A-I-R. We found that we disagreed with the concensus that “fair” meant the same as “that which the market allows.” If the Big Guys charged $200 to remove some malware, Should we? I meant that “Sh” you just saw before the “-ould”; I never use the word “Could” when it comes to money anymore.
So here is the logic we stitched together:
We have next to no real overhead. We use our personal cars, our personal phones, our personal Internet connections and our personal computers. We use free software for the most part. We carry no inventory and order parts as needed. Our advertsing at this point consists of some Vistaprint business cards, a Facebook account, a web presence we build and maintain ourselves, an abnormally robust system of word-of-mouth referrals and our shameless knack for self-promoting while being otherwise out and about around town.
Our needs are modest. As I mentioned above, we have the blessing of the existing household income provided by our significant others. Neither of us live extravegantly or even have expensive tastes. One of the personal characteristics we knew we shared was the preference for simple living. Stated in another way, neither my business partner nor I, nor our significant others for that matter, immediately require or intrinsically expect to become “rich” from our efforts. While we don’t view our business as either a charity or a hobby with which we may occasionally make money, we have little expectation to best our previously-earned retail-job wages. Which feeds nicely into the next point,
Our goal is somewhat unorthodox. Our primary objective is to use our skills to be of service to our friends and neighbors while we raise our families by our own efforts, not by depending on expensive daycare services. Please allow me translate that for you: we don’t think we are better than you for using daycare in your day-to-day survival, nor are we looking to count ourselves as part of some societal trend of stay-at-home Dads. We merely couldn’t seem to make sense of earning just enough money by working jobs we didn’t even enjoy, just to be able to keep on working them. If we could even come close to matching our previous just-above-poverty retail wages while providing our kids with a stay-at-home parent, our needs will be met.
Good people in our community need our help. While they are willing to part with their hard-earned income to keep their computers working, they don’t seem too keen on funding the ridiculous infinite-growth model the corporate retail outfit in our town was offering. While a $200 fee for “fixing slow PCs” might look good to a retail store manager trying to keep his/her numbers good with Corporate, it doesn’t sit well with a customer base that is watching their middle-class income stagnate against a backdrop of everything costing more, forever.
We love keeping computers out of the dump. This pleasure comes in two flavors: philosophical and egotistical. Philosophically, everyone knows that Need and Want are two very different creatures. Our customers may Want the new computer they see in advertisements, but they Need a computer that works for them. If we can do this while reducing e-waste, saving people money and robbing Mindless Zombie Consumerism of it’s next hapless victim, we find a form of professional fulfillment previously unknown to either of us. Egotistically, when we fix a problem that was previously assumed or diagnosed to be unfixable, we find our opportuntiy to be Allstars, and who doesn’t want to be good at what they do? Finally,
Repair is an endangered virtue. My business partner and I function daily on the theory that the computer repair industry, if not the very concept of repair in general in our society, is too busy outpricing itself to recognize the size of the potential market waiting underneath the high prices of “what the market said I Could charge.” Almost every day, we speak to people that find themselves wedged somewhere between a broken computer at home, a world that demands an Internet connection, an expensive trip to a retailer offering next year’s obsolescent models and a paycheck either too far away or stretched too thin to make much of a difference right now.
Ultimately, the market-relative lower pricing of our services is a result of our desire to protest the form of business that has as its focus how much money Could be made. If you personally find this distasteful, immature, disruptive or even imprudent, these closing statements are, then, directed at you.
We’ve decided that while you’re looking these people in the eyes regurgitating the boring “what the market said I Could charge” theory you learned in your MBA program, we’ll just busy ourselves working with them and their budgets to help them solve their problems, and we’ll be making the money you would’ve passed over. We will continue to explore software/hardware options that result in savings for our customers, experiment with efficiency behaviors within our activities and relentlessly keep watch over industry developments that affect our customers. We will strive to constantly learn how to serve our growing list of customers without needlessly increasing our overhead, inflating our income needs through lifestyle changes, losing the ability to be of service to our community or work to increase our profitability by promoting the wasteful virtues of Consumerism. More importantly, we will actively engage that four-letter word, F-A-I-R, and maintain a relationship with our customers that allows for an ever-evolving definition of fair that makes sense both morally and fiscally. And we’re here to tell you, the business down here, below your market price, is good thus far, even by your high standards.