Working With Friends and Family — Can It Ever Work?

Sooner, or later, it’s bound to happen. If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, then you know that eventually your friends and family are likely to request to work with you.

The request can come in several different forms. Your friend or family member might actually want to work with you as a partner or an employee (this is becoming increasingly common in today’s troubled economic times). Or, they could want you to do work for them — typically for less money than the market rate for your services.

Whichever form the request takes, most freelancers that I know dread working with close friends or family since they know that involving relatives or close friends in their business could have serious negative repercussions in their personal lives. However, there are some freelancers who successfully work with friends and family.

So, what do you do when “Uncle Joe” asks you to make a place in your freelancing business for your irresponsible “Cousin Larry” (who hasn’t held a real job in over ten years)? Or, what do you do when “Aunt Susan” asks you to design a poster for her garden club’s annual flower show at a fraction of what you would normally charge?

Unless you are very careful in such situations, you could wind up damaging family relationships, your business, or both. The purpose of this post is to give you some alternative approaches for such situations.

A Business Mindset, It’s More Than a Personal Attitude

One thing that can help you deal more effectively with friends and family members who want to get involved in your freelancing business is to get a proper business mindset.

In the past, I’ve stressed the importance of a having a business mindset for freelancers. When it comes to dealing with family, that business mindset is not just the way you think about your business, but also the way that you talk about it to others.

Many of us enjoy our jobs so much that we are guilty of making them sound too easy (or more like play than work) when we talk to those who are closest to us. The truth is that, in addition to the fun projects that you do, your business has all of the elements of other businesses: sales, accounting, collections, taxes, and so on.

When talking about your business with friends and family, make sure to occasionally include some of these more mundane topics in the conversation along with the more exciting aspects of your business.

For example, when asked how the business is going instead of just talking about the exciting new logo design project you’ve been assigned to work on you could also mention the overdue invoice that you’re having trouble collecting. (Once Cousin Larry hears about the unpleasant aspects of your job, he’s much less likely to want in on it.)

Some Alternatives For Dealing With Friends and Family

Here are some other suggestions for dealing with friend and family when they want to involve themselves in your business:

  1. Protect Your Business Interests — As a freelancer you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to build your business. While normally it’s good to be loyal to friends and family, you also have the right to protect your business interests (and they should respect that). If you know that “Cousin Larry” will be a liability that is likely to damage your business, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to let him in on the fruits of your hard work.
  2. Treat Them Like Any Potential Customer or Colleague — Another approach to dealing with friends and family is to treat them just like anyone else. When “Aunt Susan” requests a poster design, work up a cost proposal for her in exactly the same way that you would for anyone else. Make “Cousin Larry” submit a resume and provide references just like you would for any other potential hire.
  3. Make An Exception — In some instances, though, you may find that it’s better for both your personal and business interests to make an exception. For example, “Aunt Susan’s” flower show only happens once a year. If you can afford to do it, you may be able to generate some good will for your business and in your family by providing her with the poster for a low cost (or even for free). This approach is especially worth considering if the request is for a civic or charitable organization.
  4. Refer Them Elsewhere — Tell your friends and family that you have a strict policy against involving family members in your business or accepting work from family members. (Be sure to apply this policy consistently to all family members.) Mention, however, that you would be happy to refer them to a colleague who does the same sort of work. Alternatively, if you are simply too busy to handle them, you could mention that you aren’t accepting any new work right now.

How Do You Deal With Friends and Family?

Have you dealt with this situation in your freelancing business? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Share some of the approaches that you’ve used to keep the peace in the family while preserving your business interests in the comments.

Occasionally, involving a family member in your business works out well. There are many instances of family businesses that not only survive, but thrive. If this is you, we’d like to hear your story too. Tell us how things are going in the comments.