How to Say No

Let's say you're amazing at handmade cards. You have made them for every life event over the last five years. Your friends and family love them, always commenting on how cute they are and how well you make them.

You've made so many cards and received so many compliments that you decide to open your own card-making business. You set-up an Etsy store and had a booth at the local farmer's market a few times. It's starting to take off - you smile and think: "I'm a real business!"

You tell all your family and friends that you started your business. Smile every time you tell them about a new sale and ask them to visit and share your web site/social media page. They smile back and happily oblige because they are excited too.

You continue to make cards for life events (birthdays, Christmas, weddings) but your friends and family are still asking you to make cards for their events too. For free. 

You happily didn't charge when it was a hobby because you just liked to do it, but now, you are a business. You've told them. So, why do they assume you will still ‘do them a favour’ and make one for free?

I get that it's easier to say yes - just this one time. All entrepreneurs have said yes when they really should have said no. For many, they happily oblige and help family and friends whenever they can without charging them. Many think - "it will help me build my portfolio" or "they can see my work first-hand, so they'll help promote me" or "of course, they're family".

You want the support of your family and friends but you cannot afford to lose precious time and opportunities to build your business.

Consider setting out some rules of how you will operate your business and how you will balance your time moving forward.

Here are some questions to consider before taking on an unpaid project:

  • How much time will this project take?
  • What activities or other projects will you miss by taking on this unpaid project?
  • How will this unpaid project help you?
  • Can you refer this project to someone else?
  • What will be the repercussions if you say no to this family member or friend?

Also, consider the following:

  • Tell a family member or friend that you are happy to help them – this once – but in the future, you will have to charge them.
  • Discuss the opportunity to barter (resume for laundry or web site for a week’s worth of dinners).
  • Offer a family and friend discount.
  • Explain to family and friends that you cannot take on any unpaid projects without notice (ex. 3 weeks before the project is due).
  • Simply say no.

My recommended suggestion is to be politely bold: clearly ask your friends and family to support you as your business starts and grows. You appreciate, and are thankful for, their previous support but moving forward, you will need to charge a fee for new projects.

Your friends and family are your first fans - you want to keep their support, maintain mutual respect and (hopefully) continued referrals. Show your appreciation and say thank you: take them out for dinner, buy them a gift card, have a thank you page on your web site, etc.
Little things go a long way!

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*Thanks to Miriam M. from Burlington, ON for the question.