Anyone charge a consultation fee?

Discussion in 'Landscape Lighting' started by Classic Lighting, Sep 26, 2010.

  1. Classic Lighting

    Classic Lighting LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 487

    Does anyone charge a fee to meet with a potential client? I have spent many hours chasing leads, meeting with prospects, and drawing designs. Too often I hear the excuse that "the price is too high", "I'll call you when I decide" or "I'd rather do it myself." Would a consultation fee weed out the tire kickers? What do you do to minimize wasted time and effort with prospects?
     
  2. RLI Electric

    RLI Electric LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 381

    I have charged a fee to meet with potential clients and they have paid it. With the understanding it comes off the price of the job if I get it. I will do it if the job is a half hour drive or more. Truth be told, I have not done it for landscape lighting projects but for straight electrical projects.
     
  3. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,645

    10 years ago when I owned and ran a million plus landscape and lawn care company we did that, 75 bucks consulataion fee. got to do bids and we still had plenty of work. but I don't think that company still does it now. the phone does not ring enough to qualify and cherry pick out folks like it did 10 years ago. Bids are part of life when you own a business.

    both landscape lighting and Christmas light initial consult and bid takes me about 2-3 hours of drive and meet time if it is a project less than 20k. while I could spend 8-16 hours on each bid drawing up a scale wiring diagram on each bid with tons of info and specs, and I have done that before, it does not close any more jobs that a clear well written 2-part copy bid sheet that I use.

    I will do 100 bids for Christmas Lights in a 45 day period or so and close about 35-40 of them. my gut tells me if I asked for a 65 buck fee to do a bid, then I probably would only do 45-50 bids and close 20-25. so even though I may spend 200-300 free man hours over 45 days doing bids for all those folks, it is worth it.

    I believe a bid fee or consultation fee scares off both folks that will buy, and scares off folks who won't buy.
     
  4. RLI Electric

    RLI Electric LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 381

    While I have never charged a consultation fee for landscape lighting (because I am afraid of scaring a person off) I have done it for electrical projects. If I feel that it is someone kicking tires and shopping for price, then I use it. As contractors we have made our own bed with "free estimates"and therefore we are stuck with the result. I don't know of too many interior designers that offer a free consultation. They may come by to ask questions but they most certainly will not give out their ideas for free and neither should we. I cannot tell you how many times that I have done that only to find that someone else has done the same job using my ideas. In fact that did happen on a landscape lighting job. Funny thing was the other electrician knows me and knows that this is what I do. He called me up and read the EXACT specifications my estimate had. The client erased my name and my pricing and used this as THEIR specs to the other contractor. I know and trust this guy, he asked me what I was charging them and went back to them and doubled my price. This is the kind of professional courtesy we should extend to others. Needless to say, I got the job but I will be more careful of how my specs are in the future. I would never continue to quote a job if I know one of my electrician friends are quoting it. I will say, "you have a great guy quoting this and you cannot go wrong with him." I will most certainly make it so any generic electrical contractor will not know what I am talking about when I am quoting a "composition" and not a "job". As David says, I will probably not charge for a consultation for a landscape lighting job but if it is a tire kicker looking for a quote on a kitchen, basement or a service change and if I think they are shopping price alone, you can bet there will be a consultation fee. If for no other reason than to see how serious they are and to provide a differentiation point between myself and any other electrician.
     
  5. niteliters

    niteliters LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 537

    consultation fee would do that, might weed out some who might though. think about a design fee. You get an opportunity to meet/qualify them as they do you. If you all are a match, they will pay u for a design. what I think you will find, whatever you do, that your level of professionalism will increase, effecting you and your company in a positive way.
     
  6. niteliters

    niteliters LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 537

    One thing to add, you can simply charge for your time, if you have a design presentation that you have hesittated to leave in the past. that could become part of your package. You could also offer a more indepth design package for those who want to try it themselves, One thing we do...leave them with no information that would aid them in getting another competitve bid. If they request a complete design and will pay the $1000 and up you might charge, then give them $$$ worth giving them the information they have paid for with enough detail they realize how valuable you are. The few that started out requesting the complete design ended up having us to the install
     
  7. Pro-Scapes

    Pro-Scapes LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,181

    Charging a consult fee is an excellent way to seperate serious clients from the price shoppers. While I do not always charge a fee it has saved me quite a bit of running around. Prequalifying over the phone or via email is esential especially if your time runs short.

    You may lose a prospect here or there because they are used to everyone handing out free estimates. Mike Gambino and an interior designer who sends us work both put it it to me in such a way that it made great sence to charge a fee in alot of cases.

    Mike wrote an excellent article on it some time ago and you can read the pdf at www.gambinolighting.com I think the title is "fee or Free"

    Personally I didnt hessitate to pay my carpenter $200 for his time calculating the materials list and estimating the addition I put on the house last year.
     
  8. INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting

    INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,102

    I generally do not charge a consultation fee. I prefer to pre-qualify the interest level over the phone and have become pretty good at separating out the serious prospects from the tire kickers. I do charge for all of my design, specification and procurement time, something that is rarely done by most LV lighting contractors but should be considered by more of you more often. Recapturing your costs of operations is critical to long term success. Remember that all we really have to offer is our time. If you are not billing for it, then you are giving it away. Just ask any Lawyer, Doctor, Architect or Designer. Adding some project management billing software to your office is an eyeopener.
     
  9. Stillwater

    Stillwater LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,807

    Yes.... I try to sell the work verbally before the design is discussed. I never sit down at my drafting table and draft formal plans without payment. In most circumstances I sell the job before I ever draft. But if they want drafted plans they have to pay a fee and it is due before hand. You need to try to sell the job without the plan, this takes exceptional communication skills, not every one can do that. When I meet for the first time with someone the last thing on my mind is drafting plans. If that is what they want fine, I leave with the check.
     
  10. extlights

    extlights LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 439

    We have never charged for any consultation. We don't do drafts or drawings and actually never have. As a matter of fact we've never even been asked to do one. Maybe that comes with the confidence that we've been around for a long time and have good referrals...I'm not sure. We will never charge for anything but the finished project, service work, or add-ons.
     

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