Last year there was an internet meme (is that what it’s called?) about how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earns a gazillion dollars a second (approximately) while some Amazon employees struggle to get by and others rely on food stamps because they can’t make ends meet on what they earn. The contrast was meant to vilify Bezos.
Maybe Bezos is a bad person. I don’t know him and cannot speak to his character. But I do know one undercurrent of the meme is bad: the notion that a person’s income is somehow an indicator of their worth.
People declared (rightly) that Bezos is not inherently worth more than one of his employees and certainly not a thousand times more worthy. But they wrongly assumed that the mammoth income gap somehow contradicts the basic human conviction that we are all created equal.
Here’s a news flash: “created equal” does not (and should not) result in “paid equal.” Why? Because income is a response to many, many factors, one of which is value creation. Bezos founded and manages a company that brings a mammoth amount of value to the world. Markets reward such innovation and value creation. Markets do not reward anyone’s intrinsic worth as a human being.
What’s any of this have to do with coaching? Some coaches confuse worth with pay.
I know plenty of coaches who resist getting paid for their coaching because they have this weird hang up about pay. They seem to believe there is some honor in “not being in it for the money” or that being paid for what they do (often what they do really well) is somehow unethical. I had one coaching student declare that charging $150/hour for her coaching was morally wrong because plumbers and electricians and schoolteachers only earn $35 to $50/hour and she was no more worthy than they are. She was confused.
Never confuse your pay (what someone is willing to give in exchange for what you are willing to provide) with your worth (your value as a human being). Said differently, don’t conflate the value of your coaching with the value of your soul. Your soul is priceless. So is mine. So is Jeff Bezos’s. And so is Amazon’s lowest paid employee. On the other hand, your coaching is not priceless – it can and must have a price attached to it in order for someone to access it.
So, can you charge too much for coaching? Yes, but only in an economic sense, not in a moral sense. You can charge “too much” when you set a price for your coaching services that no one is willing to pay. That’s not morally wrong, it’s just a quick get-poor-quick scheme. You will either lower your rate or not coach. You certainly can’t force someone to pay more than your coaching is worth.
If you decide to be some “big meanie” and charge way more than people are willing to pay, then you are not going to cheat, steal, or swindle anyone. Unless you operate in a coercive market (as opposed to a free market), you will simply make a fool of yourself. Being a fool is offensive, but it’s a minor offense as compared to swindling.
On the other hand, suppose you want to be a “super nice person” and practically give away your coaching. Good for you. But recognize that your “virtue” will last only as long as your dwindling bank account. Pretty soon no one will have the benefit of your coaching because you will be too broke to coach. Charging too little has the same outcome as charging too much: you won’t coach very much and you won’t earn very much.
How much should you charge? I encourage coaches to consider an equity of exchange: aim for the value received by you and your client to be about equal. Early in your coaching journey, the value of your coaching is not very much. In fact, the experience your receive is probably about as valuable as the coaching your client receives. In other words, coach for the experience. (Notice I did not say “coach for free” – your coaching is worth more than nothing, it’s worth the experience you will get.)
As your experience and competence increase, you’ll eventually outpace the value of gaining experience. For many coaches, they need to start charging around the 25 hours mark. Most can start out charging $25 to $45/hour. Where you go from there depends on what the market will bear. If you’re really good and you coach people who really want your coaching, you may work your way up to $150/hour, then $200, and even up to $500 (or more!).
Once you set a rate, some people will want your coaching but be unable to afford it. What then? Well, there are options. One option is for you to flex down on your rate in order to coach them. There are times when that’s appropriate but generally speaking I wouldn’t make a habit of it. Another option is to not coach the person.
It’s this second option (“No coaching for you!”) that really bothers some Christian coaches. But not coaching the person is not the same thing as them not getting coaching. When a potential client cannot afford to coach with me, I offer to suggest several other coaches who I believe will do a good job and will charge less. That offer is almost always accepted and the client ends up working with another coach who is able to coach at a lower rate. It’s a win-win-win. I win because I am able to reserve my time for clients who can pay the full rate. The client wins by getting quality coaching she or he can afford. The other coach wins because they get a paying coaching client. That’s Economics 101 and nobody goes away feeling worthless.