Designing for Family and Friends

Computer frustration | Laura Earley Graphic DesignOur family and friends are a source of support, love, and when you’re first starting out on your freelancing journey, our first clients. Family and friends are naturally the first people we look for work because we already have an established relationship with them and there’s a level of trust that already exists, or so we think.

Family members, in particular, can be challenging to work with even before the design process begins. Here’s a scenario outlining 4 issues that might arise with working with your family and friends:


Your Uncle Bob needs a website for his lawn care business. It’s going to be a pretty extensive e-commerce website where clients can come and schedule lawn care appointments and pay for said appointments all within a few clicks. A shopping cart will be required as well as video integration. This project could easily be priced in the thousands, you relay this information to your uncle in the form of a formal estimate via e-mail. You’re professional and mean business and you want your Uncle Bob to know this, after all, he’s a business owner too! Uncle Bob’s not having it. You’re estimate is far to high and since he’s family he feels he’s entitled to a discount. Uncle Bob drives a Mercedes, he’s got more lawn care equipment than a Home Depot and his home, where you’ve enjoyed so many family holiday get-togethers, is bigger than your whole apartment building. Long story short, Uncle Bob’s got the dough to fund this website project no matter what you charge. Unfortunately when you’re backed into a corner regarding bringing down your rates by a family member it’s much harder to stick to your guns and justify why you’re charging what you’re charging, and much easier to cave. You end up caving and bring down your cost, and halfheartedly start the project on a sour note…and without a contract.


Uncle Bob has signed off on the wireframes, you’ve designed the Photoshop mockup and sent off the proof to him. Uncle Bob loves it but wants a few small changes. You complete these, send it back, he wants more revisions. You complete these once again, and of course he wants more changes but this time he wants major design changes done. You’re contract, which you waived for good old Uncle Bob, clearly states after 2 rounds of changes your hourly rate of X will be charged. You explain this to Uncle Bob, but of course he doesn’t want to pay extra and since he didn’t sign your contact, he’s not obligated to. Here begins the endless cycle of changes and the down fall of your mental health.


After months of developing the site and waiting on Uncle Bob hand and foot, the site is launched and it’s time to collect your well deserved payment. You invoice Uncle Bob, giving him a solid 30 days to pay you for your design. Day 31 rolls around and you’re Paypal account is empty. In your contract, it states that a fee will be charged to all late payments beyond 30 days of when the invoice was sent. Again, since you didn’t have Uncle Bob sign a contract, he’s not obligated to pay this fee. You inform Uncle Bob that you’re still awaiting payment, and he assures you the checks in the mail. Three months later you finally get handed a check at a family reunion.


The fictitious scenario I described above is an extremely negative case of working with a family member. I’ve been lucky enough to have positive experiences working with friends and family, but the potential for disaster in these cases are high. I’ve heard horror stories of people working with family that resulted in a huge dispute over the design work, severing the relationship. Treating a family member like any other client is difficult, but usually the best course of action. Stick to your guns regarding your rates and if you do discount your rates for a family member, make sure to include a note in the estimate or invoice letting them know that they’re getting a significant discount and that next time you’ll be charging full price. Have them sign something, whether it be your contract or an edited down version highlighting only the most important points.

Never hesitate to working with you family and friends, but know the risks involved! If the process goes south, there will be many cold shoulders and icy glares at your next family get-together.