Your friend just asked you to fix your resume. Or build your website. Or “just do something really quick, I know you’re soooo good at it.”

How do you charge your friends?

You’ve entered into the very difficult realm of friend-as-client gigs. You don’t want to give away your time for nothing (you don’t want them to take advantage of you, and plus you’re already busy), but you don’t want to seem like you’re treating them like any ol’ client by charging them your usual fee.

This question was submitted to us by Hilary Potkewitz, a freelance writer in NYC. If you have an answer, help a fellow freelancer out by submitting it in the comments!

Option 1: Business as usual

You tell them kindly that even though you love them terribly, you still have to charge them out of respect for your time. This is usually a thousand times easier if your friend/family member brings up money first.

Pros:

  • You won’t feel used (especially if they’re a needy friend)
  • The relationship is clear: you’re friends/family when you’re not working, you’re a client when you are.
  • They might just go away.

Cons:

  • Your friend may be offended...but if they are they’re probably not cool.
  • It’s really hard to bring it up, especially if the friend assumes you’ll just do it for them.
  • You’re assuming the friend won’t reciprocate eventually, and charging them your usual rate may disincentivize them to give back to you. (Depends on the person.)

Draw up a contract as usual.

Option 2: Give them a discount

Probably the most common way to deal with friend gigs. I find that this goes better when you give them a discount on a project fee, not on your hourly rate. (Somehow it depersonalizes the process; “it” costs X, not “I” cost X per hour. But it’s up to you.)

But how much of a discount?

  • Remember, you don’t need to cut your rates in half. It’s important to just lower them to the point where you’ll be comfortable. You feeling fleeced will spoil your relationship faster than anything.
  • How close are you to them? You might give more of a discount to your mom, less to your neighbor.
  • Have they helped you in the past or could they help you in the future? Exchanging work is one of the best ways to build a strong professional relationship between acquaintances.

Make it clear to them that you’re giving a discount. You may decide to say that you’re doing it “at cost.” We recommend drawing up a contract in every circumstance, but at least get the project guidelines in an email.

Even if they’re friends, you still need to manage their expectations. Doing this upfront can save your relationship; if you don’t and they ask for ten revisions, you’ll end up blowing up at them when they didn’t even know it was wrong in the first place.

Somehow, I find this easier when I say, “Just so you know, normally I ask for 3 rounds of revisions. Is that OK with you?” and because they’re a friend, I can throw on, “...because lots of revisions really sucks for me.”

Option 3: Give away your work for free

Risky business! But sometimes giving away your work can actually pay off. You just need to carefully weigh your decision and answer “yes” to two or more of these:

  1. They are a giver and they tend to reciprocate
  2. They have a network/audience that is worth your time to reach out to
  3. Your name/business name features prominently on the project
  4. Their project aligns with your values, or you believe the project will be good for you/your community/the planet
  5. They give you partial ownership of the profits
  6. The client is your grandmother.

Even if these apply, you need to make sure you let them know exactly how long a project took you, so that they understand the parameters of the gift. Most people have no idea how long it actually takes to write copy for a website or design business cards, so you can’t expect them to reciprocate properly if they don’t know. Read this story about the freelancer who gave away all his work for free, and how he made it work.

Option 4: Say no

Just think: You can excuse yourself from all potential awkwardness by telling them you’re just overwhelmed with work. This works for acquaintances and family members, but not for close friends!

What do you do when your friend wants you to work for them? Help a fellow freelancer out!

(If you have a question about the freelance life you’d like an answer to, email lvanthoen@freelancersunion.org, and I’ll try to answer or throw it out to our members!)

Photo credit: Parker Knight