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pineapple 03-21-2006 11:10 AM

how much info to put on the plan
I do residential design for jobs that I am going to install. My clients pay for the design (we use a design contract that spells out what they are getting) separate from the installation contract.

How much info do you put on your plans for paying clients? I want to give them enough, but don't want them to be able to take the plan to another contractor to bid or to d-i-y.

Currently I do a 'Landscape Concept Plan' that shows the layout, hardscape, fencing, plant masses, and labels like 'perennials, evergreen shrubs, flowering shrubs, new walk, deck', etc. No quantities or plant names, no construction notes.

I present the plan to the client with photos of suggested plants and other items. They get 2 copies of the concept plan.

If they want to go ahead with some installation, I then put notes, plant names and quanties on the plan for my use, during estimating and installation. I give them an installation contract without the copy of the updated plan if I can.

I don't want to sound paranoid, but when I spend 20 hours on a design for a large property, I want to make sure I retain control of it.

Any ideas?

agla 03-21-2006 12:44 PM

Hopefully, you have charged enough for those twenty hour and you should feel comfortable that you got compensated for the plan. You have to be able to let it go.

The good news is that as the designer, you usually gain the confidence of the client and they become very committed to having you build it.

By keeping the plan as ambiguous as you do, you create two negatives. The first is that it is harder for a client to to feel like they are getting a lot of value in the plan. That means that you are leaving them feeling short changed, or not charging enough for the plan. The second negative is that it short changes your sales technique. Anytime you give a more full experience to a client, they tend to want it more (think looking at a car in the lot vs. taking it for a test drive).

My suggestion is to design a plan with the plants detailed out, including size and quantity. This way, the client may have the idea that he will be able to shop it around and it becomes easier to sign the design contract. In the end, you have had so much of their time and they know you understand the plan which really makes them want you to build it. If they do bid it out, you know they are getting prices for the exact same plants - apples for apples. Also, make sure that you are pricing the design so that you can walk away. You will get used to it. I have.

Never value getting the job more than the client values you doing it.

PSUscaper 03-21-2006 03:20 PM

I like your comments AGLA, but I think you are looking at this from the wrong point of view.

You're a designer, and are looking at this as if pineapple is a 'designer only', which from what I am understanding, he is not. He is 'contractor who designs' trying to sell a job.....not a designer selling a plan.

therefore, I think what you are suggesting doesn't really apply to how this matter should be handled.

I'm reading what pineapple has said, and have come to this conclusion....

He talked the client into doing a plan.....but....has not convinced the client into using him for the installation.

Right away, this is ringing bells and whistles.

What is the objective here???? Is he in the business of selling plans???? Or is he in the business of selling a landscape installs??

From the uncertainity in the post, I'm guess he doesn't know himself. And why? Because, if you were going to sell a plan, would you have a question on whether or not you put a enough info on it??? I mean, if you were selling a landscape, would this be the same as asking if you installed enough shrubs?

The fact is, if you charge someone full price for a landscape better give them a full landscape plan. Just as if you charge someone for a 300 sq foot patio, they better get a 300 sq ft patio. And if they already paid for it, then why would you be worried about them taking it to another contractor for prices. You sold them a plan, and now you move on.

The problem though, is that it wasn't a plan that was sold. What was sold was a expensive advertising brochure specifically written for this one client with the headline 'look what we could make your house look like!'.......not a landscape plan.

Somehow, everyone got this notion that in order to sell a landscape job, whether big or small, you have to have a full blown landscape plan. Wrong! You need a landscape plan to install a job..........not sell it.

I know, all the books, all the seminars, all the people here, say the same thing...."YOU HAVE TO GET MONEY FOR THE PLAN'....'NEVER LEAVE A PLAN WITHOUT A CHECK'....'DON'T START THE PLAN WITHOUT A DEPOSIT' and on and on and on. This is all very true. But what is happening, is guys are getting so wrapped up in all this 'landscape planing', that their losing track of who and why it was being said.

this is kind of like the 'software' craze that is hitting the industry now. The companies are mass marketing and people are buying all this stuff for the sole reason that 'everyone' else is. Well, the truth is, you are doing 100k in business, and the company endorsing the product did 20 don't need a computer program to run a 100k business!!! And in the same sense, you don't need a landscape plan to sell a landscape job.

I have a friend who doesn landscaping and I do plans for him on the side. I always yell at him because he's rediculous. He calls me up to do a design for a 4k foundation planting. I charge him $400.00.......I then ask myself what I would do if I had to pay someone $400.00 to do a plan for a 4K job. Is there money in a 4k job to justify $400.00 in design fee?. If I didn't do my own plans, would I pay someone $400.00 for a foundation plan? Hek NO! But it seems a lot of guy do. And why, I don't know, maybe all the HGTV crap people watch and see contractors giving out plans left and right like their business cards?

Now, there are a few exceptions to this. I said earlier, that what pineapple really did is sell a 'expensive landscape bruchure' to his client.......this is one of the few exceptions.

When my business slows down, a job comes along that I am really interested in, or I just get a really good feeling about a client, I will do a free plan. But it really is not done in the sense that I need to use it for pricing. What it really becomes is a really, fancy marketing brochure that is designed for one specific client.

Is the plan detailed to the last 1 gal, I don't even put a single plant name in, just circles. It is exactly what I said. A marketing tool. Its a pretty picture, that, if I'm lucky, will spark enough interest (actually, its been overwhelming how many people who I do concept plans use me because I was the only person who put so much time into my quote presentation) in a client signing a contract so I can move ahead, do a 'real' design, price the job exactly, and sell it.

Granted, people are going to say its a pretty darn expensive marketing tool, but again, for me it works, and it may work for others.

Some final thoughts. If you are going on estimates, are busy, and have to pay someone to do designs, you should be charging for any design process to begin. If you charge people for a complete plan, then they better receive a complete plan. Perhaps, a option, may be to say that if they are interested, you will do a concept plan at a reduced cost, but it needs to be explained in full.

Maybe, time constraints need to be set. We will charge you x dollars for a plan. Then, you will go back and determine for that price, you have x hours to do it in....and when the time is up, the plan is done.

Also, going along with what I've been saying, if you over did the plan and feel you have way to much time in it, think of it as a advertising expense because that is what this whole thing really is. Keep track of your hours, and bill it to the company as a expense......if you have a designer, bill out his hours as a marketing expense. This way you can keep track of the the hours and costs associated with this, and analyze the numbers at the end of the year.

r schipul 03-21-2006 06:35 PM


I agree with Agla in the sense that if you are charging what you deserved for the concept plan it's their's and hopefully you've gained your clients trust through the design process to get the installation. I would have to disagree with AGLA in the sense that I don't think every plant or any plant for that matter needs to be listed. I usually list the major woody plants. I use a lot of perennials in my designs and they are never labeled. I think designers get bogged down with describing the plants in a design during the sales process. After 5 plants your clients are listening and are all confused anyway. IMO, design isn't so much about the actual plants as the space and feeling the plants create. I don't think people do not necessarily need to know what tree is framing the view as long as it's flowering and 10' tall. Even though I label my woodies I very rarely talk about specific plant in the design process. As long as your clients know what they are getting beforehand, whatever works.

If you do not want to sell to DIY because it doesn't keep your own crews busy, look around. You have to feel people out before you decide to do a design for them. A lot of signs are obvious. Pickup truck in the yard, lawn mower in the garage etc..

I would also disagree with penn. Concepts and layouts are worth something. Just because you do not list any plants doesn't mean your ideas are n't worth anything. When presenting a design I talk about the thought process involved to get to the finished design without mentioning a specific plant. Sitting area here because, screening here because. Paver walks are so popular. IMO they do not go with 80 % of the houses they are installed in front of in New England. Why was Bluestone chosen vs. the hideous pavers the client originally wanted?

There is a difference between a planting plan and site planning. I think penn is looking at your question as more a planting plant. If there aren't plants label it's a brochure. If you're plugging in plants into a foundation where the walk has already been installed then penn has a point.

Fine Edge 03-21-2006 09:56 PM

I agree with agla. Everyone that I've sold a landscape design to has all the plants and sizes listed because I know that they may get other quotes for install. They have my install prices AND they have given me a check for the design. That's what they asked me to do, give them a nice design that can be implemented. I don't want to spend any more time than needed going back to add in the sizes and plants varieties, it's all out there in front of them. When I present their design, I'm also trying to sell the job and I really couldn't do that without specific plants on the design.
Without the specifics, I should just leave it in their mailbox with a message to call me.

agla 03-21-2006 09:58 PM

I'm sorry I was not clear. I only list the woodies as well with some specific exceptions.

By the way, Pineapple is a she rather than a he.

I definitely agree that not all jobs require plans. But higher end jobs starting at $50k or so have way too much slop in a qualitative pricing to have a solid contract without one. Add an inch of caliper to ten trees and the price changes by $5k. It needs a plan just for a solid contract. You can't leave a client thinking he got ripped off or thinking he can get away with something. During a project, lots of things are discussed before settling in on what will be built. Sometimes people don't remember what was retained and what was deleted.

JohnIV 03-21-2006 10:35 PM

I agree with agla. Why give away your time, time can not be made up some where else it is gone..... You may be able to charge another customer more $$$ but then you are inflating your cost to make up for ineffiences (sp) in your operation.

Now to the original ? If you have a contract with a customer to provide them with a landscape design/plan you need to give them a complete plan with quanities, plant varities, sizes etc. Wow them with your designing skills and plant knowledge. Let the design sell the installation don't worry about the price of the installation.

How large are the designs you are doing to put in 20 hours?
That seems like alot of time.
Are you hand drawing or using a computer program?

pineapple 03-22-2006 10:34 AM

Thanks for all the input. It is interesting to hear everyone's take on design and what they think it should include.

To clarify: my clients know they are getting a concept plan. No one is having a negative experience and they are all thrilled with the plan, sketches, and photos they receive. People want to be given ideas, not detailed construction drawings.

I also do planting plans for projects that already have the hardscape in place. That is detailed, or course.

My design fees are usually high enough that I know the client is valuing my expertise. Sometimes someone sneaks below my radar and skedadles with the plan. It is not heartbreaking, just disappointing and aggravating. I have 5 employees so need to get the installation work. Guess there is no fool proof way to keep clients!

FungusMudGrub 03-22-2006 04:59 PM

You're all right!:cry: Which is really making me think!

Currently I treat the design side as sort of it's own business. I provide a very detailed plan and charge accordingly, with a seperate design contract. I even specifically tell clients they are free to take my design and get as many install quotes as they want, besides the one I give them. So far, not one client has.

By being the one to present the design and the first quote, you really have an huge advantage; you have already probably spent several hours working with the clients. Hopefully you have gained their trust and impressed them with your expertise. Many people (maybe most) are willing to forgo some cost savings in order to have a competant, trustworthy contractor work on their property.

As far as the amount of detail shown in a plan, well, I'm starting to think I do too much. I need the detail to price the job, but the client doesn't need to see so much. I am one of those designers who get bogged down in plant descriptions, although I must say, many clients want to see pictures of the plants I'm going to be using. Hmmm, definately need to work on presentation part of it.

Bill Schwab 03-22-2006 11:06 PM

I always like the scenario of leaving a person with just about enough rope to hang themselves with unless of course as Agla says, all your time has been compensated for.

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