dealing with money and friends can be very awkward. it can be uncomfortable to talk about and if they don’t pay you it will upset you and possibly ruin the friendship. i try to avoid it by trading my skills for my friends skills.

a friend asked me to design her some business cards recently but couldn’t afford to pay me. she is a talented seamstress and made me a dress instead. another friend wants a pretty header for her blog and icons to put around her site. she has delicious baking skills and has offered to bake my birthday cake in exchange for my graphic design and illustration skills.

i trust these people to follow through on their promises. it’s a chance i take. if a friend offers to pay me i treat them like a client. we sign a contract, and i work towards firm deadlines and deliverables. when we’re working or discussing their project we don’t mix in our personal lives. keeping them separate has helped get the projects finished and keep my friendships intact.

when this topic comes to mind i can think of some really amazing trades with friends and then a few that made me want to pull my hair out one by one. If you are going to trade with a friend, make sure that you respect the way they do business going into it. and it’s important for both parties to feel like the trade is fair, or else resentment and straight up awkwardness comes up. and like katie, I always make sure to keep deadlines and remain professional. after all, working with friends can be very inspiring and fun! it just can get very complicated as well, so tread lightly.

and please don’t think that you can’t charge your friends. I started a rule with myself a while back {after a couple sticky situations} that if I am not going to do a trade then I give a standard “friend discount” of 20% off. it has worked for me. real friends won’t take advantage of you.

(illustration by katie evans. here are all the advice posts over here and we love to hear your questions in the comments!)


Add your own

    Anni says:

    This is such a tough one to figure out. I love your idea, Bri, of a set discount.

    I used to do everything for free for my friends — but that would seriously bankrupt me. Now, unless they’re a really close friend or I’m gifting them something (instead of them asking) I just charge my normal price.

    The hardest part, I think, is knowing where to draw the line. I get inquiries from people I knew in middle school but haven’t talked to since. It felt way too weird giving them a discount, but not clients that had come to feel like friends.

    Yes, this gets really sticky! At first I always had the attitude, “Well, of course I’ll do it for you”, (read for free). Then as my workload began to rapidly increase, I began to resent working for free. Even though I was honored that my friends wanted my help with their projects, these things take time and I was getting shorter on time by the day! So I also decided to create a standard friends and family discount. I treat them like clients; contract, payment schedule, etc, and everyone knows exactly what to expect. The result is a happy friend, a happy client, and a happy me!!

    Anna says:

    Really helpful post, thanks Bri. I am in this predicament a lot at the moment. Think you hit the nail on the head ‘real friends won’t take advantage of you’.

    Sara says:

    Excellent topic.
    I have had a couple of close friends friends ask me about custom invitations. I usually charge them the a wholesale price, and put my information in the back, so hopefully people will want to do their invitations with me as well.

    Amanda says:

    THANK YOU for this post! I need affirmation for my decision to charge friends that I can’t trade with. I have done trades in the past and they haven’t always ended well… I do give a discount now… and I think you are right – TRUE friends won’t take advantage of you! Kudos! Love Love

    Loving this series. Thanks for divulging such useful information. Ciao!

    kate. says:

    This is something that I definitely needed to know. Thank you!

    sarah.a says:

    i agree, it’s a mixed bag with friends (and family for that matter).

    if they can’t afford to pay then a trade for their services or goods works, or free advertising on their items that you are designing. sometimes I’ve only charged them for materials or expenses if it’s a fairly simple design job. For the most part, like Bri, I give a family and friends discount so it’s all official but much less than usual. I no longer take on jobs that are working for free, it’s not worth the time and usually ends up being a major hassle.

    good advice!

    this is so helpful, you have no idea. i often find myself in sticky situations with friends but no more!

    Sally says:

    I agree, real friends will pay up, in some way or another, and understand.

    If they don’t then they are taking advantage

    seelvana says:

    amazing tips! (Y)

    Kimberly says:

    This is such an interesting topic and something I’ve faced continually since starting my business about a year ago! Since I have hard costs (in addition to my time) associated with what I do, I had to be sure I covered those…at the very least. And at first, MOST of my clients were friends and family, so I was really doing my best to break even. Now, since my time is filled with full-price paying clients, I often will offer a “friends and family” discount of 20%, but also pad my timeline a bit so I have more wiggle room on deadlines. Beyond the discount (for them) and extra time (for me), friends and family get the same treatment and service as full-price customer!

    adele says:

    Great advice Bri!
    Have a fab Wednesday!

    stef says:

    I need to be better about this. The standard friend discount is a smart solution!

    I did (free!) full wedding paper suites for 3 friends & family back to back and have forever regretted not setting better boundaries.

    Such great advice! My practice on the giving end is that if a friend will not accept payment because they are just too darn nice, I find ways to surprise them with something special. For example, picking up the tab at lunch or sending cookies over with a note of thanks.

    Jamie says:

    You must have been reading my journal – nearly all of my projects currently are entwined with friends and family. I had to put my foot down and charge for some because trading won’t pay bills. Here in Philadelphia, we could go broke with trading favors – so much talent! If people really like and respect your work, they will either wait until you are available to do discounted work (a la Bri’s recommendation) or are in need of their skills. Otherwise, offering alternative services from a fellow vendor can alleviate the headaches involved with friends and family. Some projects I just know I can’t be objective about!

    Thanks so much for addressing this sticky situation.

    Sarah says:

    Great advice! This is something I wonder about and now I know some of the general customs.

    Rachelle says:

    Great post! Came at the exact time I needed it. I always feel awkward when friends and family ask me for design or illustration work and I think I’ll feel much more comfortable with the 20% off rule.

    Keely Reyes says:

    Too true! I myself have learned to take it case by case, but it is always good to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of.

    Heidi says:

    Hey guys! What about working for parents?? Like when they say” hey can you do me a favor…?” Etc. Etc. Sometimes those favors can take a lot of time! Lol always so tough. After all your parents have done for you how can you charge them?

    bri says:

    ha heidi! one time i designed a logo for my dad and it was toooooooorture! he is so picky and just kept saying “what if we tried this? how about that?” i basically was like, “dad i love ya, but no more.” haha

    Heidi says:

    You just described what I have been dealing with for the past 3 months! That one little favor has turned into the never ending project haha!

    ashley beilharz says:

    LOVE all the new additions to the blog!
    A question I find myself asking is how do you deal with clients that give you design suggestions that, in your design mind, are awful suggestions and against everything you learned in school. This happens to me often and, maybe it’s just me, but it’s very frustrating. How do you let them down easy? Or if they insist, do you meet in the middle?

    Thanks do much for this advice Bri and Katie! It’s extremly helpful!

    A question I have for you ladies is how do you get your self inspired on a project when you feel unexpired by the subject at hand or creatively dry at the moment?

    Thanks so much for being so inspiring and helpful!

    Casey Lynn

    bri says:

    very good questions, ladies! we will take note of them!

    hayley says:

    Thanks for the tips! My question is usually, how do I know what I’m worth??? I’m no longer a beginner in the design business, but most of my freelance work has been friend/family based unless I was paid hourly by a firm. If I am starting to branch off and do more independent freelance work, do you know of any good resources that will tell me what I should start charging clients?? i.e. for a logo with corrections etc.

    Missy says:

    Great advice. Clients are easy to work for. For family or close friends, I don’t mind working cheap or even free sometimes because usually karma comes back around eventually. It’s the tricky people in between clients and family that make it awkward. The friends of friends… blech. The 20% off rule is a good one, I’ll keep it in mind 🙂

    Great post! I needed to read that.
    I’m a photographer and sometimes I have friends asking for a quick portrait session for free. it’s hard to say no. but i love the trade idea!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!

    Great advice – I especially like the “mates rates” of a 20% discount. Great idea.

    Pingback: Rad Stuff March |

    I always feel so awkward on how to deal with pricing when working with friends..great tips ladies!

    I’m a letterpress printer which is unbelievably labor intensive, most things people could trade would not be of equal value so I ONLY do a trade for something I really want. Otherwise I have a “friend” discount.

    I also find myself GIFTING to my really close friends for very special occasions. (I designed a printed one of my oldest friends from high school wedding invitations, and another friend’s baby announcements) but I learned early on, that it’s easy to be taken advantage of, and most of my really good friends insist on supporting my business and paying something.

    Katrin says:

    I know this was a post from March … but it’s so important. I have a lot of friends who are artists or have health care jobs … and no money. So I did hundreds of jobs for free. But I learned my lesson the day I saw two of my friends leaving a very expensive shop with shopping bags. They had bought nice dresses instead of paying me for the logo and the website I had created for them two weeks ago. I understood that I could have bough a dress instead of them, if I would have charged money for my work. In a way, this lesson was worth more than what I could have charged for the job!
    Love your blog. Have a nice day, and a nice life. Greetings from Germany …

    This is so good! I try to trade a lot and for little things I just say “get me a present…” Now that I have an Etsy shop, I have a friends and family discount code that I give them because then the ball is in their court whether they order or not. It is also easier to keep up with the order info. I don’t like talking $$ with friends. This way it is all taken care of online.

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