When you offer a service, the amount of people who come out of the woodwork to claim their "family and friends" discount is incredible. You can save friendships and avoid family drama simply by setting boundaries that separate friend time from business time. Here are a few helpful pointers on how to prepare yourself and never feel taken advantage of again.
As photographers, a fair amount of business coming through the door is often obtained via referrals. This means a steady stream of clients can be friends and acquaintances. Some people feel they are entitled to a discount or freebie because of their relationship with a photographer. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will... and you would be wise to be prepared for when it does. The most important concern is to set terms both immediately and clearly. Will discounts be offered? If so, determine what the discounted rates will be. Decide who will qualify for price breaks, consider whether acquaintances should get the same breaks that you give friends, and be aware that word could spread about whatever discount was offered to other people.
To avoid being caught off guard, this should all be done before it’s brought up in conversation by your friend or family member. Some photographers may feel pressured to agree to discounts when not prepared. If you don’t feel comfortable giving price breaks to friends or family, they should understand your reasons why. However, if you decide to offer certain discounts to friends and/or family, this is what you need to consider.
When working for friends, boundaries need to be set early. Make a point to be clear on which “hat” you're wearing if doing business with friends. For example, if you're meeting up to discuss wedding photography and a contract, let your friend know it will strictly be a business visit. The lines are too easily blurred otherwise and could put your feelings and friendship at risk. Treat them exactly as a client from the get go. It’s important to manage expectations throughout the entire process. Learning how to say no is something empowering, not only in life but business as well. Setting terms may be easier via email than done face-to-face. Contrarily, clients-turned-friends will have these boundaries instilled in them already.
Lastly, everything you agree upon should be added to the contract. A verbal agreement isn't a very strong argument if a dispute were to arise. This should be the standard contract used with additions to the exceptions you've agreed upon including extended payment periods and price cuts. It may seem like overkill to have a contract with a close friend, but it will protect both parties from getting burned.
There are several options when choosing which route to take regarding discounts, but here are a few of my favorites. First, no discount. We've got to eat, man. About a quarter of the photographers I asked agreed with this, although some did donate a few shoots to those in need each year. Second, create a friends-only price guide that you send instead of the standard one. However, keep in mind that creating two price lists every time you modify your rates is double the hassle. Third, and most popular, is to send the usual price sheet with a determined discount. This illustrates the value in your work, as well as the friendship. If you find placing a direct value on your friendship tacky or awkward, gift the session or base the percentage-off on years known (e.g. 1-5 years is 5% off, 5-10 is 10%, and so forth). I may just build a prize wheel and make my friends take their luck determining their rate for my shoots from now on. Ultimately, the choice is yours to decide which method is more valuable in each situation.
Personally, I tend to be overly agreeable and accommodating to a fault with people. I force myself to deal in business terms almost exclusively via email. This way I can formulate a friendly, business-wise response. I like helping my close friends out, and usually just gift them the small sessions. If they insist on payment, I give them the standard 20 percent off as well as offering them my cost of prints with no markup. Albeit, my accountant gives me "the look" every time I do that. It’s crucial in business to remember that revenue cannot be overlooked or minimized. The truth is, a number of us are bending over trying to please people, and often at our own expense. Being prepared for these interactions will reduce the feeling of being taken advantage of and lead to happy friends, happy family, and additional business revenue.