What are appropriate rates for computer surveillance work?
March 10, 2008 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently running a business where I monitor computers for people. I use custom made software that gets by all the anti-malware scanners and through the firewalls. I have been charging $40/hr for the first hour, and $45 for each hour after that. Since most of work may only take 1-4 hours per client I've been told that I'm charging too little. Figures have been thrown at me by friends, family and even clients that I should charge $60, $75 or even $100. What is a fair amount in this business. Yes this involves spying on people at the workplace, churches and spouses. My first question. I've searched mefi for similar stuff and came up empty.
posted by Jack Feschuk to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see how it is illegal if the owner of the machine is giving consent to this software being installed, or installing it themselves.

What do you do when you charge by the hour, sit and watch the screen? Or is it more involved? Can you monitor multiple computers at the same time? On average how long do you monitor a system for? It probably makes a difference if you spy for just a few hours per customer or for a few weeks/months.

Charge what people will pay, offer a fixed rate and tell your customers you are willing to negotiate.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 4:44 PM on March 10, 2008

What I typically think about when I decide how much to charge my clients are the two following things:

1.) How much actual work did I put into the solution. Take for example rebuilding a computer. Generally speaking, it can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, depending on how long it takes me to find drivers, software, recover data,etc. However, a lot of that time is me sitting there waiting for: hard drives to format, windows-updates to download, lots of rebooting. In these types of situations, I'm not going to charge them for a full 6 hours, if I spent 2 or 3 of that just babysitting the system while it was downloading things.

2.) How valuable is the service you are providing?, and how difficult would it be for them to do it themselves. If you are providing a "rare" service (would be hard for them to find someone else to do it, OR.. hard for them to find someone else who does it as well as you do)... then you may be able to bump it up a little.

FWIW... I have about 10 years PC Support experience, and I charge $95/hr for anything from basic system setup, to Server/domain/network configuration.

So you're saying you have custom software you can remotely install, that can sneak past hardware/software firewalls, fully-update anti-virus and anti-spyware/rootkit detectors ?... hows that possible? (I realize "anythings possible"... but seriously, there must be some caveat)
posted by jmnugent at 4:48 PM on March 10, 2008

I don't know if it is illegal, well it wouldn't be in Australia at any rate, and because Canada is exactly like Australia, except colder, it probably isn't illegal there either- perhaps just distasteful.

My advice would be that- because your clients are distrusting low-life scumbags you should charge them the maximum possible. I would say $90 an hour flat.

What does the market dictate?

Are there other offering the same service?

How much does it take to assuage your discomfort in what you do for a living?

You do realise that embarking on this line of business you are what is known as a
"bottom feeder"?
posted by mattoxic at 4:50 PM on March 10, 2008

I think your heart is probably in the right place, so I'll just echo what everyone is saying. This is not a moral business to be in. You are not doing a good thing.

As such, there is no fair price. Start at $75.00. That feels about right to me.
posted by seanyboy at 4:52 PM on March 10, 2008

Are you monitoring computers that your clients own, or are you monitoring computers owned by people whom your clients wish to stalk, harass, and or invade the privacy of? If the former, charge whatever the market will bear-- several hundred dollars per machine seems reasonable, especially for corporate clients.

If the latter, you are likely breaking the law, and have now admitted to that while using your (presumably) real name in an easily google-able way.
posted by dersins at 5:01 PM on March 10, 2008

Its perfectly legal I've consulted my provincial government on the issue and I'm fully licensed and bonded by an insurance company. I only work with people who present government issued photo ID, proof of ownership of the computers and proof of a lease or ownership of the property that they are within. Its the law here and I abide by it, I even have my tax codes registered.

This doesn't involve breaking and entering or phishing scams. The police also contract people like me on occasion.Yes there are plenty of the suspicious spouse jobs and it does bother me at times to see such bad people a lot but there are lots of other jobs as well. Mainly for businesses trying to find a person abusing the computers, saying too much in emails or posting libel online.

My software needs to bypass all sentries to catch out criminals who may be smart enough to track down processes, services, open ports and run scans.

The software itself is mostly automated and requires about 1-2 hours of setup and testing. Beyond that it gathers the data I specify on its own. I then need to analyze this and write the reports for the client and this is the most careful part really. The gathered data needs to be presented properly so it doesn't mislead people and can be used in court. So these reports need tend to be lengthy and carefully written. These can take 1-2 hours of writing and analysis for most jobs.

Here is one that I just finished: A man accused of defrauding his company out of money. He would bill the company for hours he did nothing and on occasion would work off the meter and collect the money for himself while not reporting it to the company he is contracted and licensed to.

Once again: None of this is illegal and is a high demand service.
posted by Jack Feschuk at 5:18 PM on March 10, 2008

I see nothing immoral about helping a company catch a thief working for them. I understand the issue of spying in personal relationships however its as legal for a woman to use this service to spy on his boyfriend as it is for her boyfriend to have sexual relationships with other women. If she owns the computer and the property that its inside of then its perfectly fine with me and the law. The issues that spring up are if this is used for illegal purposes, which is why I'm needed to get bonded and have a background and criminal check done on myself. My license which is regulated by the Ontario Provincial Government (The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to be precise) requires that I get it renewed annually as well. There are several thousand others with the same license in Ontario right now who have to abide by the same stringent rules. Most are former bankers, lawyers, engineers, police detectives, fire investigators and insurance investigators.

If you would like to learn more about this please take a look at: http://www.cpi-ontario.com/
posted by Jack Feschuk at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your most recent comment/description is accurate, and the service you provide is that complex/customized-----then yes, (in my opinion) you are vastly undercharging. I'd be charging $100 an hour at a bare minimum. If the client is expecting thorough, solid, reliable information that will stand up in a court case, then you have every right to (in my opinion) charge as much as you feel like the service is worth. (of course you want your prices to be competitive with any local businesses that offer similar services, if there are any)
posted by jmnugent at 5:34 PM on March 10, 2008

[non-answers go to METATALK, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:42 PM on March 10, 2008

I agree with others that you could charge in excess of $100. Around here, the two well-established consulting companies cost $125 and $135/hour. What you're doing sound fairly specialized and should be able to get away with charging more.

Also think of it this way:
If you start charging $100/hour, that's more than double your current rate. If your client numbers drop by half, you're still making roughly the same money with half the workload. And if things go bad, you can always decrease your rate.
posted by jmd82 at 5:45 PM on March 10, 2008

I'll just explain my $75 number then.
You should be charging $100+ for this.
You're currently charging $45

You need to increase your price, towards the $100, but not so quick that you'll alienate existing customers or instantly price yourself out of the market. Push it up 75%, and see how much business you get. If you're still swamped, push it up again. If things dry up, drop it down slowly.
posted by seanyboy at 5:46 PM on March 10, 2008

Based on your revised description of the gig, yes indeedy, $100/hour at a minimum. I'd think $200/hour easily, in fact, for court-grade documentation of fraud. The $600 they pay you for this average 3 hour gig... that's got to be nothing compared to the cost of the fraud/theft/whatevs you're saving them.
posted by mumkin at 6:03 PM on March 10, 2008

Well, a careful analysis of supply and demand will help. If you've got more business than you can handle, raise the price. If people seem to be balking at the price, charge a little less. You might even consider differential rates for different customers, if you think it's worth the hassle. The big business is probably willing to pay a lot more than Joe Schmoe trying to catch his cheating wife.

That said, yes, I think you're probably undercharging. Think of it on a per-job basis - about 200 bucks, right? These people are getting surveillance and reports that may save them thousands of dollars by catching a thief or allowing them to lay off a bad employee.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:33 PM on March 10, 2008

Yes. Charge more, lots more. I was charging $95.00 hour for simple desktop support and local area networking, and that was 8 years ago. Today we pay $150.00 per incident, and they are usually less than an hour. You can always give your good /regular customers a discount, but at least if you up your rates new customers will never see the 'increase'. BTW You seem to be doing it backwards. You should charge more for the first hour.
posted by Gungho at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2008

Jack Feschuk writes "There are several thousand others with the same license in Ontario right now who have to abide by the same stringent rules. Most are former bankers, lawyers, engineers, police detectives, fire investigators and insurance investigators."

Well, what do these competitors of yours charge?
posted by orthogonality at 10:28 PM on March 10, 2008

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