Coaches: Are We Making Coaching Too Much of a Luxury?

by Pamela on February 2, 2010

Should We Make Coaching More Accessible to Those Who Need Our Services?

This post promises to be a little controversial and I’m hoping to get a lot of coaches to weigh in because I really want to know how you feel. Please scroll down to the bottom of the page and leave a comment.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. Are we charging too much for our services? Let me rephrase that: Are we charging more than our individual demographic can bear?

When I was in coach training, we learned how to handle the ‘money question’ if a potential client hesitated because of cost. Here are some of the sample responses:

  • It is not expensive for what we are doing.
  • If you take a look at your top 3 goals, ask yourself ‘what would those goals be worth if, at the end of 3 months, you have not only accomplished your 3 goals but also have a plan for how you will continue to raise the bar and live out your dreams?’
  • Let’s say that you were able to accomplish wish 1, 2, and 3 and even more – what would that be worth to you?
  • If I do my job well, you’ll be able to easily afford me.

These are perfectly reasonable responses. We help our clients achieve their goals. We’re highly skilled. We help people accomplish more than they thought possible. We dig in and explore what’s holding them back by asking open-ended, empowering questions. Speaking for myself- I’m worth my full fee and then some! And, many people have happily paid my full fee. However, just as many people want to work with me and can’t afford it. For this reason, I have started to lower my fee to make coaching more accessible, with some success.

When I was in training, it was instilled in me that if someone wants coaching, they’ll find a way to pay for it. In theory, I don’t disagree. I’m not sure that holding on to this belief is serving me anymore. Some coaches say that if we lower our fee, we send a message to potential clients, and the universe, that we’re not worth more. This makes me a little uncomfortable. When setting the price for a house, a realtor will tell you that the house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. I am worth every penny that I charge. I’ve helped a lot of people as evidenced in my testimonials page. And, like a house, if my demographic won’t pay what I think I’m worth, then I won’t sell. I could stick to my asking price and sit on the market for a very long time, even though I’m a great house in a nice neighborhood.

What is holding me back from advertising lower rates? It could be that I don’t want to be the ‘Walmart‘ of coaching. From a marketing standpoint, the more I think of being the ‘Walmart’ of coaching, the less scary the thought becomes. When I take ego out and think logically with my marketing hat on, it starts to make some sense. Why is Walmart so successful? They offer great value- all the things we need at great prices. Why are their prices great? Volume. Using that logic, could we be doing more volume if coaching were more affordable? Would you be happy with more volume or would you prefer to work less and charge more? Many people would say work less, charge more. If that’s working for you, great! I want to make money as much as the next coach, and I also want to coach as many people as possible because I love what I do. I’d rather coach ten people at 25% off than stick to my asking price and sit on the market (there’s that house analogy again!).

Is there a demographic that can easily afford our services? Absolutely. In this economy, that pool has shrunk a bit. I argue that in a recession, coaching is a necessity for small business owners. I truly believe that. It doesn’t change the fact that they are a little skittish about spending money on what they perceive as a luxury. You may say that it’s my job to change that perception and sell them on coaching as a necessity. I do, and then I usually meet them part-way with a reduced fee. This isn’t about limiting beliefs. It’s about being realistic.

Here comes my confession: Hello, I’m Pamela B. I’m a business coach, and I often charge less than most life coaches. I primarily work with small business owners with fledgling businesses and I have determined a range of what my target market is willing to pay for coaching. I am a confident, competent, experienced coach and I’m a great investment at any price. There. I said it.

Do you know your demographic? Do you have a clear understanding of what fee they’re willing to pay for your services? I’ve said it in previous posts: many coaches aren’t making a living wage. The average fee for coaching is out of reach for a large segment of the population. If we lower our fee to access a larger segment of the market, what would that do for our prospects? I think it would increase the number of people who would benefit from our services.

If the perception is that coaching is a luxury, let’s make it a luxury that people can access. How do you feel?

Let’s have an open discussion.

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Nick February 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

What a hot button topic! Love it.

We live in strange and changing times and we offer a service that is still not fully understood by the general public. When it comes to people who do not know or have only a vague idea as to what coaching is, it is expensive and not too many can afford it. Seasoned clients understand the value and understand investing in oneself.

I have been mulling it over for a while also. I wonder if we can set a sliding scale, either based on salary (shock, gasp!) or how new a client is, i.e. the newer client gets the more the introductory rate and the more complex, the higher the rates go. If we think about it, we already do this, more or less, when it comes to life coaching versus business coaching.

In the end, I see one thing clearly. Like many of you, I am not a sales person and as much as I know for a fact coaching is an amazing constructive tool, teaching a blind person to enjoy shades of blue is not what I do best. I think I am going to introduce introductory rates.

I am happy to hear what others have to say. Thanks Pamela for this hot topic.

Nick Zart, ACC

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for your input, Nick. I knew I could count on you! Interesting thoughts.
So, your idea is to have a sliding scale based on the complexity of the client’s situation?
How would you structure an introductory rate?

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Anthony Fasano February 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I thought about Nick’s idea when I started out, but I was uncomfortable charging different people different fees for the same service. Unless of course one client is getting 4 sessions a month and the other 2 sessions.

Maybe something like this would work: Say you charge $500 per month, maybe the first month is $375 or $400 with an option to get out of the agreement after month one. That would probably help you close the sale and then if you do your job, after month one they will certainly renew at your standard rate? Just a thought.

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Hi Anthony-
It’s a complex issue- isn’t it?
Working with someone for a reduced cost for a month may indeed help to close the sale and prove the power of coaching. Most people need to experience something before they’re really convinced. For some, the initial session clinches it. Others need to see their progress to really commit to investing in coaching. Obviously, you’d want to make sure that you state your fee structure up-front so that the client doesn’t accuse you of ‘bait and switch.’
Thanks for commenting.
Pamela

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Nick February 3, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Hi Anthony,

I don’t feel we offer the same service to everyone. Every situation is different and some people are more motivating than others and take out of the relationship more or less. In this aspect, I feel a sliding scale would be appropriate. I just just don’t know how.

I feel I am heading towards the idea of having an introductory rate and based on how motivated and the results of each clients, we could evaluate fees, etc. It’s a little bit on the Business 2.0 side but I’m thinking about doing this with a few clients and see where it goes.

Thanks, Nick

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mary rettig February 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I disagree with lowing your price of coaching and I offer different packages that are more affortable. I am also offering small mastermind groups that are more affordable to my target niche. Also, change your thinking of coaching as a a real need and not as simple want.
.-= mary rettig´s last blog ..Reiki Professionals =-.

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for your input Mary! I appreciate your participation.
Pamela

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Susan February 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for this article. I’m not a coach, but I came across your name from someone else’s blog post. I’ve had initial sessions with two coaches who seem great. One told me that she charges $500 dollars a month! The other said $300 per month. I’m not sure why there is such a price difference for life coaching, but I guess each person sets their own prices. There has to be a middle ground so you can make money and I can afford to hire you. BTW, I’m in marketing and I think you’re right about knowing what your market can bear and I don’t see anything wrong with being the Walmart of your field. I know you work with business owners, but I filled out your contact form anyway.

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Hi Susan-
I’m glad to have another perspective! There is a middle ground – a place where it’s a win-win for coach and client.
I did get your contact form and I look forward to speaking with you about what you’d like to get from coaching.
Best,
Pamela Beaudet

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Jane Emberty February 2, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Nice article Pamela and thanks for throwing out the question. I am sure you will get a variety of responses. Personally, my niche is job seekers. I’m combining my HR background with what is in abundance right now and that’s job seekers. This group has been beaten up so much (often by their own negative thinking) that I am offering free encouraging workshops to give them some hope and tools they can put to use right now. In my small way, I know I am helping others. THEY ARE GETTING JOBS! Yeah!
I can’t solve the whole unemployment problem, but I can help some and they appreciate the help.

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Hi Jane-
You are so generous with your time, and I’m sure that your free workshops are a tremendous help to job seekers.
It’s so important to give back. You never know what wonderful things are in store for you!
Thanks for commenting!
Pamela

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Anne Crawford February 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Hello Coaches-
As a Life Coach that deals with difficult transitional times, some of my clients are looking for work. I do offer a discounted price if the person is unemployed, but they must prove their unemployment. With that being said, let’s discuss personal worth. Let’s hope all people who call themselves “coaches” are really certified. What are you worth as an individual who has gone through coaching school? What is your personal experience, knowledge, and time worth to a prospective client?
This “fee” question comes up all the time. I have seen huge differences in coaching fees. What are you comfortable charging? Too much, and you shut the door on any potential clients. Too little and you look like you are desperate for the work. I suggest you go on different coaches sites. See what they charge and their years of experience. I charge a different fee for one-on-one coaching, verses group coaching. I ask a different amount for my speaking engagements depending on who is paying me (Corporations verses Chamber of Commerce). I also speak for free, to get my name out into this wonderful coaching world. I tell my clients the same thing that I stress in my lectures and workshops: network, develop your business, and set your fees according to your personal style and instincts. When you are authentic, then the rest will fall into place.

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Pamela February 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Hi Anne-
As I mentioned to Anthony, it’s definitely a complex issue. There isn’t a cut and dry answer. As I mentioned in my article, I think you have to know your market and price yourself accordingly.
You make a lot of good points.
Thanks so much for commenting!
Pamela

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Dan McNeill February 2, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Pamela, as you probably know: A mathematical equation can be written that describes the relationship between quantity, price, other demand variables like income, and a random term ε to reflect simplification and imprecision of the theoretical model: go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Econometrics to see the formula.
Now I hope that was fun!!! More seriously, your question has social and financial (and econometric) considerations. The lower you make your price, assuming a sufficient demand, the more clients you will have and presumably the more good you can do. I believe the way to approach the solution to this problem is to choose how much money you want to make/mo. Then, create a pricing schedule (aka: price list) that has a series of prices, e.g. Senior Executive or Business Owner = $X/hr.; Jr. Executive or Manager in the owner’s business = $Y/hr. ($Y<$X); housewife = $Z ($Z<$Y). Then decide how many coaching periods per month you want to coach. Now experiment heuristically by populating those number of hours/mo. with the mix of $X, $Y & $Z clients until the sum is equal to your desired monthly income. You can justify different prices for different categories rather easily e.g. ability to pay. We coach primarily in large corporation. Our price list has different price/hr. for director and below; VP, Sr. VP, Exec. VP and C-levels. When I'm asked "why," I say that it is because we have greater risk the higher up in the organization that we coach. There has not been one incident in which that wasn't accepted. Thanks for asking. P.S. Using one tab of a spreadsheet for each estimated month may be a good way to preserve the data for comparison.

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Pamela February 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Hi Dan-
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Now that I’ve deciphered your formulas 😉 I can say that I agree with you!
I, too, use a scaling fee for my business clients depending on their needs. I’d be curious to hear whether life coaches use a sliding scale as well.
Thank you for taking the time to give us such a well thought out answer.
As we say in Boston: “Your wicked smaaht”
I’d love to chat with you some time!
Pamela

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Nick February 3, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Wow, I love this approach this approach Dan, even though I am not mathematically inclined. It actually makes sense and not just for us but for our clients who are on the rational side.

Nick

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Dawn Quesnel February 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Hi Pamela,

Good for your for speaking your mind and putting it out there. Offering different programs at different price points helps. Another great way for coaches to feel good about promoting a discounted offer is to promote during International Coaching Week, which starts next week. For more information go to http://www.coachfederation.org/coachingweek/index.cfm/intcoachingweek/2010events

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Pamela February 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thanks for the info, Dawn.
So nice to hear from you. I hope you’re well!
Pamela

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Judy Cowan February 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I’m fascinated by this discussion. It’s one that I’ve been thinking about a lot, recently. I’m starting a group coaching series through my local adult education program and given that the participants have paid a minimal fee for the 8 session series ($90 for 8-90 minute sessions), I’ve been thinking about what would be reasonable to charge them for additional sessions, one-on-one. Thus the timeliness, for me, of this discussion. I’m actually toying with the idea of charging “a dollar/buck a minute”! Not to diminish or trivialize my work, but to make it accessible and available to this particular population.

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Pamela February 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Good to hear from you, Judy.
The last part of your comment gets to the crux of what I was trying to say in the article. I’m not telling coaches to lower their fee. I’m saying that knowing your market and having flexibility in your pricing might serve you well. I think that’s exactly what you’re doing and your ‘buck a minute’ idea reflects that. If you get 5 or 6 one on one clients, that’s great!
You’re right. This is not about trivializing our work. It’s about making coaching more accessible so that we continue to build a great reputation of our still fledgling industry.
Please keep me posted. I’d love to know how it all turns out!
Thanks for commenting!
Pamela

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Nick February 3, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Strangely enough, that part is the easy one for me. This is where the sliding (upward) scale comes into action. Since they are clients, they get a special fee and within a few months, they are on par with my regular fees. They actually get to feel how they progressed and gladly pay more.

This is what I’m driving at. It’s not necessary to “lower” your price so much as to make it affordable for those who are stuck and are very motivated but just don’t have the money. In other words, if we could treat these people in a mature and responsible way, we would not only do a good thing for them but also instill that spirit of co-operation and lending a helping hand at a crucial point of their lives.

I’ve worked in IT and what I am describing here is the Open Source movement.

Oh, and I write a lot so shut me up if I blab too long 🙂

Nick

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Ed Drozda February 3, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Pamela,
Thanks for opening a topic that has more permutations than a political football. You know, it’s like I tell my clients- I am not a technical expert; I take you back to basics. There are enough books out there to tell you the pros and cons of offering our services at ANY rate (be it high or low). At the end of the day what matters most is what we value our services at, and in a peculiar way, even more importantly, how comfortable we are expressing it. In other words, there is no wrong or right answer.

I have a general rate (room for volume discounts and the like but generally my fee is between $400 and $600/month. I am confident in what I do, happy with what I charge and certain that I will deliver on my part of the agreement. I have also worked with clients completely pro bono. Why? Because I believe enough in them that I cannot pass them by. However, lately I have successfully instituted a new concept (for me that is). I will reduce my rate to $50/hour, leaving the balance in escrow (with the client). In this way they have some skin in the game. I tell them to view this as a loan; if we have chosen to work together I am confident that together we will achieve their goals. In the long term I have always been paid back- the bridge provided is worthy of follow-through on their part. Does this work for all? Nope!

It works for me and for some of my clients. I hope my insight will help some folks also be more acceptoing of what feels right and works for them.
.-= Ed Drozda´s last blog ..Introduction =-.

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Pamela February 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Hey Ed-
You know you can always rely on me to be provocative! I like your escrow idea. It works best when you’re really confident in your abilities- which you are. I think I’ll try it.
Hope to see you soon!
Pamela

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Pawel February 4, 2010 at 2:48 am

Hello all and thank you Pamela for raising the topic.

I like the upward sliding scale idea suggested by Nick. I am a rather young coach in Poland and mainly get clients through my website. Since coaching is not yet very popular in Poland, most of my clients do not really know what they can expect from a coaching relationship.

What works for me is a free test-drive session – we meet, get to know each other. I answer questions regarding coaching and they tell me about their situation and expectations. We do a 30-40 minute session and then they decide if coaching is what they want to try out.

I now think that I would like to add the sliding pricing. I am not sure how this will look like but I imagine a discounted (e.g. 25%) first package price (4-6 sessions, once a week). After that the regular price is in place. Important for me is that the discounted package is valid only if we meet every week with the client (or at least 3 sessions/month).

Now my “old” clients start to recommend me and this starts to be a new stream of clients. Do you think this changes anything? Probably not – I am not sure whether it is a good idea to treat clients differently just because they found me differently.

This topic inspired me to think… 🙂 Thank you again.

Pawel

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Pamela February 10, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Hi Pawel-
I’m sorry for the late reply.
Thanks for your input on the sliding scale. I’m glad that I got your wheels turning!
I like the free initial session as well. It’s our best sales tool.
Thanks for visiting!

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Ed Drozda February 4, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Pamela keep it coming- you are just the right catalyst to keep things shaking 🙂
.-= Ed Drozda´s last blog ..Introduction =-.

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Marcy Rubin February 6, 2010 at 5:16 am

Hey Pamela (and friends)

Knowing your target market is the key. Think about it, 10% of the US population is unemployed, but that means 90% are working. Break that down by industries: those that are thriving and those that are loosing ground. Now you can adjust your target market more efficiently without changing your rates.

Or you can package your rates in any number of creative ways like other people. I suggest asking yourself the same question we are trained to ask our clients: what is the value in this for me? (pause to think about it)

Searching the web for comparison rates is helpful, but keep in mind a coach may be highly skilled with minimal training or have completed extensive training and not be affective. You don’t know who you’re basing your rates on or how and why they picked their pricing.

It all comes down to being authentic to yourself. If lowering your rates makes it more affordable for your target market then become the “Wal-Mart” of your niche. Be among the elite coaches offering top of the line services for their consumer / client.

Something else to consider, what is your true goal? Are you looking for more volume with less pay or more pay with less volume?

I took the time to reach out to other coaches in my niche, lots of interesting information/ideas . When it comes to the “competition” be inquisitive, ask a lot of questions and in some instances collaborate.

Be creative by putting together a poll: one for coaches targeting the same clients and another to prospects. Where else can you get a better collective perspective?

I’m hoping this all makes sense and can possibly help. If not I plead insomnia (it’s 4:00am). It’s day two of no sleep. How did we survive without the internet?
~Be Well~
Marcy 🙂

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Pamela February 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hi Marcy-
I hope you got some sleep 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that everyone needs to do what works best for them. Coaches have different niches and demographics, so everyone is unique.
I didn’t really touch upon experience in my article, and that can’t be ignored. You referred to it when you mentioned training, so thanks for bringing it up. Training is very important and works best when it’s accompanied by experience.
You also mentioned collaborating, and I think my next article will be on that topic. It’s an idea that makes a lot of sense for many reasons.
Thanks for visiting!
Pamela

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Katie West/The Levity Coach February 8, 2010 at 12:44 am

Great topic…I have been thinking it over for a few days. I may have an all of the above approach.
And while I agree that if someone “really wants to coach, they will find the money,” that statement can be frustrating to someone who is truly on the brink of change, has “seen the light”, but has not yet realized their financial abundance….so I think that line is definitely tricky and it kinda assumes that people have rich relatives…hahaha-you know my sense of humor, Pamela.
What I do is set my price and sure some people balk or say, “wow, I did not know it was that much.” And I say (esp if I can tell the person is eager for coaching), “that is my fee, but I am committed to making coaching possible for people that really want it and are ready for it. What would it take for you to be able to do it?” Sometimes I have accepted less money, and sometimes offered to space out sessions. Most often, the client, on their own terms, comes back and says they think they can do it.

And my client load has grown by 150% during the recession and I upped my rates, so I feel it is working well for me. I think it is because the power is in the client’s court…and this makes them all the more ready to jump in.

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Pamela February 8, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hi Katie!
I’m so happy that you gave your input! You’re a very special woman and I’m not at all surprised that your business has increased 150% during this recession. We could all use a levity coach right now and you’re so good at it. Okay, I’ll stop being mushy.
You’re right about people ‘finding the money.’ Sometimes that means they can only find a certain percentage and you take it from there. There are so many scenarios that you can come up with to make it work. Flexibility is the name of the game.
It sounds like a lot of our peers feel the same way.
Thanks for visiting my humble blog!
Pamela

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