How to Handle Friends + Family That Don’t Want to Pay

I make mention here & there about friends & families expecting handouts when you start a new business that might be beneficial to them.  I also make mention of the creative professional job field and how it’s often not taken seriously. Some of the posts are a little snarky and angsty, let’s be real.  I’ll admit it.  This time, though, I really want to explain why friends and family can have a very negative, detrimental effect on your business when they expect freebies.  I’ve had real-life experience with how to handle friends + family that don’t want to pay.

How to Handle Friends + Family That Don't Want to PayLet’s start with this: the expectation placed upon you as a new or growing business to provide goods and services for your family and friends is frustrating, is it not?  You have this awesome new product that you can’t wait to show people.  You know it’s going to be a total hit, and you’re filled with excitement over releasing this new thing.  And then, your pal says, “Man, that’s awesome!  Say, if you send one of those my way, I’ll be sure to mention where I got it from.”  There’s the ever popular, “But I can give you exposure!”  And the excitement vanishes, because you have a pit in your stomach over the uncomfortable position you’ve suddenly been thrust into.

Do you attempt to put on a smile, be positive, and thank your friend, sending the stuff their way, knowing that it’s not how you intended for it to be received?  Or do you politely decline, and feel really weird about telling your pal that they have to pay for it?

Let’s say that you send it even though you didn’t intend for it be this way.  What’s the positive here?  Sure, your pal could promote the hell out of this awesome new thing for you and bring some business your way.  That’s great, right?  (And totally uncommon.)  But what about the underlying, unsaid thing?  You know… where your friend [may have inadvertently] devalued your hard work by asking for this thing for free.  *gasp!*  I said it.  You didn’t really want to send it, you didn’t really want to give it away for free, and now you have this really weird feeling and you can’t put your finger on it.  Pretty sure that’s the feeling of hard work not being appreciated.

As a business owner and instant customer service rep, you’re going to feel the pull of obligation to do what you’re asked.  Declining or refusing would be rude, right?  They might say bad things about you, right?  And they said they’d put in a good word for you, right?

WRONG.  The fact that your pal even asked you is the rude part.

Here’s why.



Your friend may very well have good intentions in asking for this thing from you with the intent of helping you out.  Let’s get that straight.  MOST of the time, there are good intentions.  However, asking for this thing for free, and then qualifying it with any number of statements about referrals, recommendations, free exposure will really shake a person’s confidence.  You probably don’t even realize that you’re subconsciously starting to question yourself.  Is what I’m doing not worth payment?  Is it a good idea, but not good enough for people to pay me for it?  Does my friend think it’s not worth the price I’m asking?



Running a business ain’t cheap.  You know it, I know it.  In order to make money, you often have to spend money.  And a whole lot of time.  Unless you have a solid plan to release a number of your items for free, and it’s in your budget, it’s expensive.  I’ve felt obligated, more than once, to provide a service to a friend with the hope of referrals.  I’ll admit it, and that’s why I can sit here and tell y’all that it’s a bad idea.

What happened next was shocking.  (That sounds like clickbait, doesn’t it?)

The referrals I received expected the same freebie treatment.  They legitimately said, “You gave it to so-and-so like this, I was hoping you’d be able to do the same.”

We settled on a discounted rate in the end.  I sank a lot of time into something that was worth a lot more than what I received.  See?  Costly.



Providing a freebie when you would normally be paid for it creates an expectation that you will always provide a freebie.  They will expect the same to always occur, more often than not.  Then, you’re stuck in a hard position.  Do you feed the expectation in order to keep the peace, or do you push back and feel that you’re risking a relationship?  Let’s face it.  If you feel that you’re risking a relationship by saying no, it’s probably not a relationship you want to carry on with a person.  Friends & family, please don’t put your favorite business owner in this position!



There’s really no winner in a situation like this, where someone expects or requests free products or services.

If you’re a friend or a family of a business owner, the best way that you can support them is to support their business by feeding it.  If they have something that is useful to you, whether it’s a product or service, stand behind them by being a patron and full supporter.  It means a lot to a business owner to know that someone they’re close to is willing to support them.  One good way to support them is by paying for the product or service, rather than expecting a handout.  In fact, it means a lot more than any client they didn’t have a previous relationship with.  It shows that you value their work and the time they’ve spent.  It also keeps both of you out of an awkward position.

You are not alone, business owner, if this is happening to you.  My best recommendation is to stick to your guns.  If you feel weird, awkward, or like you’re being used, you should politely pass on the opportunity.  You spend countless hours working toward what you have going on, so you should be treated like it!


4 thoughts on “How to Handle Friends + Family That Don’t Want to Pay”

  1. I own a mobile auto repair business. It is over 100 degrees most days in my service area. My brother and my Dad wanted free work on their cars. My dad has since sobered up to the idea that he has to pay me if he wants me to work on his vehicle. My brother on the other hand fights tooth and nail, guilt trip, after guilt trip, to try to get it for free. He says he only trusts me to work on it. WELL THEN PAY ME FOR IT!! He argues about how it would cost me nothing and I should just do it for family. Even after explaining to him that I have overhead costs and always expanding my tool library, he still insists that I must work for free. It is a rift in our relationship that I feel wouldn’t be there if I didn’t have this talent. I just hope one day he’ll understand that he’s being rude by devaluing my work by demanding it for free!

  2. I absolutely loved this article.
    I recently started my own brand of digital wall art prints and I had a friend ask me to give them a free handout because they’re “family”. Meanwhile I haven’t even spoken to then in over 2 years. I immediately said no and still felt guilty for doing so. But reading your article made me so proud of myself and my business. So thank you!

    1. Jeff Williams

      Thanks for that Namhla, we’re glad that you can identify. It can be pretty tough working as a creative nowadays, sometimes!

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