Unhelpful feelings of guilt around business decisions
December 29, 2015 6:44 AM   Subscribe

How to sit with discomfort (and you know... get some sleep) after making decisions that put my financial needs first?

I run a personal training business and have close relationships with my wonderful clients. However, tonight I emailed them all letting them know that from February their prices will increase and everyone who is on grandfathered rates will need to go up to the new price. I know I need to charge these prices for the business to be sustainable in the long term and so that I can start taking care of my own financial needs, such as paying superannuation, which I've been neglecting. Also, everyone who signed up with my since September is already on these new rates - so I am losing money by not having everyone pay the same.

On paper I'm not worried about losing clients - in fact, I would prefer to be training less people as I am working more hours than I can handle, and I am having to say no to potential new clients because I don't have enough spare spaces - but I still have a weird sense of betraying/disappointing people that have been loyal to me and that I consider to be friends in a way.

I 100% think this is the right decision for me. I NEED to do this. I'm happy with the content of the email and feel it was the best way to let people know over the holidays so that we can discuss in person once I go back to work on the 4th.

Buuuut it's almost 2am and I feel very unsettled waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How do I sit with this? How can I practice prioritising my own financial needs? It is 100% a business decision and yet I feel worried that people may somehow be hurt by it?

I'm not looking for advice about how I should have let people know but rather about how to handle these feelings of discomfort and how to change my thinking around financial self care and lose the guilty feelings/manage them
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe check out Tara Gentile's The Art of Earning? I've never read it, but I know a bunch of small business owners that rave about it - it addresses pretty much exactly what you're asking.
posted by okayokayigive at 6:49 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

One plus - it does seem like the right time of year to do this as people are very keen to exercise in January. I approve of your decision.
posted by puddledork at 6:53 AM on December 29, 2015

You can know that many, many people understand that prices rise. No one likes it, but the people who have a genuinely good relationship with you are going to recognize that your financial future is important too. My barber raised prices recently, and I'm not mad, even though I loved how cheap it was before.

Another thing: maybe you could try to be prepared to offer one or two "scholarship"/reduced fee/sliding scale slots to clients if they become unemployed or find the new prices an actual hardship? You don't need to advertise this fact or tell all your clients that if they don't like the new rates you'll give them the old ones back, but maybe keep the option open if someone comes to you? (My gym has a scholarship/hardship option, for instance.) Maybe something like this would help you feel more legitimate about raising prices for your other clients?
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

"It's business - it's not personal" is not just a cliché. It's a fact. No matter how much friendship, respect, even love you feel for your longtime clients, they're still clients. They still pay you for a service. If they value the work you do, they'll get it and pay more. If they reciprocate your feelings, they'll pay more. If all you represent to them is your rate, they'll move on, and perhaps clue you in that they don't see your relationship in the same warm way you do.

There will definitely be some who feel that they were getting lower rates because you liked them, and your raising their prices means that you don't, that they are just a business to you. That this is a betrayal. But ask yourself: did you betray them? Are you charging them more because you like them less? Of course not. You're making a business decision - one you needed to make. You still like them, value them, respect them. You weren't training them for free. And they aren't paying you to be their friend. If they switch to a new trainer who works closer to them, or charges less, or promises them better results - you wouldn't assume that they were saying they didn't like you. The rejection might hurt, but it shouldn't feel like a broken trust. This is the same thing. I'm sure your business expenses have gone up. Your prices need to meet them.

It's not personal. It's business.
posted by Mchelly at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

As much as your clients like you, if they suddenly had a financial set-back, your training would be one of the first things to go. It's not personal, it's business.

It's great that you are invested in the success of your clients, that's admirable, but at the heart of the relationship is a business transaction: Your time and expertise for their money.

I will also point out that for most people paying for personal training, there is sufficient discretionary income to afford a raise in rates as time progresses. Most of your clients have had annual raises, or bonuses, so don't fret.

If someone comes to you having problems with the new rates, suggest doing fewer sessions, or shorter sessions, or buying more sessions in bulk. You can work with people so that they can afford you, but I doubt anyone will make a peep.

You need to understand that your services are valuable and just because you enjoy your work and clients, it's not less of a service because of that.

I had a pest control lady. I adored her. She charged me a specific rate for quite awhile. One day I said to her, "Dude, you've been charging me the same rate forever, what are your current rates?" She hemmed and hawed and I suggested a figure and she seemed so relieved. I nagged her, "This is your livelihood! I love you, nothing lives in my house but me! I need you! You're worth it!"

Seriously. You're worth it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on December 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

Some things you just need to get through and not try to think your way out if, I think. You did something hard, that's going to give other people feelings, in the context of taking care of yourself (which we often see as a sketchy reason to do things). Remember the human brain is wired to fear this kind of change and it will pass. There is nothing you need to do. You haven't done anything wrong. Make sure you are breathing and just go through it.
posted by orsonet at 7:49 AM on December 29, 2015

How do I sit with this? How can I practice prioritising my own financial needs? It is 100% a business decision and yet I feel worried that people may somehow be hurt by it?

It sounds like you are confusing the economic contract you have with your clients, where they pay you for your services, with the social contract we all have with family and friends, where we do favors and provide support without economic consideration, because that's what friends do.

However much friendship you feel when interacting with your clients, which is generally a good thing, they're not paying you to be their friend. (Or maybe a few of them might be, but that's not your purpose.) As Ruthless Bunny says, this is business.

As to doing something to take the sting out of the rate increase, if you feel you must, I would recommend not discounting but rather providing some "value added" incentive (e.g. for a month or two, offer a free, 10-minute "power boost" (or whatever) session focusing on [whatever helps that client toward their goal]. That way, you're getting paid what you're worth, but you're also doing them a favor.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:55 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

How do I sit with this?

That's exactly what you should do. Just sit with it. This isn't a problem to be solved, because you have already taken the right action! It is just a feeling which is uncomfortable to you in part because it is new, because you are acting in a new to you way.

That's okay. Just sit with it.

How can I practice prioritising my own financial needs?

Good news! You already have. Put it in your calendar to assess your expenses and rates next year. Make the plan that if you need to raise them again, you will. Perhaps set in motion a plan for how you will avoid awkward grandfathered versus new client rates - or a plan for how you can make your business work while allowing loyal customers to get lower rates. But - don't try to solve this now. Just set a date to work on it.

It is 100% a business decision and yet I feel worried that people may somehow be hurt by it?

Yes, that's possible. You can't carry everyone else on your shoulders. That's what would be unsustainable. You need to put yourself in a strong place so that you can help others. This is the hard decision making of being a responsible business leader.

Good for you!
posted by meinvt at 7:59 AM on December 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't really have a good answer for you but this problem is endemic in my profession (residential design services) due, in part, to the personal relationships we develop with clients. It can be really hard to charge what you need to charge in order to stay in business. I have a number of clients who were friends first. I definitely do give them a break on my rates but I work with them differently, too. Just remember, if you give away your time for less than you could be making, eventually you may be out of business.

Maybe take this anxious energy and put it into promoting your 2016 services. See if there's an additional package you can develop or a special service that you want to offer and put your energy into being the best provider of these services that you can be. That's worth it!
posted by amanda at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2015

As much as your clients like you, if they suddenly had a financial set-back, your training would be one of the first things to go. It's not personal, it's business.

posted by randomkeystrike at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2015

It's ok for you to take care of you. It's ok for you to take care of you. It's ok for you to take care of you. It's ok for you to take care of you.

This is one thing that I've struggled with, for a long, long time, both in my personal life and in my professional life. If you don't take care of you, you're unable to take care of anybody else. Taking care of you and taking care of them can be defined however you want, but that's the bottom line. If you don't take care of you (setting your prices at a level where your salary is at a good, strong, liveable level, plus you can contribute a good chunk to superannuation), you can't take care of anybody else (you may have to find other means of earning an income, which would mean less time and energy to properly train your clients).

How do I sit with this? How can I practice prioritising my own financial needs? It is 100% a business decision and yet I feel worried that people may somehow be hurt by it?

You sit with it by reminding yourself that it's ok for you to take care of you. Make it your mantra. Put it on Post-It notes all over your house. (Seriously.) Drill it into your head until every time you have to make a decision like this, it's second nature for you to take care of you.

You practice prioritizing your own financial needs by doing it. It's like when you were a baby, and your parents were teaching you how to walk. The only way you learned how to walk was by walking. The only way you learned how to talk was by talking. The only way you learned how to color, print, write in cursive, type was by doing it. The same thing applies to prioritizing your own financial needs. Maybe you're like me and you need a weekly check-in on your finances. (I probably check too often, but it works for my needs.) Maybe you need bi-weekly, or monthly. But you practice by doing.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to put in a general plug here: Do you have your own mentor or business coach you can talk to about these sorts of things? I hired a business coach 5 years ago and have run this sort of thing by him many times, because it tends to show up in various types of decision-making processes and isn't as immediately fixable as I'd like. :-) The coach I hired came recommended and is a very good match for my own personality, less of a rah-rah guy and more of a retired C-level engineer who fills some important gaps for me, so caveat emptor but you may find it worth looking into.
posted by circular at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2015

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