Small business professionals provide valuable products and services that other people need. If they didn’t, they couldn’t stay open very long, obviously. And, these professionals have friends. Often, these friends make up much of the business’s early customer base.

Trouble occurs, sadly, when these friends start wanting free work from your small business. It’s hard to say no. You want your friends to like you. They’ve supported you through thick and thin, and they’re just asking for a favor. That’s not such a big deal, right?

Wrong! You can’t afford to throw around free work. If every friend you had in your life (from close pals to business buddies) put their hand out and got a no-cost service from your business, you’d be broke fast. You need to learn to say “no” when friends and family come calling for free stuff, or you’ll hurt your business. Here are a few things to mull over.

It’s a slippery slope. Offering a free deal to a friend—just one friend—might not seem so significant. Well, maybe it’s not…but what happens next could be. You waive your invoice for one pal, and then another asks. You said ‘yes’ to the first, so you have to say ‘yes’ to the next. And the next. And the next. Suddenly, that one-time deal turns into hundreds of dollars, maybe even thousands, worth of work that you aren’t billing or getting paid for.

You’re worth it. If that freebie-seeker really is your friend, they should recognize that you’re making a living, and that your time and talent are worth paying for. If they insist on getting the fruits of your labor for free, then they’re really not your friend, are they?

Consider a discount. Depending on what services and products you offer, and what your philosophy is, you might instead offer a free-stuff hunter a deal. Make it clear that you’re not a bargain-basement operation, and that you don’t slash your rates for just anyone. Chances are they’ll appreciate the friends-and-family deal you’re offering, and it’ll help them see the worth in both your company and the relationship you have with this person.

How about a trade? You likely don’t want to work for free, but if your friend is a fellow small business pro, they might have a service that you could use. The barter system just might be the thing—for example, you offer to take photos for their adorable baby’s first birthday, and the tradeoff is they, say, fix your pesky plumbing problem. It’s a good idea to issue an invoice showing the value of the work each party is offering, so everyone knows the value of what they’re getting. It’s wise to make sure your mutual favors are roughly equivalent, dollar-wise, so neither of feels ripped off.

Now, are there exceptions to the no-freebie rule? Of course. I’ve offered my services up for no cost when the recipient is a charity, or when the person asking reps an organization that can offer benefits like exposure, or solid referrals. It’s important, though, not to make working for free a habit. If you need advice on how to let folks down gently, or you’d like a financial consultant to show you how too much free work can negatively impact your business, contact Daliah at Daliah@MySmallBusinessPro.com. She’s always available to offer expert, friendly advice.