I’ve dealt with this dilemma myself when I started my new consulting business. The question that we ask ourselves is, should I charge an initial consultation fee? This is where the hymning and hawing comes into play.
We all ask ourselves these questions when we start out as a consultant:
- I want to get as many clients into my office so I can sell them my services to them
- I think that most people give free consultations, so is it smart to charge?
- If I do decide to change for an initial consultation, I may scare the new customer away?
- Isn’t my time (and experience) worth money?
- Should I charge and how much should I charge?
- No I shouldn’t charge for the consultation.
Then after a “few” free consultations,
- Ok, I just wasted a full days’ worth of time and made nothing, so now I will charge.
It’s an internal argument that never really ends.
Unless your business is established then it can be hard to change an initial consultation fee because the idea to any business is to make money, and the only way you can make money is when customer hires you to provide services. If you’re charging a consultation fee this may turn off clients who would have normally become clients if not for the fee. For example, a lawyer who has gone to school, racked up thousands (sometimes much more) in education expenses feels that “why should I give my knowledge away for free?” – Don’t worry I feel the same way.
However, I look at the initial consultation fee different. I will talk to the client about my services and what I charge for free, I will even provide them some very basic advice for free, and if the conversation begins to go longer than ten minutes, I politely interrupt and advise the potential client that I have some work to get done (because I really do) and if they would like to talk further I will pass them along to my receptionist who can schedule another time to chat. The receptionist will then take the appointment and at the same time ask them for the initial consultation fee – if the potential clients rejects that idea (after the 10 or so minutes of free advice) then they most likely only looking for information and were not going to engage my services to begin with – If the clients pay the initial consultation fee then I feel they respect my time also like the 10 minutes of advice I have already provided them with.
Again, it depends on how busy you are and how hungry you are for the work. I feel that by me charging a reasonable initial consultation fee is fair and justified because the information I share with my potential clients for one hour will more than likely save them several hundred if not thousands of dollar if they don’t talk with me beyond that point.
I’m giving my clients ACTUAL advice, and help not just trying to up-sell them on my services.
In addition, due to the nature of my business (finance, consulting, and marketing) it made my choice for implementing an initial consultation fee easier because my advice is good and there are many, many tire kickers out there. That being said, I know it’s not really the clients fault for being a tire kicker, how can you blame a potential client where there is so much conflicting information out there. I think they are just trying to make it through all the BS and make an informed decision. However, that is not excuse for me not changing for my time.
The other strategy behind my decision for charging an “initial consultation fee” is that if the potential client will not spend $179.00 for a consultation that what makes me think they are going to pay for my services when I quote them $3000, $5000 or $10000. – They most likely aren’t.
As I sad above, it all depends how busy and hungry you are for work. I have chosen to only deal with clients who will most likely respect my knowledge, experience and time and by charging the initial fee I found this to be an excellent way to filter my potential clients.
The choice is yours to make.