Working for friends or relatives, or bringing close relations into your business can cause issues when you’re self-employed. Our guide to freelancing with family as clients or colleagues will help you understand the potential pitfalls to avoid.
If you’re a passionate freelancer or small business owner, you’ll know that your work will often overflow into your personal life. From checking emails during dinner to talking about it with your parents or partner, it can be hard to stop the lines blurring between your home life and your work life.
That takes on a whole new dimension if you agree to work for your family and friends, or want to bring them into your business. There are pros and cons for freelancing with family as clients or colleagues when you’re self-employed. Having the assurance of someone you trust implicitly working alongside can prove invaluable, while knowing how to handle the trickier situations - such as having to address work issues - can be hard.
If you’re thinking of freelancing for family members or collaborating with friends or relatives in your self-employed business, read on for our guide.
Freelancing for family and friends as clients
If you offer a service that your friends or family members might find useful, it’s likely that there will come a point when they ask to book you. So is it worth doing? Or will it be easier to just avoid it?
Your relatives can be a useful source of work, especially when you’re just starting out. But whether you’re a window cleaner, wedding photographer or web designer, you’ll need to decide a few things in advance to minimise any problems. And hopefully prevent falling out with people close to you over a freelance project.
Do you actually want to work for a family member or friend?
Do you have the time and inclination to take on work from a family member or friend, or would you prefer to recommend a peer who could do it instead? Just because they’ve asked, it doesn’t have to be a given that you’re going to do it.
Whether you’re strapped for time or are worried you could even feel self-conscious, you don’t have to agree to a booking, just as you don’t when dealing with a normal client. Be honest and upfront: if you don’t have the capacity to take bookings that you’re not totally excited about, recommend a peer instead.
Will you offer them discounted “mate’s rates”?
Some family members or friends might expect you to offer them a discount when they book, simply because they know you. In fact, you might even feel compelled to offer your service free of charge.
“The first time a family member asked me to take some photographs for them - many years ago - I didn’t charge them, because I felt slightly awkward doing so,” says Paul David Smith, a Newquay-based photographer who offers everything from wedding and event photography to lighting and filming courses. “I ended up spending three days working on their photoshoot and whilst it felt good to help then, it quickly dawned on me afterwards that it wasn’t something I’d be able to do again, as I had bills to pay.”
Family or friends who know how hard you work most likely won’t press for any kind of discount, meaning it will most likely be up to you to decide how much you do (or don’t) want to offer them. Just make sure you’re upfront with them from the off, and avoid leaving yourself out of pocket simply because you feel you should.
If you do choose to offer a juicy discount on your work, make it clear. On your quote or invoice, show the normal RRP for the service you’re offering, alongside the discount. This will make it clear that there is a higher value to your work, as well as emphasising that they are receiving this discount due to being a close friend or family member. This will mean that if they recommend your work to someone else, they can quote the “real” value of it, rather than what they paid for it.
Will you remember to treat them as a normal customer?
Whether you’re doing work for your sibling or a brand new client, you should treat them both the same. This can include:
- Providing any pre-booking consultancy
Don’t skip a formal, written contract
Giving them project updates
Delivering work within the usual timeframe
Offering a post-delivery service if required
Obtaining testimonial content or a review
While the temptation might potentially be to take longer with their work or to cut corners because they’re “just” someone you know - or to prioritise other work from regular clients - there’s value in treating every customer equally.
There are a few important things to give additional thought to when deciding whether or not freelancing for family members or friends is something you want to do. Take into consideration…
What exactly it is that they want from you. As you would with a regular client, confirm their precise expectations and requirements to ensure that you know what they’re doing, as well as that they’re satisfied with what they receive.
Make sure they sign a contract. When you’re working with friends and family, it might feel weird and unnecessary to get them to sign a contract. But it’s incredibly important to have a formal agreement signed by both parties if things do go wrong. One of the common issues is when the work changes or your relatives expect endless revisions, so having everything outlined in a signed contract means you have something to fall back on to avoid arguments or falling out. Our Statement of Work template will help you avoid the heartache of falling out with someone over a simple misunderstanding.
The options if they’re not happy with the quality of work you provide. Just because they already know you, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve instantly secured that five-star TrustPilot review. If they’re dissatisfied with the product or service you’ve provided, will you offer them a refund or a replacement?
How to handle it if they’re slow with payment. If you are charging them for the service, make it clear to them when you’ll expect to receive payment by, whether that’s before or after you’ve provided your service. Also have a plan in mind should payment be delayed without warning - our guide to late payments can give you some help with what to do next.
“I think the most awkward situation I’ve had with doing work for a family member was when we’d somehow crossed wires over what they wanted, so I did a small job thinking I was doing exactly what they wanted,” explains Smith. “I found out a few days after sending the work through via their partner that it wasn’t 100% what they’d wanted but they had been too polite to say. A normal client wouldn’t do that, so I explained to them that they just need to be open and honest and treat me like any other supplier. I redid the job and they were super happy, regardless of whether they are my family or not, I want my clients to be delighted with my work!”
“I now explain that upfront before working with anybody I know. As much as I’ll try and get it right the first time, sometimes things will go wrong or it won't quite be right for whatever reason, just say and we’ll resolve it if it ever happens.”
IPSE has some excellent resources on the website. It’s the first place I suggest people go when they ask me about wanting to set up their own business or as a freelancer. It’s the website you need to visit because of all the guides, information and resources.
Freelancing with family as employees or partners
If you’ve realised that your small business needs another pair of hands behind the wheel, enlisting the help of a family member can make things a lot simpler. After all, they’re probably already very familiar with your business and what you do, and it can save you the time and expense of a lengthy hiring process, too. Fundamentally, they’ve also got a personal interest, too.
Simone Riches, a blogger and social media manager, helps her cousin with website maintenance and design, as well as social media management.
“My work for my cousin is on an ad-hoc basis,” she says. “Our family connection can mean answering calls a little later in the evening than a ‘normal’ work call. Working for a family member means you’re invested in helping them succeed, as much as they want to help you succeed.”
Questions to ask yourself before you approach them about the opportunity include:
- How many hours per week/month will you require assistance? Will this be during a fixed timeframe (e.g. 9-5 Monday-Wednesday) or can it be flexible?
How much can you offer in payment?
Where will they work: is the role remote or does it have to be carried out on your premises? If the latter, what will you need to invest in to ensure they have a proper set-up?
What duties will the role entail, and does the family member have the skills required?
What perks, benefits and/or training can you offer?
How long is the role for: is it long-term or for a certain period of time only?
If your family member is already skilled in the area you’re looking for help with, getting them on-board could really prove valuable - as well as open up the potential for discussion.
“My skills learnt as a blogger fit perfectly with his requirements for growing his digital asset management software business, as well as his online marketing needs,” explains Riches. “We’re forever bouncing ideas off each other, and both have different thoughts on how online marketing can be managed. Sometimes it’s definitely a case of two people butting heads! However, we have a strong personal relationship, so after a bit of a grumble, we move on and get the job done.”
For Chris Lees, founder of Fixspec, a niche software and consulting company that serves the financial markets, taking his wife on-board to help with processes ranging from payroll to customer invoicing was a no-brainer.
“My wife comes from a HR background, and I employ her to take care of a variety of internal processes,” he explains. “What is great about this type of work here, is that - with a little bit of forward planning - nothing is time-critical and it can be quite predictable in terms of workload. This works well for our family and we operate on what I like to refer to as a "flexible part time" model. This means that we know she needs X hours per month to complete everything that needs doing, but she has complete flexibility over when that happens as opposed to having fixed working hours on any given day.”
As much fun as hiring family members might be, there can be difficult moments. From tough conversations about work that isn’t quite up to scratch to knowing whether or not they’re justifying their wages, it’s worth giving thought to how you will handle potentially awkward scenarios. Factors to consider include:
- How will you measure the success/value of their work?
How will you give negative feedback or have difficult conversations with them?
How will you let them know if/when their services are no longer required?
There are also some other factors to be aware of before you consider hiring a family member to join you at your freelance balance.
How will you address the work-life balance?
If you live together and work together, will you both be able to switch-off from work properly? Give careful thought to whether or not you’ll both get enough space and ‘you’ time (if required) during non-working hours.
Additionally: if they’re your partner and you have children together, how will they find being a freelancer and a parent at the same time? On that note, if you don’t have children yet but are considering it in the future, think ahead to how your business will cope if one or both of you wishes to take maternity or paternity leave.
How will your other staff feel about it?
If you already work with other people, how will they feel if you recruit a family member? Remembering to get the balance right between ‘relative’ and ‘part of the team’ is critical.
“It’s important that my other employees don’t feel as if my wife has any sort of special treatment or "access" to me,” says Lees. “We are fortunate in the fact that in this set-up, my wife works on internal, administrative tasks as opposed to being either customer-facing or strategic. I am very lucky to have some other extremely talented and experienced colleagues, and if it ever became an issue with them then I would be certain to nip it in the bud.”
How will you avoid workplace distractions?
If you and your family member will be working together in the same space (rather than remotely), you’ll need to decide in advance how you keep focused on work. As lovely as a natter with your cousin might be, being distracted is the last thing you need when you’re a busy freelancer. So work out in advance how you can communicate this in a friendly way.
Are you ready to play good cop and bad cop?
Assuming that you will be managing your family member, you need to be prepared to handle both the fun, and not-so fun, aspects of working together. If your relative isn’t quite pulling their weight, you can’t not tell them for fear of it becoming a topic of family gossip.
Rather, be prepared for potentially having some tricky conversations, be it chasing up late work, turning down a holiday request or even having to give a formal warning. Treat them as you would any other employee and remember that it’s your business that will suffer in the long-run. If the thought of being your own HR manager makes you squirm, give some more thought to whether or not you’re making the right decision by hiring a family member.
“Overall, I think hiring a family member can be a really positive experience for both you and the business,” says Lees. “There are a few things to watch out for, and they all boil down to communication and relationships.”
“Before a family member starts, take the time to make sure that expectations are set correctly, and you've thought through what happens if something goes wrong. The key to that is really thinking hard about your strengths and weaknesses both in a business and personal context, and avoid any conflicts that you can predict going into it.
“Once you are working together, make sure that you communicate with empathy and sensitivity. The very worst outcome would be that a stressful day in the office becomes a stressful night at home because you let that stress impact your personal relationship. That means changing the way you work together, finding your complementary strengths and maximising them.”
How to pass your business on to family members
Whether you’re preparing to head on maternity leave or are simply ready to pass the reins of your business on to someone else, you might want to consider a member of your family as your heir apparent.
There are both pros and cons to choosing to pass your hard-earned business on to someone you’re related to. On the plus side, you can…
Be confident that they’ll do a good job. After all, it’s presumably not for nothing that you’ve asked them to take over. If you’ve already tackled freelancing with family members, odds are you’ll have one or two brilliant candidates in mind who are more than capable of stepping up to the challenge.
Stay in the loop with what’s going on. Just because you’re ready for a new venture, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to completely cut your old business off. Rather, handing the reins over to a family member means you can hear updates and watch how the business develops, albeit from a spectator’s position.
Share your expertise and insight. Who better to offer advice if needed than the person who founded the company? Your family member will undoubtedly feel comforted knowing that you’re there to consult or offer advice if needed.
There are also downsides to handing your business over to a family member, however, such as:
You might find it hard to move on. After all, if you find yourself feeling twinges of FOMO when you hear about exciting developments or - on the flip side - are exasperated at the amount of help you’re having to offer, it could be hard to focus on any new work.
You might not agree with what they do. Having ‘taken over’ your business, your family member might decide to take it in a whole new direction - which you might not necessarily agree with. This could potentially impact your relationship with the family member.
As with anything, providing guidance or laying out expectations as relevant can be crucial. Also worth considering is:
- Do you need legal advice before handing the business over?
Are you leaving the business at a fair time, or are you jumping ship? Be upfront with whoever is taking over about the strengths and weaknesses.
Do you need to lay out any guidelines for the family member in terms of how much help you’re happy to provide?
What’s the best way for you to give them all the information they need - client details, project progress and so on?
Are they able to start before you finish, allowing you to give them a handover?
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the best person for the opportunity when it comes to choosing a family member to pass your business over to. It’s worth thinking about…
- What other commitments does the person have, and do they have the time to take on your business?
Are they experienced enough in your field, and do they understand what you’ve been trying to achieve?
Do they have the required skills and qualities to lead the company on to new heights of success?
Stepping away from the business that you’ve built up from scratch will never be easy, regardless of the reason you’ve chosen to pass it on to someone else. However, knowing that you’re handing it over to someone who you can trust implicitly will certainly make the decision that bit easier.
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