If You Give a Mouse a Business Card
Hi everyone! My name’s Steph and I co-own Studio FJ with James. You can read more about me on our About page, but today I want to dive right in: family. Can’t live without ‘em, and if you try, they’ll just start showing up. On your doorstep—usually with cocktails. Maybe that's just my family.
For me, the hardest part of owning a business are all those seemingly small decisions you have to make early on—like what to do when helpful family and friends want to work with us or send work our way.
Nothing could be better than having someone you love confident enough in your work that they want to tell everyone. The trouble starts someplace between cousin Frank* giving someone else your card and Frank appointing himself your new sales team.
*At time of publication, I’ve never had a cousin Frank.
Did you guys ever read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? Or maybe the much-anticipated sequel, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin”? They’re adorably-illustrated kids books about how every action has a consequence. It starts simple enough: “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.”
“Why not,” you think, warm in your favorite footie pajamas while Mom or Dad reads. “Sharing is good and it’s just a cookie.”
But of course, it never stays that simple. When you’re an adult and it’s your family instead of a hungry mouse, things can go from “cookie” to “minefield” pretty quickly. It can look more like this:
If you have great family and friends, they’ll want to help you. If you give them your blessing to hand out business cards, help often comes in the form of a project or referral.
For you, the boundaries are simple: if someone asks Frank about a website/your company, Frank can cooly lower his shades and slide them a card, saying “my cousin owns a kick-ass web studio. You should give them a call.”
But this, really, is an unfair fantasy. If your relatives are like mine, they might start peppering Frank with questions he doesn’t know how to answer. They’ll want the scoop, and you’re not there to field those questions. So Frank becomes an emissary/salesperson in your stead. It starts with harmless things, like talking about your current projects, but can lead to not-okay things—like Frank trying to give Grandma estimates—without any previous knowledge to back it up. So the story takes a new turn:
If Frank gives Grandma a price estimate, that whole side of the family thinks this is your company’s concrete, end-all price.
Yikes! How did this happen?! It’s easy to blame Frank. After all, he gave the estimate. But, circling back to the beginning, the real fault…is yours. You gave him business cards with your blessing, remember? And nothing else. No information, no instructions, no warnings. Even the door-to-door vacuum guy has a brochure, but you (okay fine, I) gave him nothing. So he did his best and, because he isn’t psychic, he didn’t have all the right answers.
So what do you do? Give Frank every business document you’ve ever classified? Rip up the business cards you gave him and fling them back in his face in a Paper Shower of Shame?
Of course not.
You set (or re-set) the ground rules. For those of you who hated your parents’ “While you live under my roof” rules, you’re going to love this. You now, as a business owner, get to set your own. Be polite, but firm about it. Waffling here only gives the client reason to think your rules are flexible. They aren’t.
As for me, my new business card rules are:
- Step 1: Please send interested party to our portfolio. People usually know pretty quickly if we build the type of site they are looking for.
- Step 2: If they like the portfolio, please send them to our contact page to fill out a short form. This helps people really focus (often for the first time) on what they’re looking for. This also gives us a place to start researching their company, because the next step for us is…
- Step 3: We set up a phone call to talk functionality and what it would be like to work together. This is also where we’ll hash out all of their questions, like, “how much does it cost?” We obviously need to know what they are expecting their site to do before we can give an accurate quote.
See? Just enough information to get interested parties to the business owners, who should have the rest of the answers.
My rules for working with close friends and family are simpler. I ask myself two questions:
- Could I fire them if they turned into a bad client?
- Could I handle it if we went through the steps above and they chose another web firm?
If the answer is a 110% confident "yes," I consider the project. If not, I explain that we don't usually work with close friends or family. I tell Frank that I like hanging out with him and that I'm not comfortable throwing business into the mix.
Setting expectations (sometimes in the form of rules) are a HUGE part of learning to manage your business, so James and I are writing posts on each of the areas below. For now, here is a short list of other things you might set ground rules for:
- Whether or not you’ll take on friends and family members as clients and, if you do, what conditions both parties will meet to make that work
- Whether or not you’ll hire or work with third-parties to complete a project (like a graphic designer, ad agency, development firm, etc.)
- How you will deal with referrals from other clients or relatives looking for an “I-know-you” discount (do you give repeat clients a lower rate? How about Frank, who has referred several good clients to you?)
- The amount of work and the type of work you will and will not take on
- How you will turn down clients you can’t work with, for whatever reason
It will take time and mistakes to perfect your rules, but maybe this list will get you thinking about it a little earlier than I did.
What are some rules you’ve had to make (or should’ve made the first time)? Use our Suggest a Topic form to let us know. We always love to hear about how others handle the day-to-day life in web, so hit us up with any questions or comments.
~ Steph (Twitter)