It’s almost a certainty that at some point in your career, you’ll be asked by a friend or member of your family to work on a project and feel you should only take a nominal “mates rates” fee. Try not to*.
Now this is obviously a very personal decision and some of you will perhaps think my initial opening suggests I’m not exactly putting myself out there to help my friends. However, before you judge me harshly, let me tell you why I don’t do projects on “mates rates” any more and why you should be careful too.
Like most, I’ve done a few projects for family and friends, I’ve gone as far as setting up my sister’s business with a full e-commerce site for a few hours beer money and in the early days when I was freelancing, these projects went towards bulking out my portfolio and giving me a real aim and brief to follow. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not that I did a poor job or put in a half hearted effort but there’s an inherent danger when working with family and friends that you don’t have with clients – you can’t fire family when they become a nightmare!
When I take on client work I have a clearly defined contract, I lay out my quote, timescales, features that we’re going to work on and agree a rough budget before I start. I’m also very clear on my payment terms and I enforce them like a boss.
Mates rates projects aren’t a business proposition, they’re personal
Working for friends and family creates an obviously personal element to what is decidedly a business proposition. With any other client, you agree the terms and scope of a project and you have a formal framework to go about your work with.
When a client hires you, they believe in their project and often have an emotional attachment to their idea in the same way a family member would – however, they’re engaging you because you’re a professional and your full time rates will reflect this and give you (I hope) the power to lead a project. Often a family member or friend will want to work with you because you’re “the one who works with the computers” or “knows about websites”.
If you’re going to work for a friend or family member when freelancing, try to avoid the perilous “mates rates”, all the exchange of money does is turn a personal commitment to creating a site or a piece of work into a something that, because it’s being paid for is suddenly an investment and often one that’s disproportionately personal for the amounts typically involved.
Often the gap between expectation from them and what you can deliver before making a serious loss is so big it’s not worth the hassle* and potential risk to friendship.
If you’re going to work with a friend, try to either work at your normal rate and treat it exactly the same as a client project or, and this is often my preferred choice if I have time, work for free because you’re doing a them a lovely favour. You’ll save a lot of hassle because the pressure of expectation switches back into your power because it’s not governed by financial motivation.
I hope this doesn’t all sound too callous, I love my family and friends and I’m always happy to help but I find introducing even a small amount of money to the equation turns them into the unequalled masters of scope creep, way more than any client I’ve ever worked with.
But they help fill my portfolio
Indeed they do, and I’m not knocking the opportunities although I’ve written in the past about the importance of a personal project if you need something to do. You could also approach a local charity if you’re desperate to get some real life work under your belt. There are lots of ways to fill a portfolio if that’s your aim. Nothing wrong with any of them and I encourage you to explore your options at all times.
* This is my opinion, if you want to work for mates rates go nuts
* To prove I’m not some cold hearted fiend who would ditch their family in their moment of HTML need, I’m currently putting together a small site for a cousin to help get her business up and running – but I’ll be doing it for free.