Maria Brophy


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business of art / Philosophy / Written Agreements

An Entrepreneurs Challenge – Doing Business with Friends

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Image by Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir

Sometimes it’s a challenge doing business with people close to you.  There are two issue to deal with:

1. You may feel obligated to give them a cheap deal, which means you lose money and time, so you put them off and procrastinate getting their project going.  But this is a mistake to feel this way, because your friends may just want to support your business and may feel great being able to pay you for your services.

2. They expect free or cheap – If they are not entrepreneurs, some people might not understand how freelancers make their money, and they may feel slighted if you don’t give the goods away.

My husband and I earn our living from art sales and the art products (books, dvd’s, art prints) that we create.  All of these goods cost us to produce, stock and ship.  We are not paid a salary and every day we have to figure out how to keep the cash flowing.

We just came out with the book “How to Draw with Drew Brophy” and the publisher gave us 12 free copies, which we’ve given to people that contributed to the book and a few to media.  Every extra copy costs us $4.50.  I’ve had about 30 people ask me for a free copy, not understanding the cost to me.

The hard part is that all of the 30 people are loved by me and they are special.  I wish I was a millionaire so I could give these cool books away to those people that I care about.  But I’m a few years away from that.


It’s hard to impart to people that your time is money earned or not earned.  I can spend hours helping people (which I love to do) but then my 8 year old son gets less mommy time.  So I have to be very careful with how I use my time.  The same goes for most entrepreneurs.

I have a great friend is a computer wizard, a social media expert, and just damn intelligent.

He told me about the time that a friend dropped off a laptop and asked him to fix it (for free).  He had other deadlines with paying customers and after 2 days the friend called and yelled that he needed it NOW!  He finally fixed it, but it took hours.  Now, he won’t allow anyone to drop off anything again if it’s run by electricity, and he had a t-shirt made that reads across the front:  DON’T ASK ME TO FIX YOUR COMPUTER!


In the case of art, at least once a week someone will ask my husband, Drew, to draw a ‘quick’ design.  “Oh, it should only take you a few minutes to whip this out.  I’ll buy you lunch for it.

There’s no such thing as a “quick” anything.  And though we love our friends and will do most anything for them, we can’t just whip out a quick piece of art (priced at $1,500) and trade it for a $20.00 lunch.  We’d be in the homeless soup line quicker than you can say “free logo” if we operated that way.

This is why creative professionals tend to feel anxious when a friend asks them to do work for them.  Often, we assume that the request is asked expecting it for free or very cheap.


Why would anyone assume that someone wants something for free or cheap?  Because we’ve been through it so many times that it’s much like getting hit in the head every time you walk under that tree in your front yard with the low hanging branch.  Eventually, you avoid going there because you know it’s going to hurt.

But assuming that your friends want to short change you isn’t nice.  So here’s where direct communication and the written word removes all of those anxieties for you.

The next time that a friend asks you to quickly draw up a masterpiece logo for their car washing business, work up a price quote for them in writing.  This will avoid the problem of a possible misunderstanding and eliminate wrong assumptions that can embarrass you.

Many years ago we were on a tropical island and were friends with the owner of a Restaurant there.  He asked if Drew would design a t-shirt for him.  We blew it off because we were busy surfing and seeing the sights.  But after we returned home, the restaurant owner e-mailed asking, once again, for Drew to create artwork for him.

It became uncomfortable, because we assumed he wanted the art for cheap.  We told him that Drew was too busy and couldn’t do it.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I understand that the restaurant owner probably would have had no problem paying for the art.  He just wanted something cool and I’ll bet he wanted to help contribute to what we were doing.  We made a mistake in assuming anything.

But that’s the great part about getting older.  You learn to just be real.

It’s easier to be Real honest, real up-front and really real.  Just speak your mind.

There’s an old saying that I’m reminded of:

“What is ASSUME?  It’s when you make an ASS out of U and ME.”

The best way to handle these situations is to give a price quote, like you would with any other prospect.  Put it in writing so that there are no unanswered questions or assumptions.  Handle it like a professional, even with friendsThey can then choose whether or not they want to pay the fee.

Being real is easier than making assumptions and making other people guess what’s on your mind.


We are fortunate that most of our family and friends want to support our endeavors.

The best way friends can support you is to buy stuff from you (that they love) to help keep you in business.  There are many cultures that are centered around this very idea, which is why those cultures tend to do well in business.

(I just heard the other day that the Jewish religion teaches that it’s a sin to take up the time of a professional in their place of business without buying something.  Now that’s a good policy!)

And in turn, you need to support those around you.

If I need a photographer, I’ll hire one of my professional photographer friends.  If Drew needs an assistant painter, we’ll hire an artist friend.  And I’ll pay them a fair price.


I have a solution for the anxiety of providing services for those close to you:  Institute a policy called the FRIENDS AND FAMILY DISCOUNT.

Take your normal price quote and you tell your friends and family that you are offering them a discount from your normal prices.

How much of a discount you give is up to you.  On goods that are for sale on our website, I give a 20% discount to friends and family.  For commissioned works, I’ll give 20% off or more, depending on time, our passion for the project, or the scope of the work.

To be eligible for the friends & family discount, you must be a real friend (someone that we spend time with regularly) or a real family member.

If we call you “mom” or “dad”, you get most everything for free, because without you we wouldn’t be alive.

(If you’re a friend of a friend, that doesn’t count.  Sorry!)


Next time a friend asks for a design, or a computer fix or photography, let them know that you appreciate that they are helping you to stay in business.  The salary-paid employees in our lives don’t always understand how much work it is to run your own business.  Let them know that they are a great contributor to your career!

Then write them out a quote and show where you’re giving them a nice discount.  They’ll be happy to get a discount, and they can feel good about contributing to your business.  That’s what good friends do.

Maria Brophy xxoo

IMAGE CREDIT:  Image by the most amazing photographer I’ve ever seen, truly.  Check out  Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir incredible images.


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21 Comments An Entrepreneurs Challenge – Doing Business with Friends

  1. Dawn Ventimiglia

    Sometimes acquaintances are hoping for a freebie without coming out and asking for one (my true friends know that my time is valuable), so I’ve gotten quite comfortable with putting quotes and simple mock ups on paper, so folks can see how much time and expense will be invested in their project. Sometimes they forget that this is not only what you love to do, but what you do for a living, and that art costs time and materials.

    By putting it all on paper, it takes away that uncomfortable conversation that could possibly happen – paperwork keeps the transaction business-like and professional. A professional price quote helps the “client” remember that is what they are when asking for work – a client, not a friend. Yes, I give a discount to repeat customers or true friends/family, but I also note it on the quote so they know they are getting a good rate.
    I swear, Maria, you are in my head! 🙂

    1. Maria

      Dawn, I couldn’t have said it better! Yes, “putting it on paper takes away that uncomfortable conversation…” so true. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Archan Mehta

    Have I ever told you, Maria, what a brilliant writer I think you are?

    Why? Because every time I read your post, I feel like you are writing about the story of my life: that’s how I know.

    Like I said, my intuition told me ages ago that we were kindred spirits.
    And my intuition is right on the money nine times out of ten for sure.

    I have so many friends, colleagues, acquaintances and relatives to deal with that sometimes I feel like escaping to Gilligan’s Island, just like the old TV show. I have a hunch you are familiar with this show.

    Why? Because I feel uncomfortable talking business with people who are near and dear to me: any kind of financial transaction is rather challenging. I don’t want to spoil the party: I am a nice guy.

    The problem with nice guys is that they always finish last. Ever heard about that old saying? It may not be always true, but I feel like a loser anyway. I dislike interpersonal conflicts, but sometimes you have to chin up and just be assertive. You can negotiate in a nice way too.

    As you rightly suggest, this is a skill worth cultivating. It is better to be tactful or diplomatic when you have a stake. I have known people who have exploded in my face. People are tricky to deal with, sometimes, especially when it is hot outside and they suffer from blood pressure.

    How many times have I had to deal with temper tantrums from near and dear ones? Yes, even over trivialities and banalities–OMG!

    Gentle(?) soul, it seems like you and I are sailing in the same boat.
    Only the wind blows in your direction. With me, I am still trying to build a boat to sail across the harbor. Skipper, wait up, here I come.

    Have a nice day and thank you for contributing such a lovely post. Oh, and by the way, did I ever tell you…your 8 year old son looks just adorable? What a cute, sweet kid. No wonder: he has good genes!

  3. deni

    thank you for the great tips on this topic! you have talked about this before, but would you put trading services in this same category? i actually get a lot of benefits from trading, but at some point i want to start asking for payment of some things. how will those people act when i ask for payment i wonder since we have traded in the past?

    1. Frances Greenspan

      Thank you, Maria…you always seem to be saying what I need to hear. When it comes to trading for services, I only trade when it is truly something I want or need. At the point it no longer serves me to trade, and I want to be paid, honesty is the best policy. The next time the opportunity arises, clearly state “I would like to be paid for my service/work at the friend’s discount (thank you, Maria). Let me know if that works for you.” If it doesn’t, then, sorry, but at some point you need to move on, and so do they.

  4. jennifer ressmann

    Great article – funny how often this happens. And age definitely helps – you’re so much less offended and just answer with the pricing (and for family and friends I always offer a discount).

    I have to say it happens in reverse, too. I know many creative people that I want to buy from and insist I just have it for nothing. Especially if what they make is their hobby. So, sometimes a trade can work in this situation “well, why don’t you let me give you…” and that can be a nice exchange.

  5. Patrick Parker

    Hard to judge sometimes how people will receive your prices, especially friends and family. But you’re right, i have come to find that the good friends and family want to help you stay in business and don’t expect a huge discount or one at all. Some friends I tell them that they get one bro discount and then the rest are normal. But again, it comes down to how close you are to them, how busy you are, how often they buy from you, or even what they could trade.

    Thanks for the article. (:

  6. Redd

    I appreciate all the insight. I couldn’t have met you guys at a better time. I have decided to go after my artistic side, (trying to answer the questions that Need to be answered to get started first). Seems like a lot of what you say is right where I am now.
    Regarding this topic: it just seems like a hard line when I need my friends supoprt to get me going. I have friends that can put my work up at thier buisness’ but most all of them want something for free in trade. And everybody seems to want a “bro deal” when it comes to art. And I always hear “cant you just sketch something out for me for free?”
    If it’s my friends reffering me and helping me get jobs how do I tell them, thanks but I need your money too?

    Feel like I have a dozen questions I could ask, but I hguess I should stop here. Bless.

    Enjoy the Ride. Redd

  7. Maria Brophy

    Hey Redd, thanks for the comments!

    How do you ask your friends to pay you for your hard work? You have to get in the habit of thinking of yourself as an artist, not just some guy doing it for a hobby.

    Would you ever ask your buddy who loves to wash his cars to come over and detail your cars? For free?

    When friends ask for a freebie, they are cutting into our son’s time with his dad. Same goes for you – you’re a family guy. Your friends will understand if you choose time with your kids over working for them for free.

    Hope that puts it in perspective for you!

  8. Candy from Candied Fabrics

    I too have a “friends & family” discount (usually 20%)! It has helped me acknowledge the support I get from these wonderful people and at the same time not feel taken advantage of. Thanks for talking this through, it’s great to see all these reasons written down!

  9. Marie Kazalia

    You can negotiate your next book deal for more copies than 12 copies. Try 100, 300. Give them to reviewers and publications that write and print reviews.
    Print up a colorful postcard w/all the details to give to your friends so they will have the info to buy a copy. Then just hand out the postcards. They want something, and that will be enough, a postcard.

    That’s what ya gotta do…

  10. Anthony

    This is not a friend scenario, but an uneducated customer scenario. As mentioned previously, some people just don’t understand what we do, is not just a talent, but costs money for materials.

    I had a potential customer approach my counter for some custom work on a shirt. She wanted the whole nine yards… front, back, multiple words/colors. etc. When I quoted around $40-$45, she huffed. Her next remark insulted me, “I just don’t understand why it’s so much…. IT’S JUST PAINT!!”

    Really?? It’s just paint?? Really?? I didn’t know the paint just flew out of the airbrush and painted the shirt by itself. As much as I wanted to spout profanities, I maintained my professionalism.

    My reply went as such, “Just paint huh? Now that you just insulted me. So, my four years of college and my Bachelors Degree means nothing. Not to mention my 20 years of experience perfecting my craft. I don’t know about you, but there isn’t an airbrush artist on every corner like there is a 7/11. Keep in mind my rent to be here, the merchandise I stock for customers to purchase, and ALL THE COLORS OF PAINT THAT I BUY. If you would like, you can rent my equipment for $30 an hour and see if you can just whip out a shirt.”

    I am happy to say, even after my rant, she paid the price I was asking for. LOL Maybe I made her feel guilty after she had just insulted me. But after what she said, I wanted her money. Chewing her out would have been sweet, but I got paid instead. 😉

    1. Maria Brophy

      Anthony, I love this story! Sometimes people just don’t know – usually it’s the 9-5 types that show up for work and idle all day and still get a paycheck. They don’t understand that we aren’t playing all day in our studio, we are working, refining, planning, and then paying to be there.

      Good on you, for setting her straight! She’ll never look at an artist the same way again!

  11. Anthony

    I realize that what I create is sort of “low brow” art. But it kills me when those “look down their nose” at the art form thinking that it should only be a few dollars because it’s a t-shirt. I did one job for a customer 6yrs ago that was almost Daliesque. It was a collage of images out of this guys dream and he wanted it on a 2xl shirt. So I treated it as if it were a custom painting and charged him $400.00. He paid it. I was shocked!! I really didn’t want to do it because the theme was so surreal. I just threw a high number at him with the hopes he would have sticker shock and change his mind. Lol

  12. hector morales


    I love this article! You have helped me clear some mayor questions regarding discounts, etc… to family/ friends. Ever since I learned the blending techniques from Drew and started doing more of my own design ideas a lot of family and friends have been asking for work and my first thought was ” Oh no, they wanted super cheap or worst free!”. so far, I have been giving them a 20% discount ( friends) and free for my immediate blood! after reading this, I feel more at peace that I am in the right path. Some of them ( friends) want it for free and don’t call me back after I give them a quote but I have stopped worrying so much about how they feel about it. After all, this is a business I am trying to create not a give away agency!

    Thanks for everything you guys do for our community of artists!

  13. Pingback: How to handle a client that wont pay | Maria Brophy

  14. jim brando

    Maria, Is right on as usuall, Its best really not even to do anything for friends, it never works out..A client is a client, and a friend is a friend..I know to well from all my mistakes…

  15. Pingback: How to Handle a Friends Request for Free Digital Art - Maria Brophy | Maria Brophy

  16. Anne Belov

    Hi Maria,
    I’ve followed some of your posts from time to time (via Tara Reed and linked in) but this post really hit home. despite the fact that I’ve been a working/self employed artist for more than 30 years, I still get caught in this trap from time to time. (And then spend a few weeks kicking myself) Most recently I helped a non-profit theater group with their kickstarter project, with the unwritten, but discussed (stupid, stupid) understanding that they would owe me some as yet unspecified (dope slap) help in the future. Of course, as the project neared the end, they became evasive when I brought it up. You give some really excellent suggestions for both preventing these situations in the future. I’m getting much better at saying no freebies, and here are my rates.
    Thanks for validating this view and giving me some models for the future.

    1. miss-mc

      Hi Maria,

      I love your post and I can definitely relate to the friends/family compensation issue. As a graphic designer I have experienced so many issues when dealing with my friends/family. I currently designed some artwork for a friend, they paid my upfront agreeable percentage and now that the project is complete it seems as if they are avoiding me to pay the final percentage. There is a contract in place but now I feel awkward because I have tried to contact them a couple of times and I get no response from them. From now on I really want to avoid designing anything for a friend/family member because even with a contract in place things always seem to turn weird when it comes time to pay up!


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