Monday, April 06, 2009

Price vs Value in a Changing World

When Paul and I first started our spiritual counseling and healing practice we didn't know what to charge. We're not "psychic readers" -- we do way more than that. We're not psychotherapists although a typical session with us might look like that. You might call us spiritually-oriented psychotherapists who use energy healing, spiritual guidance or psychic insights as an aid in our work.... but even that might not be enough. Sometimes we work on physical illness, too! Plus we work together as a team. That's pretty much unheard of in the work we do so we had no role models to follow whatsoever.

In the very early days of our practice Paul and I worked strictly by donation and one of the first payments we received was $20 for an hour and a half. I was horrified! I went into debt getting a Master's Degree in Transpersonal Psychology and spent 28 years of my life doing various forms of peer counseling and social work for that?!!

I remember us walking down to the Mexican restaurant down by the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. The payment was just enough for the two of us to go out to eat. It was a hot day and Paul wished we had enough for an ice cold beer but didn’t feel like we should spend money for that and I wished we had more money.

We sat down at a table in the window and just then a bicyclist rode up. He stopped for a bit in front of Paul, and when he rode off again a beer popped out of his backpack and rolled into the gutter. By the time Paul jumped up and ran outside the rider couldn't be seen but the beer was unopened and nicely cold.

Then we started to walk home and I felt strongly like I wanted to walk a different way than we would usually go. In fact, I actually chose a way that led away from home. There on the sidewalk we looked down and found another $20 bill.

Now you would have thought that experience would be enough to convince two new spiritual counselors to have faith and trust that our needs would be met. And certainly, it was said at least once that we must be “real healers” to work like this (purely by donation). But when the next several payments weren’t a lot more and we thought at all about how much rent we’d have to pay if we stayed in Santa Cruz...well, Paul was certain we’d be okay but I was beside myself with worry and pain.

The first week we were in business as “professional healers” we had a really wide sliding scale ($50-250) and our very first client paid us $250 which was at the top. We had several clients pay us at or near the top end of our scale -- and lost the clients who didn't value us enough to pay $50 and that felt good-- but we soon started to fret that having a sliding scale seemed problematic for people. We also soon discovered that the money we were spending on print advertising was a waste, were guided to focus on the Internet instead, and also thought we had better decide on a flat fee in order to facilitate getting payment for sessions online. People always felt so uncomfortable about choosing what to pay after having a session with us. Imagine having to make a decision like that before deciding to have a session at all!

So we took the average of all payments we had received over time and found that it came to $100/hour. To be honest, when I think about what professionals in wealthy parts of the country get paid, that's not high enough! But it was the going rate for our field in Santa Cruz and the vast majority of our clients voluntarily paid that or close to it so we've stuck to that for close to a year now. And it seemed like a good decision.

We had what seemed like a noticeable increase in clients after we went to a flat fee. We now have a growing international clientele and we're really glad we do sessions long distance via telephone now because since we moved away from Santa Cruz, that's the choice that's been keeping us in business at all! (At least so far.)

But like lots of people we're having to re-evaluate our business model right now. A lot of people are cutting back intensely and we haven't exactly been immune to that situation ourselves. But whenever I think about lowering our rate I know that we already reduced our income by more than I like to think about back when we dropped our sliding scale fees. The number of clients we have HAS gone up, sure, but we lost both the bottom and top end of our previous client base and that's had an impact we didn't anticipate.

We've been trying to figure out what to do for a long time now. Return to a wide scale of $50 - 250? Stay the same? Increase our flat rate? Some combination of things? A flat fee of $150 and a sliding scale for those who can't pay?

Comments would be appreciated.


kim* said...

flat fees seem to work out. you work harder for some but its worth it if you enjoy it

SleightGirl said...

It seems as if the Universe tells you what to do, just keep your eyes open for the signs.