A friend in need
February 28, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

How to politely bring up money to a friend before I work for free?

My friend, Joe, works for a non-profit that's in the very early stages of a big, new project that's requiring him to do a lot of research. It covers some topics that I'm pretty well-versed on have helped clients with in the past. The other day at my apartment, Joe mentioned that many of my books are along the same lines of what he's currently looking into.

After talking for a while, Charlie (Joe's partner, who also works for that organization) said, "hey, you should hire her as a consultant!"
"I'd love to help brainstorm sometime!" I said. Doing some work for them would be a great experience, and would help bridge the gap while I'm looking for full-time work--something that both Charlie and Joe know about.

Since then, Joe has sent me some e-mails, including the project overview he's supposedly been working on for months. I used to be a journalist, and know how to get information quickly. (Side note: I know it's partly jealousy talking, but I don't understand how a non-profit could pay someone to do such little work for months. I don't know if he's milking it or just doesn't have the same info-gathering chops/hustle, but it's crazy.)

Joe wants to grab lunch and brainstorm. I've volunteered and have done pro bono work before, and although this does sound like a great project, for some reason I'm finding it obnoxious right now, especially since my friend knows I'm looking for work. Any suggestions on how to respond?
posted by blazingunicorn to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"What's the budget for the project"
posted by The Deej at 3:47 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Normally, I say something along the lines of:

"I'd be more than happy to offer additional advice on your project, but we'll need a more formal arrangement to cover my time. I normally charge clients $xx/hour for consulting. Let me know if you'd like to move forward and I'll work to arrange a contract."

Since it's a non-profit, maybe mention you're willing to give a discount in the message.
posted by orangeseed at 3:50 PM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Since he's a friend, why not an honest, friendly approach?

"Hey Joe, thanks for sending me the project overview. I've looked it over, and I definitely have some great ideas for how to X, Y, and Z. For example, to solve the BigProblem, we could do the EasySolution. It's very similar to what I did for PreviousEmployer. We could talk about it over lunch, but I won't be able to do much more than that, because looking for a job is a full-time job. Unless, of course, you agree with Charlie that you should bring me on as a consultant!"
posted by Houstonian at 4:01 PM on February 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

Just be up front about it, there's no shame in putting some value on your skills. After you hear him out a statement like "given what you told me, here's the estimated cost, let's pin down the details and I'll give you a firm quote and/or hourly rate".

And, examine how you feel about this, I'm getting a bit of a negative tone about how you feel towards him/the project, before you strike a deal.
posted by tomswift at 4:01 PM on February 28, 2011

Oh, I'm sure this isn't going to be helpful, but I've learned the hard way - NEVER MIX BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE. I will never again hire or work with a friend in any professional capacity.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:43 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd go for lunch, toss around some ideas, and if he likes them, tell him to hire you and you'd implement them for him. Going into that lunch, keep the words "job interview" in mind, and pitch your ideas as though you trying to land a contract. You may find that he has the same idea.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:57 PM on February 28, 2011

What Houstonian said. I'd frame it as you can help him a little for nothing, or a lot for some compensation, as time spent working with him is time spent not working for someone else/looking for work.
posted by troywestfield at 5:19 PM on February 28, 2011

You might not be helpful, HeyAllie, but it is very true most of the time. I'd never work for friends again. You will likely lose the friendship unless you are very rare people.
posted by JayRwv at 6:09 PM on February 28, 2011

Just make a clear commitment (to yourself, and everyone else) on exactly how much you want to contribute to this project on a pro-bono basis.

Offer your friends a small token amount of free advice and consultation, but clearly warn them that your involvement is strictly limited, due to time constraints (busy looking for work).

(Can you use this on a resume?)
posted by ovvl at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2011

I never work for free, even for friends. I don't care if I get paid $100, I don't work for free. I think Joe thinks that he can pick your brain in exchange for lunch and that you'll be nice. I'd send him an email about how exciting the project sounds, and how you can contribute to its success (and hint at how you can make him look good) and what your day rate is.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm the out-of-touch one, but I wouldn't expect to have to pay a friend for him sharing with me some general strategy advice over lunch. "Sounds like the first thing you should do is call this person, find out this. Once you know that, you can this other thing." As someone's friend, if I had done X professionally for a long time and found out they were about to do X, I'd just give them some tips. If my friend expected money (above the cost of lunch) for some shoot-the-shit over lunch, I'd think he was an asshole. I mean, there's "taking advantage of friends' good nature" but there's also, "that's what friends are for." Most friends would be conscious of not asking for advice more than once or twice.

Now, of course, if you came out of lunch with some agreed-upon tasking, or it started turning into being an on-going consultant (like actually doing the calling, etc.), that would call for being paid.

Maybe I'm reading the question wrong.
posted by ctmf at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2011

But if that's not the case, I'd be more of a straightforward, "hey, I'd like to help, but I'm not really in a position right now to be working for free. If you can get the accountants to spring for a few hours of consulting, I'm there."
posted by ctmf at 9:28 PM on February 28, 2011

You could tell him he can have a "half hour free consultancy" to map out some initial ideas, and that you're happy to give him a little bit of a discount on your rates after that.

In the worst case, it's very clear to him that leeching more than half an hour won't work.

If anyone gives you grief about charging money to their non-profit, you can a) ask them whether they are getting paid themselves, and/or b) suggest that you need to pay your bills, and that the electricity company looks poorly on being asked to subsidise non-profit organisations.
posted by emilyw at 12:58 AM on March 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I used ThatCanadianGirl's idea about thinking about it like a job interview, and ctmf's reality check about helping out a friend.

He bought me lunch and we had a great chat. In the end, he said that I left him with plenty of great ideas and specific next actions; if they get any more money for the project (which is in the very embryonic stage), he'll push to bring me on. Just in case he forgets, I'm definitely using Houstonian's spiel next time we talk about it.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:47 PM on March 5, 2011

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