When starting your own coaching practice the issue of creating paying clients versus doing free work will come up sooner rather than later.

Chances are that while you were undergoing training you were doing free work.

Or, perhaps you’ve had a natural inclination toward coaching and didn’t even realize you’ve been doing it for friends and people you meet.

If this is the case, don’t worry. Most coaches begin the same way and many start off because they are just naturally good at it. However, this does beg the question, “If I’m to make a business out of this, don’t I need to start creating paying clients?”

In short, the answer is absolutely!

In fact, if we’re not careful then this could easily become a boundaries issue later on. You do not want to be the business owner who is constantly depleted and stuck in the hamster wheel of feast or famineYou also don’t want to be the business owner that constantly gets taken advantage of.

And finally, you have bills to pay. Period. Point blank. This is the reality of the world we live in. As such, you should focus on creating paying clients.

However, this does not mean that there isn’t a lot of free work that goes into it.

This also doesn’t mean that you don’t go the extra mile for your clients or people who may not be paying you yet. Many times the free work leads to creating paying clients.

So in reality, it’s all a very delicate balance with many schools of thought as to how to approach it. Much of it will depend on your personal journey on creating boundaries and asking for money.

As a result, please don’t expect to have the perfect balance figured out immediately. Please don’t expect to be perfect either. At the end of the day there really is no black and white when it comes to this.

There is also no magic pill or silver bullet because every business is different.

(As an important side bar, this is why business is so freeing; because you can create it any way you want.)

Instead, look at these things as tips to consider in your journey. Some of it you’ll be able to apply immediately. Other tips you won’t be ready for yet, and that’s okay. Just take what works for now and perhaps apply the other things later.

But first, a quick word on the importance of boundaries.

Why exactly are we tackling this before jumping into how to balance free work and creating paying clients?

First, because it’s a mindset thing.

It’s not uncommon that beginning coaches have a hard time saying “Hey, I need to get paid for this.” It’s also not uncommon for someone to have a hard time saying no. Especially in the beginning when you feel like you have to say yes to everything in order to build your business. In fact, this in and of itself can be very uncomfortable. As such, we just want you to be mindful of this as you implement the tips we are about to teach you. Simply put, there is a chance that you’ll run into some resistance as you create new habits.

Second, because having loose boundaries is exactly what we want to avoid when deciding whether or not we should do free work or create paying clients. You want to get paid fairly for the work you put in. You also don’t want people take advantage of you and your expertise. This is why it’s important to get comfortable with the idea of implementing boundaries in your coaching business.

In the end, we just want you to be mindful of these things as you begin to determine whether or not you should do free work or create paying clients.

This brings us to our first point as to how to balance free work versus creating paid clients.

#1 If your boundaries are being tested, start creating paying clients.

One issue many coaches run into when it comes to balancing free work or creating paying clients is that sometimes their free work leads to loose boundaries within their business.

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Here are some of the examples of what it looks like when you have loose boundaries when it comes to free work:

  • Allowing people to constantly pick your brain for free.
  • Giving away or undercharging for premium priced services.
  • Clients paying late.
  • Clients making ridiculous demands on your time.
  • Clients contacting you day and night.

The reason we bring this up is because this is what you don’t want in your business.

The only remedy for this is to create boundaries in the forms of charging and learning how to say no. Both of these new habits can be uncomfortable because we want to be nice.

We also may believe that we have no choice.

Or, ultimately because we want people to like us and we feel like saying no will impede us from that.

If you do feel this way when it comes to charging or setting boundaries here’s a quote by Dr. Phill to help you out:

“We teach people how to treat us.”

Believe it or not people are generally understanding of boundaries once you implement them. And if they aren’t, well, then they aren’t the kind of people you want to work with anyway (regardless of how big your coaching fee may be).

Furthermore, you can’t expect someone to know how to behave if you don’t let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

For example, if you keep allowing people to pick your brain for free then they’ll think it’s acceptable and keep asking for it.

At this point beginning coaches may benefit from creating some sort of “Policies” document or include acceptable behavior in their coaching agreement. 

#2 Offer free mini coaching sessions to start creating paying clients.

This may seem counterintuitive given the last section of this article, however the truth remains that if done properly you can start creating paying clients as a result of free work that you put in.

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Furthermore, when it comes to coaching, people need to trust you before they hire you.

Free work (done properly, of course) is a way of creating that trust.

After all, you wouldn’t hire a coach you didn’t trust, would you?

Again, we must mention to be mindful of boundaries here. There is a difference between doing free work as a form of marketing and a client taking complete advantage of you.

With being said let’s jump into one sure fire way you can start creating free coaching clients as a result of free work: offering free mini coaching sessions.

This is a marketing practice used by many different kinds of businesses because it truly works. You may see “free consultation” signs for several businesses throughout your community including attorneys and orthodontists.

It’s also the same concept as having a free sample of a product. However, there are a couple of schools of thought here. Some people think you should never do free sessions and should at least charge a minimal consulting fee. But of course, we know that coaching is not consulting. Furthermore, as good coaches we also know that the relationship between coach and client needs to be a good fit. 

So, in essence, offering free mini sessions is about more than having a prospective client try out your coaching. It’s also an opportunity for you see whether or not you are even the right coach for this prospective client. It’s what marketing and sales coach, Michael Port, calls a Velvet Rope Policy.

You can’t invite just anyone to be a coaching client.

You only invite ideal clients.

(Side note: If you need some help figuring out your ideal client please read our recent article, 10 Essential Keys to Starting a Coaching Practice)

If at the end of the mini session you’ve decided that this prospect is a good fit then invite them to come on as a paying client. Here are some things to be mindful of during mini sessions so you don’t create loose boundaries.

  • Stick to the allotted time. If your free mini session is 30 minutes then keep it to 30 minutes. (Yes, you can do it!)
  • Don’t chicken out on selling your services. Selling is not easy at first but it can be mastered. Learn how to do it.
  • Be strong about what you charge. Do not begin undervaluing or slashing prices out of fear of rejection.

If you’ve invited them to come on as a paying client, send them a coaching agreement they must sign. Aside from legal purposes, this is also a solid way of laying out some ground rules.

Overall, if done properly offering free mini coaching sessions is a solid way of interacting with prospective clients and making sales.

#3 Free content marketing as a means of creating paid clients.

There’s a saying in the online marketing world that says “Content is king.”

The idea is that marketing in the form of free content is what gets you noticed online. While it may take some time to build, it’s very true.

People are constantly looking for things online and if you have content that addresses their needs (and is in line with whatever you are coaching, of course) then they are likely to find you. Furthermore, as with the free mini coaching sessions, free content helps people begin to trust you.

Free content can be an overwhelming concept for people so we’re going to break it down a little to make it easier for you.

We’re also going to throw in some ways to capitalize on it so that you can begin creating paying clients as a result of free content.

Step 1: Create a blog.

Get yourself some web hosting, fire up WordPress and start blogging. (Preferably hosting you have to pay for so you have complete control over design and monetizing. It also looks more professional.)

You may find it helpful to create an editorial calendar to keep you focused and accountable to creating content.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger has great content on how to get started blogging. Particularly, make sure to pick up his workbook 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Step 2: Don’t brainstorm. Instead, answer your client’s questions.

There’s no need to brainstorm when you’ve got your clients to help you with content.

What are they dealing with?

What are common patterns you see?

Of course, if you’re going to use names and specifics make sure you have their permission. If not then you can always keep it to general problems like “How to Achieve Goals” or “X Ways to Overcome Fear.” Just make sure to keep it relevant to your ideal clients and your coaching brand. For example if you’re a relationship coach it may not suit you to have an article like “X Ways to Lose Weight Juicing.”

Step 3: Have a call to action.

At the bottom of each post you should have a call to action. This could be something like signing up for your email list (your leads). It could also be inviting them to schedule themselves a free mini session. Or, it could just be to purchase your latest product offering.

The point is to have some sort of call to action that let’s prospects know that you are available to help them. This helps you start creating paying clients.

If you’d like additional information on how to do this really well Marie Forleo’s B-School covers it extensively.

#4 Giving away free stuff in exchange for leads.

A blog is one way to give away free work in exchange for leads that can turn into paying clients. Another way of doing this is to create some sort of a freebie that leads will receive in exchange for giving your their name and email address.

This could be a free PDF, an audio, a video, etc.

The key is that this freebie must help them address one of their specific needs.

For instance, a weight loss coach may offer a free PDF along the lines of “5 Ways to Make Exercise Easy.”

They will have it available on their site for free in exchange for a person’s name and email address. Now comes the important part when it comes to creating paying clients.

Once you have their information you must begin building a relationship with them. You must also let them know what products and services you have available. It’s far too often that people get lead information and then do nothing with it. Or, they hope and pray that people will purchase from them just because they tell them to.

There is a little bit of being proactive here in the form of letting leads know that you are available for work, telling them about services or products or inviting them on the phone for a free mini session.

The latter specifically is extremely important because it can turn into a closed coaching deal.

#5 Free speaking engagements as a form of creating paying clients.

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Speaking is another excellent way of marketing yourself in order to start creating paying coaching clients. The best part is that you can do it both online and off.

Below you’ll find the main differences between online and offline speaking. Then we’ll go into how to use free speaking events as a means of creating paying clients.

Online Speaking

This mostly refers to webinars and teleseminars. Webinars are speaking engagements that include audio and video. The video could be you on camera or slides. Teleseminars just include audio.

Offline Speaking

This refers to either speaking for other organizations or putting on your own events at a venue.

How to Turn Free Speaking Into Paying Clients

The great thing about speaking is that you are showing multiple people what you’re made of at one time. As such it is much more scaleable than one-on-one mini coaching sessions. There are a couple of ways that you can use speaking in order to start creating paying clients.

The first is to set up free mini coaching sessions with people you meet at the event.

As you’re speaking to a good coaching prospect just whip out your phone and schedule them for a meeting right then and there.

Then go through the free mini coaching session process as laid out earlier in this article.

The other great thing about speaking is you can learn how to make sales right then and there with a technique called selling from the stage.

Selling from the stage is the process of education your audience and setting up the talk so that they purchase your product at the end of it.

Callan Rush’s book Wealth Through Workshops offers a great primer on how to create speeches that make you money.

Another great book on the subject is World Class Speaking by Craig Valentine.

What about speaking for a fee?

Speaking for a fee is totally possible. It’s also a great way of making money. Especially once you’ve begun to develop some clout for your coaching business.

Both books mentioned above can help with that as well.

Valentine’s book in particular offers some great insight on how to sell workshops to corporations and big organizations. 

However, this begs the question, “How do I know whether I should speak for free or for ask for a speaking fee?”

This depends on a few factors.

First, you’ll want to know whether or not you are allowed to sell your own products and services. Different organizations have different rules.

If the answer is no then definitely pitch speaking for a fee. Otherwise, what would be the point if there’s no chance of you making any money?

Second, you’ll want to consider the amount of ideal clients who will be present at the event.

Sometimes, if you know you’re going to have a large number of ideal coaching prospects in the audience it outweighs the fact that you will speak for free.

Simply put, there’s a large potential for making money sitting within the audience.

If that potential money outweighs the idea of speaking fee then speaking for free may not be a terrible idea.

Of course, with time you’ll be able to start banking on the magic formula: getting paid to speak and having an audience of ideal prospects simultaneously.

Please note that this does not mean you can’t start doing both right now as you begin to set up your coaching practice. You can certainly begin pitching to organizations that cater to your ideal audience from the get go. However, don’t throw out the fact that you can still start creating a lot of paid clients by speaking for free.

You may find it helpful to narrow down some organizations you’d be willing to speak to for free simply because of the number of ideal prospects you would be getting exposed to.

If they pay as well, terrific!

If not then you’ll at least know which organizations may be worth your time and effort in putting in free work. Any organizations that are outside of that list are those that you would pitch to speak for a fee.

Bottom line, when it comes to speaking you’ll need to consider the amount of money than can potentially be made.

This will help you determine whether or not you should speak for free or charge a fee. The same concept can apply to webinars.

  • What about paid webinars? 
  • What is the purpose of the webinar?
  • Are you just using it to get leads?
  • Will you be selling from the stage?
  • Are you going to be discussing topics that are widely available for free online?
  • Are you going to be talking about very specific guidelines that shouldn’t be free?

Here’s a good rule of thumb you can follow:

If you’re going to be teaching something that is very general or available for free online keep it free and use the webinar to get leads. If, however, you’re going to be teaching very specific things you may want to consider charging.

Bonus points if your webinar can add significant value to participants such as increasing time, money, love and happiness.

Overall, it is a bit of a balancing act to determine whether not you should do free work or focus on creating paid clients.

By creating that balance of free versus paid you can build trust the trust it takes to bring on paid coaching clients and expand your business.

Evercoach Team

Evercoach Team

Evercoach is the premier place to find up-to-date and relevant information about coaching and the coaching industry. Our authors are industry leaders, with years of experience in the coaching industry.

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