Marketing Channels for a Senior Geek

Marketing Channels for a Senior GeekA new client called me last week to schedule a tutoring session. Two things were unusual about this. First is that the client did not report anything wrong with his computer; he just wanted to learn how to do some things, and he even had a list! Since most people who call me want service first and tutoring second, if at all, and many of them are too disorganized to make a squawk list, this was a gratifying phone call.

The second thing that was unusual was that the new client was a man. Most of my senior tutoring clients are women, sometimes with their husbands sitting in to pick up hints on how to fix things.

If you want to repair computers and tutor, you must consider marketing channels if your activity is to be anything other than a hobby with occasional small income. In my case, I offer free lectures through various senior centers, and I teach occasional courses through OASIS, a nationwide school system aimed at continuing education of seniors. I will present three short courses in June (see Class Description). This gives me exposure both to attendees and the multiplying factor of word-of-mouth advertising. My out-of-pocket expense is zero or negative (negative cost since I get paid to teach and occasionally get tips for my free lectures — leaving an open jar next to a signup sheet works wonders).

In addition to those marketing activities, I also write an occasional newsletter for anyone who has ever used my services. This newsletter is also sent (thank you, Alan) to members of at least one PC user club. My newsletter has also been quoted in a PC column in a local newspaper because the author of the column also gets a copy. That single quote brought several responses.

Strangely, although this series of LockerGnome posts has generated several conversations with local users as well as online comments, I cannot identify any client who first heard about me through the Internet. The vast majority of clients have been word-of-mouth referrals or attendees at one of my presentations.

Attending PC user clubs is fun, interesting, and another way of getting your name out to potentially interested clients. I am not aggressive in that type of marketing, and being too forward in pitching yourself will be a turn off for the other members. The benefit of clubs is primarily to associate with people who share your interests and exchange useful information. Any extra benefits are secondary. Be cool and enjoy. Make sure you give more to the club than you take.

So this new client is very organized. He has a desktop and laptop. The desktop is a general purpose machine for the family and visitors. The laptop is single-user and almost exclusively used for managing finances. We sat at his desk and ran through his list of questions. It was a pleasure to work with someone who had the basic ideas down and who wanted to learn more. It was such a pleasure that I almost forgot to perform the most rudimentary security checks on his systems. Checking for prior infections is my standard practice when meeting a new system for the first time.

With some quick surfing, I suspected his browser was compromised, so in spite of being at the end of our agreed upon session, I inspected his anti-virus software protection and noted that it was an expired commercial package that probably came with the computer. So I downloaded and installed Malwarebytes on both of his computers and ran quick scans. We chatted about various computer-related things while Malwarebytes did its thing, and we watched the red warnings pop up on the desktop as Malwarebytes found threats one after another. When the quick scan was complete, it had found over 300 threats, most of them relatively harmless adware, but a good sprinkling of them were harmful Trojans. We talked about that for a bit.

The laptop had a single threat indicated: some adware.

So I set up the desktop to do a complete scan and showed my client what do to when it finished after I left. We scheduled another meeting to install MSE and continue the tutoring.

The bottom line is that my client ended up spending more money than he had planned, but being happy that he did. His questions were answered, and he actually did the activities that he wanted to do rather than watching me demonstrate. My style of teaching is to say, “I know how to do it. You operate the computer, and I will simply oversee.” Some clients do not like this at first because they are self-conscious about making mistakes. They want to watch me operate the computer. I tell them that computer literacy is a lot like learning to play the piano; I can tell you where all the keys are, but you must practice.

As a bonus, he learned a bit about how malware works and bought into my standard speech that regardless of the anti-virus software, he is the first line of defense.

One does not get rich on a business where the income is proportional to the time spent by one person (unless maybe if one is Picasso!). However, the rewards can be in meeting new people, helping people, and making a bit of money here and there. If I wanted to be more formal and make more money, I would rent a small office and set up a “real” business. There would be tradeoffs. I like it the way it is. That does not relieve me of the necessity of minding the marketing channels. You can be the best tutor or technician in the world, and if no one knows it, you will get no clients.

And some clients can be delightful to work with.