Last month I stopped charging set fees and announced Pay What You Choose pricing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far.
1. You don’t have to know step three before you take step one.
I have wanted to try PWYC pricing for at least two years. One reason I hesitated was that I didn’t know how it would work. Then I realized that I didn’t need to know how it would work in order to run an experiment.
As I set it up, I wondered what kinds of systems I might want or need. Should I screen clients before agreeing to a session? How would I handle payment?
I decided not to try to screen prospective clients before accepting appointments. Instead I ask folks to make one initial appointment. This lets me meet the client and have a conversation with them about subsequent work. It seems simpler and more effective than trying to screen people.
I use acuityscheduling.com, which enabled me to create a simple intake form that pops up when someone makes a PWYC appointment. I ask what calls them to work with me, what their previous experience of coaching is, and what else they would like me to know. At the same time I ask what they want to pay. As soon as I receive an email notifying me of the appointment, I send a PayPal money request.
That has worked beautifully. Many clients find that a single session is sufficiently transformative, and they go away happy. If and when they want another, they are free to schedule again. Other people have turned into weekly or bi-monthly clients.
And, in case you are wondering, there’s no correlation between the amount people are paying and whether or not we agree to ongoing work. Read on for more about how little money appears to have to do with the quality of the experience.
2. There is no correlation between the amount a client pays and their readiness for coaching.
One of my thoughts going into this was that I could end up with a slew of people who saw themselves as needy, broke and/or broken, and victimized, which some might expect to indicate that they are not ready for coaching. I certainly see and hear a lot in coaching circles to support that.
But that’s not how it has turned out.
Yes, I have had a few people show up who seemed to be in a needy or broken state of mind. But here’s the deal: I know that they are not broken. After years of holding that as an article of faith, I finally see deeply that it is true. And it appears that when I see a client as truly and inarguably whole, it doesn’t matter a great deal whether or not they show up as needy in their own minds.
Because a funny thing happens when any of us is held with true, loving regard. We begin to wake up to our true nature, which is whole and resourceful. That holds true no matter how much a client pays.
It distresses me that this is not more clearly and widely understood in the coaching world.
3. There is no correlation between the amount a client pays and the degree of engagement we experience or the pleasure I get from the session.
I also wondered if knowing what someone had paid might influence my coaching. Would I feel pressure to perform with a client who paid in multiples of a hundred dollars? And would I be less enthused or energized or have any number of thoughts about coaching someone who paid in multiples of ten?
As it happened, the first week I was far too busy to even think of looking up what a client paid before I showed up for the session. In week two, after a particularly satisfying session, it occurred to me to check. I discovered that the client I had enjoyed the most had actually paid the least.
After that I decided there was no benefit to paying attention to what people choose to pay, so I don’t.
4. Lowering the barriers to entry won’t help you get hired by folks who don’t know you exist.
21 individuals have signed up for PWYC coaching since I announced it in early September. As I write this on Friday, October 2, apart from a few sessions with folks who have become repeat clients, I don’t have any PWYC appointments for October. My conclusion? Even if you have been coaching for 20 years, as I have, your work is not front of mind for your prospective clients. No matter what your pricing model, you need to find a way to make your work visible and accessible to your just right clients on a regular basis.
5. Lowering the barriers to entry doesn’t change anything for folks who don’t know why they would hire you.
Being visible and accessible is not enough. Your just right clients need to see a reason to hire you–a reason expressed in terms that match their own values, needs, and priorities.
I’ll be working on this in the weeks ahead. I’m starting by asking recent clients to let me know what they got out of our sessions. I’m not talking about getting testimonials. I’m talking about listening carefully to how my clients talk about the value they received, the difference it made in their lives, and how it helped. That way, when I write a new description of my services for this ezine or the Web, it will be from the perspective of the client, not the coach.
This perspective shift is crucial. It is one thing to say to prospective clients: “I have seen something that could be really useful to you.” It’s another thing entirely to be able to report exactly how other clients have found it to be useful.
What folks have reported so far includes:
Actually being excited about marketing their work.
Feeling really, deeply good about themselves for the first time in ages.
Looking forward to “loving up” their significant other after having months (or years) of relationship tension.
6. It can be difficult for people to hire you if you don’t name your price.
Most of us have a lot of thinking about money, and that can make it very difficult for someone to hire you if you don’t give them a number. They get lost in their thinking about what you really want or expect. They can get lost in their thinking about taking advantage of you or being taken advantage of.
Sometimes clients are reluctant to book again because they don’t feel they can afford to. In their minds they are locked into a price because they chose it once and hesitate to scheduled additional sessions for less money. When this emerges, I explain that I want is to coach people who want to be coached at whatever price they can afford to pay.
When people make an appointment, the intake form offers them a range of prices and “other.” I give the range to give some context and a starting point, and I’m really okay with “other.”
7. I have no idea how this will work over time, and that’s okay.
I need to earn a certain amount of money in order to keep the business going and contribute to the household. The costs of ongoing professional training, renewing my International Coach Federation membership, insurance, utilities, equipment, and a few hours each month from the office angel do add up.
In September I brought in a little less than half of what I need to earn in an average month. Right now I’m undergoing radiation therapy and working about half time. I am hopeful that as I get back to full time in the months ahead–and as people come to know about and trust this offer–the numbers will work out.
If they don’t? I’ll punt. I’ve been at this for 20 years, and I certainly know how to create and enroll programs. I’m mulling over a couple of groups now, in fact, that might have set fees and might not.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep my eyes open, pay attention to what is unfolding, and make new choices as the needs and opportunities arise.
In this issue of the “Simple Wisdom” ezine I announce Pay What You Choose Coaching. This is something I have been dancing with for a l-o-n-g time. Dancing or going around in circles.
I chose this pricing decision as the topic of a session with my own coach last week. As I told her, I have been coaching for nearly 20 years, and I have never had an issue with pricing my work.
I started low
In the olden days, as a newbie, I was happy to price my services near the bottom of the range. In fact, my first rate was $175 a month for four one hour sessions, which was well below most posted rates.
I was happy to earn that, and I never seriously questioned my choice to low ball my prices as a newcomer to a brand new field in a market that was largely unfamiliar with the concept of life and business coaching.
My rates went up from there
As I gained training and experience, I raised my rates. The first change was an increase to $240 a month and a reduction in the amount of time to three 40-minute sessions. I raised my fees regularly over the next few years and played with various lengths and frequency of sessions until, in 2013, I was charging $5,000 for six months of twice monthly hour-long sessions.
I’ve written and taught tons about pricing
Over the years I have written and taught a lot about pricing. I’m familiar with the notion that people tend to value more what they pay more for, and I think that is often the case.
I’ve coached clients who had blocks about charging for their services, and I kept questioning my motivation. Was I suddenly in the grip of doubt about my value? Had I turned over night into someone who couldn’t have a straight up conversation about money?
The truth is I don’t know what’s up with this shift
I honestly don’t know what’s behind this pricing shift. That troubled me until my coach asked me a question last week that shifted everything.
The way I heard it, she asked what happened if I let go of the need to understand.
Letting go of understanding freed me to do the obvious thing
Letting go of needing to understand what’s going on freed me to notice a simple fact: except when I was second-guessing myself or trying to figure out what is going on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I wanted to offer Pay What You Choose Coaching.
I could follow my inclination or fight it
I realized that the only thing keeping me from being 100% comfortable with doing what I wanted to do was analyzing it. And since analysis has never, ever been able to shine much light on inspiration, it wasn’t helping.
There are no rules about pricing
The rather disorienting truth is that there are no rules about how to price your services or run a business or a life.
There are models. There are cautionary tales. There are theories. And they can be valuable. I’ve gotten heaps from them over the years.
But right now models, cautionary tales, and theories obscure rather than clarify, so I am setting them aside in favor of an experiment.
I don’t know how long the experiment will last
Who knows how long I’ll price my services this way. It truly doesn’t matter. Now that I’ve made the decision, I’m excited to see how it goes. As is my wont, I will certainly keep you posted.
Here’s how Pay What You Choose Coaching will work for now
For the time being, I’m offering 55 minute coaching sessions on a Pay What You Choose basis. The ground rules are simple.
Use my online scheduler to select a Pay What You Choose time on Wednesdays between 8:00am and 1:00pm Pacific Time (11:00am – 4:00pm Eastern Time, 3:00pm – 8:00pm UTC/GMT). Click here to choose a time: http://shaboominc.com/scheduling/ NOTE: PWYC Coaching is now available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, too!
Please schedule a single session to begin with. When you and I talk, we can determine together if multiple sessions are a good idea and talk about how often they should occur.
When you schedule, there will be a place to tell me how much you choose to pay. I will send you a PayPal invoice for that amount and ask that you pay that prior to our session.
You can choose to meet by phone, Skype, or Zoom.
Is there something you’ve been running around in circles about?
Is there something in your life or biz that you’ve been chewing on for too long, analyzing endlessly without getting any clearer?
If so, I invite you to ponder the question my coach offered me. What happens if you let go of the need to understand?
On July 14, I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It’s been “interesting.”
Prior to surgery, I was in a very calm and settled place. I was happy with the decisions I’d made. I respected and trusted my medical team. The Charming Prince was a source of constant, steady support. I had love and healing vibes flowing in locally and via social media at a truly phenomenal level. (Thank you so much!)
At the beginning of July I posted my intentions for the month to a thread in the Brain Trust form. (The Brain Trust is a mastermind group of dear friends.) My first item was “Don’t freak out.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I wrote that. At the time I wasn’t freaking out, and I don’t think I was anticipating freaking out.Perhaps some wise part of me perceived that one might freak out from time to time when diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing surgery and treatment.
A less wise part of me seems to have thought that not freaking out was better than freaking out. I get that. By and large, I would much rather feel peaceful and calm than freaked out. But from where I sit now, it seems to me that setting the intention to not freak out is like planning to get on a roller coaster with the intention of not experiencing the descents.
The ride got dicey after eight days
Eight days after surgery I went in to have two of four surgical drains removed. The skin around the drain sites was very unhappy, and the surgeon decided, all things considered, that it would be best to take all four drains. She also suggested that I get my first “fills,” injections of saline into the tissue expanders that were placed after the mastectomy to gradually stretch my muscle and skin to accommodate implants.
I cannot begin to tell you how excruciating the drain removal was. I am still astonished that no one has figured out how to mitigate the pain of the process, especially because such great care was taken during all of my other exams and tests to prevent or manage pain.
Then came the fills. The injections were not at all painful; I felt only a mild sense of pressure.
But OMG, by the next day I was in agony.
The freak out commences
I had started to taper off my pain meds the day before drain removal, and I had continued to take half doses afterward. By Friday, two days after the drain removal and fills, I was a wreck.
On Friday morning I lay in bed arguing with myself about whether or not I could tolerate the pain.
I kept trying to figure out what an acceptable level of pain was. I wondered if my pain tolerance was higher or lower than other people’s pain tolerances. I don’t know how I thought the answer to that would help, but that’s one of the places my mind went.
By mid-morning I had three pain pills left. I couldn’t imagine how much worse I would feel when I ran out, so I finally decided to call the nurse and let her know what was going on.
To my embarrassment, I burst into tears on the phone. The nurse listened carefully and asked me nurse-y questions. She gave me some context for things seeming to get worse before they got better, including the fact that nerves that are damaged or insulted during surgery can start waking up at various times in the days that follow. It appeared that I had some very cranky nerves waking up.
The bottom line is that she arranged for me to get more meds.
Bursting into tears opened a door
Something about bursting into tears showed me how really crummy I felt, and that gave me a bit of self-compassion. (One of the biggest things I have am learning from this experience is that self-compassion is profoundly heart-opening. It’s doorway to compassion for all beings, the very opposite of selfishness.)
I decided to go back on a full dose of pain medication for a couple of days. Though it meant being woozy and confused and nauseous, I could sleep through that, and I couldn’t sleep through the pain.
A new intention
Fast-forward to the first of August. Once again it was time to post monthly intentions to the Brain Trust forum. Here’s how I opened the list this month:
“Go ahead and freak out knowing that I will come back to center. Show up for life, including all the feelings. Don’t spiritualize it before experiencing it.”
Spiritualizing life is pretending or seeking to not be affected by the roller coaster ride. It’s profoundly different from seeing that even though the ride is scary you are safe.
The mistake we make is not freaking out; the mistake is freaking out about freaking out, freaking out in advance of the ride, or continuing to freak out after the ride is over.
I love that I was able to stay in the present moment in the days leading up to surgery. I didn’t freak out by imagining how things would go or worrying about the future.
But I was mistaken when I set the intention to not freak out during and after surgery. There’s no need, nor is there an advantage, to trying to manage our experiences.
If we are truly safe and whole in our essential nature at all times (and I believe that this is so) then there is no need to manage our experiences at any time.
We are safe and whole whether we are freaking out or not.
I don’t know why we are here
I don’t know why spiritual beings are having human experiences. It works for me to assume that there is meaning and value in it. If that is true, I propose that there is meaning and value in all of it, from freak out to transcendence.
It’s all good.
When we make an aspect of the human experience into a problem, we impede the natural process by which what troubles us invariably subsides and we are returned to peace.
That’s what matters. Not that we never freak out, but that we come to see that freaking out is not terminal. Freaking out is a temporary response to a temporary set of thoughts and perceptions.
In other words, this too shall pass.
It happens that as we see more and more clearly the temporary nature of our freak outs, we naturally get more comfortable with the roller coaster. As a result, we tend to freak out less often and less intensely.
But that is a side effect. To make it into a goal activates a sort of spiritual competitiveness. Not helpful.
Spiritualizing experience disconnects us from life and each other
Trying to spiritualize our experience preempts whatever insights might arise if we would only simply be with what is arising. It disconnects us from life and from each other.
Time and again the freedom and peace we seek are to be found right here, right now in the heart whatever joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain we are experiencing.
NOTE: The last video in this month’s video Roundup says more about what I’ve been learning in the wake of surgery. You’re also welcome to visit my CaringBridge Journal, and as always, I welcome your comments.
Just typing that question causes something in my lower back to release. I can feel my buttocks settle into the cushion on my chair as I stop working quite so hard to live up to whatever unconscious standards are running in the background of my awareness.
How about you?
The hardest thing in life is thinking we need to get it right
It seems to me that the hardest thing in life, the hardest thing in building a business, the hardest thing about raising children or growing vegetables, is dealing with our ideas and judgments about getting things right.
Those ideas about what is and isn’t right keep us from going with what we know is true for us in the moment. Preoccupation with getting it right can make decision-making pure hell.
What makes making the right decision seemingly impossible is believing that there’s a right decision to begin with.
The need to get it right goes deep
The imperative that one must get things right is layered, persistent, sneaky. If you’re like me, you let go of the need to get things right, only to discover that you have a new imperative to not need to get things right.
Even (especially?) illness comes with imperatives about what’s right
As some of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of June. As you might imagine, I’ve had lots of different feelings and thoughts about it.
Far and away the hardest thing about it has been the persistent arising of theories or concepts about getting it right.
Having the right feelings. (Yeah, like I’m in charge of that.)
Making the right choices. (For whom? When?)
Sending the right messages. (Hopeless invitation to self-absorption.)
What I’ve learned about making the right decision
I’ve been keeping a journal of my breast cancer journey at CaringBridge, and here’s an excerpt from my entry on June 24 about decision-making and getting things right. I wrote it after deciding to get a bilateral mastectomy, but I think it applies to decision-making in general.
“The hardest part of the past couple of days has been wondering if I’ve made the right decision. And the hardest part of that has been wondering what other people would think of my decision. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned.
“Decisions make themselves. We don’t know what we are going to do, and then we do. The less sound and fury I can inject in the interim, the better able I will be to discern the “right” decision. More about what constitutes “rightness” below.
“It’s not over until it’s over. Another way to say this is that I reserve the right to be inconsistent, erratic, and change my mind. If I’m struck with a sudden insight that changes how I see this, I’ll punt. I’m grateful to Dr. Wechter for explicitly giving me permission to change my mind, though she did ask me not to do it the day before surgery. 😉
“This decision stands until it doesn’t. Insight doesn’t flow from second-guessing. I like how I feel about this decision when I am settled down, and I’m going to stand in that. I won’t be surprised if I second-guess myself anyway, but I don’t intend to put a lot of energy into it.
“The right decision is the one you make. I have a bias in favor of decisions made from a place of peace, from what Syd Banks called “a nice feeling.” But there is no ultimate basis for grading the rightness of this decision. How could you or I judge? By whether or not the cancer returns? By whether or not a new treatment is discovered in six months? By how these journal entries affect an unknown reader? Will I meet my new best friend on the ferry one day en route to get my new boobs inflated? (Stay tuned. Or not. LOL)
“We’re all always doing our best. Full stop.”
There is no such thing as the “right way”
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as the right way to do something; there is only the way we do it. The only justification I have for my choice to have a bilateral mastectomy is that I felt clear, grounded, and peaceful when I let myself want what I want.
And hey, if the best I could do happened to be to make a choice from a place of feeling, confused, ungrounded, and anxious, then that would have to be okay, too.
Because, as I wrote above, I see more clearly than ever that we truly are always doing our best all the time. The only thing that keeps us from seeing that are persistent fantasies and judgments about what our best ought to look like. Those fantasies and judgments are mental constructs, though, and they are utterly trumped by the reality of whatever we are up to in the moment.
I hope to serve, and sometimes I suck at it
As I reflect on my life, I see that I have always hoped to serve. I love it when sharing my experience helps others, and I feel so fortunate that for many years I have been able to earn my living by doing that.
But sometimes when I experience confusion or anxiety or any number of less than, in my opinion, admirable states of mind, I get seriously derailed. I start imagining that I have to get something right in order to be of service, and as soon as I’m on that track, I’m lost in endless self-absorption and self-criticism.
Which pretty much shuts down the creative process, prevents authentic connection and communication, and generates a seemingly accurate self-fulfilling prophecy of wasted potential, meaninglessness, and alienation.
And in those moments my life looks like a wasteland. The idea of service seems like a cruel delusion.
And that’s how it is for all of us. When we are lost, we see loss and waste.
But it’s not real
It sucks to feel like we suck. But the important thing to know about those self-fulfilling prophecies is that they are only seemingly accurate. Because our scary self-fulfilling prophecies are dreams. They are not real.
And sooner or later we come home to ourselves.
We come home sooner when we understand what is going on
We come home to ourselves sooner rather than later when we understand what is going on.
When we understand that, even though they feel very real and compelling in the moment, our fears and judgments are phantoms, we are less inclined to amplify and invest in them.
And like any fire that lacks fuel or oxygen, even the most intense emotional blaze passes when we don’t feed it.
It may burn for a while, but it will not burn forever.
What would you do if you didn’t have to get it right?
If any of this has resonated, I invite you to hold this question lightly. What would you do now if you didn’t have to get it right?
If no answer appears, that could be your answer. Nowhere is it written that you have to know what you are doing or why you are doing it. Wisdom runs deeper than language, and life is far more mysterious than that.
Talk back: I’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome them in the comments section. Also, if you would like to read my CaringBridge journal, it is being cross-posted to my blog at Owning Pink. owningpink.com/users/molly-gordon
I recently reread Viktor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning.I was struck by the difference between getting preoccupied with the idea of a meaningful life and being engaged moment to moment in making life meaningful.
What does it mean to get decisions right? What is our responsibility when it comes to making the best decisions we can? And who’s in charge anyway? A meditation on our shared human dilemma and a tiny perspective on choosing mastectomy. Yikes!