Doing Business With Family & Friends

If you’re in any design, creative, or computer related field, you probably cringed while reading that headline. 

It’s okay, I cringed while writing it.

If you didn’t, you might be a masochist. But, that’s a blog topic for someone who’s not me.

All joking aside though, this can be a pretty serious topic and a source of great stress for many individuals who like to do things for themselves in any creative aspect.

The Initial Contact

Usually it starts off with a family member who needs help doing something they don’t know how to do. Maybe they need to make birthday cards, or thank you cards. It could be they got a virus from one of the shady “buy cheap!” websites they frequent, or maybe they just want to learn how to open up Microsoft Explorer. 


Like a snowball rolling down an alpine slope, you will become the guru of all things. Pretty soon you’ll be doing things you aren’t even qualified to do (sure, I can maybe re-wire your house…) and you’ll probably rarely see a single dollar for the work.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t help out if we have a certain skill set and others are lost (and we don’t always have to get paid for it). But there comes a point where helping out can become a second job that will make you regret doing it in the first place.

Family Fighting

Don’t Hold It Against Them

Most often the guilty party doesn’t even realize what they are doing. To them, you are an angel who has saved them from certain damnation, and so of course they keep coming to you when they run into problems.

The real problem is with us creatives (or tech peoples) who never learned to say no. If we reward the behavior by never saying anything, we are creating our own unfortunate circumstances. Every situation is different, of course. 

So what can you do if you find yourself in a bad spot but you don’t want to come off as a jerk? Try the following:

  1. Learn to say no (politely). Sometimes people have to learn how to unplug the router themselves.
  2. Make a (semi) joke about how much money they are saving. Sometimes that’s enough to jolt reality for them.
  3. Tell them you can do it, but that your paying work has to take priority. Favors don’t keep the lights on, unfortunately.
  4. Find some good tutorials online to try and get them into a proactive frame of mind.

It Can Be A Sticky Business

Expect resistance when you declare your intentions for freedom. People are usually very hard pressed to give up something free and convenient. There’s a certain level of panic when someone realizes they losing their major source of help.

Now, I’m not saying you have to say no to everything that comes your way without a dollar sign attached to it. I still help my mom with her computer and email problems when she has them. But, I have learned to tell other people that i can’t do things for free anymore. Even if it’s only $25, by putting a value on the service, they’ll be less likely to call you for every little thing that happens.

Thee major key is to look at which things are causing you a lot of stress, and then figure out how to eliminate that stress. If Aunt Sally’s name shows up on your phone and you immediately dread the call because she’s always asking for help, you need to figure out how to fix that relationship quickly. We all have those people, and it’s a  challenge sometimes.

Beware The Official Work

Unfortunately it’s not just free work that you have to watch out for. I’ve learned over the years that even with friends, keeping work strictly professional can still blow up on you. You can do it all right, sign contracts, take retainers, and plan out the project, but at the end of the day, sometimes that friend (or family) relationship is going to rear its head.

One experience I had with that was with a friend/client I had for a number of years. We created a nice website for his business, and over time he needed changes as business evolved. When I quoted him a price, he wasn’t happy with the extra expense, but agreed to the terms.

My mistake was putting the friendship before the business when it came time for payment. Because of health issues he was short, and so I told him he could pay when things settled. It’s been almost four years, and he won’t speak to me. 

Lesson learned.

Even if you do it all right, it can still end up putting you on the wrong side of things.

I don’t want you thinking this is all bad though, this doesn’t apply to everyone. There have been plenty of times I’ve done work for friends and it’s worked out perfectly fine. Be it Aunt Sally, or Mister Professional, at the end of the day it all comes down to maintaining the healthy relationships with people, and sometimes that means telling them to reset their own router. Nobody is going to care about your business, or your well-being, more than you.

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