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  "'Coaching' Is Becoming An Empty Word"

Question

"Can you give us a coaching session? For 80 people? At 6 PM? At a restaurant?"

I received three requests today for available slots to deliver "some motivational talk"... It's like people are getting less interested in training/consulting and more in small flash-like events. Should I worry? Is this an sustainable business model? Should I charge a full consulting day for two hours talk?

Discussion

Let me start with the practical matter of how much to charge.

Should I charge a full consulting day for two hours talk?

No, you should charge the price for a two-hour talk for those people on that topic on that day. We all work at market price and I take that seriously.

I don't have "standard rates" for work that requires me to be present. (I have standard rates for things like my online training, but 95% of that is a product that doesn't require my constant attention and effort.) The in-person work I do generally neither has standard costs, nor do I always want the same profit from similar engagements. These things change all the time. When I quote on a price for an engagement, it incorporates all those things, and I tell my prospective client that that price is subject to certain conditions. When I do similar work for the same client, I simply quote a new price each time. If a client finds this dishonest, then I can't work with them for long. If a client finds me valuable, then they accept this arrangement of changing prices. They simply decide for each engagement whether they can justify paying the price I ask for. This is market pricing.

I might have a standard profit in mind for teaching one of my standard training courses on site, but I use this is a starting point for deciding on a price. I lower my profit goal if I get something else out of going to that place at that time, such as a nice vacation or a chance to visit friends. I raise my profit goal if I suspect that the work will go less smoothly, such as dealing with companies that create administrative headaches, going to a place that I know I don't enjoy, or if the prospective client insists on scheduling the work when I strongly prefer not to travel. Here, I employ the Orange Juice Test from The Secrets of Consulting: "I can do it, and here is what I charge".

Is This Sustainable? Maybe.

Next, I'd like to talk about the deeper concern: can we afford to continue to do this kind of "flash-event" work? That depends mostly on you and not on the work. It depends on your personal financial situation, how much of your market you're already exploiting, how easily people who need and want you can find you, and how much energy you have to do the various kinds of work you can charge for. It probably doesn't depend much on "the going rate" (how much other people charge) for similar work, because your most valuable clients want you and not just the work. Don't worry about what they charge. Charge what you want to charge and find the people who agree to pay it. If you charge less, then you find clients who care more about paying less; if you charge more, then you find clients who care more about getting more value. I want more of the second kind of client, and fortunately, I have a handful of them, and that suffices for my personal financial situation.

I would look at these "flash" events as paid marketing. I don't mean just paid advertising, but paid marketing. Yes, I have an opportunity to show my talents to a group of people who might want to hire me, but more than that, I have an opportunity to understand their problems, their concerns, their needs, and their wants, so that I can follow up with ways to help them that they might happily pay considerable amounts of money for. Most companies spend a lot of money on marketing; you can get some while getting paid. Take advantage of it! Many people have to go through periods of low revenue where they have to invest in their own marketing. That's much harder.

Don't Get Sucked In

If you do a lot of these "flash" events, then you run the risk of becoming known for doing that kind of event, and more people will ask you to do more of them. This could become a dangerous cycle that causes you to burn through your market too quickly. For this reason, you really need to get something more than cash from these events; you need to build relationships with people that can lead to future sales and you need to extract product or service ideas that can lead to future offers.

You also need to publicize doing other kinds of work, in order to avoid being type cast. I don't recommend selling it at a reduced price in order to establish your credibility; instead, I recommend either giving it away or charging your full, desired price, but not doing anything in between. You might feel afraid giving work away, but would you rather be seen as a medium-price supplier or as a high-price supplier who takes time out of their busy schedule to help some people out free of charge? Which do you think projects a better image? One typical model involves giving away a superficial version of your work (overviews, high-level principles and strategies) and then charging a high price for help with the difficult details. You can even write a short book with the superficial content and use that to generate leads for the more detailed work, then decide whether to sell it for a small amount of money or give it away as a way to gather contacts.

These are details. What matters is this: don't let these flash events become "what you do". You do them, but you do more, and you use these flash events as a way to both advertise what more you do and to find (and understand!) the people who will consider that valuable, so that when they're ready to buy help, they think of you.

I don't worry about people giving up on consulting/coaching/training and seeing these "flash" events as a replacement. I see them as a trend—a fad. If you use them to build relationships with people and to present yourself as a valuable, trusted adviser, then when the trend passes and people realize that they need help, they'll think of you. In the meantime, you can take this chance to develop other income streams, because it's never a good idea to rely on just one.

References

Gerald Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting. I continue to find many of Jerry's tips helpful in my business, although I don't do everything he suggests. I especially use the Orange Juice Test, the principle of Least Regret pricing, and remember not to let myself become dependent on a single source of revenue, no matter how big it is at the time.

Alan Weiss, Million Dollar Consulting. I don't make millions of dollars consulting, but I really appreciate Alan's advice to focus on cultivating clients that find me highly valuable, so that price is not the primary consideration when it comes time to finalize the engagement.

Stephen Heiman and others, The New Strategic Selling. If you don't like selling, this book can help you change your mind about that. If you don't sell well, then this book can help you understand what's going wrong.