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Initial Consultations: To Charge or Not To Charge?

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When I first started my interior decorating business, I offered a free half hour ‘meet and greet’ with potential clients. I would go to their home to see if we were a good fit for working together. This would also provide me with the opportunity to have a look around their home, to see if I could start getting some ideas and  if it was even a project that I thought I would like to do.

That business process, in the beginning, worked out really well for me. However, it didn’t take long  to realize that often, once people have you in their home, they want to start asking you questions & seek free advice.

If you are going to offer a free home visit, this is what I recommend.

1) Don’t accept the offer of a tea or coffee because  you will be there for longer than you anticipated.  It’s important for people to realise that your time is valuable and that while you’ve come out to meet & see their space, you don’t have all day to ‘chat’.

Interior Decor by Claire Jefford
Interior Decor by Claire Jefford

2) I actually recommend you meet offsite and not at the clients’ home.  Although I don’t really do many of these ‘meet and greets’ often, if I do agree to meet someone to discuss their project, I suggest we have a 15-20 minute meeting at a coffee place.

The important element to remember, no matter what, is that you have to do what works best for you at the point in which you’re at in your business.

For me, this type of meet and greet in the beginning was really great. Why? Well, I felt no pressure and I wasn’t committed either way to the project or the client.  However, what you have to be realistic about, is that (for the majority of the time in these instances) these types of people probably aren’t going to be the best clients.

On the odd occasion, clients may meet me at my outdoor interior design studio
On the odd occasion, clients may meet me at my outdoor interior design studio

The reason for this is because they are likely expecting you to offer free advice and suggestions for their space. Also, if you come out at no charge, even though they may just not understand the process of working with an interior design professional, they may not be very respectful of your time, expertise and the value you bring to a project.

Once I had a few projects under my belt and in my portfolio, I felt more confident and stopped offering these half hour free ‘meet and greet’ appointments.  It’s also helpful when you know what questions to ask on the discovery call to ensure you can hone in on your ideal client.

When you are ready and feeling confident, I even recommend charging more for the initial consultation than your regular hourly design service fee.

Yes, you heard me correctly!

There are two reasons for this:  1) I never hold back at the initial consultation meeting. I bring my bag full of goodies and give as much value as possible (Click here to see ‘What’s in my bag’ that I take to the initial consultation meeting.)

2) I want to book clients who truly value my service and are looking to make an investment in their home & work with someone who has built a brand with professional photos, processes and offers award winning customer service.

 

Another way of working the initial consultation fee, is some designers charge for the fee for the initial appointment and if the homeowners then decide to move forward from there and retain further services, the designer applies the fee for the consultation against design services –thus making the consultation meeting essentially free.

I don’t have that any experience with that process, but I believe that the reasoning behind that is to get a foot in the door & as an incentive to purchase design services.

Finally, to share with you a completely different strategy, some elite, luxury and more high end design firms, do not charge for the initial meeting because THEY are interviewing the client.  These designers tend to want to see the space and speak with the client about their scope and investment amount to ensure they are looking to spend a minimum amount of money for their custom project.  That’s a nice place to be, eh?!

Clients Custom Master Bedroom, by Claire Jefford
Clients Custom Master Bedroom, by Claire Jefford. Photo by Stephani Buchman

For the most part though, I don’t recommend that you go for too long without charging for the consultation meeting. Consider that when you don’t charge, you are not only taking time out of your business where you could be working on a paying client project, but you also need to factor in the cost of your gas;  wear and tear on your vehicle and (if you follow my processes) you’re bringing clients a branded folder and a customised brochure that outlines your services and shows photos of your work.

Guess what? Those branding materials cost money. So eventually, I say you need to charge!

Always remember, at the end of the day, this is your business. You run it the way that works for you.

The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can try things for a little bit, and if something doesn’t work, then you can go back and try something else. Whatever you do though, be sure to never say these three things to clients. 

Now over to you – do you charge for your initial consultation meeting?

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