Graphic Design Portfolio

Working for Friends and Family: Good Idea, or Terrible Idea?

I always have a tough time saying no to designing for friends and family. It’s really hard to explain these complications to your dear grandmother who simply wants a logo for her newsletter. You could easily be misunderstood, and come across as lazy or discourteous. –Classmate

I really agree with that statement about working for friends and family. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences like that. In my last post, I made “Mom and Dad” the difficult clients that were trying to negotiate a sweet deal on a website (and many other things). Although that exact situation has never happened to me, I’ve had friends who have experienced that (my uncle offered his son $20 for $500 worth of professional photography – and got it because his son still lives at home and he fell into the “family trap”).

Working for friends and family is always a difficult situation. Many people say, “never, EVER, do it” while others say that it’s OK. And sometimes, as the earlier quote mentions, “You could easily be misunderstood, and come across as lazy or discourteous” if you don’t help out your friends and family.

Save Perfection for when you’re getting paid for Perfection

For family, I think small, simple things are OK to help out with, but we shouldn’t spend a great deal of time fretting over them, researching them, or making them perfect. If grandma wants a simple logo for her Metallica fan club newsletter, she probably asked you because you can create a good-looking one in a relatively short amount of time. A lot of people, especially our relatives, respect our talents, and don’t necessarily try to take advantage of us. They just know that they can’t do it as well as we could. They probably don’t expect us to rip out our hair in frustration making something perfect for them because they (should) realize that it’s a service. They just need something “above average” and we all can deliver “above average.” That doesn’t mean it needs to be perfect. Save perfection for when you’re getting paid for perfection.

A little monetary motivation never hurts

Sometimes however, as another friend of mine experienced, our family members just keep piling on requests, and extending the project scope and time. Actually, I’m generally OK with that, as long as I can do the work in my spare time. I need to let my family and friends know that I have paid design work to do, and a full-time English teaching job, and responsibilities and obligations to my other family members and church as well. I tell them that I’d be happy to do the work for them, when I find time, and that I might not find time soon. That usually safely lets them know that their “free” work isn’t a top priority, and if they need something urgently, at least a little monetary motivation is in order. Honestly, I do some pro-bono work for a website in town when I have free time. But if the admin ever needs something urgently, he knows that I’ll get it done within days if he pads my bank account with a few bucks.

Make things crystal clear with a Contract

Recently, though, I’ve experienced a very similar situation to the one I wrote about in my previous post with a friend of mine. His new company wants a website developed, but doesn’t want to pay much for the work and doesn’t have many ideas or resources, and wants the project done “yesterday.” This is all rather frustrating to me, and sometimes seems to strain our friendship (another reason doing business with friends can be risky). Therefore, I need to write out a contract with a breakdown of his budget and the deliverables he expects, as well as a realistic estimate of it all. This will save us both a headache, and help us to remember our friendship apart from the business relationship. If we are always thinking about how the other party is “screwing” us on a project, it will begin to deteriorate our relationships. I want a contract in place so that he doesn’t feel like I’m trying to under-provide for his needs, and so that I don’t feel like he is trying to over-work me.

What about you?

Any complaints about working for friends and family? Or maybe you see things the other way, in a positive light. What are your experiences and advice?

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