Episode #004 - Free Value, Pricing and Inclusion: An Interview with AK MacKellar

Apr 09, 2021

A conversation about the often daunting topic of 'pricing your service'. 

Katy Prince, Business and Sales Coach, talks with the wonderful AK MacKellar, who runs a hugely successful wellness community for LGBTQ+ people to explore movement and feel their strongest, and most capable everyday. Together they tackle the often daunting topic of 'pricing your service' as well as discussions about inclusivity and free value. 

In their juicy chat Katy and AK cover:

  • 'Radical Inclusivity' 
  • How to approach wellness holistically 
  • Structuring your offer
  • Sticking to your price 
  • Free Value 

AK's Info: 

Remember to tag us @squirmfreeschoolofbusiness as you're listening so we can give you a virtual high five 🎉

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Episode Transcript: 

Katy Prince:
Welcome to the Study Notes podcast, the podcast for all things, sales, service, and strategy for ethical entrepreneurs brought to you by the Squirm-Free School of Business. I am your host, Katy Prince, hello, and I am obsessed with helping creators, business owners, and freelancers make money and reach their goals without the outdated business tactics that make us squirm. On this show we are all about inclusion, confidence building, honesty and fun, so if you want to level up your business, but maybe you don't quite see yourself fitting within the traditional entrepreneurial mold, then pull up a seat. You are in the right place.

Katy Prince:
Alrighty, let's get it going. I am so excited about today's episode. We have the opportunity to speak with an amazing guest who you are just so lucky that you get to meet. We are joined by AKA MacKellar, queer fitness coach, nonbinary entrepreneur, certified personal trainer, community builder, and lived experience with chronic illness. So AK specializes in creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to explore movement, feel their strongest and most capable in everyday life. What makes AK a true leader in this field, though, is their commitment to creating a radical wellness community to help folks feel stronger, more capable, and empowered to live their best life. So when they're not leading kick-ass online classes, you'll often find AK zipping around the city on their bike adventuring with their suite rescue pup Ru, or searching far and wide for the very best espresso that Toronto has to offer. AK MacKellar, welcome to the Study Notes podcast. I'm so happy you're here.

AK MacKellar:
Wow. Thank you. I love that intro. It really summarized me perfectly.

Katy Prince:
I wonder how it came to be.

AK MacKellar:
I wonder who wrote it? I wonder how that happened?

Katy Prince:
Let's kick off with a simple how you doing? I appreciate that's kind of a loaded question these days, so feel free to answer as honestly as you choose. How's it going?

AK MacKellar:
I think it's going well overall, and we have some sun shining here in Toronto today and spring is hopefully around the corner. I think we're all just holding out hope for that.

Katy Prince:
Hope, I think, being the key word. 100%. I'm with you there. Any big wins that we can celebrate with you as we get stuck in?

AK MacKellar:
This week I have launched my brand new website, which I am so freaking excited about. It is so beautiful. I did not design it, thank God. I hired this amazing designer who just took all my crazy ideas and output it into beautiful branding, beautiful website, so I'm very excited about that this week.

Katy Prince:
Oh my God, congratulations. Websites are just such a massive undertaking. Wow, and how amazing to be supported by a designer as well and to have that lovely support. I'm thrilled for you. We'll do all your links and stuff at the end, but I'm sure people straight away are like, "What is this beautiful website?" Where do they go?

AK MacKellar:
You can go to befreetomove.ca to find that and check it out.

Katy Prince:
Nice link. See what you've done there.

AK MacKellar:
Thank you.

Katy Prince:
A nice site deserves a nice link. Well AK, welcome. I am so, so happy and so grateful to be spending this time with you today. I know I've already given your official intro and very nice it was too, but in your own words, I'd love for you to kind of share a little bit more with our listeners who don't know you yet, who you are, how you help people?

AK MacKellar:
Who I am. So I'll start, I am a queer nonbinary and chronically ill person. I'm also the founder and CEO of a company called Free to Move, which is a body inclusive online movement and wellness space for LGBTQ people. And this is a space that is very radically inclusive. It is a community, it prioritizes movement for mental health, physical health, emotional health, and we don't shy away from some of the more difficult topics in wellness. Even just calling it wellness is a bit of a sticky term, but I find because that's been co-opted by so many not so thoughtful wellness organization, but-

Katy Prince:
Very diplomatically put.

AK MacKellar:
That's who I am and that's what I do.

Katy Prince:
Amazing. And I love that phrase radically inclusive. What does that mean to you?

AK MacKellar:
Again, the word inclusivity is so loaded these days because there's so many efforts to be inclusive, which I respect and love, but so often that can fall short. And one event I attended last year, they talked about building inclusive spaces, it was a queer movement industry event, and they talked about building these spaces, you have to have walls in them or else they're not a space. By having a wall, building this container, you automatically cannot include everyone. But I think that it's important for a diverse number of people to build as many of these spaces as possible so that we could have as many inclusive spaces and as many people can feel welcomed and seen and heard there as possible, because really what I've learned over my course in business is that it's truly impossible to make a space for everyone. You cannot do it. But you can make a space for the communities that you serve, that you understand, that you are a part of, that you really make an effort and are thoughtful and doing the work to make sure that they feel seen there.

Katy Prince:
Oh, I love that. I love that about the you can't have a space without walls. That's just imprinted itself onto my brain. What a mind job. I love that phrase. And I think you're so right. And when you say... This idea of yo, can't be all things to all people and it's actually okay to stop trying to be all things to all people and instead be the things for your people. One of the things that you said was that there are some sticky... I agree that wellness, inclusivity... I swear, every single term in the world is becoming super loaded and needs definitions and asterisks and subtitles and all the things. But you mentioned digging into some of the stickier topics in wellness. What kind of topics do you mean?

AK MacKellar:
Well I think it's perhaps easy to say sometimes on the surface level of wellness and say, "Oh, we do physical movement to take care of our bodies," or we're trying to pay attention to our mental health this month. But I think really going into it and saying... For example, we did a workshop the other month that was about pleasure and sex and defining what your own pleasure is, and many people might say, "I thought this was a fitness space. Why are we talking about sexual health and wellness?" And the answer is that is part of your physical health and emotional health and mental health, and we need to create space to talk about these things that might be harder to discuss so that it's not as taboo or it doesn't feel as scary to be open with how we're feeling or how we're doing.

Katy Prince:
100%. And way to take a truly holistic approach to health, and I'm using quotes, "wellness." That's amazing. I love that. Thank you so much for that, AK. One of the things that we're going to get into or is kind of woven through this conversation, I suppose, is pricing, because we can't have a conversation about accessibility and inclusion without pricing. And I know that so many of our listeners are just going to be squirming already just at the word pricing. And I'd love to know what your journey has been like in terms of putting an entry fee on those spaces that you're creating? What's happened? How have you felt when it's time to name that price and ask for the sale, ask for the entrance fee?

AK MacKellar:
I love this question because it made me reflect on my own journey, which has been a bumpy, rocky road of feeling totally squirmy asking for any investment from someone for what I do, and that is rooted a bit in the place of feeling an imposter, or why would someone pay me to help them with this? But when I think back, I used to... I first started my entrepreneurial journey hosting a free biking group in Toronto, which I was so passionate about, and it was always free events, and I always found that it was a struggle to get people who signed up for the event to actually come out to the event. [crosstalk 00:11:09].

Katy Prince:
That's so true with free stuff. Oh my gosh, that's so true with free stuff.

AK MacKellar:
This was the beginning of reflecting on this, and being like, "Oh my goodness. 20 people would sign up or 30 people would sign up and then four people would show up. What am I doing wrong? How can I make this successful?" And I didn't know the answer then, and I didn't figure it out, but along that journey, when I started my business in personal training and hosting in-person classes, and with the pandemic that moved online, which has been really good for my own personal health and journey and growth, but I did learn along the way that folks, when they pay for something, when they invest in it, they see a lot more value, regardless of whether the actual pieces that they learn about, or the event that they go to is any more value than they would have had if it was free. But there is just a switch or something that happens when someone says, "I'm willing to pay even $15," let's say, at a low cost ticket price, just an event. It changes things.

Katy Prince:
Absolutely does. You're so right. And I think the key word there is commitment. People make a commitment because when you sign up for something free, it's an option, isn't it? It's like saying, "Oh yeah, I might go to that. Let me just put my name in, put my email address in so that I have the option if I decide to." And there's something, as you say, it's like a switch gets flipped when we've put a little, I don't like this phrase, but skin in the game is the phrase that's used, but we've kind of made a monetary commitment of like, "I bet myself $15 that I'm going to turn up for the class." That's the shift.

AK MacKellar:
It really is about... You're holding yourself almost accountable to saying, "Yes, I am really interested in this and I want to be there," and that's just going to change a little bit of accountability and commitment for you typically, when you say, "Yes, I'm willing to shell out 20 bucks or 30 bucks or 50 bucks or whatever it is." And then arriving in today, I love to talk about pricing now because... And another thing I did want to go back on and touch on, I forgot to mention is I am, I would say, a rare individual who likes to talk about money, and that is because I grew up with parents who are accountants and finance people.

AK MacKellar:
So growing up, it was a constant topic of conversation and not in the sense of like, "Oh, fret over money," just neutral, let's talk about budgeting, cutting out little articles for me in the paper about money saving for children and stuff that, and knowing the value of something and knowing how much something costs and being really transparent with that. So I'm really grateful for that and that has brought me a lot of comfort with talking about pricing.

Katy Prince:
I think that experience is so valuable and it's wonderful to hear how grateful you are for that experience, because I don't think that that's the norm for most people. I think the vast majority of folks who certainly come into my world, or I end up working with, they've got some thing about money and pricing, and it's such a gift when you are able to either already be at that place where you can talk about money as a neutral thing, or after doing some work and doing some digging, arrive at that place eventually. And I'm curious, are there any... You mentioned about the decision to switch from doing these classes for free to like, "Okay, no, we need a price tag so that people will actually be committed to turn up, because if they don't turn up, it's not going to do them any good. They don't get the benefit or the outcome." Are there any other specific experiences when asking for the sale or asking for perhaps a more significant investment from someone that you can recall that you think might be helpful for our listeners to reflect on?

AK MacKellar:
Yes. I have an example that happened quite recently, actually, a month or so ago, and it was one of those moments that just felt like a change for me in my business in a moment of growth. And what happened was a client that I'd been working one-on-one with, everything going great, they wanted to renew and do another phase of the one-on-one work. And I had upped my price for this offer. So I sent them the email reviewing what the price was and an option for a payment plan, and they responded saying, "Well, I thought it was this price last time??" Almost like, are they on the attack or are they... You don't get all the intonations over email, lots of feelings can come up and be like, "Oh gosh, I should have just given them the old price. Who am I to be here changing the game. Does that make me untrustworthy, icky, all of these things?"

AK MacKellar:
And I stopped myself in that moment and said, "No, this is the price now. If there was a new person walking through the door, this is what I would give them." And over the past X amount of months, I have honed my skills even further, learned more, and this is what I am offering, and this is what I'm charging, and I responded saying, "This is the new price." Holding a firm boundary, which felt so good, so powerful. And then they paid. Holding that boundary was everything, and it made me feel in control. I value my own time, my own worth and I wasn't going to go back saying, "Oh, actually, okay, yeah, you can pay the old price. I'll cut you a deal," and then come from that place of not enough. I don't know. I think everyone can understand that place.

Katy Prince:
Very much so. AK, thank you so much for sharing that because I know that I've been there. I'm sure that people listening and tuning in who've been there. And good for you for holding that boundary. And not only... Of course it must've felt amazing for you in that moment of like, "Yes." Talk about anchoring in that self-trust and really backing yourself and all of that good stuff. And I'm curious, do you think it did anything for your client in that moment as well?

AK MacKellar:
Oh, that's a good question. I think it probably made them reflect on whether they wanted this, whether this was going to be the thing that delivered the results for them, and made them commit even further to the work that we're doing together. It's just an auto like, "Okay, do I really want this? Let's reflect on this. Is this crucial to my growth, my learning, my self-improvement?" If the answer is yes, then it's a no-brainer to invest.

Katy Prince:
Amazing. And actually the standard, I think, with a lot of renewal conversations is to cut the price, so at that time when it's like, "Okay, actually the price is going up," as you say, it's almost like an invitation for them to increase their commitment and increase their prioritization of your work together and... What a gift. It sounds like such a win-win. Thank you so much for that.

AK MacKellar:
I think the one thing I want to touch on just to end-

Katy Prince:
Please.

AK MacKellar:
If they had said no, "No, I don't want to pay the increased price," I think it still would have been a win for me because of holding that boundary. And that's the most important part was holding the boundary and saying, "This is the investment. This is the price. This is the value." It would have been still a win for me. And the loss would have been going back and lowering the price.

Katy Prince:
Very much so. So that's an important point. I'm grateful that you shared that. And I think when any time that we hold a boundary, whether it's around pricing, whether it's around our time, whether it's around how someone speaks to us, regardless of how the other person responds, whether they give us the response that we want or the response that we don't want, you're absolutely right, when we back our own boundaries, it's always a win. And even if this person had said no, next time, maybe next time that they were deciding on whether to wait for a boundary, even if they didn't move forward with you, you've given them a really strong example of what it looks like to hold your boundaries. And that in itself is a beautiful parting gift. Oh my life.

Katy Prince:
So AK, I know that right now, your kind of signature offer is a membership community, but in a former iteration, this has been a live group program with a start date and an end date. I'm curious about your decision to restructure your offer in that way. I know that it's always a question that business owners have on their mind, like, "Oh, is this structured in the right way? How can I make this easier for people to say yes to?" Can you talk us through how that iteration came to be?

AK MacKellar:
Absolutely. So the offer started as a 30 day reboot, is what it was called, and it was a 30 day commitment at a bit of a higher price point than the membership. And that started a little bit as testing out the waters, seeing how this online movement and wellness community would work out. But I found the first thing that I struggled with with this format was launching fatigue. So I think anyone who has gone through a launch knows exactly what I mean. It's sharing your offer with the world, all of the excitement that goes into that, all the effort, the time, the energy, the resources, the information, the sales, it's a lot. It's a lot of work. So I was feeling I can't keep doing this every other month kind of thing.

Katy Prince:
On a short cycle as well, right?

AK MacKellar:
Yeah. So after two of these launches, I remember this conversation really clearly. I was sitting in my bed feeling like "Woe is me," a bit. And my partner came in and we talked about my business and what I really wanted to offer. And I told her, I said, "I really want to have this as an ongoing membership and something that really builds and more people started to join and it's a community space and people get to know one another and all this thing." And she said, "Well, why can't you do that?" And I said, "Well, I sent this feedback form out in April from some of these classes that I did, and one of the questions was, 'Would you join a membership,' and most people said no."

AK MacKellar:
So I had this narrative in my mind that no one was going to be interested in this. No one would want to join it so it wasn't worth pursuing, even though it was what I really wanted. So after this conversation with my partner where she said, "I think this is something that you should pursue. It seems like something that's really important to you. It's aligned with your values. Why not just try?" So we did, and here we are.

Katy Prince:
So we did, it worked amazingly, the end.

AK MacKellar:
But no, there was some other things that went into it and that is in movement and wellness, the way I see it as it's a practice, it's not something that you arrive at or you learn all the skills and then you're good to go and you're very healthy and well for the rest of your life. It's fine. You just did a 30 day program and you're good.

Katy Prince:
[crosstalk 00:24:48] done. Lovely.

AK MacKellar:
So I knew there was need for ongoing support and one of the pillars of my own personal values and the values of Free to Move is community, and that is something that needs to be ongoing. And the support that is felt, the connections that are made, and a place that you feel really seen and connected to is of course, an ongoing space. So that was what was rooted in the decision to make it an ongoing membership versus these shorter program experiences.

Katy Prince:
I love that. Thank you so much for walking us through that because I think what you shared about that reticence to prioritize what works for us as a business owner as well, what I think I quote unquote "should do," or "I've started it this way and no one said that they wanted it, therefore I have to continue, even though it's really tiring me out, and even though it's not fully aligned with my values," I think that can be one of those places where we reach, as a business owner, where we can feel stuck, and it's so great that you're able to talk that over with your partner and that she was able to kind of get you back on and be like, "Hi, this is what's important to you, remember?"

Katy Prince:
Absolutely. And that piece around community and as a result not having to go through these exhausting launch cycles anymore, that must have made it easier from a sustainability point of view and not just in terms of your energy, but also I'm thinking of money coming in every month, rather than every other month. The numbers must add up.

AK MacKellar:
Yeah. And it was exactly that, a sense of comfort and financial wellness and not having to worry about the fluctuation between revenue between different months. And that was a large fluctuation in 2020, let me tell you.

Katy Prince:
Relatable. Relatable for many of our listeners. So I know that finding that balance between accessibility, community, regular revenue, sustainability for you as the service provider, as the CEO, as the business owner, it's an important and delicate place to arrive at. And I'm sure it's something that our listeners want to prioritize. So how do you... I'm not sure if balance is the right word. How do we integrate, I guess, making services equitable and fairly priced whilst also ensuring that it's profitable for you? I know that you have a growing team. How do we do that? Tell us, AK. Show us the way.

AK MacKellar:
I'm the guru. I'm the expert on this. No, I think that it's something I haven't fully arrived at, that balance. It's ongoing to find a way to make something accessible, but also profitable, because if it's not profitable and you can't sustain it for yourself, it's not going to be useful for any of the people who are investing in it. And another layer of this is in in some communities, especially the queer community, there's a lot of... What's the right word? Anticapitalist values, I will say. And very real sentiments towards capitalism and the wealth gap for different people, and then as a result the... I call it chronic underpricing in the queer community for our services-

Katy Prince:
That's a great phrase for it.

AK MacKellar:
Especially when we're serving our own community too. And that's something I've struggled with personally and still do. But what I think is the most important thing to remember is that if you feel like you trust the price that you're giving and that it is coming from a place of value, and from a very real place. I struggled to define what this is, but it's almost just like a gut instinct sometimes I bring to the pricing of my offers and just say, "I have been fretting over the price for a month now, and I just keep coming back to this number and I'm going to trust that this is the right thing." And of course I do the math on the side and say, "If people join at this level, this is the revenue stream," and do have that in the back of my mind, of course, but there is something to be about trusting your instinct and knowing that that is the right price that you want to be charging for your offer.

Katy Prince:
Very much so. And I think you hit on something... Well, a couple of things there that are so, so important. First of all, that it's always going to be a work in progress and that that's okay. I guess much like working on your health and fitness, it's not a destination that you arrive at. It's something that's constantly going to shift and evolve and change and that that's okay. And having that gut feeling and that self trust around, "Hey, this is what feels good." And I think there is always that delicate balance between naming a price that maybe feels a little bit stretchy of like, "Okay, this is going to be enough to get people to commit, to showing up." It's closer to a stretch than it is to something I can easily shrug off and not worry about, and also yet something that feels comfortable comfortable enough to move forward with.

AK MacKellar:
Absolutely. I think you touched on a really good point there, Katy, with pricing it so that folks feel they want to show up and they are there... Their value or their time and energy that goes into it is a direct response to the value and the monetary value that they place on it and that they put into it. So I see that come up over and over and over again.

Katy Prince:
Yes. People need to value your services as well as you, and you have to teach people how to do that, and we do do that by applying a price tag. I know that we are getting towards the end of our conversation today, AK, but I'm curious what your thoughts are around offering free value. Is there a time and a place for it or is it something that's completely off the table? What are your feelings about that?

AK MacKellar:
I think I have gone from different ends of the spectrum on the free value. So I used to provide almost everything for free and then realized, "This isn't working," and then provide and thinking, "Okay, well if people only value what they pay for, I'll have to charge something for every piece of value that I bring," and thinking that was the way to go. And then now coming back somewhere in the middle between those spaces and saying, "You need to give enough free value that it piques folks' interests, it helps them, it shows them the value of what is inside, gets them to peek behind the curtain a little bit," and offer the free content on your Instagram or the download or the free event to attend that is valuable in its own right, but also shows them how much value, how much further value you have to offer in the long run.

Katy Prince:
"If this is what they get for free, wow, imagine what happens when I start paying my monthly fee and being part of the Free to Move community." Speaking of which. Speaking of which, I know that... First of all, just thank you for being so open and sharing all of these nuggets. I know that everyone who's kind of getting to the end of this episode is probably going to go back and listen again and really think like, "What does this mean that I need to go off and have a little think about at this point?" But for those of you listening who want to go ahead and look into joining AK's community, getting into that community and being a part of that really holistic approach to health and wellness, and also if you just want to connect with AK, where should the people go?

AK MacKellar:
Well, I am an avid Instagrammer, as you can find me on Instagram @AK.MacKellar, which I'm sure we'll put in the show notes as well, as well as my website, which is befreetomove.ca. And I'm also on TikTok, which I'm really enjoying these days. AKMacKellar is my handle there, so you can find me on TikTok as well for some more experimental content, I will call it.

Katy Prince:
Experimental content. I love that. You have piqued my interest. I know where I'm going after we wrap up this recording,

AK MacKellar:
Before we wrap up, I do want to mention one thing that I really wanted to touch on, and that was a question that has been posed that was, "What do you find really squirmy about what people [crosstalk 00:35:22] pricing offers?" And when I first started thinking about this, I thought nothing. I've never looked at someone price and thought, "What an a-hole for pricing it at that cost." I've only ever thought, "Oh well, can't afford it," or, "It's not for me. That's fine. Move on." But then I realized my true answer is the only time I felt really squirmy around someone's pricing is when they price too low and they are not asking for their value. And I've seen this, and that is truly the thing that makes me go, "Oh, I wish this was different for you." So I want to leave everyone with that thought and that the only time that you're going to make me squirm as if you're charging too little for your services.

Katy Prince:
What a perfect place to wrap up. AK MacKellar. Thank you so much for your time, for your insights, for sharing all of your tidbits about pricing. Yeah. Thank you. Catch you soon.

AK MacKellar:
Thank you, Katy. This was great.

Katy Prince:
Well, that concludes my chat with the amazing AK and this episode of the Study Notes podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you are currently going through all of these feelings, all of the feelings when it comes to pricing, if you're finding yourself being tempted to lower your price, or you're feeling icky when asking for investments, then we would love to invite you to apply to join Squirm-Free Sales Masters. Squirm-Free Sales Masters is my signature sales program that helps entrepreneurs get the sales they deserve in an ethical way without feeling icky. You're going to learn how to crunch your numbers, communicate great ideas through your sales process nice and confidently, build connections with other amazing business owners just Like AK. So head over to squirmfreesales.com/apply to find out more and to submit your application today.

Katy Prince:
As always, all the links are going to be in the show notes. Before we wrap up, though, before we bid farewell, I want you to come and tag us on Instagram. Tag us on Instagram @squirmfreeschoolofbusiness with your biggest takeaway from the episode today. And also if you are enjoying this podcast, why not share with an ethical entrepreneurial power who is also trying to get clear on their sales, their service, and strategy. If you fancy it, do leave us a review to let me know your thoughts on the show. My heart does a little happy dance every time I see a new one. That's all for me. Have a fab rest of your day, and I'll see you in the next episode.

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