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Working on the Sliding Scale: Advice for Perplexed Sole Practitioners

Many of my clients in the creative arts maintain part-time professional practices.

they wish to work within the creative communities to which they belong.

themselves providing pro-bono and cut-rate services to starving artists, struggling not-

for-profits, and others with scant resources, racking up long hours, and failing to meet their own income needs. As socially conscious artists, they feel torn between their generous wish to provide services for people in the community at a price they can afford and the need to make sufficient income in a limited number of hours to afford

themselves the freedom to pursue their creative passions.

practitioners working full-time in their chosen fields graphic designers, psychotherapists, architects, body workers and others--often find themselves in the same position, wanting to be kind, wanting to meet their income needs, wanting to follow their calling and to have a life outside their professional commitments, yet unable to reconcile these apparently divergent purposes.


Soon they find

Socially conscious solo

If you f ind your self in t his posit ion, t he chances are t hat you’ve not yet f ound a sim ple, intuitively appealing means of solving the problem once and for all. As a result, you probably find yourself struggling case by case trying to decide how to price your work, how much time to give to low-income clients, and whether taking another client is worth the inevitable loss of time for your creative work or your outside life. If this is you, here are ten simple that will enable you to work well on sliding scale.

1. Decide t he r ang e of your sliding scale in advance ( don’t m ak e decisions on t he spot) ;

2. Divide your scale into 3 basic price levels;

3. Determine your own income objective for the practice (i.e. How much do I need to make each week, each month?);

4. Determine the maximum number of hours that you will give to your practice per week or per month;

5. Multiply this number by 0.8.

This is the number of hours per week or month within

which you should meet your income objective. That is to say you should comfortably exceed your incom e obj ective if you act ually work 100% of t he hour s you’ ve decided

to give to your practice.

For example, let’s suppose t hat you ar e a visual art ist s wit h a par t -time art therapy pract ice. You’ve det er m ined t hat you have f if teen hours a week in whi ch t o see clients. Each client session is 50 minutes long. Allowing for transition times, this schedule per m it s you t o see a m axim um of f if teen client s per week. You’ve decided that your gross revenue requirement from your art therapy practice is $1,000 per week. This means that you should organize and price your practice so that you can make $1,000 per week in no more than twelve billable hours. If you bill 15 hours in a given week, your income would exceed your $1,000 minimum.

6. Figure out how many hours you can work at each price-point, given the 80 percent of

available hours rule and meet your income objective. Be totally honest here.

Let ’s cont inue t he example. Say your basic rate f or a one-hour session is $125.00, but you have decided that you will also see some clients at $50 or $75 an hour

based on their ability to pay.

per session rate. This would leave you with only $600 in income. Similarly, billing $75 per session for all 12 hours would only bring you $900. So you will need to

strike a sensible balance between the hours you bill at each price level.

You know that you cannot bill all 12 hours at the $50

7. Limit your number of hours at the lowest and middle price-points accordingly.

Returning to our example, if you were to see 5 patients at your $125 basic rate, 3 at $75 per session and 4 at $50, you would make $1025 for the 12 hours, thus meeting your income objective, your time budget and your desire to provide your services to clients with limited means.

8. Having defined your limits at the lower and mid price points on your scale, stick to them--only take an additional client at one of these price points when a previously filled slot opens up. (To do otherwise is not generous; it ’s self -destructive. Remember your practice provides you the resources to live the life you want and to do noble things outside your practice, but only if it meets your real income needs.);

9. Price any hours above the 80 percent at full price. (Doing the last 20 percent of the work is tiring and you deserve to be rewarded for the extra effort.)

Following our example, if you’ve bil led 12 hours t his week and you have t he opportunity to pick-up three more sessions, bill them at $125. You’ll f eel a sense of abundance that will fuel both your practice and your creative life.

10. Seek out and t ak e only client s wit h whom you t r uly want t o work . You’ll be happier and so will they.

© Marc Zegans 2011