Consultation fee: separate or built in?

I always offer to meet with clients free of charge for consultation. After that, however, I feel like it should be acceptable for me to charge a small fee for any meeting thereafter. For example, I met with a prospective client yesterday for almost 2 hours, which I was happy to do! We have a follow up meeting scheduled in two weeks for an hour and a half. I am requesting $25 to cover my time. This is an organization I have a good relationship with, so I don’t want to seem like I’m taking advantage, but I also technically am taking time away from other paid jobs to host meetings. I have already quoted a price for the project and did not build in extra fees for consultations / design planning, as I don’t know how many there will be an prefer to bill them separately.

What is your stance on fees for client meetings?

I’ll discuss projects at no cost in an initial consultation because it makes sense to talk to potential clients and sell them on something before asking for money.

However, anything beyond that involves payment. I don’t want to deal with tire kickers who never commit. For an existing client where a solid relationship already exists, I’m a lot looser with the rules, but I end up factoring in the likely meetings in whatever quotes I give them.

Of course, I make exceptions if the situation seems appropriate for doing so.


Get a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines so you can get the full list of everything you should be billing.

Consultations are usually free, since that’s your sales pitch, but after that, you should be charging them to rent your brain. You are creating intellectual property for them. It doesn’t matter that you’re not clicking away on a keyboard. In a good meeting, they should come out a little smarter as a result of your presence, and it’s appropriate to charge for that. Education in the business world isn’t free.

Meetings are an expense you should have identified in your quote. If you quoted flat rate for the project, they are probably going to assume time for meetings was included. See if they will accept an amended quote. All your potential billable expenses should be identified in your quote.


It’s not something I normally need to do but when I do, I will itemise everything up front. That way the client knows what they are paying for and there are no surprises.
If they object to anything I take it out and add it to the design fee.


Initial consults are free. But I make it clear that after that, there they will be on the clock and show them my Rate Card (or if it is a project fee job, that I will quote the project only after I know what the job involves.)

And it’s a good idea to tell them that any changes or alterations when you show them the completed project which they ask for, costs extra at your hourly fee.

If you do not have one already, you should make an hourly Rate Card. Include your company logo and contact info, and a statement that your Rate Chart is private and confidential. If they ask to keep the Rate Card after the initial consultation, have a Confidentiality Statement that they can sign. (Ask your attorney to make one up for you.)

Another thing. Make a document that your client signs after you’ve completed the job, that:
(1) States that your client accepts the artwork without changes, or
(2) Accepts the artwork with changes as follows.
(3) Leave room on the document for client signature(s).

It took me several years (as a young designer) to learn these steps and has saved me a lot of “What’s this?” arguments after I send my invoice(s).

I charge for them. Travel time, to and from, plus the time I’m there for.

I could spend 8 hours (a whole day) going to and back and talking with someone - and they might not take me up on my services - but they can potentially and have in the past taken my ideas and used them.

So I charge.
If it’s a video call it’s charged for the duration of the meeting.

Fine if they don’t want to use my services, but they can pay for my time and my consultation.

Oh and this - if they are established and good clients there is no fee.

The tyre kickers are true, can’t be handing out free candy when it’s not halloween.

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Great advice, many thanks.

For me, I guess the short answer is, the consultation fee is built into the quote offered. The whole trick is to support enough of an overhead where you have a cushion if the job falls through. Don’t forget to include a “marketing budget” in your business overhead figures and charge enough on paying work to keep it topped up for those things that fall through.

Been burned twice with people asking for drafted ideas before they accept my price. They both went elsewhere with that info. The first one was a learning experience, the second one was a known client. I don’t do it at all anymore.

Yes, this has happened to me before as well. That only happened once and I learned my lesson—never present ideas in initial consultations!
Remember that ideas cannot copyrighted. Copyrights only apply to previously printed/produced ideas, etc.

If they’re paying then I don’t care anymore

Never consult until you have the project. Listen to what they need of course, and do not give away any information beyond what it takes to land the project. Position yourself as an expert without telling them how you’ll solve the problem.

Create an Online Form that covers all aspects of a project. I use Typeform as you can do if/then statements thus creating a form that changes the questions based on what type of Project they choose.

I usually spend about 5 to 15 minutes on a introductory call to get a general scope of the project. I then send the client a link via email to the online form (TypeForm). This gives me enough time to break the ice, get a grasp on what the client is looking for and the form will handle the rest. The form should have all of the questions needed to be answered in order to complete the project, including the always dreaded conversation about “Price / Budget”… I give the client a few prices ranges for the project based on what type of project they choose on the form. This weeds out the people who aren’t serious and lets the client set the budget, which is usually higher than what I assume.

I’ve learned from experience, the last thing you want to do is spend an hour or more meeting with someone only to find out they have no budget for the project, or their budget is way below your minimum - It’s a waste of time! Keep it quick, smooth and simple.


Project: Logo Design, Brochure, Website, Etc…
Target Audience: Male, Female, Both
Age: 18 to 32, 33 to 45,… Everyone
Budget? 1-3 Concepts - $2500, 4 to 6 - $4000, Logo + Branding Guide - $6500
Etc. Etc, Etc…

I land probably 95% of project inquiries this way if not a hair more. Again, if you loose a bite, well at least you didn’t spend a ton of time to find this out.

Until now, it didn’t occur to me that the word consult might mean different things to different people.

For me, initial 20- or 30-minute free consultations are simple conversations — a chance to listen to prospective clients explain their problems and an opportunity to explain how I might or might not be able to help address those problems.

Like you, I offer no suggestions during these conversations on how to solve their problems. Instead, they’re exploratory conversations to determine whether we’re a good fit for each other.

I’ve considered using a short online questionnaire for potential clients, so your experience is encouraging. I’ve talked to others who said their luck with them hasn’t been as good and that clients tend to ignore them or write superficial responses. I’ve suspected that potential clients who won’t take five minutes to respond to a few questions are probably people who aren’t serious or are people who I would have constant communication problems with if I took them on.

This has failed so many times

Instead, have the questionnaire when talking to them. And fill out as you talk.

It doesn’t have to be sequential.

But whatever is blank at the end you can ask those questions.

I’ve found this a far superior way of getting the info.

Even a square blank half page to doodle or let them draw out the idea.

Everything from size, colors, logos, inspiration, paper stock, target audience, competitors etc

Yeah, I guess we all have our own ways of tackling it. I may have “over exaggerated” when I said 5 minutes… it’s usually closer to 15 give or take for standard projects - logo design, brochures, etc…

It really depends on the type and size of the project. More complex projects will indeed take a little more visit time with the client.

We designed a decent size website recently - roughly 15k for the project.

Initial call: 10 to 15 minutes. Client outlined what he was looking for.
Emailed the proposal / contract the next day: 20 minutes to put together.
Client approved the proposal, lets meet. This is when I’m all in!
Then made sense to spend 1.5 hrs with him and his team.