The unexpected magic of "choose your own price" coaching calls
About two years ago, I had this crazy idea to shift my entire business into the Gift Economy. I’d just had my mind blown wide open by’s book Sacred Economics, and I quixotically rushed into making everything I do available on a "choose your own price" basis. I went all in, and did it with my courses and templates, my membership, and my one-off coaching sessions. (Long-term coaching packages remained at a fixed price, though.)
Mostly, that experiment was a failure. Not necessarily for financial reasons, but because it flooded my world with people who just wanted free shit related to internet marketing, but who weren't particularly interested in me or the underlying Ungated worldview. It worked for attracting a ton more people into my world, but not in a way that felt good. If you're curious about that experience, I went into more detail about it in my post mortem.
However, there is one piece of my Gift Economy experiment that I kept around. The coaching calls. In the 18 months since, offering "choose your own price" coaching calls has become one of the most effective, nourishing, delightful parts of my business. I love them immensely. More and more, I also find myself recommending this strategy to friends and colleagues who offer any type of 1-on-1 service. I'm convinced this pricing technique is alchemical in nature because of all the unexpected, beautiful things it does.
How most coaching businesses work
Ok, so first up a little context. I've been playing in the coaching and consulting sandbox since 2017, and have tried all of the traditional ways of doing things. In particular, there are two pricing strategies that account for probably 95% of the coaching businesses you'll find (outside of corporate B2B stuff.) And I've used 'em both.
Offer a free "discovery session." The idea is that anybody can book a time and get a taste of your coaching, and then you offer higher-ticket packages on the back-end. What this often leads to, however, is not a genuine coaching call where someone gets to experience what it's like to work with you. Instead, they get an awkward sales call in disguise. And for those of us who've gone through the meat grinder that is the Coach Marketing Industrial Complex™, there are some incredibly high-pressure sales techniques that get pushed on new coaches, which frankly, are cancerous both for coach and client. Coaching is, at its core, about trust, and when you start out the relationship with deception and coercion, you're off to a terrible start lol.
Sell sessions and packages with up-front pricing. In other words, put your time for sale at $150/hour or whatever, and make it so that people have to pay up front before they can ever talk to you. It’s very simple and straightforwardly transactional.
I spent about two years doing the whole discovery session thing, and unsurprisingly hated it. That shit was deeply soul-killing. That's when I switched over to the up-front model, which felt a lot better and higher-integrity, but which also led to very few people ever booking calls with me. In the last year of Filmmaker Freedom, I think I did four paid coaching/consulting calls total.
Outside of one other failed coaching experiment I ran for Ungated in the early days (that's a story for another post), this brings us up to the "choose your own price" era.
Why "choose your own price" coaching calls are rad af
I'll start this off by saying that "choose your own price" calls still sometimes act as a front-end for my higher-priced coaching packages. For every ten people who book a call, one or two of them might be a good fit for a longer-term engagement. And when that's the case, I'll bring it up and see if it's something they want to explore together. No hard sells or anything. Just an invitation for another conversation about what it'd be like to work more closely together over 6+ months.
But even if these were just one-off calls, with no offer on the back end, this model would still come with a shit ton of benefits. So let's dig in.
First up, as the coach/marketer, it is so easy for me to talk about these calls, and share them frequently and excitedly. For me, there is zero sense of feeling uncomfortable or like I'm selling anything. I talk about them on twitter, in emails, in conversations, anywhere. They've also helped me start protecting my time. When someone shows up in my DMs looking for business/creative guidance of any kind, I can just be like "yo, check out one of these calls." As someone with people-pleasing tendencies who used to do a lot of free calls with internet friends, this has been such an empowering boundary for me. Directing people towards these calls helps me take my time more seriously, instead of giving it out to anyone who asks and then feeling overwhelmed and resentful later. Big win for Rob.
From a customer standpoint, these calls are a much lower perceived risk than a call with up-front pricing. And because I explicitly say, "if you don't get anything from the call, you are under no obligation to pay anything," the perceived risk is lowered further. I genuinely don't want someone's money if they feel like our call was a waste of their time. I've had quite a few people tell me they'd never, ever have paid for a call up front, but were happy that I offered it this way because it made them feel safe enough to give it a shot. As a result, the volume of these calls is pretty high (3-5 a week) and is increasing as I publish more. This leads to more revenue, more potential long-term clients, and more cool new internet friends. It's also why I may eventually have to limit my availability for these, cuz I absolutely do not want to spend my life on video calls lol.
Next up, this pricing model makes it waaaayyyyy easier and lower friction for people to talk about and share. I've noticed that people are more likely to share a "choose your own price" call with friends or on social media than one where it has to be paid up front. This creates the conditions under which word of mouth can really begin to take off.
Next up, these calls tend to attract serious and earnest people who are there to get value. Folks tend to show up prepared, with real and urgent stuff they want to work on, and after the calls end, I often see them out in the world actually doing the work. Back when I was offering free "discovery sessions," an alarming percentage of the people who signed up weren't actually interested in solving a real or immediate problem, and generally had little interest in my services. That model led to me filling my calendar very quickly, but then feeling massively depleted and disappointed because they were rarely generative or constructive or profitable conversations. Plus there were always more "no shows" in the discovery session days. No bueno.
This pricing model also helps me coach better. It gets out of my head, and makes it easier to just show up and do what I do best. Listen, ask questions, be present, offer my perspectives and guidance. There's zero worrying about selling or what happens next. I just show up and serve as best as I can, and then at the end of the call I send people an email with the checkout link. That's it. Back when I sold sessions up front, there would always be a little voice in my head saying "this is a paying customer, and you have to deliver at least $150 of value, otherwise you're a failure." That is not a good mindset to be in during a coaching call, either. So, paradoxically, I am a better, more present coach in this model than when I'm charging up front. And the more present I am, the better the session feels for other people, which leads to them getting more value, being happier to pay for it, share it, etc. The downstream effects of not being stuck in your head are massive.
Lastly, these calls are basically super valuable qualitative audience research. I've had 100+ calls at this point, and it's helped me get an acute sense of what people struggle with, where they get stuck, how my advice has either worked or fallen short for them, what else they're trying, what their hopes, dreams, and fears are. The whole nine yards. I'm learning all the good shit, which then influences what I write, how I design products, etc. And unlike most market research methodologies, I'm actually getting paid to do this, and it comes with all of the other benefits above.
Oh, and I'm sure many of you are wondering about this. Out of the 100 or so calls I've done, a grand total of 4 people have ghosted me afterwards and not paid anything. Turns out, there's very little risk when you show up and serve people well, and trust them fully. Who knew. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So yeah, when it comes to pricing strategies for coaching, this shit is magic. 10/10 would recommend.
Rob's Daily Invitation
Wanna book a "choose your own price" coaching call? Lol