Bremer River Digital Marketing

Pro Bono, Exchange, and Friends & Family Discounts

Discover how boundaries, ethics, and emotional investments play a crucial role in the business landscape.

Drawing Boundaries in Unconventional Business Relationships

Navigating the complex business world is challenging, but it can get even trickier when friends and family are involved. What do you do when a close friend asks for a discount? How do you manage pro bono work without feeling drained? We at Bremer River Digital understand the struggles, so we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to help you set boundaries in unconventional business relationships. We even have a case study to show how things can go wrong if not managed well.

The Three Shades of Unconventional Business Relationships

Why Boundaries Are Essential

Offering services for free or at discounted rates might feel like the right thing to do for friends and family. However, with clearly defined boundaries, you avoid facing professional and personal challenges. 

Setting limits helps maintain the integrity of your business, ensures fair treatment for all clients, and prevents potential strain on personal relationships.

Case Study: The Intersection of Friendship, Business, and Ethical Boundaries


In the evolving landscape of small businesses, it is not uncommon for friends to assist each other through complementary services, including but not limited to web design and brand management. This case study elucidates a real-life scenario where a professional branding and marketing team offers services to a friend’s business and subsequent business. Although the initial complimentary offerings were accepted, a subsequent proposition led to ethical dilemmas and strategic reevaluations. This case explores issues related to boundaries, the nature of free services, and ethical quandaries arising from mixing friendships with business relations.


In an age where digital presence is a cornerstone of success, providing web development and brand strategy support is no small task. Two friends managing an accommodation business sought help from their friends who were professionals in branding and marketing. The latter extended their support in revamping an existing but poorly constructed website, elevating the accommodation business to a more professional standard. As the business pivoted to a local grocer, the friends once again offered to help rebrand the new venture on a complimentary basis. However, this offer came at the cost of ethical and emotional exhaustion for the branding team, leading to a withdrawal of free services and promises of future paid collaboration. This case study explores the challenges and lessons learned when personal relationships intersect with business dealings.


The case draws from a first-hand account, combining subjective experiences with an analytical approach to understand the situation’s ethical, strategic, and emotional facets.

Timeline of Events:
  • Initial Support: The branding and marketing team offered initial support through strategy sessions and a website rebuild for the Air BNB business.
  • Pivot and Offer: When the business pivoted to a local grocer, a second round of complimentary services was offered but subsequently retracted.
  • Promised Collaboration: Multiple mentions of a paid website project for the grocer were made by the business owners.
  • Outcome: The business owners opted to go with a different company for their website, leaving the friends who offered initial support feeling overlooked, under valued and taken advantage off.

Ethical Boundaries

Offering free services is fraught with complexities, especially when friends are involved. The emotional toll of providing services without being “re-energised” or compensated in some form led to the decision to withdraw the offer of free branding for the grocer, highlighting the need for well-defined boundaries, even in friendship and business.

Expectation Management

The repeated assurances of a paid project in the future created an expectation that was ultimately not met. Although business necessities can change, this situation raises the issue of ethical responsibility in promise-making and future collaborations.

Emotional and Business Investment

Mixing friendships with business often leads to an emotional investment that can cloud strategic judgment. The branding team’s disappointment when discovering their friends’ decision to go with another company reveals the complexities of emotional engagement in professional settings. 


The case offers a detailed examination of how the complexities of friendships can percolate into business dealings. Lessons drawn from this case emphasise the importance of setting clear boundaries, managing expectations, and separating emotional investment from business decisions. Future endeavours that cross these streams would benefit from explicit contracts, open communication, and periodic reassessment of the working relationship, whether or not money exchanges hands.


  • Set Boundaries: Make explicit what services will be complimentary and what will necessitate payment.
  • Communication: Maintain open channels to discuss any changes in plans or expectations.
  • Contracts: Even among friends, a contract can serve as a safeguard for both parties, outlining the scope of work and any remuneration, even if pro bono.


The authors would like to acknowledge the complexities and ambiguities that inherently arise when business and friendship intersect, offering this case as a lens through which others might navigate similar challenges.

Setting Up Boundaries

Navigating the relationship between business and friendships or family is a complex endeavour that requires a delicate balance. By setting boundaries, being transparent, and putting terms in writing, you can make these unconventional business relationships work for you, not against you.

After an Example?

If you’re curious about how our special programs could benefit you, take a moment to explore our Friends & Family Discounts, Service Exchanges, and Pro Bono opportunities in action.

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Safeguard Your Interests in Pro Bono, Exchange, and Friends and Family Deals

We’ve got you covered if you’re facing difficulty in drawing the line between personal relationships and professional commitments. Download our free templated agreement designed to address this unique issue and protect your interests in any pro bono, exchange, or discounted service agreement.