This is the second part in a blog series designed to help you in your new and exciting garden design career. These blogs are based on my 20 years’ experience designing and implementing garden designs and there are a number of hints and tips I have gained along the way which can hopefully be of great use to you.
This blog looks in more detail at how to deliver the pitch to your client and most importantly, how to close the deal. Please check out the first part of the series which looks at how to prepare for your first meeting with a client.
Beginning the meeting
The first and most important thing to do when you meet a potential client is to listen. You may be super keen to demonstrate your skills, passion and knowledge, but the time for selling yourself comes later. Ask your client: What can I do for you? Let them talk and prompt them if necessary by asking some simple questions like these: Who will use the garden? Do you like entertaining? Do you have you any drainage issues? Have you got you any pets that need to be catered for? This will give you lots of information which you can use later to demonstrate that you were paying attention and are aware of their needs. Don’t pull out your client survey forms straight away - you haven’t got the job yet!
The simple things matter. Ask your client about their children and their pets, their names and ages. This is not being disingenuous; the information is relevant to the design. What is more important is to realise that their children and often their pets will mean more to them than your garden ever will.
When a new client is telling me about their hopes and dreams or simply all their limitations, whether it is site issues or budget, I never interrupt with an opinion as to what I would do. Instead, I remember each issue so that I can allay those concerns in detail when I give them my pitch.
Giving your pitch
Whether you like it or not, as a garden designer, you are primarily a sales person. You sell yourself at the initial meeting, you sell your concepts to the client and your finished work sells itself to all your clients friends and relatives.
So how do you sell yourself? How do you convince your potential client that you are worthy of their money and trust? Or, more importantly how do you convince them that investing in a garden is the right thing to do at all?
Well firstly, tell them about yourself. Tell them about your experience and your passion for gardens. Tell them about the process of getting a garden designed and all the stages involved. The chances are they have never done it before and are quite nervous at the prospect. This is then a good time to show them your portfolio. Almost every one of my clients had two major concerns at the outset: budget and maintenance. I always explain to my clients that it is up to them how much they spend on their garden and that my job as the designer is to spend that budget as wisely and effectively as possible.
As the process continues, my role is often to manage the client’s expectations or explain to them the reality of how far their money will go. They are in control of what they spend, not you. This is a fact that they need to hear repeated from you. Be open about your fees and stick to them. As for maintenance, a big concern for the client is that they often have no experience of gardening or plant names. All you need to do is reassure them that you will be on hand to guide them all the way.
Closing the deal
So now you have shown the client some of your work, listened to their concerns and spoken about budgets and your fee. This is the point at which you aim to seal the deal. Remember, the client hasn’t agreed to anything at this point, so without giving away too much information (I never do designs for free), I begin to tell the clients what I would do if it was my garden. This is where you go through every issue and concern your client mentioned at the beginning of the meeting and that you have cleverly stored in your memory for use at this time. “To alleviate the drainage issues, I would use a system of land drains… as you have three children who all love football, I would… this would be the perfect spot for the vegetable patch you wanted because of the sun…”, etc.
As garden designers, we are not simply problem solvers or robots that just follow our client’s orders; we are creative, passionate people who have opinions and ideas worth listening to. Mention something they have never thought of and that you know would work well. Maybe the tree at the bottom of their garden would look amazing with a nice bench under it. Get your client to start picturing themselves in their finished garden, not weeding or mowing the lawn but relaxing with friends and family and enjoying the space you will create. “The bench under the tree would be perfect for catching the last rays of sun in the evening with a nice glass of wine, especially with the scent of lavender at your feet.” Again, this is not disingenuous or an attempt to trick your client. The truth is your client has probably never seen, let alone been in a designer garden. You know that you can produce an amazing space, you just need to convince your client that you are worthy of their trust. With design, it is never the “hard sell”, you simply need to leave the client excited at the prospect of having their very own, tailor-made garden that is perfect for their needs.
It is always sensible to follow-up your meeting in a timely manner. I usually email my client the same day with a short summary of our meeting (which I thank them for) and give them details of my fees which we have already discussed. It is also a good idea to write them a sample brief, which again shows that you were listening (a brief is a written explanation of what the client wants from you and their garden). I will then tell them what they need to do if they want to proceed.
Email is great but a phone call is better. I give my clients a day or two to think about it and then I follow up with a call. Remember, if reality strikes and the client realises they can’t really afford a new garden, all your work will not have been wasted. At worst, it will have given you a chance to practice your sales pitch but often a client may come back to you years later when they are ready or they might also recommend you to their friends. The reason for this is because you were prepared and made a good first impression.
Stay tuned for more blogs designed to help you in your garden design career and don’t forget to check out the first part of this series.