My experience of professional external coaches & mentors is that they are generally giving of their time and often willing to share & support other colleagues who ask for their help.
However, there does seem to be one exception. It's perhaps the trickiest question in coaching...
What do you charge?
I recently wrote here about Sheffield Hallam Business Schools' quarterly Coaching & Mentoring Research day.
During the day a group of us (largely strangers) had a discussion about pricing and marketing coaching services. We shared our individual views on the market, how we saw the market was priced and where we thought our services sat in that mix. Each of us took something from it but we all felt it was a healthy conversation not often had.
Now I've had very honest conversations on pricing with colleagues before and we've found it easy to talk about our experiences. Similarly, I've found clients very supportive in helping understand market rates. It takes trust but it's not that hard to do.
However, it does seem that the subject of pricing tends to be avoided between coaches & mentors. I know others share this view.
What is stopping you?
So what's stopping coaches & mentors from having this discussion?
I'm aware that in some jurisdictions, conversations on pricing are not permissable as it could be construed as price fixing. However, to my knowledge this is not the case in the UK.
There is an argument that the pricing is so variable dependent on industry, individual and need that any conversation would be mixing apples & pears... I think that's an excuse. Arguing the variables would be a conversation about pricing!
Coaching & mentoring as "professions" are embryonic and practices can be diverse so perhaps the lack of clarity on pricing is a market phenomena... so how come clients know what the market price is?
Bear with me on this as I attempt to journey into amateur economics... Paul Stokes in our group mentioned the Giffen Good in terms of exceptions to the normal supply & demand curve. What I actually think he meant was the Veblen Good.
Veblen Good describes a commodity where after a certain price point, rather than demand falling it actually increases - luxury cars being a good example. Now this doesn't necessarily sound like coaching or mentoring until you overlay a few key features of the current coaching market:
- The market is diverse with a spectrum ranging from high end organisational needs to more personal coaching
- Executive Coaching is seen as the preserve of the most highly paid.
- Client ego or perceived value can have an impact
- Unlike other markets, price often bears no correlation to the quality of the coaching
You'll find some interesting references to these points on Coaching at Work here and here (you may need to be a subscriber).
For external coaching & mentoring, I think this implies that there is price point at which prestige kicks in (snob value) but has no relevance to quality necessarily.
What's compelling for me in this theory is the fact that there are a good amount of coaches & mentors working at the high end of the spectrum. Similarly there are many more advertising their services at the low end of the spectrum. Where there appears to be a dearth is quality coaches at reasonable prices for middle-management...
What this means?
Firstly this is a theory. It has some attraction but it is just a theory.
However, it may be that coaches & mentors are reluctant to discuss pricing because we are working in a market that is exceptional to normal supply and demand. This makes it harder for people to gauge where their pricing should sit between the highest and the lowest.
Beyond the reticence of coaches & mentors to discuss their pricing is the observation that perhaps clients are paying a premium to support the egos of the most highly paid.
Perhaps more importantly is the opportunity to provide high quality external coaching to lower levels of the organisation based on the "real" price.
I would really appreciate any thoughts or reactions, specifically :
- Are coaches & mentors slow to have discussions about pricing? What creates such examples of reticence?
- How well does the Veblen Good diagram above relate to your view of the coaching & mentoring market?
- Is pricing the only perceived barrier to providing high quality coaching to lower organisational levels? What other barriers do we face?