Venting: Close Friends or Family as Clients


In every one of my speeches, I get a question similar to this this, “Since I’m first starting out, most of my clients are friends or family, but they always expect me to do the job for free to get ‘experience.’ What do I do?” And my first reaction is to say, “Charge them.”

I’d like to explain. I’m not saying to overcharge your friends or family. I’m saying to treat this like any other job. You are providing a service, therefore you should get paid.

I hear you saying, “But Preston…” and I understand. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to discuss money with friends or family. Here are my thoughts on this:

  • At the very least, make sure they cover your costs. You should not lose any money on their party. You don’t have to mark up the price on flowers and other materials, but they should cover everything you need to make the party happen.
  • If you’d like, you can give them a discount on your time. Since you’re first starting out, I think this is a good way to get the experience you need, and also create events to show in your portfolio. Come up with the hourly rate or flat fee you would normally charge a client for this type of job, and give them a “friends or family discount” (ranging anywhere from 20-50%).
  • Treat your family like you would any other client. I know it may be hard because it’s your sister or your best friend, but make sure you show this client the same attention and respect as you would any other client. This also means knowing when to keep the two worlds separate. So, for example, if your sister tries to talk about her wedding at Sunday night dinner, you can say something like, “Why don’t we set up a meeting to talk about this during business hours?” (This will help keep you sane.)
  • Sometimes it’s not easy working with someone you’ve known since you were this young.
    (Image via PlayingWithBrushes)
  • Make sure you can use the work you’re doing on this event for marketing materials. Ask your friend or family member if you can take photographs along the way, use any final photographs they have of the event on your website, and maybe even if you can blog about the experience as it’s happening. Since you won’t be getting paid as much as you would with a normal client, think of this as investing in your marketing budget.
  • Ask for honest feedback from your friend or family member after the event is over. This will help you learn from your mistakes and make it a better experience for your next client. On the flip side, if your friend or family member has only great things to say, ask them if you can post their praise on your website to show off another happy customer.
  • Last but not least, always do your best job. When you’re first starting out, there’s a lot to prove, so you want every job to show off your best skills. Just because it’s an event for your mom or cousin, don’t slack and think you can do the minimum to scrape by. I always say that every event is the best marketing for your business. If the guests come in and say, “Wow,” they will ask who created the party and your sister or best friend can then recommend you.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any horror stories about when you worked with a close friend or family?

I know that sometimes it may not always be the easiest, but as long as you set the boundaries and act professional, this can be a great stepping stone for your future. What are your tips to keep in mind when working with a friend or family member?