Have you ever been asked – or worse, expected to set aside – your pay rate for a friend or relative? It can start off flattering at first but end up putting a dent in your friendship and your wallet if you don’t have rules. Next time you’re asked to “take one for the team” on the business front, consider one of these quick responses.
Just say no
Let’s start with the most obvious one here. Being upfront and honest sets clear boundaries from the very beginning of the free ask. If you’re not comfortable working for free, don’t have the energy or just don’t want to do it, say no. Not everyone is keen on this approach, but it’s hard not to admire the person who can just say no and not carry around the guilt of hurting someone’s feelings. If you’re not that person keep reading.
In over your head
Everyone can relate to being in over their head at some point and time. Trying saying something like, “That sounds like a great project and I wish I could help, but I’m swamped right now with my paying clients (emphasis on paying clients) and I barely have enough time for them.” You can and should offer to refer them to another professional to get the work done. After all, it is your friend and you do want them to be successful, just not at your expense.
More than likely as a professional you have spent a good amount of time researching your craft. If you haven’t already started one, compile a list of articles, books or websites that have been helpful to you. You can pass these on to people who come to you with questions or to those who just want to “pick your brain.” If you have a website or create content, consider adding a section that addresses some of the questions you get asked the most. Your response can be, “I get asked this question a lot and I have some great references I’d be happy to share with you.” A quick redirect puts the work back on them, but also shows that you want to help.
An even swap ain’t no swindle
Perhaps the project is interesting and perhaps you do have the time and energy to put into what your friend is asking. Consider swapping services. What do they have or do that could help you or maybe even someone close to you? Get the exchange in writing so expectations are addressed at the beginning. You can start the conversation like this: “I just might be able to help you out on that, let’s talk about an exchange or trade.” If they really need and value your input, they will be willing to have the discussion and happy to come up with something both parties can be comfortable with and benefit from.
Whether you own a small business, work for a large firm or are a freelancing professional, your time is valuable, and you have to be the first one to prioritize it. The worst thing you can do is agree to do something and then not do it because you really didn’t want to do it in the first place. You then set yourself up to jeopardize your friendship and your professional reputation.
Sometimes the timing, value, and project are right for pro bono work; just pick and choose wisely.