When you have your own business, especially one that provides a service, it is usually only a matter of time before friends and family come around, looking for someone to do work for them. In my case, I often have friends or family ask me to look over things for them, doing a little editing work. I’m pretty clear-cut, though. As long as it’s a pretty basic school assignment, or a resume, I have no problem checking things over for free — provided I have adequate notice so that it isn’t affecting my paid work.

For bigger projects, I prefer to pass. Even for my husband’s thesis and dissertation, we hired someone else to look over the documents and format them. It was a more cost effective use of my time to pay someone else in that case. When you decide to work for friends and family, you need to set clear expectations, and you need to be aware of how your relationship could be affected by a business transaction.

Should You Work for Free?

One of the biggest questions that comes up when providing a service for family and friends is whether or not you should do the work for free — or do it at a discount. In the end, that’s up to you. But it helps to have ground rules so that people don’t start getting upset. If you offer a family and friends discount, you should define who qualifies as “family and friends,” and you should offer the same discount to everyone. You could offer a 20% off deal on services to your family and friends, which would allow you to customize your pricing to what needed to be done.

In some cases, you might want to work for free to help someone out. If this is the case, you need to be especially careful, since it can quickly become problematic if word gets out and everyone comes to you looking for free labor. Be clear about what you can do, and what you won’t do for free, and be ready to explain to disgruntled family and friends (who you might charge) why this particular individual received special treatment.

Sometimes It’s Easier to Just Pass

In some cases, it’s easier to just pass. While I don’t mind helping friends and family with shorter school assignments, cover letters and resumes, I prefer not to do paid work for friends and family. When my husband’s uncle once asked if I would set up and write a blog for him, I declined politely, and offered to put him in touch with someone else. Sometimes, it’s just easier to avoid working for friends and family, since they might have different expectations, or you might be afraid that your business relationship could have a negative impact on your personal relationship. Honestly, the thought of an extended paid project for a friend or a family member scares me.

If you do decide to take on paid work, you should engage in it as you would any other business transaction. Put together a contract, and clearly define what you will do, when you will do it, and how much it will cost (and how you will be paid). If a discount is involved, or some sort of barter is the payment, make sure that is clearly stated. Spelling everything out can reduce confusion, and make the business relationship run as smoothly as possible.



Miranda is freelance journalist. She specializes in topics related to money, especially personal finance, small business, and investing. You can read more of my writing at Planting Money Seeds.