Posted by: Jo Duxbury | 1 March 2010

How much would you give away for free?

I’ve recently attend several meetings with various new client prospects. It’s got me thinking: how many meetings or how many hours should a consultant offer for free, before charging a client for his/her time?

Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals probably never see a client without billing for their time. So why should clients expect marketing consultants to offer up freebies?

Where does business development end and giving away ideas for nothing begin? In the preliminary meetings I attend, I try not to give away any ideas (it’s dangerous without having a solid brief anyway – I could be off base and then look like I don’t know what I’m talking about). Rather, those initial  meetings need to be about gathering information so I can put accurate quotes together.

I’ve been good previously about not actually meeting with clients until I have a signed estimate and deposit in the bank. I’m happy to chat on the phone and yes, there are sometimes exceptions. But lately, I seem to be spending a lot of time in my car, driving to meetings with clients who never end up converting to paying customers.

Perhaps my initial screening process is flawed and I should talk about money up front. If the client baulks at say the price of the marketing healthcheck that we offer over at Peppermint Source, they are probably not the right type of client for me.

How do you screen potential clients? And at what point do you start charging for your time? Please do share your thoughts on this in the comments below – from either a consultant’s or client’s perspective.



  1. From time to time we have the same problems… I think it happens every now and then to remind us not to do it.. 🙂 We do sometimes charge for web proposals – when it involves exploratory research before we can quote or propose a solution, there’s no other choice. On the design side, we do charge a “refusal fee” for pitches where actual design ideas are required. I think when TIME equates to money, clients understand the need for us to NOT spend our time in our cars and drinking coffee, but working on projects!

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