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Gordon Akman
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This is a very good question. I think it depends on the situation and your business model.

I posted a link to an article last night in this forum that suggests when dealing with people online correspond with them up to three times before asking for payment. Obviously if you can close a deal during your first contact that is great and being able to identify early buying signals and close deals early is very important in Sales. Obviously there are no hard and fast rules and you should learn from what other Sales people do and incorporate what works for you.

The face to face consultation is more difficult because as you both have mentioned giving away hours of your day and not getting paid is an extremely high business cost and could definitely jeopardize the viability of your business. I try and do as much business as I can online for these reasons. I prefer meeting in person with key clients to develop relationships.

I know many businesses charge consultation fees. Perhaps you could publish these fees on your website and mention them when dealing with prospects over the phone or email.