Now that you’ve seen what Pitch Box can offer, you’re probably wondering what the best way to introduce 3D into your existing landscape design services might be.

Obviously your Clients need to cover the cost so you’d have to incorporate it into your design fees. How can you introduce the idea without scaring them away? Will they be be willing to go with something like this? Should you just give it to them as an option, or do something else? For anyone who doesn’t currently offer 3D as part of their standard landscape design process, the most obvious solution might be to start offering a “tiered” service; one which allows the customer to choose the level of input they want for the design of their new landscape. For example they can opt to have as little as a basic hand sketch or for a higher fee have the designer prepare a computer generated plan. The next tier up might include a full species list, a materials specification or even a full set of working drawings and construction details. As an optional “extra” clients could choose to include 3D imagery to accompany the drawings if they want to visualise the design. At first glance, this seems reasonable and it definitely makes a lot of sense if your aim is to capture the broadest possible area of the market.

It seems counter-intuitive but offering any aspect of your design service as an “option” is actually the strategy that’s least likely to result in the best outcome.

In this article I’m going to share with you 5 reasons that leading landscape designers rarely give their clients the opportunity to decide themselves what level of service they require and why you, as a design and construct landscaper,  should consider avoiding a tiered structure in your design service too These observations are based on my own experiences and that of other landscape designers also working in high-end design offices and the differences I’ve seen between those firms and those that serve lower sectors of the market. So, here they are:

1. Clients are seeking expertise –  give it to them!

If you begin from a position of confidence and command a respectful sense of authority over what is required to produce the best outcome, your client will feel comfortable that they’ve approached the right person: someone who knows what they’re doing that they trust to make the right decisions for them. Leading designers don’t ask their Clients what sort of drawings they want them to prepare, they use their experience to advise them the process that needs to be undertaken, which drawings they need and in what order so they can achieve a great outcome, avoid hidden costs and enjoy a smooth ride from concept to completion. If that means just a sketch, fine. On a more complex project that really needs more consideration and everyone to be on the same page, dictate the best course of action – you’re the expert!

2. Choice relinquishes control

For many clients, this will be the first time they’ve ever even parted with money in exchange for letting someone to do some work in their garden, let alone ideas and plan drawings! If you allow your Client, the person who has the least experience, to decide what the best approach to take is, you’re relinquishing control of the crucial early stages of a new project and risking your own reputation. Leading designers, like successful contractors,  assume and maintain control of their projects from the very beginning to ensure it unfolds predictably and successfully. Of course Clients need to be intimately involved and offered choices along the way but it’s important to take the leading role when it comes to how your service is delivered. I often find it helpful to think of my clients as “investors with a personal stake in the project” and myself as the project manager that leads and coordinates. It’s important that they are involved, but at the end of the day the responsibility to deliver rests squarely on my shoulders, they’ll thank me for it later.

3. Choices framed by task & cost lead to the cheapest option

If you present someone with a “menu” of tasks and the costs associated with each, more than likely they will go for the cheapest option, or at best the next level up.
It’s a little bit like choosing a bottle of wine from the menu in a restaurant. If the waiter simply asks, “What do you want?” only the true connoisseur will know which wine is best suited to the overall combination of dishes being served; the inexperienced wine drinker looks at the prices and will select the second cheapest option!
The reason is simple: they are basing their decision on the only thing they really understand about the transaction, which is money. When presented in this way, they can’t see the value in the $3,500 option when there is a $500 or $1200 option that more or less appears to achieve the same thing. But does it? Like wine, there is more involved in producing a great outcome than the physical tasks involved . Consider the experience and knowledge you’ve cultivated over the years of being involved in this industry, your exposure to hundreds of design ideas, real projects, mistakes you’ve made and the solutions that resolved them. Design-Fee-Proposal-01 Leading designers typically provide just one choice, a tailored response to the problem that’s been presented. They frame the cost of that choice in relation to the overall project budget and their experience. They help their clients appreciate that the cost of good design is minimal in the context of the value it will bring to the project as a whole. Their fees are also reflective of intangible qualities such as taste, detail, knowledge, personality, experience and tested outcomes. By taking this approach, it doesn’t take long to accept that a $3,500 fee in exchange for innovative ideas and a clear course of action at the start of a project is completely reasonable (if not negligible) in the context of a $100,000 investment and the mistakes you might otherwise encounter along the way.

4. People spending lots of money don’t like making mistakes

Mistakes are frequently caused by miscommunication or to put it another way, mistakes are avoided when everybody is on the same page. Poorly informed clients, confused about what they’ve agreed to may find fault in all sorts of aspects of the project.
In their mind, these are “mistakes” caused by you –  incorrectly built, incorrectly costed, badly detailed or simply the old, “I thought this was going to be X not Y, I didn’t agree to that!” scenario. Mistakes cost far more than money; they also cost time, lose referrals and damage your brand.
Leading designers protect their reputation and avoid mistakes by insisting their clients follow a consistent process that works. That process ensures that everyone involved in any project they touch is on the same page at each step: what we’re doing, how much it will cost, and where things could go wrong. This ensures their Clients understand exactly what’s happening next, what they’re getting in return for their investment and most importantly, helps them avoid mistakes or misunderstandings as the project unfolds.

5. Using 3D imagery is efficient “best practice”

Almost all high end residential landscape designers and contractors now use 3D. It’s the way the world is headed and it helps their clients understand and engage emotionally with what they’re investing in. From a business perspective, the added bonus of offering 3D is that when used correctly, it drastically reduces the need for tedious working drawings. The combination of images of the 3D model, captured from specific angles, accompanied by a simple plan with dimensions and levels noted on it is an efficient means of communicating the desired outcome to your team and the subcontractors building the project, as well as the client. Leading designers remove the choice to include 3D imagery and instead make it a standard part of project delivery. This is simply an element of our industry’s current “best practice” because it offers clear communication and saves precious time.

So, what does the alternative look like?

I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that you offer a fixed price for your service for projects of any scale, although I have done this in the past and still do with great success. My point here is that by removing the choices presented in a “menu” of services and instead tailoring a single “fee” that is reflective of the project budget, you will take control of the project from the beginning. In doing so, you’ll also earn the confidence and trust of your clients. The best way to do this is in a written document such as a Design Fee Proposal in which you outline a Design Brief that reiterates all the main points you discussed during your site meeting to show your clients you’ve been listening to them, put their budget in writing and outline the deliverables that they’ll be receiving to support the project. If you frame the cost of your design service against the total project budget and offer transparency about how the fee was calculated (eg. time based or percentage based in the vicinity of 2.5-5%) this will further demonstrate to your clients that you offer a professional service at a cost that is reasonable given the overall undertaking. Clients, especially those that are investing heavily, always feel more comfortable in the knowledge of how the project is going to unfold and being able to have a meaningful conversation because they “actually” understand what the outcome will look like, rather than pretending or blindly putting their trust in you which can lead to misunderstandings and difficulties later despite the good intentions to start with. Offering 3D imagery as standard on projects over a particular value (eg. $50k), is a great way of satisfying that need and ensuring a good outcome on those projects that that have the potential to promote and project your business to increasingly better clients.
As it relates to high end projects, the reason this is important is simply that there is more at stake in all respects; the most important of all being referrals. As you will probably already know, the best opportunities, the “elite” projects, almost always come through personal referrals derived from the networks of satisfied customers.
As the owner of your business, you will have the best idea of what works for you. Of course the beauty of being at the helm is that you can change course and adjust what you’re doing as well.

Do you offer your a “Choose your own Adventure?” approach to design delivery?


Shah Turner

I help Landscape Contractors and Designers streamline their design process so they can reach sign-off of high value construction quotes as fast as possible. I do this by turning your 2D plans into an awesome 3D fly-through which I’ll host for you on it’s own branded web page at no extra charge. You just send your clients a link! Send me a sketch of your design and I’ll have it up and live for your clients to see on any device in just 3 days! Interested? CLICK HERE to take the tour.