Should you charge for consultations?

As designers our time and expertise are valuable commodities, yet so many of us hesitate to charge for our initial consultations. This is especially true when we’re in the early years of our business when we’re afraid that charging will scare of potential clients. But hear us out – sometimes scaring people off is what you want! Here are some of the reasons we firmly believe that charging for consultations not only benefits your business, but it also enhances the client-designer relationship.

Valuing Your Expertise

Your years of education, training, experience, and transferrable skills have equipped you with valuable skills and insights. Charging for consultations communicates that you place a high value on your expertise and time. Clients are more likely to respect your professional knowledge when they have to pay for it.

Quality Over Quantity

Offering free consultations can attract a flood of inquiries, but typically very few of them are going to translate into paying clients. By charging for consultations, you’re going to filter out those who are serious about investing in your services. This ensures that your time is spent on clients who are genuinely interested in working with you so you can create higher-quality projects and better outcomes.

Establishing Boundaries

If you listen to the podcast, you’re heard us talk about this A LOT! Charging for consultations helps establish clear boundaries from the outset of the client-designer relationship. It sets the expectation that your time is valuable and should be respected. Clients are more likely to adhere to your project timelines and communication guidelines when they understand the value of your time.

Showing Dedication

When clients invest financially in the consultation process, they demonstrate their commitment to the design project. They’re more likely to be engaged and proactive participants in the design process, like providing you with the necessary onboarding information and design feedback so you can deliver an exceptional result.

Fair Compensation

Most design consultations involve sharing valuable insights and recommendations tailored to the client’s needs. Usually you’re already collecting some photos, general measurements, and developing a scope of work to create a proposal – that’s a working meeting! So charging for these consultations ensures that you are fairly compensated for the expertise you provide, regardless of whether the client chooses to proceed with the project.

How to implement consultation fees

We’re big advocates for taking the emotional weight of consultations off yourself, and putting the ownership on the client. Give them a way to book them, whether it’s publicly on your website, or via a private link you share after they submit their inquiry. Either way, here’s some ways to get started:

Determine Your Rate

Decide on a fair rate for your consultations based on your expertise, market demand, and the value you provide to clients. It’s customary for consultations to be at a premium over your hourly rate since you’re often going to have some travel time and take time to create a customized proposal after the appointment. 

Clearly Communicate Your Fees

Be transparent about your consultation fees on your website, social media profiles, and any marketing materials. Clearly outline what is included in the consultation and how clients can schedule an appointment. It’s helpful for these to be mentioned in your Investment Guide that you share with new inquiries as well.

Offer Value-Added Services

We don’t think you need to give away anything for free, but some designers offer to credit the cost of the initial consultation if a client ends up signing a contract for a larger project. You can also consider offering virtual consultations for those clients who aren’t interested in larger or full-service projects. Find what works for you.

Streamline the Process

Whatever you do, make it easy for clients to schedule and pay for consultations online. Utilize scheduling software and payment platforms like Calendly or Squarespace Scheduling (we’ve been users of Acuity Scheduling for years) to streamline the process and minimize the amount of administrative time you have to invest. An upside of a booking platform is that you can use intake forms or questionnaires when they book and tie them directly to your calendar so you have everything you need on the go.

We know there are plenty of designers out there who don’t charge for their consultations, but most of them adhere to the following philosophies: 

They’re exclusive and don’t go out to just anyone’s house. These designers are already in conversations for a large project that will make their time worth it. They’ve usually vetted the initial inquiry and the client to be sure they’re not wasting their valuable time. The other reason they may do this is because they’re not going to start sharing design advice or expertise during the meeting. Designers who go to a consultation for free don’t invest hours of their time, they’re in the client’s home to meet them, inspire confidence, and win them over – they’re not giving away their best ideas during a meet & greet.

Charging for consultations is your chance to establish the value of your expertise, filters out the tire-kickers, and set the stage for a productive and mutually beneficial client-designer relationship.

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