To fee or not to fee?

Photo: ©istock.com/feuers
Photo: ©istock.com/feuers
No Fear Overcome the fear that you’ll lose jobs by charging a design fee.

Design fee proposals aren’t created equally. Here’s one design expert’s approach.

I’m still amazed when I get pushback from landscape designers and contractors about design fees. They either won’t charge a design fee because their competitors don’t, don’t want to lose the installation over a design fee, lack the confidence to charge a design fee or all of the above.

Just in time for the spring rush, let’s drill down into my design fee proposal, step by step, showing you why you should use it.

The first and probably most important thing about my design fee proposal is it can be signed and deposited at the initial client meeting, which is tremendous. I don’t have to go back to the office, figure out how many hours I need to put the plan together, set up a second appointment to review it with the client or worse, mail it or email it. If you walk out the door on a sales call, your chances of getting a signed proposal and deposit diminish by 50 percent. Not good.

Next, I charge flat fees based only on the size of the property. This means that regardless of whether a client wants a planting layout or as I like to say, an “all you can eat” landscape plan, the price is the price.

The flat fee model also gives homeowners a sense of security, making it easier for them to say yes. They also know there’s no design fee price inflation due to the fact that they have an expensive home or live in an expensive neighborhood. Now before you run out the door and try this approach, keep reading because there are some important details that make this document so successful.

Landscape design

The first section lists what’s included in the landscape design. There are five inclusions, all of which are straightforward and should be familiar to anyone who provides design services.

    1. The initial consultation, which is free, is my opportunity to show them who I am and to sell my services. It’s the only thing that’s complimentary.
    2. If they sign the proposal and provide a deposit, I immediately perform a site analysis as spelled out in my proposal.
    3. Next is base map prep, which is a fancy way of saying that I go to Staples and get the client’s survey (plaat) enlarged to 1:10 scale.
    4. The next step is creating their dream design.
    5. Lastly, I color render the design or what I call the presentation drawing.

Design fee calculations

The next section lists my design fees. As I mentioned before, my designs are based on property size only.

The categories are up to 0.25 acres, 0.25-0.5 acres, 0.5-0.75 acres and 0.75-1 acre, which covers most properties in my area. Anything above an acre, I charge per additional 0.25 acres. I also charge for travel time for clients beyond a 30-minute radius from my office.

Prior to the meeting I can look up a prospect’s address on Zillow.com and know exactly what size the property is, allowing me to have the proposal already filled out, reinforcing the fairness of the document. It also makes me look that much more professional. Knowing the property size and design fee category beforehand also eliminates some of the shenanigans and quick math required to determine the size of their property and fee in front of the client.

Payment schedule

The payment schedule is also straightforward. Half is an upfront deposit so I can go outside and start my site analysis and half is due when I deliver the final plan. In other words: no deposit, no work. It’s as simple as that. Within the payment schedule section of my proposal is a place for the client to sign and date. I presign and date the proposal before the meeting so they know I mean business. It may be subtle, but it certainly helps close the deal.

General Notes and Conditions

Finally, I include a list of general notes and conditions. It’s no different than the laundry list of exclusions you have in your installation contracts. Here I describe what’s not included in the plan, along with some clarity about assumptions clients may make—the most important one is I charge for revisions.

Anyone who provides design services knows revisions can take five minutes, five hours or five days, unless you put a cap on them. A revision can be anything from a couple of plant changes to an entire redo of the design itself. Since I started charging for revisions many years ago, I’ve found I rarely do any. And to be totally honest, most of the revisions I do make are out in the field with a can of marker paint after the client has signed for the installation.

Photo: ©istock.com/feuers


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Jody Shilan

Jody Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant, editor of FromDesign2Build.com and former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Reach him at 201-783-2844 or jshilan@gmail.com

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