If you’ve started your own landscaping business and been designing for any amount of time, you’ve run into this situation:  You created a beautiful design, perfect for the client’s space, you’ve been sitting at their kitchen table for about an hour walking through all the elements of your well-conceived plan.  You’ve gone over paver specs, plant bloom colors, discussed the price.

And now it’s that awkward moment when you can tell that the client isn’t quite ready to commit, but there isn’t anything left to discuss to help them make up their mind.  The meeting is essentially over, and all that’s left to do is give them some time and space to allow them to make their decision.  You need to make a graceful exit while making sure that you’ve done all you can to stack the odds in your favor of landing the contract.

You start packing up your briefcase, putting away your scale, calculator, portfolio…. Do you pack up the design?  It’s a copy anyway, so it’s not like you’re giving away the original.  And you want to do all you can to leave them with positive thoughts about you and your company and the beautiful design you just walked through.

And maybe they even ask,  “Can we hold onto the design?”  Or maybe you cave on your own, going against what you promised yourself before the meeting, that you weren’t going to give away another of your landscape plans.  After all, you’ve worked hard on this plan that includes the sum total of the years of experience you’ve gained in the field about what works and what doesn’t, what looks gorgeous and what’s just OK.  So far the client hasn’t had to spend a dime for all the effort you’ve put into site analysis and design.

Handing Over Free Design

Even so, there you are, giving the client a copy of the design, free of charge, hoping it’ll tip the balance in your favor.  Hoping you won’t drive by the property months later and see your design installed by some other contractor, or worse, installed by the clients themselves.

You kick yourself as you walk back to your truck, knowing you just gave away hours worth of your valuable work.

By accident, I’ve discovered a way to keep yourself from ever giving away another landscape design. 

How?  It’s counter-intuitive, and far easier than you’d ever imagined.

Bring The Original Landscape Design To The Meeting

Over the years I’ve found that having the design in their hands for the next week doesn’t really help a client decide in your favor.  If anything it gives them a tool to leverage other contractors,  either to find one that can install your design for a lower price, or to figure out how they can take a half-assed attempt at building your landscape plan themselves.  What the client remembers most of all is how they felt about you and your design.  Did Mrs. Client’s eyes light up when she saw the lines of the hardscape and the bloom colors of the plants you specified?  Did Mr. Client sound like he was already imagining how he was going to lounge under the shade of the arbor or how easy it was going to be to maintain this new landscape?

That’s what makes the sale.  Not having the design in their hands to nitpick over later.  What they remember about you and how confident they felt about your ability to design a landscape that fit their needs and your capacity to execute that design.

Several years ago I had a client I was rushing out the door to meet, to present my hardscape design.  I hadn’t had time to make a copy of the drawing, so I shrugged to myself and said “This will just have to be good enough, showing the client the original and then taking it back with me when the meeting’s over.”

I realized as the meeting was coming to a close and I was packing away my things that neither the client nor I expected me to leave an original in their hands.  I seized the moment.  “…and obviously, since this is the original, I can’t leave it with you.”

“Of course!” they replied.

And off I went, good vibes with the client established, original design in hand.

Wait, was it really that easy?

I wondered, because yeah, that seemed far easier than it should’ve been.  At subsequent meetings with other clients, I tried the same thing: I’d take the original and just like that first time, because it was the original, there was no expectation that it would simply be given away.  I’d explain that if they wanted to go over the design again, to just give me a call and we’d schedule another meeting, but that I had to take the original landscape design with me.

Those additional meetings? They were never necessary.  We’d either earned the work or lost it in that meeting, and leaving the design behind had no impact on the outcome.  But somehow, having the original in hand instead of a copy made it that much easier for me to just announce that I was taking it back, and frankly, often I believe it left the client wanting our services that much more.

My designs have since never made it onto DIY Disaster of The Week thanks to a freebie giveaway, and have never been installed by another landscape contractor.

Give it a try.  At your next client meeting where you haven’t charged the client up front for the design, bring only the original.  See how easy it is to walk away with your design in hand.

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