“Making money from other people’s misfortune makes me sick.”
“My clients expect me to help them for free.”
Sounds familiar? If I got a dollar for every time I hear one of these from clients and prospects, I could retire by now.
Take Shira* for example. She has a love-hate relationship with money. On the one hand, she understands that if she doesn’t charge for her consulting work, she won’t be able to make a living. On the other hand, she feels a pit in her stomach whenever she needs to talk about money with her clients. As a fellow coach joked, if someone would handle collections for small businesses, they would make a killing.
Shira’s difficulty is rooted in a belief that money and values don’t mix. In her mind, money is associated with greed, manipulativeness, and taking advantage of other people’s vulnerability.
Shira’s conflicted beliefs about money issues cause her to sabotage her marketing efforts. Since every new clients means facing the unpleasant talk about money and fees, a part of her doesn’t want new clients. And so she doesn’t invest the efforts, which are necessary for her success.
This outlook is deeply problematic. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the man who spent 13 years in a cave because he insisted on speaking his mind, has the most impeccable of idealistic credentials. Yet Rabbi Shimon rejects out of hand the notion of free services even when applied to spiritual goals.
Commenting on Parshat Trumah, the Zohar argues that “free” is a tool of yetzer hara. Its only goal is to prevent people from perfecting the reality and serving God. Let’s explore this for a minute.
By definition, a free offer entices people away from a paid service, even if the paid service will solve the problem. Since the yetzer hara wants to prevent us from moving forward, it will often dangle a free offer in front of us, just to keep us from getting the real albeit paid help we need.
Unlike Torah learning, which comes from the sphere of perfection and which should be taught for free, solving actual problems takes place in the realm of physical reality. One of our main tasks in life is to perfect the physical. Physical reality is always a mix of good and evil. The only way to separate the two and to elevate the physical is by using the tools of the physical world, in this case money.
The other problem is that by taking advantage of a free offer, we get a feeling that we are already doing something. “I heard a free webinar on marketing. That counts as working on my marketing. Now I can go back to doing other things.” Free resources create an illusion that we are doing something productive and don’t have to put in more serious work.
Let’s apply this to your life for a second. Think of a real problem you have. Think of all the free seminars, speeches, and webinars you have attended. How about the free e-books and reports you have downloaded? And the free phone conversations you have had with the experts. How much insight did you get? How much of it have you implemented? Did the problem go away? Did you reach the result?
As the popular saying goes, there are no free lunches. Reciprocity is one of the strongest societal bonds. If your clients don’t pay money, they feel beholden to you. If they can’t reciprocate, they may develop a feeling of resentment, which in turn prevents them from being helped.
In Hebrew, the word for money kesef shares its root with kisufim – yearning. Money is a tool for reaching our desires and needs. This is a possible explanation for the Talmudic teaching that the righteous value money as their bodies. It enables them to grow to new levels of spirituality by acquiring the supporting functions they need to progress effectively.
For our clients, paying for a service is an unequivocal statement of priorities, both to themselves and to the outside world. It signifies more than anything a drive to solve the problem, which is often a significant missing link. It’s a commitment to work hard on the issue, to put their money where their mouths are.
A number of years ago, research of SAT prep courses showed that the tuition parents paid for the course was the number one motivator for student success. The students could have bought or borrowed a prep book and done the work themselves, but the fact that money had been invested pushed them to work harder.
Finally, charging clients is equally important for your ability to help them. When you charge a client you make a statement about the value of your service – first and foremost to yourself. You communicate your value without saying a word.
Since you cannot provide free service sustainably, working for free undermines your ability to help others and elevate the reality in the long run. Providing services without payment will ultimately leave you feeling depleted and lead you to withholding your wisdom and helping hand from people who really need assistance. When you charge clients you help yourself help them and you help them help themselves.
So here we have it. Free services prevent your clients from getting the most out of working with you. They squanders the most precious and unreturnable commodity – time. On the other hand, paying for your work helps clients define their priorities and commit to the success of joint work. It also enables you to help more people by keeping you satisfied and in the ballgame.
Even if you feel fine talking about money and charging for your service, you may feel bad about clients having to pay overhead. Somehow it seems unfair. Keeping overhead down is obviously in the interest of everyone involved. Yet often the investment in externals is crucial for client success.
For example, let’s say you have decided to rent a centrally located office instead of working out of your suburban house, but you feel bad having your clients pay your rent for you. Would your clients be able to access your services if they were not conveniently located? Would they be able to visit you if there was no parking around? Would they value your work as much if it was conducted from a home office? If the answer to these questions is no, paying your rent is a client interest and is as much a part of the service as the actual work you do.
The Good Free Offer
Is there any room for free offers then?
Yes there is. Free offers can help the client “test drive” your service and figure out if there is chemistry. By tasting what it is like to work with you, they can decide whether they like you and trust you enough to actually pay you. For example, by downloading my free teleclass at the top of this page, you can hear my voice, listen to my ideas about marketing, and get a small sampling of the types of questions I would ask a real client as we start working together.
A free teleclass or report can also answer the client’s basic questions. If a client doesn’t know your industry, making a decision to buy something can be very confusing. By offering information, you can level the playing field and help her decision-making.
For example, I have noticed that many small business owners have difficulty with credit-card processing. To get paid by credit card, you need to get several types of services, all with a confusing price structure. If someone were to explain how credit card processing works in human language and show clearly the advantages and disadvantages of each option, this would make it much easier for business owners to sign up for the service.
In short, it’s fine to offer something for free as long as both you and the clients understand the value and the limitations of the free offer. however, as a business owner you must understand that the purpose of a free offer is to attract clients to your paid offer. You then need to feel comfortable enough to talk about money and fees and to offer your clients to buy your paid products.
Charging Clients – Practical Tips
Now that you know that charging clients for your services is essential for their success, what can you do to feel better about it?
1. Create a clear fee system – Package your services. Know exactly what you are charging and what your clients will get in return. This will help you see the value of your services. At the same time, your clients will be discouraged from pushing the limits and trying to get more than you are offering.
For example, a travel agent told me that she offers visa services for $50 or tells clients to do it themselves via a website. One one occasion, a client opted to do it herself, yet called the agent as soon as she got stuck and expected to be walked through the system. Since the travel agent was not very clear on her boundaries, she felt conflicted. Setting up very clear packages prevents this uncomfortable feeling and usually discourages clients from getting more than what they paid for.
2. Put it in writing – A photographer friend of mine constantly encounters situation where people and organizations request to get her pictures for free. I suggested that she sets up a website and uploads her pictures with prices. Potential clients can then decided for themselves if to buy. Pointing clients to an existing product system (in this case a photo gallery on a website) with clear products and fees makes things easier for everyone. You don’t need to talk about money with your clients when there is a clear product and price list available.
3. Sliding fee scale – This does not apply in every case, but sometimes a sliding fee scale can be a solution to a conflicted business owners, especially when her clientele is not well off. Making a small profit from less fortunate clients and industry-accepted profit from clients who can afford it, is a simple way to avoid the internal pressure to give services away for free.
4. Add value – Once you have the packages set up, you can give your clients perks they didn’t pay for. The difference is that you decided what to give, when to give, and whom to give to. It is entirely under your control. Giving becomes a choice; not something forced on you. Adding value you don’t charge clients for will help you exceed their expectations and make both of you feel very comfortable about paying and receiving the fees.
5. Get professional help – If all else fails, you may want to explore your feelings about money with a professional. Our attitudes are shaped by beliefs and experiences. An astute professional can help you identify the problematic beliefs you have about money and enable you to move ahead in your business.
What’s your biggest challenge in talking about money and charging fees for your work? What helped you overcome your money issues?