Here’s a great post on working with friends as clients from Jake Jorgovan, who’s recently shared his experiences here about how to kick off a freelance business by getting work through online marketplaces.
As a creative professional, it is inevitable that at some point in our career one of our close friends will either approach us for help with their project, or we will see how our skill sets could benefit their situation.
These can be tense situations to handle as there is more than just money on the table, a friendship is at stake as well.
If these situations aren’t handled properly, you could lose a client and a close friend.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you follow a few simple guidelines on how to work with friends, then you will be able to maintain your friendships and have a great client at the same time.
photo from Shutterstock
Never work for free
One of the biggest mistakes that can ruin friendships and your business is volunteering your work for free.
While we have the best intentions and want to help our friends, we are doing them an injustice if we don’t charge for our services.
When you volunteer your work for free, you are putting that project at the bottom of your priority list.
Paying your bills will always come before doing free work for a friend.
Despite your good intentions, when times get tough you will end up pushing their project aside to get money in the door.
When you don’t charge your friends, you are disrespecting them and their business.
This grave mistake has personally cost me several friendships over the course of my career.
Every time I volunteered my work with true genuine intentions of helping the other person, but as paid clients picked up I had to prioritize my time on what was going to pay the bills.
Ultimately, my friends felt disrespected. They became very upset that I pushed their project aside and our friendship has never been the same ever since.
Never work for friends for free, its not worth it.
Only work with a friend if you truly believe you can provide value
Approaching friends as potential clients can be an awkward thing. Sometimes you may see a friend who could desperately benefit from your services.
But how do you approach them?
Instead of thinking of approaching your friends as ‘trying to make a sale,’ try to think about it this way.
Imagine that you are a doctor. If your friend is sick, and you hold the cure, wouldn’t you at least offer to help them?
If you can really provide value to your friend, then you would be doing an injustice to them by not offering to help them.
When you frame it in this context, it makes it feel less like a sale and more like you are genuinely trying to help your friend.
Never look at friends as just a source of income, only work with them if you truly believe you can benefit their situation.
Keep things professional
When working with friends, it is essential that you keep things professional. You must treat your friends with the same professional care that you use on all of your other clients.
Go through the same discovery process, go through the same proposal process, and handle them just like you would with any other client.
Getting loose or unprofessional about the process with your friends is a quick way to bring uncertainty and doubt which can hurt the project and the friendship.
How to talk money with friends
Talking about money, creative strategy and project details with friends can be weird at first. As a result, many freelancers totally avoid this topic and end up with a loose scope or awkwardly dance around the money subject.
Instead of avoiding the topic, you need to face this head on and make sure everything is clear up front.
An easy way to do this is through e-mail. Having the money talk with a friend over the phone can be quite awkward, but doing it via e-mail tends to make it a bit less scary.
Whenever I send over my budget and proposal via e-mail I always give my friend the option out. I will say something along the lines of “If this project is out of your budget range, then no worries. I value our friendship more than this project and I won’t be offended if you say no.”
While that may not be the best sales tactic, it is essential in preserving the friendship.
Separate friendly talk from client talk
Another struggle for many friends is that working together can often mean that many once great friendships begin to diverge into a constant talk of the project at hand.
If you are out one evening having a good time, make it a rule to keep your work stuff out of the conversation. Or you can schedule regular work calls and keep those focused exclusively on the project at hand so that the rest of your life can go as normal.
Setting boundaries helps keep your friendships intact as the project moves forward.
How to structure good trade agreements
Often friends can’t always afford to work with each other, but a trade of services may be something to consider.
Personal training in exchange for marketing.
Food in exchange for web design.
Accounting in exchange for business coaching.
Trade arrangements aren’t a bad thing, but the key is to make sure that you still structure those deals just like you do with any paid project.
Set clear expectations as to what each party will receive and put it in writing.
With trade agreements it is easy for one person or the other to feel cheated or undercompensated for their time.
Get clear about what is being traded so that both parties feel equally compensated.
The bottom line
Working with friends as clients can be an enjoyable and profitable process.
But you must handle these relationships with care because it is more than a project on the line, your friendship is at stake as well.
Never work for free, only work with friends if you truly believe you can provide value and treat them like every other professional client.
If you can follow those simple rules, you are on your way to having some of the best clients you could ever imagine.
Jake Jorgovan helps creative professionals to launch their freelance career, get more clients and work from anywhere. He reguarly publishes a weekly blog post and newsletter at www.jake-jorgovan.com/blog and is also the author of the upcoming book The Creatives Guide to Freelancing