Marci has adapted her skills as a group fitness instructor to our locked-down world by teaching fitness classes on Zoom. She’s charging $20 per month for her classes, and around ten people are currently paying.
At the end of an 60-ish minute class, Marci is spending a few minutes giving some life coaching to members of the class. She enjoys it; they enjoy it.
She’s wondering how to simultaneously grow the fitness membership and create one to one life coaching opportunities.
I asked her if she could accommodate 40-50 people on the Zoom fitness classes. Yes, she said.
(I wanted to know the upper-limit of those classes.)
Then I asked to her to do a thought experiment:
What if I told her I’d pay her an exciting amount of money to do the fitness classes, but only on the condition that she no longer offer one to one coaching. (There’s no good reason for this. That’s why it’s a thought experiment.)
She said she wants to do both.
Of course she does. Of course we all do.The point of the experiment is to test what matters more to us.
So I flipped it and said I’d pay her the same amount to do the one to one coaching, but she’d have to give up the fitness classes.
She told me she’d take that deal if she had to.
Ok, now we know what currently matters more to her.
So I told her “If you know that life coaching is what you want to be paid to do, consider doing the fitness classes for $0.”
She didn’t love that. Couldn’t I understand that she wants to make money teaching fitness and life coaching?
Yes, I understand that.
But maybe you get to do both kinds of work by giving one away for free.
For example: I’ve had compliments on my Instagram stories. A few people have told me how they never miss one and how much they look forward to them. I could probably put those videos into some sort of membership and charge for them. Would I make some money? Yes, some.
But would it be the best way to maximize my overall results? Probably not.
If I put the videos behind a “pay wall,” I’d make it much harder for people to share them. A lot fewer people would see them. Instead of adding new relationships to my world, it’d give me a few dollars. If I wanted to get lots of people to pay me for those videos I’d have to find some way to generate interest and urgency for the videos AND for whatever else I want to sell.
The thing about my videos and Marci’s fitness classes is that it really doesn’t cost us anything to add one more “user.” Whether she has five or forty-five people in class, it takes her the same amount of time and energy to deliver a great experience. Same my for Instagram content.
Not so with a one to one coaching session. It costs me one hour to deliver it to one person. So it’s comparatively “expensive” to produce.
We maximize our results by giving away the thing that’s cheapest to produce and selling the thing that’s most expensive to produce.
(This is even true in my friend’s software business. His team produces great content and teaches tons of classes to their customers and prospects. Those things are relatively cheaper to produce. His motto is “We sell software. Everything else is free.”)
So I’m asking Marci to consider making her fitness classes free to make it easier for people to experience (and share!) them. At the end of the class she could do a couple of coaching minutes with class participants to show the value of coaching to all who attended. Then she could extend an invitation to the group to explore one to one coaching with her.
Her classes become her funnel. Her classes are her content marketing. (High value, unique content marketing in my opinion.)
Marci said she’d consider it.
Marci also mentioned that, in an effort to increase the value of her classes, she had made herself available to her members on Marco Polo. A member could send her a message and expect a personal response.
This seems like a great idea because it is an amazing value. The problem is you’re taking something that’s very “cheap” to deliver (group fitness classes) and making it very expensive to deliver (an unknown number of personal messages sent to members of the group each week).
Not only is she significantly increasing her “cost of production,” she’s accidentally creating a situation where what’s good for her is bad for her members:
They’re learning to love the direct access they have. The more successful she gets, the less access they have. Her win is their loss. For more on this, go re-read the email I sent you all about my reasons for discontinuing Office Hours in its current form. [link to email archive]
Here’s my takeaway for Marci (and all of us):
In a coaching business whoever has the most relationships wins.
The businesses you admire most aren’t winning because of their business model or their content. Not directly, anyway. They’re winning because somewhere along the way they figured out a way to start and nurture lots of relationships. With those relationships in place it’s very easy to figure out pricing, business model, etc.
I think we’d all be wise to focus less on our income today and more on what we’re doing to develop relationships. Today’s relationship seeds really are tomorrow’s money tree.
Amber has several coaching clients. Some pay, some don’t. Her priority has been to coach as much as possible, so she’s felt unsure about how or when to transition to all paid coaching. She’s confident to ask for payment, but she hasn’t wanted a transition to paid coaching to disrupt her steady skill development.
If you’ve followed my work for any amount of time, you know I’m with Amber on this topic. I think there can be massive benefits to prioritizing practice over income for a sustained period. No, of course you don’t have to choose one over the other. You can earn while you learn.
But if your priority is the craft of coaching, you will find it easier to have more coaching experiences–more practice sessions–if you reduce price. Maybe even to $0.
(Sidenote: did you know therapists have to do some crazy number of hours of practicum before receiving their license? A couple thousand hours, if I’m not mistaken. Do I think this is absolutely necessary? No, maybe not a couple thousand hours. Do I think all that practice makes a difference? Yes.)
I asked Amber a question: would it bother you to give up all income from life coaching, for a while, for the sake of your goal to develop your craft as a coach?
No hesitation from Amber: yes.
She did share that her husband has temporarily lost all income right now due to lockdown. He’s a dentist. So, she has had thoughts that she should be hurrying up and making money right now. But then she remembered that their family has savings and will be fine. She doesn’t have to rush.
Great, I said.
I also asked her if she feels confident in her ability to find two new people per week to coach for free.
No problem, she said.
Which brought up her last concern: how do I offer people these unpaid sessions without coming across needy or desperate? Perceived value is a real thing, so why would people view my $0 coaching as valuable?
I agree with this concern. None of us want to be perceived as cheap or low quality.
My solution is to tell the story of the price.
Whether you’re charging $1 or $1,000,000, it’s your job to give your prospect context for the price. “Here’s why you’re paying me what you’re paying me.”
This often looks like a features/benefits list. And/or some paragraphs on your website explaining your experience, your story, your expertise. All of it helps tell the story of the price you’re charging.
In the case of a $0 price I would tell the story very directly:
“I’m in the practicum phase of my coaching practice. This is a time when I’m focused 100% on developing my craft as a coach and building the relationships that will sustain my practice for years to come. That’s why the price of coaching is $0 for the time being.”
This is a very different vibe than “could you do me a favor by letting me practice on you?”
How will Amber know when it’s time to switch from unpaid clients to paying clients?
When she can review her list of relationships (in the form of an email list, social following, client list, etc) and confidently say, “I believe I can start charging for my work without a drastic impact on the amount of coaching I’m doing.” That’s when she flips the switch.
It’s not pure math. I can’t make a spreadsheet that tells Amber when to start charging.*
*I definitely CAN make this spreadsheet. Brb making the spreadsheet rn.
If any of you follow Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), you might have heard him say something like “Whoever can hold their breath the longest, wins.” What he means by that is whoever can give the most value, the longest, without asking for compensation in return…will win in business.
(But he would have dropped about twelve f-bombs in that sentence, which is why I can only handle Gary in small doses. I’m delicate.)
Many of you subscribe to a philosophy that encourages you to give “value ahead of time” at no charge. I like that. I’m asking you to consider that your actual coaching is one of the best ways to deliver that value.
Food for thought.
Ceri has found an interesting coaching niche that you can approximately sum up as “I help Instagram influencers get their work done.” She’s not doing the work for them–she’s giving them coaching and support so they’ll get it done themselves.
The coaching seems to be going great. Happy clients, etc.
A challenge Ceri is facing is how to tell the story of her work (on her website, for example). She keeps hearing that one of the best ways to communicate her expertise and the value of her coaching at the same time is to tell her own “hero’s journey” story. In other words, “I used to struggle with the same thing you’re struggling with, then I figured out how to stop struggling, and now I can show you the way.”
Yes, this can be a great way to sell ourselves. But it’s not the only way to employ this idea of the hero’s journey.
If you read Donald Miller’s book “Building a Story Brand” (and you definitely should), you’ll find his advice is not to position yourself as the hero. He recommends positioning yourself as the guide and your prospect as the hero.
Since the Star Wars example is so overused here, let’s go with…the Wizard of Oz! Dorothy’s the hero. Glenda’s the guide.. We have no idea what Glenda’s journey is (until Wicked, of course). We just know she’s the person to help Dororthy get home.
So it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the guide (you, me, Ceri) has been on the journey. What matters is that we can supply the formula (“Click your heels together three times and say…”) that helps the hero get what she wants.
In Ceri’s case this is especially useful because Ceri never had to complete her clients’ journey. She was born organized, efficient, and productive. She doesn’t know any other way. Her job is to communicate that fact to her clients in a way that a) does not cause them to feel talked down to, and b) gets them very excited to have Ceri hand them some ruby slippers.
It might sound something like:
“The good news for you, Ms Client, is that I was born this way. I see calendars and to-do lists like Neo sees the Matrix. That’s why I’m so good at helping super-creative, not-so-organized people like you get a lot more of their important work into the world. You don’t need to love organization and efficiency like I do. You just need me on your side.”
You get the idea.
I highly, highly recommend “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller as the guide to becoming…the guide.
Jennie builds websites for coaches. Her question this week was about my sales process. What do my sales calls look like, she wanted to know?
My first answer was that I don’t really have a system for my sales calls, but of course that’s not true. Even the lack of a system is a system — just a lazy one.
What I realized as I talked with Jennie is that my entire business, going all the way back to early 2014, has been built on referrals. Usually strong referrals where the prospect is most of the way to “yes” before we have a conversation.
So if I had to define my sales method/approach/philosophy at this point in my business it would be something like: “Don’t talk to people unless they’re mostly sold by the time they schedule the call.”
“Must be nice,” you might think to yourself. But don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying I’m the only one who can do this, or that I’m special.
I actually believe that most client relationships start with a prospect who is mostly sold before the sales call. If you could review every sales conversation you’ve had, I wonder how many of them were “pre-sold” versus “had significant objections I had to overcome.” My guess would be that very few clients with significant objections end up buying.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I’m not trying to encourage giving up on a prospect at the first sign of resistance. I’m trying to get all of us to focus on getting better at moving a person closer to yes before they ever talk to us.
Jennie told me that her experience has mirrored mine: most of the time a person is already most of the way to yes before she’s talking to them. But she’s recently found herself in a new online space (a private slack group for life coaches) and she’s found more prospects in the curiosity/information gathering stage.
She’s wondering how to make sure those clients are as well-educated as possible before they schedule a call.
I have a couple thoughts (that don’t necessarily apply to everyone, so please read this whole email):
First, make your calendar link hard to find. My website currently tells clients I’m not pursuing new clients, which is true: I’m not pursuing them. If they contact me, we can talk. (And if they make it past that barrier, they’re probably a pretty good prospect.)
Second, don’t schedule calls with casual people. How do you know they’re casual? They say things like “in the next few months,” and “looking at my options,” and “trying to figure out my next steps.” These are great people, but probably not very close to yes. Nothing annoys me more (in my CFO business, to be clear) than doing a call with a prospect and then having them say “we’re interviewing a few candidates, and we’ll probably make a decision by August.” No thanks.
Third, create a resource you can send casual prospects to. Better to let them read a PDF or watch a couple videos than to spend your time chatting with someone who has nothing to teach you and no real possibility of signing up for your service.
BIG NOTE: All of the above would be very different if Jennie were just getting started.
Jennie is well-established in her business, which means she:
Understands her ideal client perfectly and learns very little from casual conversations with prospects.
Has plenty of case studies and testimonials.
Has a steady-enough stream of inquiries.
If Jennie were just starting out I’d encourage her to talk to anyone, anytime about her work and their needs. That’s how you learn who you are and who your ideal clients are.
But the goal for all of us (including me with the new coaching case study) is to move toward “order taking” rather than high-stakes, high-emotion sales conversations. And that means we need to use our content to move a client toward yes before she ever talks to us.
My conversation with Ceri about the hero’s journey gave Kristen a question: how a) talk about her own journey/transformation, b) present herself with authority, and b) still be kind and approachable?
Let’s talk about kind and approachable first. Kristen says there are some coaches she respects that she’d be very nervous to meet and interact with. She doesn’t want to inspire that feeling in others.
I’m taking this as a branding question. Kristen is actually saying, “I want my audience and my clients to feel and talk about me a certain way: I want them to say I’m kind and approachable.”
I realize life coaches would have a field day with that sentence, but like I said: this is a valid question of brand. We can all name people who clearly don’t care whether their audience views them as kind and approachable, and they’re extremely effective in their work.
The key for Kristen is whether she’s kind and approachable in real life. If she is, then her only job in her content is to be herself. I happen to think that’s one of the hardest skills to develop.
Example: yesterday I was in a podcasting class with five other students. Two classmates had presented “trailers” for their podcasts, they did a great job. But I noticed a the clear difference between the “voice” of each person when she was reading her trailer to the group and her regular voice when chatting with us.
Of course I’m not talking about the sound of my classmates’ voices. I’m talking about the words and sentences they used in our regular banter compared to what they’d written into their trailers.
Kristen (and all of us) can read our work out loud. Does it sound like her? Is it the way she actually talks?
I do this with these summaries and my newsletters. I think the summaries sound more like me.
My newsletters are fine; I like them well enough. But writing these summaries is so much easier. I get some nice comments on the newsletters. I get just as much love for these summaries. Other things being equal, this style seems to be the way to go (for me).
As cliche as it sounds, I’m telling Kristen to be herself.
But what if she doesn’t perceive her natural voice to be authoritative enough?
I suggest that she establishes her authority by presenting a measurable before, a measurable after, and personal experiences that show the journey between the two.
it’s not always easy to show a measurable before and after. If you’re coaching on softer stuff (anxiety, depression, general happiness and contentment), there aren’t obvious numbers you can point to (like those on a scale or a bank account).
Here’s how you might be able to pull it off:
“I said no to every social invitation I received in the last three years.”
“I woke up every morning for years with a stomach ache from all the worry.”
“Roughly three days each week I couldn’t get out of bed at all.”
“At least fives times a week (and every Sunday without fail) my husband and I got into a yelling fight.”
The measurable after would tell the opposite story.
It goes without saying: there’s no need to exaggerate these numbers. The truth works.
(If you can’t give these kinds of numbers off the top of your head, start tracking now and consider having your clients do the same.)
Once Kristen (or any of us) establishes the measurable before and after, she can share how she made the trip from one to the other. She can talk about what did and did not work for her–all the better if she finds opportunities to disagree with other authorities in the field.
The end result is Kristen gets to be her (nice) self while making it clear to her audience that she’s been there, done it, and can help them do the same.