Etiquette Dilemma: Mixing Biz with Non-Biz

I was going to write “mixing business with pleasure”, but given the business I’m in, you might have been expecting something much sleazier than this…

I mentioned that a client of mine offered to optimize my website and web presence for free – she sees it as a hobby of sorts, I suspect because she found it easy to teach herself (a talent I envy no end!). And she has just taken up home cooking as a new hobby, and to my knowledge has yet to fail in her experimentation. So on Monday night, I gave her a massage and we chatted SEO stuff, then she sent me home with leftover beef stew and bean soup. On Wednesday night, she invited me over to join her husband as an extra guinea pig for her cooking (yum!) and then take some initial SEO steps. Then on Friday night, with her husband out of town, we got together for Indian take-out, much yapping, and a little computer stuff. I learned about spiders and keyword tools and how freaking smart the Google geeks are.

She always sends me home with a ton of her leftover cooking. I think she makes, like, 8 servings of any recipe and sends me home with 2-3 meals’ worth. Of several things. More than once. The health value of my food intake is soaring (she’s dieting too) while at the same time, I’m spending peanuts on food. Last night she sent me home with half the leftover rice and sauces from two of the 5 dishes we’d shared. This afternoon I cooked up some chicken breasts from the freezer and shredded them into the sauces. This’ll be good for 3-4 medium-sized meals.

Before I headed over on Friday, she emailed me that she really wanted a massage because her back was acting up after her workout, but she didn’t know how to handle mixing business and pleasure. I had no idea either and said as much. Male clients are so much easier — their motivations are fairly obvious, and except for the one that reads this blog, it’s usually One Thing. So mixing ain’t happening. But this one is a girl, and once again I’m finding myself in a tentative friendship where I get the lion’s share of the benefit. She bought the Indian food, I brought brownies for dessert and also some Dawn dish liquid and Nivea shower gel because (a) she had asked if I knew of any dish soap deals because she was running out, and (b) they don’t keep soap in the bathroom and were almost out of shower gel – a problem for a massage therapist with greasy paws. A couple of hours after dinner, I gave her a 45-50 minute Thai massage. On my way home in a taxi, she called to say “I forgot to pay you!” I appreciated sooo much that she wasn’t making assumptions that it felt comfortable saying, “You weren’t allowed to pay – you bought dinner and you’re doing a huge, HUGE thing for my business.” She and I both engage in work where we are pushed for freebies, so we tend to have pretty stringent “No freebie” policies. The significance of this was not lost on her.

I anticipate similar moments of uncertainty and awkwardness in the near future. Any advice would be welcome – the more creative, the better!

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4 Responses

  1. I think that since she called you, she was letting you know that she wasn’t expecting anything for free. That being the case, this would open the door for a complete discussion covering all expectations on both sides. If she is working on your site as a “freebie”, then it would be nice of you to extend her “massage courtesy” in trade…such as if she spends x number of hours working on your site…that entitles her to X minutes of massage therapy. I know this sounds businesslike, but it is best to always put these things on the table. One person may have much different expectations than the other…As for the meal thing, that I would consider more of a friendship thing and try to treat from time to time (or bring her groceries that you got for free) that she can use to make these meals. A bottle of wine when invited to dinner or like you did – dessert – as long as it’s give and take on both sides you will be fine. Keep the business side on the up and up for you both and just enjoy the friendship side. My advice for what it’s worth. And BTW, I really enjoy your blog !

  2. I have a massage therapist friend and since I know that things go up and down with her business, I leave it entirely up to her what and when she wants to charge or discount.

    Outside of that, we’ll treat each other to food or drinks or whatnot as our wallets can allow, knowing that it doesn’t affect the business aspect of our relationship. I’ll always offer random help for editing and financial organization to my friends for free, since they’re pretty much all close friends.

    Since she’s got a work component involved, too, perhaps you can exchange services in set units, or do it on an “as you like it” arrangement where you offer a massage in exchange for all the cooking, or she offers SEO help in exchange for help with deals or just providing the fruits of your deals labor.

    One of my friends said that between friends as close as we are, treating someone out to dinner or the like should be sufficient recompense for any business favors. That works for us, but the main thing is that we’re open and upfront about our expectations. If we expect or need actual cash payment, we say so. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

  3. I like Sissy’s advice. I think there needs to be a discussion of expectations upfront so neither party feels like the other may be taking advantage of the other. But, as a general rule, if she’s working on your site for free, it would be nice to comp her some time on her massages every now and again. It doesn’t sound like she offered to work on your site for a free as a way to get free massages, so she may not even expect that you give her a free massage. But, a little bit goes a long way, even if that little bit is giving her an hour and a half at the hourly rate. Whatever works for you, you know?

    As for the cooking, I think that’s more on the strictly personal friendship side. I second Sissy’s advice again, bring a bottle of wine, a side dish, or a dessert, or even my the groceries for a meal one night.

    Whatever you decide to do, the big thing is communicating with one another. I think this lady sounds really cool and easy going, so it probably wouldn’t be a difficult discussion.

  4. Thanks guys. It’s turning out to be less of a dilemma because she’s going through the Rolf 10-series at my self-sacrificing suggestion. It won’t really be an issue for 10 weeks, and then there’s a good chance she’ll be leaving NYC. Figures.

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