been there, got the T Shirt
I usually give only the 1st consultation free, approx.. 1-1.5hrs max to get design brief, and discuss the design, a few quick pencil sketchs, and the fees. I will only visit the site if it is within 3-5 miles radius, otherwise they will come into the office. If you get the townland name, or street name, prior to any meeting, you can do a quick desk study research, using the planning office websites, OSI maps, or GSI map, web sites of previous applications nearby, and get a fair picture of there is any onerous planning issues raised in the past, along with other designs which was acceptable or refused, possible soil conditions, contours and nearby waterways, and orientation of the site etc.. this would take 1/2 hr tops.
After that I let the hare site, until contracts are signed. Ive found the more you do for the potential clients at inception phase, the less they appreciate what you are doing. You just have to be more hard necked about it, especially if it comes as a referral from a past client, it sometimes throws you off guard. Theres little you can do to stop tyre kickers, shit talkers, bar than what ive said above. Put it down to experience, and learn from it. I know I have! a bit less enthusiasm at the earlier stages, and a bit more hard nosed business like attitude.
One does not want to be too offish with a potential client, but there are ways to dig out of them if they are serious or not, or just wanting to get a price, to bounce off another office, and if your gut tells youn its the latter, give them the price, and copy of fee contract, make your excuses, and move them on asap. If you asked a taxi driver to drive you about for 8 hrs, he would expect to be paid!! but spend 8 hrs faffing about humouring clients, having / travelling to meetings, site visits and carrying out sketches whom have clearly indicated they are going with your firm, and then blow you out on the last furlong ! tough love pal, is thier attitude. such is life..
spoilsport (not the other spoil_sport sic)