Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Freelancing for Friends

I’ve taken on a new website project—for free. My client is my friend, and the entire project process is exactly the same as any other client except that money will not change hands.

Even with all the freelance work going on, I recently decided to help a friend with a new web project. It’s not a complex project, but it will be a significant investment in my time. I have also decided not to charge for this work.

The project—essentially a news site targeting a niche market—is a good opportunity to stretch my creativity beyond my usual taupe, corporate design mindset. The website will encapsulate new colors, new design ideas, new layouts and really set itself apart from other sites in its market, which are cluttered, table-driven, ad-laden pieces of digital poop.

I’m treating this like a real project. My friend becomes the client. A project folder gets set up. We maintain a schedule. Deadlines are set, goals are marked. Everything runs on the same schedule as a normal project except that no money changes hands. I will even send him annoying e-mails asking the status on the site copy.

My father-in-law is a successful small business owner, and is well versed in the nuances of entrepreneurship. He has one piece of advice when doing business with friends or family:


Fair enough. But I have found that contention always centers on money—almost by default, it becomes the greatest point of stress. In the past, business with family and friends has been awkward because there is a degree of built-in guilt whenever I’m totalling an invoice, and the temptation (at least for me) is to cut corners and give them discounts, usually without them even knowing. I’ll be the first to admit this is bad business.

So this time it’s all or nothing, and I choose nothing. I prefer not to have the shadow of cash looming over our efforts, and I think we would both be more comfortable entering the project as partners rather than entrepreneur/contractor.

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Thursday October 20, 2005

I can sort of see the point in not charging. The key here is the word “partner”. Are you going to share a piece of the pie if this thing takes off? If so, then working for ‘free’ isn’t a terrible idea.

However, if you won’t be sharing the profits, and this is a project that takes up a lot of your time, then I would recommend against it. Money isn’t the only thing that causes issues between friends. It’s spending tons of time for no money that also causes problems. Just my opinion, but I do have a little experience with this.


wrote the following on Thursday October 20, 2005

Great point. “Partner” is the key word an I probably should have expanded on that. Essentially, the goal is to share profits if/when the site makes money. By offering my services for free now, no one is directly out of pocket financially, but still poised to make money in the future if the idea gains traction.

Daniel Schutzsmith

wrote the following on Friday October 21, 2005

If it is going to be a partnership and not work for hire then I can not stress enough the importance of a signed contract. If they are truly your friend they will have no problems in singing a contract that protects both of you should the relationship go sour.


wrote the following on Thursday October 27, 2005

Even when no money is changing hands, “money” can still be a problem. If the client isn’t paying anything, they are less likely to consider the implications of making incremental changes or requesting numerous revisions, and you can get to the point where it isn’t worth your time to continue.

Even with friends, it is important to have a contract that spells out exactly what is going to be delivered, and how many rounds of revisions are included. I’ve been reluctant to do this with friends in the past, but by the fifth time that it’s “not quite the right shade of blue” or “maybe that comma should be a semicolon,” you may come to regret not spelling everything out at the beginning.


wrote the following on Monday November 14, 2005

I’ve run into this situation before. The main problem for me was keeping deadlines. We’d set up a ‘deal’, either a sum of money that was simply seen as a gesture or a trade (once it was books… I was learning, so it felt appropriate. I might not have spent the money myself on books).
My big problem was that these projects were on the side. I had a regular job. For me, the difficult part was keeping the deadline on my end. It simply could not beat my ‘regular’ engagements in terms of priority.

However, I have always stayed clear of splitting the dividends down the road. I feel that it would put too much stress on figuring out the numbers.
Who’s work has had the most impact on the financial viability?
Who ‘deserves’ what part of the money?
Anywho, that’s my two cents. I hope it can be helpful.


The Sheep

wrote the following on Saturday May 6, 2006

Your attitude is inspiring. Seems like a nice thing to stand up to the pressure of money sometimes. I have a suspicion that by doing the project in the way you are, you will get rewards anyway, somehow. I’m already interested in the site, let’s see it when it’s done!