How to Successfully Deal with Friends and Family

It is no secret, dealing with family and friends can be tough. Yes, we love them, but they can also be our most challenging clients and cause us the most frustration.  

Frankly, they can even make us question if we even want to be in business anymore.  

So what should you do when your friends or family ask you to photograph them? Here are some proven tips in dealing with friends and family that have worked well for me over the years.

Tip #1: Establish A Business Tone

When the say they want to hire you to take portraits, say, “I love that you’re considering hiring me for your next portrait session.” Immediately it lets them know that this is a business transaction AND it lets them know that you aren’t going to do this for free.  

Tip #2: Treat Them Like Every Other Client

From the outset, funnel them into your workflow process like you would any client. If you have a client form on your website, tell your Aunt Jane to go fill out that form. Don’t shortcut your process because you have a relationship with them.  

I’ve found that I make the most mistakes when I make exceptions to my process. When they ask why, I simply tell them that I want to treat them with excellence, just like any other client. I’m also transparent and let them know that when I deviate from my set systems I make mistakes, and I don’t want that to happen with them.

Tip #3: Set Your Own Price

With friends and family, you’re free to charge what you want but don’t give it away for free. We see this question so many times in our Facebook group: “What should I charge friends and family?”  

This is a tough question because, just like with most of our business decisions, there is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I charge everyone the same session retainer except for my parents, in-laws and sister. Everyone else pays the full rate.

Except when I surprise them.

If a cousin hires me, they pay the full session retainer and get the full price list with no discounts mentioned. They go through the entire process knowing they’re paying full price for the services I’m offering. But when we get to their selection and ordering appointment, I surprise them with a free wall portrait or some prints. The gift is based on how much they order.

That works so much better for me than discounting from the start. I want people (family included) to hire me because they want to work with me, not because they know they’ll get a discount.  

Why do I do this? Think about this way. If I drive a Chevy, and take my car to a Chevy dealership because my cousin is a mechanic there, he can’t work on it for free. Or if my uncle owns an HVAC repair or service company, he isn’t sending out technicians for free or replacing my air conditioner for free. I might get a small discount but nothing like I see photographers give to their family and friends.  

And the kicker is, we would never expect those services for free so why do our friends and family expect our services for free? The answer is because WE LET THEM. We let them assume that our business isn’t legitimate, and they don’t take us seriously because we don’t project legitimacy to our friends and family.

When you talk about your business to your friends and family, is it a serious business or something you just do on the side for fun?

When I first started my business, it was a side gig and that’s how I spoke about it. But as soon as I spoke about it in a serious way, as a real business that made real money, my family and friends attitudes changed.  

Tip #4: Keep Your Process The Same For Everyone

I mentioned this before, but keeping the process and professionalism the same for all my clients helps me keep things organized and also reinforces the level of professionalism my friends and family see from me.  

This means...

I don’t text or FB message with them about business

  1. They receive the same communications that all my other clients receive

  2. I use my business email and phone number when I need to communicate with them about business matters

If I establish this tone with them from the beginning (see step 2), it isn’t a problem at all.

Tip #6: Be Okay With Resistance

Honestly, they don’t have to like this arrangement. You will have friends and family that, no matter what you do, will expect your services for free. Don’t let that get to you. That’s a poor reflection on them and how they feel about your business. You can’t work for free, and setting these boundaries is key.

Dealing with friends and family can be a challenge like no other and can cause us to pull out our hair. Try to remember that you’re a business with limited time, real business expenses, and bills to pay. Setting boundaries with friends and family from the start will help the entire process so everyone is happy in the end.

For more helpful tips on how to navigate hard situations in your business, be sure to check out our full selection of classes geared toward helping photographers create successful client experiences. 

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For more tips on how to deal with challenging situations in our business be sure to check out  the classes we have in our Customer Experience section for our members.