Thursday, May 7, 2015


By Kim Roman

Do you charge for giving Square Foot Gardening classes?  How did you decide how much to charge? Do you feel embarrassed for charging money for something you love to do? Is it uncomfortable for you to bring up the subject?
When I first started teaching SFG I found that people would SAY they were interested in attending one of my classes, but when I didn’t charge, many times only one person would show up . . . or none. When I put a store on my web site and started insisting on pre-registration, the number of students increased.
Of course if I know someone really wants to come to my class but it’s clear they can’t afford it, I carry around a few “coupon cards” for a free class. At the 2015 Maryland Home & Garden Show a woman came up to me and said how much her mother was looking forward to hearing my seminar but the icy weather kept her from coming. Of course I had her daughter invite her to come to a class free of charge.
Mel teaching a SFG class
I often give free classes when I’m asked to speak at a small community garden on a corner in downtown Baltimore. But the host is told in advance that an “offering” would be appreciated – people can give what they can afford. I make it clear that if they can’t afford anything that is fine and no one should feel pressured to give. People realize that you need to at least make gas money and are usually pretty generous.
Why charge for classes even if you don’t need the money? If you have a legal business there are expenses you incur – copying handouts, gas, tolls, etc. Here in Maryland I have to pay $300 annually in Personal Property tax even though my business doesn’t have any “property” or “equipment” associated with it. Yay Maryland! I also pay to get a booth at the Home & Garden Show and of course I have to pay my accountant.
Have you heard the term perceived value? It is defined as: “The valuation of good or service according to how much consumers are willing to pay for it, rather than upon its production and delivery costsUsing a perceived value pricing technique might be somewhat arbitrary, but it can greatly assist in the effectivemarketing of a product since it sets product pricing in line with its perceived value by potential buyers.”
Charging a fee puts a value on what you’re teaching. This goes back to what I said earlier – when I didn’t charge for my classes fewer people showed up, but if they paid for it, it suddenly becomes a priority to them to attend.
How did I figure out how much to charge? I looked at other classes being offered in my area and actually lowered it to make it available to more people.
I hold classes at my house every month from March through June and I can fit up to 10 people. There is a SFG 101 class in the morning from 10-11:30 AM where we talk about the 10 Basics. From 1-3 PM I hold a SFG 201 class. People can take just the 101 class and, if they’ve read the All New Square Foot Gardening book and convince me that they understand what they’ve read, they can take just the 201 class.  Sometimes they pay for both classes but take 201 on a different date.
My fees for these classes are:
One class, one person - $20
One class, two people (they can bring a spouse or friend) - $35
Two classes, one person - $35
Two classes, two people - $50
If they end up purchasing a book at the class, I’ll discount the class by $5. I also give a military/first responder/educator discount.
This year I’ve begun something new. If the dates or location of my classes don’t work for them, if they gather a group of at least 5 full-paying students, I offer to hold classes at their house. Actually the minimum number of students depends how far they are from my home. If they get over a certain number of students I’ll give everyone $5 off of the class – a great incentive for my host/hostess to get more people.  If they get X number of people, they get to take the class free. If they get 10 people I’ll give the host/hostess a book for free.
What about when garden clubs or other organizations ask me to speak? If the organization has a membership fee, part of that is specifically to pay for speakers fees and programs. Don’t be afraid to ask if they offer a stipend. At the very least it should cover your travel expenses. This is best done before they ask, “How much do you charge?” When I arrive and it’s obvious that it’s in a more affluent neighborhood, I’ll accept the check. If it’s in a poorer area I may discount the fee or even donate the check back to the organization.
Be generous, but don’t put a burden on your family’s finances – unless you and your spouse agree. If you are running a business, eventually you will have to make a profit or the taxman will consider it a hobby and not allow you to take business deductions. Basically you have to make at least a modest profit to take tax deductions. Classes are almost pure profit – mileage and the cost of printing handouts are valid business expenses.
So why do I charge for my classes? I gave you a list of my expenses above so I need to cover those, but charging a fee allows me to turn around a give away free Square Foot Gardening raised bed kits. One example was that I was able to give a homeless shelter a complete kit (Mel’s Mix and all) plus a book and teach a couple of the residents the method. The residents loved it so much they gathered donations and had a yard sale so they could buy the materials for more SFGs at the other residences. They now have FOURTEEN SFG beds and want more.
Don’t be ashamed or uncomfortable about charging money for classes, but don’t forget to also be generous. Your kindness will surely come back to you.

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