I seem to have an issue around money. So my business coach tells me.
I don’t mean in the traditional sense. Of course, like everyone, I’d like more, and on occasion I worry that I don’t have enough. No, my money issues revolve around my work. Namely, what to charge, and lately, whether to accept speaking engagements that don’t pay.
One of the primary reasons I hired my business coach was to help me set pricing. Hands down, pricing is one of the hardest things to navigate, at least for me, in terms of running my own business. I obsess -literally- in every session, phone call and email about pricing issues, which I’m guessing is why she continues to point out that I “have a thing” around money.
For a long time I didn’t understand what she meant. In my defense, I don’t feel I have an issue with money, per say, it’s that I fear making the wrong decision. If I speak for free, then that feels unfair to the groups that pay. If I don’t speak for free, I might lose the client. (Or at least, the future clients that are practically guaranteed by the person requesting the engagement.)
It’s become a real problem as of late, since, with my rising visibility, we are getting bombarded with requests to speak for free. Val and I have discussed this at length, how, it makes sense on one hand- speaking in front of people continues to raise my profile- but on the other, it devalues what I do. Unlike a coach or author who speaks for free to bring in coaching business or sell books, my primary source of income is from speaking engagements. And rarely, if ever, do we see the promised clients after speaking for free. “Free begets free,” Val likes to say, and I agree. At least I think I do.
Instead of recommending I see a counselor, -which I’m sure is her next suggestion- my business coach asked me to call a successful speaker friend of hers and ask for advice. “You might be interested in her perspective,” she said.
I called, having no idea what to expect. I thought perhaps she would tell me taking free gigs was a great way to grow my business, or that there was a way to utilize free speaking so that it led to paying clients. I explained the reason for my call, saying that I struggled with how to balance the free speaking requests with my need to make a living.
“I don’t speak for free,” was her response. “Ever?” I asked, somewhat confused. “Ever,” she said. She then asked, “do you want to do this for a living?” I meekly said, “yes,” thinking, I already do this for a living, lady. “Then don’t speak for free,” she said, adding, “ok Bonnie?” and hung up.
As I sat there, phone in hand, wondering how the heck she confused my name for Bonnie, I realized why my coach had me call. It wasn’t to stop me from accepting free speaking engagements. I highly value her advice- one word from her and the matter would have been closed. Instead, she hoped I’d see there was no “right” answer. I can take free speaking gigs or I can turn them down. But doing things out of fear just creates more confusion because the matter is never really resolved. There’s always something new to be afraid of. Which is why I keep obsessing. Good business decisions don’t come from a place of fear.
So I talked it over with Val. And we decided that I don’t speak for free. For a variety of reasons. And that doesn’t mean we won’t someday change our mind or that people who do speak for free are in the wrong. But as we carefully instituted our new policy this week, you’ll never guess what happened. People decided that, well, they might be able to pay after all. Choosing to do something in the absence of fear translated into confidence which, turns out, is something people are attracted to and want to pay for.