You wouldn’t expect professional service to be free, but yet coaching often is?
Imagine ringing up your accountant or solicitor and requesting professional advice nearly daily often after hours and on any given social opportunity. I wonder how many actual accountants and solicitors would entertain this for any length of time before saying that it is time to come in for an appointment with a fee attached. Yet, when it comes to coaching the lines seem a lot more blurred and I am sure I am not the only coach that has been caught in this dilemma of where does friendly support stop and professional time start.
Maybe the training of most coaches is something to have a look at, because most diploma and degree courses in life and business coaching tend to include a pro bono element, where you have to coach a number of hours free of charge in order to gain your qualification. Isn’t that inherently setting graduates up to under-value the service they provide?
The second question is whether most coaches would have given the advice free in any case even if they had never studied to be a coach? Is this one of the reasons why so often clients expect it free especially when they come out of your circle of friends or regular business contact or even clients that have become social friends too? I wonder is it the industry itself that devalues itself more than any other in the professional service sector?
Even after 9 years in business, I sometimes fall in the trap of having given freely of my time and advice trusting that the perceived value I was offering would return in other ways, yet it doesn’t always. A recent event along these lines where I gave freely of my time, advice and encouragement over years completely left me devalued.
Actually with over 12 years of valuable experience in change management consulting around Europe, a successful and award winning business in the coaching industry, Tv-experience, published articles and e-books, an honours degree graduate and holder of an MBA and fluency in 4 languages, I felt worth very little. It was as if all I did for this person was have chats that helped him, which so not felt like he valued any of my skills.
I truly believe that coaching just like accounting or law is not for everyone and is an acquired skill and expertise is fine-tuned over time and with experience. Hence these questions…
The question of perceived value is an interesting one, I did a survey not so long ago of what my clients valued the most about my service as a business coach. The responses varied from having an objective and non-judgemental sounding board, to a trusted motivator that always believed in their ability, to even someone that kept their sanity in a difficult time. In actual fact for most clients the experience and value was different and maybe that is the hardest thing to communicate when you are selling coaching as a professional service, whereas accounting or law may be a lot more clear cut in this regard.
As a coach I would love no more than see all my clients successful and I really love hearing their success stories. When they call at strange hours to report progress and success, I often take the call, but I wonder is that making me too available and not valuing my time or is that being there for a client? I have experienced one scenario where these impromptu feedback sessions were just a decoy for free coaching and I have called a halt to it, which lead to quite a stunned response by the client, who did eventually come around to respecting my value and time. I often wonder if I was a psychotherapist would the same behaviour occur?
As a relatively new industry our value is not always understood and I believe we have a bit of a way to go in order to be fully up on the same level as some of the longer established professional services. So I guess each practitioner has a responsibility to the industry to charge a fair and reasonable price for their service, even the Bible states we were given talents for value purposes if I recall correctly.
With talking, questioning and common reframing as some of the key tools in coaching, it can often be very similar to a close friend listening and supporting you through a tough period. However what I know about some of my clients, they wouldn’t tell their best friends or partners because they have a vested interest in one outcome or other or purely because of the potential embarrassment factor. So I guess the differentiator is the value of neutrality, safety to not lose face and confidentiality, what is that worth to the client?
The recent incident really puzzled me and made me question the whole approach and I guess I also questioned what value I did offer above and beyond being a friend. So next time clients ring out of hours and looking for free advice i will be more cautious and aware and may just not take the call without a paid appointment. Considering most of my clients come from the professional services industry, they would just do the same to me if the situation was reversed.
When I deal with clients that are genuinely not able to work with me due to their financial situation, we have always come to some value trade solution. Actually my fancy mountain bike is one of these brilliant trades, that I am still grateful for even years after the trade, it brings me everywhere.
So if you are a coach, I challenge you to put value on neutrality, protection and confidentiality. If you are one of those chancers that want to share success stories as a decoy… hmmm from now on book an appointment and I will be delighted to listen, encourage, support and question.