Effective Free Coaching: Seven Tips

If you are coaching as part of a staff role, working in the ministry arena or just starting out as a professional coach, you’ll probably do some free (or pro-bono) coaching. No-fee coaching relationships present a unique set of challenges, particularly in the areas of buy-in and expectations. Here are seven key tips for effective free coaching relationships:

  1. Use a Commitment-Check Step

    One of the perils of free coaching (especially for pastors and ministry leaders) is that the client views the free coaching relationship as a way to hang out with you or befriend you instead of as a way to work on personal growth. To weed out people who aren’t serious about change and in order to develop an effective free coaching relationship, I use a commitment-check action step. Before volunteering to coach someone, I request that they read a few chapters of a coaching book or take some action toward their goal, then call me when they are done to schedule our first session. The ones who aren’t serious about working never call back

  2. Set a Time Limit

    It is easy for those who are receiving free coaching to just assume you’ll give your valuable services to them ad infinitum, and then get hurt when you need or want to stop giving. A great way around this is to structure a time limit into your initial agreement. Just say, “I’ll offer you effective free coaching for four months and then we’ll stop and reevaluate whether to continue.” Having that break point gives you a graceful way out without someone’s feelings getting hurt.

  3. Have a Written Agreement

    This step is even more important in a no-fee relationship, not less! You need to do everything you can to reinforce that even though it is free coaching, this is a serious, professional relationship with serious, professional expectations. Don’t skip the contract, even with a friend. You won’t regret it.

  4. Inform About Your Real Fees

    If you are starting a coaching practice, you may be coaching your first clients for low or no fees just to gain experience. Instead of quoting people a low start-up rate, put your standard rate (the one you want to be at in three to six months) into your contract, and offer your first customers a discount for a limited period of time. The right pitch will let you easily convert them to paying clients when the time is right. Try something like this: “I’m jump-starting my coaching practice by offering one-time discounts to a selected group of clients. I’m willing to offer this great discount rate for the first three months, because I’m confident that once you’ve seen what coaching is worth to you, you’ll want to keep right on working with me.”

  5. No Work/No Coaching Clause

    Paying for coaching motivates people to work. When there’s no fee, some clients expect less of themselves, and so they accomplish less. Make sure your coaching agreement has a no work/no coaching clause – in other words, when a client consistently fails to do his or her action steps, your agreement should call for bringing the relationship to an end. It is no fun to offer free coaching to someone who refuses to work!

  6. Keep Time Boundaries

    Pro-bono relationships, especially with friends, tend to expand beyond their boundaries more easily than a paid coaching relationship. A chance meeting at church or at the gym becomes a 20 minute extra session, or unscheduled calls in emergencies grow into an extra burden. Run your no-fee relationships just like professional coaches do with paid ones: meet only for planned times, stick to time limits, keep spot calls within a short time limit.

  7. Maintain Coaching/Mentoring Boundaries

    We live in a generation of fatherless and motherless people. That means that many times when we invest in someone, they begin to look to us to fill the hole left by the lack of blessing and attention from their own parents. This is probably the biggest cause of breakdown in effective free coaching relationships: the client unconsciously expecting more than the coach can give. Maintaining clear coaching and mentoring boundaries can help. In other words, don’t regularly fall into giving the client answers and advice. Be a coach, not a mother or father!

Tony Stoltzfus is a coach, author, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. To see Tony’s five-star resources for coaching in ministry situations, visit www.Coach22.com