Should You Work with Friends and Family When Freelancing?

It’s almost like a passage of entry into the design field; you have to work with a friend or family on their crappy band website before you can consider yourself a real designer. Many designers who are just starting out in their career are tempted with the idea of working for family members or close friends because it gives them the option of working on an actual project they can include in their portfolio, while gaining an invaluable learning experience. Generally, arguments range from don’t take these projects, to offering a discount, to working for free. Just like taking on any design project, you have to weigh the pros and cons and analyze your current situation to make sure you are making an informed decision.

Treat It Like a Normal Client Project

I know it’s almost impossible to keep your work and personal relationships separate, but you have to at least create some distinction to avoid bringing personal emotions and personalities into the mix. Inevitably, even by just by telling people that you are a web designer, naturally, will garner interest within your friends and family that need work done. First, let’s determine who this person is. Is it your parents? A close friend? Or a “friend of a friend who knows my boyfriend’s sister, etc.”

You might be able to offer a discount to your immediate family, but are you willing to continue with a string of discounted rates for people you would consider acquaintances? Web design is a business and should be treated as such. After a while, you’ll have to treat these individuals like regular clients. That means taking the same process you use when you approach any design client, with invoices and contracts. Even if you decide to work for free, it’s a good idea to keep track of your hours and keep invoices, for future, actual-paying clients that will ask for an accurate estimation of how long and how much it will cost for a similar project. 

You might be able to offer a discount to your immediate family, but are you willing to continue with a string of discounted rates for people you would consider acquaintances? 

What Kind of Work Is It?

You have to take into consideration how much work this project will entail. A brochure for your mom’s book club is more like a favour (she did give birth to you after all, come on), whereas, a full-blown website with all the bells and whistles for your friends cupcake business is different. Of course, it comes down to how much time you have and if it is a project you would be proud to include in your portfolio.

If you’re still in school, it’s always exciting to get projects like these. Even if you are working for free or a discounted rate, you’ll be ahead of the pack by the time you graduate. You also have minimal expenses (besides students loans) and generally have a generous amount of free time outside of the classroom. These kinds of projects, even if they are for friends or family, are ideal for your situation. It also gives you the opportunity to flex your creativity and experiment without any consequence.

Working For Free

Working for free is something you shouldn’t do all the time, but if the project offers a direct benefit to your career or your portfolio, keep it in consideration. Before you begin, don’t be afraid to ask for compensation. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get. Even if it’s $300, it’s better than nothing (especially when you are still a student). If you are doing work for a larger company, be weary when they say they can’t afford to pay you for your time. These companies don’t have any excuse for not compensating you. 

You Can Say No

You also have to consider the outcome of the project. If the project takes a wrong turn somewhere, how will this affect your relationships with this person? It’s probably not worth it to create a strained relationships or friendship over a work-related project, so it would be in your best interest to refer them to someone else. Don’t feel obligated to take the project just because you know them personally. Ultimately, it comes to your personal preference and your situation. 

The people you care after usually have the best intentions – but most of the time, they have no idea how much time and effort goes into designing a logo or building a website. If you think the project won’t benefit you in any way – whether that’s making some extra money or learning how to code a website from scratch, then pass on the offer.