For the third and final post of the April Money Matters series, I have enlisted the help of my friend and colleague Robin Cameron of Life Inspired. Robin and I co-created the Walking the Walk workshop a decade ago and she now works as a Solution Focused Coach. Many of her clients are helping professionals seeking support for compassion fatigue, burnout or career transitions. Robin is also great at helping clients start their own consulting or private practice business – in fact, she has always been my business muse: Robin is the first person I turn to for advice and guidance on anything related to marketing, strategy, setting a fee schedule (oh and picking a great pair of jeans and choosing the best reds to have with dinner – she is a woman of many talents!). So I asked her to join us today as we discuss the challenges and rewards of becoming self-employed and the best ways of talking money with clients. I also asked Robin to describe the coaching experience from her side of the table.
Q: Robin, I come across a lot of very talented helping professionals who are dreaming of going into private practice or of launching a business of some sort, and they often seem to stumble on the money part: how much to charge, how to talk about money…is this something you come across as well?
A: Being asked to help with this blog post is a bit like when I won the “most improved academic” award in grade 8. It didn’t say I had great marks, just that they were so much better than where I started. Such is true here, I’m not famous, I don’t have thousands of clients in my private practice, I don’t charge millions of dollars for my services (for high level advice like that you need Michael Port – see below). I’m probably more like you: I went into this business because I wanted to help people. I started out in the field with very little information, I suffered terrible vicarious trauma, left the field for a while, came back better, experienced it again, got better, worked for organizations and for myself. Since I wanted to do more of the work (such as the workshops with Françoise and then 1-on-1 coaching) I had to become more comfortable with the money piece. I guess what I’m saying is “If I can do it, anyone can.”
It would be fair to say that all of my clients struggle with this in one way or another.
Let’s take this question back a step further: I think it relates really well to the conversation I have with clients about their motivations for wanting to go into private practice or run their own business. If the sole reason you want to go into private practice is because your consumer debt is so high that you desperately need more cash, it is going to be very difficult for you to get past the discomfort of asking people for money.
One of the first things I do with my clients who are working towards entrepreneurship is to dig down beneath the money: WHY do they want to work privately? There are always some logistical benefits such as “I can control my own hours” or “I can take more holidays”. But at the core there is always an intention to SERVE in a new way. For example, when I worked in an institution, I always found that my clients were just getting fired up around the 45 minute mark and I felt that we lost a lot of headway when we had to cram strategies into the last 15 minutes to keep them inspired and on track. So when I started my private practice, I gave people more time.
I hear your foot tapping…Robin, When are you going to talk about MONEY? This is the cool part, we ARE talking about money, because we are now talking about the real deal: VALUE. This will also become the core of your marketing plan (but that’s for another day!).
What will you offer to those that you serve that will be of value? At this point most of my clients look for something to hide under and get ready to say “um, I don’t know”. But we all have something special to offer, and you wouldn’t be in this business if on some level, even if it is deep deep down, you know that you have a unique gift or role to play. One way you can become more aware of the value you offer is to reflect on a session with a client that you felt went very well: what happened? What did you do and feel? What did the client get from the session that was valuable? Don’t worry, if you find this too hard to do on your own, I’d be happy to do it with you.
So the short answer is yes, most if not all of my business clients have a discomfort with the idea of charging for their services.
Q: How are you about the money part? What have you done to get comfortable with that piece?
A: I began to reflect more on what I wanted to offer to the people I felt most moved to serve. I also tried to think practically about my practice, since I am a certified counsellor and life coach I am rarely covered by insurance or benefits so I had to consider whether or not the people I wanted to serve could actually afford to pay for my services.
From there I also had to challenge some beliefs that I had absorbed from my work. One was “students are poor”. Having come from an organization that serves some of the most marginalized students on campus, this was a reality, for those students. In my second role on campus I saw a more general group of students and realized that some of these students were also in a very difficult financial situation but many of them had means and were very willing to talk to their families about their need for more help.
There must be a balance between who you are called to serve and putting on your business hat and making sure that this is a population who can be seen in your private practice. There are ways to serve under-resourced groups in private practice too, such as doing EAP (Employee Assistance Program) work. You don’t have to rule it out – you just need to be clear about who you want to serve and then look at their financial situation. There are lots of options – for example, once you are doing what you are called to do as your actual job, you can also serve an underserved population on a volunteer basis (although if you are going to work with me, you might be surprised when I ask you to consider not doing volunteer work for a little while. Heal first, start your practice first and then add further ways to serve).
Here are some of the things that I do in order to combat the money discomfort:
- I do a free telephone consult with every new client before seeing them, and have a policy in my practice to offer to refer anyone who has access to free counselling. Of course you can still choose to see me, but I like people to know about all of their options. Many people don’t know that they have benefits that cover counselling.
- I talk about the fee during the initial phone conversation with potential clients (this is something I roleplay with coaching clients who are starting a practice, if they are uncomfortable).
- I have software that invoices my clients and they can pay by sending a cheque, using a credit card through Paypal, or by sending an Interac transfer (for information about this, see resources below).
- I have a sliding scale rate that I offer to any clients who needs it. (This is not a pro bono rate or a fraction of my fee – I would recommend that it not be more than 25% lower than your full rate, at least in the first year of practice).
In one of my first money conversations with a new client I was so nervous that I kept talking to her about the possibility of the lower fee, finally she gently told me that she was able to afford to pay my fee. It was pretty embarrassing! Luckily she was very gracious about it.
Q: Can you name two or three of your favourite financial resources (books, website, blog)?
A: Michael Port has written some great books. Book Yourself Solid is one that I recommend to people who are struggling with the fears around starting a client-based business. I often use his “red carpet strategy” with my clients: The idea is to be very honest with yourself about who you want to serve, which protects people from taking on clients they feel that they should see, rather than clients that you truly believe you are meant to help. This is especially vital in the first year of practice. He also had a small role in one episode of Sex in the City which is cool.
There are software programs on the market for counsellors and coaches starting out. I use The Coaches Console. It is an integrated program that does invoicing, keeps track of hours for certification, I use it for my notes and my clients can keep track of their goals. It’s really handy. I don’t benefit from recommending the Console but do receive a percentage of my initial fee back if people order it by using this link or by mentioning they heard about it from me upon signing up. You can do that too, it’s called an affiliate link. Here is my affiliate link to Coaches Console.
I wrote a short handbook to accompany a presentation I offered to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association that offers a good starting point. It isn’t a comprehensive guide but it usually answers some of the initial questions. To check it out, see the link to Françoise’s store. The regular price for this workbook is $10.95, but, to thank you for reading this post, it will be $5.95 plus tax until May 15th when it will return to its normal price. Click here to purchase the guide.
[Françoise: I would like to also recommend a blog post that just came out a few days ago from Lynn Grodzki: Private Practice Success: Standing out from the Crowd]
Q: What would a client experience in an initial meeting with you? Can you give us a quick tour of what that would be like?
A: Each session is unique but I’ll try to give you a sense of what generally happens: Over tea, we would spend some time talking about where you are currently. What brought you to coaching? Throughout this conversation we would likely touch on things that you have in your life or have had in your life that felt good, contributed to better self-care, and a better sense of self. This is “the dig where the ground is soft” philosophy: if someone used to be a triathlete, slowly adding swimming or running into their life again might feel really great, to a person who has had a serious back injury and never exercised, not so much!
Clients generally come with a goal, such as “to be healthier” – we would work this goal towards more specific milestones that can be broken up into manageable and measurable bites. We will also address blocks to achieving the goal: after all, if the goal had been easy to achieve they would have done it without seeking help. We look for small ways that they can begin if they are feeling overwhelmed, ways to experience success. One of my clients set a goal to spend half an hour by herself before she came to see me again. This was very meaningful to her and represented a big change in her self-care plan.
Following our session, I send the goals to the client so that they can see them written down, re-read them, revise if needed. A client is encouraged to get in touch with me if they encounter any stumbling blocks rather than wait until their next session. Sometimes a strategy doesn’t work, our old way of dealing is to be defeated and just say, “Oh, I’m never going to lose the weight”, or “Clearly, I’ll never be able leave the office before 7pm”. In our work together we tap into a more resourceful place and re-work a strategy until it is realistic and you can achieve success. Sometimes a client will only need one or two sessions, especially if it is a goal that they have been thinking about for some time. The additional accountability can go a long way toward getting them there.
I have had a great time creating a practice that helps my clients where they are, that means that much of my work is also done by phone. The down side is that you have to make your own tea, the upside is that we can work together no matter where you are, in the country, in the world. I focused most of my training on stress and anxiety and I like to think that my specialty is helping people find creative ways to make their life more efficient and fun so that they can find the inspiration and motivation to finally get where they want to be. I have opened up several new spaces in my practice by adding a few more days so if you have readers who would like an appointment, they are welcome to call or send an email. Visit www.lifeinspired.ca to reach me.
Françoise, thank you for the opportunity to speak to your readers, as you know, helping professionals are a group near and dear to my heart. It has been a pleasure, as always to share space with you! Robin