frbzHi there, business owners!

For some reason, today I slightly miss the regularity of the rat race. Before I go any further, I’d like to apologize for randomly stopping the 40 day devotional series. My publisher saw it, thought it would make a great book, and that was that :).

Anyway. As you know, I am passionate about relationships, and that includes business relationships as well. If there’s one problem small business owners have – from mama mahindi down the road (I feel so bad because I think Dina gave me so much free roasted corn!) to the doctor in the hospital; from the M-Pesa stand owner to the CEO in his penthouse office – it’s those friends and relatives who expect freebies. Note the word expect. It works in two ways: either they assume that the combination of your skill in a certain area and their relationship with you come together to create the perfect equation for free products and services, or they just don’t take you seriously and it simply has not crossed their minds that you actually do what you do for a living.

Look. I get it. We got into business because we love what we do. We would do it for no pay if we could get away with it. But don’t you just love how I might forget to charge for a project because I had so much fun doing it, but my bills always remember to show up? We can’t get away with it.

If you’re African like me, then one major setback you’ll face is our culture of respect and reverence for elders. We were raised hosting impromptu visitors; our parents who were in certain fields (doctors, lawyers, MPs, kiosk/supermarket owners, etc) often provided free goods and services to friends and family in good faith and out of love and our parents who weren’t in these fields simply gave money. It can be difficult for many of us business owners to relate on a business level to and with those who are older than us or who are acquainted with our families.  But what to do? Business is business, and we have to find ways to navigate that friendship with the BFF of 15 years without ruining the formal relationship when it comes to what we offer in business.

I’ll get right to some of the things I do, and some that I am hoping to do with even more seriousness.

1. Establishing boundaries. Because I learned the hard way, I’d suggest setting boundaries from the beginning. This partly has to do with things like remembering that your utility providers do not offer you freebies. That $250 or even $25 that does not look so big right now just might be the difference between being able to see your food and a wife glaring at you from across the table as you try to keep from choking on fish bones during a “compulsory” candlelit dinner.

Ask yourself some tough questions. A media practitioner such as myself might ask, “Does the fact that I do not offer freebies mean I cannot promote that non-profit or quickly look over a letter that my man wants to send to his associate?” Think about your principles, too. I personally wouldn’t charge my parents for anything, although I have been privileged to have them as clients and they insisted on overpaying me (Mom actually hands me checks while wearing a threatening you’d-better-take-this-or-else expression on her face, LOL). Are you okay, spiritually speaking, with whatever you decide? God is very okay with you getting paid. Remember, His word says whoever does not work should not eat. He also clearly speaks on payment in verses like Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14-15, Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, 1 Corinthians 9:14, and 1 Timothy 5:8.

The God who tells us not to appear before Him empty [-handed] (Exodus 23:15) would not fail to give us something with which to appear before Him. Settle all these things in your heart and determine your stand before you launch into business or go any further in it.

2. Having special offers on hand just for friends and family. How about creating special packages just for them? For every product or service you offer, create special friends-and-family discounts, coupons, birthday offers, and complementary gifts. “Here, I’ll do your wedding photos for X price, but I’ll provide a free leather-bound album,” for instance.

3. Being willing to say “No,” and preparing a speech in advance. You’ll learn, if you haven’t already, that you don’t have to agree to every project, even when it comes to paying (or rather, willingly-paying) customers. Politely Worded offers a great way to explain your stand regarding these expected freebies:

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this for free. Making jewelry (crocheting, fixing computers, practicing law) is my career and the time that I spend on this is time I can’t spend on the projects that pay the bills. Because we’re so close, though, I’d be happy to do this for half my normal price (the cost of materials, a 20% discount, in return for you doing my yardwork).”

I say recite The List if you must: Rent. Supplies. Electricity. Vendors. You have a team that needs to be paid. I am willing to go as far as to speak of my lovely coordinator who has a toddler to raise.

4. Giving gift cards on special occasions. Why not? If you believe in your business, then you will consider your products or services special enough to be presented in a cherished gift card. Be sure to pay for it yourself, though.

5. Embracing the good old barter system. I think it’s fair to be willing to trade, within reason, especially if a friend or relative has a product or service that would be beneficial to you. If your web designer friend needs tents for an event, and you, Mr/Ms Tent-Renter, need your website updated, why not switch? It worked for years for our ancestors; we can make it work for us, too. I had a lovely stylist do my hair for free in exchange for my PR services. Of course I took her offer, I was tired of breaking combs! You’d better believe my hair was amazing that summer. She thinks she got a great bargain. I think I got a great bargain. See? Everybody wins.

6. Looking into pro bono services or free products as part of the business’ CSR. It’s important to be sure that you can afford to do this, and/or take advantage of ways that you can gain from it (not manipulatively, because that defeats the purpose). By no means does this blog post suggest that you should be stingy and miserly. God says it is blessed to give! Generosity is a good thing, but we have to be wisely generous. Paul says that if a man does not provide for his household, he is worse than an infidel. It makes no sense to give to charities around the world if your children are starving. There are people who genuinely need what you have, but simply cannot afford it. Help out where you can.

7. Watching the flowery promises. I personally take people seriously when they say “Call me if you need anything!” If you ever say that to me, you’d best believe that you will get that call if something comes up that you can help with. Oh, yes you will. Try not to get carried away by your emotions or enthusiasm, no matter how attracted you are to that woman or how nice you think the pastor is. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, because people will often believe you.

8. Referring them to a similar business. Let them know you’re unable to provide the goods or services at the price that they are requesting, but that you know someone else in the same field who would be more than happy to help out. Either they’ll have a taste of the exorbitant prices out there and run right back to you, or they’ll realize that your pricing is far from unreasonable and apologetically offer to pay you your work’s worth.

9. Knowing the price of the business and the friendship. I believe that it’s important to think long-term for both the business and the friendship. Understand that what you do is valuable and will only be taken as seriously as you take it. Understand as well that reluctantly doing something while feeling like someone is taking advantage of you only plants seeds of bitterness and discord, and could open doors for other spiritual complications. Be unafraid to explain what you do and why it’s worthwhile, but also remember to tone it down; love does not vaunt itself, and you don’t want to get a call from so-and-so who heard from your cousin’s wife’s friend’s sister-in-law that you are the best chef in town and can cater their 300-guest wedding at no charge. But also ask yourself if it’s worth it to refuse to edit that 100-word document and lose the friendship.

10. Whipping out the paperwork. This works wonderfully for me when I’m having trouble getting through. I listen patiently (or try to; I think I listen patiently) and simply say something to the effect of, “Great; I’ll work out a quick proposal and send it to you right away; please look it over and let me know your thoughts.” Or, “I’m actually at my desk right now. Let me quickly email you an estimate.”  I send the email right away. If you do this, and they agree to your proposal, let them sign a contract to ensure this does not become an issue later on. If they don’t and they are mature, then you can part business ways while hopefully remaining friends.

Did this help? Business owners, how do you deal with friends and relatives who expect freebies from you?



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