The Craft of Coaching, Live Q&A: How to Avoid Coaching for Free

Good intentions can lead many coaches to give away their time for free. It's a costly mistake that will hurt your coaching business.

Joe Friel has hosted several Q&A mentor sessions as part of the Craft of Coaching series, answering questions on all aspects of coaching and coach education. In this second part of our six-part mini-series taken from a live Q&A, Friel answers addresses the sometimes-thorny topic of how to avoid coaching for free.

In Module 4 of the Craft of Coaching, The Business of Coaching, Friel describes the pros and cons of different coaching services. Most coaches have an entry-level or limited service available to athletes, whether that be group coaching or conventional training plans. These services work best when the coach is able to help a lot of athletes within a fixed amount of time.

As a coach, it can be increasingly difficult for you to protect your time when athletes present questions or problems. It’s a slippery slope. The coach’s desire to help athletes can ultimately prevent clients from upgrading to a higher level of service. 

The Craft of Coaching series unpacks the key components of a successful coaching business:

  • Refine your client screening process. Joe Friel shares the pre-screening questions that he refined over the course of his accomplished career. Use them to establish positive, professional relationships right from the start.
  • Learn how to better protect your time. Ryan Bolton of Bolton Endurance Sports Training describes how he juggles a roster of pros and age groupers, along with a team of coaches. He explains why it’s worth his time to work with other coaches. It effectively enables him to “swipe left” while still helping the athlete find a good match.
  • Find out how to balance a wide range of coaching relationships. Melissa Mantak of The Empowered Athlete shares her solution. Every athlete starts at a premium level of service during the onboarding process. This allows her to get to know the athlete’s needs, respond to questions, and make adjustments.

RELATED: The Craft of Coaching, Live Q&A: How to Grow Your Coaching Business

Video Transcript

Tenille Hoogland [0:03]:

And my challenge is… and I have a feeling you’re going to say, “Well, you need to create your boundaries”…  is that with my group plans I keep on getting into individualization. It’s so hard not to do your…  like when you know things, to keep [athletes] in the group when I see things or they want the accountability… but then it’s really hard to grow the business. The foundation of my business is education and how to be a female athlete and take in all of the new information that we’re taking in at this time. I wonder if you have… like other than “You need to like just figure it out”… do you have any thoughts on that?


Joe Friel [0:53]:

Typically, what we all do as coaches is we like helping people. That’s what… that’s one of the reasons we’re involved in this profession is because it involves helping people. And we’ve got kind of a teacher kind of mindset with each of us. We want to teach people to become better athletes, better performers. And so we’re kind of like driven to give away our services, and so when you have that client who you’re only making contact with once a month and they’re paying your lower fee because of that, it’s very difficult not to reach out to them when you see something come up and start giving away services that the person is not paying for, which then discourages people from ever giving you the higher fee. If you’re going to give the same services to somebody the at the platinum level, as the services you give to the somebody at the bronze level, that’s really going to be… it’s not going to help your business at all.

What I decided many years ago was I wasn’t going to do that. I was going to coach every athlete as if they were my only athlete and I was going to charge them a fee, which was representative of the effort and time I was putting into it. My time is worth something, your time is worth something, and we can’t be giving it away. We need to make sure we’re doing things that are appropriate for the service we’re providing—we’re charging an appropriate way given our services. So I just simply did away with all the limited-service clients I had and started offering only the higher-level services, and my life got a lot easier once I did that. You may not want to do that.

You may enjoy working with a group, which is not quite as much involvement on your part, but I would suggest for each of [the coaches in the mentor session] is that you can actually charge more for your services than what you think. I know that sounds scary, but what I did when I first made this decision was I decided every time I got a new client, that new client would pay more than anybody else is paying me. That became my standard. So the price went up every time I got a new client. It didn’t go up by a lot–it may have been only like $50 a month. It eventually became $100 a month, or whatever it was.

But the idea was that I was going to eventually move up… have all my clients move up the scale in terms of what fees they are paying for my coaching, so that everybody becomes a top-level business associate of mine. They’re a client and I am directly involved with providing them with services, with no limitations on the amount of service I give them. I’d treat every client as if [they were] the only client I had, which sounds like what you’ve been doing… which is, you have a group of people and they all understand that they’re a member of the group.

As with all things, make sure you’re protecting your time. That’s what this all comes down to, is how much time are you putting into a given client? Is it worth it for that given client? Are you are you getting something back for this the time you put in, you may be giving something back in terms of you just feel good about helping the client out, but that’s not good for your business. You’ve got to take a look at this always from a business perspective. You’re not just there to help people endlessly.