Old thread that was brought back up yesterday. But I'll add my two cents on how I handle this. I do the initial design consult at no charge, basically the walk around with the property owners to see what they are looking for and give my recomendations. I also get all the measurements and most importantly their budget (along with gauging their interest and likelyhood they will increase their budget. I then show them sample before and after pictures along with sample design printouts. I like to show them the before picture then the design so that they can imagine how the landscape job cameout. Then I show them the after photos so they can see how close it is to the design. Along with that I also show them a materials list for the job and calculations (without pricing), so that they see why the design is important. I find the clients are far less likely to question my design fee after doing the above. I do make sure to show them a simular design but nothing too close to their property.