From Arlene: How Do You Deal With Friends & Family Who Want Freebies?

From Arlene: How Do You Deal With Friends & Family Who Want Freebies?

Leadership | Posted by - May 17, 2016 at 12:00 am

One of the occupational hazards for entrepreneurs and professionals alike is that friends, family members and sometimes even random acquaintances or strangers may think nothing of asking you for free advice. Often, they simply assume that if you have a particular skill, and they know you (or, in some cases, simply know of you and just made your acquaintance), they're entitled to ask for that skill gratis. If you're a lawyer, maybe it's reviewing a document and giving them free legal advice; if you're a computer consultant, maybe it's taking a look at their laptop. If you're a writer, maybe it's giving them feedback on a story they've written, or a free copy of your book.

Part of the challenge in dealing with these requests is that many of us can't say no to them, or even worse, feel guilty because we're afraid our services aren't worth what our rate card states. This is because what we do is easy for us in general, either because we have trained for it or because we have an inherent love and aptitude for it. If it's easy and fun for us, then how can it be worth money? But just because we have a passion for something that we also happen to be good at doesn't reduce its value. There's also the fact that we've spent time and energy developing our talent. The first step in dealing with others who don't place a value on our expertise is learning to recognize its inherent value ourselves.

There's a famous story about Picasso that wonderfully illustrates what I'm talking about. The story goes that the artist was sitting in a Paris café when a fan approached and asked if he'd draw a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, executed the sketch and handed it back--but not before asking for a sizeable sum of money in return. The admirer was shocked: "How can you ask for so much? It only took you a minute to draw this." To which Picasso, replied, "No. It took me 40 years."

Since, as Picasso discovered, these requests can take you by surprise, it's a good idea to have a policy in place or a set piece in your back pocket in case of ambush. Unless you have a strategy for politely refusing, you'll be spending a lot of time giving away your expertise for free, and resenting it, especially if the person to whom you're giving the freebie can easily afford to pay for it. Maybe you say that you don't mix business and pleasure, or that you've learned it's best not to work for friends. Some entrepreneurs offer a friends and family discount --an alternative that acknowledges the special relationship but at a price they're willing to pay. Alternatively, you can suggest trading or bartering services.

I like that idea because I find that most people who ask for something for free don't have any idea of the cost attached, and suggesting a trade immediately alerts them to the fact that a transaction is taking place. You're signaling that you're giving up something of value and it comes with a price--even though on this particular occasion you're agreeing to accept payment in another way. You're also letting them know that if they want the benefit of your expertise, you, too, deserve a benefit. It works both ways. Bottom line: if you don't want to get sucked into giving away the store for free, the onus is on you to value your skill and then find a diplomatic way to educate the other person about that value.

Do you find it hard to put a price on your services? Have you ever been caught off guard by the request for a freebie? How did you handle the request?

Tags: arlene dickinson, dickinson, blog, freebies, friends, family, business, entrepreneur, strategy, advice, business advice

Arlene Dickinson

Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most renowned independent marketing communications entrepreneurs. As CEO of Venture Communications, her creative and strategic approach has turned the company into a powerhouse with a blue chip client list.  She is also the CEO of, a company she founded in 2012 that is dedicated to serving and investing in entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial lifestyle. 

Dickinson is best known to Canadians as one of the venture capitalists on the award-winning CBC series Dragons’ Den, The Big Decision and marketing expert on Recipe to Riches.  She is the author of two books, the number one bestselling book, Persuasion and her most recent best-selling release, All In. 

Wendy McClelland
November 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I recently had this happen. A new friend (known about two months) emailed me and asked if I would edit an article. I had already met with her twice and edited two blog posts at no charge. I realized that unless I did something this would continue. I would like to maintain the friendship but was feeling a little used (my fault for not speaking up sooner). So I sent her an email after the most recent request. In part it said "This is going to get a little awkward for me because we are friends, but I know you are seeking my help because you see me as having the skills needed to help you be successful. But as you know the work I do is my only source of income and my time is very precious as I balance work and family." I then told her what my regular rate was but offered her a substantial discount.

She came back with a very positive response something like "I really do value your skills and am happy to pay for your talents."

Had she been a family member or closer friend and gotten offended and responded with something like "doesn't our friendship mean anything" I would have come back with "I really appreciate how much our friendship means to you but this is business".

I don't mind helping friends and family out here and there (and do it often) but my time is worth something, and all the skills I have are valuable. I continue to educate myself so I can offer the best and that's worth money!

Hope this helps someone else going through the same thing.

Andrew Spinner
November 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I have been on both sides of this issue, and do have to say in the case of providing the freebie, the hardest part to grasp is the time involved.  Most people when asking don't realize how much time is involved in the request.  That being said, if you've been requested to help by a family member (for example), you likely should help out, if you have the capacity.  There is multiple reasons for this.  One, it's your family.  The true route of the family relationship is being there for one another.  If you have a skill set that can help someone else out, than you should provide.  Second, these are the people that have always been your best referrals.  Why give them a reason to not recommend you when opportunities arise?

Tammie Sarra
November 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I found this difficult with a business partner, who expected to get services free from colleagues but was offended when she was asked for freebies.  I love the barter system especially when I am dealing with other entrepreneurs. I find when offering a friends and family discount it lets loved ones know your product and services have a value but you also value them enough not to charge them retail.

Dragan Cvijan
November 27, 2012 at 1:08 am

Being in position to help one in need and diserving it, I see as humen act. In many

ways it dos repay.

Patricia Truter
November 27, 2012 at 2:52 am

I have to deal with this a lot and I must say I find it very difficult to handle.  

Arctic Radio
November 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Trades really do work well.

For quick fixes to deal with the most freebie savvy, a handy ice-breaker works too ... something like "freebies come at Christmas time, if you are lucky and good, I'll talk to Santa ..."

Leaving people smiling and thinking of comfort in the future is always a good thing. This generally screens out most.

Then again, it depends on what the freebie is and the attitude of the seeker behind it ... quick advice, depending on what it's about, is generally no problem if provided on the fly. If it's a product or service, lost leaders can be a great thing too, and help reduce paper work!!!

It's a balancing act really, but it's important as you say to value your self; no interaction is worth someone else's guilt throwing/seeking.

Then again, we're not a business ... but we do have hard costs to deal with and still need to deal with this issue, perhaps more so since some people think we 'have to' give out services and goods for free since we are a not-for-profit.

That's said, I totally love free samples!!!

So to a point, offering something free always good too ... but when it's controlled, strategically offered and perhaps limited to a budget.

On some shows we actually promote: "free is always good."

One year we gave out about 175 free radios with little night lights to grade 1-3. This year we're giving out about 250 free, locally produced (by us) children's books to the wee ones at christmas.

Ho Ho Ho


Kelly Hygaard
November 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Great blog! From 2008-2011 I owned and operated a spa in Alberta, and I always felt a guilt for charging some of my most loyal, cherished clients. I was giving away my time, and energy and at the end of the day didn't feel as valuable. I've come to change the way I perceive my services and their value - but this blog describes and reinstates important aspects of growing with your business!

Thanks Arlene!

Kelly Hygaard

Patrick Sojka
November 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I guess I am pretty lucky in that the services I provide to consumers is offered for free so I have no issues with family, friends, coworkers asking me for insight. I am glad to share it!

Coralee Nielson
November 27, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I am also lucky that the services that I provide to clients are  also free, so I don't run into this issue. I am very passionate about what I do, so I am glad to be asked for advice and to give the free advice to anyone that asks, friends, family or complete strangers.

Debbie Rapson
November 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Amazing that most of us are very good at understanding and communicating value proposition when in front of a client yet forget that same value so quickly when confronted by friends or family.  Thank you for the idea of barter as an option, as that is a reply that I would have no issues with!  Everyone wins and zero guilt association.  Love it. Thank you Arlene for taking the time to share!

Judy Simpson Whale
November 28, 2012 at 9:18 pm

It has actually taken me a few years to finally start charging accordingly for my work when it comes to family & friends...especially friends because it was becoming friends of friends, cousins of friends, etc., etc. Can't be a people pleaser AND a successful entrepreneur, it seems, but I've found that if I respect my time and effort, so will others, so it had to begin with me. :)

Max Marascia
November 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Hi Arlene! I have been in this situation from both sides. As client, to me the advantages of requesting a friend/family for his services don't lies on the price but on the trust and the quality (there are my savings). As business owner, I have put in place a policy where we both benefit from it (win to win situation). 

Gary Lee
December 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Many members of my family are entrepreneurial and I have been the one to create an online presence for them. In most cases this has been the thing that has really got them started. I want to be the person they come to because I feel good about it, but I also know how many bad services there are out there and know they will get the best from me. It can be time consuming but I love it and love them :)

December 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Wow, this really hits home.  I have always been told not to give my art away for free.   So I don't, the barder system has served me well, however.   I love the idea about Picaso  it took many years to learn how to develop this talent.  I do find it hard sometimes to put a price on what I create,  Adding up all material costs and how long it took me to create.   I always have fun when I create and I'm so happy.  So, sometimes I feel, and question myself,  Am I suppose to be charging for hours I enjoy?   Yes, I'm getting better now, but when I was a teenager I felt very guilty about having fun while I create and should someone value my happy sale when other make money with blood sweat and tears.    Thank-you for this wonderful text.  I feel inspired.   My product and service is of value, and if it's my grandmother, well she will always get a special discount price.   She always pays me something  she says, "well you didn't buy those stones for free, did you?"   I tell her my price and she'll respond "Well, how about I give that fair?"  She always ask me that.  

For friends the same rules go, how are we helping one another increase.   And may we help each other and circulate the dollars.  

Joe Wasylyk
May 21, 2016 at 11:59 pm
Being an author one of my biggest beefs is someone asking you to send them a Free copy of your printed book including shipping costs & foreign exchange, then not taking the time to review it. Does this mean they want to be paid for reviewing your book besides receiving a copy for Free? Has anybody at had a similar experience?
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