How Charging Less Can Be More - Why I Halved My Coaching Fees 7 Years In!

One of the hardest things when starting out seems to be deciding how to price our services. There always seem to be discussions on Coaching Forums, Linked In and various Facebook Groups. So I thought I would share my 'charging journey' - and why I halved my Coaching Fees, 7 years into coaching!

My coaching journey started of course with offering free coaching while I was training.  I don't know about you, but I found that people weren't completing their actions - and worse - didn't show for calls. Although I loved the coaching, I was too often left feeling inadequate, disrespected and generally down on myself.

Of course I also coached friends and family - for the 'experience'. But this got complicated. What I really wanted to say in sessions came out wimpy because I was worried about damaging relationships, worried what they thought of me and in some cases I felt taken advantage of.

My first forays into charging for my services were to coach by donation - whether to me or to a charity of their choice. This was a little different from the free coaching - there were more successes, but there were still no shows and a lack of commitment in many cases.

Then, I read some articles about the importance of charging what you're worth - and of charging for the difference we make in people's lives. I jumped straight to a minimum 3 month commitment and $100 a session (with discounts for multiple session purchases). With lots of networking and free seminars I began to get a steady trickle of clients and learned a lot, but I was far from making a living. And I soldiered on.

What really accelerated me was a couple of years in, when I offered a great deal (3 sessions a month for $195) and a pre-designed 6 month programme to "get free and get happy" (along with them giving me monthly feedback and a testimonial). I created a beautiful poster and emailed it to all my friends and contacts, asking them to forward to anyone they knew who might be interested. Suddenly I had 12 new clients in one month! Over those 6 months I grew enormously as a coach. I received regular feedback (both great and instructional) and felt like I was finally a coach.

Of course getting 12 clients in one go didn't happen magically - I had networked, bared my soul on my website, done many free and paid seminars and been writing a newsletter for quite a while - steadily accumulating experience, contacts, fans and newsletter readers.

After that I charged $150 a session with discounts for multiple session purchases ($250 for 2 and $350 for 3). And my clients seemed happy to pay me. Although I was already beginning to have misgivings.

And then after a couple more years I thought I should  put my rates up again and so I did - to $450 for 3 sessions a month. But then I found myself SELLING the value of coaching - even though I didn't need to. People were referred to me and happy to pay the fees but I felt like I was charging too much and kept doing extra things for my clients to justify my fees - to myself!

And, added to this I had been having some counselling with an excellent psychologist who had 20 years of experience and a doctorate. I was learning so much about myself and life - but my psychologist was charging a sliding fee of $120 - $140. How could I justify $150 a session - when I had so much to learn? On top of this, the experienced, highly trained counsellor I referred people to had just put her fees UP to $65 an hour!

A little later and we achieved our goal of moving to a small island which had a population of 10,000 and no big businesses to pay big salaries. And so I created The Coaching Tools Company.com.

It should have been beautiful, but I was feeling trapped in my coaching. Trapped into providing value for that $150. My diary was full of rigid, regular coaching slots. I felt isolated and trapped on my phone at my desk at a time when I wanted to be enjoying a new life, being part of a community. I was going backwards and forwards to Vancouver networking to keep my 'face' in and I was tired.

Then at the start of 2010 I got sick. Well there's nothing like being in hospital for emergency surgery and recuperating to give you plenty of time to think. And the result was that I decided to DROP my fees - substantially. I halved my fees to $75.00 an hour. No discounts, no minimum sign-up period, no regular time slot. My clients pay and we organize sessions as we go.

Well, of course this goes totally against convention. To be a coach for 7 years and then HALVE your coaching fees, but all I can say is that it feels great!

I wanted flexibility with my time and diary. I wanted to feel confident I was offering amazing value. I wanted to release myself from the need to justify my fees. I wanted the opportunity to work face to face in my community - not just with rich islanders - but with everyday islanders. And if I'm honest I like to challenge things. I want coaching to be more accessible (cost wise) to more people. I like to do things differently, and this felt right.

I also recognize that I was successful enough that I could afford to drop my rates - plus I had The Coaching Tools Company just launching...

I'm sure there are many who think I'm crazy or who would say the issues with charging are all about me (they are!) But I am happy. I feel free of obligation - I only take on the clients I want to, if someone fusses over charging now I politely suggest they go elsewhere. And I book client sessions when they suit me! If the weather forecast looks good and I want to spend an afternoon on our vegetable garden I do.

I am currently contemplating raising my rates again - to $95 a session for phone coaching and perhaps giving some people a $20 discount. But I'm still pondering. I'll do it when it feels right.

NB. One other thing I did was put up my speaking fees. These aren't published on the website, but I have since had some well-paying corporate 'gigs' which make up some of the shortfall on charging less. And I have also had some income from the Coaching Tools which allows me a little latitude on the coaching fees.

But I'm hoping that many of you reading this built up, or are building up, your coaching businesses on the side and only quitting your day-job when you are making enough money coaching...

My advice? Charge what feels good. This will make you confident when people enquire about your services, and then they'll believe you can help them.

BECAUSE if there's one thing I've learned - it's that it's not the fee that stops people signing up with you - it all depends on how confident THEY are that YOU can help them… And that depends on you!

So, here are just a few discussions on this topic that you may find interesting (or why not start one yourself?) :

PS. Food for thought. In one of these discussions, there was an interesting idea of charging $1 for every $1000 the person earns. So if they earn $120,000 they pay $120 an hour, and if they earn $65,000 they pay $65 an hour.

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45 Comments

  1. william welsh

    Oh this is fantastic, I launched my web site -
    http://www.coachinginspired.co.uk
    only yesterday and my biggest worry and concern was my fees, this article has really helped me and thank you so much.
    I had a triple by pass heart operation and started my coaching learning following that so can relate to you so much.
    Kind regards, William

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Hi William,
      Congrats on your new website! I love the dolphins - and the tip sign-ups are well-done (somehow they seem to ask to be filled in - I almost signed up!) so great job. I am glad you found this article helpful. There is so much pressure - and we can always do things our own way...
      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  2. Eve

    Emma, this article is awesome! It shows you are a person with more important values than just running after money! This is the mindset I would be looking after if I would be in search of a good coach...
    I'm just starting out with the Coaching (I am a Youth Coach) and I also think that it should be affordable to people who need it.
    Thanks for the inspiration, it is good to know there are people out there that think like me!
    Keep the articles coming! ;o)
    Eva

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Hi Eve,
      Thank-you for your kind comments! It's interesting how people in the caring professions often don't feel comfortable charging for their services, so I think that is a trap we should try to avoid. And yet, I think it should be OK to charge what feels right for the people we want to help. And somehow still make a living.

      Figuring out charging can be complicated, especially in such a young profession - but I think it's OK for us to create (and break!) our own rules around it too...

      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  3. Joaquim Gimenes

    Emma, thank you so much for this article. I believe that being a Coach is an opportunity to serve the individuals, the community and the society. I am starting out with Executive and Business Coaching and since when it was just a dream the fee was the only thing clear for me, fees coming in from clients, fees coming out to community in a ratio that can make a difference and I feel good as well. Also I think to offer a free Coaching, for those who can not afford it, directly to the individual / group or trough a community center. Good to read your article and the comments.
    Kind regards,

    Joaquim Gimenes

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Thanks for your comments Joaquim. I'm glad you're excited about serving others through coaching. I also think 'free' coaching, when it's for people who are keen, or groups who can't afford it can be very rewarding. Good luck! Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  4. Patricia

    Hi Emma-Louise

    I'm a new life coach and I just discovered your really useful site. Thank you! I came to coaching after a spine injury that had me 6 months on my back and another 12 off work, plenty of time to think. Before I was in alternative health and always undercharged, feeling sorry for people. I thought on the net it would be easier to charge a decent fee, and I read that if you charge high fees, you'll get people for whom money isn't an issue. So I've set a high fee from the start, but don't really feel it's right! I haven't got any feedback from reality as I'm just setting out. I get what you say that the higher fee puts more pressure on you to deliver value... but if you go too low you'll get the wingers on price. Tricky indeed.
    I look forward to visiting your site regularly.
    Blessings

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Hi Patricia,
      Congrats on being a new life coach! I agree, high fees will generally only attract those for whom high fees is not an issue. But that narrows down the available clientele somewhat and can make life-coaching a rather exclusive profession. One thing that can really help is if you're connections and friends are well-off - if you know a lot of people for whom money is not an issue, and they like and are willing to recommend you, I say, go for it!

      But life coaches also need to survive financially, if we don't - there won't be a stable profession! And yes, if we charge too little, we also may not attract the kind of clients we would like. I think it's great to try different charging models and rates and keep trying until we find one we feel comfortable with and that works for us financially.

      There is also a bit of an issue (especially with the helping professions), with people undervaluing themselves or feeling that it's not right to charge to 'help' someone. So it is critical to explore WHY we feel this and the beliefs behind it. But like any personal growth, our understanding evolves over time, and we can only do our best!

      Thanks again for your comments Patricia. Hope you are fully recovered now - and good luck with the charging!

      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  5. Rachael

    Great article. I commend you for being so true to your values and leading with those, and not monetary notions.

    Somehow I have always just known what I would start off charging, as soon as I began building my practice. It is a figure that I feel comfortable with and I feel confident that I provide the value to justify it. In saying that, I don't feel like I have ever needed to justify it. I haven't had a single person question me on it which gives me reassurance I haven't stepped too far out of bounds.

    It won't make me rich but it does make me feel like my time and contribution are being valued. I have plans to make up the shortfall (from my desired income) with online products and programs which will allow me to continue to coach from a place of integrity, rather than coaching from desperation to pay the bills : )

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Rachael! And thanks for your honest response too. We live in a world that is so driven by consuming - and a need for more money - that it almost feels like an act of resistance to charge less!
      Warmly, EL

      Reply
  6. Lisa

    Im in process of completing Life Coach Certification training. I am excited about this new journey/profession that I am entering. One concern I had was the charging issue. My intention is to be working with families/teens who are on community services for one reason or another. I know these families have limited resources so the fee issue somewhat bothered me,this article put it in prospective for sure. Thank you.

    Reply
    • elelsey

      Hi Lisa! Thanks for your comment - and I'm very glad it helped. Obviously we need to charge enough so that we make money, but we also need our clients to be able to afford us! Warmly, EL

      Reply
  7. Karina

    Thank you all for sharing here! I felt a relief to hear other 'real coach's' stories who has the same fears and face real life experiences. I have observed that coaching schools want to oversell so all coaches seem to be doing 'millions' when you are struggling to charge reasonable fees for normal people who have other expenses in their lives (family, kids, etc.) and it seems that you are the only one that can't make a living yet out of life coaching.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Karina! It's always great to hear from people - and to know that you're not alone - and that includes me too! Warmly, EL

      Reply
  8. Fiona

    Hi,
    I am just starting my coaching journey and one of the areas causing me angst was how much to charge. I have done a couple of free sessions (I have a 7 week passion course I am initially coaching from) and have a set fee for that, but my initial thoughts were to keep my fees lower to build my practice. I want to coach women to help them realise their potential and many of them are not from double income homes.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks for your comment Fiona. I think you need to (get in touch with and trust your instincts) and do what is right for you. Sometimes this can be an interative process. We do need to watch for undervaluing ourselves and therefore undercharging. But we also want to charge what we feel is a fair price for our service - and if we feel uncomfortable with the price, the chances are we will find it harder to sell ourselves (and people will pick up on that). Confidence - and believing in yourself and what you offer is key, and sometimes that takes time and experience (literally!) to build. Don't UNDERsell or OVERsell yourself - it's always a balance! You could try a small exercise of imagining charging various amounts (say in $25 increments) and see how you FEEL at each level - and also see what judgemental and (supportive!) thoughts go with the feeling. You may find this helps... Warmly, EL

      Reply
  9. Kalind Bakshi

    Hello Emma-Louise,
    Thanks for your wonderful candid and self reflecting insight .Thanks for sharing some of the inner "battle" that bothers a coach starting out & even 7 years later! You have indeed highlighted for us the major difference between the "value" vs."charge"-[price,more crudely ] of our profession, besides, value is a much softer, stronger word!.
    I was a vascular surgeon who elected to "retire" into coaching . The hourly "charge" comparison just would not hold true in my case from a purely "business" standpoint.So I have a habit of asking -what they can afford or are willing to pay for what I will offer to them. What I found out was that most have wonderful human values who recognize that -nothing is for free & they start appreciating my efforts from the start.I have many long term clients now--I do weight management coaching-- & have accepted payments as low as 15-20$/session.In the long run, it still works out well-I have had some referrals from these clients as well !In that regard, I love the suggestion about 1$/hour per 1000$ income --currently I do not and cannot keep my eye on the clock,so it turns out to be a session value
    Thanks again for this very helpful article
    Kalind

    Reply
  10. Benjamin Antrobus

    Loved the article. I think charging what feels right instead of what you "could" charge is RightOn. ! Listening to your Conscience seems like a good quality to have for all people, and esp. a coach! Thankyou.

    Reply
  11. Barbara

    Very nice article. Like always, we should listen to our heart! So true. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    Reply
  12. Jason Brubaker

    Respectfully, I have recently raised my fees and that single change has dramatically improved my business. While I understand your thinking here - And each business is different - There are times when it makes more sense to scale your business up. And one easy way to scale is simply charging more (while always making sure your clients get the value.)

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your comment - and it was very respectful!

      I wrote this post a few years ago now, just after I had moved to a small island. And a few years after establishing my business. Since then I have raised by fees to $95 per session (and discount to $75 when necessary) - but I also don't do that much in-person coaching. I do it to keep my hand in and for fun...

      I do agree that sometimes valuing ourselves (and putting our prices UP) is the very best thing we can do! Both for ourselves and our clients - and perhaps even the coaching industry!

      I have however, been thinking about writing another article about how much to charge. I feel that for many coaches fresh out of coaching school - or even while still in training - charging $150 a session is too much. I would like to see a broader range of coaching fees out there, and think this would be great for the coaching industry as well. It would make coaching more accessible and affordable!

      Once a coach has some experience under their belt, or if they are good at what they do and very confident, by all means charge more, put your rates up. Go Jason! is what I'm thinking!

      So, thank-you for writing a comment, and reminding me about my article topic... (I'm very curious to see what people will say once it's written!)

      Congratulations on moving your business forwards.

      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  13. Naomi Rafalowicz

    Hi Emma-Louise. I have been spending time thinking about this topic, and your article was so helpful to me. As I begin my career as a transition life coach, your words have helped me feel more settled with my own decisions about fees. And how fees are ever changing. thank you for opening your heart and mind on this topic!
    Naomirafalowicz.life coach@gmail.com

    Reply
  14. Naomi Rafalowicz

    Hi Emma-Louise. I have been spending time thinking about this topic, and your article was so helpful to me. As I begin my career as a transition life coach, your words have helped me feel more settled with my own decisions about fees. And how fees are ever changing. Thank you for opening your heart and mind on this topic.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Naomi, I am so glad you found this helpful 🙂 It has been on my mind to do a follow-up article, with a few more thoughts around this topic! It will happen! Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  15. Trena Jones

    Wow! Finding this article was right on time for me as someone just starting coaching as a business! One of my concerns was for those who coaching be inaccessible to due to finances and the "$1 per $1000" idea is brilliant! I'm thinking of taking on a set amount of "$1/$1000" clients to ensure everyone has access to information they may need. Once that set number of clients is reached, a waiting list can be established until someone on the list has reached their goal! Brilliant! ...and thank you!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Trena, I'm so glad you found this article helpful! Good luck with your coaching practice - you have a big heart 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  16. Jennifer Smith

    I am glad I found this article! I have started a certification course and have been wanting start getting clients now before we actually start the course at the end of the year.

    I have had a difficult time deciding what to charge as I am not certified yet and in the rural area I live in, there won't be many willing to pay a premium fee. I also don't want to devalue the coaching process and my time.

    Now I feel like I have a great place to start!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      So glad to have been of service Jennifer. Recently I put my fees up to $95. It felt right - commensurate with my experience, and that I always do 1-1.25 hours (I love taking my time with clients). Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  17. Juan Carlos

    Hi Emma-Louise! Thanks for sharing your experience!
    I'm currently having an internal debate. I already have 4 years of experience as a life coach working it as a side-job. However, I want to make it the main job now. I just don't know where to begin. I'll think about it some more!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Juan, thank-you for your comment and for sharing! It is a lot of work and concentration, focus and organization to run a full-time business. You could consider hiring a business coach to help you - one that has lots of business-building experience behind them... Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  18. Georgia Brown

    I really received a lot of information about the challenges of being a coach and how to charge for services. The $1/$1000 idea is really great. I am looking forward to moving forward in this new venture. I would like to know about support groups out there to help a person continue to move forward while helping others.

    Reply
  19. Ed

    Very interesting article.

    A little perspective to consider...

    The psychologist you were seeing that only charged $120-140 an hour... How many clients do you think they saw in a day's time?

    I promise you they have a healthy book of clients.

    Only 2 items will allow for a lower price... Higher volume of clients or lower financial need of the provider. Finding the balance between the two is the trick anyone will have.

    I understand the comparisons to a psychologist... But they are different in many ways. The focus for each is different, and when someone is looking for a life coach, there are skills and tools involved that even some psychologists can't offer.

    I'm not saying be greedy. But living debt free on an island with a lower cost of living certainly allows for lower fees than someone living in say New York City. The important thing is to understand the value of what you provide vs the cost of where you provide it vs the lifestyle you choose to live. And for each person, that is certainly an individual thing.

    Great writing 🙂

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Ed, Thank-you for your comment!
      It's probably time for me to write an addendum/update to this article. I completely agree about the financial needs of the provider. And also the cost of living where you are should be factored in. Where I am, and at that point in my life, our living costs were low.
      I also think the pressure on (life) coaches to be charging $100-200 a session - when they have only just finished training and are inexperienced is wrong. Like any profession, we should increase our fees as our expertise and experience increases. And we should choose our target market carefully - being sure our clients are willing and able to pay our fees!
      So many things to think about! I am also in the process of writing an article on "How to Price your Coaching" - and it's amazing the number of factors that are at play!
      Thank-you again for your comment 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  20. Viviane Lopuch

    Dear Emma-Louise, I landed on this old, but active thread after JUST having a conversation with my husband about what I should charge for coaching per our. What you describe as the number beginning coaches fee they "should" be charging as being somewhere in the $100-200 range sounds like what I am hearing today. As someone who is new to coaching as a profession, but having a Doctorate and Masters degrees in leadership and communication, coaching credentials in use of evidence based assessments, I am hardly a "newbie" when it comes to having and using key coaching skills, such as active listening, asking empowering questions, acknowledging/validating others, and helping with accountability, yet I TOO struggle with this pricing dilemma! I agree with you however that experience and expertise must come into play when setting rates, yet I also know coaches that are naturally great at this regardless of age, education, or other "credentials".

    My husband (I haven't showed him this thread yet) will agree with you about the $75 range. In fact the point he made to me was that I needed to consider who I want to help, in fact asking me what I would be willing to pay and also what I though the clients I could best serve would pay. He also reminded me to think of why I am coaching in the first place.

    Lots of food for thought! I appreciate your having written this article,, so happy that you keep up with responses to comments even years later, and look forward to your update.

    Thanks,

    Viviane

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Viviane, I am so glad you found this article helpful. It is a challenge. And I am working on a (rather large!) pricing article which may end up being a special report. You have reminded me that I should post an update to this article at the same time... Good luck with your pricing! And pricing of course, can change - whenever you want it to! You can always "grandfather" in your existing clients and start new clients on a new price! Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  21. RC

    Thanks for your comments. Interesting read. With respect to your business, it may be wise to consider the lowering of fees similar to advertising or evening/weekend hours or convenient location. It's the gas pedal bringing in more customers. The brake is decreasing the adverting, and increasing the fees, and daytime hours. At some point there is a law of diminishing returns at one end and being an unprofitable commodity where nobody values your work at the other end. Experiment with your fees and advertising and let the "invisible hand" and your personal and career goals guide your decision making. Also find ways to show value (selling yourself and your product is a good thing in business).

    Reply
  22. Cara Boardwine

    I really appreciate this article! It is honestly the first article that has given me any practical advice on how to price my coaching services. Saying "Charge what you feel is right" just doesn't give me a starting point. I have never paid for a coach, and don't have any point of reference. In reading the previous comments, I have to say that the one who said people pay 100-200 for a psychologist, realistically, most people have insurance to pay for that.
    Thank you for a well written, and very helpful article!

    Reply

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