Tips on the Art of Landscape Presentation
Note: A first interview presentation is a situation where you have had little or no previous connection with a potential client and they are interviewing you for hire either to design and/or install a landscape.
1. Be yourself. Sincerity and honesty are the cornerstones of trust. Hard selling may work for automobiles but it doesn’t work for landscaping. The first interview is getting acquainted with each other. Relationships are everything in business. Befriend your client.
2. Dress Professionally. A three-piece suit with a boutonnière may be extreme but so are cut-off jeans and t-shirts. If you are to charge your professional fees, you must present yourself as a professional. If you want the higher paying jobs, you have to create a professional image that separates you from the “mow, blow and go” crowd.
3. Bring a lap top computer with all your resources in it. This will clearly set you apart as a true professional. If you have a computer filled with slide show presentations (GardenWorks), a plant database (PlantMaster) and tools to calculate costs (spread sheet software), you will have enormous resources at your fingertips to handle any question or situation.
4. Prepare your Materials. Find out as much as you can about your clients’ needs before the presentation so that you can show as many relevant examples as possible. Get some ideas of what is on their mind over the phone before you show up. You must first convince your client you are worthy of hiring. You do this best by showing examples of your past work (in town, in the neighborhood, commercial, pool projects etc.). Use GardenWorks to organize exemplary photography of your past projects that would appeal to the client. Tailor your slide show or printouts to illustrate examples of projects related to the client’s interests. This will build confidence in your ability to do this job. If it is something brand new, show them examples of other innovative projects you have taken on successfully.
5. Ask Questions and Listen. Your job is to discover their practical needs and aesthetic tastes. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Ask your clients what style garden they like best as an entry point into design subjects. It is easy to fall into the trap of being the know-it-all. Find out the client’s plans for maintenance. You have not been hired yet so hear them out.
6. Focus on quality and value rather than bottom line pricing. Our industry has plenty of people willing to perform competing work for a fraction of the cost. You must establish a different set of criteria for who is worthy of hiring. You convince people to hire you when you educate them on the criteria they should be using to hire landscape professionals. If you don’t educate your potential clients, then the bottom line price will become the default criteria. (More on this in a future publication.) A high quality job will cost less to upkeep than a low quality job.
7. Know your prices and establish a budget. Price is important. The job of the designer/contractor is to create the best possible landscape within the boundaries of the client’s budget. Maintenance costs may need to be added to the budget also. If your client wants more than they can afford, no problem, simply create a scheme for building their dream landscape in phases over several years. Many great gardens were built this way.
8. Have references ready. Building confidence in your company is one of the primary goals of a first interview presentation. References go a long way in building this confidence. It also shows you are in demand which will enable you to command better prices for your work. Testimonials are also very effective. Put in the extra time to develop handsome reference and testimonial documents. Have a graphic designer lay them out for you and make your own copies as you need them. The more professional your materials are, the higher price tag you can apply to your goods and services.
9. Leave professional materials behind. Leave the potential client with a portfolio (it could be a folder with 2 pockets and an insert for your business card) about your company, printouts from PlantMaster (plant pictures that may interest the client) and GardenWorks (pictures of your best work and design ideas), and a list of references and testimonials. Remember you are not only competing with other professionals for the client’s hard earned money, but more importantly, the automobile industry, vacation industry, and other expendable income investments. Compare your materials to the kind of literature your client may take home from the Mercedes dealership.
10. Evaluate the interview. Is this a job you really want? Will it win the company a handsome profit? Will it be interesting to execute? Is the client reasonable and personable? Is the project the right distance from headquarters? Is it too large for our company experience? Is it too small to be worth the company’s resources? You have the right to tell the client it is not a good fit for your company and thank her/him for the interview. Being profitable has a lot to do with picking the right jobs.