How To Stay Sane When Your Friends Become Your Clients

should you work for a friend

Ah, clients. On good days, they’re your best allies. On bad days, they’re the bane of your existence. But what to do when your client is also your friend? Should you ever work for a friend?

The answer: Maybe.

If you stick to some rules and boundaries, working for a friend can be mutually beneficial. But be realistic about your expectations, and stick by these three ways to stave off some common problems when the lines between pals and paying clients blur.

Don’t Do It For Free

One of the worst perils of friend/client relationships is when friends expect they can get your work for free. It makes sense—after all, favors and you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours make the world go round. But flimsy or nonexistent payment terms can actually threaten your friendship along with your career. By setting payment terms, you send the message that your time is worth something…and set the expectation that you’ll deliver something great in return.

If you don’t feel comfortable charging your friend your full rate, feel free to agree to a barter agreement or a reduced rate. But beware the casual favor…it can backfire bigtime, taking your friendship down with it.

Be Professional Anyway

It can be so tempting to let your professional persona slip when you’re working with a friend. After all, they know you and you feel comfortable. But don’t ever give in to the temptation to let down your professional guard. There’s always the slight chance that your friendly words will be misunderstood by a client who’s feeling more formal…or that you’ll find excuses to deliver a less satisfactory result because your client is “just a friend.” Clients are clients…even when you know and love them. Don’t forget.

Don’t Tolerate Bad Behavior

Firing a friend/client is the ultimate nightmare for any freelancer…especially those who fear negotiation or confrontation. But if your friend is taking advantage of you, failing to meet deadlines, falling behind on payment or treating you badly, you owe it to yourself and them to cut the cord.

Setting boundaries from the get-go is the best way to stave off misunderstanding and resentment, but if worse comes to worst, give yourself permission to have The Talk with your friend. Explain that you’re grateful they thought of you, but that you’re not going to be able to continue and work out a transition plan. It may be uncomfortable for a while, but not as uncomfortable as meeting them at a friend’s party months from now and finding out that they hate the work you’ve done or remembering the reason you had to bring no-name beer is because your coffers are empty due to their still-unpaid invoice.

It can seem daunting to navigate friendships and professional relationships at once, so remember: boundaries, clear expectations, and your best behavior are the best friends of all.

If you’re starting a freelance career, or looking to grow your existing business, download our Free eBook, The Essential Guide to Launching a Freelance Career.

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Erin Blakemore FOLLOW >

Erin Blakemore is a library school drop-out, historian, freelance writer, and author of the award-winning The Heroine’s Bookshelf (Harper). She dishes about books, history, and channeling your inner heroine at