Why is coaching so expensive? Is it even ethical?

Why is coaching so expensive? Is it even ethical?

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Ok, so deep breaths everyone, there’s a lot to get into here. I’m straddling two conversations. I’m speaking both to the women providing coaching who dread being told they’re too expensive,they’re being exploitative, they’re charlatans (had that one). AND the women who are wondering just why coaching has such a price tag, and feel a genuine wave of concern about the injustice of inaccessibility for people they believe could benefit most from it.

That’s what started this bit of work- I had a really polite message from a lovely woman telling me she’s interested in coaching, but that her partner, a committed socialist, someone who works closely with disadvantaged groups, has planted some seeds of discomfort. I wanna be clear here that asking these questions, raising these issues, is really important, and welcome. 

I’m gonna start with- why is it so expensive, and move onto, is that ethical…

So- why is coaching so expensive?

Well, some of it isn’t. There are freebies going on all over the place, sometimes 1:1s, more usually in group settings, where coaches dish out free food for thought, mentoring, and doses of coaching, all over Facebook for a start. I regularly receive messages on instagram from women telling me acting on my words has significantly impacted their lives. 

Here’s what might surprise you- there’s nothing tangible that I save for my 1:1 clients, except some of my personal experiences. The questions, prompts, resources, strategies, soundbites that support my highest paying clients to make monumental changes in their lives and businesses are plastered all over my social media, newsletters, etc. They’re in my low investment content, like my Journalling Workshop of £22, and my mid level investment content, like Audacity: The Expansion at £399. 

So by this point, you’re probably thinking, geeeeez your 1:1 clients must be pretty pissed off if you’re giving all the magic away for free or much less elsewhere. Not so much. 

As one of my long term coaches, the inimitable Suzy Ashworth once taught me, “the transformation is in the transaction.” I have experienced this myself, and I’ve witnessed it in clients over and over and over again.

There are people operating at a certain level in their lives and businesses, who are beginning to believe they might be worthy of a certain level of support- intimate access to someone who has walked the path they wanna run along. Making that investment consolidates their status in their minds. If that feels gross, buying a status, have a think about it- everything we buy is for status (or security, or feelings, or connection, but all of it basically comes back to status). For most women I observe, allowing themselves to direct a significant amount of money into their personal growth, and/ or their businesses, unlocks something before the actual coaching even begins. I see a shift in their willingness to be seen, heard, have difficult conversations, assert boundaries, receive support, almost always right from the off- BECAUSE they’re gone all in on the finances, and they are determined to get a return on their investment.

Which brings us to- what is a significant amount of money? That will be different for everyone. There have been times in my life and business when I’ve clenched my bum cheeks to hit ‘pay’ on £55, and others when I’ve invested £12,000 with only a similar amount of resistance. Luckily, there are things out there that span the spectrum of investments, as discussed earlier.

So what do my high paying clients get from me that others don’t? (And this isn’t just me by the way, this is true of my experiences as a client too). They get intimacy, deep care, rapid responsiveness, and THE TOUGH LOVE. They take up space in my head. They are always on my mind. When I’m on social media, I’m watching for stuff they’d be interested in, or people they could collaborate with or learn from. When I’m having conversations with others, I’m telling them about my client, and how she could change their lives. When I’m reading, I’m remembering things they’ve said, and sharing relevant insights with them. I know them. They know me. And therefore I can dive into my treasure trove of ‘stuff’, and quickly pull out something that applies to their specific need in that moment.

I LOVE COACHING WOMEN in a bespoke, and responsive way. It is also tiring, holding space for people in this way. Not draining (if it is, we are not a good fit), but tiring. I can only serve so many people at this level. And I have a limit on how many hours I’m willing to work.

The crux of this issue is this- if someone is coaching you on getting your life and business into alignment with your desires, surely you want to know that they are operating in this way? What kind of coach would I be, “empowering women” to make bold choices to step out of conventional expectations, if I was living within those boundaries? If I was not acknowledging, and asking for what I wanted, WHY on earth would you wanna work with me? I’d be a fraud. (This doesn’t mean we need to have ticked all boxes and completed the game of life, it just means we need to be actively in pursuit of our expansion, and further down that road than our clients).

Living in alignment with my desires means, for example:

  • Working no more than 30 hours per week
  • Earning enough money to have all the family, and individual travel we want
  • Earning enough to move my parents down south
  • Earning enough to get our forever home before I’m 40
  • Only doing work I enjoy, and therefore earning enough to pay someone to do everything else within my business
  • Always learning and developing- to be paid for

A significant part of this feeling accessible to me is down to my privilege, as a University educated, straight, white, able bodied woman. I acknowledge that, I’m grateful for it, and I’m learning to take responsibility for it. But there are MANY people in the same demographic, who are nowhere near to connecting with what they want. And so, there’s another part of it which is down to the work I’ve done on myself.

When you work with a coach, you are working with someone who has gotten to know themselves, committed to self interrogation, overcome a tonne of their own shit, learned to believe that you can create a business that facilitates the life you want, and implemented it. If they hadn’t- why would you wanna work with them?

Or are we saying, they should know the theory, but hold back on the practice, because it makes everyone else feel uncomfortable? How could you trust them then? 

So- three reasons why some forms of coaching are so expensive

  1. The transformation is in the transaction- the investment drives commitment and action.
  2. You’re working with someone who knows what they wanna earn, how they want their life to look, and how that comes together- that’s what you want.
  3. A great coach supports you to change your life. When I think about the impact of the input I’ve received from Suzy, I mentioned earlier, and my current coach, Lucy Sheridan- I am utterly clear that without those investments, all areas of my life would be stuck in LESS THAN I DESERVE. Equally, I have clients who, without my support, would still be in jobs they hate, and are now running thriving businesses they love around their families. 

With that in mind, I do think it’s important to consider that a family holiday could easily be £3k for 10 days. How soon does that experience wear off? Some of us do have access to the money, finding it easy to spend in a way that’s been normalised, and much tougher to point those resources at actually improving our experiences of our lives…

Of course, there are plenty of people who do not have access to that kind of money, or anything like it, bringing us onto the ethics…

I’ve mentioned a few times- there is free stuff out there, there is stuff out there at every level of investment possible. And yet, I accept that the sort of 1:1 coaching people are probably thinking of when they talk about the expense, is completely out of reach for lots of people.

First thing I wanna suggest is that making it free, or cheap, would not necessarily make it accessible to people living with economic disadvantages. I know this, because I have given free spaces on programmes that include responsive support. I’d say about half the times it’s worked out really well, and the person has accepted my invitation to imagine they’ve paid for it, and go in on the work in the same way. The other half of the time, people have been genuinely overjoyed to begin with, grateful, determined to embrace the opportunity, and then… haven’t. 

I wanna be clear, I say this without judgement, with compassion, and with as few assumptions as possible. There are all kinds of reasons why someone who can’t afford the financial investment may also feel unable to prioritise time, space and energy for this kind of self development work, but it’s clear to me that the price isn’t the only barrier.

The second point I’d like to make here is that we are in really dangerous territory when we start to criticise women for charging highly for their services. We’re like CLOSE THE PAY GAP! NO! NOT LIKE THAT! It’s interesting when people (of any gender) are paying more attention to what small, female led companies are charging their consenting adult clients, than to the ways in which Nestle are stripping the world and some of its most vulnerable people of their natural resources, or how Jezz Bezos could basically resolve world hunger twice a year forever. How many coaches would have to lower their rates or donate their profits to UNICEF to make a dent?

Essentially, what I’m saying here is that yes, some women are incredibly poor. Making it the responsibility of women who are managing to make a really good living, or using that fact to try and shame them out of doing it, is playing into the hands of capitalism, and patriarchy.

They say the right look for allies, and the left look for traitors, and it’s absolutely true. Our socialism leads us to point fingers at each other, as we climb out of a trap where generations of our family have needed to exchange time for money intensively, in order to survive. For example, I’m the first person in my family to go to University. My grandad was one of 11 children brought up on a farm on the West Coast or Ireland, sent to England (where there was great hostility towards Irish people) at 17 years old, to find work on the building sites. To survive. 

Increasing my income doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my politics, or forget what I’ve come from. Can you imagine how the truly economically elite love to watch us counting each other’s pennies, demanding that we stay loyal, small and skint? Do you see how keeping people like us (and I’ll be honest, as I think through my mentors and peers, I think all of us have working class parents, so that’s what I have in mind as ‘us’) scared to earn more, scared to access more time freedom or influence, benefits the status quo that we all detest so much?

And I really think this is directed at women much more often than men- as if we ‘should’ be more caring and compassionate. Particularly if we are mothers. But there’s a whole other tangent I don’t really have capacity for right now.

Straight facts: I am better placed to influence the society we live in, the wealthier I become. And babes, I’m not trying to be a billionaire here- I have no intention of hoarding resources I could never use. 

The evidence supports it- wealthy women give more than wealthy men. And women are far more likely to invest in their local communities, in health and education, in other female led small businesses, and to donate to causes that address issues faced by women and children.

And so I thoroughly object to women being shamed (for anything, obvs), particularly for having the audacity to earn well. (Whilst shaming might not be the intention of some of these conversations, it’s certainly one of the outcomes).

The third thing on my mind, as I’m always reminding my clients- they are not, and cannot be, responsible for everyone- even everyone who can afford their rates. Each of us can help who we can help- people who resonate with our experiences and perspectives. To be frank, I do not necessarily have the ability to relate to someone living in circumstances I’ve never known. The strategies I’m using with women who have flexibility in their resources that they just cannot acknowledge, or dare to access on their own, are not applicable to women whose resources are genuinely, utterly scarce. 

And when I say we aren’t responsible for everyone, I mean we cannot take responsibility for every individual. We can, and we must, take responsibility for our society as a whole, as we co-create it together. If you are someone who is sickened by the rates some of us are charging, I imagine you are in a camp of- ideally, we just need to cancel money, make wealth disparity illegal, and all live at the same level. That’s the dream. In principle, I agree with you. But let’s GET REAL. That is never, ever ever EVER going to happen without some preliminary shake up of the economic, and therefore power dynamics of our society. 

That shake up is gonna come from entrepreneurial women- both the coaches, and the women they are coaching. As I mentioned before- directing wealth back into their communities, small businesses, causes, etc. It’s gonna come when women can afford more help in their lives and businesses, and provide wages for other women, and flexible working with it. It’s gonna come when women have enough time freedom, and spare energy to WAKE UP to the way the world is being run. When we aren’t too run ragged to write to our MPs.

So. let me summarise. 

Is it fair that economically disadvantaged women, who could really do with help to navigate out of their situations, cannot afford the sort of care and attention that high ticket coaching unlocks? No. But is the answer for coaches to lower their rates? No.

The answer is for all of us to put our attention on where the real damage is being done- the government, corporations, systemic misogyny, racism, ableism throughout our society, and to demand macro and micro change with our buying choices, our votes, and the conversations we have with people we know. AND to direct what resources we can into supporting change, without crippling ourselves and cancelling our future potential for more driving more meaningful change. 

Phew. There’s a whole lot more that could be said here. There are, of course, shitty things going on in the coaching industry- I’m not suggesting everyone or every woman in it is operating with this framework in mind. I wanted to stay as close to the original question as possible, but it’s a layered and complex conversation, and I’ve gotta stop somewhere.

I’d love to know what came up for you here- coaches, or coaches. Have you made big investments? Have you increased your earnings and given more back to your communities? Or have you had different experiences?

You can DM me on Instagram.

KJ xx

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