critiquing my free calls and doing them with a frame of experimentation and consciousness

I’ve been trained to think that in order to have a thriving business, I must trigger people’s pain points and manipulate them in order to pay me for my work.

There is so much violence involved in this process that it makes my heart break.

And, what’s worse is that it’s couched within the vernacular of generosity.

What’s even worse is that part of me still believes that I need to follow these strategies in order to thrive.

I am in the process of untraining this mental programming in order to live more in alignment with my values and the world I want to create. It’s not always an easy or fun process. This week I have cried a lot, going through a whole host of uncomfortable feelings: anger, shame, overwhelm, confusion… 

Here’s why.

I do, so deeply, want to give. I want a different world, after all, and I want to be part of that co-creation. It gives me the most exquisite pleasure to feel that I have been part of that change in supporting somebody else in feeling more trust and love within themselves and their body.

In my desire to serve, to connect meaningfully with more people, and to fill my 1-on-1 private practice, I decided that in the month of November I would give 20 “free Queer Body Love Breakthrough sessions.”

My desires are clear. Serve. Connect. New clients.

My approach of the way I had set up the free calls mixed both my genuine desire to be of service and some remnants of my outdated mental framework based in scarcity about how to “get” clients and create a thriving business.

It’s an incredibly common practice in the coaching industry to offer free calls / sessions for potential clients. Often, the practitioner will evoke a vulnerable state in the potential client by talking about their pain and desire and then paint their service as the best (or even only) solution.

I have been working to unlearn the manipulative aspects of this process while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater -- I love doing calls with potential clients, and I think that gently and powerfully holding space for people to look at their pain and desire can be incredibly helpful.

With my goal of offering 20 free calls I had been excited about supporting people, connecting with more people, and believed that by connecting with 20 new people, some of those would become clients without any need for manipulation. I wouldn’t need to paint my service as the best or only potential solution. There simply would be some folks for whom it would be a good fit, and we would be able to tell that from the call and move from there.

Here’s my blindspot that I’ve been really looking towards for the last few days: I hadn’t seen was how the free call setup itself could be manipulative in its most basic form.

A good friend of mine, Sophie Macklin, an anti-capitalist, feminist abundance coach, gave me feedback that she believes all sales calls masked as “free sessions” are unethical.

She held such a strong, unwavering stance that it jarred me.

We went back and forth for awhile about the nuances, and to be completely honest, I felt incredibly upset. I had sent her a draft of an email that I had composed to friends to invite them to share my 20 calls offer with their people, and hadn’t been expecting a critique of the core of my business strategy that I had felt really grounded in.

She gave me an analogy of looking at it all through the lens of consent culture. If a man offers a drink to a woman at a bar with the intention of getting her to have sex with him, is that really a genuine offer of the drink?

I genuinely wanted to offer value in my calls with folks. And, I also did want to get clients from the 20 calls. So creates the complication, the murkiness, and the danger of falling into coercion.

What I’ve taken away as the main potential problems with the strategy of free calls to get new clients are:

  1. People are vulnerable when they come to share their wounds and desires. Me listening to them with care creates a power dynamic where the person can be susceptible to do what I want them to. (Like the alcohol of the drink.)
  2. Hearing a solution to their pain right after exploring it puts them in a position where they’re more likely to say yes when they might not have otherwise.
  3. Having the session be “free” sets up a dynamic where they may feel some sense of obligation. Particularly for the folks I work with, this could trigger guilt and people pleasing. (Again, this can be applied back to the drink.)

I can see these points, which is why I felt so jarred by the critique of the strategy that had felt good to me.

I want people on the calls to get value, and since the impetus for offering the sessions also came from a desire to get new clients, it is inevitably tainted with that underlying desire of mine.

What I have come to conclude is that to some extent, these elements will be in play.

And, by looking at them and being clear about them, I can practice harm reduction around what could potentially be harmful in an interaction that I hope will create healing.

After thinking and talking a lot about this for the last few days, I’ve decided that at this point, I still want to offer the free calls because it feels like the most pleasurable way for me to achieve my desires of connecting, providing value, and potentially getting new clients.

And… letting go of attachment of the last goal of getting new clients is the most important aspect of being able to show up with integrity to this process.

I believe that by creating a way for many people to get a taste of working with me, some new clients will come from that process. And, I have to completely detach from that necessarily happening. It is one of many experimental business techniques that I am trying out. 

In order to practice harm reduction around what could be harmful in the process, here are my current commitments:

  • Communicate as clearly as possible about what I am offering, why, and what will happen in the call
  • Regard the call as a sacred time to be held with care, acknowledging that the work can bring up triggers, which are an invitation to healing
  • Be conscious of the power dynamic set up and be very clear with the person that working with me is not the only way of healing the wounds that may have been triggered through our conversation
  • Continue to anchor in the pleasure of the sessions in and of themselves, only gently holding them as part of the overall desire to fill my private practice
  • Trust in divine timing -- ask each person to gauge for themselves whether it is the right time to do the work and only gently hold the calls as one way new clients could come

I have written all of this out in the hopes that it can be helpful in my goal of being completely transparent about my process with anybody who wants to know, whether that be other coaches who are curious about how to think about their sales process or potential clients.

I welcome thoughts, questions and other examples of people doing this well if you share a desire to be part of wanting create a more consent-based world.

Thanks to Sophie Macklin, Anjali Nath, Tessa Wills, Diana Kimball, Eileen Torrez, Alley Wilde and Europa Grace for diving into this conversation with me this past week.