It is probably safe to assume that most, if not all, designers are aware that The Initial Consultation is part of doing business. What may be less obvious is what you should accomplish in that interview, how much you should say, and whether or not you should charge a fee for your time. For this reason, I want to share with you some firm advice on how to make that inaugural encounter a win-win situation for you and your client.
Pick Up The Phone
Before you set foot in a prospect’s home or property, take the time to screen them over the phone. Qualify the prospect to determine if you should go meet with them face-to-face. Discuss with them what they are looking for and, with a high level of detail, how you work.
I encourage you not to give pricing information over the phone unless you truly feel that it is appropriate to the situation. Explain that because you are a professional, you need to have a solid understanding of the project before you quote a price. You could talk yourself out of a job without ever meeting the prospect.
After you have performed a phone screen with your prospect to determine if the project is one that you would like to learn more about, it is time to set up the appointment and prepare for The Initial Consultation. If you decide that the project is not for you, always try to provide the prospect referrals to other designers who may be a good fit for the job.
To Charge Or Not To Charge”
The question of whether or not to charge for a consultation is a personal one. I have met and worked with designers who charge a fee and designers who view a free consultation as a cost of doing business. You need to determine what works best for you and your business, and here are some thoughts to help you decide.
Your time and your knowledge are valuable and should not be given away for free. If design were that easy, everyone would do it himself or herself. As you know, it is not easy. It requires thought and skill.
If you choose not to charge, schedule the consultation for a half of an hour and keep the meeting focused to a meet and greet only. Steer clear of discussing design solutions. Giving away your knowledge and creativity makes them less valuable to the prospective client.
Many designers who charge for consultations do so hourly. Rates vary by region and level of experience, of course, but in general are between $100 and $250 per hour with a one-hour minimum.
Be Clear On Your Goals & Purpose
First and foremost, you need to know what you want to accomplish. A little planning ahead of time will help ensure that you get what you need out of the meeting and keep it running smoothly.
The purpose of an initial consultation is to allow the designer and the prospective client to determine if there is a “fit” in terms of personality, experience and schedule. Your goals will be, at minimum, to understand the initial scope of the project, to begin to build rapport, and, if the project is a desirable one, to win the business.
The best way to ensure that you walk away with clear answers to all of your questions is to have a plan.
Set An Agenda
Like any good project manager, you need to go into every meeting with an agenda, defined goals and a set time limit. When you schedule the initial consultation during the phone screener, let your prospect know how long to expect the meeting to last. A typical initial consultation runs anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. Any longer, and you may be overstaying your welcome. By sticking to an agenda, you should be able to accomplish your meeting goals in the allotted time.
Once you establish the amount of time you will spend, create your agenda. Outline what to cover and list every single question that you want to make sure you ask.
Also, gather the items to bring with you. Appearing as and acting like a professional is not optional. Dress the part, bring your business cards and any other promotional materials, and show up on time. Most importantly, smile and be confident. If a prospect perceives a lack of confidence, it will affect your chances of securing the job.
Get Started: The Basics
The agenda outline typically starts with introductions. During this time, you will let the prospect know what the meeting is about, reiterate how long it will last and what you will do. If you are charging and have not pre-billed for the session, don’t forget to collect the check.
If not all of the decision-makers will attend this first meeting, then you may want to set up a time to meet with them later. Add this to your Next Steps list in the outline and save this task until the end of the consultation. If you are still interested in the project, ask when you can follow up and schedule a time to get together.
It may sound obviously, but before you get too far into questions and tours of the property, make sure you get the client’s contact information and their preferred method of being reached – phone or email – and what times are best to contact them. It is easy to forget these simple steps the further you get into the session.
Bio & Photo-Op
The prospect will likely want to hear a little bit about you and your qualifications. They may also ask to see a portfolio. Some designers are forgoing the traditional portfolio and directing clients to their websites. Additionally, I know of other designers who no longer show a portfolio at all.
If you are showing work, be sure to reiterate that each photo represents the style of that particular client and that you work with each client individually to ensure that the final product represents his or her taste and needs. Sometimes prospects get wrapped around what they see in the photos, and if it is not something they like, it can turn them off.
Unless you specialize solely in a particular genre (if this were the case, you would have learned that the project was not in your genre in the phone screener and provided referrals to designers who would be a better fit), be sure to have an answer ready if your prospect thinks your style or taste will not work for them.
More To Come
Tune in next month when I’ll explore the core elements of the meeting, discuss why it’s vital to broach some uncomfortable subjects, and why to trust your gut above all else.