trade tales | Nov 17, 2023 |
Should you charge for an initial consultation?

Charging for a first consultation—a business faux pas or a no-brainer? We asked eight designers—Rachel Cannon, Traci Connell, Brenda Danso, Barry Goralnick, Lisa Frantz, Krista Nye Nicholas, Joy Williams and Rosemary Wormley—to share their practices.

Should you charge for an initial consultation?
Brenda DansoCourtesy of Brenda Danso

Know your worth
“Charging a consultation fee goes beyond mere compensation for my time and expertise. It plays a crucial role in highlighting the value of my skills and knowledge, while also serving as an essential gauge of a client’s commitment to our collaboration. By requiring this fee, I underscore the importance of the initial consultation, setting the stage for a professional and respectful working relationship. This practice ensures that clients are genuinely interested in my services, allowing me to concentrate my efforts on those who are deeply committed to the design process, ultimately leading to more successful and satisfying outcomes.” —Brenda Danso, BD Interior Design, Toronto

Krista Nye Nicholas
Krista Nye NicholasCourtesy of Cloth & Kind

Feel it out
“Our process for evaluating prospective clients starts with a [free] 10-minute phone call. From that initial chat, we are able to assess if it’s a project we’d consider for our full-service interior design studio, if it’s more of a virtual [consultation] type of project, or if it’s just not a good fit for us. If it is a client we’d consider working with on a full-service basis, we schedule a [free] in-person meeting and set clear expectations about what that meeting will cover and how long it will last. It’s just as important for us to evaluate the client as it is for them to evaluate us, and meeting in person is the best way to do so, hands down. Beyond that first in-person meeting, we charge for our time.” —Krista Nye Nicholas, Cloth & Kind, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Joy Williams
Joy WilliamsCourtesy of Joy Williams

Spell it out
“I’ve migrated away from in-person initial consultations altogether. Now, I take the discovery call [for free] and am very transparent about costs and investment levels. If the stated investment meets our minimum, we ask for pictures of the home or rooms to be designed, along with any elevations, if available. I then follow up our call with a very detailed “Home Investment Analysis” or HIA, a term I’ve coined that gives the potential client a reiteration of their ask, an overview of our firm’s processes, a list of deliverables and an estimation of hours, as well as the projected [cost] per room. I also break down what our design fees will be to complete the design process from A to Z, as well as detailing other costs associated with our full-service design. If there’s a commitment to the investment, then we schedule a face-to-face to close the deal and begin scheduling. This means a heavier lift from us on the front end, but it saves me time and the potential disappointment for the client if the cost is something they just can’t commit to at that time. It’s all done very clearly, and they are left with a cost road-map of what it will likely take for them to get what they want.” —Joy Williams, Joyful Designs Studio, Chicago

Should you charge for an initial consultation?
Traci ConnellCourtesy of Traci Connell

Luxury sector
“I charge for an initial consultation if we are going to their home. I know our team will spend a solid hour and a half of idea generating, note taking on the potential scope, and [presenting] a review of our services. I find it important to start the relationship with the understanding that interior design is a luxury service that is billed by time.” —Traci Connell, Traci Connell Interiors, Dallas

Should you charge for an initial consultation?
Barry GoralnickCourtesy of Barry Goralnick

Take the time
“I don’t charge for the initial consultation. It’s an investment in my time to secure a project. At the first meeting, I meet the potential clients and become acquainted with the project and their needs. It’s important that our goals align, and that we each feel that we will enjoy working together. I also have relationships with many brokers. They often bring me in to help a potential buyer understand the possibilities of a space. Most people can’t envision how something can be customized for their lifestyle. I may even sketch out a quick floor plan to illustrate my ideas. This has been a winning strategy for me.” —Barry Goralnick, Barry Goralnick Architecture & Design, New York

Rosemary Wormley
Rosemary WormleyCourtesy of Rosemary Wormley

Built-in flexibility
“We don’t charge for an initial consultation because most of our clients come through personal referrals with the expectation that we’ll be working closely together for a year or more. The first consultation is really to confirm that our vision, process and expectations are aligned, and to discuss the project in more detail than we would cover on an initial call. Not charging for the introduction meeting gives us the flexibility to wrap up sooner if red flags arise or to continue conversations if we have a good connection with the clients, which is always the hope! The one exception would be if the client or project is out of state, in which case, we would bill the client for travel costs.” —Rosemary Wormley, Ash Street Interiors, Northfield, Illinois

Should you charge for an initial consultation?
Rachel CannonCourtesy of Rachel Cannon

Reasonable request
“We absolutely [charge for consultations], for several reasons: One, we are dedicating our time, expertise and undivided attention to the potential client in their space; two, the fee filters out potential clients who may not be serious or may not be a good fit; and lastly, it ensures both parties will enter into a professional working relationship with a clear understanding of expectations and commitment of both time and finances.” —Rachel Cannon, Rachel Cannon Limited Interiors, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Lisa Frantz
Lisa FrantzCourtesy of Lisa Frantz

“We do not charge our hourly fee for an initial consultation. We look at this meeting as an opportunity to meet the potential clients and hopefully see the proposed job site or the existing home if they’re proposing a new-build project. What we do before the initial in-person consultation is have at least one in-depth phone call where we discuss our design process, billing structure and project management. We also have a minimum design fee for a project, and we are very upfront about this in our initial call. We have found that this level of detail and transparency has helped weed out the unrealistic candidates and leads to a more fruitful and productive initial consultation. This due diligence usually leads to a larger percentage of contracts being signed post-consultation, because the client goes into the first meeting with a good sense of the process, and the initial consultation is more about them and their needs.” —Lisa Frantz, Lisa Frantz Interiors, New York

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