First impressions are important, but as a business owner, your time is valuable. With that in mind, we asked nine designers—Christi Barbour, Sara Malek Barney, Sarah Blank, Cristina Casañas-Judd, Nina Grauer, Lauren Hudson, Mary Patton, Kiyonda Powell and Wendy Yates—whether or not they charge an initial consultation fee.
“Our first date, as we like to call it, is complimentary. We do this to ensure that the scope of the project and the human connection fit for both parties. We believe the meeting shows where we can add value, create positive impact and grow our working relationships into long-term alliances that will benefit everyone involved. The choice to do this shows that we mutually respect our own time and the client’s.” —Wendy Yates, Abigail-Elise Design Studio, Frisco, CO
No cutoff time
“I charge an initial consultation fee for the first meeting—there’s no limit on the length, and afterward, I send a recap email to the client with my suggestions. At that point, they can decide if they want to sign my contract and move forward.” —Mary Patton, Mary Patton Design, Houston
“We do not charge a consultation fee unless we deliver initial concept drawings or renderings prior to signing an agreement. The majority of our projects are larger in scale. Therefore, they are not necessarily looking for a consultation; they are looking for us to pitch what to expect from our team as a whole. Of course, there is always a discussion [about] our thoughts and design direction in regard to their specific project, which is free of charge. The true goal is to be hired and have the time to develop the overall design.” —Cristina Casañas-Judd, Me & General Design, Brooklyn, NY
Fine line (item)
“I charge an initial consultation fee, but I don’t charge it up front. I list it as a line item on a proposal for the larger project and credit that fee to them if they move forward with the full package. If they don’t, then they only owe me the consultation fee. Nine times out of 10, we are only consulting on things that are moving into large projects. Very rarely do we do one-off consults. I’ve found those have not been a great use of our time or the client’s money, to be honest.” —Sara Malek Barney, Bandd Design, Austin, TX
“In any given week, the initial project meetings can stack up, and the time investment in a consultation should match with appropriate compensation, especially for a small business. It is important to understand that the initial visit is not considered a sales pitch meeting, but an opportunity for a potential client to get professional advice and a path forward for the outlined scope of work. As the saying goes, time is money, and the initial consultation is a value-add investment to kickstart the project.” —Kiyonda Powell, Kiyonda Powell Design Studio, Washington, D.C.
“My design business is in its first year, and we don’t charge a consultation fee or plan to start doing so. I want my clients to immediately feel comfortable and have fun with my team. The initial meeting is a time for the potential client to express their vision, and I don’t want them to feel the crunch of an hourly rate.” —Nina Grauer, Nina Grauer Interiors, Palm Beach, FL
“When discussing a new project, we invite clients into our studio for an initial consultation at no charge. We believe it's important for clients to have the opportunity to meet our team, see our studio and learn more about our services before we ask them to make an investment with us. We have found that this builds trust and gives us valuable one-on-one time with them to know if it’s a mutually good fit. And just as importantly, the face-to-face time is a perfect opportunity to discuss the business of design: the creative process, project scope, what they can expect for their investment, examples of documentation, and review our design billing procedures. Our clients have told us at the end of project wrap-up that this is one of the most important meetings they had in the entire process.” —Christi Barbour, Barbour Spangle Design, High Point, NC
“We do not charge an initial consultation fee. For us, the first meeting is used to understand the full scope of the project so we can properly price it and see if there is a match with aesthetics and expectations. If we take the work, then that time is included in the pricing of the overall project. If we don’t take the work, then we don’t want our parting impression to be a bill. Either way, we look at that time as an investment in business development.” —Lauren Hudson, Wells Design, Houston
“Ninety-nine percent of my business comes from referrals, and when I’m connected with a potential client through a referral I tend not to charge an initial consultation fee. However, if it is a person that found me on Instagram, Houzz or another source, and I’m required to travel or spend a good deal of time meeting with them, I do charge an initial consultation fee.” —Sarah Blank, Sarah Blank Design Studio, Greenwich, CT