You will only have sustained success if you understand who you want to work with, market to them appropriately, and then deliver a service that lives up to your marketing.
Photos courtesy of Ross NW Watergardens

My family camped every summer when I was kid. I would get up at dawn and quietly go out to fish. One morning I was walking along a stream looking for a good spot. As I came around a bend I could see a guy fishing on the other side. His spot looked perfect. There was a little pool of slower water and, unlike my side of the stream, he had plenty of room to cast. There was even a little log to sit on. Maybe I could use that spot tomorrow morning.

I just had one question: How did he get there?

Getting started.

As you drive around, you most likely notice other landscapers' projects. Some of them are nicer than yours. Others are much larger. The homes may belong to people with larger budgets than you typically get to work with. You know working with higher-end clients would change your business.

The question is: How do you get there?

I won't pretend that there is a step-by-step template to follow. It's like asking, “How do you get to the Grand Canyon?” The answer depends largely on where you start from.

My family has been doing landscaping for three generations but only in the last few years have we become a high-end landscaper. No matter where you, start you can get there.

How to get there.

A template may not exist, but there are key principles that can guide you toward your goal.

Here are four that you absolutely have to understand and, most importantly, can start working on today.

1. Know who your clients are. What kind of client is right for you? “Ones with deep pockets” is the wrong answer. Not all high-end clients are looking for the same thing. You will only have sustained success if you understand who you want to work with, market to them appropriately, and then deliver service that lives up to your marketing.

Ross NW Watergardens, my family's firm, appeals to people who place a high value on their gardens. Our typical client admires contemporary landscapes and is drawn toward spaces that are Japanese-inspired.

Paradise Restored, another Portland-area landscape company, is owned by a friend of mine. His typical client wants to transform their yard into an impressive outdoor living space. They have a portfolio full of outdoor kitchens, large fireplaces with TVs above the mantle and pools with water slides.

We rarely get called by the same people. So how do you figure out who your clients are?

Start a little list somewhere. Note key details about your clients: kids or no kids, pets or no pets, cars they drive, hobbies, projects they did on the home before calling you, the kind of watch they wear. Write down anything that seems really important to them.

Over time, you will start to see patterns. The goal is to be able to describe your ideal client in a couple sentences. Then use this pattern or (in marketing jargon) “persona” to guide the decisions you make when marketing, hiring or purchasing for your company.

2. Develop your portfolio. More than anything else, it's pictures of the work you have done that will prove that you can be trusted with a high-end project. Our portfolio page on our website is easily the second-most popular page on our site, just a bit behind our homepage.

Start taking pictures with whatever camera you have, even if it's your phone camera. Take as many pictures as you can. If only one out of 50 looks good that's fine, just start taking them.

If you can buy a DSLR camera, even better. If you don't want to take pictures, get someone else to do it .If you are not sure you have any projects that are photo-worthy, think smaller. Is there a path, raised garden bed or a small hardscape that you are especially proud of?

Get pictures of details, like a corner of a raised bed where all the pieces come together perfectly.

3. Don’t be afraid of price. The high-end clients you want to eventually work with are not going to choose you based on your square foot price for a patio. They will be paying for your knowledge, ability, artistry, craftsmanship, service – all the things that make up the experience of working with you. For many years, we took pride in believing that no one in our market could produce landscapes of the same quality at the same (low) price.

If you feel the same way, you need to change that. Get comfortable with the idea of charging more than you currently do, and more than your current direct competitors do, too.

4. Take pride in your work. You need to have, and project, confidence that you are worth your new higher prices.

This comes with a big disclaimer: Your confidence needs to be based in reality. Otherwise, you are nothing more than a con artist with a mower or a shovel and your online reviews and word of mouth will reflect that.

You should take pride in your craft while carrying yourself with humility. You can be confident that you know more than most, but also be aware that you don't know everything. Your manner can build your client's trust in you, but being willing to honestly apologize for mistakes will ensure you don't quickly lose it.

Conclusion.

Going back to that morning along the stream, I quickly found a series of stones leading across it. But I wasn't big enough to jump from one to the next. For the time being, I had to fish where I was.

You may be in a similar spot, with the desire to pursue high-end clients but not the ability. Don't feel bad. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep learning, keep working. As you do, be sure you are taking as many pictures as you can, forming a clear picture of your ideal client, getting used to the idea of raising prices and doing work every day you can take pride in.

The author is head landscape designer and salesman at Ross NW Watergardens in Oregon.