If I had a dollar for every time I heard this I would not need to work a day in my life.

What you are being asked is to provide the skills and expertise you have developed for free because of friendship.  Immediately, the guilt factor kicks in and you think, well they are my friend I should help them out.

Countless times over the years, the phone rings at home and it’s a person casually I know from work or someone who is an acquaintance.  They know what I do and the conversation usually starts with “Can I pick your brain on something” or “Can I ask you a computer question?”  Apparently, after all this time of passing in the hall, I have become one of their best friends.  All of a sudden I’m supposed to drop what I’m doing to take care of their problem.

Not trying to sound like an ogre, but why is it the only time someone calls is when they need free help?

The principle of “work for pay”

When people want a website built for them, either free or possibly for my cost, it is telling me to steal from my paying clients.  There are companies that put out good money for my services and expect quality service for that amount. If I take on a website for free, the time I spend working on it is time I’m not spending on the paying clients.  I am essentially stealing from them.

So, what can you do?  How can you stay friends with someone by not doing free things for them?

Real friends will understand if you just tell them that with the paying clients you have, you just don’t have the time to take on a free project. If they are not your real friend, they will try to guilt you into taking it on anyway. I’m not Robin Hood and they aren’t starving.

What am I worth?

There was a phrase I saw that said “Starving artists work for free; thriving artists know what they’re worth.”  Doing work for free to gain experience is wonderful.  That’s what interns do and it helps them grow in their skill.  But I’m not an intern.  I know what I’m doing and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

Once you are able to move out on your own and not be in learning mode, it’s time to stop working for free. As it says in Luke 10:7 – …the labourer is worthy of his hire…  You do the job and are compensated for it but not with conditional friendship.

When someone asks me to build them a site or fix their computer, I have started by asking “what is your budget?”  This brings money into the conversation without being rude. They will either tell you what their budget is or tell you they don’t have any money for the job. That’s when you can explain to them that this is what you do for a living, and you don’t work for free.  Real friends will understand.  You don’t go to a friend’s restaurant and expect them to give you free meals every time you walk in, so why should someone who owns a restaurant expect you to do your job for free?

Sometimes it can be OK

If you are comfortable with giving a friend a cheaper rate because you have the extra time, that is your prerogative, but people should not expect special favors at every turn.

Things to watch out for when being approached by friends are the way things are worded.  Can you help me with something is friend code for will you do this for free.  Asking you to take a quick look or tweak something is a snare that will make you that person’s personal IT support desk.  Once you do something for free, they have you hooked and you can never get away.

An interesting article at makes some great points.  It says there are only four times you should work for free:

  1. You’ll gain legitimate exposure
  2. You’ll gain real-life experience
  3. You’ll gain an impressive addition to your resume
  4. It’s a cause you believe in.

The article closes with: “If you don’t value your time, other people won’t either”

Friends are great, but real friends understand.  You can always meet someone new at the unemployment line.