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How to Say No to Friends Who Want You to Work for Free or Take Advantage of You 😏

How to Say No to Friends Who Want You to Work for Free without hurting relationship

One of the most and over-looked way to support your friend’s or family member’s dream is to pay them for their work. A lot of people who are hustling or side-giging or chasing their dream job, while we need the money, also have a strong desire to pay it forward and put our talents to good use for those we love. We just want to be respected enough to be able to choose for ourselves when we’d like to be magnanimous, and not have it be assumed but how do you say no to friends who want You to work for free


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How to Say No to Friends Who Want You to Work for Free

If you’re a photographer, designer, developer, writer, personal trainer, doctor, mechanic, hair stylist, lawyer, illustrator or a billion other professions, friends are going to ask you to work for free.

Sometimes, they will promise you “great exposure” or that they will split the future profits of the project with you. “You design my website for free and I’ll take you to meetings where you will meet 100s of my friends who also have businesses.” Or they will offer to barter something you didn’t want or need. “You take my photo for free and I will give you one of my German shepherd puppies” (Wait what? Who told you I wanted a dog! lol)

My old way of life was to say YES out of guilt and then do the work filled with anger, annoyance and white hot rage. My words said, “Sure, no problem!” but my face and heart said, “I would kill you in my sleep if I can get away with it.”

Crazily enough, the bigger issue is that friends should pay full price. Why should we expect a stranger to treat us well and pay our fee? Our friends should pay us the most. They should over tip! The people who love you should not try to discount your ability. It’s actually the reverse.

Why should we expect a stranger to treat us well and pay our fee? Our friends should pay us the most. They should over tip! The people who love you should not try to discount your ability. It’s actually the reverse.

I’ve always wanted to talk about this topic for a long time but for some reason, I have always held back the gun on it. I think it’s time though, this topic is so important and a lot (i mean A LOT) of freelancers and entrepreneurs face this dilemma of people who are close to them and are supposed to “love them” treating their business, skill and talent like it’s worth nothing.

I actually already wrote this post and was one thousand words in but then deleted everything because It felt too personal, I basically was sharing my recent experience where I felt under-valued, under-appreciated and like my talent, time, skill and experience wasn’t worth being paid for by someone I consider a friend and mentor. I don’t want this post to be too personal, rather I want to make it straight-forward and easy to relate to, to everyone. To be honest, it’s just me being a little bitch and not wanting my friend to one day read this post and be like “fuck! Daniel wrote an article about me”.

So, there are two types of people; one with a “normal 9-5 job” and another “who runs his/her business and makes a living and pays bills from monies made from their business, skill or talent”. 

When you run your own business and you are an “entrepreneur” or “freelancer”, you are basically living your life on the edge and putting all your chips forward. If you do not make enough money to pay your bills this month, you are fucked and sometimes you might make enough money to pay your bills for 3,4, 5 months to come without worrying. Its a bit of a sticky one.

It’s already hard enough trying to get clients and customers for your business, but why do “friends” and “family members” make it awkward and weird by either expecting you to work for free or offer your products to them for free or in some cases ask for stupidly low discount. My friends see me trying to build a brand and business and the only thing they can do is try to get me to give them my product, time or service for free – something that would otherwise be paid.

I think people do not understand what the fuck that means – in case you do not know, let me make it clear. If your friend does something that they charge people for or people pay for, you asking them to offer that thing for you free is you basically saying “I know you are doing your little thing but I don’t value your or your business enough to pay for it”

This lowers the self-esteem of entrepreneurs and hustlers because if their close ones don’t see their work and product valuable enough to pay for, how can they have the confidence to charge or request payment from outsiders?

It is your job, and your job alone, to set appropriate boundaries and clear up what you’re happy to give for free and what you charge for.

But they are your friends, things will get awkward.

I have always had a problem asking friends and family members to pay for my product and/or work. There is this awkwardness when you talk about money with someone that is close to you. I have personally battled with it but the time for this has to stop!

Just because someone is close to you doesn’t make them supernaturally exempt from paying for something you charge for, make money from and make a living from.

I want you to rip off that thing in your head that holds you back from asking to be paid. This will only hold you back, the more you do for people, the more entitled they get and think they can always come back for more, but when you let your stand be known (regardless of the friction it may cause), people will always low-key respect you for that and know not to come with all those freebie-fuckery.

I know that it’s easier said than done but I want you to put this to action. When next someone that is close to you asks you to do something that you would otherwise be paid for, tell them that you cannot at the moment because you are dealing with paying customers, tell them that if they pay like everyone else – your business will go forward and they will be attended to. I think sometimes we need to stop trying to avoid walking on egg shells and actually just do it, just tell people what you feel and let them deal with it in anyway they feel like dealing with it.

At the end of the day, your friends and families are supposed to be your first customers, your first clients and your avid supporter. A reasonable friend and relative might ask for a family discount rather wanting to get your service or product for free but a loving and supportive friend will offer to pay full price because they know what this means for you and your business.

A reasonable friend and relative might ask for a family discount rather wanting to get your service or product for free but a loving and sensible friend will offer to pay full price because they know what this means for you and your business.

Let things get awkward, but get your money bro! I needed to hear this long time ago because I have suffered in the hands of so-called friends and relatives who take advantage of me.

Whilst I was doing some research on this topic, I came across a very interesting piece by a Forbes contributor Natalie Zfat where she explained in an article entitled Here’s What To Say When Someone Asks To ‘Pick Your Brain’ About Social Media Over Coffee:


For me, social media is a business. I earn a living (as do my employees) by providing social media expertise to other businesses. These businesses are happy to pay for our time—a very limited resource—as I’m sure it is for you and your colleagues. Just as your job pays your bills, social media consulting is how I pay mine.

Would you offer to pay for any other service with a drink?


Of-course, there are some instances where you offer help to people close to you. When my mom needed to create a flyer/brochure for her business, I designed it to the highest quality and No I didn’t charge her or expected her to pay and that’s because she’s my mom, what she’s done for me and continues to do for me is explainable. Same thing applies when I created a website for her business, I didn’t expect her to pay but I did her that favour when I had the time to accommodate a free job without affecting my paying customers.

When my brother and aunt wanted to learn web and graphics design skills and I had a paid online course on that, I didn’t expect them to pay and didn’t charge them – I gave it to them for free.

It is your job, and your job alone, to set appropriate boundaries and clear up what you’re happy to give for free and what you charge for.

Before You Ask for Free-Shit, Answer These:

1. How Close Are You—Really?

The internet and social media is all good for connecting with people from way back and all but it also gives some people a false idea of connectivity. I have no problem connecting with someone we went to university or high school together but that doesn’t mean you can come into my life and ask for favours and expect me to go on the line for you like I would my brother or close friend who has done a heck lot for me.

I’ve had so many occasions where people I never even spoke to, had real connections with or have gained any substantial value from come to my life and expect the world from me. No Johny! ain’t rocking with you on that!

Oh, and even if you know someone from heaven to earth, you should still offer to pay for their products and services especially when their business is still striving, this is what friendships and family should be all about — empowering, rather than sucking from.

2. How Big Is The Ask?

Just because your friend Joe or sister Bisola is a web designer doesn’t mean you should ask them to re-design your whole website (or logo, flyer, brochure, DJ at your party or anything) for a high-five and dinner even if they say they are 100% happy to help.

Whatever you are asking for, do some finding and comparisons online to see what people are charging for it and what it’s worth. You then have two options, pay them or ask them if they can assist in a way that makes sense for them.

Limiting the amount of time, energy and resources the other person would have to spend to fulfill your request is one way to be respectful—and still get pointed in the right direction.

The purpose of this advice is not for children to start charging their parents, or friends start sending invoices to their very close friend but rather to ensure that people who are asking for favours or asking their close contact to do things for them understand the dynamics of how things work. You the asker need to realize that, most times, your friend or brother will accept to do this because they don’t have the balls to tell you that this hurts them and their business and they are just doing it to save face while most times they might decline (perhaps uncomfortably) and you will have offended him or her along the way and you might even feel offended yourself.

So as a friend, always ask to pay or ask for rates and if the other person says they are 100% happy and willing to help you without any payment because they can’t imagine charging their childhood aunt or loving brother, then lowkey find a way to compensate them by adding value to them in ways you know they will appreciate.

A lot of people who are hustling or side-giging or chasing their dream job, while we need the money, also have a strong desire to pay it forward and put our talents to good use for those we love. We just want to be respected enough to be able to choose for ourselves when we’d like to be magnanimous, and not have it be assumed.” – Sara McCord. 

Before You Offer to Do Free-Shit, Read This:

1. Are you really happy doing it?

There are so many times that I’ve slaved for people who wanted me to do free shit for them and even though in their face I smile and act like its all good, deep down I am not happy because I know my time, skill and expertise is worth a lot and this person that I love (or think I care about and loves me back) is shitting on my grind.

If when you are offering a service for free or sending a product for free to a close contact who asked for it and you are not 100% happy to do it like you would be happy if you were being paid, the best thing to do is to say NO!

Saying No is very hard especially with the upbringing that most of us have where we were taught to always say Yes and be a nice person but you have to learn to say No to people and situations that doesn’t make you happy.

I have compromised myself so many times for people who I am not happy bending over for and enough is enough, it feels good to say No! It might make the other person feel bad because they “expected a Yes” from you but if you choosing to put some value on your work is what will make someone have bad energy against you, then they should be cut off, they are toxic to you.  Fuck “em.

Before anything else, always strive for your happiness. This is the most important thing to you, it’s good to put yourself and your happiness first and above others. Don’t let society trick you into thinking you are a “bad and selfish person” because you choose to put yourself first.

It is your job, and your job alone, to set appropriate boundaries and clear up what you’re happy to give for free and what you charge for.

2. What’s the scope of the work?

I don’t think people who ask for freebies or expect people to work for peanuts actually look at things from the point of view of “what is the scope of work”.

Why would you expect your friend or cousin to work on your company’s website for free without offering to pay them when you know web designers charge upward of £1k, 2k, 5k, 10k for that same service? Why would you expect your friend who is a DJ play at your wedding or party for free when you know the hourly rates of DJs range from £50 per hour to £100 per hour?

Why are expecting your friend who has a clothline to send you free clothes when you know he/she is just starting their business and it costs money to make these merchandises you are expecting them to send to you for free?

Are you that wicked or you choose to be blind to how business works?

The above questions are for the friends and families who ask for free shit!

Now, to you on the giving end. You need to determine what the scope of work is and what value this work will add to your close contact before deciding if you want to offer it for free or at a discount (even though I strongly suggest you always get paid what you are worth).

A quick example is this —  I can give a friend a quick 10 minute advice on what’s wrong with their website and things that can be changed or tweaked but if you want me to develop / design the website for your company which will potentially bring money in for you and your business, I am not doing that for free! You shouldn’t be doing something for your close contact’s business for free, I am very sure they don’t offer free service in their business —  they also charge and make money from their business, so why are they expecting otherwise from you.

Would they expect to go to the shop and get thing for free? If they pay for everything else, why is your’s different?

If the work is one that will take a lot of your time, expertise and skill — charge for it and get paid what your work is worth. Do not let someone else determine the worth of your work.

I had a bitter experience with a friend who runs a very successful business with over 50 employees, he had always used me in the past for free shit for his company that I should have charged for (I know I got played), besides the fact that I know I was being taken advantage of and my skills not valued and appreciated, I also know that this guy had the money to pay for it —  he was just doing what most close friends and family do —  which is to use and take advantage of people without empathy of the person’s own needs.

The very last time where I decided to say fuck it and charge him properly was when he asked me to create something for his company that has a market value of up to £10k, I spent days and nights working on this, working with his employees on revisions and making amendments till the point where the project was 100% done and everyone was happy. The moment I talked about payment, all hell broke loose! I have never in my life felt more under-valued, used, taken advantage of and under-appreciated in my life and this came from someone who is supposed to be a close friend, a pal, my homie! Because I asked to be paid for something that I make a living from, spent days working on and would bring profit to his business, things got ugly and to be honest that was one of the reasons why I decided to say FUCK IT and learn to say NO to every demand and request from friends and families for things that I would otherwise have made money doing.

In Conclusion.

People need to know that asking people to work for free lowers their self-esteem. It gets to a point where when you’ve been used so much by friends and close contacts for free, when you are talking to someone who is a potential client / customer, a small voice in your head says “Ugh, I bet they’ll never hire you, they just want a bunch of help for free”.

This small voice comes from years and years of people under-valuing your skill, talent, experience, business, product and this voice in your head creates a lower self-esteem that hinders you from being confident in yourself or business to land new clients and customers.

That might be hard to hear. But if you want to move through these awkward situations and people (and encounter them less often) you have to stop placing blame — and start making it a policy to get paid for your time.

Make it clear what the price of your work, service and product is and learn to say No, learn to get paid, learn to not make people guilt-trip you into feeling that you are doing a bad thing for asking to be paid for something they would otherwise pay for if it was an outsider.

Remember, its your job, its not a passion or hobby! This is how you make a living and earn! So get what is rightfully yours.

I hope you gained some insight and value from this post. Kindly share your own experience with friends and families who have used you to work for free or under-valued your product or service. 

Photo Credits: Pexels

Tags : How to Say No to Friends Who Want You to Work for FreeHow to Say No to Friends Who Want You to Work for Free Without Hurting the Relationshipsay no to working for freeworking for free
Daniel Damilola Nejo

The author Daniel Damilola Nejo

Daniel Damilola Nejo is a Nigerian born, London based Creative Designer and Content Creator with love for the hustle and community. He has a Masters in Business Information Systems Management and is Endorsed by the UK Government as a “World Leading Exceptional Talent in Digital Technology” . He is a true hustler and a forward thinking individual who uses his knowledge and skill to add value to lives around the world. He works with startups, businesses and individuals around the world as a digital designer and brand developer. Founder of some Digital startups and brands.

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