What to do when you are asked for mates’ rates and freebies

Telling people you know – politely but firmly – that they need to pay for your services is an ongoing challenge for some in the trade. Chris Mellor-Dolman, head of marketing at workwear specialist Scruffs, offers some tips 

You’re out with friends or at a family party when someone asks you about a leaky pipe or their home renovation project. Are they hoping for a discount or, worse still, a freebie? We all like to offer advice where we can, but a ‘quick’ job can soon turn into something bigger, while a one-off favour might show you’re prepared to do more work in the future. So what do you do?

Be upfront from the start
The last thing you want to do is complete a job for someone, only for them to assume they will pay trade prices for materials or nothing at all. During that time, you could have taken work from a customer who pays in full, which means you’re left out of pocket.

If a friend asks you to ‘pop over and look at something’ let them know how much it is likely to cost. Ensure your charges reflect the time and skills required to complete the job, and only give them a discount if you’re comfortable doing so. People love to shout about a deal, so if you reduce the price for one family member or friend, others might question why you didn’t do the same for them!

Avoid awkward conversations
Talking money in person or over the phone can be difficult, so stick to your usual quoting and billing processes. A verbal quote or invoice is fine – but it’s also a good idea to send a written one to avoid confusion providing a break down of costs for labour and parts. Inform potential customers if it’s going to be an expensive job and give them the option to decline or explore other options.

Delegate where possible
Sometimes a trusted colleague in your business is the best person to lead a project for friends and family. That way, you can create distance and avoid the risk of damaging your relationship.

Professionalism is key
When someone you know is prepared to pay, make sure you offer the same professional service other customers receive. Simple things, like arriving on time, tidying up and wearing suitable clothes, show you are taking the job seriously and that you offer value-for-money.

Skills swap?
While it’s tempting to accept a friend’s offer to build a website for your business, in return for free plumbing services, there are tax implications. Always speak to your accountant before agreeing to swap services, as it might cost more than you think.

Not surprisingly, friends and family provide a real boost to your business, both as customers and by telling others about your services. Just remember that free work doesn’t pay the bills, so be brave, stay professional, and say ‘no’ if you have to.

For more information about Scruffs, click here.

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