Why are Friends and Family Always Asking For Free Service?

I’ve owned a business for over ten years now. It’s interesting how many of my relatives and friends immediately assume that I’ll not only give them a great deal, but I can give out my services for free. That somehow Investor Junkie became a charity organization. I don’t know about you, but I have an issue with this. Let me explain in more detail.


Now don’t take what I’m saying as I’m a heartless bastard that doesn’t help anyone. Since I’ve been in my teens, it seems like I was the computer wiz kid that everyone went to for help. I’ve always been the “Geek Squad” within the Investor Junkie family.

I’m always helping my mother, sister-in-law, and the outlaws (otherwise known as in-laws) with their computer problems. Friends commonly call me asking all sorts of computer questions. If you have a technical problem, I am your goto man. I have no issue with helping others if it’s based upon:

  • The work involved is only a few hours maximum.
  • There is no costs I must outlay myself. It’s only my time.
  • That I know eventually in return, someday, somehow I’ll be able to get a return favor from them. I have an issue if it’s very one sided.
  • My personal free time is valuable. After working 80+ hour work week, I don’t seem to have a lot of it, and I would like some time away from what I do in business

Lately I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of, feel like the reciprocation is very one sided, and I am not being appreciated for the work I do pro bono. Let me give you two examples.

My Brother

As I mentioned, I’ve not had a good relationship because of many reasons. He recently mentioned to me he was starting a new business and needed some of my services to help him online.

Now mind you he wasn’t asking for a little 1-3 hour project. The project at minimum would take 40 hours and probably wind up taking 80 hours. It also happens to be related to what I do with my business online. He wanted me to do the work for free. My brother initially didn’t understand the time involved to do the work. I explained to him the work required, and how I’m behind on other paying projects. So I don’t have the time in my work and personal schedule to do this.

I told him straight up, even if we had a great relationship, I still wouldn’t be able to help him for free. He still was annoyed with me, and stated how he would do anything for me in return. That fell on my very deaf ears. The relationship has always been very one sided. It seems like my brother (and parents convincing me to help him) always needed something from me. Based upon helping his wife and daughter last round, I believe he owes me a lot.

My Friend

My friend and I go a long time back. We both went to the same college together and were roommates. About 4-5 years ago, he contacted me for free service through my company. At that time I said no. He proceeded to bitch at me and said I should do it for free since he was my friend. I never agreed to his terms, and we each went our separate ways.

Fast forward to last year, he also needed some help and wanted to use our services again. He again asked if I could give him a deal. I said yes this time, and marked off 60% off our normal list price for that service. He signed up, but he required a lot of hand-holding to get his service going. The ironic thing is friends and family are usually much more demanding than paying clients. Why is that?

My friend needed much more assistance to get going on our service. Much more assistance than I myself would normally do (in many cases someone else within my company would help him). Unfortunately, he has something my clients do not – a direct line to my cell phone. I only give out my cell phone to friends and family. I prefer customers going though various other channels, than contacting me directly via my cell phone. I’ve learned over the years, I do not want to available 24/7. I need downtime. I also may not be on duty or be able to assist them with their issue. To make a long story short, I would normally give this type of hand holding to our higher paying customers.

So one year later his contract is up with our services. He contacts me that his business isn’t really making much money, it’s a non-profit organization, and if we could donate our service. I initially grumbled, but in a somewhat hesitant fashion agreed for at least the next year.

Well I then had this idea. Why not ask him to reciprocate in return? You know “scratch my back”. He after all graduated from our college majoring in English and is a writer. I figured since I lack some of the grammar and punctuation skills (if you haven’t noticed) on this very here blog, why not ask him to proofread my work?

Here was his response:

I honestly doubt I’d have the time to regularly copy-edit, plus i hate it! As a return favor, I don’t mind every now and then, but honestly, copy editors get between $25-35/hour at a bare minimum which hardly correlates to the equivalent of a $110 service.

Now mind you he forgot about how much I decreased the pricing last year and the time I helped him get setup. I’m also giving him the service for free this year. I also understand copy editing this blog could be a lot of work. If he put a cap based upon say six hours of work that would have helped me tremendously.

I’m a reasonable person and either would have agreed to a cap limit or paid him the going rate for the additional work needed. I, instead, decided not to respond. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to do the work because he “hates it”. I just find it ironic that my work is minimized, while to him the proofreading is a lot of work.

What Would You Do?

I guess what I’m trying to say is I think I would rather donate my time and money to organizations than to friends and family. I don’t think they appreciate as much, and it comes with no strings attached.

Readers: What do you think? How would you handle these situations? Do you think I’m wrong in my way of handling them?

Comments

  1. says

    I think you are a heartless bastard!

    Just kidding! :)

    1) Learn how to say no.
    2) Don’t brag about your abilities or the great product/service that your company offers. If you sound like a competent computer geek – people will ask you for your help.

    That said – your relatives/friends are complete freeloaders. I don’t mind helping a little bit for personal projects, but if someone is starting a business, they pay for my time.

    As for your friend – you donated your time (after the contract was up) and he won’t commit to helping you? You don’t need friends like that.

    As for what I would do:

    Bro – tell him you are too busy to help.
    Friend – tell him you are too busy to help.

    If that causes problems, then you are trying to help people who aren’t really your friends.

  2. Robert M says

    I agree with Money Smarts Blog. I’m in the exact same situation as you although the brother is a sister and she’s (hopefully) solidly on the wagon. The friends and family I provide services for have absolutely nothing I need, so it’s completely one-sided. If I ever did need/want a favor like you asked of your “friend” and they gave the response you received, they would be cut off immediately.

  3. says

    It’s tough now that the cat’s out of the bag. But early on, if you hadn’t publicized your side biz or skills maybe they wouldn’t hassle you so much. I actually get kind of excited to help people start a blog or something because seriously – nobody I ever met in real life until just this Christmas – nobody has ever made a dollar online. I’ve always felt completely isolated and going it alone on the blogging thing. I don’t even talk to my wife about it; she couldn’t care less. Bizarre as it sounds; so when a buddy wanted to start a photography blog or start a blog for his wife, I was like, “Sure! I can help”. Then they don’t listen and do something stupid like register with a wordpress.com domain for free or hire a web designer who took them to the cleaner and put their own ads on the site (insane bullshit). But hey, I’m there if they need me.

  4. says

    Hey, you’re “computer guy” and so everyone is going to come to you for free or cheap services because you get it and it’s easy for you. But they don’t understand that it’s not just like setting up someone’s PVR for them, it’s a lot of work (what they’re asking of you).

    I’m with you and would much rather donate my time and expertise to a charity or non-profit than to friends and family. But I don’t really talk up my skills too much at Thanksgiving Dinner and I have learned how to say no without worrying about what people think about me.

    What I hate is that in my line of work I have to pitch deals to business people in the community and so I know a bunch of bankers, lawyers and real estate agents, etc.. I make a deal with them between our businesses, but then they turn around and try and pitch for my personal business. One banker was choked that I wouldn’t switch my personal accounts to his bank and a real estate agent was pissed that I didn’t use him when I sold my house.

    Business is business, and let’s leave the personal stuff out. Our time and money is our own to choose what we do with it.

  5. Laura says

    My husband is the “computer guy” in the family and I always feel like he gets taken advantage of. I usually play the bad guy by making a fuss over how much work this will take in front of the family member bur unfortunately if he says it’s no big deal which because he’s too nice ge does – it negates my point.

    Your “friend” sounds like a douche bag. The fact that he’d respond that way shows he doesn’t respect what you do and the time & effort your work requires and is only your friend when he needs something.

  6. says

    Well helping someone out for free is one thing, but when its your entire source of income, thats another thing. I would never charge my mother and father for anything ever, and I have maybe two close friends I would find a hard time charging since they are like family… pretty much everyone else I would have to.

  7. says

    I am TERRIBLE at saying no to people whether it is fixing a computer or writing a will for someone not charging them so take my advice lightly since I don’t have the testicular fortitude to follow it myself:

    Screw them both. Your brother is obviously NUTS if he thinks your relationship is even in anyway. Your friend is a dick. If that quote is a literal quote from him…he is an asshole who doesn’t care about your time.

  8. Rob says

    Hey I.J.,

    Just discovered your blog. Some really good stuff on it!

    I think your problem in this particular topic is you care too much about the opinions of others in your circle of friends and acquaintances.

    Your brother is a challenge because your parents are backing him up. Have they read what we (your readers) have read? It might be worthwhile to print out a copy of this blog (I’m assuming your parents aren’t terribly computer savvy and wouldn’t otherwise see it) and show them your thoughts. By the way, your writing skills aren’t horrible–don’t be too hard on yourself!

    The friend, though, is a whole other kettle of fish. He sounds like the scenario where you have a friend who you lend 20 bucks and never see again, and consider it worth the loss of the money! I wholly agree with Evan’s take on him.

    I realize it’s easy for me, totally removed from your situation, to make these comments and much more difficult for you to actually do them. I’m guessing you are the type who mostly meekly accepts all the stuff dumped on him until you reach a breaking point. You might want to consider some assertiveness-training courses. It’s OK to say no.

    Cheers,

    Rob

  9. says

    My former husband was a corporate lawyer who specialized in small businesses. He used to remind clients that they’re not business to give things away. If you give away your time or products, you’ll never make a living, and sooner or later your business will fail.

    Seen in that light, you realize that people who try to take advantage of you in this way are asking for a lot more than just a little friendly favor.

  10. says

    I like helping people who help themselves. What burns my ass is helping people who are not capable of being helped.

    I have a friend who consistently gets sued for not paying her bills. There’s always a good reason. After the last time I’ll refer her to a competent paralegal. She’s a nightmare at financial management and I’ve bailed her out several times.

    Once I even made her a basement apartment, she liked it so much that she moved herself into it instead of renting it out to pay her mortgage.

    Now she rents. Anyways I’ve learned there is a difference between helping and enabling.

  11. says

    I agree with Justin — I’d never charge my parents for anything; after all, they changed my diapers, pushed me around in a stroller, and did countless hours of unpaid work in raising me. Anyone else, however, would be evaluated based on a “would you reciprocate when I need a favor?” basis.

  12. says

    Sounds like you might have to put your foot down. Maybe not too hard at first, but if you haven’t had a discussion with your family and friends who are taking advantage, that might be the first step… Heck, just give them the URL to this post… Ha

  13. Rafael @ Reis Financial says

    I absolutely love this blog. I have the same exact relationship with my brother. It becomes difficult when relatives make you feel guilty if you don’t help out, as if it is your obligation. I agree with Money Smarts blog and as well with Evan. I have learned over the years not to discuss my business around family, partially because I don’t think they really care as well they only focus on the parts that benefit them.

  14. CFL says

    Time is money! I think with whatever you do (or don’t do) expectations have to continually be monitored and reset so that you’re content. Pro bono work is a good thing within limits and perhaps in return you could start asking for referrals?

  15. says

    Don’t feel bad at all about “saying no” to your friends and family. There’s a difference between saying flat out “NO!” and a polite note/phone call that indicates that you are sorry but you are very busy with your work. This response will show them how demanding your work is, and they eventually will start to respect your time more.

    I just discovered this blog-keep up the good work! P.s I do freelance copyediting, so you can feel free to contact me for better rates than what your brother indicated. :)

  16. Sonja says

    I would go the route of the”friends and family” discount. Present your pricing schedule – then state that friends and family get xx% discount. And then pick a number you can live with – like 10 or 15% and present it like the gift that it really is. By doing business with you they are getting the peace of mind that the job will be well done because you care about them and their satisfaction means something to you. Any benefit beyond that is gravy!

  17. says

    I feel your angst. It’s often a judgment call and sometimes you have to put your foot down. You can refuse gently by saying “I have a lot on my plate right now. I recommend so and so who can probably give you a pretty good price.” Pretty soon, they should get the hint. Good luck

  18. not saying says

    We’ve managed to build a life that gives us a fair amount of free time. We are also skilled at such things as woodworking, sewing, landscaping and database/computer skills. The problem is too many people think that means we should use our time and skills to do work for them. I can’t understand how they think that we made this life so we could do things for them for free. They get down right annoyed when we say no. And not much comes the other way. I guess they really do feel their time is more valuable than ours.

    I enjoy doing things for other people and we do a lot. But I don’t understand their attitudes. I really don’t. Plus it often feels like they put no value on true friendship but only value us for what we can do for them. It sucks.

  19. MathChick says

    Familiarity breeds contempt. It has nothing to do with their level of respect of your skills since they obviously think enough of you to ask for your help. But when they see you you are obviously on your leisure time and there is a mental block of what the rest of your time is worth. I have made friends with people I’ve done business with and never had a problem like I do with friends who want to do business.

    However I’ve also been on the other side. I remember in school one member of our study group owned and ran a small restaurant and he would ask us to study there so he could keep an eye on things and study at the same time, and we never got a price break even on beverages. He was the slowest of the group and his place was out of the way so we were actually doing him a big favor. We would spend HOURS there working and then have to pay full price for everything. I never asked for a deal but finally started cutting sessions short so I could go home and eat and drink something other than water. I was a student and wouldn’t pay $10 for a burger and soda for the priviledge to help.

  20. Frankie says

    One thing I was shocked to notice in the earlier posts is that InvestorJunkie was being slapped on the wrist for promoting business too much amongst friends and family. That’s weirdly narrow-minded, especially when you think about how many business transactions come about through word-of-mouth recommendations (“hey, I’ve always been impressed by X’s services” or “I recommend you try Z, that’s exactly what he specializes in”) versus marketing through other channels (e.g. advertising). Something like 70% of job offers are never advertised, and I’m sure it’s similar for contracted services.

    I’d adapt your friend’s way of saying no in situations like these, e.g. “the going rate for this type of thing is between $blah and $blah per hour, and I estimate this task will take X hours all told. Since I already have prior business commitments (projects, marketing) etc, I can’t take on something like this pro bono, but I am more than happy to give you rock-bottom rate. I can also recommend some other folks in this line of work, and wouldn’t be offended if you decided to go with them” or simply “given past experience, it’s now my business policy not to take on friends or family as pro bono clients”.

    I’ve also been in the situation where I’m excited and willing to volunteer my time, but only to get my foot in the door when starting out.

  21. Mike says

    Obviously the friend doesn’t see the situation the same way. A lot of people are so tied up in thier own lives they miss the effect they are having on others’. Not everyone is deliberately trying to take advantage of you. They just see they need help and know someone they can ask and do so. There is nothing wrong with saying no and explaining why. There is also nothing wrong with saying OK. There are limits to us all but we do we our best work when we break through them. Do you really think when you are dyeing that you’ll be lying in bed and saying I shouldn’t have helped so and so because it took 80 hrs of my time. The problem is we all look too much at the instant payback. This friend is working at a non-profit. what if the non-profit is a medical that comes up with a cure for some disease that saves 10 lives. Or puts a blanket on 10 people that survive an arctic night. Or it teaches some kid to read who survives getting out of a slum or better yet brings a clown in to make a kid dying from cancer smile before he dies. Too often we look at the immediate payback. When this country started you either pitched in and helped or all was lost. We have forgotten our roots. We are failing our forefathers. a friendship even one-sided is worth more than a lousy couple hundred bucks isn’t it. As for family how much are they really asking. I have a brother No matter what he needs if he asks and i can help he gets my help. So I repair his roof. install water heater. give him money. do his taxes. anything else he needs. Too often people discard eachother just because its gets a little tough. The best things in life are worth fighting for. I’ve been looking out for him as best I can for 20 years he’s not great with money. I’m suffering from cancer and I am grateful as hell that I’ve been able to help over the years. the things in life i regret now are all the times when someone needed my help and i said no because i was too busy. people too often think of family and friends as customers instead of family and friends. Why would you even want to charge your family? Not all families are created the same but I would think they were more important than money.

  22. JWH says

    I would say never, ever offer your services for free unless it takes a de minimis effort on your part or unless you and the other person have a relationship where you regularly help each other.

  23. Hugo Triptoph says

    I too had the issue of people constantly asking for help with computer problems, since I work in IT.

    Now, I actually am a heartless bastard when it comes to this sort of thing. I’m willing to offer some help to people, but usually in the form of guiding them to the answers they need. I won’t actually DO anything for them, just give advice.

    Also, as much as possible, and if it is at all plausible, my solution to their problem always involves them spending vast amounts of money on something. After a few of these recommendations, they usually stop asking.

    For example, aside from help with problems, people often ask what kind of laptop computer they should buy. My answer is always “A MacBook Pro with Retina Display.” Immediately they freak out and start whining about how expensive they are, to which I say “Yeah, but they’re pretty good, so that’s what I recommend.” But but….I want something cheaper. Well, you’re asking the wrong guy. I make a lot of money and I like expensive stuff. I never look at cheap stuff….sorry…no clue what kind of $500 laptop is good. I think they all suck equally.

    Another example, I’m into photography. People come and ask me what kind of digital camera they should get. My only answer: Canon 5D MkII (or III, or whatever is current when they ask). I’ll even google it for them, at which point they freakout that it’s $3000. Then I point out that they should probably buy at least one lens, and if they’re going to buy only one, it might as well be the 24-105mm F4L for around $1500. “So really, you’re looking at more like $5000.” More shock, more complaints, to which I say “Well, that’s what I have.” (which is true). Why would I recommend something else? I don’t care if you go and buy some cheap camera. Good for you. It’s not what I suggest. You asked the wrong guy.

    I have managed to establish a reputation as “The wrong guy to ask.” It’s awesome.

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