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  • Diana Schneidman

Freelance & consulting rates: How much to charge family and friends for your services

Friends and family who use your freelance and consulting services expect prompt, perfect service even if you take on the work for free or at a reduced rate. Protect your reputation by always doing your best work.

Setting your professional rates is difficult, but here’s something even more difficult: determining how much to charge family and friends for your services.

Here’s one good option: $0.

Yes, you read that right. Zip.

Or full price. That’s another good option.

Let’s look at the fundamental issue of helping family and friends on the cheap. It’s a perfectly good hobby. It hones your skills, builds confidence, provides intellectual stimulation, and yes, helps others.

If you want to help others, I suggest it may be good to do it for free. Even as little as $50 or $100 can mislead you into thinking you have found a specialty that will support you financially. But I assure you, that’s not enough money for the work done (unless it is a very small assignment).

You may think that a small amount is enough because you will do less work or give the work lower priority to make the deal financially reasonable.

When people pay anything at all, they expect prompt, letter-perfect service. My resume clients, for instance, would not be comfortable receiving their final resumes three weeks after the position they want has closed simply because they get a good price. (Furthermore, $100 or even $50 seems like a fortune to the unemployed person writing the check.)

People who pay nothing at all also expect prompt, letter-perfect service. Don’t volunteer unless you are willing to put forth your best effort for no pay. Clients shape their opinion of your work based on how you perform, even if you warn them you are cutting corners. If someday in the future they have an opportunity to send someone else your way, they won’t recommend you if they don’t think much of your work.

Anything less than your best may come back to haunt you (or you may never know that your third cousin twice removed “forgot” to give your name to his boss). And any fee over $0 may prove awkward to collect.

One answer is to redefine upfront the service you offer free so it is not even almost mistaken for the whole enchilada.

Take the resume example again. I may offer to critique a friend’s resume and make suggestions without applying fingers to keyboard. Critiquing is easy—but creating a final, perfect resume is more work than I’ll do for free.

The favors you do for friends and relatives will set their opinion of you in concrete for all eternity. “She’s not very creative,” or “He’s not accurate—you’ve got to review everything he does,” they’ll say behind your back.

Help them think the best of you. And help them recommend you to their family and friends.

Originally posted 9-29-09

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