Before the ink even touches the drawing board, designers meet their clients for a consultation. This is the first point at which a designer can charge for their services, and the decision to charge a consultation fee or not was divisive at the roundtables. Some argue that the charge is necessary; after all, time is money ... and the consultation, briefing and project assessment process can easily take two hours, or even longer. What's more, only 1 in 3 of these consultations will progress to the next stage, so covering your costs should be a minimum requirement. Some participants also highlighted that a client's willingness to pay can be a great indicator of their investment in you as a designer - if they’re happy to cover your fee, then they probably aren't talking to many other designers.
A counterpoint from other participants suggested that that the initial fee can be a blocker for getting a “foot in the door”. This concern was particularly relevant for designers just starting out in business, where building a portfolio is a priority and justifying a charge without experience can be challenging. One-third of the designers involved said that they’re selective about when they charge. If they feel the project will be outstanding - with a great client and brilliant photos - they may choose not to charge an initial consultation fee, whereas if they didn't “click” with the client over the phone, or the project doesn't sound viable, they'll charge a fee up front.