Your parents provided for you for at least two decades of your life, and your extended family helped support you in a variety of ways. So do you “owe” it to them to help them design a website? Proofread ad copy? Give legal advice? And if you do lend your professional services for free, is there a point where you should draw the line? Is it ever OK to charge your family?
Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader come to terms with writing an invoice for his father.
I’m curious for your take on something that I don’t think is a big issue but some coworkers do. I have a background in design and currently work in a creative technology field. My dad recently started a new business; he hired a web developer to build his website, but the guy bailed before the job was done. I stepped in and helped my dad finish the site on a site-builder platform, and was able to customize an “out of the box” solution for him. We agreed that he’d pay me for the work. To put it in perspective, he paid me about 1/4 of what the other guy would have gotten in part because my solution wasn’t totally custom.
I have no problem charging my dad for design time, as I think my time is valuable and any other designer would charge for the same work. Designers already have enough trouble convincing clients that their work is valuable and worth a fair price. My coworkers, however, are horrified that I’m charging my father for my services at all. It’s not like I refused to do the work without pay, but they can’t believe I accepted his money.
What are your thoughts? We both agreed that I should be paid, and I don’t think being family automatically exempts someone from valuing my skill set. I’ve continued to slap logos on photos for him and haven’t charged him for that. It’s pretty easy to do, but it’s definitely something he would have to pay someone else to do since he can’t do it himself.
I think it’s none of your coworkers’ business. If you and your dad are both happy with this arrangement, that’s all that matters.
In general, though, I’d say that it’s pretty normal to do a small professional service for a family member for free. It would be weird to charge your mom for fixing her email settings or giving her decorating advice, even if you do either of those things professionally, but when it becomes a significant project, it’s totally reasonable to be paid for your work and your expertise.
Of course, there are all kinds of other factors that go into this. If a family member has helped you out significantly for free–given you large sums of money, let you stay with them for a month while you looked for your own housing, put back-breaking labor into helping you move–it would be pretty tone-deaf to then turn around and charge them for your own help. Although even then, if you’re making a time investment significantly larger than the help they gave you, there’s an argument that you should be compensated . . . although I’d still probably discount pretty heavily and explain the amount of time the work will take you so that you’re both on the same page about your thinking.
It’s also reasonable to say something like, “I’d love to do that for you, but it would take significant time away from paying clients. I know it’s weird to charge a family member, so I’m not sure if you’d want to go that route or if it would be less weird to just find someone else to do the work.”
Plus, sometimes charging someone can avoid some of the issues that can crop up when doing free work for family (and friends). When you’re working for free, you might be rightly annoyed by requests for multiple rounds of revisions or other high-maintenance behavior, or you might find that they don’t understand that you’ll need to prioritize their project behind paying work.
If the person compensates you, it can put you both on more familiar ground as far as expectations and boundaries go. It can also keep you from feeling resentful that everyone sees you as the free family lawyer/web designer/IT help/fill-in-the-blank. It can also come with its own murkiness too, though, as mixing money and family so often does.
There are also people who could never feel comfortable charging a family member, and that’s reasonable too.
But this is all theoretical. If this arrangement is working for you and your father, I say yay for you both (and yay for your dad for making it clear that he values your skills).
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This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.