The Big Free Mistake in Coaching

For most of the fall, the world was getting me down.

I was struggling with the fire in my backyard in California, the floods, the hurricanes, the racism, the attacks, and the general suckiness of life right now.

So I do what I always do, I went to my happy place.

(My happy place is here, in case you were wondering).

FREE hurts your business. Here's how to get paid for what you do best.

But something was different; I was less motivated and more blah than usual. Frankly,  I wanted to do more to help besides writing checks to charities.

So after donating some money, and drinking some wine, I thought about other things I could do, including ways in which I could help coaches spread positivity and impact more people.

And that’s when I *almost* made my usual mistake.

Want to know what that is?

You tell me!

Which one of these three things is a mistake:

  1. Giving away free scholarships to your program.
  2. Saying yes to people who say “Can I pick your brain?”
  3. Offering to coach someone for free for several months.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, and when you joined this community I promised to give it to you straight.

So the answer is: All of them.

Free isn’t always better. And it isn’t always the right answer for your clients or your business.

In fact, free can sometimes be bad for both.

I want to go back in time and show you what I’ve tried in terms of giving things away as a coach, what hasn’t worked so you can avoid some of my past mistakes, and learn from what I feel works today.

Ready? Let’s go!

Free Mistake #1: Giving away free scholarships to your program

I used to give away free scholarships to my big group coaching program, the Career Happiness Revolution, all the time. Whenever it was open.

One year very early on I gave away 6 free seats, even though only 40 people had enrolled in the program. All of the scholarship applicants seemed amazing, and I honestly couldn’t choose.

So why is this bad?

Well…people don’t value free the same way they value what they pay for, and it’s especially easy to lose them in a group program, when they don’t *always* have your beady eye on their progress.

I took a moment about 2.5 years ago, and tallied up how many people on scholarship completed the program.

Want to know the total?



Not one had finished.

“But Christie” you might be saying “You just chose poorly!”

Nope. I honestly don’t believe so.

Here’s why: For each round of the program I had a detailed scholarship application process with a written component and a contract. Once I even had full on video applications, adding an extra level of difficulty and commitment.

I had people write me pages about themselves and their career situation, in depth, heartfelt, warm, caring and …

…they still didn’t finish.


You know the people who did finish?

Those that paid.

Say what you will, but when you pay for something you create an intangible contract with yourself, and that alone can be enough of a motivator to actually do the work :).

So I stopped offering scholarships, because it was tiring to have to read all of them and choose who would get the award, knowing the people I selected wouldn’t even finish. I kept thinking “What is the point?”

It wasn’t helping me, and it definitely wasn’t helping them. So I stopped.

And that leads me to free mistake number 2…

Free Mistake #2: Saying yes to people who ask “Can I pick your brain?”

This one is a little bit trickier.

It’s hard to say no to someone who asks for “just a few minutes” of your time because you are in the business of helping people, right?


The truth is that I stopped saying yes to that years ago, because here is what I discovered: There are people who like to learn and then ask for help, and there are people who just like to ask without giving anything much time and attention. They tend to be always seeking, never learning.

And most people who asked “can I pick your brain” fell into the second category, and honestly, they really just wanted some free coaching.

But here’s the thing: I’m a business, not a charity.

A shift in thinking that helped me was this: You wouldn’t meet a doctor at a bar, and then ask to call them up for free medical advice, would you? No, you’d schedule an appointment and expect to pay for an office visit.

I don’t pretend to be a doctor, but I am trained professional and when people want my expertise, I had to remind myself that it was worth something.

More importantly, I found that these people were usually ill-prepared and often wasted time by asking me things that I had written about or spoken about extensively already. Things that were incredibly easy to find on my website.

Given that, I could tell that what I was sharing with them they were unlikely to apply anyway, and that was a drag on me (and my time).

So I stopped.

But I still felt bad and a little selfish, so I developed a plan: First when people reached out I told them to read my blogs and come back if they had still had a specific question.

And then if someone reached out again with a thoughtful question, I or my team, would answer it via email.

Today I’ve even stopped doing that. Instead, I tell anyone with a question to ask me via Facebook in one of my groups or on a page. I decided that if I was going to take time to answer a question, everyone in my community should benefit.

But what about the people who are referred by someone you trust and love, who “just need a minute can you help them PLEASE?”

Well, if they were connected to me via a third party who I trusted, I’d often ask them to reach out again in a few weeks because things are busy right now but I’d be more than happy to chat then (it’s a test, if they are serious they will, if not, they won’t).

Most of them don’t. And that tells me everything I need to know :).

(Oh, and if you find everyone IN THE WORLD asking you for free help, but you are definitely ready to be paid, here’s an article with exactly what to tell them and how to handle it! )

Free Mistake #3: Offering to coach someone for free…for months

The big free coaching mistake (don't do this in your business)

Now, let me be clear: I’m 100% pro doing some free coaching to get your confidence up and build your sales funnel when you are starting out. It’s also a great way to get a testimonial in the beginning.

But I’m talking about a session.


(Okay, maybe two).

I’m not a fan of ongoing free coaching.


Same reasons I’ve listed above!

Coaching requires a lot from your clients – they have to commit time and energy to gremlin fighting and taking action, and most people find it hard enough to do that even when they’ve handed you cash.

When they have no skin in the game…well…

It’s even harder.

They often don’t take it as seriously, or follow through and therefore it’s a waste of your time (and theirs) and it’s also a drag on your energy and confidence.

So don’t fall into that trap.

But what does work? What *should* you give away? What about the people who really can’t afford to pay?

Ahh, I’m glad you asked!

Over the years I’ve evolved my views and here is where I am today: There are definitely things you should give away for free.

For me, there are three things I’m always happy to do:

–>I aim to produce several detailed, honest, blogs per month codifying helpful information. Blogs like this one that take me time to produce, because I want everything I offer to be high quality, even if it is free. Those that really want to learn can review the blogs whenever they want, on their time, with no stress. They can get to know me and my work, and get the answers they need, exactly when they need them.

–> I aim to offer free webinars once or twice a year with no sales pitch, just helpful and actionable intel that anyone can access. Sometimes you need more than just a blog, and I get that. For example: We’ve got one on executive coaching coming up at the end of November, and it’s going to be AMAZING because one of my favorite coaches of all time is coming in to answer questions, so I’m girlishly excited!

–>And I produce at least one amazing and detailed free guide for each of my websites that gives people enough information to make real progress. (You can grab the Coach Pony free business guide on how to *actually* make money as a coach right here).

I want people to be able to learn from me without having to pay for it, which is why I create evergreen “always on” resources like some of the above.

But, my premium programs?

Those will always cost money, with the price being directly related to the value and my own personal involvement.

Again, I’m a business, not a charity.

BUT, and this is hugely important:

I expect everyone to make back their investment into both my career and Coach Pony programs if they do the work. That’s always my goal.

So it’s a safe risk for my clients to take, and by putting money down, they are more likely to do the work and follow through.

Everyone wins!

However, I’m not so crazy to believe that everyone can afford my premium programs.

Sometimes you honestly don’t have the cash, but you would definitely benefit from the information.

So, every now and again, I’ll release a premium program that is, for a very short period, pay what you can afford.

It’s not free. You must pay.

But while I set a price, if you can’t meet it that’s okay.

You can pay what you can and still get access.

That way I feel like I’m making sure to serve as many people as possible, and I also know that those that choose to buy will take the program seriously (and therefore make progress).

It’s a win-win!

I did it for my career community 1.5 years ago when I created the Networking Masterclass, and I loved the experience of giving people what they need at a price everyone could afford, but also engaging with people who both wanted and appreciated my work.

It felt good in my soul.

So I did it again for Coach Pony!

The biggest question coaches ask is “How do I make money as a coach?” so I broke down the 6 most relevant money paths, their pros and cons, if you should do it, how to get started, and key tools to use in my program Money Paths.

For a few days the entire two-part program (guide + extended hour long audio with me where I break down my own Money Paths) was pay what you can afford.

Now you can grab it for $49 if you want all of my insight, and a real look inside my business!

And I’ve got a few more things up my sleeve, so this is your helpful hint to join our community (sign up here) and open and read your email if you haven’t already.

More fun stuff to come!

And the meantime, start thinking about how and what you give away for free, and if it’s serving both you and your clients. If not, feel *free* let it go!

Pun intended :).