A former colleague contacted me about purchasing and setting up equipment for her company. We agreed to scope and an hourly rate via email. I met with her on location to physically inspect the area and to get specs so I can order the appropriate equipment. Do I charge for that meeting or part of that meeting since half of it was idle chit-chat/catching up? Or are first meetings always free?
I usually start charging once negotiations are complete and a rate has been decided on and there is mutual agreement about the terms. Once the discussion changes from discussing rates to discussing the project and work detils, I start to charge. If the initial meeting were a negotiation type meeting, then it would be free, but any meetings after that about the project are charged for.
I would charge what is considered reasonable. If the person was not a friend, would you spend as much time chatting to them? If not, then I would hesitate to charge for that extra time. Charging for it may make the client feel cheated and put strain on the relationship. I try to be as reasonable as possible and tend to err on the side of caution to keep the relationship healthy and my clients happy.
For example, I did a client visit to discuss work at their premises, which I charged for. The client also happens to be a good friend. We went out for lunch afterwards and I didn't charge for that. I try to keep the business talk separate from the friendly talk. It's easier for both parties to keep track of what is being charged for.
First meeting or 20th, bill for the time you actually worked for them. Chit-chatting and catching up are not work regardless of which meeting it is.
Negotiations is before the work starts, that time is your cost to try to get the job. Inspecting the area and getting specs are work and are billable.