Back in December my friend was starting to make a website for her parents' coffee shop. She is a graphic design major and has taken a few web design classes. She was only a little way in when she ran into a road block: she didn't know how to make any forms work or incorporate e-commerce. That's when I stepped in, I completely made a new site from scratch, as there was no way I was going to improve her beginner coding techniques.

I worked on it a lot through the end of the year and then stopped in January only touching once in a while (I was busy). About early February once I had a handle on my course work I picked up the site I built my own basic CMS for their blog, event management, and online store products. I then incorporated Paypal and a few other things on the back end a few contact forms, and mapping.

When I came onto do this I never had a contract/agreement for me being paid. This is a local coffee-shop with multiple locations and high income so they can afford to pay. Only problem is should I just let it go and use it as a portfolio booster or should I bring up the topic of compensation? I've spent at least a good 25 hours of my time on it for the past 6-7 weeks and in December I was spend most of my free time on it. I spent most of my holiday finishing it.

I really don't want to sell myself short or lose a friend because of this. So what do you suggest? The site is a full blown website in the eyes of one of my old PHP instructors its a site he would have billed a couple thousand for, but he has a 10 years experience and I have two.

7 Answers 7


Tl;DR: You would be nuts to request compensation if you weren't asked to complete the work. Businesses do NOT pay for services just because someone "feels" like doing them. And you run the risk of losing your "friend" and gaining a bad word-of-mouth reputation.

Think of it this way.... you get a flat tire and take it to the local tire shop to get it repaired. While the are fixing the tire, they decide on their own to rebuild the engine too. Would you expect to see an invoice for a few hundred or thousand dollars to cover the engine rebuild? Would you be happy seeing that invoice?

I'm merely basing this on what you posted. I wasn't part of the conversations and clearly there may be details you've left out.

This is unclear.

"I stepped in"...

Okay how???

Did she ask you to fix the form and then you did more because you felt you wanted to build it better?

Were you ever asked by the company to continue work or was it just something you felt like doing?

Based upon what you posted here you would be a bit crazy to think you should be compensated. If no one ever asked you to, as you put it, "rebuild" things then it was your choice to do so and you can't hold anyone financially responsible because you chose to do more than was asked.

Financial obligations have to be at least discussed before you have any footing. At the very least a specific request to do the work is required. In the end, without a written agreement or even a discussion you are simply out of steam.

That being posted, sure you can ask for compensation. It'll take some internal fortitude. You just need to be prepared for possible outcomes:

  1. They agree and pay you want you ask (yeah.. good luck with this. It's a long shot.)
  2. They agree but want to negotiate as to how much they will pay. However, be prepared for low-ball pricing since they never requested the work. Would you be okay with a couple hundred dollars? Or even $50.00? Are you going to try and talk them higher. What if that leads to items 3, 4, or 5 below?
  3. They disagree with any obligation, but understand why you feel it may be deserved. However, without their request to complete the work they won't pay you anything. They are happy to use the site and relay your name to anyone who asks, but they aren't going to pay. So, they are fine with things, will you be? Will there be some resentment on your part if they refuse to pay anything? Are you going to lose your "friend" over this?
  4. They disagree with any obligation and don't want the site. They won't pay you anything, find it funny you even ask, and have no intention of using the site. They may even dislike the site. They are offended you took it upon yourself to rework something they didn't request. And while they don't feel you are trying to take advantage of them, they do feel insulted. This may lead to less-than-favorable word of mouth and it may cause some stress with your "friend". Will you be okay with that? Doing all the work and they won't use it or pay for it? If you would be okay with that... why even bother asking for compensation?
  5. They disagree with any obligation and they are flat-out insulted and feel like you are trying to steal from them or otherwise rip them off. This creates a business who, when asked, may not have great things to say about your work. Are you okay with that? Will you lose your "friend" over this?

Be aware, in my experience the most likely outcomes are 3, 4, and 5 above.

Number 2 above is possible but it's very rare to find any business willing to pay for something they didn't request. That's not how business survive.

If they agree to #1 above, hold onto them as a client as best you can, because I've never heard of that happening. It's like finding a unicorn or catching a rainbow.

  • Great answer. To add, assuming you don't ask for compensation from that company, I'd try to make it a generic web site system, and put it on your portfolio - assuming all the store's branding and naming has been removed
    – Canadian Luke
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:00
  • -1 You flat tire example doesn't fit the OP's issue. There's a third party, the friend. A lot of time these situations seem worse than they truly are because of the undefined terms. The parents probably don't even care paying for the site; it's probably the friend who is confusing the whole thing. I don't know with who you're doing business but I think polite human beings can easily get #1 by simply using the techniques of Peter MV and Voxwoman. $50? Really, business owners are not that cheap, it's all deductible too... You exaggerate and project yourself a lot in the OP
    – go-junta
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 12:54

Firstly, it's your fault for not making it look like you will do it for free. Now, let's see what you can do.

Is this a good friend or just a friend? If she's a good friend, then she will ask you how much she owes you. I know I would do it for my good friends.

If she's just a friend, then you can talk about compensation. Make a time sheet of all the work and ask her about compensation. Since YOU did not talk about money on the first place, either give her some hours for free and charge the rest OR charge all under privileged hourly rate.

Make sure you tell her that remaining work will be charged per your usual hourly rate.

You can also call her for a coffee and ask her of impression of finished web site, what her parents say. When she compliments the work, said how much time you spent on it like it was your own project, blah blah. This should be a good trigger for her to ask how much she owns you. If not, then continue discussion about compensation. Of course, have your time sheet with you.

In the future, either talk about ALL aspect of project management or be ready to swallow the loss. This is a very awkward situation as she could be thinking you're doing it for free for who knows why.


It's not your friend, it's your friend's parents. They're not a non-profit, and even though you're a student, you should get something for your trouble.

I don't know what your future plans are, but I am completely sure the coffee shop will need regular updates and maintenance on their website, so you can approach them with "you can pay me $XXX which includes Y months of maintenance and updates" and hope they are ethical people and pay you what you ask for. You can also point out if they hired "experienced" web developers, what they could expect to pay for what you did for them.

You can also get your friend on your side - she's a graphic designer, right? How would her parents feel if she did a week's worth of work for strangers who then don't pay her?

You can use it as a portfolio booster even if they pay you.

If you can't get any money out of them, use this as an expensive lesson in always use a written contract for freelance work

If payment isn't an option, send them an invoice for what you should have been paid, and put a line in for "friend discount" with that amount taken off, so these people know what kind of deal they're getting.

And really, they can write off the cost of this, so it's going to reduce their tax liability.


I like some of the answers above, but I would not even bring up compensation for past work. From your question it appears that a personal friend asked for some assistance, and you were happy to help.

It doesn't matter if it was a close friend or just an acquaintance. It doesn't matter if she was getting paid or not.

Many of us have been in a similar situation and time can certainly slip away. We may have intended to spend 60 minutes helping a friend and spend the better part of a week instead.

I would chalk it up to being a friend and gaining experience.

Now, as a caveat, I would also suggest a nice talk with your friend. Something along the lines of, "Hey I have enjoyed helping out over the past few months but it is taking a bit too much time. I would like to help more, so let's discuss the best arrangement for me to continue. Do you mind if I propose this to your parents?"


You said you stepped in but we don't know what that means, if you were either asked or you offered to help. Either way, if it wasn't mentioned by you at the time, you certainly can't do it now.

Think of it this way, I'm decorating my house. I go to the store and buy 3 tubs of paint, rollbrush, ladders and everything else. My friend calls and asks what I'm up to. I tell them I'm painting my kitchen. They come over and go 'woah woah, you're doing it all wrong. Here, let me help'. And they redo the whole kitchen. And they come over every day to do the kitchen. And then once it's all done they say "So how much are you going to pay me? I just spent every day this week helping you redecorate". Should I give them money? The answer is NO. It doesn't matter if my salary is high or I live in a large house. As far as the courts would be concerned this is a gift.

Use it for your portfolio and say nothing. Consider it a gift of gratitude if they give you anything.


Given your premises we are not really any more in Freelancer territory, but more in a interpersonal problem.

What I would do: Make a List of everything you build and how much hours each item has taken, so you effort gets visible. Then start an open communication along the lines of:

Look this I started out helping a little, but this has grown into a full-blown programming job. I am happy to assist further, but we need to talk about compensation. This it what I did so far.

Then show your time sheet. See how they react. If they are open to talk about compensation, start educating them about the amount they would normally pay for such service but that you are not trying to make them pay that full amount. If they are happy with your work (and possibly need to rely on you in the future) I don´t see why you could not come to an amicable solution. I would aim for 1/2 to 2/3 of price for past hours and a fairly normal rate for any further support.


I don't see any problem in asking for a payment. The work that you have done is valuable.

But don't demand a payment, as there was no agreement from the beginning.

If they agree, it's fine. Otherwise, simply rejoyce about your achievement.

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