If you do any kind of coaching, consulting or service business, you probably have experienced some discomfort around getting paid. If you have trouble asking for money for your services, you’re not alone.
If I added up the number of hours I’ve spent this year doing unpaid work, I am sure it would far outnumber the hours I’ve billed for. And that’s setting a terrible example for the clients I’m advising to charge appropriately for their services.
In the 70s, it felt easy for me. I knew from a fixed, existing model what percentage an advertising agency bills. In the early 80s, doing craft shows, I put a price on my work based on what I saw other artists charging for a comparable custom product. In the home furnishings business, we knew the exact markup formula that gave the customer the best value while still allowing our sales team a generous commission and a comfortable salary for us.
Before I opened my gallery, I studied the different commission/consignment structures and found that the average percentage share was 50/50. (If you have questions around pricing your art or consigning to shops and galleries, there’s a lot of great info on the topic at Craft Biz Blog dot com.)
Even in the massage therapy business, contracting to chiropractors and resort spas, clients were used to paying a fee that was reasonable in the industry.
Easy peazy-no discomfort around charging what the product or service was worth.
When it comes to intellectual service, though, it’s trickier. How do you put a price tag on advice or guidance? Why is it so much harder with something that is intangible? And why do we, as creative coaches, consultants and teachers often find it more uncomfortable to charge friends than strangers? We know that our clients gain so much from our work, but we tend to either underestimate what we should charge for our services or give away too much for free.
When a paying client tells me I should be charging her more, I know I’m guilty of this too. I had a discussion about this recently with a friend who cuts hair. She said she charges friends the same as strangers because she’s spending the same time and using the same skills and her overhead is the same whether it’s a walk-in customer or her neighbor.
She asked me if I think my doctor feels awkward charging me for an office visit and I said, “of course not.” In my mind, the difference is she spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars training as a physician. And besides, she can save my life.
My friend put her scissors down, put her hands on her hips and said, “and how many decades have you spent learning and practicing the things you teach people about business?”
Of course our advice is just as valuable. It may not physically save a life but definitely improves life and saves sanity.
For me, the greatest challenge is when someone refers a client to me and in our initial discussion, the person tells me about recent hardships. She’s called me about coaching. She hasn’t said, “I can’t afford your services” but I hear poverty thinking in her voice, or feel compassion for her situation and immediately realize this is another one that I want to help as an act of kindness. But, and here’s the big BUT, if I continue to work pro-bono, I will become that person who can’t afford to pay for services. So how do we get over this discomfort hurdle and charge what we should for the work we do?
First, we have to change our mindset. We have to recognize the value our work brings to our clients and mostly, we have to remember that if we work for free or undercharge, we won’t have the money to help the people who truly need us. When I charged appropriately for my goods and services, I was able to give generously to causes that mattered and help people who needed it. I was able to create livelihoods for people so that they could earn enough to take care of their families and also share their wealth with those less fortunate.
What about you? Do you struggle with putting a monetary value on the work you do in the world?