Do you charge nuisance fees?

September 4, 2014 -  By

Q: What’s your take on charging clients an initial consultation fee before meeting with them at their home? I’ve never done it before but have heard other design/build contractors do.


A: There are various theories about how to properly screen clients so you’re focusing on solid leads and not wasting your time with “tire kickers.” One way is by charging “nuisance fees,” those $50 or $75 fees you charge to meet with a client for the first time. As far as I’m concerned, nuisance fees are bad business and are penny wise and pound foolish.

The theory behind charging a fee to meet with a potential client is twofold. Some of you believe charging it makes you appear more professional, and others believe this is a good screening process to weed out people who are just going to waste your time. Unfortunately, this methodology turns off both tire kickers and rock solid leads.

Now calm down. I already can hear the objections out there. Let’s see if I still have my mind-reading capabilities. Here goes. “Plumbers and electricians charge homeowners to come out to the house, and doctors and lawyers charge for an initial consultation. So why shouldn’t we? Isn’t our time valuable? Don’t we deserve to be paid for our time?”

Let me answer the last two questions first. Yes, our time is valuable, and yes, we are professionals. That, however, is not the question or the problem. The problem is we are trying to do something these other industries don’t do but have convinced ourselves they do. In reality, plumbers, electricians, doctors and lawyers do not charge these “nuisance fees,” so why should we? Read on.

All of us need to learn how to properly screen clients, but charging someone $50 or $75 (I’ve heard numbers as low as $25) is a silly way to do it. You’re as likely to push away someone who’s really serious about having work done as you are someone who is going to waste your time. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to lose 50 percent of my leads because I’m a professional and deserve to be paid for my time.

My philosophy is once a client has passed your initial screening on the phone and sounds like a viable lead, you need to set an appointment with the client. Your first appointment is your opportunity to meet with potential clients and learn more about who they are and what they are looking to do. This is your chance to show them samples of your color-rendered drawings and photos of your built work. In other words, they need to see in person why they should work with you instead of your competitors. This initial meeting should be considered an investment of your time, not something you bill for. However, after this one-hour meeting, money needs to exchange hands before you provide any landscape service.

Now back to my original argument that we are trying to charge clients for something other professionals don’t charge for. For instance, when you call a plumber to your home, it’s typically because you need something repaired, usually right away. A leaky pipe or some other problem that requires a service call. They will charge you for this visit and hopefully will make the repair then and there.

Conversely, had you called the plumber about getting a price for installing a new Jacuzzi, sink and toilet in your bathroom, they would gladly meet with you and get you a proposal, no charge.

The same goes for doctors and lawyers. If you need immediate medical attention or legal advice you will be billed for the services provided. If, however, you are shopping for a surgeon to operate on your back or an attorney to defend you in a lawsuit, both professionals gladly will meet with you for a free consultation in hopes of earning your business.

So the next time you want to charge a nuisance fee to a potential client because “you’re a professional,” think about the neurosurgeon who’s willing to meet “new customers” for free in hopes of getting their business. It might just might make you rethink your strategy.

To submit a question for Profiting From Design, please contact Shilan at



This article is tagged with , , and posted in September 2014

About the Author:

Jody Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant, editor of and former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Reach him at 201-783-2844 or

Comments are currently closed.