Mates Rates, Freebies, and How to Say No 

Have your friends ever turned up at a yoga class expecting not to pay?

Have they asked you if they can have a discount; or asked you to teach a private class for free?

Or do you feel an unspoken pressure to offer mates rates and freebies—even if no friend has ever directly mentioned it?

When you’re a self-employed professional doing a job that other people want to benefit from, this is likely to come up. It feels complicated; when you are the boss; the decision-maker; the discount-decider; there’s no one else to make the rules.

And that means that whether or not you give discounted or free teaching to your friends is all on you. There’s no higher power to pass that responsibility onto when you say “I’m sorry, we don’t do mates rates."

But where do you stand on this? Should you offer yoga classes to your friends for free? And if not, how do you say no?

Know where you stand

Firstly, there’s no should about it. Your teaching is your business. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you teach your friends for free. I know, sometimes you just want a straight up DO IT or DON’T DO IT; enough of these endless choices!

But it is your choice

That being said, you can’t fill all your classes with friends who come for free. And experience has taught me that blurring the boundaries between your profession and your friendships can lead to uncomfortable situations.

It’s important to know what your perspective is so that when the issue arises, you know how to approach it in a way that is kind to your friend and to you.

So here’s where I stand:

As a general rule, I don’t give friends free or discounted class passes to friends, but there are some exceptions*; and I don’t teach free private or 1-1 classes for friends. I do, however, say yes to the occasional private group or 1-1 class in exchange for something other than money. For example, if a friend is a graphic designer and I need a logo, I’ll happily give them a series of private classes in exchange for their graphic design services.

I do teach free classes as gifts for friends at special events, like at their weddings or birthday parties.

Take some time to work out where you stand and write down a statement which lays out your standards. This will make it easier to speak confidently and kindly when conversations about working for free need to be had.

*It’s OK to be flexible—friendship is personal

No friendship is the same as another. And sometimes a friend really really really could do with some yoga.

I mentioned that there are some exceptions to my rule. They are

  • When a friend is going through a hard time and offering yoga teaching is a way for me to help and show my love for them
  • When I know a friend doesn’t have the money for classes at the moment, and I choose to make sure they feel able to come for free
  • One-off moments in time when I just feel like giving that person a free clas

When I do this, it’s always because I want to. If I feel any glimmer of resentment or obligation beneath the surface of my offer, I won’t do it; because I don’t want to bring that sense of resentment into my friendships. 

Saying no

Actually, it’s rare for someone to directly ask for a free class. Those questions usually come in the form of some kind of proposed exchange which isn’t genuinely beneficial to you, or a conversation that makes you feel pressured to offer your work for free.

Learn to be confident in naming the implication by gently explaining that, in general, you like to keep your work within its professional boundaries. The simple acknowledgment that your teaching is your business, and not just a hobby, is often enough to make your friends think differently about their expectations of you sharing your skills. 

If someone does ask for free classes directly? Again, remind them that this is your profession and your living. When you are your own boss, boundaries are vital. Respect them and ask others to do the same. If you want to say yes, that’s absolutely your call. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. 

It’s not them, it’s you

The unspoken pressure you feel to say “Oh don’t worry, pay me next month!” or “It’s cool, a fiver is fine” might not be coming from your friends. 

Take some time to look at whether they actually expect this of you, or whether you expect it of yourself. Do you offer discounts because you feel your friends won’t like you as much if you don’t? Do you teach friends for free because you undervalue your abilities? Because they know you, so you don’t feel professional when you teach them? 

Think about it. Check in with how you feel about earning money and being worthy. 

Make your decisions with confidence and care.

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Izzy Arcoleo
Izzy Arcoleo is a yoga teacher and writer based in London. She’s passionate about drawing together physical yoga practices with yoga philosophy and anthropological theory to create practices that are inspiring, supportive and fulfilling.

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