Hourly Rates vs. Session Rates

I was talking with a practitioner the other day about fee structure. She told me that she has the same fee no matter if she spends 30 minutes or 2 hours with the client. Now, at first this sounded ridiculous to me, because of the whole fee-per-hands-on-minute thinking that pervades the wellness professions (especially massage). The overwhelming majority of practitioners have hourly rates, and if they do chair massage they have per-minute rates. But then I started thinking about it.

What are clients paying for?

Professional practitioners spend hundreds of hours (some spend thousands) learning to apply their craft skillfully and effectively. Professional practitioners spend tens of thousands of dollars acquiring the necessary licenses, certifications, insurances, offices, equipment, and supplies to provide professional treatments. Professional practitioners set and maintain strict boundaries with their time, their emotions, and their concentration in order to give each client the individual and focused attention that they need and deserve. Clients are paying for all the preparation, for precise skill and expertise, and for all that undivided attention. Those things are provided during a 15-minute session as well as during a 2-hour session.

How is effectiveness measured?

What do clients want? They want to feel better, they want to move better, and they want to believe your services have a positive impact on their health and wellness. They want effectiveness. The great news is, professional practitioners have the specific skillset to

  • identify the unique condition and needs of each client,
  • discern whether or not their particular services are effective for the client’s current condition and needs, and
  • apply their skills and services in such a way as to elicit the needed effects.

Now, how much time does that take? I suspect it varies based on each individual client—maybe 15 minutes, maybe 2 hours, or maybe even 6 separate sessions.

What are other professionals doing?

Now, I know that the wellness community has been reluctant to ever pattern themselves after the mainstream medical professions (and for many good reasons). However, I can’t help but notice that my primary care physician has an office visit fee that is independent of the amount of time she spends with me. In fact, I believe it is her personal mission to find a solution to my issues as fast as possible, and get me out of there. I don’t mind, really, I would rather not sit in a doctor’s office all day. As long as the solution she gives me is effective. Dentists and ophthalmologists, even chiropractors and naturopaths, are the same way. Heck, even my hairstylist charges a set fee, no matter how long she spends cutting my hair.

The Uniqueness of Hands-On Care

What makes hands-on practitioners unique is that our clients do want to spend more time with us, and that time is valuable. And, in general, it’s takes awhile to communicate effectively with the client’s nervous system, so it may be a rare occasion that 15 minutes is enough. That said, I think having a set session fee is a great idea, as long as you are able to charge an appropriate fee that accounts for your total time with clients. In other words, the average session needs to make up for those times when your sessions are much longer than others.

The key here is to market your effectiveness, not your time on the table. And then make sure you can deliver, by keeping yourself up-to-date on the most effective delivery methods for your particular craft, technique, modality, etc.

What’s your opinion? How do you set your rates? We would like to know…