The Conundrum of Working for Family and Friends: How Do You Handle It?

Angelo De Santo24 Cropped For Web Headshot
Angelo Family Friends

Years ago, I knew a guy whose reputation preceded him regarding computers. I was young and barely knew anything, and when you’re like that, you get into trouble doing simple things like deleting DOS because you heard it was a good thing to do. Well, I hit this guy up and asked for help because something I cannot remember was frustrating me to no end, and quick as a whip he said, “I can’t help you.” I asked why, and he said something to the effect of, “All I did was install a new printer from the store, and now everyone thinks I have all this spare time to drive to their house and fix their computer. In truth, I’m just faking it and learning a little more as time goes on.”

Somehow I survived, and re-installed DOS—and used my fancy PC with 256 K of RAM to finish college.

I’ve told you all before how I got into wood floors just so I could finish my college degree, and I indeed got it with great personal sacrifice. I was pulling 15 to 19 credits per semester while working what seemed like a whole lot more than 40 hours per week running around doing wood floors for a store in Cerritos, Calif. After I graduated, I stuck with wood floors because I was making tons more money than my classmates I graduated with, and the birth of my son came soon after that (like really soon after).
So I was stuck in this trade, and the real love didn’t come until later, and I am so, so grateful that it did, because I would say now that wood floors define me as a person (mostly the nice parts, ha ha).

That’s great, but now, like the computer guy I knew a long, long time ago, I get hit up for flooring work and handyman stuff from my family and close friends, and it’s starting to wear on me a wee bit, because it feels like you cannot really say “no” like you can with non-family or family you barely know. And you surely can’t get paid like you can working for a client outright, because family and friends have this way of making you feel bad for not helping. They call incessantly and know everyone you know, so you can’t run and hide somewhere until they find someone else. You’re stuck, and you just have to accept it, I guess.
I remember way back when I was starting out, I did a natural refinish for my Aunt JoAnne, and when I was done, I asked some people how I should handle it—meaning asking for money. No one had a good answer until I asked my father (I had borrowed the machines from him). He knew exactly how to answer, and I never forgot it. He said the following words slowly in a low tone: “Charge full price or give it away for free—NO ONE gets a deal.”

I never forgot that, and of course my Aunt JoAnne got a free floor. When you are young or just starting out, these tiny little bits add up to a wealth of experience and, of course, we can choose our own way of working for family and friends as we see fit.

Recently I worked for a family member and had to surrender a few hours on my free days and also lost a weekend or two. With clients, not working weekends is my boundary, but with family and friends, that goes out the window. Sigh …

Luckily, we love what we do, even with the sticky parts that leave indelible marks in our memories. Sure, I’d rather do something else with my time, and I most certainly do not have the extra time to volunteer on a consistent basis. The fact that my car needs its oil changed or my grass needs to be mowed is just a selfish want that is quickly dismissed so I can help a family member do something they have more than enough money to pay someone else to do. (It gets even worse when family and/or friends challenge your knowledge by referring to a TikTok or Instagram video they saw and now think that is the way it should be done because the video person was cute or had brand new tools or something!) But doing it is always a pleasure (right?!), and don’t forget the work has to happen ASAP because, well … it’s always a lame reason, but we do it anyway.

I think I’m venting now, but the positive part of this dynamic is knowing you have free access to whatever skills or attributes your friends and/or family have when you are in need. A wise person once said, “You have to make a deposit before you make a withdrawal,” and in this context, that means if you’ve done a few favors, you may have just the right person to reach out to if you run out of gas on the road or need help carrying a refrigerator up a set of stairs for a client.

As for me, I need a hand with some internet stuff, so I’m gonna call this guy I know to help me out, because I heard he figured out how to connect his home network to the thermostat. I better call quickly, because he’s only 8 and I think his Mom puts him to bed around now, so I gotta act fast!

How do you all handle this? I’d like to know. Leave me a comment so I can see how others sort this out … 🙂

Good luck out there, and remember, “Charge full price or give it away for free, because no one gets a deal.”

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