I am recently hired as a freelancer for a software dev company, which will potentially lead to a FT position. Question: Should I bill for the hours spent consulting with the client facing portion? I.E. I am brought on board to design a system for their client and I have spent few hours on a conference call with them, going over the needs and vision...Are those hours billable or I should only charge for the actual design and development hours I use?
Traditionally as a freelancer it is your time and skill that is hired. So yes you bill for conference/meeting times.
It is customary to build in a few hours for discussion with every bid.
Some freelancers use a reduced rate for "consultation" but really that is your choice. For me.... an hour of my time is an hour of my time, whether that's and hour on the phone or an hour building something it's the same block of time so I charge the same.
An easy way to decide stuff like this is to imagine you needed to hire an attorney for something.... what would you expect for free and what would you expect to have to pay for? Do you think an attorney would speak with you for an hour and not charge you for that hour??
You've been hired for your expertise and ability to do a specific job. Certainly sitting "alone" and working on it, whether it's coding, design, or something completely different is expected time on the job. Knowing what is needed is a necessary prerequisite to that and the way to satisfy the prerequisite in your case is talking to the client. In that exchange, your expertise guides the discussion, gets the appropriate questions asked and the necessary answers supplied. That is absolutely part of why you were hired. It is clearly billable.
Depending on how big and interesting the job is I'll give a potential client as much free time upfront as I need to secure it. Once I've landed the job I'll charge my hourly rate for all time spent on it, be that dev, consultation, travel or whatever.