Do any of these reasons resonate with you or for your services?
Sliding scale fees are prices that vary depending on how much a customer/client earns, what income bracket they fall into, or how much disposable income they have. It’s technically a form of price discrimination, which is not as passive-aggressive as it may sound, i.e., it is not discriminating against rich people by giving poorer people lower rates. Price discrimination refers to businesses or service providers having different prices for the same goods or services for different markets. And, er, those of widely different income are different markets.
You’ll find sliding scale fees most often in healthcare, therapy, and counseling fields, where it’s used by some organizations in order to provide needed and valuable services to all regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay market rate. And I use a sliding-scale model specifically for my coaching services.
I’ve been coaching professionally part-time for five years. Coaching as a field has been evolving, professionalizing, and flourishing over the last 50 years. It has an international association with core competencies, various credentials, and a code of ethical conduct and its own research journals. But it is not regulated. For me, coaching professionally means that I’ve been certified through training, which included dozens of practice sessions, and that I now get paid for it. Coaching informally and for free? Maybe most of my life. Now, as a pro, I charge sliding scale rates with explanatory text like this:
“My coaching rates are sliding scale, from $50–$150 for a 45–50-minute session (30–40-minute hybrid coaching-consulting sessions), based on your average annual income. For example, if you make $75K a year, the suggested rate is $75/session; if it’s $120K a year, the suggested rate is $120/session. You may adjust the rate up or down based on additional circumstances. No proof or explanation required. I trust clients to pick a fair rate for both of us given their financial picture. My main concerns are working with those who are coachable, and that those who are ready for coaching can work it into their budget.”
Coaching at lower and variable rates goes against all the advice from the program that certified me (instructors and printed material), fellow coaches and the online forums, and the general professional courtesy you’ll see all professional organizations tout. Basically, it is in any group’s best interest that all of its members charge similarly high rates. And I don’t disagree. It’s just not the complete story.
While these reasons are not right for everyone and I’m not particularly advocating for widespread adoption of this pricing model, please do consider if any of these hold merit for you. Here are my reasons for charging sliding-scale rates for my coaching services.
Because I believe in coaching as a powerful tool. In its positive, validating style of communication; in its belief in human development and self-determination. In its wide applicability. And I want it to be available to anyone who wants to work with me.
Because I want to see coaching popularized and see it expand to as many people in as many contexts as possible. Greater affordability and wider exposure across the population will help with that.
Because I like coaching At one point after I had been doing it informally for free for years at the expense of my own business, I realized I had discovered the thing I loved so much I would do it for free. Shortly after that, I entered a formal training program, worked on getting certified, and began charging for it. I’m a wired optimist and champion of people, with a sweet spot for small business owners, creatives, authors, and other solo pros wanting to forge their own way, finding freedom and creative life expression in the risk, uncertainties, and hard work of entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Because I understand numbers The numbers of rising inequality and pervasive economic instability. The numbers of an economy that has sent all the gains of the last 40+ years to the richest 10% among us. The modest numbers of median household income and the eyebrow-raising prices of inflation, health care, college. Those of us in the bottom 90% also have goals that could use the professional support of a coach.
Because I understand tradeoffs that real people have to make with their time and money. And I’m pragmatic about what that means. Many people who are coachable and are interested in coaching will forego it out of practical calculations. Bring the price of coaching into their reach so that it becomes a real option for them.
Because I don’t want to feed magical-thinking hucksterism I think that some of the bloated prices of coaching services and the accompanying crafty phrasing of investing in yourself (you’re worth it!) at prices well beyond your budget’s comfort level fall squarely into what author Kurt Anderson (Fantasyland) calls the American fantasy-industrial complex. Just because its familiar rah-rah hucksterism has been part of our cultural landscape forever doesn’t mean it checks out.
Because the second brain in my stomach calls B.S. when beginner coaches are coached by their training programs to charge more for their services than experienced therapists with advanced degrees earn.
Because it’s a type of customer service and it does appear as if notions of customer service are eroding — that many businesses have taken the new general understanding that the customer is not always right as a blanket permission to give less, care less about the customer, and take more, think more about themselves.
Because coaching requires a commitment that not everyone is willing to make. It requires a client to show up; to open themselves up to honest assessments and new ways of thinking and being; and doing the work. It requires time for a productive synergy to develop between coach and client. If someone is ready for such a commitment, I want to be available for them at a price they can afford.
Because coachable clients exist at all income levels Yes.
Because coaching meshes well with my other services Publishing/author consulting and conflict management fit well into hybrid coaching-consulting sessions, which makes support in those areas available to those with modest incomes through sliding-scale coaching pricing.
Because serving a range of people makes me a better coach and I hope a better human being. It keeps me on my toes, not assuming things. It helps me better comprehend a range of perspectives. It was through publishing a wide range of books that I became a better publisher and through advising a wide range of small business clients that I became a better consultant and small business advocate. A broader picture tends to expand understanding, connections, and options.
Because I want to be a better coach and always evolving, refining the craft. More practice with more people from a variety of situations is a good way to do that.
Because I do charge typical professional rates for other services and have other sources of income. I’m also not my family’s only breadwinner. Because I prefer clients who can pay the top rate who can understand why I also charge a range of lower rates
I do think the sliding-scale rates turn some people off, make them think I’m not the coach for them. It can make the service seem less valuable. It can make people uncomfortable. Why should I pay more than others? Is her coaching not actually worth the top rate? But coaching is not about comfort. It’s about challenging limiting beliefs, thinking better, and forward progress. In many cases what we pay for something affects our perception of its value. But should it?
Because I’m not obligated to make as much money as possible as if that’s the only and highest good. I like money and you probably do too. But there are other things to like and value and we can all figure out what those are for ourselves.
Because I believe in creativity And creative solutions, democratized wealth, and replacing what doesn’t work with things that work better instead of complaining about things and expecting the other person, the other organization, the other system to change itself. Sliding-scale coaching rates are a creative solution for serving clients of wide-ranging incomes but with the same interest in coaching and working towards desired outcomes. It’s one little way I can contribute to a more democratic economy, replacing what doesn’t work (out-of-reach coaching prices) with something that works better.