Mindful Business: Buddhist "Dana" & Sliding Scale Payments

The concept of giving and receiving can be a tough one in any business -- but, especially in the world of healing, meditation, and yoga.

In this field, we're all pretty good at giving and receiving compliments, and exchanging knowledge. But, money is a whole different story.

To give generously, to someone in need, has immeasurable value. But, yoga philosophy also asks what your motivation is for giving. It's an important question. To give out of pure love is a gift. To give, out of shame, embarrassment or pressure leads to a whole world of confusion

It’s taken me almost 12 years, as an entrepreneur to solidify my thoughts on offering sliding scale rates to clients.  Here’s where I’ve ended up: 

I spent six years working as an independent textile design artist before delving into the wide world of holistic health.  Eight years of university later, I had easily spent thousands of hours, studying anatomy, physiology, homeopathic medicine and yoga.

Somehow, in these thousands of hours of training, a mere 16 of them were dedicated to learning business skills. 

Seems insane, right? Full-on university education, in a career, where you are meant to graduate and create a thriving business.  Like you’re somehow magically meant to flourish into being a radically-successful self-actualized business guru. 

Through more challenging business lessons than I care to recall, a stark reality has become apparent: A vast majority of intelligent professionals in alternative medicine, struggle to make a living. Many quit or change careers after years of striving to keep their heads above water. Most end up supplementing their earnings with other means, and live primarily by piecing together numerous forms of income. 

National Career Services, in the UK, estimate the salary of a homeopathic doctor or naturopathic doctor to be anywhere from $6000 to $30,000/year. What?! Eight years of university, to make $6000?

This is not for lack of skill or aptitude. The truth is, many well-educated alternative health practitioners graduate, only to find themselves floating through the abyss of entrepreneurial landscape. 

I’ve become all too familiar with an underlying mindset that seems to permeate the world of young entrepreneurs; it’s both expected and it’s supposedly virtuous to give your services away for free. Or, almost free.  It’s a problem that is slowly chipping away at each and every practitioner, and as the industry, as a whole.  

We collectively *need* to learn that it is imperative for us to start charging for the services that we provide.  If we wish to create a sustainable career, it is an absolute necessity that we learn how to navigate the road to successful self-employment. 

I started, years ago, offering “sliding scale” payments to clients.  I love the idea of offering a sliding scale. In theory, it’s generous, and it’s well-intentioned.  However, struggling to make a living, because half of your clients are paying variations of your actual rates effectively counteracts the purpose and intention of a sliding scale system.  

Without well-crafted boundaries, sliding scales lead to endless awkward conversations with clients about personal finances, value, worth, and need.

Just like all the lawyers and doctors and financial advisors in the world, when you have a valuable skill to offer, it is essential to understand that clients paying money for your work is a fundamental form of exchange. 

I spent years working in the restaurant industry, to be able to support my “career” in alternative medicine. It finally occurred to me, that if I needed to stay up until 3am, bartending, so I could afford to offer my clients a sliding scale, then I wasn’t being discerning enough about where to dedicate my energy and my time.  

As entrepreneurs, we need to remember that clients are paying us, not only for our immediate time, but, also for our expertise. Clients are paying for the years we’ve spent, honing our skills, for the thousands of dollars we’ve spent on education, courses, workshops, coaches, books, and materials. 

In essence, we need to embrace the mindset, that we are worthy of making an abundant income. 

Some declarations that I’ve come to live by: 

We recognize abundance in someone else, when we charge our worth, and have faith that they have the wealth and prosperity to be able to pay it.

Payment for services and products, everywhere in the world is based on a system of exchange. This exchange is *necessary* for the recognition of value.  

In Buddhism, there’s a concept of“Dana” a Sanskrit & Pali word, which refers to any form of “giving”.  It’s a concept that connotes the virtue of generosity. 

When offered and received within grounded boundaries, the concept of Dana is such an honourable gift.   

In the entrepreneurial world, we are far more equipped to take part in the practice of giving to those in genuine need, when we have established solid boundaries for ourselves in our business practices. 

If your clients are requesting sliding scale payments, but they are walking around with new iPhones and wearing $80 yoga pants, then they are not your clients in genuine need.  This has been a really hard one for me to be discerning about.  The reality is, that people who can afford to be dining out at restaurants will make sacrifices, and will find a way to pay for your services, if they value them enough.  

I’ve now committed to myself, to only offer reduced fees to clients when it feels right to me. 

When clients present with authentic need, and a true dedication to their healing path, I honour this, by making my services accessible. But, I no longer blindly accept sliding scale payments. 

I have been in the position where I have genuinely needed to seek out free services to access comprehensive healthcare. It’s a beautiful gift to receive such an opportunity. 

Here’s how I believe it can work: If you can grow your business to the point where you feel you are sustainably living your version of “success”, then you open a door to endless possibilities. 

Methodically creating and refining your boundaries around monetary exchange creates expansive opportunity for giving generously.  This may mean charging your full rates to 98% of your clients, and opening space for 2% of your clients to work with you for a reduced rate or an agreed upon system of exchange. 

My lifelong dream has been to continue offering free sexual health education to teen girls in the Caribbean. This is, in essence, where I feel alive.  I’ve realized that this dream is completely unattainable, if I’m not intelligently creating my own financial abundance.  It’s taken me years to understand that it’s okay to be kind and compassionate, and to still require financial prosperity. 

The world needs you and your gifts and your expertise, and it’s not going to find you, if you’re hiding away,  slipping through the cracks by undervaluing your services. 

What we give out, we get back. It’s not always a direct relationship. In fact, many times it’s quite indirect.  Those we give out to, are not always the same ones we receive from.  It feels good to understand our own worth. It feels good to project the essence of our value into the world.  

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Stories about dana + sliding scale offerings to share?

Drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you. xo Carla