My response when asked for free consultation....
I'm sorry, [client].
Please understand that my time is valuable. You are essentially asking me to donate my time for your project, even if it is merely in the nature of a consultation.
Unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to try and convey all that I have learned through education, trial and error, and experience over the past [X] years.
I would love the opportunity to assist you with your project, but I just can't do it free of charge. If you'd care to schedule some consultation time, I'd be happy to discuss pricing. I'm simply not in the habit of offering free services.
- Understand that some clients I don't really care if I anger. Especially if they are new clients just trying to get around paying me. I never try to anger them. That's never my intention. I just don't care if they get upset with me refusing to work for free. I don't tiptoe around them on eggshells trying to figure out how to tell them "no". It's pretty simple... "No, I don't work for free." After all, if they are bothered by that and storm off, what am I really losing? The opportunity to waste my time??
- My "loyal" clients are loyal for good reasons. They surely understand if they refer someone to me, whether or not that relationship works, has no bearing on my relationship with them. It would be surprising to me if I lost a loyal client because I refused to do free work for someone they referred to me. And if I did do free work, my client may begin wondering why I charge them. Not good.
- I deal with pretty much the same stable of clients regularly, any new client is hit or miss, take or leave, and rarely necessary for business. I'm always happy to find a new client I can work with, but they aren't really mandatory for the most part. To this end, a difficult client at the beginning will always be a difficult client. Why even bother with them? (related: What should I do if a potential client claims my pricing is too high? )
Ask yourself... why are you afraid of angering her? She just wants free work. Tell her [in a friendly and polite manner] to take a hike and be done with it. If your "loyal" client has an issue with you doing that they A) aren't very business-savvy and B) aren't nearly as loyal as you think.
I've turned away brothers, sisters, cousins, wives, husbands, parents, children, etc. of clients - just about any relationship you can think of -- and still maintained the client. I don't personally know anyone in any business that sees the refusal to work for free as an inherently bad thing. I still get referrals, but I don't get the "Hey can you spend 3 hours for free helping my son with his school yearbook" referrals. I get actual business referrals.
Business is business. Be forthright, honest, and upfront without being insulting. There's nothing more to it than that. Believe it or not, many business owners/operators really respect a forthright answer, even if that answer is "no", rather than some political dancing around.
Note: I'm always happy to have a conversation for free. If someone whats to call with a question, I'm happy to discuss what they are struggling with. It is when it starts getting into reviewing files, suggesting colors, typefaces, layout that I think it's too much. Someone asking for "just some ideas" is over the line for me. It's not direct and targeted enough to be a quick, free, answer.
And honestly it wouldn't surprise me if she agrees to pricing after you make it clear you won't work for free.