Working With Friends And Family? – What You Need To Know

Working With friends And FamilyMy first client, when I started freelancing, was a good friend of mine. I had no experience, and was almost desperately looking for gigs. When that friend asked me to design his website, I said yes right away.

Was that a mistake? Definitely. But I learned a lot from that experience.

At first I thought it was going to be fun to work with/for a friend. It lasted for about a week, then I realized I was probably gonna end up working for 3 bucks an hour, and in fact that’s exactly what happened. About 100-120 hours for $350. Not really worth it. But it was my first gig, I wanted to do it, and I had to start somewhere.

You Still Need A Contract

Because you work for a friend doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have that friend sign a contract. It’s a business, your friend is a customer, just like anyone else. To avoid confusion, misunderstandings and arguments later on, make sure you clearly explain the reasons you want your friend to sign a contract.

Same goes if you’re teaming up, and starting a business. You still need a business plan, and have a written (legal) agreement. I encourage you to hire a lawyer. Sure it costs money, but it’s really a wise investment.

You Need Some Time Off

Working with friends and family can be really fun, but if you spend 8 hours with that friend, working, and then you go out for a drink with that same friend, you probably won’t have much to say. By all means, don’t talk about work. ;)

Questions To Ask Yourself

If you’re thinking of teaming up with a friend or family member, or if a friend wants to hire you, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • Does that person have any special skills?
  • Will it be beneficial for both of you?
  • How well do you know this person?
  • Is the person financially stable? (will you get paid?)
  • Is this person reliable? Punctual, honest, hard-working?
  • Can you delegate tasks to this person? (vice-versa)
  • What would happen if you ever disagree on something business related? Something personal?

You get the idea, there are probably a hundred more questions you could ask yourself. Just don’t say yes right away. Take some time to think about it.

Make a list of things you like and dislike about this person, think of possible disagreements, arguments. If the person really has skills and/or great ideas, can you put up with the attitude? Is the person super friendly, you get along great, but he doesn’t know what CSS means?

Learn To Say “No”

Is it so difficult to say “no“? To a friend? It sure is, but you can save yourself a lot of troubles, and 90% of the time the person will not take it personally.

What About You?

I think doing business with someone because it benefits both parties is the way to go. Not “because” you’re friends.

Have you ever worked for/with friends or family members? How was it like? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn? Any advices? ;)



  1. says

    Jon, this is a fabulous post, and i’ve definitely made the same mistakes. Both in my work as a writing coach and copywriter, I’ve worked with and for friends and the results are mixed.

    In addition to an agreement and/or contract, I have learned to add a “transparency” to the mix that often sounds something like this:

    “I value our friendship far more than the work. i want you to know the work might get uncomfortable and sticky from time to time. When we’re doing “the work” I’m going to put the “work” first. A stewarding perspective if you will. And I’ll do my best to be clear when I’m changing hats.”

    My 2 cents.

  2. says

    Hi Lisa, thank you very much. You’re absolutely right, I too like to make things clear right from the start, it saves both folsk involved time and energy. It’s never fun to argue with a friend, especially when you’re in business with that friend :)

  3. says

    This article is perfect. Simple and obvious to anyone that’s made the same mistakes. Thanks for the advice and an outstanding blog!

    I used to write consumer complaints for people. I was passionate about them, and when I did them for friends and family, I always worked harder and felt that I owed them more. In turn, I, too ended up working on the cheap. I learned what you’ve written from experience. Again, thanks for the blog.

  4. says

    Hey Jon,

    Good post mate, I liked the part about learning to say ‘NO’. One no in the beginning can save a lot of embarrassment later. If you don’t charge for the work you are doing, whether for a friend or a relative, they will never have respect for your effort. Its a ‘taken for granted situation’.

    By the way, you have helped me a lot with my site, do I owe you something mate? he he.

    Take care and cheers and keep up the good work.

  5. says

    Yup. Been there. Done that. It’s an almost obligatory beginning experience-builder. Once you recognize it’s happened to you, then you move on.

    The worst is when the unofficial, unwritten “friends and family grandfather clause” is invoked and you’re stuck helping someone for nearly forever at a chump rate, and you don’t want to back out of it because of your relationship to them.

  6. says

    I’ve never been in this situation and now I’m not sure I want to! I always felt like things could get really complicated, especially if things start to go wrong with the project.

  7. says

    I’ve had a mix of experiences working with family and friends. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again in a serious project provided that payment terms and all of that other stuff was taken care of up front so that they wouldn’t think that a couple hundred bucks was adequate payment for hours and hours of work.

    But yeah, learning to say No is probably the best skill you can have as a freelancer. Finding ways to avoid working with manipulative and negative personalities is key to maintaining sanity and finding good jobs.

  8. says

    When I’ve done work for friends or family, it was as a small favor only. I try not to mix business with relationships.

    One thing I’ve tried is trading for services, but that has been hit and miss. One person usually ends up feeling cheated. I think it depends on the line of work you’re in and how much is involved.

    My advice: If a family member or friend wants to hire you, explain the ground rules just as you would with a client. If they’re uncomfortable with that, suggest some small way you can help them with a quick favor. That’s usually all they want anyway.


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