For Pros: To Charge or Not to Charge for Consultations

The Houzz community shares insights on handling initial consultations

The consultation is a valuable opportunity for you to meet with potential clients, learn their needs and show off your knowledge and expertise as a home remodeling professional. However, not all consultations result in jobs, so how do you make sure you’re using your time wisely? 

The decision to charge for a consultation is one that should make sense for your business. Our pro community has weighed in on what works for them.

Asking for a Consultation Fee 

Charging potential clients a consultation fee ensures that your time doesn’t go to waste if the homeowners decide to take their business elsewhere, but the upfront cost may deter some people.

Pros who charge a consultation fee consider it a way to demonstrate value for their service, ideas and time. A consultation is an exchange of information and the sharing of an expert opinion based on years of valuable trade experience, says Michael Gambino of Gambino Landscape Lighting in Simi Valley, California. “Time can never be replaced, and it is in relatively short supply if you are busy. I have been in business for 26 years [and] for the last 15 years I have collected a nominal design consultation fee.”

Interested in learning more tips for fielding new client inquiries and closing deals?

Charging for the consultation is a way for pros to be compensated for sharing their hard-earned knowledge and experience. “During my consultations, I’m offering the client ideas and suggestions. They can either take those ideas and use them on their own, or they can hire me to implement [them] after that meeting,” says Maria Kovach of Simply Stated Interiors in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. “Either way, they have received the information they needed from a qualified professional, and I have been compensated for my time and ideas.”

Before clients agree to a consultation, pros can help justify the fee by explaining to clients what they will get out of the consultation. Are they paying for the ability to ask you questions for an hour? Will they walk away with specific product ideas or a few mock layouts of their room? 

Whatever you decide to offer, establishing the expectations before the consultation will help ensure the customer is happy, increasing the chances that the client will continue with the project.

Many pros find that charging a consultation fee is the first step in determining whether the client is a good fit. “There is a very low probability that I will get a project” if a customer is not willing to pay a fee, Gambino says. Charging a fee tells the professional whether someone will part with even a small amount of money, he says.

Offering Consultations for Free

On the flip side, many professionals feel that offering a free consultation may result in more business. It allows potential clients to get to know the professional without fearing that they’ll spend money on a pro who isn’t right for their needs. “There is no hour or two of your time worth the the lost opportunity for multiples of thousands in profits, which is why I Iong ago abandoned that fee,” says Jan Moyer, an interior designer in Rochester, New York. 

Others feel free consultations are just part of the business and an opportunity to learn whether the project is a good fit or not. “I look at free estimates as an opportunity of doing business, not as an act of losing money,” says James Mcammond of ProInspectIt in Tampa, Florida. “Do I really want this client as a long-term client? Do I really want to work with this client?”

Finding a Middle Ground

For pros who land somewhere between asking for a fee or offering free consultations, a favorable solution may be somewhere in the middle: a shorter meeting for free that doesn’t include the in-depth coverage of a full consultation. 

This style of meeting helps reassure clients that they won’t be wasting money and also ensures that the pro’s time is well spent. 

During this meeting, the pro does not share design ideas or information, but clients can determine whether they want to move forward. 

Theresa Guthals of Pikes Peak Interiors in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says she offers potential clients the option of coming to her office for a free 30-minute consultation. About 50 percent of the people who take her up on the offer end up hiring her, Guthals says.

When it comes to offering a free consultation, knowing the next steps is essential to closing the deal. “For larger projects, I always meet with the client, no charge, in their homes after an informative phone call about the scope of their project and my fees,” says Mary Dancey of Mary Dancey Interiors in Alliston, Ontario.

“I then follow up with an email about what the fees for their project are,” Dancey says. “If they are agreeable, a letter of agreement is signed, a deposit [is] made and the project is on its way.”

How do you handle the initial consultation process? If you’ve got a set system that works, share your insights below in the Comments. 

This story was written by the Houzz Industry Marketing team.