by Roger Elliott
Before we get started, let’s get one thing straight:
Deep down, any caring person feels that charging someone who’s suffering money is somehow wrong.
We regularly hear from practitioners who tell us they feel guilty about charging for their therapeutic services.
But we all need to eat, live, support our families, and take time off. How do we square the guilt over charging with this need?
I thought I would share with you some of the ways I have increased my own confidence around charging. And, of course, it all comes down to your own psychology…
1) Know how much it is costing you to deliver your therapeutic service
It’s sad, I know, but it costs money just to be alive, doesn’t it? And the alternative is not much help!
The same is true of any business, due to things called ‘overheads’.
‘Overheads’ are what you have to pay out before you actually do anything you can get paid for. Overheads are what it costs your business just to be alive.
For the typical practitioner, these are things like:
- Annual CPD/CEU training
- Electricity for heat and light
- Rent/room hire:
- Transport costs (fuel/public transport/vehicle depreciation)
- Marketing costs (adverts, business cards, networking)
- Professional organization membership and insurance.
We surveyed hundreds of therapy practitioners on their costs and found these results:
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So, even before seeing a single client, the average therapy practitioner is spending thousands per year. It’s worth really reflecting on the amount you have invested in yourself and your business when charging a client.
2) Understand (really, really understand) the value of what you’re doing
Years ago, a delegate on a workshop we were running approached my colleague Mark and told him she had considered seeing him for therapy but had skipped over his advert because she thought his charges were too low. That made us see pricing in a whole new way. There are two main ways to price things:
- Cost-based pricing. This goes a bit like: “It costs me £5 to make this gizmo, therefore I will charge £10 for it.”
- Value-based pricing. “The value of this to the recipient is around £1000. Therefore, I will charge £1000, even if it only costs me £100 to do it.”
Of course, other things affect what you can charge for something. Competition, for instance – you won’t get £10 for your widget if the shop across the road is selling it for £3. But in general, these are the two approaches to pricing. Typically, we find that practitioners are stuck in cost-based pricing mode: “How can I possibly charge so much for this when it costs me nothing like that to do it?”
What I would like you to consider is that it really is costing you much more to do it than you think. You can see that from Tip 1. The other sales truth therapists commonly forget is that when people buy something important (and what’s more important than a therapy purchase?), they want quality. And in today’s world, quality is tied directly to price.
If you do not charge enough, people will feel they are making a poor decision and go elsewhere. In addition, people who pay more get better outcomes from therapy and are more committed to the process (1).
3) Know how much you want for your time
This is so important. If you don’t know what your time is worth, you won’t know what to charge for it. And if things are tight, any money at all can seem like a good idea. But, of course, when you’re doing one thing, you’re missing out on doing something else.
So if you take an offer that ends up paying you £10 an hour and you could have been building your business with that time, was it a good decision? Let’s look at a real example. You’ve been asked to do a presentation at your local health store – an hour’s talk about your therapy.
It’s part of an open day and they’ve told you you’ll get lots of business from the people attending, so they’re not offering a fee. (Sound familiar?) So, let’s look at what you’re committing to… For an hour’s presentation, we budget eight hours of preparation. So then you’ve got:
- 8 hours of preparation
- travel time
- travel costs
- ramp up and down time (let’s say 2 hours).
You’re talking a minimum of ten hours here. And if you’ve valued your time at £50 an hour, that means you’d need to get £500 worth of business from the gig, plus another £500, to make it worth your while. Why is that?
Well, you’re spending the ten hours on that presentation already, plus you’ll be spending the time with any new clients you get from it. Now you have a basis for a decision. How much would you be making if you were seeing clients for those ten hours instead? How much would your time be worth if you were spending it creating a product that could sell for the next five years?
4) Check your marketing mindset
“My therapeutic skills are all I need to survive.” I was mentoring a self-employed businesswoman recently on her marketing. She was focusing on what to charge for her new online product and asked me what I thought. I asked her if she had written the sales page for it yet. She looked surprised.
“Surely I have to set the price before I can write a sales page?” “It’s completely the other way round,” I told her. “When you’re selling something, you’re not actually selling your product, you’re selling the words on the page.” “What?” she asked. “How can that be true? Why would anyone pay money for words on the page?” “Well, because they haven’t used the product yet.
All they have to go on is what you’ve told them about it. The words on the page.” When someone comes to you as a therapist, they aren’t buying your skills; they’re buying an outcome. An outcome like ‘no more panic attacks’, ‘better sleep’, or ‘less back pain’. And that outcome is conveyed by the words you use.
My colleague Mark mentioned in his article ‘The 7 Worst Business Mistakes I Made as a New Therapist’ that when we made this change to outcome-focussed advertising when we were starting out as therapists, our Yellow Pages bookings leapt. (If you don’t remember using Yellow Pages, consider yourself lucky.)
So remember, marketing is essential, because otherwise the people out there who need their life to be better won’t know you are there. And they will suffer needlessly because you were too shy to market hard. Please repeat this hourly until you start to believe it: Once you know you can help people, it is your duty to let those people know.
5) You’re not everyone’s perfect therapist
This is a useful mindset shift that I’ve found helps a lot of practitioners overcome any hint of imposter syndrome they may be feeling. When I said ‘market hard’ at the end of the last tip, I didn’t mean going around telling everyone you’re the best counsellor around. There is no need to be the best and, let’s face it, realistically only one counsellor can be.
I simply mean that you need to communicate what you do (in outcome terms) in a language that your target market can understand and in a way that lets them know what you are like as a person. Why? Because you are not the perfect counsellor for everyone. Not even for the majority of people. But for a specific type of person, you are perfect.
And they need to be able to tell from your marketing materials what sort of person you are so they can find their way to you. So don’t think that to market strongly you have to pretend you’re the best in the world. And don’t think you have to come across like someone else.
Let your potential client see who you are, so they can see that you are right for them. And when you get a client like that, doesn’t your job just become a whole lot more enjoyable, anyway?
One last common worry of many practitioners… We’re coming to the end of our guilt-shifting charging tips, but I want to finish with perhaps the most common concern many practitioners have. It goes something like this: “If I make my prices that high, people who need help won’t be able to afford it.” I’d like to make the argument that the opposite is actually the case.
The way I see it (and experience bears me out), if you make your prices high enough and your marketing good enough, then you will be able to afford to see people who can’t afford it at drastically reduced rates or even for free, should you so choose. Clients are people and they understand you’re just a person making your way in the world, as well.
They expect to pay for your services. Why not just make sure the benefit of those services is worth what they pay and confidently communicate that to the world? I hope that has helped take the pressure of a little. If it has, please help me out by sharing it on your social network of choice (buttons on the left), and… happy marketing, folks!
- Gino, F. (2008). Do we listen to advice just because we paid for it? The impact of advice cost on its use. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 107(2). 234-245. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2008.03.001.
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