When your family wants freebies

Family is very important to me.  Family is the soft place you land when the world is kicking your butt and talking about you.  And yet, family life and business life sometimes don’t mix.  That’s especially true when your family expects to get discounted services from you.  Let’s talk about how to get through that without making yourself the black sheep of the family.

I’ve had my fair share of relatives ask for advice on the down low as a lawyer.  It’s an awkward spot.  Thrilled to be asked and in a position to help.  Not so thrilled that you can’t charge this person.  Now, of course, you can.  After all, you’re in business to make money.  However, family is a whole different story.  You’re supposed to make money from other people, not your family.  At least, that’s the message I was raised with.  How about you?

Set your Keystone

Family, like most things in life, is a good and not so good thing.  Working with family has its ups and downs.  Where you fall on the question is what I call a Keystone.  Your Keystone is a central idea or thought that holds the structure of your business together.


  1. A central stone at the summit of an arch, locking the whole together.
  2. The central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends.

Entrepreneurship has so many references to building that I couldn’t resist choosing this architectural term to capture the idea of having central ideas, rules, philosophies to your business.  The YOU part of it’s your business, that gets lost when chasing the latest marketing or sales thing.

Why should you bother?  Fair question.  Running your business without exploring your beliefs and emotions is like driving your car with your eyes closed.  You’re gonna end up somewhere you don’t like.

Let me tell you a story about, Candy, a virtual assistant who ran a mailing service for area businesses, sending out promotional pieces.   Candy came from a very tight knit family with three sisters.  Their family slogan could’ve been: Family Above All!  Her first customers were her sisters, who enjoyed a nice discount- a family freebie!

She didn’t mind because she was still figuring things out and hey, they were family.  As Candy’s business grew so did the demands of one of her sisters who was running for office.  Candy found herself sending out thousands of pieces of mail without being paid for her time.  Worse, her other clients slowly fell off during the campaign because she had so little time for them.

Candy ended up resentful and exhausted, trying to kick-start her business again.  An unexamined belief that she’d been taught since childhood had driven her business  decisions and she paid for it.   Once she started to craft her Keystone about working with family, she found a good balance between her responsibilities and love for her family and her own interests and needs.

Develop your own Keystone

My best advice is start developing your own Keystone about family and friends.  A good place to start is to examine what you think.  I find writing is the best way to do it.

1. Write down your beliefs or messages you heard from your family or surrounding community about family and doing business with family.  Don’t judge-just write.

2. Write down  your thoughts about business and making money (lol, that’s gonna be a rich topic- pun intended).

3. Look for balanced stance.  You want find a stance that lets you honor your family and work (Candy limits the amount of family work she does and gives them a 50% discount on her fees)

Now that you have a keystone and stance, it’s easy to set a kind expectation (that’s Dina for rule) in your business that you can share with family and friends.  Don’t worry.  They will understand.


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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)

  1. Dina Eisenberg
    4 years ago

    Makia, glad this helped. It’s something everyone struggles with at some point. You said it best! Knowing and sharing your stance eliminates a LOT of issues up front. I hope you’ll come by again. ;)

  2. Makia
    4 years ago

    Dina: I love this! Thank you for the discussion and for the summary of how to handle it. I agree…set your own beliefs and then it isn’t a dreaded conversation when it comes up. The worst place to be in is unsure. Knowing your stance and being able to articulate it when the topic comes up sets the expectation before you get started, and eliminates irritation as things progress.

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