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Ever walk into a coffee shop, ask for a large coffee and then grab your coffee and leave without paying? We didn’t think so.

Why, then, do friends and family so frequently turn to one another and ask them to do things for free? We’re not talking about helping a friend move or bringing a meal over for a family member who’s just had surgery. We’re talking about things that you normally charge for when working for non-friends and family—things like dog sitting, taking engagement photos, designing a logo or installing new brakes in a car.

The answer is in the way our brains are wired—we’re attracted to free, zero-cost items. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to ask friends or family to do something for free, especially something they typically charge for to make their living. After all, paying your friends for services is a way to show you value and support them and their work.

How to say no to friends and family who want professional services for free:

  • Just say no. An important part of owning a business or side hustle is learning how to set boundaries. Know your limits, take a cue from your feelings (especially if a situation makes you feel VERY uncomfortable) and be direct. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, so offering a simple, “Thank you for thinking of me for your new business logo, but unfortunately I cannot work on it at this time” is totally acceptable.
  • Outline your costs and give a friends and family discount. While you live and breathe your business and industry, your friends and family do not. They may be in store for a bit of sticker shock once they see the price tag on your services, and this is where open communication is important. Give them an estimate for your services—just like you would for a non-acquaintance—and include explanations for each line item. They may see a $10 charge for an oil filter and think they can get one for $4 instead. Rather than have them think you’re gouging them, include links or explanations on why things cost what they do (i.e. $10 for 10,000-mile filter versus $4 for 3,000-mile filter).
  • Refer them to a colleague. For some, not mixing work and family/friends is best. If you’ve set a rule for yourself that you won’t complete professional work for your family or friends, have a list of fellow professionals you can send them to instead. Your colleagues will appreciate the business and your family and friends will feel better knowing they are working with someone you trust to do a good job.
  • Offer a trade. They need their brakes replaced and you want new family photos taken. Find a way to both get what you need while respecting each other’s time and the value of the service provided.

Have you experienced any other uncomfortable money talks with family or friends? Check out our Money Etiquette blog posts for more tips.