Throughout their career, freelancers will meet many types of clients. Some may be amazing people to work with, with only a select few ones that require a bit more patience on your side.
And some – some may even be friends and family. Perhaps they’re looking to be supportive or… expecting a discount.
Either way, it can be a jarring experience for the freelancer, especially if they don’t know how to balance the friendship and business aspects of the relationship. So here’s what you can expect and exactly how to deal with it.
The 3 Groups of Clients
Before we get into the nitty gritty of things, here’s a little more context for you.
As mentioned, freelancers will inevitably meet many unique clients throughout their career. Many of them fall under 1 of 3 categories.
- Full paying clients
- Family members and friends who you love dearly
You wouldn’t mind doing a favor for them for old time’s sake and just because you want to. This is basically unpaid work, but truly good friends and supportive family members will pay you or at least buy you a drink.
- People you kinda know but not really who are out for a bargain
E.g., the cousins, neighbors, friend of a friend, sister’s mother-in-law. You know what type of people I’m talking about. They heard about your work from someone close to you, and decided to take your services, expecting discounts.
The third group is the one every freelancer should avoid at all costs possible. You have to have an excuse ready, about how busy you are, or how you can refer them to another person who can help them.
They’ll usually get the full quote and have such sticker shock on how much it costs that they won’t ask again.
The first group can also be problematic, and you should only do favors if you have enough love for that person that you can give your work away without damaging the relationship.
If I have a family member who starts asking for too much I have to tell them I don’t have time and refer them out, just so I don’t start feeling resentful. This group should be very small and there should be a feeling of reciprocity.
If you’re not in the position of choice, and are forced to work with either groups, there are some things to keep in mind in order to set ground rules and boundaries from the get-go.
1. Honesty is The Best Policy
When you’re approached by a family member or someone you know, it usually won’t be for a big project. It’ll usually be something small, maybe a simple logo design, business card copy, etc etc.
In this case, be honest and tell them there isn’t any money to be made for the small time jobs they’re after. I’ve noticed if you make it clear from the beginning that it’s more of you doing them a favor, they will back off or be polite about it.
2. Make Heavy Inquiries
I’ve also noticed the people whom I consider close in my life that seek my services have a common similarity. They’ll seek my expertise and services for their new small business. A surprising majority of the time that person hasn’t even scoped their business.
A great tactic is to send them a questionnaire regarding their business and offer no service until questions are answered. Simple questions such as…
- What is the business name?
- Who are some of your competitors?
- What brands are they (you) emulating?
- What is your overall business model?
With questions like these, you’ll be able to sift through the friends and family who are actual good potential clients vs someone who has a vague idea in mind and thought you’d be perfect for the job, plus many of them assume you’d give a hefty discount *sigh*.
3. Maintain Clear Boundaries
At least once in their career, every freelancer will have to do things here and there. Help your mom out with her brochure, help your dad with his new business card, etc. That’s all fine and dandy, but you must set a boundary.
How I personally do it is by having ground rules. I don’t allow talking about it around other family members, such as at the dinner table or family gatherings.
E.g., if my cousins came up to be at a reunion to ask for my services, I will tell them to talk to me about once the function is over. On the side, in private. In cases, I’ll organize a separate time to set up a formal meeting, not as a family member catching up, but as a freelancer interviewing a client.
No matter what happens, the most important thing is to create a polite boundary. Even if it’s someone you love dearly, unless dire circumstances, you have to treat it like a normal contract.
4. Consider The Work Involved
You have to take into consideration how much work this project will entail. A brochure for your mom’s book club is more like a favor, it’s easy and fast, and you’re just being a filial child.
On the flip side, a full-blown website with all the ins-and-outs for your friends business is completely different. Of course, it comes down to how much time you have and if it is a project you would be proud to include in your portfolio.
When you’re just starting out freelancing, it’s great to get projects like these. However, once you’ve been freelancing for a while, your time will be spread too thin. Think about it, if you’re knee deep in projects (that pay you well), would you still have the time, energy or desire to work on a long separate project for dirt cheap?
With that in mind, think about if you have the capabilities to do it for free, or if you did choose to do it, how much would you charge a regular client.
5. Stay Away From “Friends n’ Family” Rates
Sometimes, it can be difficult for freelancers to stray away from special discounts for loved ones. Especially with the current social expectations for “community over individual”. Essentially, most people will expect discounts from people they share a relationship with.
That being said, ultimately, you still need to be paid reasonably for any work you do, and if they are mooching based on the relationship, you need to put a stop to it.
Sometimes, it’ll boil down to blissful ignorance on your friend or family’s part. They might not know your true billing rates, so if they’re adamant about working with you. As mentioned, you’ll need to be honest with them about your true rates.
Sometimes, a “Friends n’ Family” discount may be unavoidable, in those cases, make sure they know you’re undercharging them, and make sure that your discount is reasonable for you.
If your friend/family member complains about how much you charge them despite being their friend, tell them if they weren’t your friend, you wouldn’t be accepting the work even at normal rates. Emphasising this again, in most cases, you’re not really earning anything from this project. It’s more of a favor than anything else.
I like to think that friends will ask you for discounts. But true friends will pay full price to support your work and acknowledge the worth of your time.
6. Invest Through Pro Bono
Working for free is something you shouldn’t do all the time, but if the project offers a direct benefit to your career or your portfolio, keep it in consideration. For example, cases like a friend asking you to guest post on a relatively popular blog, or designing a logo for your friend’s up and coming company (which you see promise in).
If you really have to take the offer, then never be afraid to ask for compensation. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. Even if it’s $100, it’s better than nothing. Especially considering the fact that you’ve allocated working hours to this. As mentioned in the point about honesty, this is more of a favor than anything else.
If they can’t afford to pay you, then work for free, but on your own terms.
Never offer to do more and only wait for them to demand more. It’s a clear cut way to set boundaries and give ample opportunities to say no or tell them you don’t have time for another few months as paid work takes priority.
It’s Okay To Say No
I am unable to do so because my self-respect doesn’t allow me to.
There comes a time in every freelancer’s career that they will inevitably have friends and family seek their services. In rare cases, it’s fine to do it completely pro bono, especially if you share a deep relationship with that person.
However, this is your livelihood. You still have to earn your keep and pay your bills. In order to protect yourself, you’ll have to set firm boundaries, especially for those closest to you.