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How to be an awesome landscape design client (and get an awesome result)

September 13, 2013 Dave Marciniak 0 Comments


I just received an interview request to provide info for an article on how not to get taken by a contractor, and I thought “you know, there are a lot of those types of articles out there. Why aren’t there more that take the other approach – what you can do to have the BEST experience possible?”

The fact is that while there are some bad apples out there, most designers and professionals are really good at what they do, and want you to enjoy the whole process. Here are a few tips for how you can help us give you the best possible result:

Just as true in business as in personal relationships
Just as true in business as in personal relationships

At the initial consultation

Be open and be honest about what you want. I’ve asked folks “what do you want to do out here?” and they’ve said, “well you’re the designer, what should we do?” I’m not the one living with that backyard every day, am I? You are. Is this a space you use a lot? Is it a space you don’t use but wish you did? Why don’t you use it? Is this an every day space or a special occasion area? The initial consultation is all about opening up a dialogue. We need you to give us a place to start if we’re going to create something special for you. If we have to guess, your grill may end up between the ferris wheel and the batting cage.

Speak your mind. I met with a couple, got a detailed scope of work, got a signed design proposal, did the design, and at presentation the wife said “it’s fine but… it’s not what *I* wanted.” When pressed for why she never spoke up during the first meeting, she said “you and my husband seemed to agree so I didn’t want to confuse things.”

There’s no such thing as too much information. Let it fly!

Be honest about your budget expectations. I’ve had SO many people balk when I ask about budget. Several have even said the same thing: “If I tell you, you’ll just make whatever you want to do cost that much.” Ignoring that this client started our relationship by calling me a liar and a crook (why would you even do that?), it’s an argument that ignores the obvious: there are other companies in this area and the remodeling and construction industries are pretty competitive. Here’s where an honest discussion of budget helps you get the best outcome:

  • I’ll design a project that’s realistic for you. Sometimes it’s not just about the client’s ability to pay a price. In many cases the project cost doesn’t make sense for that home in that neighborhood. Let’s face it, most people don’t know what various landscape projects cost until they talk to a pro. If we talk numbers and you decide those numbers won’t work for your situation, we can discuss what will.
  • We can discuss how to phase your project over time. I have a client for whom we did a design that will cost $250k to implement. They’re chipping away at it a little each year. Some of the bigger budget items may never happen, but they got a road map that will take them to the landscape they want. In short, we can break a big project into smaller projects – if we know during the design process that that’s the goal.
  • Being honest about your budget really prevents disappointment. Back when I was a naive, rookie designer, a client came to me with a huge wishlist. Knowing it would add up I asked for a budget and was told, “oh I don’t want to limit your creativity, just design something beautiful based on what I want!” Needless to say they weren’t prepared to spend $300,000 and they were incredibly upset. I never heard from them again.

While I’m designing

If you think of a detail you forgot to tell me, by all means give me a call or email and let me know. Just be aware that if you’re looking to drastically alter the scope of work it may affect your design fees. And please give me time to work on your project! I include the estimated time to completion in every design agreement. It’s based on not just how long your design will take me, but how long the other projects who committed before you will take. I promise I haven’t forgotten you!

At (and after) the presentation

Always remember that this is your landscape. If there’s something you would like to change, let me know. Your revision policy will be spelled out in the design proposal.

During installation

Talk to us! While we don’t have a rigid chain of command, if you have a question or concern about something going on with your installation, your foreman or crew leader is the first one you should talk to. If he or she can’t resolve your concern, let me know. If you’re concerned about the design and how it fits in the overall picture, definitely let me know. I can’t resolve a concern if I don’t know it exists.

After installation

Tell a friend, and take a moment to give me a review on Houzz. My business is built on referrals, so your feedback can be a huge help to me!

Did you notice a common thread? The more open and honest you are about your wants, needs, and expectations, the better your project will turn out. I’m not in the plant business or the stone business or the wood business. I’m in the business of helping people fall in love with their landscapes. Help me do that by giving me the communication I need.

Are you ready to fall in love with your landscape? Contact me for a consultation! I’m always looking for new folks to work with.


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