What Pay What You Choose Pricing Is Teaching Me About Coaching and Business

IMG_1161Last 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.

Love,

Molly signature

Photo by pixabay.com

8 Comments

  1. Lois

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Molly. Very helpful to know.
    Lois

    Reply
    • Molly

      You are so welcome, Lois!

      Reply
  2. Julia

    Molly,

    I have received your ezine now for many years but with a too full inbox don’t read every one. Today’s title grabbed me. I am impressed with the integrity and courage that going to a pay as what you choose coaching business indicates. While I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that I needed to push people to commit, to ask what I was worth, etc. I didn’t see another way. I’m probably not going to jump on the band wagon today and am glad to have an alternative to contemplate. Thank You, Julia Rimme

    Reply
    • Molly

      I’m glad it is helpful, Julia!

      Reply
  3. Christy

    Hello Molly,

    I sure enjoyed reading this ezine article after having a PWYC appointment with you this past week. It was so cool to be able to experience the PWYC concept first hand as a client. I am happy to tell people that our session was awesome. Early on, my discovery with you was that I had one life rather than 2 lives. This last session deepened that feeling even more. The relief and comfort I felt is beyond words.

    I found a couple things fascinating from the coaching side too:
    1) The amount they paid didn’t effect if they did more sessions.
    2) The amount isn’t an indicator on how much you enjoyed coaching the session.
    As a coach myself, I had been toying with this idea too. After the article and my experience, I am going to give PWYC a run too!

    Thanks, Christy

    Reply
    • Molly

      Thank you, Christy!

      Reply
  4. Phil

    Hi Molly, I’d love to see a followup post on this. It seems you’re no longer doing pay-what-you-can, and I wonder why? I have a friend who recently experimented with several new pricing models and found that pay-what-you-can got the fewest clients. She learned that people didn’t want to offend her by offering too little, so instead they did nothing. I also think simply giving people yet another decision to make may lead to inaction. Anyway, I’m curious what you learned from your experiment. Cheers, Phil

    Reply
    • Molly

      Thanks for asking, Phil. My experience is similar to your friend’s. If pricing is too broad or undefined, it can leave people uncertain, and uncertainty often leads to inaction. I now use flexible pricing. I establish prices for my work and am happy to work with people if money is an issue. We may work out terms, barter, or a reduction in price.

      Reply

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