Design to a budget

January 16, 2018 -  By
Photo: ©

Photo: ©

Let’s imagine for a moment that at your initial design consultation, your prospect actually gave you a budget number. Some of you may be thinking, “That would be awesome. Now all I need to do is design to that budget (plus or minus), and I’ll have no problem getting the project.”

The rest of you are wondering, “How the heck do you even get a budget?”

For those of you who believe that getting a client’s budget makes the installation a sure thing, I can assure you it doesn’t. For the rest of you wondering how to get a budget from a potential client, I suggest you visit for some of my previous articles that cover this topic and more.

While initially you may be as excited as Charlie Bucket, the young boy who found the last golden ticket in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the reality is that, just like for Charlie, there are still many hurdles to pass to win.

You must still beat the competition by creating a well-thought-out design and then properly apply your client’s budget to the design—which is much easier than it sounds. Here’s why.

At the initial meeting with prospective clients, my philosophy is to first take a walk around the property and listen to their goals and objectives, and not sit at the kitchen table and tell them how wonderful your company is. As you do the walk-through, taking pages of notes about their hopes and dreams, which may include a swimming pool, an outdoor kitchen, a new paver patio, privacy plantings, plus lighting and irrigation, all you see are dollar signs, big dollar signs.

Upon completion of the property tour, you ask the most important question: “What type of budget will we be working with?” or my favorite, “How much would you like to invest?”

We all know that homeowners are often unwilling to give you a budget or range, but for today’s exercise, we will assume they do. And here is where the trouble begins.

While you were doing some quick math during the walk-through and estimated a number of $150,000-$200,000 in your head, the clients burst your bubble by telling you their budget is $40,000-$50,000. By no means is this a small amount of money, but it certainly isn’t enough to create a plan that includes all of the work listed in your notes, let alone enough to make a profit.

You leave their home trying to remain positive, but you’re thinking, “How can I possibly do all of that work for $40,000-$50,000?” So now what?

Option 1: Blow off the prospect and the project since you’ve been here before and believe it to be a no-win situation. Unfortunately, all this move will do is give them ammunition to badmouth you to their friends or online.

Option 2: Try to spread their budget across their entire wish list, knowing that if they do sign the proposal, you will end up with a dissatisfied client and an unprofitable job, not to mention a lot of negative publicity.

Option 3: Price the project the right way and end up with a proposal that is four to five times their budget. This approach will also guarantee you a dissatisfied customer, no work and a different type of negative publicity.

Option 4: While still at your initial meeting, take a few minutes and review all of the items on their wish list. Do this for two reasons. The first is to show them that you listened and to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. The second reason is to subtly point out that it’s a very big list that will probably be very expensive.

Next, ask them what their budget is or how much they would like to invest. Instead of failing with options 1-3, follow up with, “That’s a great budget. Which phase would you like to start with?” This one simple question changes everything. Your clients quickly realize something they already knew, which is that $40,000-$50,000 won’t buy them the entire chocolate factory, but it will certainly get them phase one.

Photo: ©

This article is tagged with , and posted in December 2017, Design/Build+Installation, Featured

About the Author:

Jody Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant, editor of and former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Reach him at 201-783-2844 or

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