on giving discounts to friends
January 22, 2010, 2:44 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a freelance artist who does both personal and commercial work. I often have friends approach me asking if I’m interested in doing some work for them. As much as I love my friends, I dread getting these requests because a lot of people who aren’t familiar with my skills/industry assume I charge much less than I’m worth, and seem surprised at my costs. Of course I love doing what I do, but I’m trying to make a living here! I also have costs for my equipment, transportation, marketing, etc, and that doesn’t even include the actual labor. When I give friends discounts, I eat a lot of those costs.

When a friend is interested in hiring me, I always give a discount, but also explain what my usual rate is and what it covers, so they understand the deal they’re getting. My problem is that very rarely do people ever follow through once I quote them a rate. I’ve had a few great gigs working for friends, but mostly I find myself in one of these scenarios:
a) spending large amounts of time quoting and explaining rates to friends who never end up hiring me
b) working for almost nothing just to avoid awkwardness with someone who doesn’t really understand what my skills are worth
c) not doing my best quality work, because I’m rushing or cutting corners so I don’t lose money one the job

I know I charge a fair rate compared to colleagues, and the discounts I offer friends are HUGE (I probably overcompensate). I don’t want to undersell myself, but I would love the additional work or just an easier way to deal with the potential awkwardness of financial negotiation between friends.

Do you have advice on explaining costs and offering discounts to friends of yours when they hire you? And on the flip side, what you should do or expect for a discount if you’re hiring a friend? Also, do you have to offer discounts to EVERYONE you know? Does a mere acquaintance or a friend-of-a-friend count as discount-worthy? Thanks!


Rich in Friends But Broke in Business

dear rich in friends,

this is quite the conundrum, and one I’m sure a lot of people run into. I know I run into it sometimes when hiring friends and when doing things for or selling things to friends (or even just really friendly acquaintances). I do a lot of crafting and frequently get “hey can you make me one of those? I’ll pay you!” requests. the hard part, of course, is telling them that if they really want to pay me to make them X, it’s going to cost probably two or three times what they could buy it for at Target. I also do petsitting and dogwalking for work (and have for 10+ years) and sometimes get requests to do labor-intensive pet care for free because I’m a pal. it’s one thing if it’s a good friend, or you just need someone to look in on your cat a few times. it’s quite another to watch your aging dog with IBS for a week while you’re away and walk him every four hours–that’s a service a client of mine would pay upwards of $400-500 for.

being hired by friends

I think there are a few ways to combat this. the first and possibly most useful is to make a concerted effort to have your friends see you as a professional artist, and not just as someone who is good at it and who sometimes gets paid for it. invite them to your professional shows, maybe talk up how expensive your equipment is, give them business cards, etc. I know that I’m a lot more likely to approach hiring a friend who I think of as “just starting out” or doing that thing casually than I am friends who I think of as making a living doing something. personally, I make a point of referring to the people whose dogs I walk or whose pets I care for as “clients”, for instance, and to the actual work as a job. I used to get a lot more long-term petsitting gigs from friends and family before I did that, but I also used to get paid about 1/10th what I do now, doing the same work.

I think it’s also helpful to hire your friends for professional work and pay a fair price for it. that has the added bonus of getting you potential clients (who will likely pay fairly) as well as letting your friend circle know that you believe in supporting your friends with actual real money, not just emotional support.

a third option might be to have some kind of documentation (on your website, or a brochure, or something along those lines) that show your actual non-discounted rates and let them know if you’re able to give them a discount but don’t initially tell them what that will be. if they start with your regular rates, perhaps they will offer you a higher rate than you would have given them. I’d suggest if someone says “hey I’m looking to hire someone for this project/event/whatever” say “that sounds great, I’d be interested in talking to you more about it. my rate is $X, though I’m willing to give a 10% discount to selected friends. If that sounds like it fits in your budget we can talk further about what you’re looking for.” that way you don’t spend a lot of time talking about things that won’t pan out, and they know what’s up right away.

hiring your friends

I also have a number of super talented wonderful friends whose professional services sometimes I want to hire. this is a problem since even if I wanted to pay them a lot I often can’t, and they often know that. as a result I end up not hiring friends as often as I’d like, out of a respect for the fact that I don’t want them undercutting their prices just because they like me. when I do hire friends what I try to do is ask them what their actual costs are, and making sure I am paying them at least enough to cover those plus at least some labor expense. it also helps to tip. other things I do are to recommend them to other people (including people that aren’t friends of theirs and would therefore pay full price), use them frequently (if it’s the kind of service that it would be helpful to raise their profit margin on me to do it a lot), and generally treat this person like they are doing me a big favor to give me that discount. on a fairly regular basis, I hire a friend to cut my hair, another friend to do my laundry (someone who loves doing laundry), and occasionally I hire friends to do things like give me massages, run errands for me, or do whatever it is that they do for work or pleasure. I love so much to hire my friends that sometimes I pay friends to hang out with me while I run errands or clean my house. I hope to someday have all of my products and services provided by friends–the super-local economy. but as you know, the only way for that to be sustainable is for it to be done fairly.

oh–and NO you don’t need to give a discount to everyone! give discounts to close friends, or to whomever you please. there is no sign on your door that says “if we’ve met you get 20% off”. good friends won’t expect a big discount anyway, or will understand whatever you’re able to offer them.

ok, sorry that was such a long response. here’s hopin it helps!