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Working with Friends and Family

An Article for Programa by Andrew Mitchell (Founder, The Design Coach)

Image by Jud Mackrill, Unsplash

Working with friends and family can seem like a dream scenario, combining personal relationships with professional collaborations. After all, you share a bond of trust and familiarity, right? However, there also exists a potential minefield of challenges if boundaries are not put in place and the right expectations aren’t managed. Most importantly, if things go wrong, you could be putting precious relationships at risk.

When starting a new business, working with friends and family can be the best way to establish a portfolio. However, it’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of such collaborations to make an informed decision. The Design and Architecture industries present unique challenges in these situations. This blog explores the difficulties that arise in areas such as fees, discounting, contracts, and terminating work agreements, and provides some Quick Tips for ensuring you set up the working relationship with the best chances for success.

Navigating financial matters, including fees, can be a significant challenge when working with friends and family. Determining fair compensation for services rendered can be complicated, especially when the lines between personal and professional relationships blur. It's crucial to have open and honest conversations about fees, considering market rates, the scope of work, and the value provided. Transparency and clear communication can help avoid misunderstandings and resentment.

Whether you choose to charge full price, offer a discount or work for free, there needs to be a professional approach taken that makes sure everyone is on the same page. From personal experience, the biggest challenges come from not having these (perhaps awkward) conversations upfront and setting clear expectations from the outset.

Image by Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

Protecting Relationships

One of the primary challenges of working with friends and family is finding the delicate balance between personal and professional relationships. It's essential to establish clear boundaries and maintain a level of professionalism to prevent conflicts from affecting personal connections. Setting expectations upfront can help avoid misunderstandings and maintain respect for each other's time, expertise and money.

It’s important to remember that you don’t always have to say yes to working with a friend or a member of your family. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to say no. If you don’t have the capacity or have any reservations about how the working relationship might affect your personal relationship, let them know that you’re not available to help.

It’s a good idea to work on a script that you can roll out for such situations. For those people pleasers who find it hard to say no, fall back on your full work schedule, and consider referring them to a colleague who you know will be a good fit for them.


  • Where possible, make an agreement not to talk about the project outside your standard business hours.

  • If you need to manage the project outside regular work hours, schedule in set times for meetings, and agree that the project won’t be discussed outside these meeting times.

  • Create a set of Guidelines that set and manage expectations around communication methods, operation hours, etc.

  • Develop a script for those situations where you want to say no to a friend or family member to handle the situation with tact and diplomacy.

Image by Emma Dau, Unsplash

Keep it Professional

Working with friends and family sometimes leads to an informal approach, neglecting the use of the usual formal processes and paperwork. However, no matter how big or small the project, it’s important to operate professionally by following your standard operating procedures.

Contracts are crucial in any professional collaboration, as they establish clear expectations, protect all parties involved, and minimize the risk of misunderstandings or disputes. Working with friends and family is no exception. In fact, considering the importance of these relationships, it’s even more crucial to have such an agreement in place. Creating a well-drafted contract that outlines the scope of work, fees, timelines, and termination clauses can help preserve the professional relationship by ensuring everyone's rights and responsibilities are defined.

Ending a work agreement with a friend or family member can be emotionally challenging. However, it's important to prioritize professionalism and business interests when necessary. Clearly defining termination clauses in contracts beforehand can make this process smoother. It's advisable to have an open and honest conversation about the reasons for termination, providing constructive feedback while acknowledging the personal relationship. Balancing empathy and professionalism during this time can help mitigate the impact on personal connections.


  • Follow your standard process (don’t have one? Download our free E-Book “The TDC 9 Stage Design Process”)

  • Create a detailed Scope of Work for the project to ensure you are all clear on what’s included and what’s not included (learn how to create a Rock Solid Scope of work via our free E-Book)

  • Create a formal proposal and contract with Terms and Conditions (Don’t have T&C? Check out our Comprehensive and Abridged Contracts)

  • As with any project, take the time to run through your main Terms and Conditions before getting started on the project. Have an honest discussion to address that if things don’t go well, either one of you may need to terminate the contract.

Image by Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash

Design Fees and Discounting

Friends and family often expect discounted or free services, which can create tension in the professional relationship. As a Designer or Architect, it's vital to establish the value of your expertise and not undervalue your work. Discounting services should be a deliberate decision, considering factors such as the nature of the project, your current workload, and the impact that this project may have on the scheduling of your other client work.

It’s also important to be open and honest about what you want to get from the working relationship, especially if your fees are discounted. If it’s to build a portfolio, ensure that your clients (your friends or family members) are aware that you will want to get professional photography at completion, which may involve some styling and rearrangement of exiting furniture and artwork. If you’re hoping to be able to exert your own design style on the project, ensure that your clients are willing to give you this degree of creative freedom.

If you are discounting or doing the work for free, it’s imperative that your clients know what the full cost of your services would otherwise be. This enables them to understand the full value of your services and allows them to fully appreciate the gesture of your discount. Without this conversation, there is a strong possibility that you will begin to resent them should the project become challenging.


  • Be honest and upfront about what you want to get out of the working relationship and have this discussion upfront.

  • Always create a Fee Estimate to accompany the Scope of Work for the project.

  • Show your clients (friends or family members) what the full price for your services would be, even if you choose to do the work for free.

  • Make sure that you’re not compromising the financial health of your business by taking on this project at a discounted rate.

Image by Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

Product Purchasing and Trade Pricing

One of the most common requests from friends and family is to access our trade discounts. This can be something as simple as a single piece of furniture, or a whole house of materials, finishes, fittings and furnishings.

From past experience, this is rarely a straightforward process of just placing an order on behalf of your friend or family member. There is generally time involved in product selections, which needs to be done in consideration to the rest of the design scheme, and often involves customisation. Consideration also needs to be given to the logistics of following up on manufacture and arranging delivery.

Business owners should consider the time required to assist the clients in the selections and make all the arrangements for the manufacturing and delivery prior to committing to taking this (even small) project on board. There is no obligation to pass on trade discounts, but if you choose to do so, a formal quote should be prepared showing full retail pricing, trade pricing and nominating the amount of discount they are receiving, so that your friends or family members know the full value they are receiving. Using a software program like Programa enables you to communicate this information effectively.

As if dictated by Murphy’s Law, if something is going to go wrong with an order, it’s likely to be one that you’re doing for a friend or family member for free. Ensure you have strong terms around warranties and defects in the contract that you share with them prior to getting started


  • Include strong terms in your contract about warranties and the process for following up on defects.

  • Be clear on your terms around Margins on Product prior to commencing the project.

  • If you’re passing on your trade pricing, wherever possible, get the clients (your friends or family) to pay the supplier directly so that you’re not taking on the liability of the order.

Image by Dylan Gillis, Unsplash

While working with friends and family in the Design and Architecture industry offers unique opportunities for collaboration, it also presents several challenges. By addressing issues such as fees, discounting, contracts, and terminating work agreements through open communication and the setting of clear expectations, it's possible to navigate these challenges and preserve both personal and professional relationships.

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