The worst thing about being self-employed

The worst thing about being self-employed

You’re on your own when problems creep up


There are many advantages to being self-employed. On the other hand, the two biggest things I miss about salaried employment are paid vacations and in-house tech support from the much-maligned “I.T. department.” Guys, I miss you!

As I am rapidly discovering in this my second incarnation as an “independent writer” (sounds so much better than freelancer, doesn’t it?), when it comes to technology, a small business is pretty much left on its own.

In the bad old days of robber baron capitalism, most workers depended on a big well-capitalized employer to provide the so-called “means of production.” Here in the 21st century, technology has become so pervasive and affordable that anyone who hangs out a shingle now has the means of production at hand.

Life without the I.T. department

Only problem is, when something doesn’t work out the gate—usually soon after purchase —there’s no corporate I.T. department to deal with technical SNAFUs. When you have to deal with a technology issue involving computers, the Internet, peripherals and all the rest of it, you’re either going to have to do it yourself or pay someone to help you. In the first case, you’ll need time and expertise; in the second, you’ll need money.

Last Saturday, I wandered first into Future Shop and then into Best Buy in search of an affordable monitor to hook up to my MacBook Air. I had the wireless mouse running and the split keyboard, and life was going to be just grand if I could just find a reasonably priced large monitor. They have an Apple department embedded within Best Buy and I was assured an Acer or HP monitor would do the trick: Apple’s own dedicated monitors are prohibitively expensive. The part of me that is an Apple shareowner likes that, but as a consumer? Not so much.

So I talk to a Best Buy salesperson. I don’t think they are paid commissions because he wandered off half way through the sale. I hunkered down with my iPhone and waited for his return. When he finally re-materialized, he assured me that an HP Pavilion monitor would do the trick. Just to make sure, I went back to the Apple booth to double check.

No problem from Apple’s perspective, but by then my friendly salesperson is again nowhere to be seen. I go to checkout and buy it anyway. I unbox it at home and discover the instructional CD-ROM is only for Windows, not Mac. Doesn’t matter, I’m later told. I hook it up as best I can but just can’t get the Mac display to correspond precisely to the HP monitor. I put up with this for a few days, constantly having to switch my gaze between the laptop display and the HP monitor, since the latter isn’t quite picking up the top inch and the left-side half-inch of what appears on the Mac. This pretty much defeats the purpose of having the bigger monitor so I go back to Best Buy and ask for a solution. Just re-size the resolution, the Geek Squad guy tells me, although he’s not quite sure it’s to be set higher or lower. I go home and try every which way to make this work but get no satisfaction. My day is being consumed and I decide to make it my top priority for what’s left of it.

Service? Sure, but it’s going to cost you

Remember, I bought the monitor on Saturday and it’s now Tuesday as write these words. I go to and dial phone support. A not overly friendly woman at the end of the line tells me they’re a paid service and it’s going to cost me $60. The monitor only cost $200 in the first place but it appears the price just went up 30% if I actually want it to work. I’m pretty certain this is a simple fix if I can just find out what it is. I argue that the equipment is not doing what the salespeople told me it would do three days earlier, so why should I pay? Sorry, I’m reminded, it’s a paid service. I don’t play the media card but do mention social media, which fazes her not a bit.  I hang up, getting frustrated.

Same attitude at Apple

“Ah ha,” says I to myself, “I’ll try Apple.” Over to the Apple site and it’s looking promising. I go to the display part of the Help section and am told to enter the serial number of my Apple device. It even tells me how to find it. I enter it, anticipating the imminent delights of a large monitor that shows everything my computer does. But no, apparently my 2-year-old Mac Book Air is no longer supported, based on the serial number I entered, and that will be $60 if I wish support. I don’t wish it and go back to the drawing board, making repeated calls to the Best Buy store from which I bought the monitor.

No one answers from the Geek Squad so I try the Sales department. Now it’s getting a bit better. I get a partial answer that still doesn’t work, so finally I’m told to bring both laptop and the monitor in. Problem is the Apple guy isn’t working that day. By now, I’m determined to fix this problem TODAY, even if I accomplish nothing else. Besides, I think, I can at least get a blog out of it, which you’re now reading. Oh, I’ve also fired up an angry tweet about this experience, which has gotten a bit of traction, including from Best Buy Support.

Trip #3

I trundle up the gear in my car—not even using the original and by-now soggy packaging—and go back to the Best Buy outlet for the second time that day. Finally, a long-suffering Geek Squadder deals with it. At first, he’s a bit baffled too but after five minutes he finally figures it out. That’s me done and he instantly switches his attention to the next frustrated customer. I carry the stuff back to the car, set it up again in my home office and bang out the first draft of this blog.

Now I’m doing a final edit on the big screen and you know what? After all, I’m happy. The lesson? I should have gotten the original salesperson’s card and hounded him. Don’t cave in at the first request for extra money to support a product sold less than a week before. And for the vendors, how about a little post-sales followup to make sure the promises you made to customers actually materialized? If they didn’t, don’t be so quick to demand more money to fix what should be a simple problem.

Jonathan Chevreau is the editor-at-large of MoneySense. He blogs here and at Find him on Twitter @jonchevreau.