It’s Not Personal, It’s Business.

All freelancers, at one time or another, are faced with the “working with a friend or family member” situation. You know, that friend who needs help with their website or a family member who needs a website, logo or brochure created. I like to call this the “warm zone”. These are people closest to us. They call on us industry professionals (ie; designers, coders, writers, photographers, lawyers, etc) to help them out, hopefully as a favor or at a discounted rate. Should you do it? Some say yes. Others say no.

If you choose to take on one of these “warm zone” clients, (and it doesn’t matter what the actual relationship is that you have with this person), each should be treated the same as if it were a new client who you have never met. Why, you ask? Simply put: It’s not personal, it’s business.

If we don’t treat every single project equally (as a business transaction/service), there are several things that can (and often times do) happen:

Scope Creep

This is very specifically, the point where the original “terms” of the working relationship change and additional work is periodically tacked on to the bottom line. Whether or not to charge for these services is of course, up to you but I can assure you, without setting a written agenda for the project, it may never end. You (the service provider) think that A, B & C are included, and ultimately it turns into A, B, C, D, E, F…. You get the idea.  Without a clearly stated set of terms outlining what is included, frustration and ultimately regret become very real and often times, both parties wish they did things differently.

Perpetual Revisions

It’s important to state what services are included in the project and how many revisions are included BEFORE you begin. This applies to copywriting, photo retouching, layouts, consultations, etc. There has to be a set of goals in order to keep everyone on track. The best way to do this, as mentioned above, is to get those working terms agreed to BEFORE you start working. It can and does feel a little awkward at first to have a contract or “terms” stipulated when working with friends and family, but in the long run these contracts wipe out any confusion which can save your relationship. After all, if this friend or family hired a stranger to do the work, they’d be paying for all the services, revisions, etc. Your business shouldn’t suffer because someone needs a favor.

Uncomfortable Pricing Terms

This is always the hardest part of the “friends and family” working relationship. There’s this odd feeling of “how can I charge them this much if they are a friend or family member?” and on the other side, there might be a feeling of “I really hope they don’t charge me much because I am a friend or family member.”  Both are legitimate concerns and should be approached delicately.

The most important thing you must remember is that your services are valuable. People hire you because you know what you’re doing and you’re good at it. Don’t undervalue yourself. If you have a standard hourly or project rate, then start there. That should be your base. If you want to offer a discount, great! Indicate the discount so it’s clear that you are offering one. No need to hide the gesture.

Now, It really depends on the type of project and the relationship you have with the person. Even IF you offer a discount on your services, you must still treat it like any other client and (like I mentioned above) include the project outline so that you both know what’s included. The projects that are called “favors” always turn out to be disasters in the end because you either feel you are being taken advantage of, or you might possibly neglect the project. If you treat it like any other client’s project, you eliminate these things from happening and everyone wins.

Declining the Project

If your friend or family member truly appreciates your time, talent and skills, they will understand if you choose to decline the project in order to spare the relationship. There are many people out there right this very minute who may even be saying “I will never work with friends or family again!” Maybe it’s because they had a bad experience. Maybe they just don’t want the hassle of mixing business with pleasure.

The thing to remember is that as a freelancer/service provider, you can accept or decline any project offer you want. If your gut tells you, deep inside, that working with a friend or family member is not a good idea, then go with your gut. You will eventually come to realize you’d rather the person be slightly annoyed that you rejected the project, than the potential for any animosity that could develop from working together.

The bottom line? What’s the answer, you ask? There is no right or wrong answer. The only advice I can offer is to cover your ass, and treat all business as business. That doesn’t mean you have to be ruthless, but it’s the best and easiest way to be fair, professional and successful. You will gain far more respect this way.

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  • Mike Smith

    I never work with friends or family anymore. If someone asks, I always tell them I don’t have the time, even if I do. When money is involved, friends and family tend to be the worst clients imaginable.

    “It’s not personal, its business” 100% true

  • Marshall Stevenson

    Truer words have never been spoken. Even with agreements in place and understandings things can, and usually do, go sideways. I try to avoid working with friends and family. I’m past the point of needing to ‘pad’ my portfolio or bank account. In fact, my bank account usually takes a hit. It’s often easier to fire a client that’s a time sucker than it is someone in the ‘warm zone’ as you put it. If you do work with them, proceed with caution!

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