Business | 10 August 2012

Friends Forever

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Friends and business… oh how tricky it can be! You remember what happened to Zack Morris when he got too big for his britches right? We almost lost Zack Attack!

Andy and I have some pretty talented friends and occasionally we are asked to work with or do work for a friend. This can be an incredibly precarious situation, so move forward with caution. Here are a few rules I try to follow:

1. Put it in writing

Put everything in writing, for serious. We provide each client with a scope of work that outlines what a particular project will include, how it will be created, when it will be delivered and in what fashion and last, but not least, how and when we will get paid. In addition to our scope of work, we also ask that all of our clients sign the same standard contract (drafted by a lawyer). This process should be exactly the same when working with a friend!

Recently I was asked my a good friend to do some pro-bono work. In my error, no contracts were signed and no scope of work was created. The tricky issue in this situation is that while my friend was working as the project manager, there was an overseeing partner who viewed my work as subcontractor work for his company. In his error, I was never presented with a contract from the overseeing company (which is pretty standard). I have a nice relationship with a few local firms in which I work as a subcontractor and my role in their project is very clearly outlined in a contract. As you might have guessed, this particular project did not go so smoothly. Without a clear scope of work and a contract, no one was clear on whose project it really was!

In the end, everything worked out for all parties involved and no friendships were harmed in the making of this project. And the phrase “never again” was heard throughout the Philadelphia area.

2. Get those dolla bills, son

Pricing should never be vague and an email saying that you will be paid “about $1000” doesn’t cut it. Outlining the pricing for a project (not only what the total amount is but how you will be paid) goes hand-in-hand with the first rule. Get it in writing! So what if you’re bartering with a friend? Get that in writing too! It’s not as difficult as it sounds. If you are exchanging services, make sure that both parties’ services are outlined.

I worked with a friend once on a really fun project. I knew I wouldn’t be paid a lot but I did have an idea of what I would be paid. Now, let’s stop right here. What was I thinking? An idea of what I would be paid? That’s just a disaster waiting to happen. I knew someone who had worked with this friend on a comparable project and I knew what they had received. You know where this is going right? When I received my check I was incredibly angry… with myself. Don’t assume anything especially when it comes to payment.

Speaking of payment, are you thinking of charging your friend less than what you charge your other clients? Well, stop that immediately!  Whenever you consider working for free (or at a huge discount), simply go to a mirror and watch as you slap yourself across the face. Friend or no friend, don’t sell yourself short. You might also reference Jessica Hische’s thoroughly enjoyable Should I work for Free? chart in which she outlines the very few reasons you should ever work for free (spoiler alert: one of those reasons includes getting a free kidney in return).

3. Just don’t do it

Some friends are awesome friends and shitty clients. That’s just how it goes. Now let me state this for all of my friends/clients out there who may be reading: I’m not talking about you! However, I have heard my share of horror stories from fellow designers (and independent artists, developers, contractors, etc). In most cases, the designer was hesitant about working with a particular friend and went ahead with the project anyway. Just because you enjoy drinking beers with someone doesn’t mean that you should entangle yourself in a business relationship with them. Your friend might be a great drinking buddy but they may also be somewhat bat-shit crazy and it’s okay to say no. How do you deal with that situation without offending said friend? Hmm… I don’t really have a good idea here. Maybe just lie and tell them you’re too busy? I kid. But that’s the trickiest part – saying no to a friend. Much better to have one awkward conversation than to lose a friend by the end of a project I’d say.

So to take a cue from Zack Morris:

Through it all, hangin’ tough,
We’ll stay side by side.
We’ll be friends forever,
Til’ the end of time.

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