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February 22, 2002

Friends and Clients

© 2002, Douglas E. Welch

If you work in a high-tech career long enough you are bound to develop relationships. Work for your clients long enough and you will probably make a few friends among them. In some cases, your friends might even become your clients. This has been the case with more than a few of my friends and clients and vice versa. Whichever way these relationships occur, it is important to remember that, friends or not, it is still a business relationship. Here are a few guidelines that can help you walk the fine line between friend and client.


Regardless of whether you are working for a regular client or a friend-client, payment, in some form, should always be expected and offered. Placing a value on your work is very important and will help you develop your career. It is unfortunate, and unintended in most cases, but people can discount the importance of your work if you give it away for free. If you want your friends to respect you and your work, you need to charge them for your services.

That said, I can and do offer a discount to my friends, or offer to barter for their services, something I wouldn’t offer to an average client whom I just started working with. If I am going to go to a friend's house, hang out and have lunch or dinner, I will charge them for no more than the actual time. In some cases, I might even just charge them a token fee of 1/2 hour if it is something small and simple. These decisions are made on an ad hoc basis depending on the situation and the people. You will need to evaluate your own decisions using your own guidelines, but hopefully my experiences can offer you some insight.

Despite all this talk about money I do donate my time quite regularly. My last big volunteer project was a series of Internet classes at my local library. I gave these classes every 2 weeks for almost 5 years. It was a wonderful experience and I think you are well served by donating a bit of your time to good causes. I met many wonderful people and felt that I opened the door to the Internet for hundreds of people that attended. What’s more, I even developed several long-term clients from those classes, even though I never presented a hard sell, heck, even a soft sell, for my computer services. I believe, what goes around comes around. Do a bit of good for others and it will come back to you.

Business is business

If you are working for a friend-client, it is important to behave as you would with any other client. While I might be more casual with a friend-client, I concentrate on getting the work done first, and then socializing. After all, they are paying you for your time, so you shouldn’t waste it. This is not to say that you can’t joke around and be friendly, but be aware, if you spend too much time on socializing you are going to have to give them a break on your fee, charging them only for the time worked. I believe that is only fair. There is a possibility that they might not respect your work as much if you spent a lot of time joking around. It is a fine line to walk.

While I hate being judged by the way I dress, and absolutely detest formal offices, I do maintain a certain level of business wear that my clients come to identify as "Doug Work Wear". If I am visiting a friend on business I maintain my business wear, even if we will be "hanging out" afterwards. I feel I owe them the same respect as any other client and so I don’t dress down just because I am with a friend.

Finally, there are times when you will only be visiting your friend-client for work and not socializing. Usually these are emergency calls, but sometimes their busy schedule or yours dictate this. In these cases, it is important to get in, get it done and get out. Don’t linger and talk about the kids or their work. You can always get together later when you both have the time and energy to "hang out" as friends.

Clients become friends and friends become clients, but maintaining a few simple rules can help you navigate the channel between both. Friends should show a certain amount of respect for your work and you should show respect for them as clients. Out of this respect can grow some wonderful relationships and greatly improve your satisfaction with your high-tech career.

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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