All the panel responses is dead on.
I asked for a projected budget off the bat and over the phone to see where things stand.
I tend to believe the term--"Free Estimates" is a gimmick and a lure to anyone's services............Right?
There is nothing for free in this world. The cost is figured in there somewhere.
If not--allow for one hour consults with the customer at their place or yours. Tell them all your estimates is free as long as you do not run over the allotted time. The clock starts when you all sit down and talk.
I charge a customer for any drawing renderings I do.....this is normal and if the customer refuses to pay, then so be it. I give nothing to the customer on paper...........this is mine to keep. If plants and trees is part of your designs, then I ask the customer to make a trip to whatever nursery they choose and inspect plants they desire. I tell them to write down names and certain color interests. I will do this because customer's is so fickle they will drag a job on for days and weeks with undecided plants.
I know there is time spent and time lost in drawings. I am a artist also.........and that is why it is called--"starving arts." You can spend a whole day kicking curbs unless a estimated budget is gathered. Then figure in your time spent on the project. IF the customer accepts the proposal in writing, then do not give them the drawing yet, as with most people they have at least 3 days to retract their decision. Then what? You are left without your drawings and someone else will get to do it. Been there--done that. Allow a fee for your time on the project, cell phone costs, gasoline, and whatever else. Figure this back in to the project.
Don't lose your shorts while out looking for a pair of socks.