Coaching on the Cheap

Coaching on the Cheap

By Alicia Potter

Your career’s in flux, your finances are a fright, and you can’t even remember the last time you did something for the fun of it, like bowling or baking brownies. What you need is a personal coach–a helpful hybrid of therapist, career counselor, and cheerleader. Affording one, however, is another story.

Costing anywhere between $250-$900 a month (for just 4 half-hour phone sessions), a personal coach is, for many women, as realistic as head-to-toe Gucci. Yet the budget-bound need not go it alone. “So many coaches offer something for different income levels,” says Marcia Reynolds, a Phoenix-based coach and president of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). “It’s definitely available.”

Here are some ways you can get personal-coaching guidance–on everything from goal setting and career transition to financial fitness and the work/play balancing act–without sabotaging your savings:

Snag a sliding fee: Many coaches will lower their rates for a limited amount of time (say, 3-6 months) for new clients who exhibit a strong drive to succeed. “There’s always room for negotiation,” says coach Marshon Dooley, of Longmont, Colorado. “It comes down to the dynamic.”

Think your go-get-’em attitude might work for you? Visit the ICF’s Web site and fill out a request-for-proposal form detailing your coaching needs and budget; interested coaches will then contact you. If you already have a particular coach in mind, ask her if she’d be willing to take you on for a reduced-rate “trial run” until you can swing the full price.

Buy a book: Not surprisingly, an offshoot of the rise of personal coaching is a mini-boom of coaching books. What’s the best buy for your buck? Take Time for Your Life by über-coach Cheryl Richardson. This well-written read distinguishes itself by packing in loads of action-steps, life-scrutinizing quizzes, and advice on initiating your own coaching support-group. Also worth a look: Take Yourself to the Top by Laura Berman Fortgang.

Hit up your boss: Instead of schlepping to an expensive and tedious seminar, ask your manager to subsidize 3 months of one-on-one coaching. “It’s a great way to customize your training and really retain the information,” says Reynolds. If you boss hedges, see if she’ll spring for a coach to speak to your department about a topic that’s important to everyone, such as improving communication skills or resolving conflict. This may pave the way for private consultations.

Subscribe to an e-newsletter: Many coaches publish newsletters that, while unabashedly self-promotional, deliver advice and inspiration to your e-mail box on a weekly or monthly basis. The kicker? Most are absolutely free! Among the most helpful are those authored by Cheryl Richardson, Philip Humbert, and Diane DiResta.

Join the group: Group-coaching, which is conducted over a telephone bridge-line with anywhere from 4-100 clients, depending on the topic, is another cost-effective option. To wit: Coach Harriet Simon Salinger, of San Francisco, offers clients 2 hour-long group calls (with 3 other coachees) and a half-hour one-on-one session for $150 a month.

Sign up for cybercoaching: Boston-based coach Elaine Low advises folks in New Zealand, Israel, and Switzerland–all through e-mail. For $150 a month, clients send Low messages about issues they’re facing, and she provides feedback within 24 hours. One caveat: “Cybercoaching works best for those people who express themselves really well in writing,” says Low. “You need to be concise.”

Trade your talents: Propose swapping your expertise–be it graphic design, computer-consulting, or interior decorating–in exchange for coaching.

Creativity, it seems, is the key to cost-effective coaching. “There’s always more than one way to do something,” observes Low. “With coaching, nothing is set in stone.”