Offering expensive things for free


The other day I took a group of staff to Tom Sherrington's workshop in Bangkok. I knew Tom was excellent and so I was keen for staff to be able to attend without being put off by the price tag. As a result, I gathered expressions of interest and paid for tickets ahead of time.

I realise now that this was a mistake. If you offer something to people for free, they don't value it as much as if they had paid for it themselves. Two staff members pulled out at the last minute and I was unable to find replacements - a cost to the school of $300.

What I should have done was to ask staff to sign up, pay for themselves, and arrange for reimbursement afterwards. I think this principle holds for almost anything of great value that you intend to offer free of charge. I note that at my school:
  • we ask for teachers to pay for higher education courses themselves first, and then reimburse
  • we don't pre-pay for flights - we ask to see boarding passes after the travel has taken place
  • we expect all parents to have 'skin in the game' in terms of fees, even if heavy discounts become necessary

This, I have no doubt, annoys those who have to come up with the money themselves first, but there is a good reason for it. Self-paying gives ensures a better sense of value and worth and reduces the likelihood of last minute changes of heart.


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