Writing for Customers 101: How to say “NO” when friends & family want a discount

At the intersection of “most likely to ask for a discount” and “hardest to turn down” are your friends and family as a small business owner. In this post I give you a templates for saying “no” to friends and family in a way that stops the drama, and makes you (and them) feel good.

Friends and family are, bar-none, the hardest potential customers to turn down when it comes to discounts and free services.

These are the people that love you and have been there for you, and it’s totally natural to want to give back, but (as you may have experienced) these relationships can quickly go from “you’re doing them a nice favor” to “Aunt June is walking all over you.”

The best policy here is a soft no, where you turn down the ask, but offer a small “consolation prize” to help smooth over the no.

Here’s how you do it.

Hi [name],

Thank you so much for thinking of me and my business for [whatever they’re asking for.]

I’m really [honored/excited/pleased/etc.] that you want me to be involved in [whatever the occasion/event/project is]

I need to say no because [explain why in a very brief way.]

But I would love to [offer them a consolation prize, or different form of support]

Thank you for understanding and being such a lovely [friend, aunt, cousin,etc.]

[Your name here]


Here’s the template in action for a photography business:


Hi Aunt June,

Thank you so much for thinking of my photography business, The Veiled Lens, for cousin Julia’s wedding.

I’m so excited for Julia and her fiance Greg, and I’m honored that you want me to be involved on such a special day.

I need to say no, I make it a policy not to work at the important events of family or friends. Photography takes so much time and attention that I’d be too busy working to enjoy celebrating the couple and family!

I know Julia wants to find an amazing photographer for the day and I’m happy to introduce her to some other talented photographers I know so she can find someone that fits the style and budget for the wedding.

Just have her email me a bit of what she’s looking for and the budget and I can send a list of people to check out.

Thanks for understanding and I’ll see you soon!




Why it works:

You responded quickly

Since you have your template ready to go, you don’t keep the person awkwardly waiting, hoping they’ll go away or that they’ll realize their request is inappropriate. They don’t have time to assume that you “should” say yes.

You assumed the best from them

You didn’t assume that they were trying to take advantage of you, friends and family often make these requests thinking that it would be no big deal. They don’t always understand how much work/time/money/planning goes into the work that you do. The note keeps the tone positive, it shows deep appreciation for them for thinking of you and doesn’t put them on the defensive.

You have a policy

By saying “I make it a policy” you enforce that it’s not about them specifically, that this answer applies to all the friends/family in your circle – everyone is going to get the same answer. Do note that for this to work, you MUST stick to whatever policy you choose. No photoing your sister’s wedding “because her dress is reallllyyy pretty.” If you want to say no like a business and not a family member, you have to act like it.

You gave them a reason that’s hard for them to dispute – and a good alternative

If Aunt June replies to this letter saying she needs you to be the photographer, she’s essentially saying she doesn’t want you to be there to celebrate with the family- which makes her look and feel really bad. She has to overcome a lot more ingrained politeness and social norms to take the step of insisting you offer your services for free. You also offered a great alternative, by assuming that the only reason June wanted to hire you is because cousin Julie really likes your style (not that she expects you to work for free) your “consolation prize” is the perfect offer to solve the problem and again, makes June look and feel cheap if she writes back.

You set a firm close

By saying “have cousin Julie email..” and “thanks for understanding..” you’ve done two important things. First, you’ve given June a specific, appropriate, next step. So if she wants to do something else, she has to think harder. Second, saying, “thanks for understanding” closes the door on other responses. You assume she’ll understand and respect your “no.” If she writes back she’s basically saying she doesn’t respect you, which, again makes lovely old Aunt June look and feel pretty bad. Compare that to saying something like “let me know if you have questions..” or “is that okay…” Where June can come back and let you have it because you haven’t given a firm close to the conversation.


This is just one of the many weird asks from family and friends that my creative business clients have shared with me. In the comments, tell me your trickiest family and friends situation as a small creative business owner and maybe I’ll feature the answer in an upcoming edition of Writing for Customers 101.

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