I am not *your* code monkey
August 23, 2009 3:34 PM   Subscribe

I am a web developer and often find myself in situations where acquaintances, friends and family request that I build web sites or web store for free or extremely cheap. How do I handle these tedious requests? How have you handled them?

Here's an example. Two of my family members have decided for me that I'm going to deploy a very basic web store for them for $700 (I didn't know about the money or the sum before it was in my bank account). This despite me telling them that I have no interest what so ever in doing *any* kind of web development work - paid or non-paid - outside of my regular work, but of course they disregarded that. The stuff that I have to do on this project itself is mostly about installing a web store application, configure stuff, add products to the store, etc (there will probably be very little coding) but it still takes time and energy.

Is it reasonable to do this stuff of work for your family members? Am I being the douche bag here? Personally, I feel that people are taking advantage of me and I'm probably passive aggressive about the whole thing. Also, because this has happened many times before, I'm becoming increasingly bitter towards some of my family members and friends. I guess I'm something of a pushover and people pleaser too, so I have a hard time saying "no" or making sure that people understand that I really mean it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a thread by Metafilter members who helped me escape my friend's Web design project from hell.
posted by Kirklander at 3:36 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd give them the money back along with a referral to someone you know who could do the job and needs the work. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:36 PM on August 23, 2009

They are asking you mostly because they know you and trust you to not screw them over. Your actual skills and output are likely secondary, it's mostly about trust. If you find someone that you personally recommend and trust and give them that person's name and - and this is the important part - REFUSE to do any work for them, it will not be an issue for long. They are asking you to do the work and you are doing it, regardless of what you say you want or don't want to do. They will continue browbeating you into doing the work until you just stop. So don't do it, and give them a personal recommendation and then stay the fuck out of it. Repeat as necessary.
posted by 8dot3 at 3:41 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give the money back and say no thanks.

Or send them an invoice for what it would really cost you at your going rate, minus the $700. Always charge friends and family more for real work. They are always the biggest pains in the ass and should pay accordingly.
posted by chillmost at 3:43 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

IMO your problem has nothing to do with the work itself and everything to do with setting boundaries, both generally and within specific family relationships.

Say no, you just can't. Like this:

I'm sorry, I just can't do that.
Can I help you find someone you can trust to do the work?
Sorry, that doesn't work for me.
I really am swamped with other work and I just can't. No, it won't take 2 hours. I'm not doing it.
I'm overbooked as it is for the next 6 months and I'd let other people down.
Can I get back to you? (wait small amt of time, then: Sorry, I just can't do it.)
...And my personal favorite that sends people running: I need to pray about this.

Practice saying it out loud. Say it to these family members. Repeat as needed for school volunteer requests, family website development, PTA or preschool committee dragooning, or frequent requests for cheap/free babysitting for kids of friends and family.

Warning: do not give actual concrete reasons as to why you can't participate. People will just steamroll over them or try to negate them. It does not matter WHY. You just don't want to do this and know it's a bad thing for you. So say "I can't do that." And let them figure their own solution out.

And then decide if you want to see a therapist to help you strengthen your boundaries, or maybe just read some good books on the topic.
posted by mdiskin at 3:58 PM on August 23, 2009 [18 favorites]

I don't think you're being a douche-bag if they dropped the money and the work on you (unbidden) and expect you to go along with it. Personally, I'd freak out loudly and completely unambiguously if someone did that to me.

You could return the money with a "no thanks", or get *really* busy and just take every opportunity to say "oh, I'm so damn busy, not sure if I'll have a chance to do that thing but maybe I'll get a chance to look at it next weekend. Or maybe the weekend after that. So much on..." I have been sucked into website projects (for example for a charity) which became a living hell. Keep out of it, there's no such thing as an easy web project: they'll be pickier and more awkward than your most awkward client so far.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 4:01 PM on August 23, 2009

Oh, and another thing: try the firm "no thanks" because (who knows?) they might think they're doing you a favour in reality. It's surprising how often a straight but firm "No" is met with an easygoing "OK, no problem."
posted by BrokenEnglish at 4:03 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of setting boundaries: How are people transferring money into your bank account without your knowing about it?
posted by odinsdream at 4:05 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to say no, send the money back, and never work for friends or family.

The bad outweighs the good about 100:1.
posted by rokusan at 4:07 PM on August 23, 2009

odinsdream's point is a very good one.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:11 PM on August 23, 2009

of course they disregarded that.

Did they disregard your lack of interest because you went ahead and helped them anyhow? I have this problem. I can fix almost any computer so people want me not to just fix their computers but to also fix their friends' computers because they're proud that I have a skill and they think I sort of do this for fun. And I do, when I'm doing it of my own volition, can choose the people I work with and can set my rates/time limit appropriatly. You can't do that with these people and so it's causing you stress.

mdiskin really has the right approach. Say no, don't give excuses, be firm but not assholish. No one can make you do web development that you do not want to do. They can be prickly about it, but that's on them. Be polite but say no, return money, say thank you but say no.

I totally sympathize and you are not a douchebag, but this situation is partly of your own making and so it's going to be a little tricky to back out of, so you may want to frame it as a New Year's Resolution or something "From now on I'm not doing any web development work outside of my job" and then just move on. Good luck, I know it's tricky and difficult.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another vote for just being upfront and set boundaries.

Working in IT, people in my field run into the same issue..."Hey, can you just come over real quick and fix this for me?"

Taking advice of others, I've made it policy to not do any IT work for others outside of actual work. The key is to make it consistent- I don't do it for anyone, so nobody asks me. I get the occasional advice question, which I'm find with as long as it doesn't go in to actual work. The only people I make exceptions for are my parents since they at least treats me to a good steak.

The other problem with saying "fine" is it soon starts to become, "Oh, here's another $600...now 500...oh, how about just $200?" Working with family is something to stay away from I reckon.

For you specific case, I'd return the money and say thanks, but no thanks and leave it at that.
posted by jmd82 at 4:13 PM on August 23, 2009

Suggest the name of a good designer you know when asked what to do in these situations.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:21 PM on August 23, 2009

odinsdream: "Along the lines of setting boundaries: How are people transferring money into your bank account without your knowing about it?"

Paypal. Not in a bank account per se, but perhaps in the OP's Paypal account.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:25 PM on August 23, 2009

I guess I'm something of a pushover

I think I found your problem.

Seriously—if you don't want to do the work, then simply say "no". If they're pushy about it, they're out of line—just because you have a valuable skill doesn't mean you have any obligation to spend your precious time on this Earth doing work for them—and you're well within your rights to say "no" louder and more pointedly.

If they're transferring money into your bank account with the assumption that you're (a) going to do a particular job for them (b) for that particular amount of money, without even mentioning it to you first, then they're way the fuck out of line and need to be put in check posthaste.

Being assertive doesn't make you a meanie. Return the money, explain civilly to them why their behavior is inappropriate (it is), and return to your regularly scheduled programming. It's as simple as that. There is no magical way to communicate "no" other than saying "no".
posted by ixohoxi at 4:33 PM on August 23, 2009

As already mentioned friends and family look to you as you have specific expertise in the area. They do not want to pay over the odds.

For this reason I usually say I will offer advice and review any proposals that are put forward by 3rd parties but will strictly not be involved in the build or implementation. This sets the boundaries and stops my friends and family from getting ripped off.
posted by errspy at 4:51 PM on August 23, 2009

"Thanks for the vote of confidence in my skills, but really the last thing I want to do when I finish my full-time job is more work. But here's the name of a guy I know who's just as good as I am."


"Sorry, but I do need to charge appropriate rates for my services, and my rate is actually $X. I'll give you the family discount (10% maybe), but I can't go any lower than that, sorry."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:20 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing others' posts that this is a boundaries issue. You set the boundaries, that's your prerogative.

"No, sorry, I can't." No explanation needed. It's your life, your time, your space.

And I say this as someone who says yes to requests far more than she should.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2009

For now, write a check back to them for the $700, and tell them you can't do it right now. No further explanation needed.

I'm not a web developer, but I am an photographer, and my friends and family are well aware that "I don't work for family/friends." It's a policy I developed after I got taken advantage of a couple times (by different people). They know I'm more than happy to recommend super talented colleagues to them that can quote them a fair rate, and I have a couple friends that will send me their people. (As of now, neither of us have ever gotten any work from this arrangement, once people realize they're going to have to spend actual money.)

That said, I have done portraits and whatnot for people for free, but it was always because I initiated it for either a personal project, or wanted to learn something (new lighting, new camera, whatever), or just felt like getting experience, and they were clear that I didn't owe them anything (except maybe a jpeg for facebook). But it always was (and always will be) my decision.

You are not being selfish at all. You're not being passive-aggressive. If you don't want to do it, or if you feel like you're not being compensated fairly, don't do it. I can be a bit of a pushover too, but you HAVE to be stubborn about this. Just because you share DNA doesn't mean that they get to take advantage of you. You do not "owe" them a website. This is your job. This is your career. You're allowed to be selfish. You're REQUIRED to be selfish.

I suggest you develop a similar policy to mine, and if anyone questions you, just say "you know, I can't really do that right now, but I have a friend/know a company that can help you out, I'll email you their info, I'm sure they'd be glad to work with you."
posted by AlisonM at 7:12 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the responses above about simply saying no, but might add a further suggestion - confound them a bit with gibberish tech talk, to explain why it would be a bad idea, eg:

"Oh, I took a quick look, and that shopping cart you want is based on CSS & perlscript, which I have absolutely no experience with. My expertise is in packaging asynchronous COBOL portlets over encrypted XML pipes, which wouldn't work at all in your environment. It'd take at least six months of study to get up to even a n00b level of programming ability..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:34 PM on August 23, 2009

Pass it off under the "Don't mix business and pleasure" guise. Say that you've found that taking on friends and family as clients doesn't work out because personal relationships and business relationships function differently.
posted by Phoenix42 at 8:05 PM on August 23, 2009

Here is how I often handle these requests. If it's someone who want to help but not actually execute the work, I'll tell them I'm unable to do the work personally or be involved in any details of the project, but I'd be willing to give them some high-level advice about their project, e.g. what technologies or whom to use. I set clear boundaries regarding this. I often refer them to someone else I have worked with, or if they send me the webpage of someone they're considering hiring, I'll take a look, and let them know my opinion. This way, you're still helping them they're getting the benefit of your expertise and providing a favor, but you're not obliged to get involved in a project you don't have time or energy for.
posted by lsemel at 8:20 PM on August 23, 2009

For people wondering about the bank account stuff: in my experience banks are not too particular about letting people deposit relatively small sums of money into other people's accounts, especially if you live in a small town or are generally friendly with the tellers at your local branch. My dad -- whose name was not on my checking account -- used this method to give me money when I was in college, and I've gone over to my local Wachovia and dropped $17 into a friend's account when I owed her money for dinner. If anonymous and his relatives use the same bank, then the nice teller was probably happy to drop $700 into his account from his uncle/cousin/sister whomever.
posted by junkbox at 8:34 PM on August 23, 2009

Say this....."Thanks so much for thinking of employing me for your project..but I have too much to do at my full time job and it is my firm policy never to freelance...ever!--(if I did I'd be spreading myself too thin and I wouldn't be able to do a good job on your project)...but, thanks again for thinking of me--that was kind of you!" (then return deposited money). Deliver all with big smile and confidence.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:25 PM on August 23, 2009

Along the lines of setting boundaries: How are people transferring money into your bank account without your knowing about it?
You can do this in the Netherlands (and possibly other EU countries) electronically, if you know the person's bank account number.

posted by transporter accident amy at 11:12 PM on August 23, 2009

Set up a web store for your services and politely directly them to your website when they ask.
posted by AnandV at 12:10 AM on August 24, 2009

My approach to this in the past has been to say "well I can do it on my schedule, and I'll give you a reasonable rate" then email them a quote that's reasonable but much more than they were probably expecting. Send them an itemised quote for $7,000 and ask them to confirm that the $700 down payment on the job.
posted by sycophant at 4:35 AM on August 24, 2009

You can do this in the Netherlands (and possibly other EU countries) electronically, if you know the person's bank account number.

And even internationally if you know their IBAN number, which is basically their account number prefixed with some bank info.
posted by DreamerFi at 4:44 AM on August 24, 2009

I've found that explaining that you, personally, would normally invoice £15,000 for this kind of work but you know a guy who'll do an excellent job for £3000 will get them off your back and raise your status as well.
posted by Hogshead at 4:51 AM on August 24, 2009

There's a country song by Lorrie Morgan entitled "What Part of 'No' Don't You Understand?"

I'm always surprised that people need to ask the hive mind how to say a simple, one-syllable word. There is no easy way to be indirect or polite if you are dealing with people who have no common courtesy or respect themselves.

Just. Say. No.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:58 AM on August 24, 2009

I only do work for friends or family for favors; I don't take cash. And, I expect the favors to be very, very interesting.

If they don't have an interesting enough favor, I simply forward them the URLs of the top 5 or so DIY site builders along with one more expensive recommendation and explain that I don't have the time.
posted by TheOtherSide at 5:24 AM on August 24, 2009

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