Where I live the economy isn't great for people trying to get into the tech industry, and that was before COVID-19. I would be happy to make websites for free for my friends. This would give me experience and something to show prospective customers.

One issue I'm running into is people don't realize they have to come up with the idea. If I do 100% everything then it really is my website. A lot of non-technical people don't understand why it doesn't work to just do something and then keep changing it until they're happy. Also many non-technical people don't know how things are connected together and changing one may affect the other. How do I explain the value in getting all the details finalized (as much as possible) before making any part of the website?

In a way I am asking, how do you explain the importance of the requirements gathering phase and the prototyping phase to someone who isn't technical and not paying? As an example I'm trying to decide if WordPress would be a good fit for building my friend's website. He doesn't really have a clear enough idea yet to make the decision and he just keeps giving me half baked ideas to add on. I'm not really comfortable "finishing his ideas" because I see that is his responsibility.

As an example my friend wants a website where people can get a subscription to pet pictures. Then he wanted to add some music that he made. Then add short stories. Now it's barely even about pet pictures anymore.

  • 1
    Can you tell me why can't you say something like you can only start developing a site if all the requirements are set and ready for development? Think of it like you're on a job where a client wants a website and you can't know what the client wants without you asking it.
    – CaldeiraG
    Apr 1, 2020 at 11:00
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    That example already exists in the market (Patreon is one of them) and processing payments and such are not that easy for someone that has no idea on more technical subjects, apart from you being doing all of this for nothing in return
    – CaldeiraG
    Apr 1, 2020 at 11:03
  • Hey user! While you give us some ideas about the solution you've come up with for your friends website (WordPress), your question right now is really lacking information about your communication problem. What have you tried communicating to your friend already, how have you tried to explain the importance of requirements gathering? Or, what have you thought of as a way to try and explain, but discarded as not being a good solution, and in that case, why? See interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/3227/1599 and it's links for a larger explanation.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Apr 1, 2020 at 11:34
  • @Tinkeringbell what I have tried is being direct. This didn't work because they still only provide me with half baked ideas or make major changes after construction started. I have tried asking people to sketch out on paper what they want it to look like, sometimes this works, other times they don't want to.
    – user20887
    Apr 2, 2020 at 4:30
  • Have you considered using a rapid prototyping tool to outline what you can do and what your friends would do? The last time I had to do something similar I didn't even use a tool, I just used local web pages, didn't even need a web server. You could quickly show them the framework, what you would produce and where they would have to produce content.
    – DaveG
    Jan 1, 2023 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


Bridging the gap between technical and non-technical is my specialty. It is literally what I do for a living. If you WANT to be in the business of doing sites for people, this may help. If you do not, it is OK to tell your friends you don't do that kind of thing anymore. I did that, with several friends, and said it exactly like that.

Sorry [friend], I am totally wrapped up in [whatever applies here] these days so I'm not doing that any more.

Here are a series of steps I think will help you if you DO want to get into that in a more structured way.

  1. Organize what you can and will do, and put that list on your own site or a document you can send to prospective clients/friends. Consider wording like "once you have developed your business plan".

  2. Establish an hourly rate you are comfortable with, maybe one for friends and one for strangers so friends feel like they are getting a great deal. If you want to just do it for experience, that is fine, but you will end up with a lot of the cat/story/music sites, which you aren't likely going to use for a portfolio.

  3. You mention meandering changes are a challenge, so a structured process is important here. Perhaps phases or iterations of their site from start to finish will help them organize that better. Check out this resource about Agile for Web Development - Also, in my experience, once people are paying, they have less changes...

  4. Consider an ending point with your friends with the pet picutre/music/stories who continue to wander aimlessly. "Sure, I'll finish that up for you but once this phase is done I'm moving on to other work" ESPECIALLY if you are not being paid.

Ultimately, it is VERY hard to explain how complex programming is. With that said, I would NOT recommend doing any of this for free - you will never get out of that thanks to your friends talking you up to their friends. If you feel like it is damaging to friendships to charge people, simply explain that you are not doing that kind of work on the side any more, and refer them to someone you may know (or find someone) who does.

Most importantly, don't feel bad. I've been there - you want to help but it ends up being a huge drain on time and resources - encourage their ideas and brainstorm with them when you hang out if you want to, but draw a clear line between casual conversation and paid work by making your distinction as a professional in the space.

  • Why would you charge a different price to friends? In theory your regular price should be fair. I know some people find working for free unethical, is it you'd rather do your friends a favor but not comfortable doing it for free? Growing up my family thought it was bad to talk about money and I'm very interested in your suggestion.
    – user20887
    Apr 2, 2020 at 4:36
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    @user20887 It can also be called "Mates' rates". It is an acknowledgement that you are helping your friend out by charging less than you normally would, and also a mutual acknowledgement from them that your time is valuable. I see it as a shortcut for a social convention (UK) where there would be a lot of back and forth where you are offering free work because they're friends, and they are insisting to pay you because they're friends. Apr 2, 2020 at 8:49
  • @user20887 in the US it doesn't have a term but what Digitalpeanut is talking about is the same. A lot depends on culture where you are, but in my experience friends have an expectation that you're going to give them a deal. Or, as others suggest, you've said you'll do it for free and they insist on paying so just having that rate in your mind can help speed along the process and make it easier. You certainly can have one rate and charge everyone the same, too!
    – JenInCode
    Apr 2, 2020 at 11:46

I have done a couple of websites for friends.

I jokingly explain if they want green writing on a black background I am happy to do the design... otherwise, maybe they would like a little more input.

We pair programmed the front page (in wix maybe) I did a first draft to give an idea of what it should look like. They then realised that they didn't want that, and they wanted this.

It was the best way to show the bits you needed their input on and the bits you can do alone.

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