Why Your Friends Can’t Give You a Discount
By Sabrina Essery, Freelance Writer
Every single freelancer, small business owner, and entrepreneur has heard it. The same question, asked a thousand different times in a hundred different words- usually, in a light-hearted, joking tone that’s meant only half-seriously. But that doesn’t make it any less awkward.
“So, do I get a family discount at the store? Ha, ha.”
“Okay, but how much does a meal cost for a friend? Ha, ha.”
“Since you’re in the show, you can get me in for free, right? Ha, ha.”
“Come on, custom pieces are pretty pricey! You can tweak the price for me, right? Ha, ha.”
Certainly, there will be times when a friend or family member offers you a discount (or a freebie) on their products or services… and that’s great! However, owning your own business comes with joys and burdens. One of those burdens is pricing your services or products.
My Mother & Father, my Brother, and myself all practice some kind of entrepreneurship. My parents own and operate Revived Interiors. My brother makes guitars under the label Jag Guitars. I perform at a variety of venues in Ottawa for (often small, but very enthusiastic) crowds under a particularly elegant stage name. I have no doubt that we’ve all heard the “hint, hint, discount” line at one point or another in our careers, and will many times again. We all understand the value and effort behind making your own career.
Pricing a service or product is a difficult thing to do. Not only do you have to take into account the value of the materials used, but also the value of your time, your labour, and the education and experience that has gone into creating something of quality. Not only that, but you have to constantly be comparing your prices to your competition. You can’t set prices too high, or everyone else will go to your competition. But you can’t set them too low, because that puts you in the uncomfortable position of undercutting your competition and undervaluing yourself.
Our business or service is our livelihood… by providing substantial discounts or freebies, entrepreneurs usually have to sacrifice something in order to do so. That sacrifice may be small, such as an hour or two of their time. It may also be large, and involve sacrificing money that would have gone towards groceries, rent, materials for their business, or a savings fund for their children’s education. No matter the product or service, discounts always come at a price for the entrepreneur providing them.
I can hear some distant, imaginary people saying, “but giving discounts are beneficial in the long term! If my friend/relative gives me a discount, they can be sure I’ll keep coming back!” This is inaccurate for a couple of reasons: Firstly, we often can’t be sure that someone will be a repeat customer (especially if the product or service we provide isn’t something replaceable or consumable). Perhaps offering a discount would entice someone into returning- however, if they are expecting a discount every time, we end up losing substantial compensation for our work. Secondly, if you’re only willing to support your friend or relative’s business if they offer you a discount, then you don’t really have an interest in benefiting their business. On the contrary: you have an interest in benefiting yourself.
Supporting a business means paying the owner fairly for their work. Some of us aren’t financially comfortable, and can’t always afford to do that- and that’s okay! There are other ways to support a business if this is the case. Talking to your peers about the business is a great way to start. It’s absolutely free, and you may end up helping someone find exactly what they’re looking for! Carrying their business cards or flyers around is also a wonderful, thoughtful thing to do, and the entrepreneurs in your life will be very appreciative! If you would like the products or services your friend or relative offers for yourself, but can’t afford to pay the full price, ask if they will accept exchanges or other forms of payment. Not everyone will, but it’s worthwhile to ask! Many entrepreneurs are struggling or have struggled in the past as well, and will understand that money can be tight. As for the entrepreneurs in my life, I have heard some of them tell of being paid with wine, food (including a professionally-made cake), transportation services, errands, and service exchanges (I’ve even been registered for performance workshops in exchange for providing administrative services!).
A lot of the time, asking for a discount isn’t really about the money (although sometimes, it is). Instead, it’s about feeling special. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with saying, “I know the owner,” or “I get a special discount”. You’re in the circle- you have connections. And we’re happy to have you! But you can still be “connected” and get special treatment without your wallet getting special treatment, also. After all, if someone falls in love with a business, they will still think it’s pretty amazing that you personally know the owner!
This wasn’t written to make you feel guilty- entrepreneurs know that you don’t mean any harm by making comments or asking questions about personal discounts, and we know that you (well, most of you) wouldn’t be upset about having to pay the regular price for a service or product we provide. The fact is, it’s uncomfortable to have to turn down a request for discounts or freebies… even if it’s made in jest. We would love to be able to give you a special rate, but our business or service is how we make a living. It’s how we pay for groceries every week, how we pay our rent, mortgage, or car off every month, and how we pay for holiday gifts every year. This was written to help those less familiar with small businesses or new to the experience of having an entrepreneur in their circle understand why discounts or freebies aren’t easy for us to provide, and why many of us choose not to offer them to our peers.
Again, there will be times when a relative or friend may offer you a discount or freebie on their product or service. And that’s brilliant! It means that they’re in a place with their business to be able to do so, and it’s fantastic that their business is doing well. When this happens, it’s a gift… it’s okay to accept it! But as far as discounts and freebies go, avoid asking for or expecting one; always wait for it to be offered, instead!