One of my first roommates here in the Lauterbrunnen Valley was a vegan raw foodist, Reiki practitioner, and massage therapist who spent her days alternating between massages and reception work in a nearby ski resort and her evenings building up a small but popular massage side business.
One day, she was telling our other roommate—an aspiring health coach and retreat owner from Finland—that she was looking for a part-time summer job.
I invited myself into the conversation, asking: why didn’t she just make her living off her massage side business during the summer?
Even now, in the winter, which is a much quieter and less touristy time of year here in the valley, she was well-known and had a consistent flow of customers. So it makes sense that in the summer, when the valley fills to the brim with tourists and athletes, it would be easy for her to do a little advertising and fill up her client roster.
She said that wouldn’t work because she needs to save some money and while she might be able to live off her massage business, she didn’t think she could hit her savings goals.
Undaunted, I asked if she’d considered raising her rates. Because right now they’re less than half of what a resort would charge. She could easily still give people a massive savings on resort prices while really making what her training is worth.
But she shook her head sadly, explaining that she didn’t want massage to be a privilege. She wanted it to be something that anyone could afford if they needed it. She wanted to help people.
I think this is something a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. Especially women.
We go into our businesses wanting to help. We want to take away people’s pain with our massages, give them back their lives with our health coaching practices, make them laugh with our comedy, teach them how to live with our art.
And we feel bad charging a lot for it. Because health, laughter, adventure, love, and wellness…they should be available to everyone.
I get that. And so I understood her hesitation.
But I’m also an entrepreneur and a problem-solver, so I couldn’t leave the conversation at such a sad, unresolved end.
Instead, I asked her if she had ever considered having more than one pricing structure.
She looked at me blankly and so I pressed on:
“You could easily do something like what my therapist does. She has three distinct pricing structures she works with, which allows her to make what she’s worth while also offering help to those who desperately need it.”
“The first price is her normal fee. Her hourly rate. And it is comparable with industry standards. It’s something she can live on. It’s what her training and expertise are worth. Most people are able and happy to pay it.”
“And then there’s her ongoing treatment rate. You can buy a package of five sessions at one time for a reduced price. If you know you are going to need some ongoing care, this helps relieve the financial burden of that long-term help.”
“And, finally, she offers a massively reduced hourly rate for people who are unemployed or have special financial circumstances. That way, if someone is in desperate need of help, but quite literally cannot afford it, she can be there for them.”
“What if you did something like that for massage? A raised, industry-standard price for individual massages. A three-massage package deal for those with ongoing needs. And, on an individual basis, special prices for people who need your help, but cannot afford industry standard rates.”
Both my roommates buzzed with excitement, because pricing structures like this open up a whole world of possibilities. And far too often, we forget that business, like life, isn’t pass-fail. It’s not all-or-nothing. You can have more than one rate. You can change the world and make money. You can love yourself fiercely and also act selflessly.
The conversation got me thinking, of course.
About how so much of the time our reasoning for not starting that business, following our passions, or doing something spectacular for ourselves comes from that all-or-nothing thinking. We haven’t looked at the big picture. And, as a result, we are limiting ourselves.
I can only make $X per hour. I’m tied to my hourly rate. I must take a part-time job. I can’t afford the plane ticket. I don’t want to alienate the people who really need what I have to offer, we say.
But isn’t this just pass-fail, black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking?
Couldn’t we, instead, live in the gray, work around our limitations, change them, challenge them?
Couldn’t we have a three-tiered pricing structure? Or a free and a paid version of our art? Or a product that unties us from the hours-worked = money-made model?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to our limitations, but very often there is something we can do if we’re willing to think a little differently, ditch the pass-fail attitude, take a risk, and find the balance between offering the world what we can and putting food on our own tables.
Which is why today I am (again) pausing from the travelogues to offer myself (and perhaps you) a reminder:
Life isn’t pass-fail.
Neither is business.
We all have limitations, but they aren’t always as daunting as we think.
And a desire to change the world doesn’t mean you must always be just scraping by.
What if we all re-examined our limitations? What would change in our lives?