Should You Charge for the First Appointment?

The answer to this question depends upon the kind of first appointment the potential client wants, and is asking for.

FACT: Any potential client needs to be pre-qualified on the phone prior to setting that first appointment, and using up your valuable time, and trust me... you will find many clues if you pay attention to the wording that your potential client uses when making the appointment request. Here are two typical but very different requests for a first appointment.

Appointment Request One - The phone rings and you discover that this might be a potential client and she says to you, “Will you came over and see my house? I’d love to meet you  and want to hear your ideas.”

Appointment Request Two - The second potential client rings you up and says, “I am considering redecorating my living room and I would like to talk to you about helping me with it.”

Naturally, you are interested in both, but before you jump in your car and run to their home, stop and ask a question or two first. You must clarify those statements, establish your boundaries, and explain how you work before you set the appointment.  Appointment Request One is asking you to give away design advice. Appointment Request Two is asking you to interview for a job.

Here is the appropriate response that will help you establish boundaries. Start by explaining how you work. “I can meet you at your home for a first appointment in a couple of ways. If you are considering hiring me on for your living room project, I would be happy to come to your home, get a feel for the scope of the job and see if we like each other at no charge.

“Or, if you want me to come to your home and give you design ideas and solutions, I can accommodate that request as well. I charge $XXX per hour for a consultation, and can help you cover a lot of ground in that time. Get your yellow pad out and start listing your questions, because we can cover a lot in an hour.

Then ask point blank, which way would you like to work with me?” For request one, you will be meeting to discover the scope of the job so that you can set an appointment to come back with your Letter of Agreement the next day and sign up the job.

For request two, you will spend an hour doing a “brain dump” with someone that might turn into a client. I recommend charging about three times your hourly rate for this particular service, depending on the travel time involved. It would be wise to include one follow up phone call with this client so that you stay connected. Another tip... I also recommend offering the client a credit for the amount paid on this consultation if she hires you for a substantial job later on.

The TAKE AWAY... It is vitally important to establish your boundaries early and not give away your valuable design time and advise to potential clients. It is equally important to make clear offers and pricing for your services to potential clients so that they understand how you work. I teach this strategy in detail in my Design Biz Blueprint training and coaching programs. Learn more at

Terri Taylor, IDS Professional, ASID, IIDA, IFDA, is President and Creative Director of Taylor Design Group and Design Biz Blueprint. She is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer at design conferences and interior design colleges throughout the country. She speaks on a number of topics related to the business of interior design, including: business practices, sales, marketing, motivation, leadership, success and personal growth.
Ms. Taylor is nationally known as an interior design business expert and coach who teaches and mentors interior designers to help them create successful design businesses.


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