Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.
Marketing Pagan spiritual services
There has been some excellent online dialog recently around the question, "Should I charge for Pagan spiritual services?" Most of the posts I've seen have been in support of money changing hands, but the comments usually show strong feelings on both sides. Answering her question of, "Money is Bad, Right?" Shauna Aura Knight posited that the reason for this division is that, "Pagans (and people, for that matter) have a really unhealthy relationship with money."
As tantalizing that quote is to me, I have to lay it down for now. Observant readers will already be wondering who the woman in the picture is, because it is clearly not Ms. Knight.
In fact, I'm not even going to jump into the debate about whether or not oracles, priests, shamans, spellworkers, dowsers, and whoever else I missed should be charging money or not. It's already going on, so I'd rather focus on how to apply business practices to these esoteric services. The opinion I have formed is that a lot of Pagan businesses (as opposed to businesses owned by Pagans) could benefit from better marketing.
I've never accepted money for divination personally. My peer group in college thought it was inappropriate, a belief I carried with me -- not being a reader myself, I simply wouldn't go to one who charged. My attitude has changed through my experience as a business owner, and now that I am developing my own system, I will begin charging at some point. For now, I give free coin divination as I develop my skills, because the experience is valuable enough to make it a fair exchange.
Because I am not a professional reader, I invited the woman pictured to give me her own perspective. She is Lisa Stewart, owner of the Awareness Shop in New Paltz, New York, where she and several others offer readings for pay. The shop is also the de facto home of the Church of the Eternal Circle, which among its other activities is a divination-by-donation gathering called the Witches Tea Party.
So why marketing? Because marketing is all about crafting a message and getting it to the right people. Pagans businesses sometimes struggle with that, because the services being offered are typically intangible. Anything that you can't hold in your hand (and quite a few things that can be held in your hand) can be faked well enough to fool the untrained consumer. An educated consumer, as one retail business once proclaimed in its commercials, is your best customer.
The key to effective marketing is to understand who uses these services. Maybe some skeptics, but are they worth the time? Certainly not people who believe that these services should be free of charge. But what else comes to mind? Do your customers share any common characteristics, like gender, ethnic background, or age range? Where do they live? Are they all Pagan? If not, what other paths are represented? And among the Pagans, do you see more traditional Wiccans, polytraditional solitaries, reconstructionist Heathens? Others who are like your present customers may be just as interested in the same services. A few well-placed online or magazine ads might reach exactly those people, but first you have to know who they are.
Stewart herself doesn't do this kind of market research, because she doesn't advertise at all. This is possible because she's been reading professionally for thirty years, 20 of it in the shop she owns with her husband, and the business is able to rely entirely on word of mouth. They have built up a reputation, a credibility, which drives repeat business and new clients alike.
I think this is the most important part of any kind of psychic business, and Stewart agrees. "If you give accurate information, people are going to come back, and recommend you to others," she said. "If you tell someone that they are suffering under a curse, and you can lift it by burning a candle, that's a scam."
The pall of sleaziness hangs over divination like a cloud of smog. Here in New York State, it's illegal to offer any psychic services unless you explicitly state that it's "for entertainment purposes only." In this atmosphere, if you are not in a position to rely solely on word of mouth because you haven't put those words in enough mouths yet, marketing can overcome that skepticism.
So assuming you don't have 100,000 readings under your belt like Stewart does, with a bunch a satisfied customers singing your praises, what do you do? I suggest the writer's axiom of "show, don't tell." You can announce you have skills until you're blue in the face, but a written testimonial will always carry more weight. Are before-and-after pictures appropriate? The goal is to engage the senses, the memories, and the commonalities of your potential clients, as fully as you might for a magical working.
One of the things I learned from my talk with Stewart is how economic trends affect this kind of business. The Great Recession, as it's euphemistically called, hit the Awareness Shop's retail shelves as hard as it did stores of all kinds. But the store's readers kept busy throughout. Stewart theorizes that many people treat these readings as a form of counseling, and by extension health care, so they prioritize it the way one might be sure to set aside money for acupuncture or a session with a psychologist.
Readings, reiki, and other services that provide insight and healing appeal to people when they are vulnerable, which is why those who seek them out will do so in any economic climate. It's a reason some people cite for not charging, and it's why laws in many places are designed to rein these services in to some extent. One way to overcome these objections is a business practice called the "try:" offer a taste for free, or a reduced price. At the Awareness Shop, for example, they hold a regular psychic fair at which one can obtain a ten-minute reading for ten dollars. That should be enough time for the new customer to decide if he or she wants to become a regular or not.
There is probably an opportunity for someone to provide marketing advice to professional readers and other esoteric service providers in the Pagan community. That is, if there are enough Pagans who don't believe it's immoral to charge for marketing services.
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