Creative professionals often meet with clients for "free consultations" with the hopes of turning that consult into a paying client. Though this thought process is common and may make sense on the surface, it's actually contradictory to the behavior of great paying clients.
By giving away the initial consultation for free, you are diminishing the value of your talents and your services, and in turn hurting your chances of closing a great deal. Potential customers who get the initial consultation for free are less likely to value what you do and will more likely balk at your fees.
You should absolutely charge a healthy amount for your initial consultation. This approach will help eliminate "bad clients" or clients who are just price shopping or looking for free advise. It will also increase the value of your creative services in the mind of the prospect. Any potential client who is "offended" by paying for the consultation was most likely never really a potential client in the first place. Turning away these types of people will help reduce the number of wasted consultations you present.
If you are already charging for your consultation, you should re-examine the amount you charge. If you are not charging at least $100 for the consultation, you are probably going out on far more wasted meetings than you should. Increase your consultation fee and tell the prospective buyer that you will put the consultation fee towards their project should they choose to hire you. This approach reduces resistance to the higher amount. It also increases the quality of your potential client and your chances of closing the sale.
Try this approach out on the next person who calls to set up a consultation and keep in mind that a major part of effective marketing and sales is weeding out bad clients and wasted initial consultations. Stop giving away your consulting and you will change the value of your services in your mind and in the mind of your clients, which will help you increase your income, decrease your wasted time, and get better clients.