How to talk money with clients
Jilayne Rickards MSGD offers advice on having the awkward budget conversation
Not talking about the budget early can compromise a design. There’s nothing worse than when a fresh designer, bursting with ideas, comes up with a great design, then reveals the cost to the client, who says, “I’m not spending that!” The designer then has to take things out, and the garden becomes a shadow of what it was. That’s not good for either party.
So, bring up the budget straightaway. In an initial email or conversation, I ask about the garden’s size, ideas, the timeline and the budget. Most people are cagey and say they don’t have one, maybe because they fear being ripped off. But they will have a rough idea. I emphasise that our conversation is private and that the cost won’t affect my fee, unless it’s over £60,000, when I charge a percentage in line with the sliding scale on the SGD website]hyperlink to www.sgd.org.uk[.
Manage expectations. This is a huge part of the job. If I find out that the client wants changes of level, lighting, boundaries replacing or mature trees, I explain straightaway that these are costly. Most clients are shocked at how much a garden costs.
A cost per square metre can be useful. I keep detailed analysis records of every job, which I can refer back to, so I have a good idea of costs. For a typical north London back garden, the costs vary from £200m2 for a low budget scheme to £500m2 for high-end schemes. Usually the cost of the design is between 10-12% of the total construction cost.
Ensure that there are no surprises for you, or the client. I estimate how much time each design component will take in a spreadsheet, then multiply it by my hourly rate. This information is then put into a detailed Fee Proposal, which is sent to the client.
Some things, such as getting quotes from contractors, can take a surprisingly long time, so I factor that in. I put jobs of over £50,000 out to tender, as there may be a significant price difference.