By Tracy Foster BSc, Dip GD (Inst GD)
So, you’ve completed your training. You've put out an advert and someone has actually telephoned to say that they would like you to visit. What next?
My first real paying client was about 45 miles away so I had arranged to carry out the survey on the same visit and waive the consultation fee if the client decided to go ahead.
I drove down the motorway with sweating palms and a pounding heart (it really was nerve wracking) and took in my portfolio of designs with shaking hands!
Thankfully the client was easy-going, open-minded and didn’t ask any awkward questions. Better still, he had a small, level, rectangular garden, which had been cleared of all plants so that I had a relatively straight forward job when it came to measuring up.
It took me absolutely ages – firstly to ask all the questions on the forms I’d prepared and secondly to do all the measuring.
I decided not to mention that he was my first client unless he asked, which he didn’t.
As a matter of fact he seemed as nervous as I was and confessed that he didn’t know what to expect as he’d never done this before. I practically had to clap my hand over my mouth to stop myself from crying out “Neither have I!”
With hindsight it went well, due to a mixture of good luck and good preparation!
I had practised measuring lots of different gardens, although I didn’t really have any proper equipment for measuring slopes so I was lucky that I didn’t have to.
My advice is to prepare really well and don’t rely on good luck.
The more practice you have, the more confident you will be.
Family and friends are usually happy to let you practice on them. Try filling out all the forms you plan to use for real clients. You can take your time over the survey and draw up the design at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if they have no intention of building the garden. I also did some free designs for people I’d never met before (My husband’s work colleagues for example) so I could try out my skills on strangers. People are very kind and understanding when they are not paying and you end up with a decent portfolio of designs to present.
When you first speak to the client on the phone, I think it’s worth asking a few questions about the size, slope and general description of the garden. If it sounds huge, steeply sloping or totally overgrown and full of rubbish then it probably won’t make a good first garden and if you really don’t like the sound of it, you could explain to the client that you don’t think you are the right person for the job.
It’s also good to ask a little about what they are hoping for so that you can do a bit of research before the visit and will have some ideas and possibly pictures to discuss when you arrive.
Discuss roughly what you charge – you can refine it into a proper quote when you have seen the garden, but it could save you a wasted journey if the client knows in advance what to expect.
At that first consultation, dress for work – the client will expect you to look round the garden and it’s better if you don’t look as though you are afraid to get dirty.
Don’t promise to finish the designs in a few days, give yourself time to make a good job of them, most people are prepared to wait.
Be confident and honest – You have nothing to lose!