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Should I Charge for a Client Consultation?

When you meet a client for the first time, it’s a two-way interview. They want to know if you can do the job they have in mind, and you want to know if they, as a client, will be a good fit for your business.

The question a lot of designers ask: Should I charge a fee for the initial consultation?

There are two views to this approach. At QC, we believe time is money and you should charge clients for your time. Others believe not charging clients makes you more appealing to the masses.

Let’s explore both options.

Why you SHOULD charge for the consultation

  1. You’ll waste less time… and so will your clients
    If clients have to pay a fee to get you to consult on their project, they’re much more likely to have thoroughly considered their situation and have decided you’re a strong contender for the job. They will probably have spent some time checking you out online and have already decided they like your style. Even if they end up not hiring you, they are happy to pay to hear your ideas in the initial meeting.
  2. You’ll spend more time with your client
    If you’re paid for a consultation, you’re much more likely to be on your “A” game during that meeting. You’ll give your client the attention they deserve, and you won’t mind spending a few hours with them. If you’re not charging for your time, you’ll probably be watching that clock and trying to get back to your real work—the work that pays the bills—as quickly as possible
  3. You’ll weed out the DIY-ers
    Many clients will call a decorator over for a free consultation, just to hear their opinions, without ever intending on hiring anyone. And hey… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people who design and decorate their own homes. More power to them! But, that’s not your target market and you aren’t going to spend a few hours in a client consultation with people who have no intention of hiring you.
  4. It’s an added stream of revenue
    Who says no to more money! Charging for the consultation may be a way to weed out clients who are never going to hire you, but there are also clients who ONLY want a consultation with a designer, and who ARE willing to pay for that service.
  5. It’s the industry standard
    Check out most design and decorating firms out there… and you’ll find most charge for consultations. You don’t want to seem like an amateur in your area by being one of the few companies that doesn’t charge in the same way!
  6. You’ll offer a higher level of service to your clients
    When you don’t charge for the consultation, you’re more likely to treat the meeting like a poker game. You won’t want to give away your best ideas in case the client doesn’t hire you. You’ll ask them questions, but you won’t give them too much feedback. If they’re paying you, however, then you’ll feel much more comfortable sharing your suggestions and thoughts openly with the client. Even if they don’t hire you, they’ve paid you to do so.

Consulting with interior design clients

Why you might NOT want to charge for your consultation

  1. You ARE an amateur
    If you’re brand new in the industry, and especially if you don’t have any training, people are more likely to give you a chance if you don’t charge above your station. Offering free consultations is a way for potential clients to get to know you, since you don’t have any references or work samples to fall back on.
  2. You have plenty of time
    If you’re struggling to get clients, if business is scarce or if you simply have more hours available and want to fill those up, offering free client consultations will have more people calling you. Those extra phone calls have the potential to land one or two extra clients. Mind you, you’re paying for those clients… with your time!
  3. You prefer to meet clients at your office
    When you don’t charge for the consultation, clients can’t expect you to come to them. If you prefer staying at the office and having clients come to you, then you can book free consultation appointments where the client can bring in photos or floorplans and discuss the project with you.
  4. It’s not the norm in your area
    Above all else, I always stress the importance of knowing your competition. Sure, charging for client consultations is the industry norm, but if you’re in a smaller city or in an area that isn’t financially stable, it’s possible that the opposite is true. You certainly don’t want to be looked at as “snobby” because you’re the only one around who charges for a consultation. That is… not unless you’re positive you’re the only one around who’s worth it.

What side of the fence are YOU on? Do you charge for the client consultation? Let us know in a comment!