This week we lost a potential client because we intended to charge for research that exceeded the hour and a half that we had already spent discussing what was needed/wanted, look at this potential client's competitors' sites, open an account, and prepare a contract as requested. After the initial talks and emails our contact inquired about a specific program - a software used for e-learning, and one that we are not familiar with - and we agreed to research the software but that without a commitment (signed contract) we would have to charge our regular hourly fee to do so.
The potential client was VERY unhappy with that and pulled the project. Apparently, any additional research should have been part of the free consultation and our intent to charge for our time demonstrated lack of customer service. There was also something about chalking us up to another bad experience with yet another design firm only out to take their client's money.
Well, the way I see it, yes, we do offer a free consultation. During which we explore what the client is looking for and how to accomplish that. We talk about the process, what is required and expected of the client and of the designer, etc. Generally, this adds up to an hour or so and we frequently go a little beyond that. But, that doesn't mean we can or will invest hours and hours WITHOUT a commitment . That's the deciding factor here. We'll still spend an hour or so with you, even if you're just shopping around but, there has to be a limit. As for taking our client's money... well, yeah... this IS a business and we DO provide a service for which we charge. I believe it is called commerce.
While I was a little perturbed at first, I think I'll just chalk it up to a client not worth having.