Dear Hobie & Monk,
I am a professional, and occasionally my close friends come to my office for services. Should I charge them full price, offer a discount or provide free service?
– Professional Problem
Monk: Although you don’t mention what type of professional you are, I think my reply applies to most practitioners, with the ironic exception of my field, in which providing professional services for close friends and relatives is a no-no. Presumably, your friends are coming to see you because they think you are good at what you do; they trust and know you.
They also should know that you — like every other professional trying to make a living — have bills to pay, including utilities, office rent and insurance. So, when your buddies come to see you at your office, where you work — not voluntarily — I suggest reining in the freebies or discounts. This doesn’t mean you can’t give the free hair cut in the kitchen or tax advice during intermission or whatever it is you do on an informal basis outside of office hours.
Hobie: This is one of those times when I dearly wish that we had more details. Are we talking about a dentist? Masseur? Accountant? Attorney? Interior designer? Exotic dancer? I agree with Monk in theory: Professionals should be paid for their work — even by friends — and especially those professionals who in turn have to file for third-party reimbursement of some kind or don’t really set their rates or aren’t their bosses.
In those cases, they truly would be losing profits or potentially their jobs to give friends a financial discount for services. In other professional realms, though, where your friends have more control over not only their work but also what they charge or what freebies they can offer, a “friends and family” discount is often an acceptable norm.
My hairstylist also is a friend, and I’m quite sure I get extra free samples (maybe she’s showing preference to a loyal customer and pal, or maybe it’s her subtle way of suggesting improvements to my grooming regimen). In any case, the bottom line is that any offer should come from you — friends should never expect or ask for any special treatment — and you’ll want to think about setting a precedent that others may expect you to follow.
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Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.