Writing for friends: A recipe for disaster

It always seems safe enough…You know, when a friend or family member approaches you to do them a favor?  How hard can it be to write for someone you know and love?  It’s not like you are going in business together.

However…

It is a recipe for a dilemma that might be hazardous to your health.  It’s not so much the doing a favor for a friend or family member, it is actually accepting a business proposition from them.

Here is a hypothetical situation:  Joe is a great writer, and even though his area of expertise is primarily in journalism, his buddy Frank has a start-up marketing company, and he needs help with ads, press releases, and various advertorial-driven copy.  As you probably know, it is hard for any of us freelance writers to turn down a paying writing gig, so Joe tentatively accepts the offer.  I mean–how hard can this be, right?  As a news journalist, Joe is used to doing a good amount of research, so what he doesn’t know, he will research and find out.

For the first couple of times things work out okay, until suddenly the wind shifts.  Keep in mind, Frank and Joe are still good friends, so naturally the normal business boundaries set between a freelance writer and an employer do not exist.  The territory is simply too familiar.  Just when things seem to be working out well, Frank frantically emails Joe with a rush job. Normally Joe would charge extra for anything rushed, but Frank is his buddy and there are no established rules of business etiquette between them.  Joe feels obligated and pressured, yet he willingly agrees.

As with any rush job, the pressure is on.  Regardless of who you are writing for when there is pressure to get something done, it changes things a bit.  It is during this time that those feelings hidden underneath the surface, begin to rise to the top.  It is never a good idea to work when you are frustrated, especially because writing requires so much concentration.  At any rate–you are under the gun, wishing you had never said yes, but this is for Frank, so you suck it up and do your best to accommodate him.

Somewhere between the rush and completion is another problem lurking in the corner.  While Frank promised to pay you for this rush job, he neglected to mention to you that he cannot pay you until he gets paid.  In fact, weeks go by and you hear nothing back from Frank.  Even though you have seen your copy in the next issue of “whatever,” you have not in-so-much as seen a dime!

You politely shoot an email to Frank, just to make certain that the check went out, but instead of getting an immediate response (something you  are normally used to because you are close friends), you never hear back at all.  Once you are over the shock of being treated so disrespectfully, you put in a call  to Frank’s mobile phone.  After-all, it is the fastest way to access him, and because he’s your buddy, he “always” answers the phone.  Not this time.  Frank does not take your call. You write it off, saying to yourself:  “Oh, he’s probably in a business meeting and will get back to me shortly.”  After waiting 3 or 4 days for Frank to respond, you decide to call again.  When the call immediately goes to his voicemail, this time you feel a tinge of bubbling irritation rise up in your insides.

Four weeks later, you send him a rather stern email reiterating your commitment to friendship, but stating your astonishment for his lack of professionalism, while reminding him that you rushed to do this for him because he is a friend.  Finally, you get an email back.  “Hey buddy, sorry about the lag.  I’m waiting on the company who hired me to send me a check.  We’re all hurtin’ here, and I will let you know as soon as it comes in.”

Now that bubbly sensation moves to a potential gasket being blown, as you rant about Frank and his clueless lack of professionalism. No amount of Alka-Seltzer Plus is going to make this go away.   In fact, you are so irritated that you begin to discuss this with a stranger at your niece’s wedding when this person flippantly refers to your freelance writing career as an easy way  to make money from home.  You have had one too many cocktails, and that bubbling irritation begins to erupt!

Six weeks later, you get your insignificantly small check, with a little note of thanks stroking you with a dozen accolades, and the promise that you will be mentioned on his new-to-be-developed business website.  “It’s all about you buddy!  You’re the shinning star, cause don’t you know I couldn’t have done it without you?”

Now, your friendship is in serious turmoil because you’ve lost total respect for Frank.  In addition, you most assuredly will never do anything else for him again—or at least that is your profession.  Hopefully you have learned your lesson and come to the realization, that friendship and business should not ever be mixed.

So, here are some suggestions when you  are tempted to work for a family member or friend:

  • Resist every impulse.
  • Working for a family member or friend will not guarantee career satisfaction or advancement.
  • This is not just a dilemma, but it is a recipe for disaster.
  • Ask yourself, “How much do I value this relationship,?” Because it might be compromised.
  • Remember Joe and Frank?  They don’t even get together for Monday night football anymore.

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