When family members ask for favors...

So recently I’ve been experiencing more and more family members asking for design “favors”. I love my family and am happy to help them out, but sometimes I allow myself to be abused a little.

Most recently, my step dad approached me with his new “million dollar” idea. He knows that I am experienced in design/patent consulting, and he wants me to help him make his dreams come true. The actual idea is terrible, and goes against everything I would normally practice as a designer. He’s ready to sink serious money into this concept with reckless abandon and is asking me to basically “design” the collection for him, with no business plan established or any experience in the field. Earlier he even hinted at me becoming a “partner” with him, but I squashed that idea quickly. The pay for product dev. would be at a ridiculously low “family” discount rate (AKA babysitter rates).

Have any of you faced similar scenarios? My mind is telling me to abort as quickly as possible, but it’s kind of difficult when he and my mother have been helping me out a little financially when things have been tough… any other scenario would be a big NO.

In summary, is a little family love/ financial assistance equal to professional design favors? :confused:

Don’t they always say to never mix friends/family and business? I would just to to get out of it being frank and telling him the idea isn’t good and in your professional opinion not worthy of pursuing. Tell him he could easily find someone to take his money to design it, but you are offering the advice for free.

Of course in some sense you owe him for helping you out, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. Just tell him if it was something you believed in, it would be a different story. I would think that frank advice is worth something alone.

Only thing I would do for family is something that I would enjoy doing anyhow. I designed my sister’s wedding invite last year, as I knew I could come up with something far better than the usual “custom” wedding invite shop, and enjoyed helping her out. It was a lot of work, and sometimes dealing with the family for feedback was difficult, but the end result was something she and everyone was happy with and something I am proud to have in my portfolio.


Thanks R-

Yeah it’s more of an “I care about him, that’s why I’m telling him the idea’s bad” type scenario. I have tried hinting at that before, but he’s super into it unfortunately. I was even going to do a few sketches to be nice, but the whole thing really needs to be “designed” because there’s no solid concept. Doesn’t help that he’s an occasional gambler (yeah I forgot to mention that part).

Agreed on the feel-good favors… thanks for the advice!

Another tact might be to give him an idea of the potential cost to bring the idea to market. This may not be as big of a deal depending on the idea and his finances, but most people that come to you with a million dollar idea, don’t realize it may cost a significant chunk of a million to bring to market (again depending on the type of product or what have you).

If this is someone you care about, and you believe it really is a bad investment to pursue this idea, you owe it to him to level with him. Since they have helped you out over the years, it is hard to just squirm out of it, instead your value will be in articulating why it is a bad idea.

I’ve been in the same situation over the years, here are a couple of ways I dealt. Remember people allways think their ideas are amazing so you have to find ways for them to discover they are bad for themselves.

Once someone I know thought Caddy shoes were an untapped market. I told them I thought it was great but that they should do some research to find 5 significant ways these shoes would have different performance needs from what they already wear… Instant conversation ender.

Same guy thought monogrammed watches would be a multi million dollar market… Who wouldn’t want one. Had him do a google search, “just in case someone had tried it before”, then he saw how many lame examples of just thing existed… Instant conversation ender.

Make the person do some homework, it typically ends it fast.

That is if I care about the person. I get plenty of requests at parties and the like, usually frOm doctors or lawyers who want to “give me a cut of the action” knowing I’m going to invest all my time while they do nothing. I instead offer an in kind services trade, hour for hour, then quote how many hours it would take to bring it to production… No lawyer is going to trade that many hours of services!

Very good one to remember!


If you owe someone: do his homework, tell him what’s your view to the idea/the situation and that’s it. State that you have your own business going and there is no way of compensation for your work with any bogus future profits. Your part is that of a (very valuable) consultant who… does the homework for free and then the story ends. Don’t invest any money of yours for research items like books, software, equipment, tools, 3rd partyexpenses (hopefully, you can get out of the situation with a google search). After the basic research is done and it’s up to make a decision, it is your part to present the facts and… right: You’ve got your own plans.
Your chance: The crappier the idea was (and you could prove how emberassing it was ), the lower the chance to be bothered with new bullshit from yor “client”.


Thanks for your detailed and personal response! That was exactly one of my tactics and it wasn’t working, so i’ll have to keep re-iterating new assignments. In addition to the $ scares, I kept telling him that all of my new clients at least provide me with an elevator pitch, or a couple of paragraphs that explains what the current market is, why his product/idea is better/different (note he has done NO research previous to our conversations, not even google searches). I gave him an email that was supposed to be a conversation ender- it was filled with important questions that he needed to answer/ some homework for him to do. Instead of answering any of the questions, he sent me back a sketch scan for me to start making construction drawings. :exclamation:

So I think your approach might be the right one to continue here- I’m just gonna keep making him do homework until he realizes how much time and money investments are ahead of him. I really care about him a lot, but he is so stubborn. The last thing I want is for my mother’s husband to sink his life savings into a crappy idea. I’ll keep ya’ll in the loop, we’re supposed to have a “meeting” tomorrow–gotta love family :wink:


ya, sticky spot there. I’d be up front with him or like said above, tell him to do X amount of work first (business plan, research, etc) before or even if you’ll consider doing anything for him for the project.

On a similar note, while in school I’ve made a few projects to sell at local stores and art sales (small limited run products). If I mad enough I’d give one to my parents for presents. But then they ask me to give my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc as well. I really don’t think they know how much effort the labor and materials takes, especially during a student budget and schedule. So now unfortunately I think twice about giving my parents things I’ve made.


Ask anyone who is able to produce something pricy with his own hands (furniture, clothes, jewelry, any kind of art) or to fix the toys of the affluent society (home appliances, cars,…) and they will all come up with the same stories.
Sometimes it’s better to go to the bank for money (and to know when the debits will be paid back) than to ask a bloodsucker kind of family. Other way is to develop a personality that keeps the right distance to overbearing relatives and so called “friends”.

It’s tough to tell someone their baby is ugly, and for the same reason it’s tough to tell a family member their idea sucks. If I can’t get them to believe me then I roll-out the “my schedule is booked-up solid” excuse to get out from under the bad project.

I made the mistake of helping my brother ramp-up a fairly complicated Flash web site several years ago. It’s been a noose around my neck ever since then. MISTER WIZARD!!! I DON’T WANT TO BE A WEBMASTER ANY MORE!!!

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