The Two Skills of Gift Giving

Well, for many people on this list, Christmas will have just happened and gifts will have been, in some fashion, given and received. If you got any gifts, there’s a good chance that you loved some of them and other ones had you utterly question your friendship with that person and wonder if they even knew you at all.

There’s that scene in Dead Poet’s Society where one of the students gets, yet again, the same Christmas gift from his father that he got last year. And the year before. And the year before that. I remember growing up and one of my aunt’s sending me books that bore no mark of her knowing of me or perhaps the full mark of her not knowing me at all. I remember looking at them, books for adults by an author who, at twelve years old, I’d never heard of and wondering, “Why?”

I am writing to you about marketing though it may not seem like it at first.

Let me come to it slowly.

Gift giving, that old, reliable, village-making and culture-feeding institution, is a big moment in a friendship but it is rarely understood as such and so rarely occurs as such. Gift giving, what gift is selected, when it is given and how, is where the whole rest of the friendship is called to appear – it’s where one finds out how much of a friendship was there in the first place.

Sadly, what is revealed, when many gifts are given, is that they were not paying much attention to you over the past year at all.

This isn’t to blame anyone. The pace of modern life is relentless, the pressures are well and truly unmanageable and we certainly carry an entitlement to the attention of others that seduces down the hill of narcissism with its constant whispers of how worthy, central and important we are while, in truth, in this fast-food, single-serving, modern world, we are lucky to be on the receiving end of the attention of others whenever it happens. There’s so much pressure on us all.

Even if the pressure is off for a while, in the dominant cultures in the world we are deeply unskilled at being on the receiving, observing, and regarding side of the world and other people.

And so this is the first of the two skills needed for gift giving.

The first is the real skill of being able to sit there and let another person’s ways have their ways with us. We live in a culture where, instead of looking at the blank screen for what it is, we project onto it. The mountain is no longer a mountain – it becomes a metaphor for struggle and triumph. A coyote is not longer a coyote, it’s a spiritual messenger meant just for us whose message we can decipher by looking it up in a book about ‘messages from spirit animals’ or calling up that native friend of ours who knows so much. The meat we eat was never a live animal. Our parents aren’t human beings who had complete lives before we showed up, they were only ever that.

And there it is, this strip-malled Empire we walk around in daily, constantly telling us, “If it’s in the world, it must be there for you.”

There is more to see but our capacity to project our unmet needs, unfulfilled desires and unprocessed feelings onto others stops us from ever, truly learning them.

How can one get a gift that would truly touch the heart of another if one doesn’t understand them at all because one has never really seen them at all for who and what they are without all of our mad and insistent projections?

It becomes further complicated because, even if we did truly see someone, we truly set aside our habitual lenses and filters, or grace descends and allows us to be on the receiving end of one we admire… in a year they’ve changed and in ten years they may resemble who they were very little.

A simple example of this being: you were vegetarian ten years ago but then stopped. You’ve eaten meat ever since. And then, for Christmas, your uncle gets you a vegetarian cookbook and you look up at him and wonder how he missed the last ten years. Then you recall eating steak with him two years ago but it didn’t seem to register.

And here is the secret: people are telling you who they are all the time. People are telling you what gifts they might want all the time. If you leave a conversation with someone with no sense of what a perfect gift for them might be, then I would submit it either wasn’t much of a conversation or you weren’t listening well or both.

It’s a fine orientation to come to an interaction with, as you sit there in their presence, to wonder, ‘What gift might I get this person that would touch their heart and show them, conclusively, that I was paying attention?’

My brother loves cooking and so, one Christmas, I got him one of those fancy, folded steel, Japanese cooking knives. I think it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever given.

The secret to it was that I never asked him once if he wanted one or had considered them. I just paid attention. This is the test, are you attending well enough, obedient (from the roots that pertain to ‘listening’) to what they say and what goes unsaid, that you could choose a gift that would stun them with its thoughtfulness.

My friend Olenka was leaving Edmonton. She hosted a farewell potluck during which nothing was happening. There was no orchestrated farewell. And so I gave her one. I asked those present to miss her to her face. I invited them to tell her that they didn’t want her to go and to help her understand the size of the hole that she would be leaving when she left. This was my gift to Olenka. That she could be wept over and not cry alone as she’d been doing for weeks with the fears that no one would miss her and that she’d be forgotten. When my dear friend Hannah left Edmonton I wept in front of her too. This is a gift you can give to people. 

I recall Martin Shaw talking about the biggest gift you can give to friends and lovers from the past who, of their own volition, moved on from your life. “Let them go,” he said. “Let them go.”

Sometimes the best gift you can give is advice and sometimes the best advice is to give absolutely no advice at all but to just listen and give empathy instead.

I was recently up in Northern Alberta and, at the end of a daylong workshop, I was gifted the most beautiful, hand-made, felted vest. It made me cry right up there in front of everyone. The night before we had sat in a small, log cabin owned by a couple named Tim and Linda. Tim had been wearing one of these fine vests, and I fawned over it fiercely, admiring the time and energy it must have take to make it. Raising the sheep, shearing the wool by hand, washing the wool, carding it and then felting it and then cutting and sewing and embroidering it. And my new friend, Kolby, my host for the event, had bought one the next day for me and gave it to me. That is how you give a gift. I never told her I wanted it. I never asked for it. I showered it with appreciation out loud and she heard me. 

It’s not so hard. People are always telling you what they want.

You go out to a bar and you hear a friend rave about the Sake there and how rarely they get to drink it. So, next Christmas, you wrap up a bottle of it for them. You are showing them, without saying anything, “I paid attention. I am glad to know you. Here’s my proof.”

You have a friend who runs an indigenous arts festival and they are always struggling for money and so you invite them for coffee to share a fundraising model you know of that might help change things for them forever. You are showing them, without saying anything, “I see the labour you put in to make this festival happen and to carry your community on your back and this is my way of acknowledging that.”

You have a friend who is a single parent and you send them a bit of money out of the blue or tell them you’d be happy to watch the kids one night so that they can hit the town and do whatever they want. You are showing them, without saying anything, “I see the labour you put in to feed your children and this is my way of acknowledging that.”

You go over to a friend’s house and are fed an amazing dinner and so you do the dishes and clean their kitchen. You are showing them, without saying anything, “I see the labour you put in to feed me and this is my way of acknowledging that.”

People are telling you all the time what they want.

This happens all the time. We assume that we already know people and so we stop learning them.

Learning how to do this is a cultural thing. The failure to do so is a cultural failing. This is a skill that must be taught.

But then there is a second skill, the skill of translating what one has witnessed into a gift for them that they didn’t see coming. A gift can be a way of saying, “I was watching. I was listening.”

And that is its own immense skill. There is a craftsmanship here. There is a capacity to select, of all the options, the perfect one or, if no options exist, to create one.

But that second skills hinges on the first.

So these are the two skills: the first to receive the person and the second to give to them something that confirms the fact of the first. Without the first, there can be no second. And without the second, what was the point of the first? The first skill is hearing them. The second skill is offering the proof that you did.

Without these twin skills, we are left with “No no. I was listening. Trust me. I heard you.” But why should anyone trust us that we were paying attention in the face of mounting evidence saying that we haven’t been paying attention at all? It’s an unkind approach to constantly demand trust in the face of evidence to the contrary. This is called gaslighting. That fellow in the Whitehouse currently does it all of the time. Better to prove it and to do so consistently.

It could be so that your appearance amongst us is all the proof we need that our ancestors are still with us. They looked at the troubles of the times we found ourselves in and they crafted their response – you. It could be, as my Cree friend Lewis often says, “My elders told me that the reason babies come into the world with their fist closed is because they are coming with gifts to give us.”

And the communities willingness and capacity to take care of you is the proof to you that we see what a gift you are and the gifts you were laden with before you made your way here. Our caring for you and fostering those gifts is our way of saying to our ancestors, “We see you. We see what you have done for us. We are grateful. Our proof is that we take care of this one.”

Being on the receiving end of a good gift is so very rare that it stops us in our tracks when it happens. Again, it says so much more about this culture than it does about us as people.

These two skills show up in business (or they don’t) all the time.

You can translate the word ‘gift’ into the word ‘offer’ with great accuracy.

Our offers that we make to our email list and to our virtual and live audiences, are our gifts to them.

They are the proof of all of the ways that we have, or have not, being paying attention to them.

I remember hearing a story about British Airways asking their trans-atlantic, first class customers what they wanted most during the long flights. “To be left alone! Let us sleep!” was the resounding answer. They were tired of being woken up every 30 minutes by the overly helpful flight attendants.

Disney Hotels came to a similar recognition years ago when their customers told them they didn’t want or need for their rooms to be cleaned every night.

When you offer a payment plan, or PWYC option or sliding scale, it’s your way of saying, “I get it. Money can be tight.”

When you come up with a package focused on a very particular issue it’s a way of saying to your people, “I know you don’t have the time or energy to learn all of this and translate it to your own situation and so I’ve done it for you.”

When you create an online version of a popular live program, it’s a way of saying, “I know you’d love to travel to come to my workshop but I know that costs so much time and money. So let me offer it this way.”

Offering a lot of free content on your website is a way of saying, “I see how scary it is to approach someone like me. I see the risks involved. And so let me do what I can to lower that risk.”

Good customer service is your proof to your customers that you see the immense frustration they’re going through and what it has cost them.

What is it that is actually meaningful to me? A handwritten note, the kind that Mark Silver of Heart of Business sends me from time to time.

What is not meaningful to me? A card from yousendit.com with a printed signature – the exact same card they send to every client. Those make me angry. Why did they waste the time, money and paper on this? They could have given a meal to a homeless person for the price of this. I throw them out, unread, every single time The message these cards send is, “We are trying to do the right thing but we are too lazy to do the real thing so we thought we’d send you this facsimile.” I remember another colleague of mine sending me a video card. You opened it and a video played. It was a video of him speaking directly to me. It was clever. It was personal. And yet… it was a single use of precious resources that had to be thrown out after. Why would he send me something that couldn’t be recycled?

You customers, if you are in touch with them, are telling you what they want all the time: in every coaching session, in every workshop and on your social media feed. They are telling you – directly and indirectly – how to make the perfect offer to them.

What might the opposite of gift giving be?

Perhaps it might be theft. Perhaps when we are not thoughtful in our gift giving we aren’t giving people something that will bless them but something that will frustrate them. We are burdening them with something to deal with not something that will delight them.

When we don’t offer a payment plan, or PWYC option or sliding scale, it might be our way of saying, “I don’t get it. Just pony up. If you won’t pay the money then it’s because you clearly don’t value me and yourself.”

When we come up with a package focused on a very particular issue we might be robbing people of their time.

When we won’t create an online version of a popular live program it could be a way of robbing people of their time and money by making them fly across the world to see us.

A refusal to create free content on our websites could be a way of robbing people of their safety.

Bad customer service is your proof to your customers that you see the immense frustration they’re going through and what it has cost them. We rob them of relief.

When our copy writing is fuzzy we rob people of time and inner peace and replace it with confusion and frustration. 

It’s worth considering.

And so, you haven’t gotten an email from me over the past ten days.

Why might that be?

It could be laziness. But it could also be that it is my way of saying, “I think what you most want over the holidays is to not be disturbed. I hear about how many emails you get. I see all of the Christmas offers and my guess is that what you would prefer over another offer, during a time you are deluged with offers, is silence and space.”

It’s a small way of letting you know that I see you and what you are going through.

Further Reading:

Courting vs. Seduction in Marketing
Wrapping Your Gifts
Generous Gifts vs. Free Samples
Stop Wasting People’s Time: The Incredible Cost of Being Fuzzy

Guest Post: 4 Commonly Crossed Boundaries in Your Business (And How to Firm Them Up) by Julie Wolk

by Julie Wolk

It’s time to talk about boundaries, people!

This is a subject often broached in personal development – holding boundaries is considered essential for maintaining emotional health (for example, you may choose not to spend time with a particular friend who drains your energy).

But boundaries are rarely discussed in a business context.

And yet, boundaries in business are crucial if you want to run a business with integrity — and actually enjoy doing it.

I see my clients face SO MANY challenges in their businesses that are directly related to boundaries that are too loose or even nonexistent.

So let’s dive in. First, I’m going to tell you the two main reasons your business needs boundaries . . .  and the one secret to creating them.

In the second half of the post, we’ll walk through the four most common ways boundaries are crossed in your business (and how to avoid this).

Your business needs boundaries for two main reasons:

1) So that your business has integrity

Imagine a river and its banks.

The bank makes the river a river. Without it, we have . . . a puddle. Or maybe a delta or something (which is lovely in its own right, but not a river).

Without structure — a boundary to contain it — things get kinda messy. Erosion happens, contaminants find their way in, and the flow can get off course and unpredictable.

With strong banks, the power of the river is channeled successfully. The banks hold the river so that the water can flow, twisting and turning, rushing and trickling out to the sea.

Similarly, your business needs structure, and specifically boundaries, to not only contain it, but to DEFINE it. What is your business and what is it not? How does it operate and how does it not?

The boundaries define the business.

This definition gives your business integrity. What do I mean by integrity? It gives your business strength and reliability.

Something that your clients and potential clients can know and count on. Something that YOU can know and count on, too.

(This feels really good when you nail it, by the way).

Now of course (and we’ll get into this in a moment), your banks can be too high . . . ever seen a levee break?

2) So that YOU don’t burn out

Now we get to talk about poison oak. You didn’t think I could make an analogy about poison oak in a business blog, did you?

Some people think that poison oak is just there to make you extremely itchy. It’s not. My herbalist friends have taught me to respect poison oak and call it, “Guardian Oak,” and there’s a good reason for this.

Guardian Oak grows at the edges of disturbed areas. Basically, humans come in and clear an area to build a house, and we disturb an intact forest in the process. And what sprouts up at those edges where it’s been disturbed? You guessed it — that’s Guardian Oak’s favourite hangout (which is why you often see it at the edge of a hiking trail).

But here’s the interesting part – I’m told the oak grows there to create a boundary between the disturbers (the humans in this case) and what’s left of the healthy, intact forest.

It’s saying, “Please do not pass, I am the guardian of this forest, and my job is to keep it healthy.”

If you go messing around in the oak, you are most likely going to get a nasty rash, and there’s a decent chance it’ll stop you from trying to disturb the area more, no?!

Ok, that was a long-winded way of saying that sometimes you need to create a boundary around yourself to keep the forest of your life intact.

You need to protect yourself, your health, your well-being . . . from the disturbances (aka, humans who want things from you!) so you don’t get burned out.

So how do you create good boundaries?

Before we dive into the four main ways our boundaries are crossed in our businesses, I want to tell you the secret to creating proper boundaries.

Boundaries must be flexible.

Like a tree swaying in the wind, a boundary is strong and rooted firmly in the earth, but not so rigid that it breaks during an average rainstorm.

It has to have give.

I always tell my clients: Make your boundary. You can always make an exception.

People have this idea that if you make a rule, you must rigidly keep it. But if you did that, you would not have the opportunity to try new things, take advantage of new opportunities, and learn stuff you might not have otherwise learned.

Of course if you always cross your boundary, then we’re back to the whole bank-less river thing (not a river, remember?).

It’s a balance.

But just like a plant has a porous surface, allowing water and oxygen in through its openings, a good boundary has some permeability.

So how do you decide when to be flexible, when to bend a boundary? Each situation is different. You need to go inside and ask yourself if it feels right to you to bend your boundary in this particular case.

Sometimes it will be a resounding yes! I am THRILLED to offer my work to this person at a discount because she’s amazing and she needs this work and it feels in service and I need the practice anyways.

And sometimes, you will get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that will say, Do not even think about lowering your rate to work with this person, they’re just going to keep asking for more, and frankly it already feels shitty.

Please listen to this voice. And then make a case-by-case decision.

The 4 Boundaries Most Often Crossed in Your Biz

I have noticed that many of the challenges people face in running a business are actually simply a problem of boundaries.

I’m going to walk you through the four main places where I see boundaries crossed in business all. the. time.

If you can get a handle on creating boundaries in these four areas, you will be well on your way.

I’ll tell you about these four challenges in order of how a client approaches and enters into your business:

  1. Your Niche is Weak or Nonexistent

Well before someone chooses to work with you, they need to know what you do and for whom you do it so that they can determine if it makes sense to hire you.

And for them to know what you do and for whom you do it (otherwise known as your niche), YOU need to know this information.

It is in this way that your niche is the very first boundary of your business.

Because inherently embedded in the niche is what I call – the non-niche. Ok fine, I just made that up.

But seriously, what you DON’T do is as (or more) important as what you DO do. Who you DON’T work with is just as (or more) important as who you DO work with.

When someone comes to you who does not fit your niche, your niche acts as a filter or boundary, making it way easier for you to say, no, I’m not the right person for you, but might I recommend my colleague so-and-so?

Now some aspects of your niche will be more obvious than others. For example, I work with people who sell services, not physical products. I don’t know the first thing about selling products. I wouldn’t even get on the phone with someone selling any kind of physical product because it would be a waste of both of our time.

But I’ve also found that I like working with people who are action-takers, yet that one is a little harder to know without a conversation. So in my consultation calls, I need to ask questions that help me understand whether or not this person is an action-taker so I can decide whether we’re a good fit or not.

Does this person fit within the boundary of my niche?

Because if they’re not, and I work with them, what happens?

Well to be honest, it feels like crap. And it’s draining. And you are not a happy person after a day with the wrong clients on the wrong projects.

Oh, and to boot, you don’t do your best work with these folks because you’re trudging through it, and they can totally feel it, and then they don’t refer other people to you (or maybe even say negative things), and so it’s actually bad for your business too!

So what am I saying here? First, you gotta know (or learn over time, really, because it’s an iterative, evolutionary process) specifically who you are meant to work with and what you’re uniquely effective at and passionate about doing, and be able to say NO to people and projects that are not well-suited to you.  Draw a boundary and enforce it (and make occasional exceptions, see first part of this blog post).

You will be much happier and more successful in your business if you only take on people and projects who are well-suited to you.

And not to mention, you can’t be all things to all people. That’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout.

  1. You Don’t Confidently Ask for and Expect Your Fee

Ok, so they’re a great fit and have decided to work with you. Yay! The next step is their payment. This is the second place on the journey where so many entrepreneurs get wiggly — they end up charging less than their services are worth.

This leads to bitterness in the short run, and burnout in the long run, because if you keep doing things for cheap, you’ll always be hustling for more clients and there will never be enough hours in the day. Can you say exhausting?

So what to do? Set a fee that feels right to you and be clear about it. And expect that if you feel good about your fee, then the right clients will pay it.

I use a combination of three things to decide on my fee:

  • What I actually need to earn overall in my business
  • Where I want to place myself on the range of similar services offered in the marketplace
  • My intuition (literally, a gut check on the number – what feels right?)

Then, I think – in advance – about any exceptions I may want to make to that fee. Is there a type of client who I want offer a discount or scholarship to? Do I want to have a certain amount of pro bono clients or sessions per year? Do I want to charge less initially because I’m experimenting with a new program (beta testing)?

And then, after I get as clear as possible, I choose my number and I simply tell people what it costs (pro tip, you have to be able to say your fee out loud without puking or it’s not the right fee). Or even better, I put that fee right on my website so they know even before they talk to me.

Again, it’s OK to make exceptions occasionally, just don’t make it the rule.

  1. You See Clients Willy-Nilly Instead of Having a Schedule

Payment’s in. Woo hoo! Now it’s time to book those sessions. Seems simple, right?

Well not if you don’t have boundaries on your schedule.

Have you ever scheduled someone to make it super convenient for them, only to realize that it’s incredibly inconvenient for you? Yeah, we’ve all been guilty of it. It’s easy to want to accommodate, but again, the more you do evening sessions that cut into family time, or morning sessions before you’ve had your coffee and a shower, or work right through lunch, the more frustrated you’re going to be, and the more likely you’ll hit burnout in the long run.

If you don’t currently have specific days and hours that you see clients, I want you to create them right now.

I know it’s not always as easy to do as it sounds. Many people fear clients won’t work with them if they aren’t super accommodating. I can say from experience though, it is rare that people who really want to work with you will not find a way to see you during your hours. People respect professionals with time boundaries and find a way to fit it in.

Now, again, there’s always an exception here and there. For example, I have a client in Europe who I see a little earlier than I normally would see other clients, but I love her and I want to do it. See, that’s ok too!

But here’s my most important scheduling tip: Before you create your business hours, put everything else on your calendar that’s important to you. Vacations, days off, working out, family time, meditation time, yoga class, dinner out, whatever it is, put it on your calendar FIRST, and then create your business hours around your life. You will be happier for it.

  1. You Over-give Physically and Energetically

Now it’s time to actually work with your new client. And here, the final boundary issue rears its ugly head.

This one is soooo tricky because it’s sometimes really hard to see where our energy is leaking. I’ll give you one example of this that I see over and over again, but I bet you can think of others, too.

I see clients feel like they “should” give their clients more and more of their time and expertise, even if it goes beyond what their clients have paid them or what’s been promised to them. Or, maybe it IS what’s been promised, and the problem is that your offer includes an overabundance of support, and it’s just too much for you to manage for multiple people.

This behaviour often comes from a place of scarcity. You fear not having enough clients, or a client not sticking around for a long time, and you keep giving, giving, giving. The more you provide, the better, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Your client may be very satisfied, but you? You’re exhausted and feel like you can never catch up. And, sometimes even your clients can get overwhelmed when you offer them too much support or too many things to do/read/consume.

This boundary is closely related to the fee boundary and needs to be considered with it.

What is actually the right and fair amount of service to give your client for the money they have paid? Of course, I can’t answer this question for your business in this post, but it’s something to deeply consider as you design your programs, especially if you find yourself scrambling to answer client emails the second they roll in, or if you give away way too much valuable one-on-one time for not enough money.

Like I said, it’s the most complicated one because it’s fuzzy and hard to see, but if you ever feel like you’re working really hard to hang on to your clients, and feel like if you don’t give more, your clients won’t be satisfied/think you’re good enough/hire you again, you might have problems with your energetic boundary. In other words, you might be an over-giver.

People who provide a service that helps people often get caught in this trap, because, well, we really want to help!

But we all know the rule about the oxygen mask on the airplane by now, right!?

And finally, it’s messy at the edge.

You may be familiar with the concept of transition or edge zones in ecology. If not, it’s the place or boundary where two ecosystems meet. It’s inherently more complex. Two worlds colliding. Twice the number of plants and animals all trying to figure it out together.

When we approach making and holding boundaries, it can get messy. It’s not always easy to tell someone No . . . We find ourselves in rich emotional territory (Is it ok for me to feel this way? Should I just do what he’s asking?) and things can feel complicated.

It’s because you’re in a transition zone.

But when the boundary eventually becomes clear and you can hold it with ease (and we all know it can take a few tries!), it’s easy to see what belongs on this side of the fence and what does not.

And you’ll be shocked you ever let yourself book a client during your yoga class.

And more importantly, your business will feel strong and clear and full of integrity. And people will notice that. And you will feel strong and clear and healthy and filled up enough that you actually enjoy running your business.

Which means you will actually have the ability to serve MORE and BETTER.

And that’s what we’re going for.

Boundaries are a hot topic at the January Replenish Winter Reflection & Strategy Retreat for Women Entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in creating powerful boundaries for a successful and fulfilling 2019, I hope you’ll join us!

Julie Wolk helps coaches, consultants, and healers grow rooted, blossoming, burnout-free businesses by modelling them after the way nature works. She’s a firm believer that if we step off the hamster wheel, and tune into nature’s rhythms, we can grow more sustainable lives, businesses and even—gasp!—a better world. A lifelong nature freak, she has over 15 years of experience turning vision into reality, and would love to help you create a simpler, more enjoyable, nature-led life and business. You can find her at www.juliewolkcoaching.com.

The Art of Raising Your Fees

Money.

Abstractly it seems like a good thing to have.

But talk to most conscious entrepreneur types about doing one of the central things that will open the door to more of it appearing in their lives?

Stunned silence and utter emotional shut down.

Money is fraught for everyone in this culture. We’ve all done things with money we regret. We’ve all had people use money against us in ways that didn’t feel good but… add a social, political and spiritual analysis to this?

My oh my.

You’re about to watch a 26 minute video (it’s worth your time) about this thorny topic of raising your rates. My guess is that you’re walking into it with some level of confusion around not only how to do it but if you should at all.

Of course, this comes often in my workshops and whenever people lift up this topic with all of their halting, “But is it right?” and “What about the federal reserve?” and “But what about class dynamics?” I want to fall on my knees and kiss their feet for being willing to even think about this stuff because most people don’t.

What must be faced is that we who are living in the dominant culture of North America, live in a mad culture. It’s a culture of hyper individualism where village-making is sorely needed. It’s a culture where the gifts we might freely give to each other in a healthy culture (e.g. affection, listening, cleaning) are turned into services that are charged for. That’s how it is. You are unlikely to solve that on your own. And yet you want to. And yet the bills. And yet and yet.

So what do you do?

The first thing that must happen, is to have reality-based conversation about money and what we charge. As Lily Tomlin put it, “I can handle reality in small doses, but as a lifestyle, it’s much too confining.” It’s a good laugh but most of us have also confronted the limitations of illusions too and the ways that refusing to face the truth ends up being an inescapable jail built of everything we refused to consider with bars crafted from everything we’ve banished from view.

We need to talk honestly about money and what it takes to sustain us.

This is a topic I’ve thought about a great deal. I wrote an eBook called Who Am I To Teach and Charge Money For It?

One of my most popular blog posts is entitled Why Charging What You’re Worth Is Bullshit.

My next eBook will be me sharing how I’ve managed to lead almost all of my live daylong and weekend long workshops on a pay what you can basis since 2005 (and done well financially from it).

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 8.20.35 PMBut, having said all of that, this is not an area I have focused on deeply. It’s not a place I feel the most solid in offering advice.

But, as good fortune would have it, life introduced me to a good woman named Tiffany McLain (pictured here) who sent me an email of appreciation about a blog post I’d written and telling me she was planning of writing an article inspired by it. Which she did.

I went and checked out her site and was delighted to see her focus on helping therapists raise their rates.

I dug about a bit and asked her if she might submit herself to an interview for my blog. I was about to hit the road and I sent her the following questions.

  • What’s your story? how did you end up having so much to say about raising fees for therapists?
  • How do you define under-charging and over-charging?
  • Why do so many people feel guilty about charging anything at all?
  • How should we feel about what we charge?
  • Why do so many therapist under charge?
  • A lot of people would say that the politically correct thing is to charge less so that people in lower economic classes could afford to hire you and that charging higher fees is classist or only allowing those with economic privilege to access your services. what’s your take on this?
  • What are the three biggest blunders therapists make in raising their fees?
  • What tips would you give to those who feel nervous to raise their fees? what’s most important here?

She sent me, in response, the video below which was put together with so much care, thought, humour, candour and love that… She’s officially one of my new favourite people.

We would both love to hear your thoughts, reflections and further questions in the comments below.

Maybe I Should Stop Doing PWYC

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 11.20.49 AM

(NOTE TO READER: As you can see, this post has generated quite the commentary below and this from sharing it on social media. If it’s any reassurance, my practice of offering my daylong and weekend workshops on a PWYC basis is not under any imminent danger. I don’t intend to stop it any time soon. I wrote this piece more to reflect to all of us the immense consequence that everything we do and do not do has not only on our lives and the lives of others (intended or not). At this point, the reasons (selfish and selfless) for me to keep offering these workshops on a PWYC basis outweigh the reasons not to. So, I’m not looking for alternatives right now. I think with some adjustments, PWYC will continue to work well for me when I do it).

*

Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I led a marketing workshop in Toronto last Summer.

It was a weekend workshop that I offer, as I have for almost 15 years now, on a PWYC basis.

Every time I do the workshop I tell people that it’s not a given that it will go on forever – this PWYC thing. If it stopped working, I’d have to stop doing it. Thankfully, it has worked thus far and people have been remarkably trustworthy in their instalment payments that they agree to.

But of that co-hort from the Toronto workshop (of which there were seven) there were two where payments were late. Two out of seven is a very high ration compared to the past.

It was left to me to follow up.

Over and over again.

It was a kind of ghosting.

Or carelessness. Or forgetfulness. But it all communicates the same sort of thing in the end. “This isn’t that high a priority to me right now.”

To be clear: the issue wasn’t the amount. I offer my workshops on a PWYC basis so that people can afford to attend it no matter where they’re at financially. And I’ve had people promise to pay me large amounts and then, months later, have to re-negotiate that as their financial picture had dramatically changed and I was happy to forgive that amount and let it go. 

I suppose it’s true for most of us: the big issue is communication.

On the personal level, it felt terrible. These were people I’d spent a weekend with. I’d paid all of my expenses up front to be there. I’d worked hard for them all weekend to help them grow their businesses. A certain level of affection grew. And then, after all that, they were treating me like this?

It reminded me of an ex-housemate who would take forever to pay his bills. But that isn’t what bothered me. It was that I was the one who had to follow up with him. He wouldn’t let me know it was going to be late. Then he’d promise to get me the money by Friday. And he wouldn’t. And then I wouldn’t hear from him for a month.

It was the lack of communication that stung the most. 

It reminds me of going to a friend’s house and sitting on her couch with a guitar. It was myself, my friend and two of her friends. 

“Are you going to sing us a song?” asked my friend, sitting on her floor with a bottle of wine. 

I nodded and began to sing a Corin Raymond tune that I love.

They listened for a while but, within sixty seconds, they’d begun talking with each other and weren’t listening at all. I stopped playing and set down the guitar. Besides the personal sting of being ignored, there was the song to think about. A song is a living thing and it was being dishonoured by that kind of behaviour and so, to care for it, I stopped it. It wasn’t fair to the song.

It reminded me of sitting at the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock. We were in the kitchen. I was doing magic at a table. But people started grabbing at things. They were drunk. They were interrupting me and distracted. I stopped the show. They were shocked. One came up and apologized later. I think they’d all imagined that I would accomodate any level of rudeness they brought. 

It reminded me of one of my first magic mentors, Gazzo Macee who I had seen stop a number of street shows after five minutes because he could feel the tone the audience was setting wasn’t right. 

And so it was with these two people from the Toronto workshop. I would email and there would be long delays in even responding to me. In one of those cases, there were six weeks in which multiple emails were sent and no reply. The payments finally arrived but much good will was lost in the process. Perhaps it will be restored but I’m leaving that in their hands for the moment.

For the first time in years, I found myself thinking, “Maybe it’s time to put this PWYC thing to rest. Maybe people are taking it for granted too much.” I don’t need to lead live workshops. I can make better money online. There are no travel expenses, accommodations, venue fees etc.

I think that we often underestimate the consequentiality of what we do and don’t do.

We assume that what we love will be there regardless of how we treat it. Until the break up. Until we’re fired. Until that local bookstore goes under because we loved the convenience of Amazon.com instead. Until the local farmers shut their farms down because we all decided chain grocery stores were more convenient.

It makes me think of my dear colleague George Kao who brought me in to help his people for 90 minutes the other day and then sent me, thought I’d agreed to do it for free, $200 afterwards as his way of saying thanks.

It makes me think of how many indigenous traditions are based around feeding the holy in Nature with the beauty they make with their language and their hands and how many people go to Church wanting to get fed.

It makes me think of the difference a good and enthusiastic crowd makes when I perform improv with Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton.

It makes me think of the guests at my potlucks who help with the dishes throughout the night.

It makes me think of my dear friend Esther, a Mexican woman, who told me that when women of colour visited her they automatically began to help out with whatever chores they saw needed doing and white men who came to visit would simply sit and wait to be served with an air of entitlement. Helping out never seemed to occur to them at all. It makes me think about how I got up from my chair and began to help her with dishes once she told me that.  

My offering my live workshops on a pay what you can basis is not inevitable. Its future is not in my hands in the end. It’s in the hands of the people who attend them and how they honour or do not honour their word in what they will pay (and how honourably they act when they realize they are no longer able to honour their original commitments).

In offering the workshops in this pricing I expect more from people in their integrity than perhaps others do and I’m okay with that. I’ve got no plans on changing that. If we’re going to build a new economy, move towards the possibility of village-making, then surely our integrity in our commitments matters a great deal. 

If you love someone or a business, I ask you to imagine that the way you interact with it (or don’t) shapes its future. I ask you to imagine that the future of those you love and businesses you admire is in your hands. It’s too easy to imagine that they are inevitable. That they will always be there no matter what you do or don’t do. It’s easy to see those we admire as sort of bullet proof and not so vulnerable as we are. That they don’t feel the slights as deeply as we would. I can assure you they do. I’m not immune to it and have no plans to try to be intact (a word that means ‘untouched). 

Martha Nussbaum put it so well when she wrote,

“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility. Being a human means accepting promises from other people and trusting that other people will be good to you. When that is too much to bear, it is always possible to retreat into the thought, “I’ll live for my own comfort, for my own revenge, for my own anger, and I just won’t be a member of society anymore.” That really means, “I won’t be a human being anymore.” You see people doing that today where they feel that society has let them down, and they can’t ask anything of it, and they can’t put their hopes on anything outside themselves. You see them actually retreating to a life in which they think only of their own satisfaction, and maybe the satisfaction of their revenge against society. But the life that no longer trusts another human being and no longer forms ties to the political community is not a human life any longer. Tragedy happens only when you are trying to live well, because for a heedless person who doesn’t have deep commitments to others, Agamemnon’s conflict [in which the king-protagonist has to choose between saving his army and saving his daughter] isn’t a tragedy… Now the lesson certainly is not to try to maximize conflict or to romanticize struggle and suffering, but it’s rather that you should care about things in a way that makes it a possibility that tragedy will happen to you. If you hold your commitments lightly, in such a way that you can always divest yourself from one or the other of them if they conflict, then it doesn’t hurt you when things go badly. But you want people to live their lives with a deep seriousness of commitment: not to adjust their desires to the way the world actually goes, but rather to try to wrest from the world the good life that they desire. And sometimes that does lead them into tragedy.”

And so, I’ll be paying attention at the future workshops and how people treat this PWYC offering. If the trend continues or expands, I’ll find some other way of proceeding that sustains me financially, respects my craft and makes my work accessible to those who need it. 

And, perhaps, I’ll need to speak to this more directly in my future workshops. Certainly this will be so. It’s a good reminder to all of us that when patterns of poor behaviour begin to emerge in our clients, it’s time for us to reflect on what systems we need in place to change that. I will need to name this pattern and say something like, “My friends… I trust you will pay an amount that is right for you and post date those payments for dates that work for you. And I understand that things change. It’s how it is. If you need to delay a payment for a while or you realize you’ll never be able to pay me… all I ask is that you tell me as soon as you know. Don’t make me follow up with you about the payments. Don’t make me send multiple emails asking you where things are at. Don’t make me chase you. If you promise a payment on June 1st, don’t wait until June 2nd to tell me it’s not coming. Or June 30th. I ask that you bring the kind of integrity to this you’d want your clients to bring to their financial commitments with you.”

Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I’m not there yet. But I’m no longer where I was a few months ago. I’m not assuming that things will continue to go as they have gone before. I can’t tell yet if this was a one time aberration or a change in the winds. I can tell you that, if this trend continued or worsened, I would pack up my pay what you can pricing and put it back in its case out of respect for it and the good people who are behaving so poorly towards it (why lead them into a situation they can’t handle and cause more shame for them?).

Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I suppose you’ll all let me know after my future workshops. 

Guest Post: Sliding Scale 2.0 – No One Left Out

By Josh Van Vliet, Director of Community, Academy for Coaching Excellence

1000px-Emblem-scales.svgI recently read a guest blog post by Peter Rubin about Privilege-Based Pricing here on the Marketing for Hippies blog (if you didn’t see it, it’s great – go check it out here). In it, Peter shares about this interesting and innovative way that businesses can help address social inequality through pricing structure.

Reading this, I got really excited, because at the Academy for Coaching Excellence, my teammates and I have thought a lot about this too.

At the heart of it, our work is about building a community, a world, where everyone is supported 100% and no one is left out.

Our contribution to that vision is to provide coaching and coaching skills training to people, so they can bring clarity, focus, ease, and grace to their own life, and empower others to do that as leaders or professional coaches. We offer programs for personal and professional leadership development, as well as for professional coaching certification.

In these times of widening inequality and deep uncertainty, we as a business saw that we have a critical opportunity to be a leader in our profession and our society.

So we’ve been asking ourselves:

How do we price our services to reflect our stand for creating a world where everyone is supported 100%, and no one is left out?

Given the fact that different people have different access to resources, often due to factors outside of their control (such as class, race, socioeconomic status, ability, and gender), how do we include everyone, as much as possible?

. . . And run a sustainable, profitable business at the same time?

Enter the sliding scale.

So how did you arrive at this sliding scale?

We started by creating a scholarship fund.

It helped, but it took a lot of energy to run, because it relied on us ultimately making a judgment about how much scholarship to offer someone.

On top of that, the application was enough of a barrier to entry that some people wouldn’t bother applying, or felt like they didn’t “deserve” a scholarship.

We also offered folks resources, coaching, and guidance on how to successfully crowdfund some or all of their tuition for the course.

We’ve supported people to collectively raise over $50,000 to cover course tuition, travel, and other costs, and it’s helped make it possible for many people to attend who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend.

And, we know that this is only part of the equation.

So we looked around to see what other people are doing, and discovered a few different organizations using a tiered sliding scale approach (like the Rockwood Leadership Institute).

How does your sliding scale work?

Here’s how we describe it on our website:

We stand for a world where everyone is supported 100% and no one is left out, and our pricing reflects that vision. Our sliding scale empowers people to participate who could not otherwise do so, and enables us to offer our life-changing work where it can do the greatest good.

We use an honour system, and don’t require you to disclose your income. We also honour that both expenses and income factor into your situation, so we ask that you discern the price truly right for you — whether that is below or above your suggested tier.

So that our work serves those who could not otherwise afford it, please invest the amount that is a “stretch” but not a hardship, factoring in your access to outside support (i.e. family and/or fundraising). Referring to the scale below, ask yourself:

  1. What investment level would be comfortable for me?
  2. What level would be a “stretch” but not a hardship — truthfully factoring in my access to outside support?
  3. Am I willing to register at that level?

This is an example of our sliding scale, for the Thriving Changemaker Intensive, our foundational 4-day course:

Gross Annual

Household Income

. . . OR Organizational Budget

(if your organization funds you)

Suggested

Investment

$90,000+$10,000,000+$3,000
$70,000 – $89,999$4,000,000 – $9,999,999$2,500
$50,000 – $69,999$1,000,000 – $3,999,999$2,000
$25,000 – $49,999$0 – $999,999$1,500
$0 – $24,999Not available$1,000


What’s the response been so far?

Virtually entirely and overwhelmingly very positive. To give you a sense of what we’ve heard, here’s what one person wrote to us in response:

“This helps tremendously – financially, psychologically, spiritually – and actually brought tears to my eyes. Your decision to do this feels within me like a synching in alignment with my intentions and values. Thank you for being the change for social change with your sliding scale offer for The Thriving Changemaker Intensive.”

I think the only issue so far has been that it makes registration a bit more involved, especially for someone who has never experienced a sliding scale like this before.

A big part of the work for us has been to refine the way we communicate this approach, so that it’s as simple and clear as possible.

And, on the other hand, it has made “the money conversation” infinitely more simple, because people understand that A) this is an incredibly valuable program we offer, and B) they are empowered to simply pay at the level that is authentic and appropriate to their situation.

Won’t people just pay the lowest price?

It turns out they don’t. We’ve had people register at every tier — including those who pay at the highest tiers and tell us that they are truly glad to do so, because they are so aligned with our mission of inclusion and accessibility.

What have you learned about effective sliding scales?

In order to make a sliding scale work, you must:

  • Effectively communicate the value of the offering. A sliding scale sometimes becomes a way to handle the worry “no one is going to pay me for this” (of course, I NEVER did this in my private coaching practice when I was getting started…wink wink). If you’re not enrolled in the value you are going to get from whatever the service or program is, it makes sense that you wouldn’t pay a whole lot for it.
  • Effectively communicate your values. If you share why you’re doing it, and how their choice impacts others, it takes it out of the context of “let me get the best deal” and puts in the context of being a part of a community. It gives meaning to what they are paying, beyond a simple exchange of money for services.
  • Give people a clear and simple way to decide what to pay. When we’re confused, we don’t take action. If you have no idea how to choose what to pay for something, you’re more likely to either a) not sign up, or b) pay whatever’s easiest, which will be related to whatever reference points you’ve got, such as the low end of a sliding scale (or whatever you make up, if you have don’t have any reference point).

How is it fair to “force” some people to pay more than others?

The tiers we offer are simply a suggestion. We ask that each person see for themselves what the authentic rate is. We know that there are more factors than just annual income that determine a person’s ability to pay. The truth is, there’s no way we could determine the authentic price tier for someone. What we can do is give people some simple guidelines for how to make their choice, and empower them to do it.

What have you learned?

Trust people.  One of the principles of our work is that people have their own answers. They really do know what’s authentic for them to pay, what’s aligned with who they are, and what they value. And when you give them the choice, plus the context in which they are making that choice, they will generally choose to pay what they can authentically afford.

An appropriately-priced sliding scale helps flatten the “money conversation.” One of the biggest worries people have when considering joining a course or program is “I don’t have the money.” And for some, that may truly still be the case. We know this system isn’t perfect, and there are some people for whom even our lowest tier is out of reach. But for many, the conversation becomes instead: Is this the right thing for me right now? And if they see that it is, money is much less of a concern. Indeed, some people have been very happy to pay more, knowing that it helps others attend who otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

It looks like pricing inclusivity is good for business. Over the short time we’ve been experimenting with this (six months now), we’ve increased the number of people we’re serving, AND we’ve seen a slight increase in the average price paid per participant. Time will tell if this continues to hold true, but we’ve been thrilled with the results and the response so far.

How can people learn more about your work?

Visit our website: acecoachtraining.com, where you can find free resources, like our online training Hope in Action: Find Your Center and Empower Your Purpose in Times of Trouble, and learn more about the Thriving Changemaker Intensive, our foundational in-person course in Sacramento, California.

JoshVanVlietJosh Van Vliet leads the creation, implementation, and evaluation of programs at the Academy for Coaching Excellence. He is a professional coach, dancer, teacher, and musician, as well as social entrepreneurship coach, and trainer for Move The Crowd. Josh has taught swing and blues dancing; worked as a case manager with Gilead Community Services supporting clients with mental illness to live independently; and led movement classes for kids in schools through Recess Rocks. acecoachtraining.com

Guest Post: Privilege Based Pricing

A few months ago, I was connected with Peter Rubin who was experimenting with a new pricing model the likes of which I’d thought of before but of which I’d never heard: privilege-based pricing. As soon as I heard the name of it, I asked if he’d be willing to write a blog post. This isn’t a model I’ve implemented yet, and neither has he, but it’s the kind of thing I imagine I will be moving towards in the coming years for, at least, certain portions of my business.

Peter and I share an understanding that this world is full of institutionalized oppression, meaning that certain people (and it’s predictable who) tend to have it easier than others, get better access to resources etc. Myself being a white, CIS gendered, male in North America? I get a lot.

And I did nothing to earn those privileges.

Women, people of colour, indigenous people are marginalized and oppressed constantly. It’s something I’ve put much thought into over the years, even creating a blog you may not know about called Healing from Whiteness. I’ve also collected an impressive gathering of memes and articles on topics from Institutionalized Oppression and then a second one on that topic, Feminism and Gender, #BlackLivesMatter and White Privilege.

So, it’s been on my mind.

But Peter has taken this all to another level by considering how this could all be woven into our pricing structures.

This post is provocative. It may feel unsettling. I invite you to read it in full and sit with it for a while.

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by Peter Rubin

What is Privilege-Based Pricing?

Privilege-Based Pricing is an innovative pricing structure designed for social justice.

Unlike sliding scale systems which typically have no guidelines or simple income-based guidelines for how much to pay, Privilege-Based Pricing takes clients through a rigorous self-reflection and conversation process which determines a discount on services, ranging from zero to 50%.

The discount is calculated to correct for the imbalances of an unjust culture. It’s an experiment in taking all the rules of our society and turning them around 180 degrees.

This is not a scholarship or a charity for people who are less privileged. It’s also not a way to punish people who are more privileged. It’s a way to make the invisible privileges of our lives visible, bring balance to an unfair world, and spark learning and transformation for all.

What do you mean by privilege?

In one of my favorite books, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, she talks about “headwinds” and “tailwinds” as the forces that make our lives easier or harder each day based on whether we’re in a dominant or minority group.

Factors outside of our control, such as race, gender, access to education, family resources growing up, where we were born, experiences of trauma or lack thereof, etc., profoundly shape our life trajectories.

Where did this idea come from?

As a Business Midwife – someone who helps my clients give birth to their dream businesses – I’ve come to realize that certain clients are poised to make a lot of money from the outset, and for others it will likely be a much longer journey. This doesn’t have to do with their skill or how good a person they are — it had to do with their privilege.

For instance, a white male client with a graduate education, who has already had a successful corporate career, has a lot of money in his bank account, and is connected to wealthy and powerful people, will likely have an easy time getting a return on their investment.

In contrast, a black female client who grew up poor, is supporting 6 family members, has experienced significant trauma in her life, and wants to build a community-focused business will likely have a more challenging time paying for her coaching with me.

My question is, why are these two clients paying me the same amount of money?

In the old “equality vs. equity debate” the idea of privilege-based pricing is to look at a client’s resources and ability to make money based on their life story and privileges they’ve received in order to determine a price that creates equity by stretching everyone equally.

All clients receive the same high-quality service, and I hold all clients to the same Visionary Code – principles for being powerful creators in their lives and businesses. But the place each client is starting from is acknowledged.

How would you respond to people who might say, “Isn’t this reverse discrimination?”

No. It’s about equal opportunity and restoring balance to an unjust culture.

Women make 79 cents for every dollar men make (source). The median wealth of a black family is $6,446 while a white family is $91,405 (source). These are long-term trends and statistical truths, and they won’t resolve themselves without a change in policy.

Why wait for government policies, when we as entrepreneurs have the power to create change by changing how we price our own services?

For legal reasons, the Privilege-Based Pricing Questionnaire doesn’t ask directly about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., but rather explores how our identities mixed with cultural biases influence our chances of business success, asking questions like, “Do you see other people who look like you leading in your field?” and “Do you have family members who are role models for business success?” and “What’s the most money you’ve made in your life?” These are the invisible headwinds that make it easier for us privileged people to succeed.

Why does this idea matter to you so much?

I’m currently immersed in a 2-year training with Lee Mun Wah to be a diversity facilitator. I’ve been deeply exploring my own whiteness, having conversations with friends about race and privilege, and have been curious about how I will bring these learnings to my business.

This idea of Privilege-Based Pricing came to me one day, and I smiled. I have a trickster side to me, and this feels like the perfect “trick” to play on all of us (myself included) to challenge the assumptions we have about how business should be done.

I’ve been doing some informal research on the concept with the intention of implementing it in my business in January of 2017. It feels like a big risk, and yet a unique and profound way to practice the social justice values I’m preaching.

I’m happy to discount my services to some clients in order to spark a healing conversation about privilege and, hopefully, have a more diverse and socially-aware group of clients as a result.

How exactly does the process work?

There are three steps to the process. They include:

Step 1 – Education

Because this is such an unusual pricing system, it’s important to give context. The model will be explained to potential clients so they understand what they’re getting into, and the intentions behind it.

Step 2 – The Questionnaire

I send an online survey to potential clients that asks about specific questions about:

  • Their personal and family story, and the advantages and disadvantages they’ve had from before their birth to the present.
  • Their existing resources – including financial resources, social capital, and more.
  • Their potential for future income – based on their vision for their business, who they plan to serve and how they plan to price their services.

The exact questions in this questionnaire are still being worked out.

Step 3 – Conversation + Decision

Then we review their questionnaire together and decide together how much of a discount to give them. There will be six tiers of discount, from no discount up to a 50% discount, with case studies that exemplify each tier. This conversation is held as sacred, and we will take time to process any emotions that come up along the way.

Do you think people will take advantage of the system?

I guess people could lie about their responses, but those aren’t the sorts of people I work with. I handpick clients who care about social justice and have a lot of integrity, and I trust them to answer honestly and pick the tier that best represents them.

Where do you expect to receive the most pushback?

Let’s be honest – there’s nothing comfortable about this pricing system!

In the testing I’ve done, just along lines of race, people of color have been pissed (“I don’t need your handouts!”) and white people have been pissed (“How dare you reverse-discriminate!”). People of color have been delighted (“What a cool way to bring privilege to the light!”) and white people have been delighted (“I’d be happy to pay more to support this”).

So I realize that what I’m filtering for isn’t privilege at all. I’m filtering for willingness to be vulnerable.

Determining your Privilege-Based Price is an incredibly vulnerable process and brings up the very things we are taught to be most private about – race, class, level of education, etc. I intend to be very tender with my clients as I talk through the questionnaire with them, expecting difficult emotions (shame, grief, fear, etc.) to come up.

Those courageous and open-minded souls who want to be part of a social justice experiment will be drawn to this new pricing system. Those who aren’t open to it will be turned off by it – and that’s just fine!

I’ve found that clients who are most vulnerable with me get the most value out of working with me. They’re able to release shame and reclaim their power, making them stronger business leaders. So filtering for a willingness to be vulnerable can only be good for my business.

What kinds of places could you imagine people using this?

This pricing system is somewhat complex – each client is required to fill out a questionnaire and have an in-depth conversation with a service provider who has the capacity to hold space for such a conversation. So I don’t imagine us using Privilege-Based Pricing at vending machines! But I do think it is promising for transformational education and services.

How can people learn more about Privilege-Based Pricing and the work you do?

You can visit my website at www.yourbusinessmidwife.com and sign up for my mailing list. I’ll be keeping my subscribers in the loop about PbP and announcing when I officially launch the new pricing system in January of 2017.

downloadAbout Peter Rubin

Peter Rubin helps visionaries give birth to their businesses. He gives his clients the support they need to get clear on their visions, craft a strategy, and deliver it to the world. Peter has developed this radical approach to business, having given birth to a series of transformational service-based businesses himself, each time pushing his edges and learning from his failures. Before becoming a full-time coach in 2011, he was a consultant at IDEO and Daylight, two of the world’s leading innovation firms. He has taught at the Stanford d.school, OneTaste, General Assembly, and beyond. He lives in the Bay Area with his life partner, Morgan West, a midwife (for real babies!) who continually inspires him with her badass midwifery skills and devotion to her clients at all hours of day and night. Learn more at www.yourbusinessmidwife.com.

What if the people I most want to help are broke?

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There are three main criteria of a viable target market.

First, it needs to be clear. As a prospective client, I should know immediately if I’m in that group or not.

Second, we need to be able to find those clients. There should be hubs.

Third, there need to be enough of those clients who can afford to pay you full price.

Ah.

That third one.

What if the people you most want to help don’t have much money?

If that’s true, hand over my heart, what you have is a non-profit-profit. I suggest you legally structure yourself as such and generate your salary through fundraising. Stop making yourself and your clients suffer by pressuring yourself and them to pay you with money they don’t have.

But what if there might be more possibilities here?

They’re broke.

There’s a big question as to whether or not that’s true.

Sometimes it’s not that clients don’t have money but that your marketing is terrible and they don’t see the value in what you offer; and you are terrified to talk to them about working with you and you utterly collapse when a conversation about money comes up.

It really could be that. Or it might be that your current business model will never be profitable. It could be that too.

Or it might be that your current business model will never be profitable. It could be that too.

Years ago, I met with the good people running Green Enterprise Toronto, an independent, green business network that would, eventually, become Green Enterprise Ontario. The business is still around, now known as Green Enterprise Movement. As I sat at their Spadina Street office in Toronto, they told me that their business model wasn’t working. They were trying to sustain themselves on dues from their members and it wasn’t nearly enough. They needed more money but their members weren’t able or willing to pay more. It wasn’t until they had a conversation with the Toronto City Council that headway was made. The city saw they were providing a service that properly should have been the domain of the city – supporting local businesses – and so the city was able to put some funding towards it. Without the funding from the city at that point, the Green Enterprise Toronto project would have utterly collapsed.

Edmonton had a similar group for years called Live Local, of which I was a founding board member. Same issue but, in this case, the Edmonton City Council didn’t step up and the organization folded.

My friend Robindra Runsan incredible project called It’s Time to Bloom. They throw a weekend event for local yogis that has yoga classes and workshops, inspiring talks from big name speakers and sweet, classy dance parties.

Every year, it lost money.

“Did you make any money this year?” I asked him, full of hope that this might have been the year it turned around for him.

“We only lost about $5000 this year!”

Cities need more people like Robindra who do what they do for the love and not the money and bring such fine things in.

But he was stuck. He couldn’t raise ticket prices and he couldn’t guarantee that his events would sell out. It was always so close to the wire.

“I’m sorry to hear that man.” I said, commiserating with him.

“But we’ve got it figured out for next year!” he said.

My ears perked up.

“Festival grants!” he smiled. “We realized we’re a great fit for a lot of these grants and, with them, everyone can get paid and we don’t lose money.” He told me that they were also deepening their exploration of corporate sponsorship.

What he had on his hands was a social enterprise. His project was a mix of business and non-profit. It took him five years to see it. Some people never see it.

Now, with a different business model, It’s Time to Bloom might not have needed grants. For example, if they came up with a “Bloom Yoga Teacher Training” or a “Bloom School of Yogi Business” or “Bloom Life Coaching Program for Yogis” then maybe they could have afforded to lose on the big event if it was an effective marketing tool to fill their higher-end programs.

If your people can’t afford to pay you what you need to sustain yourself then you have four options:

  1. Change nothing, try to get water from a stone and burn out in an ashen pit of poverty, bitterness and resentment.
  2. Drop that target market for a more profitable one and simply volunteer your time to help those people who can’t pay.
  3. Focus most of your efforts on a more profitable target market and give the work or service to the people you most love at a discounted rate (e.g. gift economy, pay-what-you-can, sliding scale, or barter).
  4. Shift into a social enterprise or non-profit model and raise money through grants, sponsorship or individual giving.

Which option would you choose?

Intake Forms & Earning Trust

Trust

I went to see a therapist the other day.

It was my first time making an appointment with her.

I arrived early to the old house, renovated to be a clinic where my naturopath is also housed, and was offered some tea while I filled out the intake form.

Some of the questions were straight forward but some of them were incredibly personal, asking about addictions and relationship status. Neither of which, to my knowledge, have anything to do with what I was there for. I left them both blank for the most part and gave only partial answers to other questions. They felt immensely assumptive.

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

I realized that, aside from the basics, I only wanted one question on the intake form, “What brings you to see me today?”

“Can you pay before the session? I’ll be on my lunch break when you get out.”

“Sure,” I said and then caught my breath at the $180 price tag for the hour. Shit. I had not realized it was going to be that much. Rule #1 of Pricing: never surprise people unless it’s with a discount. Sighing, I paid and followed the receptionist upstairs.

The therapist came out a few minutes later and invited me into her office. She had a good vibe and I liked her right away.

“So, this first session is mostly to go over the intake form, the policies and to answer any questions you have and then to maybe do a bit of work.”

I hate this.

This happened to me a few months ago when, on a friend’s suggestion, I went to see a therapist who spent the entire session talking about the theory of the treatment and the ethics of the whole thing.

In both cases, I sat there thinking, “What the fuck? Why am I paying $180 to have her go over things she could have emailed me in advance?”

“Did you read up the technique we’ll be using?” she asked.

I shook my head. It would have been a good idea. “I wasn’t given anything on it to read.”

“You didn’t take any of the flyers at the front desk?”

I shook my head.

From a marketing and business standpoint, this is such a gap.

When I booked the appointment, the therapist sent me the following email:

I am sending you an email to welcome you and also to pass along some information prior to our first session. If you have had counseling before, this may be familiar. In general, the first appointment is primarily a paperwork, history-taking and get-to-know-you session.
 
However, if there is something that you want to make sure we address specifically in that first session, please let me know either ahead of time via email or at the start of the session so that we can budget enough time.The first session is also an opportunity to clarify your goals for coming for counseling. Sometimes a good way to frame this is to ask yourself how you will know you’re done with counseling? How will you feel? What will your life be like?
 
It is best to approach counseling as a process and to allow sufficient time for you to work through what you need to work through. This time-frame varies from person to person, depending on issue(s), personality, and history. In general, however, you should notice some positive change in the first 3 sessions and more substantive change in 8-10 sessions.
 
My job is to support you in your process, offering expertise and feedback. If you are finding that my approach is not working for you, I welcome your feedback, as a means to learn and grow myself, and to see if I can better address your needs.
 
I look forward to meeting you.
Warm regards,

 

It was a fine email to get and set the context well and, I would have loved it if she had added a link to a 10-15 minute video about the modality and asked that I make sure I watch it before the session. It would have been wonderful if it was a video of herself explaining it. I might have watched the video and decided that due to her vibe or her description of the modality that it wasn’t a fit. I might also have gotten even more excited to see her. And there could have been another video that would go over all of the ethics and other typical things discussed in a first session.

And then, two days before, if she’d sent me a reminder email with those two links asking me to make sure I set aside thirty minutes to go over these before the session but that, if I didn’t have him, it was alright, we’d just go over the content together in the session – then I would have had the choice.

As a client, I deeply resent paying money to sit through something I could do better at home.

She began to go through my intake form which had me wonder why I bothered writing it down in the first place. Couldn’t she have just had it and written it down as we talked?

Stop being cranky I told myself.

“So it says here your last relationship…” and she begins to ask me about whether I’m dating or if that’s something I’m looking for.

I narrow my eyes.

“I am confused by this line of questioning.” I say. I’m not particularly trying to be nice about this.

I’m paying her $180 for this time and she hasn’t even asked me why I’m there. It’s reminding me of the pulse reader from last week. But it’s also different. These are issues that seem to, in no way, relate to why I’m there. They are immensely personal issues to be divulging to someone I’ve just met. Perhaps most therapists assume that they are trustworthy. Maybe they’ve lost touch with how vulnerable these issues are for people and it’s become rote for them.

I don’t know why.

But I sat there resenting her questions wondering, “Who do you think you are to ask me such questions with no context of why you’re asking them or how they relate to why I’m here? And why haven’t you asked me why I’m here?”

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

She is thrown off for a second but seems to collect herself quickly, “Oh, it’s just taking your history for what we’re going to be working on.”

“Why don’t we skip to that?” I say.

“Sure.” And, to her credit, we do.

The good Bill Baren suggests starting off your first session with a client with two questions: “Why me? Why now?”

I wish all sessions would start this way.

If she’d asked, “Why me?” I would have said, “Well, I’ve heard good things about the modality you use and my naturopath recommended you as someone who could help me with some things I’ve been struggling with.”

If she’d said, “Why now?” it would have been a doorway into my symptoms and struggles.

She didn’t ask those questions but I took the opening in her conversation to lay it all out for her. She listened well and I immediately relax to not be sitting there and waiting or regretting having shared something so personal.

If there are other issues related to this that come up, I think to myself, I’ll be happy to share them. But I didn’t walk into this room with an agreement to share every secret I have.

Trust is such a precious thing. And it’s earned. Our unwillingness to go slowly, in the beginning, is so much of what kills trust in both a therapist-client relationship or a customer-business relationship. You are rarely done much harm by going slowly.

By the end of the session, I really liked her and she had earned some portion of my trust.

But it lifts up questions for all of us: where in our business or helping processes are we assuming trust? Where are we asking questions we have not yet earned the right to ask? Where could we give more context into the reasons for our asking the questions we ask. Can we trust the process in that the right information will come up at the right time?

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

Additional Reading:

Marketing for Psychotherapists

Slow Marketing

Case Study: Hidden Gems (good thoughts on personalizing intake forms here)

Farmers Market Marketing Series #10: Thoughts on How do I Price Things?

signs 2What to charge?

This has always been and may always be one of the most difficult decisions you can make in business and one I knew would be important to touch on in this series of posts on marketing for farmers and farmer’s markets.

Here’s the most basic I can make pricing:

If you’re getting a lot of onlookers and no one’s buying? It might be a sign your price is too high.

If you’re selling out before the end of the day and getting no complaints on the price? It might be a sign your price is too low.

If you charge a lot more than what others are charging for similar things or a lot less, people may be suspicious and want to know your reasons. So, unless you’ve got a very clear logic behind a huge difference in price between yourself and your colleagues, it’s wise to keep the prices within roughly the same ballpark.

Remember that, for whatever reason, pricing in ‘odd cent increments‘ (particularly the numbers 7 and 9) seems to get a better response from people looking for a bargain. You’ll sell more for 49 cents than 50 cents, more at $1.79 than $1.80. I have no idea why this is true but it seems to be.

But, if you price in five cent increments, it will tend to suggest higher quality and premium value.

Why? I have no idea. But this is what I’ve heard.

Also if you offer a discount for bulk buying (e.g. It’s $5.50 for one but only $10 for two then people will lean towards buying two).

You might also considering offering a two tiered pricing system – one price for your best quality stuff and a discounted price for the wares that are slightly less so.

Whatever you do, don’t devalue it. Sell it for more than you would at a grocery store. There can be a temptation to charge less than the other vendors at your market and undercut them but this can actually create the perception that your product is lower quality than theirs and create ill will between you.

It might also be wise to have a concise, convincing and clear answer ready for people if they challenge you with, “Why do you charge what you do?” Genuinely, take five minutes to sit down and really articulate this so you don’t stumble when asked. If you can give an honest answer that makes sense to people it will earn their respect and increase the perceived value of your products.

Please leave any thoughts, tips, resources or ideas that could help farmers grow their businesses in the comments section below. After a few weeks, I promise to read through them all and weave anything relevant and useful into the blog itself so that they can be of the most use to the most farmers.

Industry Report: The State of Online Course Creation

At some point in your life as a conscious entrepreneur, teaching an online course may be to be the next logical step.

You’ll want to help many more people, without the constraints of space and time. You’ll want to make an impact beyond your live group workshops or one-on-one sessions.

The best thing is, marketing your online course won’t feel gross when you know it will change your students’ lives. As someone who has sold online training programs, I can tell you it feels wonderful to promote and deliver a product when you’re confident it will truly help others.

Many online course creators believe their students’ success is the most important measure of their own success, as a recent survey by Firepole Marketing found. The rest of the findings are summarized in the infographic below. If you’ve tried making your own online course, or are thinking of doing so in the near future, these findings will interest you. You can learn more about what Firepole Marketing is up to here and read the full study here.

firepole OK