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Why You Should be Paying for Design Consultations!

Wait, WHAT!?!?


Yup, that’s right!



Once in a while, it comes as a shock to a potential client that the designer charges for consultations. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are of course some out there that don’t - but, did you know that it often comes at a compromise?



In this blog post, I’m going to break down the raw and unfiltered truth about why you should be paying designers to come do consultations, the average cost and what to expect to get in return during that appointment.


So, I know other types of companies advertise “FREE CONSULTATIONS” or "FREE QUOTES" but have you ever noticed that these companies tend to sell products (and maybe even installation of that product) – but not specifically a service.


Honestly, it’s very common in advertising to see, it grabs the viewers attention and gets them thinking they are going to get value without being obligated to purchase. But, because of this sometimes people associate the words C O N S U L T A T I O N and F R E E together as if it's a given.


Okay, let’s start at the beginning:


First and foremost, the service that a designer sells to a client is their ideas and creativity. Of course, there is so much more that goes on after this step and behind the scenes to execute the ideas, but it starts with the vision that the individual designer brings to the table.


So why aren’t those free consultations as valuable as you expected?!?


When a designer comes in for a free consultation, in their mind they are often editing every single sentence before they speak to make sure they don’t give away their ideas for free. And seriously, why should they right?!?


A chef doesn’t come into someone’s home, look in their fridge and help them brainstorm ideas on what to have for dinner in hopes of being hired to make it. Just like an accountant doesn’t come in and help someone brainstorm tax breaks.



A free consultation is more of a meet and greet and for the professional to see what you’re working with.


But why? Well, it’s honestly happened to almost every single one of us. Mostly when we were new to the industry and super eager and excited about the new prospective client so we offered a free consult.


During that consult we brainstorm all these cool ideas with the client, not holding back at all. Have all those “what if this, what if that” conversations, giving away all our ideas for free and later hear back from the client that they will not be moving forward. BUT, THEN find out that they used all the ideas we gave them.


It’s truly an awful feeling. One that most of us promise ourselves we won’t let happen again. At that point, most of us decide if we are going to start charging for consults or not.



But, what's the real difference...?


During a free consult:

  • The designer is mostly there to collect information, see the site in person and decide if you two are a good match for working together

  • When it comes to discussing creative and tangible ideas, as little as possible are shared out loud

  • The designer will try to get in and get out swiftly, because let’s get real, they are working for free and it has actually cost them time and money in one way or another to be there

  • You will be doing most of the talking instead of a full two-way dialog

  • It might be hard for you to know if this designers style aligns with yours (because you’re doing most of the talking)

  • Measurements are generally not taken, and if they are, they are basic at best which means the designer will need to come back to do a site measure before the project can actually start

  • As the client, you might actually finish this consultation thinking that you didn’t get any value out of it

During a Paid Consultation:

  • The designer is there to discuss tangible concepts and get enough information to hit the ground running with your project

  • They have already vetted you as a client and think it will be a good working relationship (this isn’t talked about often, but every established designer does this)

  • They are not worried about their ideas being used without being paid so they are much more open to actually discussing solutions to your pain points or new layouts

  • These consultations will be anywhere from 2-3 hours

  • Because the designer discussed their vision, you will actually be able to tell if their style and vision are aligned with yours

  • If you agree to the designers fees and want to move forward, they might do a site measure right then and there, additional 1-3 hours

  • If they take measurements on the spot, your project can actually start right away (without another site visit)

  • As the client, this consultation should leave you feeling excited and have your mind racing trying to picture all the ideas you discussed. You will have actually gotten value out of this meeting


After a paid consultation, if you decide to take the ideas you were given and go about the project without the designer, everybody still wins. You got the ideas and the designer got paid for providing them. Win-Win



So, how much does a paid consultation actually cost?

Every designer charges differently. Some use a flat fee structure for consultations and some use an hourly rate.

Flat Fee Rates: are normally anywhere from $200-400 - but keep in mind, this only accounts for 1-2 hours of their time so they will not be staying much longer than that.

Hourly Rates: are normally charged at $100-200 an hour and often have the ability to run longer if needed.



So, how does Novak Design Co. handle consultations?!


Yup, I charge for them.

$100/hour for in-home

$75/hour for virtual



1. Free 15-30 minute discovery Call

2. Email you a Design Questionnaire

3. Review the Questionnaire, make notes, write down additional questions and do any prep needed for the consult

4. Invoice for the estimated amount of time for the now booked consult

5. The day of, we start with a tour of the house, take photos and notes as we go

6. Discuss your pain points and any ideas I have to solve those

7. At the 2-hour mark, offer to end the consult or will bill additional hours when complete

8. Discuss fees and if they would like to move forward

9. If they do, the site measure is done right then and there

10. Afterwards, a Letter of Agreement will be sent along with an invoice for any outstanding hours from the consult & site measure + the retainer fee to start the project


As soon as that invoice is paid...

It’s off to the races and your design project has officially started!



So now you know why you should be paying for design consultations!

Did it shock you?!

Do you agree or disagree?

Will you be paying for your next design consultation?




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